Tag Archives: KWS

Tsavo West shimmering green & news of mist & migrant birds for the 44th year of monitoring at Ngulia

The 2012 season for the Ngulia Bird Migration Project – the 44th since it started in 1969 – has begun! Yesterday I arrived at the lodge in the heart of Tsavo West Nat. Park together with Andrew Kinzer, Silas Ekesa and Niko Gerhard and his niece Samina – Niko looking as much the pirate as ever and full of energy and keen to get nets up. Tsavo is green – and there is sign of recent rain including large pools along the road – though only a surface green with the grey of the dry bush and brown earth through the thin grass still evident. Give it a week and some more rain and this will be gone under a thick carpet of lush vegetation…

 Wet conditions along the road to Ngulia in Tsavo

However en route along the 48kms to the lodge we saw very few migrants – in fact just 1 Eurasian Cuckoo, 1 wheatear (probably Northern) and 1 Red-backed Shrike. None of the swarms of Barn Swallows we are often greeted by, no migrant raptors nor warblers or thrushes flushing out of the bush along the road as we passed…

 Looking up the valley towards Ngulia

It was great to arrive at Ngulia and be welcomed by the “Ngulia Faithful” – the staff who know us well now, several having been at the lodge for over 2 decades. On arrival at the lodge we focussed on important things first which was to get the main nets up before it got dark. All the equipment was perfectly put away by David at the end of last season so it was easy to identify the correct nets and we set to on the ‘L’ in front of the lodge. Due to the lack of bush and vegetation there was next to no cutting and clearing needed which speeded it up and we managed to erect the whole ‘L’ + the single 12m ‘Niko’ net up the slope near the lodge before having to head in as leopard time was nearing. Again few birds of note at this point – other than a flock or two of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters moving south quite high overhead.

 Looking down the valley from Ngulia – just turning green

 Not a lot of bush in front of the lodge

The Leopard behaved very nicely and came in very soon after the meat was put out for him – and by 7pm was cracking bones and demolishing the goat leg tied up for him just 25m behind Andrew & I who were fixing one of the spot lights on the steps down from the lodge. This meant that after dinner, the 10 or so tourists in the lodge didn’t stay up but headed for bed by 10:30pm leaving the floor clear for us to put nets up when we wanted. There was a thin, high mist by that time and while I went to bed for a couple of hours, Niko, Andrew & Silas put up the 2 night nets at 11pm and started catching a handful of birds – actually, just 10 by midnight and by 00:00hrs the mist cleared completely and stars came out such that at 01:30hrs we packed up and went to bed…

I woke at 03:00hrs to check if there was mist only to find Niko was already up and the nets up! There was good, thick mist and conditions looked perfect – only that the moon was going to be coming out soon which reduces the catch. It wasn’t busy as such, but we caught fairly steadily and by the end of the night we had 126 birds ringed – as well as a Striped Kingfisher (only the 8th ever ringed here and the first since 1984!) and a Singing Bush Lark (16th ringed & first since 2007 – though am trying to ‘turn it into’ a Friedmann’s Lark…!). At dawn we opened the full ‘L’ and caught a few birds though not many until 8am when we closed as it had gone quiet… and by now Niko really needed his sleep! The mist had faded away to a thin high cover at around 4am and so probably a lot of the birds grounded earlier in the night had headed off before dawn and continued their journey south.


 A study of the Ngulia spot light soon after dawn…

On clearing the nets and heading up to the swimming pool area to where we ring during the day, we had a real shock – the small banda / shaded area along the side of the pool has been demolished and a railway siding type shed cover has been built behind where it was over the grass instead. Whilst far from the most beautiful poolside shelter I’ve seen, it actually might work very well for the ringing, particularly in that a) it won’t leak, b) it has a hugely high roof which therefore both lets in lots of light and also provides a better view of the sky to watch for raptors and c) there are no low-lying beams to take unsuspecting ringers heads off… We have yet to experience it in the rain, however, to see just how much rain will come in from the side…

 The new pool side shed

 Niko & Samina cleaning bird bags in front of the shed

 Not bad for raptor watching from inside the shed

Totals for the day therefore stand at the following:

184 Palearctics ringed:

Red-backed Shrike          6

Isabelline Shrike               2

River Warbler                    4

Marsh Warbler                  6

Olive-tree Warbler          1

Barred Warbler                 1

Common Whitethroat   10

Thrush Nightingale          149

Nightingale                         3

Irania                                     1

Rufous Bush Robin          1

…and 12 Afrotropical birds caught including two Plain Nightjars

Once again KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) have been fantastic in their support of this really important and unique migrant monitoring project and the officers at the gate were very friendly and remembered us from last year and welcomed us in as old friends. We are very grateful to them for the support and hope that a few staff members will be able to drop by to join in the ringing at some point this week.

 Kinzer at breakfast – one of the joys of Ngulia!

New Ramsar site for Kenya – Tana River Delta

The wildlife-rich Tana River Delta has been the focus of a lot of controversy over the past five years or so with major (and continuing) threats of sugarcane and Jatropha plantations for biofuels, oil exploration and other developments. Most recently there has been some serious violence linked to land ownership and use issues with many people displaced and a number killed. For many years there has been a plan to have the delta recognised as a Ramsar site which gives it additional high level recognition that it is an internationally important wetland for both biodiversity and as a resource for humans and thus should be conserved – or rather, in the words of the Ramsar Convention, it should be conserved and used wisely “through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”

On 12th October the Tana Delta Ramsar Site was announced as Kenya’s 6th Ramsar site. This comes as a result of a lot of hard work by Kenya Wildlife Service who took the lead in the process with significant support from KenWeb and the Kenya Wetlands Forum amongst others.

The email that was circulated read as follows:

“The Secretariat is very pleased to announce that Kenya has designated the Tana River Delta as a Wetland of International Importance. As summarized by Ramsar’s MS Ako Charlotte Eyong, from the accompanying RIS, the Tana River Delta Ramsar Site (163,600 hectares, 02°27’S  040°17’E), an Important Bird Area (IBA) in Coast Province, is the second most important estuarine and deltaic ecosystem in Eastern Africa, comprising a variety of freshwater, floodplain, estuarine and coastal habitats with extensive and diverse mangrove systems, marine brackish and freshwater intertidal areas, pristine beaches and shallow marine areas, forming productive and functionally interconnected ecosystems.

This diversity in habitats permits diverse hydrological functions and a rich biodiversity including coastal and marine prawns, shrimps, bivalves and fish, five species of threatened marine turtles and IUCN red-listed African elephant (Loxodonta africana), Tana Mangabey (Cercocebus galeritus), Tana River Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus rufomitratus) and White-collared Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis albotorquatus). Over 600 plant species have been identified, including the endangered Cynometra lukei and Gonatopus marattioides.

As one of the only estuarine staging posts on the West Asia – Eastern Africa coastal flyway, it is a critical feeding and wintering ground for several migratory waterbirds such as waders, gulls and terns. The main human activities include fishing, small-scale family-oriented agriculture, mangrove wood exploitation, grazing, water supply, tourism and research (ongoing research on the protection and monitoring of breeding turtles and the conservation of dugongs).

Kenya presently has six Ramsar Sites, covering an area of 265,449 hectares.”

 A map of the new Ramsar site is given below (taken from the Ramsar website):


A flood of Marsh Warblers & also several ‘Hippos’ caught & ringed

I left Ian, our Ngulia Ringing Group ‘night watchman’ + a few dedicated fellow mist watchers sitting on the wall of the dining room after dinner discussing whether they could put the nets up there and then since there was some thin mist around or whether they should wait until nearer mid-night since the leopard hadn’t come for his goat leg and we might upset tourists who would think we’d scared it off by wandering around near its bait extracting Marsh Warblers from nets in the mist… I headed for bed as I wanted a couple of hours kip before setting in to any work that might come with mist. When I woke at around 1am there was mist but also rain – and it didn’t get any lighter but rather heavier & I couldn’t see any action from my room so turned over and slept some more. I got up just before 3am when I woke to find it had stopped raining & went out to find David and Ian having just opened the one net that had been put up at midnight (so it turned out) and discussing putting up the second one. We then caught quite rapdily for about 3/4 of an hour and had the Kenyan contingent up and assisting before it chucked it down with rain again and we had to close. From then til dawn it was a cat and mouse game with the rain / mist of opening for a short while and being forced to close as the rain came in again. However we caught about 400 birds in total during the night.

Dawn arrived in a solid downpour of rain that delayed opening nets until 6am. We therefore missed what main Sprosser catch there might have been though in fact there were not that many in the night anyway and Marsh Warblers very much dominated the scene for the day.

It was busy for about 1/2 and hour but not overly so and before long the first ringing table was started up and we got going with ringing and releasing the Marsh Warblers – but finding among them some diversity, the best being an Asian Lesser Cuckoo – very smart in his boldly barred underparts and long black, barred tail, golden eye ring and legs. There were also quite a few ‘Hippos’ – Hippolais warblers, mostly Olive-tree Warblers but also a couple of Olivaceous and at least one Upcher’s. We also had 2-3 Common Rock Thrushes which are always great birds to handle and a beaut aduult male Barred Warbler showing off his barring and bright golden-yellow eye. A freshly plumaged Tree Pipit was also greatly admired and despite several more showers of rain we managed to end up clearing all birds by 10am with a total of 1,178 migrants ringed – and in fact only 3 Afrotropical birds – x2 Plain Nightjars during the night and one male Harlequin Quail, the first of the season.

An encouraging observation was 26 Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture heading west over the lodge mid-afternoon – encouraging because of the massive collapse of vultures in Kenya – in fact AFrica-wide – due to poisoning as well as habitat destruction and a reduction in wildlife that reduces their food source. Talking to David Pearson who has been running the ringing project here since 1970 there used to be many more around – even I can remember seeing 30-40 at a time over the lodge in the late 1990s.

One of the great things about Ngulia that I enjoy is spending time with the Kenyan ringers and revising or teaching ringing skills with them, particularly to do with Palaearctic birds which are not handled very much anywhere else in Kenya. Today, after the ringing had wound up I sat down with Gitau, Sylvester ‘Stallone’, Sameer, Nathaniel, Edson, Andrew and Chege and had what turned out to be a 3 hour session on age codes, ageing and discussing how the Ringing Scheme of Eastern Africa can develop and grow. We had a lot of fun trying to get our heads around the EURING age code system and then also the new Afrotropical age codes and seeing how and where they match – or don’t as the case may be.

David Gitau – one of the long-standing (16 years) and most experienced Kenyan ringers and a regular at Ngulia

Sameer (Right) looking up ageing information on a bird he has just ringed. Andrew training with a Sprosser (left) and Fransie scribing for them

One of the UK ringers had handed me a pair of brand new ringing pliers to give to the most deserving Kenyan ringer who I felt would really use them – but it was really hard to decide who should have them, so in the end I decided to put together a little ‘quiz’ for them about ageing and identification of the Palaearctic migrants at Ngulia and the winner would then get the pliers. So last night after supper and our briefing session with everyone I sat them down and gave them 10 questions such as ‘how do you age a Common Whitethroat?’ or ‘what is the key identification feature of a Sprosser against a Nightingale in the hand?’. It was again a lot of fun to do and the Kenyans told me I should have done this two or three times while they had been there. Gitau was the overall winner and is now the proud owner of a very fine pair of Porzana ringing pliers.

Ringing a Marsh Warbler

One of the key things to come out of the discussions was again the very real and urgent need to get the ringing permit system operating in Kenya – it is very difficult for a Kenyan to just take nets and go and ring anywhere if s/he does not have some sort of documentation to allow them to catch and ring birds and so as a result none of the young ringers actually go out and od their own ringing apart from the project work they are involved with (mostly someone else’s project as well). The stage we’re at is that we have submitted the proposed system of training and qualifying to the KEnya Wildlife Service who we need to have fully on board and to endorse and suppor the whole concept and system if it is going to have the authority and weight it needs to succeed. The response has been positive so far, but there is still a long way to go – we’re trusting those in charge will recognise the advantages of such a system and will support it whole heartedly.

Sameer studying the ageing guide

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Conservation staff threatened and attacked by Jatropha project mob

I have been away for almost a month since the public hearing on the jatropha project proposed for the globally important site for biodiversity conservation, the Dakatcha Woodlands. During that time, things have not cooled down or been sorted out at all. NEMA were meant to have produced a report and the proceedings from the meeting but we are still waiting for it. In the meantime last week, the NatureKenya manager for coast, Francis Kagema, together with two reporters and two Kenya Wildlife Service rangers went to the Jatropha plantation site to interview the man in charge. They were met by a mob of 30+ people armed with clubs, pangas (machetes) and stones who attacked them and damaged the car and injured two people. This attack was apparently provoked by the Provincial Administration, which if true is particularly alarming that the government is taking this approach to support a project which has been clearly shown to have little hope of success, but rather will have a very significant negative impact on the area and human population.

Paul Matiku, Director of NatureKenya wrote this brief update on the event last week:

“I write to inform you that following our aggressive campaigns against the setting a side of 50,000 ha for Kenya Jatropha Energy LTD to plant Jatropha in Dakatcha Woodland IBA, there are unpleasant developments.
Nature Kenya staff, KTN reporter and KWS rangers in a Nature Kenya car were attacked on Thurs 1st July by armed people from the community supporting the jatropha project mobilized by the area provincial administration. The bad news is as follows:

   1. A KTN reporter wanted to cover the issue in Dakatcha so Mr Francis Kagema, Nature Kenya Conservation Programme Officer, requested security from KWS and in a Nature Kenya car they left Malindi to go to Dakatcha Woodland. Their going was not a secret, so people in Dakatcha knew they were going.
   2. On the way within Marafa Division where Dakatcha woodland is found, they met a group of local people armed with pangas, clubs and stones. They charged to attack them but the KWS rangers cocked their guns and the crowd receded. They stoned the car and also injured two local people who were passing by the scene and who are known to oppose the project. They escaped unharmed except the damage to the car that could still be driven.
   3. The Margarini District District Commissioner (DC) called OCPD (Officer in Charge of Police Division) Malindi and ordered the arrest of Mr Kagema and the Nature Kenya car. On their way they met the OCPD security team who stopped them – all they wanted was Mr Kagema who they said was wanted by the OCPD. Kagema said he also wanted the OCPD. They both drove to the OCPD in Malindi.
   4. At the OCPDs office in Malindi, Mr Kagema was joined by Kenya Wildlife Service and other staff who together with the rangers totalled five and who then explained to the OCPD the background behind the attack. The two injured community members and the KTN reporter were also there. They recorded their statements with the OCPD and the OCPD did not see any reason to arrest Nature Kenya staff nor the car.
   5. Later the scared DC, who did not know that there was a KTN reporter in the car, called repeatedly pleading with the reporter not to cover the incidence.
   6. No arrests have been made.

Background to the attack:

   1. During the public hearing of the EIA, Area Councilors were heard talking publicly in the meeting chaired by the DC saying that Nature Kenya and any people opposed to the project should be killed.
   2. The councilors have also been heard saying that if Nature Kenya continues to oppose the project, they will evict Nature Kenya from the division.
   3. The County Council of Malindi has tried to stop Nature Kenya conservation activities in the area but a meeting before the conference we held last week on Monday had allowed some activities to take place especially if Nature Kenya agreed to setting a side of 32,000 ha to be allocated to the county council for jatropha growing.
   4. The press conference and the wide media coverage was badly received by the County Council, the Councelors and the Provincial Administration who have allowed illegal destruction of the Dakatcha Woodland to start ahead of the EIA approval process. Nature Kenya strongly objects to the EIA and the project and that stand remains.”

So this is a major increase in the heat of the event. Matiku has spoken to Dr Mwinzi, Director General for NEMA who promised that the EIA will not be approved. He also said he will talk to his staff on the ground and that he is aware that the developer has gone ahead and planted jatropha on the illegally cleared land ahead of the EIA approval process. Let’s hope that NEMA for once will have the teeth to really do something about this. My name was brought up in the whole affair, apparently, with me being accused to have gone to the jatropha site on the 2nd to take photographs together with Kagema – and apparently a police car was sent to arrest us there! As it was, I was in Nairobi that day…

We have been praying very much for this whole issue and it is amazing that Kagema and the reporters were not hurt as it could have been a lot nastier. We continue to pray for God to really intervene in this and are looking to take what action we can at international levels as well as locally. Please join us in this and in raising what storm you can to have a stop put to this project which really will not bring anything to the anyone in the area except increased poverty and habitat degradation.

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