Our fledgling marine project is expanding, with more and more people interested in our work and coming to the Mwamba Field Study Centre here on the shores of Watamu Marine National Park to conduct research. As we expand, so we need more resources and facilities. In particular we need a space to store and take care of equipment, a place to look at biological samples and an area which can get sandy and wet without upsetting the rest of the A Rocha Kenya family! We need a wet lab.
Currently we have been using a semi-converted garage, where we can rinse and store some of the equipment, but it is not effective in the long-term. In order to raise funds for this new facility, three A Rocha Kenya members, Benjo, Stanley and Jonathon are going to compete in the annual Turtle Bay triathlon. We are going run, bike and swim in order to raise money for the following items below.
– A secure metal door: 18,500KSH £145 $215
– Electricity connection: 7,000KSH £55 $85
– Water connection: 10,000KSH £80 $115
– Constructing a rinse tank: 5,000KSH £40 $60
– Furniture and fixings: 6,000KSH £47 $70
– Total: 46,500KSH £367 $545
The event is on the 14th of April starting from Turtle Bay Beach Club with a 10km cycle, 5km run and 750m swim. To donate you can give on our ASSETS fundraising page stating it is for the marine lab; https://my.give.net/arochakenya_assets. Thanks for your support and wish us luck!
Its really astounding how much stuff one needs when starting something new. From seaweed books to snorkelling bags all the little items necessary for effective research add up to a lot of new equipment. Africans are well known for their resourcefulness and being able adapt and reuse items for novel tasks and its no different here at A Rocha Kenya. When I told Henry (the Centre Manager) I needed a clip board for my underwater paper we looked around what scrap material we had here at Mwamba and settled on an old plastic toilet cistern as being the perfect tool for my new clipboard.
Ten years ago, whilst working with Turtle Bay Beach Club, Colin produced a map of the local area for the benefit of bird enthusiasts who were visiting the resort. The map covered nearby Turtle Bay and Dabaso areas and showed visitors taking a walk inland what kind of birds the might expect to see where.
In the intervening years, the local area has changed drastically as a result of development, but the map hasn’t been updated to indicate any changes to bird communities this may have caused. So, with a mind to change that, an intrepid group set out very early Thursday morning to see what they would see, with little anticipation of how significant the morning would be.
On the old airstrip by Dabaso rock, Colin noticed a pair of small brown birds feeding that he couldn’t immediately identify. Back at Mwamba, a study of the field guides suggested that it might be a rare sighting of the Greater Short-Toed Lark. On the suspicion that they might still be feeding there, another group hopped in the jeep and sped back out to the airstrip. Hopes were raised when they were immediately found again in the same spot and the view through the telescope confirmed that they were indeed Greater Short-Toed Larks!
The significance of this sighting is that according to the book ‘Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania’ by Zimmerman et al (1996), there are only two previous records for the whole of Kenya! The first was way back in 1899, whilst the most recent was 45 years ago in 1964! Whilst it is conceivable that there have been more sightings since the book was published, their rareity means that is unlikely that they would have happened without Mwamba Bird Centre hearing about it. Therefore, we can tentatively claim to have recorded Kenyas 3rd sighting!
Greater Short-Toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla longipennis)
Early Saturday morning found us piling into the pick-up truck and making the drive to the Sabaki River, north of Malindi. There, we met the local bird enthusiast group, the ‘Sabaki Skimmers’ – Dixon, Michael, Joseph, Patrick and Sammy all guys from the village who are excited by conservation. A long walk through muddy mangroves and dunes to the river mouth followed and from there, we were ready to start counting the multitude of birds that were hanging out there.
Colin gives the Sabaki Skimmers a pep talk
Armed with a plethora of binoculars, telescopes, notepads, tally counters and the ubiquitous suncream (for the mzungus at least!), we split into two teams and started purposely pointing our lenses towards the fields of flamingos, Sanderlings and Crab-plovers and scribbling frantic notes.
As the morning wore on, we gradually made away up the delta, crossing hippo tracks and checking out the fish the local kids had caught, which amounted to a small handful of tiny baby fish. Disappointingly, there were several groups of kids out in the river fishing with mosquito nets. Not only is fishing illegal by national law in the river, fishing with a net with such small net sizes means that no fish can escape. Estuaries such as the Sabaki River Delta are vital habitats for juvenile fish, offering them protection amongst the mangroves from predators and other threats in the open ocean. Such non-discriminating fishing methods sweep up young fish and allow only the very very lucky ones to reach maturity and thus threaten the long-term viability of local fisheries. And yet, these kids need to eat. One of the challenges of conservation is ensuring the long term sustainability of habitats, as well as the livelihoods of the local people.
Nearly 3 and a half hours later, with the mzungu skin truly beginning to crisp, we made our final counts. A successful morning indeed – we counted 42 species and a total of 7,305 individual birds. Of these, it was particularly interesting to large numbers of White-cheeked Terns and surprisingly, a major lack of Little Stints, a reason for which still baffles!
With ringing it can be a little like opening Christmas presents… you just never know what might turn up in your nets! This was very much the case for our last morning ringing at Mwamba the end of the first week before shifting to the Gede KEFRI plantation site. We’d been catching precious little in terms of birds from our 14 nets (Alan had taken just 2 birds out between 9 am and 5:30pm!) but the 8:30am round on the last morning produced a surprise star… He was at net no.7 cleaning sticks and leaves from it after the monkeys had been playing in the bottom panel of the net and as he stood there something large and heavy thudded into the net beside him. A dark pigeon – but what?!
When I took it out of the bird bag back at the centre to look at it, it had some slight ‘bronzing’ metallic colour on the breast and head and also the beginnings of a white nape collar around the back of the neck. It was clearly a young bird from the dull grey eye colour and some light chestnut fringing on many of the body feathers. The nape collar together with a pale grey tip to the tail and overall colouration confirmed it as an Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon – a species that I know is on the species list for the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, but which I’ve never seen anywhere on the coast and certainly not in ASF and even less expected in a bit of scrub and secondary dune forest by the beach! I don’t recall having even met anyone who’s seen one down here before!
When you turn to the books, the suggestion is that the handful of records for this species on the coast are probably wandering juveniles from the Usambara mountains in north eastern Tanzania (not far south of the Kenyan border) looking for new territories. As there are so few records on the Kenya coast, this is a very likely explaination – particularly since our bird was a juvenile.
We only caught four birds that morning – A retrap Red-capped Robin Chat, a lone Lesser Masked Weaver, a retrap Pygmy Kingfisher – and the pigeon! “Quality, not quantity”…
Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon – ringed at Mwamba Field Study Centre
Just to add a word of thanks to Michael and Lynton who both have made donations to our work earlier in July totalling $30 – both very much appreciated.
Over the next few weeks I hope to introduce you to the rest of our A Rocha Kenya team based in Watamu on the north Kenyan coast. As well as the research work which I posted several times about in early July and the conservation action / campaigning component of our work such as for the Tana River Delta, we’ve run an Environmental Education programme with schools around Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek and operate our field study centre, Mwamba, as a place for people to come on holiday and/or join in on our work. Life is very busy and full in Watamu despite the coast having the reputation for being ‘laid back and easy-going’ – which I think you’ll agree with as the story unfolds.
Tsofa, our Env. Education Officer, helping a school boy release a bird after it has been ringed at the A Rocha Kenya centre, Mwamba
I’d better stop and get on with entering data and answering email – core activities of conservation (unfortunately! If only it was all fieldwork…)