Last week was a very busy week for the Research and Monitoring staff and volunteers. On Monday morning, we went to Sabaki for a shorebird, gull, and tern count. Sabaki town is at the delta of the Sabaki River (which is also the Galana River in Tsavo East, and starts in Nairobi as the Athi River). There were five birds of prey flying around over the roosting waders and terns, including Marsh Harrier, Mantague’s Harrier, Black Kite, and two Peregrine Falcons. Unfortunately, they were scaring up all the birds we wanted to count, so instead we practiced our identification skills.The falcons were very impressive to watch as they swooped down from great height to catch a bird, but each time we watched this, no bird was caught. On our way back to the vehicle, we saw two hippos playing in the surf at the very point where the river becomes the ocean.
Colin mentioned that the delta has changed quite a lot in the last few years, with much less sticky mud, and mangroves starting to fill in where the water used to come up to. There are probably two reasons that these changes are occurring. One is that poor farming practices up river are causing a lot of erosion, which makes for a greater sediment load in the river, and then much more settling occurring at the delta. Secondly, there are a number of wells that have been drilled to pull water out of the river, and supply water to all of Malindi, Watamu, and the surrounding areas. To me, the habitat at the delta seems great for shorebirds, but I wonder what these changes will bring in the near and distant future.
On Tuesday afternoon and evening, we prepared for banding birds in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, the largest remnant dry coastal forest in eastern Africa. This forest supports many endangered species, one of which is the East Coast Akalat, a small robin, which is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (www.iucn.org) Red List, indicating that it is critically endangered. With a group of college students visiting from Washington State, USA, we set up 11 18-m mist nets in three runs, ready to be opened early the next morning.
On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, we banded four new akalats, and recaptured two, one from 2010 and one from 2008. Andrew, Colin’s research staff person, who has been here for about five months as an official employee and was here previously as a volunteer, has never even seen the East Coast Akalat (he was in Nairobi for our two banding sessions), and I got to help band them! This was very exciting for me. We also banded four new Fischer’s Greenbuls, three new Tiny Greenbuls, four new Eastern Bearded Scrub Robins, four new Forest Batis, and one new Grey-backed Camaroptera.We were also lucky to catch a Crested Guineafowl, the first one that Colin has banded, on our first morning. Our total count was 30 birds.
Finally, on Friday morning (i.e., 3:oo am), we were up and out to the beach setting nets to catch waders. When the tide is high, a lot of the smaller waders, like Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, leave Mida Creek and come to roost on the beach in front of Mwamba. When the high tide is overnight, we can set up our nets in the dark and catch the birds to ring them, because they can’t see the nets and will fly into them. When we were setting up the nets, there were very few birds around us, so Colin went down the beach towards Garoda, and “twinkled” the birds toward the nets. At the end of the morning (i.e., 8:00 am), we had caught 20 birds, with eight of them being retraps.
It was a great week for the R+M staff here at A Rocha, with lots of field work and birds-in-hand. As a volunteer leaving in early April, I look forward to all opportunities to get into the field and learn about Kenyan wildlife and culture.
Post written by Maggi Sliwinski, a volunteer from New York, USA.