White-Starred Robin (Pogonocichla stellata)

White-starred Robin

During our brief two days stay at a pristine montane forest located in the southern part of Mt. Kenya, we came across this eye-catching forest robin. Observing it from the back might appear a little bit dull, but wait until it turns its back to you, and you will be amazed by its bright-yellow breast, its views will surely take your breath away .

On our way up there, we had early on passed through Wajee Nature Park located Mukurweini valley, which is arguably the best site in Kenya to see the endemic Hinde’s Babbler, we managed to steal few excellent views of this iconic species, but missed the African Wood Owl which our guide James as earlier on said it roots at the reserve.

Other than the White-starred Robin, we also managed to record species like; Rameron and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Red-fronted Parrot, Olive Ibis, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Ruppell’s Robin-chat, Hunter’s Cisticola, Black-throated, Chestnut-throated and Grey Apalis, Abbott’s and Waller’s Starling, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Oriole Finch and several species of Sunbird.

Once again, birding Mt.Kenya forest reserve is always exciting and rewarding, I will never get enough of this forest .

 

Making Avian Tourism Count to Communities, Ecosystem and Business in Kenya.

With around 10,000 bird species to look at, it should come as no surprise that birdwatching (or ‘birding’) has become one of the more popular nature-related hobbies.Bird watchers, ornithologists and wildlife photographers spend millions of dollars every year travelling around the globe searching for this incredible swimming, walking and flying beauties. It is however, important to note that bird watching, or birding is the fastest-growing recreational activity in the United States, and that the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds alone boasts one million members. It’s a specialist outdoor activity that enjoys a huge global following.

Piero Aberti
Piero Aberti

Kenya is one of those destination where any self respecting birder must visit at least once in their life time. Well don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way suggesting that we can compare Kenya important bird areas to Manu national park in Peru or Pantanal in the lowland of Brazil!. First, let’s look at the product; there is no doubt about it: when it comes to Landscape, we’re right up there. We have sweeping savannas that makes the heart sing, picture-perfect beaches that cleanse the mind and soaring mountains that pacify the soul on its upward journey. We have hidden universe of creatures in our deep oceans and most importantly, the second-largest collection of bird species on the planet. Now, that is an exceptional fact that put us forward as significant destination to the ornithological community globally. Ken.vogels.bew. - 419
Which brings me to this question, are birders good for birds? Birding and nature tourism are compatible with environmental preservation. Kenya communities living close to important bird’s habitat must take advantage of natural scenic areas by promoting ecotourism. In Promoting bird watching and those areas natural assets will in turn promote a greater awareness of for species conservation and habitat protection and rehabilitation. However, we need to be careful not to over utilize significant habitat which are home to critically endangered and endangered species. Research shows that, the number of visitors increases when more birds are present, but as the number of visitors increases, the number of birds decreases and their minimum distance from the visitors increases, this clearly demonstrate that we must strike a balance between the two.
Birdwatching and twitching tourism has been particularly significant in opening up more remote places including deserts and wetlands, but particularly offshore islands, where more unusual and rare species are to be found. It has contributed to the economic development and environmental management of rural and remote areas, while also being one of the most ecologically sound and sustainable of versions of wildlife tourism. Birding therefore, creates economic value for conservation, and this has been true for different conservation initiative in various part of Kenya, and of important to note is Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP), Kijabe Environmental Volunteers, Lake Victoria Sunset Birders, Guides of Arabuko Sokoke forest and Lake Baringo Biodiversity Conservation Group._84Y4922001

There is potential of considerable expansion on benefit from avian tourism in Kenya. For example, incomes earned by local workers working in establishment developed to cater for birdwatching interest group and improved fees paid to local bird guides for their priceless services which most of the time contribute notably to client’s satisfaction. By raising local income and developing skills at the destination site, it adds to sustainable local development and community based conservation. At the same time, involvement of the local communities in the avian-tourism, improve the product (birdlife) and enhances popular support for the industry.
Lastly, this extract from an interesting book LIFE LIST, by Olivia Gentile. This is a story about Phoebe Snetsinger, an outstanding birder of our time. ‘ The group drove a van with a pop-up top all over the country, and everywhere there were birds and mammals in plain view, against a backdrop of green-gold grass and occasional lonely acacia tree. Some of the common birds in Kenya –or the ones you see day after day, and after a while, even when you close your eyes-are among the most spectacular. The common Ostrich is eight feet tall and bathes by rolling around furiously in dry dirt.The African Jacana’s back shines like a newly polished copper. TheLittle Bee-eater wears a different shade of green on each feather,or it seem in the four o’clock sun. The Gray Crowned-Crane stands tall and still, with a “crown” that looks like freshly picked wheat.Lichestein's Sandgouse
In a Nature Notes pieces, Phoebe couldn’t say which birds had been her favorites, because pretty much all of them had left her “ecstatic”. “One really has to include the Lilac-breasted Roller, ubiquitous though it is. And how can you compare an Emerald Cuckoo (unbelievable shades of green and yellow) to a group of Madagascar Bee-eater –or a paradise Flycatcher –or a Hoopoe –or an Orange-bellied Parrot (Unlikely combination of bright orange and green –or a majestic Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl –or that jewel of a Kingfisher, the Malachite ?……..I feel like the man in the children’s story ‘Millions of Cats’ who chose them all because they were all the most beautiful.”
Phoebe Snetsinger died in 23rd November 1999 while on birding tour in Madagascar. By the time of her death, she had seen 8398 species! Amazing. Asked of her favorite birding locale in the world, this is what she said “ Kenya, for its “spectacular” and “easily seen” birds.

Birds of PreyTheir shad…

Birds of Prey

Their shadow dims the sunshine of our day,
As they go lumbering across the sky,
Squawking in joy of feeling safe on high,
Beating their heavy wings of owlish gray.
They scare the singing birds of earth away
As, greed-impelled, they circle threateningly,
Watching the toilers with malignant eye,
From their exclusive haven–birds of prey.
They swoop down for the spoil in certain might,
And fasten in our bleeding flesh their claws.
They beat us to surrender weak with fright,
And tugging and tearing without let or pause,
They flap their hideous wings in grim delight,
And stuff our gory hearts into their maws.

by: Claude McKay (1889-1948)

Kenya’s Important Bird Areas

A few important resources about Kenya’s Important Bird Areas.

Kenya's Important Bird AreasA fantastic map of Kenya’s Important Bird Areas from Nature Kenya.

Also, from KenyaBirds, a listing table of the Important Bird Areas, Locations, Habitats, and threatened species.

Coming up soon, a Bird of the Week with a song I recorded while birding recently.

Joe

The African Fish Eagle: endangered by pesticide

Through my work with the Lake Baringo Biodiversity Conservation Group and growing up in the region, I have directly witnessed the decline and endangerment of the African Fish Eagle. This spectacular bird that feeds on fish is being poisoned by farmers and agricultural uses.

We at Lake Baringo Biodiversity Conservation Group were concerned about information received about a decline in the population of Fish Eagles for no clear reason and a huge increase in the water level in the lake. Whether this water level increase was good or bad for the general welfare of this vital wetland ecosystem, is a question that we cannot answer with precision without seeking the opinion of a biologist and receiving data to support our hypothesis .The researchers suggest that the decline of the Fish Eagle population in Lake Baringo is being driven by poisoning.

Munir Virani, who is director of Peregrine funds Africa programmes, has been carrying out research in this area, and has blamed this decline in the use of Furadan by farmers to poison crocodiles. Farmers occasionally lace the bodies of dead fish with a toxic pesticide called Furadan. This appears to be aimed at crocodiles that kill their livestock. Farmers use the fish to entice crocodiles into their death, however, not all poisonous fish are eaten by crocodiles, and some end up being eaten by Fish Eagles. If this is done rampantly it can easily wipe out the whole Fish Eagle population in Lake Baringo.

Additionally, the Fish Eagles in Lake Baringo have been trained to be eating dead fish by the local boat operators. They did this deliberately to allow tourists to have a closer view of this spectacular raptor picking up the fish. However, with farmers putting dead poisonous fish into the lake, Fish Eagles trained to eat dead fish subsequently consume these as well. Although the practice of enticing Fish Eagles with dead fish for tourism purposes has no direct detrimental effects on the species, due to the farmer’s practices this has become a serious concern. Unfortunately, no government institution mandated to protect wildlife has intervened to halt the practice of releasing dead poisonous fish into the lake.

Many members of LBBCG run boat excursion businesses for tourists, and have been trying to educate their clients of the risk that such practices pose to these birds of prey. We have subsequently, written to Nature Kenya and Kenya Wildlife Service informing them of the urgent need of an appropriate intervention.

African Fish Eagle Lake Baringo

Furadan, an insecticide, is an extremely toxic to mammals (including Humans!), invertebrates, fish and birds.

The plight of the African Fish Eagle and other wetland birds is being documented by Stop Wildlife Poisoning and WildLifeDirect.

In 2009, Dr. Richard Leakey at WildLifeDirect addressed the potential ban of Furadan in Kenya and FMC’s (Furadan manufacturer) withdrawal from the Kenyan market and its buy-back programme following the poisoning of lions in the Maasai Mara. Although in a follow-up article, the legality of the toxic insecticide in Kenya was still up for debate, and the death of wetland birds in Bunyala due to Furadan poisoning is still being observed in 2011.

Stop Wildlife Poisoning has geared up its awareness campaign and regularly posts about the use of pesticides in Kenya and the poisoning of birds due to Furadan. A video was produced for International Vulture Awareness day on September 2, 2011, and many other images and videos regarding the poisoning of Kenya’s birds can be viewed on Stop Widlife Poisoning’s website.

This disturbing and unacceptable use of pesticides needs to be addressed by the Government of Kenya and its East African neighbours.

– Joe

Important reading & resources:

Stop Wildlife Poisoning: Furadan in Kenya

Bird Life International: Furadan

Africa Conservation: Why the fish eagle is under threat

Protect the Lesser Flamingo – save Lake Natron!

With this week’s bird of the week being the Flamingo, it reminded me of an important environmental and conservation concern regarding this spectacular pink bird: SODA ASH (sodium carbonate). The Eastern Rift Valley is home to Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Lake Elementaita, Lake Magadi, and Lake Natron – all soda lakes, famous for providing the habitat of the near-threatened Lesser Flamingo.

Sodium carbonate is used in many household and industrial products and is being harvested in Lake Magadi, Kenya by TATA Chemicals, who are also proposing to set up a new environmentally devastating plant at Lake Natron, Tanzania.

The introduction of a soda ash plant into Lake Natron would have catastrophic effects on the already near-threatened Lesser Flamingo. Not only would the plant lead to habitat degradation and species loss, but its development would also be detrimental to East African tourism, and the livelihood of the Maasai community living in the surrounding area.

Bird Life International highlighted these concerns in April 2011 with their article “Fresh concerns as President orders Lake Natron soda ash mining fast tracked

“Lake Natron is the only regular breeding site for Lesser Flamingos in Eastern Africa. The 1.5-2.5 million Lesser Flamingos – which represents three quarters of the world population – breed only at Lake Natron. ………Noise from the heavy equipment, the presence of people and a network of pipes will chase away the birds which are highly sensitive to disturbance while breeding”

Lessons learned in Lake Magadi highlight that little to no economic or development benefits have come from harvesting soda ash in the magical waters home to the flamingo.

“Soda ash mining at Lake Magadi has left local communities disillusioned with little to show for the 100 years of mining. The environment has been damaged and fresh water nearly depleted”

With the re-emergence of the issue recently, the Star published an environmental commentary, ‘Don’t Fund Lake Natron Mining’ advocating halting the development of a soda ash factory on Lake Natron.

Let this be a call to bird enthusiasts, ornithologists, conservationists, environmentalists, and tourism professionals to come together and advocate for the protection of Lake Natron, the rehabilitation of Lake Magadi and the security of our precious Lesser Flamingo.

Watch the amazing documentary The Crimson Wing and find inspiration to see these Flamingos continue their flight between the Rift Valley soda lakes.

The stunning movie trailer: The Crimson Wing

Other important articles and resources:

Bird Life International – Think Pink

RSPB: Lake Natron

Bird Life International – Serengeti Highway and Lake Natron

Stop the Serengeti Highway

Joe

Flamingos in Lake BogoriaFlamingos in Flight Lake Bogoria