Black-faced Sandgrouse (Pterocles decoratus)

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The sandgrouse are distributed across northern, southern and eastern Kenya, Specifically in desert and semi-arid areas of Samburu, Meru, Marsabit, Turkana,Lake Baringo,Tsavo west and east, and Amboseli

Sandgrouse have compact bodies, but small, pigeon-like heads and necks. The different species range in length from 24 – 40 cm and weigh from 150 – 500 g.

Males and females look alike, Some species are also polymorphic .

They have long pointed wings and short legs that are feathered down to the toes, and members of the genus Syrrhaptes also have feathered toes.

Sandgrouse mostly feed on seed and are often seen in large feeding flocks with up to 100 birds.

Sandgrouse are monogamous (form life-long pair bonds). They make their nest on a slight depression in the ground. The average clutch consists of 2 eggs, occasionally up to 4. The male and female share the incubation duties; with the male incubating during the night and early mornings, and the female taking over during the day.

The young hatch after about 20 – 25 days; and are able soon able to leave the nest.

They are able to feed themselves from the day they hatch, but have to learn foraging skills from their parents for several months.

December 30, 2011: Rufous-naped Lark (Mirafra africana)

 Rufous-naped Lark  (Mirafra Africana)

The Rufous-naped Lark’s head is coloured brown as well as the bill. The Mirafra Africana has a white coloured throat, pink legs and a brown coloured back. The eyes are brown.

The male Mirafra africana has physical features that are slightly different from the female bird. When the bird is excited it has a richly striped rufous crown. In most observatory incidence the bird tends to call from a raised platform or rather on top of a medium sized tree.

In Kenya, the bird is widely distributed in areas around central Kenya, Lake Naivasha, Maasai Mara and Amboseli National park.

Rufous-naped lark Rufous-naped lark song

I recently spotted this Rufous-naped lark in the Maasai Mara National Reserve and recorded it’s song.

– Joe

December 6, 2011: Eastern Paradise Whydah

The Eastern Paradise Whydah is a small, widely occurring bird of eastern Africa. It gathers in flocks but separates into pairs during the mating season.Easten Paradise Whydah is a species specific brood parasite with its target being the Green-winged pytilia.

This bird is both dichromatic and dimorphic during the breeding season. When in “breeding mode”, the male has black plumage along its back and tail, with a yellow nape and chestnut colored lower breast and belly. It also grows new long- tail feathers. During the non-breeding season, it loses its striking black and yellow coloration, becoming brownish in color with black streaks on its head. The female has grayish, black-streaked upper-parts with a brown-colored head. Its breast is pale gray and its belly is white.

Eastern Paradise Whydah

The Eastern Paradise Whydah feeds on grass seeds such as millet and wild oats, but will occasionally take termites and grubs.

It inhabits dry thorn scrub and open or woodland savannahs throughout eastern Africa. Fairly common after heavy rains both as a resident and a wonderer , appearing usually near watering areas. Well distributed in the  area of  Samburu, Meru, Lokichokio, Turkana, Tsavo and Amboseli National park.

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