Category Archives: Bird Surveys

Recap: David Joins With Group for Monitoring in Boni Forest

In early November, David travelled to Boni Forest, a protected area located along the Kenya-Somali border, to conduct environmental monitoring and assessment surveys alongside a team led by National Museums of Kenya. For two weeks, the group, which included David, Fleur Ng’weno of Nature Kenya, as well as Simon Musila and others from NMK, spent their days trekking through the bush in search of important fauna. During this period, they successfully surveyed the following areas: Kibotho, Sankuri, Mangai, Boni, Dondori Creek, Kiboni, Banahalisi, Kombunu, and Jilokonathi.

Credit: EDGEBlog

Credit: EDGEBlog

According to David, the ecology of Boni Forest is fairly different from that of Arabuko Sokoke Forest, with a more patchy distribution of forest cover, interspaced with stands of Croton shrubs and palms. White, sandy soil predominates the region. While Boni Forest faces similar challenges as ASF—in terms of encroachment and heavy use by forest-adjacent human populations—David and the group were pleased to see large numbers of resident mammals, such as the Adder’s Duiker and the Boni Shrew, something that is increasingly rare in ASF and an indication that the ecosystem is thriving despite all the human activity.

For David, the highlight of the trip came in the form of two birds the group came across, neither of which he nor Fleur (both very experienced birders) were able to identify. David described this as absolutely exhilarating. Also, aside from the fauna of Boni, David found the human community particularly kind, and quickly made friends with many of them. The future holds some exciting prospects for David—already a visiting birder has expressed interest in returning to Boni Forest with David to help identify the two unknown bird species, and several of his new friends from the local community have requested that he return to teach them more about birds, other wildlife, and conservation.

Back in Gede, David has resumed his weekly surveys and monitoring activities within ASF. He remains as enthusiastic as ever…if not slightly more than usual, reinvigorated by the trip to Boni Forest.

The nature of our Nature Reserve

Going by the definition of “Nature Reserve”….a nature reserve should be an area with predominantly untouched flora and fauna in their natural state and high conservation value. This week, Silas and Ngala went out to the Nature Reserve part of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest to do disturbance surveys. I had this definition on my mind and therefore expected it to be well protected. We began our five hour survey at  8am and we were to cover at least 5kms. None of us had a water bottle..all we had was a “piki”, GPS, clip board, data sheets and a pen. We hung our binoculars on our necks as usual and we therefore don’t consider that part of anything new with us.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking through the forest is not an easy task and really requires preparedness. We walk sometimes, we crawl other times and we even run, well, there are elephants and buffaloes unhappy to see us traverse their territories! Sometimes we are even more scared when we come across footprints of a likely poacher. If you met a poacher during a survey in the forest without the company of any ranger, your life hangs in the balance. They can do anything; strangle you, pierce your belly with a poisonous arrow, stab you in the throat or even worse enough, tie you around a tree. These are challenges we have faced and even sometimes evaded and we still go on with or without rangers.

When we arrived in the Nature Reserve part of the forest this week, we parked our “piki” on the forest edge and randomly followed one of the active paths leading into the reserve. There was no any form of disturbance seen except some footprints of what we suspected to be poachers heading back to their camp site after fetching some water. We passed through Cynometra and Brachystagia vegetation and all the cut stems were as old as maybe several years back. No new cut tree or laid snare was seen as we walked through.

On our way back after completing 6km, we decided to take a different route in order to explore other parts of the forest. We came across several water pools where elephants and buffaloes drink water and some of them were rich with very healthy grass. There were still no signs of poaching until we came across a stunning observation. Here, we realized that poachers have also taken their techniques a notch higher. When you talk of watch towers, security is the word that comes on your mind and the same thing, happens to come on the mind of a poacher. Visualize this scenario; a bed of poles constructed by tightening thin strong poles together is tight on two horizontal and parallel branches on a tree to make a comfortable stand where one can sleep and sit as well. And this bed to make it worse, is overlooking a water pool rich with healthy grass!! This definitely means that our guy is a person hunting buffaloes that come to graze in the pool as well as drink water. High-tech, isn’t it?? We however saw it and took its coordinates and all that remains is the rangers to go and take a look and get hold of this person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other than that, we could as well see some signs of death like the skull of a dead Suni. We proceeded towards the edge of the forest and when we came across the Cynometra forest, Ngala turned to me and whispered, ” Hey Silas, this looks like a perfect habitat for the Sokoke Scop’s Owl. Can we walk through and have a critical look?” My response to that was……..

We were very impressed with the state of the reserve and we are happy that the level of disturbance in the nature reserve is very low. However, due to the fact that there are still signs of poachers in the area, there is need to keep a close eye on the reserve in order to ensure that no poacher interferes with the resources in it. We are happy to continue doing our surveys even when situations are extremely hard to operate in. We hope that when we will have sufficient resources, we will put our protocols  a notch higher.

Thank you for reading this blog and recommending it to another person. Most importantly, we thank you for your financial support as well as good wishes.

Mystery Unravelled!!!!

I am talking of our never ending sojourn that has seen us get to learn a lot about natural resources and of keen interest, the threatened species of birds. Ngala is known for being the man behind Sokoke Scops Owl in Arabuko-Sokoke forest and I have accompanied him a couple of times to camp in the forest and be on the move at the crack of dawn as we follow the hooting Owl within thick vegetation. This is just one of the endangered species and at least there has been significant information about it on the web. However, there has been another species whose information is meager that you have to travel all the way to the Kenya coast in order to see it and learn something about it. This is the Clarke’s Weaver!! First was the breeding site discovered in Dakatcha woodlands over a month ago and since then, Ngala and I have been focusing specifically on wetlands within and around Arabuko-Sokoke forest. On 25th of March, this man with incredible mastery of the forest decided to ride his motorbike right on the edge of the forest and towards the south-west edge of the forest, he discovered a wetland. It was early evening and  birds would be returning to their roost sites. He decided to park his “piki” and have a closer look at the site and there he saw the Clarke’s Weavers. Most of them were female in their post-breeding plumage and there were a host of other species including the Zanzibar Red Bishop, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Grosbeak Weavers. Later on, last week, we undertook a visit as a whole team from Mwamba field study centre to witness this discovery by the Disney hero. The wetland as I saw it, was the perfect habitat for breeding of the species-made of sedges and reeds- and with abundance of water.

 

 

 

 

After spending two hours at the site between 5pm and 7pm, we set back to Mwamba and organized for a hike in the forest to all the wetlands. We managed this easily because we could pinpoint the pools from the Google maps. On a rainy Tuesday morning we set out in the forest again, this time without Ngala, to visit all the pools and assess the potential of them being breeding/roosting  sites for the Clarke’s Weavers. Out of the ten we planned to visit, we managed to trace eight and out of the eight, three were perfect for Clarke’s Weaver habitation. We had to stop after the eighth pool because the remaining two were three kilometres apart and it was totally rainy and windy.

 

 

Ngala and I are looking forward to visiting these three potential wetlands during morning and evening hours and spend some time monitoring any Weavers come in or fly out. We are certain that even if we don’t see them this year, we will see them next year during the breeding season between March and April. It is a puzzle to us still because we haven’t seen their nests but we won’t tire in monitoring them until we see them nest in some of these wetlands.

Well, we have the roost site unravelled around the forest for the first time since starting  our ten-year search. What’s next? leave it for us and follow us on this blog and you will definitely be the first to get the information. Your support either financially or through reading and recommending this post to other conservationists gives me the spirit of motivation to keep pushing with Ngala until we bring sufficient information about this threatened bird species.

Now, it’s time to wind up with this weird and wonderful!!!

Sniffing the poachers…..in Arabuko Sokoke forest-Kenya

Poaching is a subject that comes on the mind of almost every conservationist but the task is differentiating between this illegal activity and the entire exercise of getting down to the poacher. David Ngala and I are like “sniffer dogs” but we sniff a rather different thing. We search, GPS mark and remove snares from Arabuko Sokoke forest as well as surveying all the illegal tree logging going on within the forest, We do this by faith and by the fact that even the biblical context calls upon us to be stewards of God’s creations. We do this regularly to help bring the true picture of the kind of illegal things that are happening as a result of ignorance by man over God’s creation. We work closely with Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service who then make a follow-up. The bible in the book of Jeremiah 12:4 says…”How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? The beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end”.

 

 

 

 

 

On 8th of March we set out early to a transect in the forest in an area that has been thought to be one of those areas bordering the tensely populated community around. We chose this area randomly as always and when we arrived at the place, we even encountered some men emerging from the forest with machetes. There was little that we could do as we have no authority whatsoever to arrest anyone. We were determined to cover about 5km into the forest using active human paths. We encountered several small trees cut for poles at the beginning and as we moved further deep, we began encountering the heavy stumps that were freshly cut. I could not believe my eyes seeing such huge trees that are home to birds, tree squirrels and even beautiful snakes having been heavily logged. As usual, we did take the GPS points and moved on to other areas. There were decreased number of animal species and less often, we could hear Greenbuls calling and at one point we came across two Crested Quineafowls. It was hot and we were very sweaty and thirsty. Unfortunately, none of us had carried a bottle of water-Ngala does it the camel style-taking a lot of water before starting the transect,  and for me, I was just lazy not to carry a bottle of water because it would become just another burden so hard to bear later on.

It is awful to realize that our forest is being heavily logged and the action being taken is not being fully implemented. Although environmental education has been incorporated, most people have been adamant to practice conservation. A Rocha Kenya is playing its role through creation of awareness through the ASSETS program which targets the surrounding community near Arabuko Sokoke forest by providing bursaries to students around it in order to ease the burden from parents who have to poach into the forest in order to raise school fees.The good news is that some of the forest trees that have been cut down in the past are now regenerating and we saw quite a number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our way back, we came across a huge baobab tree, perhaps a few decades old and we were tempted to measure the circumference and try to calculate its diameter. It was about 8.4m in circumference which gave us about 2.7m in diameter. Such a tree grown to a height of about 30m, that’s HUGE!!!  Indeed, the forest has massive resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As always, we are determined to use the little resources we have to bring this to you and create awareness through our surveys to the people around the forest and around the world. We apologize for the poor quality of the pictures as they were taken using a phone.

You can also send in your donations through the Donate option on top right. Thanks very much for your support as you have just saved the habitat for an animal in Arabuko Sokoke forest.We also give our thanks for the support we are getting from our sponsors-both corporate and individual as this will propel us to the next level and help conserve the  resources in this forest.

 

Ornithological Congress

David received an invitation two weeks ago to atted an ornithological congress by the Pan African Ornithological Congress (POAC) which will be held at Arusha in Tanzania.The congress will be held on 14th to 21st of October.

PAOC is a regular congress which is held after every four years to talk about African Ornithology with the aim of promoting  conservation of African birds.

He has been requested to make a presentation of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and the bird monitoring programme he has been working on.

David in one of his Bird surveys

East Coast Akalat surveys in Arabuko-Sokoke

The East Coast Akalat is a rare bird at the Arabuko-Sokoke forest. It is known to occur in small groups in various other forested patches, however, the single largest known population is found in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest (Matiku et al. 2000). The East Coast Akalat has been classified as Near Threatened (likely to be seriously threatened in the near future), due to habitat fragmentation and loss in the forest in which it occurs (BirdLife Internatinoal 2008, IUCN 2007).  (*From a report written and produced by A Rocha Kenya*)  David usually conducts 12 East Coast Akalat surveys during December of every year. Last year David and Andrew , who is a research assistant at A Rocha Kenya, went to Komani, which is almost in the middle of the forest,

Ngala reading the GPS during the survey

Ngala reading the GPS during the survey

to do this survey.

They went out at 5:50 am and on their way they observed few suni footprints, which they were happy to see, as it is rare to see suni due to the trapping which was been taking place in that part of the forest. Despite the seemingly reduced number of mammal activity in the forest, there was still the usual abundance of birds calling in the forest.

It was a nice morning for a survey and they were able to identify 11 different East Coast Akalats calling along their transect. They were not fortunate enough to see the bird, as it was calling from within dense forest, but they closest one they heard was a mere 5 meters from the trail.The survey ended at 8:15 am.

On their way out of the forest David took Andrew to see the Sokoke Scops Owl; another rare bird in the forest. After hiking 50 meters off the road along a barely discernable path through the dense forest, David pointed out two of the owls roosting 5 meters above their heads in the forest canopy.

David and Patrick are currently working on writing an end-of-the-year annual report to give the the KFS to assist them in the protection and conservation of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. We will hopefully be posting some of his results and observations on the blog in the weeks to come.

59 bird species identified …..seen any of these birds?

59 bird species identified …..seen any of these birds?

While I was at mrima wa ndege, I did some birding and identified 59 bird species. Mrima wa ndege is the name of a place in Swahili while means ‘the hill of birds” no wonder I got so many bird species. Here is a list of the bird species I identified in their common names:-

DN - Camping with warden 0882.jpg

a view from mrima wa ndege.

1. African Barred owl

2. African scops owl

3. Fiery necked night jar

4. Zanzibar Sombre greenbul

5. Black headed Oriole

6. Northern brownbal

7. Collared sunbird

8. Grey headed bushshrike

9. ring necked dove

10. Laughing dove

11. Black crowned tchagra

12. Striped kingfisher

13. Tropical bulbul

14. Common bulbul

15. Red tailed tinkerbird

16. Long-tailed fiscal

17. Crested francolin

18. Red eyed dove

19. Pale flycatcher

20. Emarol spotted wood dove

21. Namaqua dove

22. Blue eyed starling

23. Purple banaded sunbird

24. Northern white crowned shrike

25. White-browed coucal

26. Red-billed buffalo weaver

27. Fork-tailed drongo

28. Golden pipit

29. Northern crownec

30. Grey wren-wabler

31. Black headed batis

32. White winged chat

33. Blue naped mousebird

34. Brown headed parrot

35. Rufous chatterer

36. Speckled mousebird

37. Grey hornbill

38. Mouse coloured sunbird

39. African bare-eyed thrush

40. Common scimitarbill

41. Grey-backed camaroptera

42. Sulphur breasted bush shrike

43. Spotted morning thrush

44. White bellied go-away-bird

45. Chestnut weaver

46. Black collared barbet

47. European golden oriole

48. Lilac breasted roller

49. Little bee eater

50. Greater honey guide

51. Amethyst sunbird

52. Green wood hoopoe

53. Palm swift

54. Pied wagtail

55. Burn swallow

56. Von der Decken’s hornbill

57. African harrier-hawk

58. Black backed puffback

59. Redchicked donblue

DN at camp site.jpg

David Ngala

FoASF – Conservation Officer

[email protected]

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Ducking Elephants to find the elusive SGT

Last week Albert and I went to the Mida area in mixed forest to monitor the elusive “SGT” – Spotted Ground Thrush. From the Mida gate we went into the forest for about three kilometers where we parked our motorbike by the track. Our transect was on the left hand (southern) side and started 10 metres in from the road. The transect we do is 1km long in the forest with stops every 100m to listen and look particularly hard for the bird. We began the work and when we reached about 400 metres away from the road saw a big branch of a tree just very recently broken by elephants…

However, we had a job to do and so did not care much allow ourselves to be scared of the Elephants and instead kept on with our work as we thought they were on the other side of the road. We managed to do the whole transect – with no sightings of an SGT – and began our way back towards the road.

Just 300 metres from where we commenced our transect we heard a bird song that was very unfamiliar that hence attracted our attention. Albert thought it might be a variation of the Red-capped Robin Chat which mimics many other species and can easily fool you, but I suspected it was a Ground Thrush as I’ve heard one sing once before briefly. The bird kept on singing which made it possible for us to creep through the bushes to find where it was that it was singing. Only about 30m in from the narrow path we were on we saw it on a low branch – still singing beautifully!! We were both very excited by it and watched the bird while moving closer excitedly and noting its behaviour. After a few minutes we heard the elephants breaking trees very close by hence interrupting our observing though we managed to take a GPS recording with Alberts GPS (mine is still broken). We were done and set off towards the road where we saw fresh footprints & dung of elephants at about 60metres along the transect we used!

ele_dung_ASF.jpgFresh elephant dung just near the SGT transect – a real sign you have to take care in the forest

We reached the piki safely and thanked God for enabling us to see the Spotted Ground Thrush and for protecting us from wild animals so that we therefore carried out our work successful.


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Bird surveys and cut trees

It was a little while back now that this happened as we’ve been having difficulty getting information to Colin who’s got the internet access for posting blogs, but I wanted to tell you about one of our typical surveys we do in the forest. It was one of our regular surveys in the Arabuko Sokoke forest; actually it was very cold that morning as we drove our motorbike to our designated transect. Our target was doing a common bird point count survey for the first two and a half of the morning hours and then doing forest disturbances as it was to be hot for the birds.

Albert Baya
Albert Baya, an A Rocha Kenya Field technician, who has been with me for almost 14 years doing the research and monitoring of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest and the surrounding, stopped counting the birds and pointed out some cut stems which were almost 2 metres from the transect, trying to look more further away, it was bad to see the most vulnerable trees were cut.

In a distance of 5 km we were able to count 46 cut stems, for wood and carving, 4 active campsites and 2 old
camps which we thought they moved two or three months ago.

cut tree stump

Whilst our forest is being managed by an active Forest Management Team, we are actually frustrated to see all these activities still happening.

We have several vulnerable and endangered bird, plant, butterfly, lizard species in the forest, but on the day of this survey we saw Clarke’s Weavers about 25 in one group of which we used to see 50+, and we were not able to see any male actively feeding on a Brachystegia tree. The Clarke’s Weaver breeding ground is not yet known and now the feeding grounds are being destroyed, we need to have a support to help stop this distraction otherwise we will lose our heritage. The picture here is one that was taken by Steve Garvie who is a birder and photographer who I took into the forest last year to see the specialities. These are the best photos I have seen of Clarke’s Weaver and we like to say “asante sana” to Steve for letting us use them.

Clarke's Weaver by Steve Garvie

Asante sana & Amani Sunbirds

Hi there, Colin here again with some more updates. First though, to say a very big ‘Asante SANA!’ to our very generous donors for your donations. These came at a critical point when we needed exactly what was given to cover the costs of David’s driving test to get a full motorbike licence (he’s been driving on an ‘L’-plate so far which is ok but far from ideal). Thank you!!

David dropped round at the office yesterday with the news of having to get his “piki” licence (we call a motorbike a ‘piki-piki’ here which is because of the sound they make – we don’t ride Harley-Davidsons, you must understand!!. This is often shortened to just ‘piki’) and to get set up to do some surveys of the Amani Sunbird Anthreptes pallidigaster which is one of the rare and Endangered birds of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. Part of his job is to assist with these surveys which are headed up by A Rocha Kenya but as he’s such a bird ‘fundi’ (expert) he’s The Man for the job to assist with it. So he was out early Monday and Tues this week with volunteer Dave the Brave (from Canada) who’s taking the lead on the sunbird surveys and was out early this morning with Albert and goes again tomorrow for the same thing. Amani Sunbirds are found pretty much only in the Brachystegia Woodland in the forest – one of the three major habitat types. The picture below shows a typical section of one of the Amani survey transects.

brachystegia_Matsangoni.jpg

David’s written some more which we’ll be posting just as soon as we can get it typed up and get access to the ‘net again.