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!!!
Sometimes I take a stroll in the Arabuko Sokoke forest to do bird watching and I never mind where I step because I really have my eyes fixed on the birds. I have been used to hanging my binoculars around my neck and walking with my eyes fixed on tree branches and my ears keen to listen to bird calls. Last week on Friday I joined the Disney hero for snare and cut stem survey and was shocked after completing our 5km transect. I am Silas Ekesa and I am currently coordinating Ngala’s surveys and this opportunity has always given me a chance to unravel a lot of mysteries that still put our conservation efforts into a complex puzzle. We set our journey for Mkongani at exactly 8am, which was precisely 24hrs after I left the same forest at a different location after a whole night of camping to trace the Sokoke Scops Owl. Ngala got me on a motorbike and we were there at exactly 9.30am. Right near to the edge of the forest at the beginning of the transect we came across a relatively open area where most Brachystagia and Manilkara spp had been cut down for charcoal burning and timber harvesting.
We counted up to 21 stems of cut tree within the first 2km and came across a few debarked trees which I couldn’t tell the reason why they were being debarked initially. Shortly afterwards, we diverted and followed the transect deep into the forest away from the main path. Here, the forest became thick and bushy and that is when I started coming across the snares and had to think out why the snares were more common there. I realized that there different types of snares and Ngala explained to me the types according to the sizes and their position. There were snares for Duikers, Elephant shrews, Crested Guineafowls, Bushbucks and some meant to detect the presence of any other person passing through a given path. Ngala and I removed 21 snares by the time we got to the end of the transect and all of them were GPS marked for purposes of management and community-based environmental education.. On the way, we had also counted and recorded over 50 cut and debarked trees whose GPS points were also taken.
During this survey, I noticed two things; one is that trees are poached near the main paths probably because of safety and ease of transport of timber and poles by poachers and two, the traps are laid away from the main paths probably because most of these animals are moving and feeding away from main paths where there is a lot of disturbance. You now know why you need to mind your steps.
There was very few animals we encountered while doing our survey which means there are chances that either they are migrating to run away from disturbance or they have been poached to critical levels. Our major worry and concern is about the local endemics such as the Elephant shrew and the Sokoke Scops Owl whose habitats are being damaged. David Ngala and I will continue with our efforts to conserve our forest and all the natural resources in it and we hope that your support through donations will boost us to conserve this only remaining patch of forest and the endemic species in it till you come to see it with your own eyes. Our pictures may not be of good quality because Ngala’s camera has a broken screen and I therefore used a poor quality camera. Thanks to all of you who are already supporting us and we will keep you up to date with every step we take. Your support of this project is highly welcome through donations to help us get materials such as a good quality camera.
It has been almost three months since the last post on the electric fence.The research computer that i was using to do Davids work crashed and had to be taken for a repair.It was a major problem which took some time to be fixed.Because the problem was major,the GIS programme which i use in producing maps was lost.This also took some time.We have two volunteers here who worked and were able to re install the programme.The computer is now fully fixed.
Research computer fixed
While the computer was not functioning, alot of activities were on with David.David has been going into to the forest with KWS and KFS staff more frequently now.Last week David and the rangers were in the forest and were able to rescue a trapped sykes monkey.
- KFS rangers holding traps
It has been a while now and David has not gone to the forest.Over the last one month David was struggling on taking his daughter in and out of hospital and unfortunately last month his daughter passed on.It has been a tough time for David and he is still very destructed from this loss.His daughter died on 10th of April and was burried on 14th of the same month.David has been in his village ever since and he came back just a week ago.
However there has been alot of work going on in the office, finalizing the data entry and arranging all the data from the previous year.I have been able to produce last years maps and have started doing this years maps and report writing.It has been very interesting to see the maps after a struggle in putting all the the data in order.This is the beginning of what we will be doing every month, to produce monthly maps and reports to help the Arabuko-Sokoke team in conserving the forest
Last week ,we decided to visit Munir site again but this time we went to the other side of the area.Accompanied by the KWS rangers, we started the survey at 9:00am.We saw alot of human paths which indicates that there is human activity.As we walked further in we started to see the number of trees that had been cut down.
This side of Munir has been really destroyed and it is the brachyleana huillensis tree that has been greatly damaged. This tree is mostly used by poachers for carvings.We even saw more trees that have been marked and might be the next ones to be cut down.We did a quick count and saw that there were 72 cut trees from the survey.
David said that he would like to return again to check on the marked trees and also go further in to see if there are any activities. Throughout the survey we did not find any snares which is very good and also there were alot of four toed elephant shrew paths..lots
After last weeks survey in which we discovered two camp sites, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) took immediate action and on Wednesday15th David and I were accompanied by the researcher at KWS plus two rangers, to the camp sites. We set out at 8:40am this time with the KWS Car. On our way we saw a dead Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin( Cercotrichas quadrivirgata). We could not tell the cause of death but David thought it could be a snake bite.
We arrived at Munir site around 9:16am and set up everything to go in. After only 300 metres walk we saw a cut tree log written TOKENI HATARI which literally means LEAVE DANGER. There were two ways we could take this message written on the cut trees 1) The tree poachers were trying to communicate with their partners and warning them that they had been found out, or 2) The message was meant for us, attempting to intimidate and scare us away from their camp… As we went further to the campsite we saw the same message more than twice. On reaching the camp we were able to judge that the messages were meant for us since there was one which said PLIZ CALL OR SMS FOR MAELEWANO YA KAZI which is to say that “WE SHOULD CALL FOR NEGOTIATIONS”.
At the same site there was another writing which was a warning to the other poachers that they should leave since we had been at the camp site (TOKENI JAMAA WAMEINGIA HADI HAPA meaning “Get out of here! The rangers have come right to this spot!”). They must have seen our footsteps from our first survey.
After taking pictures,we continued with the survey and took another path. This path had a lot of snares and less tree cuttings. The KWS rangers took note and said they will be surveying that area regularly. It was a very cloudy day and later on the path it rained on us but luckily it was not a heavy downpour. We walked out of the forest at around 1:00pm.
It was a shocking and scary day since we did not know what the poachers were up to with the intimidating messages and this was the first time that I saw this. It was at least safer with the two rangers who were on high alert after seeing that there were a lot of writings.
Rangers reading message
David has been continuing with the surveys in the forest while I am still doing the final reports for last year. Last week on 04/02, David and I went to the forest to do a survey. We went to Komani area to a place known as Munir site, which is in the middle of the Arabuko-Sokoke forest .It was a very rough ride since it is a very sandy road and we were on a motorbike, but David rides well. We arrived safely and started the survey at around 8:30am.
We were very lucky to see a Red duiker from afar immediately. We finished setting the GPS for the survey. This was my very first time to see a Red duiker and I was very excited. I wanted to take a picture, but the camera could not zoom in well ,the duiker was meters away. David explained that before, it was possible to see many of this species but due to destructions in the forest, we were very lucky to see one.
Again, this was a very lucky day for us to see another animal, and, this time, it was a dwarf mongoose. They are very fast animals and we were not able to take a picture, again, since it dashed away on seeing us, though it was very close. As we went further into the forest, we saw alot of destruction on the brachyleana tree species which is mostly used by poachers for carvings.
As we went further, we saw an abandoned camp site which had left overs of the carvings and also feathers of guinea fowl plus lots of paper bags.This path we took led us to another campsite, which we saw as active and though the poachers were not there. There was clear evidence that they had just left maybe to get other things since they left everything there. Water, cooking utensils, sleeping nets and even few of the carvings were left. We have already reported this to the concerned authorities – Kenya Forest Service(KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), whose support we really appreciate.On this day we were not able to finish our survey, as David suddenly started feeling very sick that he had to go rest for 30 minutes. So we ended our survey at around 1:30pm. I had to ride back since David was not well.
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
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.
Sokoke Scops Owl
Dakatcha Woodland is an important area for fauna and flora lying c.20km due north of Arabuko-Sokoke across the Sabaki River. Many conservation organizations have taken part in educating the communities about the importance of forests and how to conserve their heritage in their areas.
A private Italian business came through the Council of Malindi and persuaded the members of the Malindi Council and other stakeholders to propose the area to be taken by the business to plant Jatropha for biofuel. Formally, they proposed the area from Baricho to Adu to be a Jatropha plantation - an area of 50,000ha, but the business was allowed to start with only 10,000 hectares for just a trial and thereafter see what they would do.
Dakatcha Woodland is on the north-western side of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest approximately 20 km directly and 80 km in a car as one must go around the river at Sabaki Bridge. The woodland has many patches of Cynometra, Brachystegia and other bushes. This is important because we get Clarke’s Weaver in the Brachystegia trees and Sokoke Scops Owls in the Cynometra trees and other vegetation.
Dakatcha Woodland is also a Government Crown Land. The area has many households and elder’s sub-divisions in it, but it has not been officially demarcated by the Ministry of Lands and Settlement. The Department of Lands have demarcated the area in the eastern part of Marafa, a few kilometres from Marafa town.
Therefore, before the land department reaches the habitats concerned, I would be very interested to go there and track the area so that the fauna and flora could at least have a place to stay and also that the area would be recognized as a forest reserve.
I am therefore inviting any interested individual or conservation organization who is willing to donate to support me to go to the Dakatcha Woodlands in order to carry out surveys as to what birds and trees can be found there.
I surveyed an area of Vithundani Village on the North West of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. The habitat of the area is Cynometra thicket. I followed the path which was entering the forest and I found 43 animal snares. 17 snares were old were old and the rest were active. When I spotted the 7th snare, I found a female Suni was caught in it and still alive. I took a movement picture and then released it, as shown below.
In the same path, at the 19th snare, I found another Suni was caught, and the owner of the snares took some days without checking them. This caused the animal to become rotten as shown here, with only a piece of its leg left by the snare.
Skeleton of the trapped suni