Preventing poisoning or any other poaching of birds in Bunyala entails never getting into the ‘comfort zone’ that the situation is now contained however it may seem. The poachers will always try to outsmart my team in order to procure bird meat as the scouts strategize against the likely manoeuvres to be employed by the poachers. It is therefore often a game of counteractions!
It has been over a week since I resumed monitoring with my scouts after my trip away from Bunyala. There has been rigorous scouting especially following the poisoning of migrant waders nearly 2 weeks ago. While my presence warrants some degree of reverence from the still practicing poachers, we have remained on high alert knowing that some poachers might be masqueraded amongst the many farmers working in the rice scheme and these could quietly perform their hideous poaching activities. Nonetheless, the situation has remained auspicious with no incidences reported. Further, flocks of migrants have come and migrated on successfully while others have swelled more the numbers of those on site. During this month, we have noted drastic increase in the palaearctic migrant species inclusive of Yellow Wagtails, Ringed Plovers. Black-winged Stilts and Little Stints. The numbers of Ruffs, Green Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers and Common Greenshanks have also been building up and while other flocks of these have been noted to have likely migrated on, currently these seem at home on site. Yesterday, after close to one month, a flock of about 200 Black-tailed Godwits were observed on site. This is a new flock since the other migrated from the site about a month ago. Such data collection has been the norm in building the site’s bird inventory by my team when the situation has been peace and quiet for the birds. Further, I have been photographing the individual species and my followers on Facebook are able to view some of the images.
This evening however when we were about to head home, one of the renowned poachers passed my scouting pair-with Joseph- as we were watching a resident Grey Kestrel hunt at the central section of the rice scheme.
The Grey Kestrel that we were observing today at Bunyala Rice Scheme
A few minutes later, we noticed a second person, estranged to the both of us, watching us from a distance. He pretended to be inspecting his rice plot but clearly his gaze was in our direction most of the time. Joseph then discovered a boy probably in his early teenage run away in what seemed to be a dash to chase birds from a rice seedbed. This was however a move to fool us. We found out that he had laid a decoy bird with bait and then headed away from the set up to avert our attention from the decoy bird.
Decoy African Open-billed Stork; waders preparing to roost in the background
A keen scrutiny through our binoculars and we discovered the decoy bird standing sentry, feathers all ruffed up with characteristic rubber band on beak. This was an Openbill decoy! Around the bird were snail baits laced with a purple poison that locals refer to as Furadan.
Openbill decoy bending in an attempt to eat the snail baits
Snail bait showing purple poison purported to be Furadan
I walked towards the bird beckoning the boy to come over. The young man however fled and Joseph also noted the other well-known poacher walk hastily away. The whole point in using this boy in the staging the bird poisoning was because the poacher knew well that we would recognize him but not the boy and we would therefore not pay much attention of the poisoning activity being executed right under our noses.
Examining the decoy Openbill, he was in bad shape with the bill-that should be open-fastened tightly with a rubber band like the shearing ends of a pair of scissors! We were nonetheless able to set free the bird and hopefully he recovers from the trauma.
Tightly fastened bill of the decoy bird
Untying the rubber band from the decoy bird’s bill then setting him free
No bird was poisoned today and we remain focused to keep the site safe from the poisoning. We therefore continue staying vigilant in Bunyala against the poisoning and other poaching and urge our readers to keep reading, sharing and supporting us.