Two more species of flocking migrants at Bunyala Rice Scheme

Dear readers,

In the last one week we have continued to observe new Palaearctic and Intra-African migrants as well as short-distance local migrants arrive at Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme. We continue to monitor them to better understand the vulnerability to poisoning on site but also very importantly, for their safety from the heinous poisoning activities by the poachers. We continue to record their numbers and take note of their occurrence dynamics on site.

Sample field notes; a page showing notes taken during monitoring on 29th October 2012

It is interesting to note that from our data we are realizing nearly predictable trends in arrival/departure of the migrant species. At this time of the year the prevalent wind system in Bunyala is dominated by Westerly winds (usually alternating with the easterlies and especially if the afternoons turn stormy). On mornings when the winds are blowing easterly or south easterly and especially the latter, it has been noted that the numbers of migrants of the species on site reduce (migrate on) and/or others arrive during such days. Bunyala is located just north of the north eastern extension (Winam Gulf) of Lake Victoria into Kenya with a substantial stretch of the gulf further east. It is most probable therefore that rather than go around the gulf, the birds cross the Winam Gulf with the aid of the southerly/easterly gusts without much flight effort. This is in favour of their need to ‘economize’ their acquired energy resource at Bunyala which is needed on their yet incomplete migration to southerly latitudes.

Arriving, soaring Abdim’s Storks over Bunyala Rice Scheme

The situation is even better when humidity and temperatures are high. In the last 5 days, the average highest daily temperatures have ranged between 27 -30 degrees centigrade with 78-82% humidity. The humidity and temperatures jointly determine quality of thermals (hot air columns) created over land. The resultant is that there are better buoyant conditions especially for soaring birds some of which are migrants. Just two days ago, under these circumstances we received 2 additional migratory soaring species- The Lesser Kestrel, Falco naumanni and the Abdim’s Stork, Ciconia abdimii which in the past years have suffered from deliberate bird poisoning at the site.

Lesser Kestrel photographed 1 day ago at Bunyala rice Scheme

Lesser Kestrel feeding on the ground, yesterday

Abdim’s Stork at Bunyala Rice Scheme

The Lesser Kestrel which is a palaearctic migrant was until this year classified as Vulnerable while the Abdim’s Stork, an Intra-African Migrant continues to suffer population declines according to IUCN red list documentation. The Abdim’s Stork is deliberately targeted for poisoning for wild bird meat at Bunyala and a flock mortality of its individuals of 89% was reported by a study during 2009. The Lesser Kestrel was also thought to be in possible danger from deliberate poisoning (as reported in a post on this blog in 2009) though in accidental circumstances for this species. Poachers were observed to lace grasshoppers or winged termites with Furadan solution then bait the Abdim’s Storks. The winged termites were lured from their ground nests by each poacher hitting two sticks rhythmically over the termite hills. It was explained to me that the hitting deceived the insects that there was light rain (although it may just have well disturbed them). The termites would then come out during which time they would be captured and put into a container or plastic bag into which a solution of Furadan poison would be sprinkled.

Termite bait in plastic bag

Poacher stirring up purple Furadan solution


Ready bait and poison solution of which the latter would be sprinkled on the former

The flying live individuals from the termite hills attracted both species of the birds. Once lured, the termite holes would be sealed and the poison-laced insects, some of which were still alive and crawling scattered about for the birds to eat….only to die.

Some of the murdered Abdim’s Stork victims during 2009


Lesser Kestrel on the ground close to a poisoning point and that may well have consumed crawling bait

Yesterday’s count estimates of the Lesser Kestrels and Abdim’s Storks that just arrived at Bunyala rice Irrigation Scheme was 60 and 1500 birds respectively. Our monitoring may yet facilitate these species’ successful migration this season.

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  1. Jimmy
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    This issue needs to be brought to a wider audience in Europe – I have no doubt that birders and conservationists will be shocked at the disgusting and destructive activities of these bird poisoners that threaten migrant birds like Lesser Kestrels that are a priority conservation species in the EU. Hopefuly this in turn will mean more funding for the vital work that this project is undertaking

  2. Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Jimmy for the comment. We hope that some of the people in Europe are reading this and will share with others. Meanwhile, we keep doing what we can to protect the important avian community constituted of the migrant and local species.

  3. Posted December 22, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi, very beautiful photos. Great photographer! Keep it up. Thank you for sharing.

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