Still staying on watch for birds in Bunyala

Dear readers excuse me for the momentary lack of of updates on the blog prompted by a technical hitch that resulted in difficulty in uploading any images on the blog but we now seem to have a solution given the successful publishing of this ‘testing post’. The frozen donation widget is also being looked into and should be working alright soon. This is important so that you can keep supporting us particularly during this crucial winter migration period when I will need to maintain as many scouts as possible to watch against the bird poisoning.

At this point I wish to thank the donors that have continued supporting our work even during the time when there have been no updates and have ensured that the monitoring continued on the ground. With respect therefore, Pirjo I. donated USD 210 during July 2013 and will continue supporting 1-2 scouts until the end of the year; Max O’Sullivan donated USD 420 during June 2013 and an additional USD 600 in July 2013. Allan Richards donated USD 450 during July 2013. We are grateful for your support and are able to continue keeping an eye on our birds against poisoning.I would therefore like to share the experience of our recent, July 2013 raptor road survey as part of our recent on-goings in the field. This involved 2 new members of the survey team-Eric & Kevin- who double up as our motorcyclists alongside being scouts in the field.

Our raptor road counts around and beyond Bunyala constitute a parallel follow-up monitoring study to that on the ground at the rice plantation that should detect operational threats however latent they may be. And what better method of checking if there is still on-going poisoning than monitor birds of prey which may hint accordingly to underlying prevalence of the threat albeit seeming containment of the threat to the naked eye. In essence, it will be a while following MANY DAYS/YEARS of monitoring before we can draw necessary conclusions upon which to act on if need be; however we will also witness first-hand other threats that may be impacting on the species. The point I am putting across is that we have set running the warning alert system that will prompt investigations into a responsible threat which may not just lead to a re-exposition of poisoning but also other responsible threats whatsoever that would then be addressed .

We conduct at least two raptor surveys-paying special attention to Endangered Hooded Vulture and Vulnerable Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle-beyond and around Bunyala every month. The 2 monthly surveys are conducted between a 2-week break and this is better when the prevalent weather conditions at each survey are different. These raptor road count surveys have been facilitated in part by the Crowder-Messersmith Conservation Fund Grant of the Audubon Naturalist Society starting April 2013 particularly for the motorcycle purchase and a month-long involvement of the 10 scouts in the methodology training surveys. We are since able to do the monthly monitoring in which I am involved with one scout as a secondary observer in every survey. I must mention that the allowances of the involved scouts and cyclists are derived from donations which have recently been provided by the mentioned donors.

On 23rd July 2013, a 7-hour survey was conducted in smothering dusty conditions under excruciating solar radiation resulting in migraines and emptying of tens of litres of hydrating drinks. The survey yielded an overwhelming frequency of Wahlberg’s Eagles against any other raptor seen while we also had the highest ever number of Great Sparrowhawks observed since we began these surveys in April 2013.


Wahlberg’s Eagle from one of our surveys

Most of the Wahlberg’s were in pairs but not necessarily wooing. The single nest of the species known in our survey route was unoccupied and inactive and hopefully the immature bird observed in the previous 2 months had fledged.


Wally chick

A young Wahlberg’s Eagle in the nest during our April 2013 Survey

7 individuals of the Hooded Vulture turned up at the Northern turning apex of our survey route which was impressive having just been observing a maximum of 2 birds in the other surveys. To state the least of that survey, the collected data exceeded the data sheets I had brought along and I had to get creative to include all the information!

When the rains came thudding on the evening of the 26th of July 2013 I thought that was a welcome surprise to keep down the loose earth and I wondered how it would affect the birds. I thought this was a good chance to examine what the rains had flushed in or out and opted for the tougher survey(beyond the rice plantation) based on the earlier experience with the weather conditions. I proceeded to make calls to my 3 assistants for an impromptu raptor road count, hardly a fortnight before the last survey. At 0630hrs , we were leaving Bunyala Rice Scheme for Busia later to ride back to the rice scheme on a 120-km course.


Our raptor survey team on 27/07/2013

Observers, cyclists

Cyclists on the bikes: Kevin and Eric; observers Joseph (to the left) and myself(between the cyclists)

A couple hundred metres from the start point we encountered the first sighting of a pair of courting, cosy, Long-Crested Eagles and were frantic with anticipation of interesting observations this day. The ascent from the lake basin towards the little more elevated region to the north turned characteristically cool but this is usually quickly countered by the rising sun. This was however not the case that day and the cool weather became progressively chilly aggravated by the biting wind draft from our cruising motorcycles even though just at 30-40km/hr. There were the usual records but mostly solo sightings with the total exemption of the Wahlberg’s Eagles! There were also only 2 Hoodies at the northern extreme of our route.


Hooded Vulture from last month’s survey

In addition, we encountered an exciting incidence of courting Grey Kestrels, making an entry and exit at an abandoned Hamerkop’s nest during the 2-minutes observation/photographing moment;  there was also a Long-Crested Eagle with chick prey clasped in her talons shortly after we left the kestrels and further as we edged nearer to our starting point in Bunyala we observed several Shikra pairs hunting at nearly every point that there were flocks of airborne swifts and swallows calling in raids at flying termites or in search of similar prey.

Grey K. female

One of the Grey Kestrels waiting for the mate

Long-crested Eag

Long-Crested Eagle with chick prey

In brief, on this survey, we were contented not in abundance but in various ecological domain and niche manifestations suggesting normalcy and whose continuity in a way we can boast is facilitated by our continued monitoring.

We are currently on vigilant monitoring the winter migration having commenced and I have been able to engage the  10 scouts during this month thanks to the donors. At the moment the larger portion of the rice scheme remains fallow but little by little more of this fallow land is being ploughed and the migrant birds are congregating in it. Having successfully tested that I can now put up written and pictorial updates on the blog again, I will  write you an update during this week on the  already arrived bird migrants at Bunyala so please keep checking, reading and supporting us on the blog.


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