Winter migrants and surprises at Bunyala Rice Scheme

The vibrancy of Bunyala’s birdlife can least be described as rich and surprising. Three years ago I recall timidly sharing what seemed an absurd disclosure to a friend who is also the owner of the birding tour company, Birdwatching East Africa. That I had seen what ‘looked like a Tropicbird’ trailing a three thousand strong or so flock of hunting Whiskered & White-winged Terns at Bunyala Rice Scheme.  Understandably, he dismissed my observation with mockery as hallucinatory and inexperienced me had to downplay what I believed was a record observation. What would a pelagic bird be doing 1000km inland anyway! Then those were still the days that I was still very slow on the camera and I did not capture the evidence.

Starting 01/08/2013, we have embarked on this year’s winter migration look out for any likely bird poison poaching. The arriving flocks of palaearctic migrants as ever remain an irresistible lure to the poisoning poachers. Nonetheless we keep doing what we began last autumn (northern season)-watching against the poisoning-in the hope that the species stopping over and wintering at Bunyala will be safe and be able to return to breed in the palaearctics come spring, next year. The skies get literally dotted with miniature bird silhouettes with each new wave of arrivals and our job is to record these sightings and following our presence keep the poachers away.

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Arriving waders at Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme

The waders once settled get straight to feeding to replenish their energy reserves spent over the many thousand miles flight. This is when they are most vulnerable and if a malicious poacher lays out easy food items laced with poison then the hungry birds will gorge on the easy food bounty without hesitating.

The species congregate in mixed flocks once here on site and therefore we have to be careful not to miss out on any unusual species or vagrants. At the moment, the following palaearctic species occur on site

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A mixed flock of mostly Ruffs and Wood Sandpipers in a paddy plot being readied for planting

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A confusing Curlew Sandpiper (to the left) with Ruffs just getting out of their palaearctic breeding dresses (dark feathers/blotches on their flanks)

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A big ruff attempting to bully a small ruff but interjected by a pair of Madagascar Pratincoles

NB: I am saving the information on the Madagascar Pratincoles (an afro-tropical migrant) for last!

Other palaearctic migrants already on site include Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Little Stint and Purple Heron. Also intra-African as well as palaearctic origin birds are constituted of the Glossy Ibises as well as Grey Herons.

There are also afro-tropic migrants, whose bulk of the population is leaving for their breeding quarters, slowly paving way to the in-coming palaearctics. They include the Fulvous-whistling Duck, Knob-billed Duck, Cattle Egret and African Openbill. A few of these are however resident and their relics will mingle with the larger palaearctic flocks

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Resident Greater Painted Snipes at Bunyala

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African Openbill; constituted of resident and intra-African migratory population is a species that has suffered immensely from deliberate poisoning

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Sparing Openbills probably enjoying a little peace from being watched over

The Madagascar Pratincole is an interesting record of an afro-tropical migrant bird that is still available in Bunyala following a first observation on 17/08/2013. This species arrives from Malagasy (Madagascar) in April to coastal Kenya at the beginning of the southern hemisphere winter to return in September to breed. Like my dream Tropicbird 3 years ago, it is 1000km off its traditional range but I have been able to photograph it as proof and my camera’s GPS has the location ingrained in the images’ properties. The species record in Bumyala is most probably the first for Kenya this far inland.

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Madagascar Pratincoles resting on a rice plot embankment

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A warbling Madagascar Pratincole

Keep checking our blog for the latest updates and you can comment as well as support our work.

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4 Comments

  1. Jimmy
    Posted August 21, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    This site will certainly on my list of must see birding sites in Kenya.

  2. Posted August 21, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I assure you Jimmy that you won’t regret it :)

  3. Pirjo
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    Hi Martin! I was finally able to sort out the technical issues @EndBirdPoaching Twitter account and was able to post these blog entries. It’s so good to know that the field monitoring is working. I’m really proud of everything you and the team has achieved. This is one of the best conservation projects I’ve been involved with! Keep up the good work.

  4. Posted September 1, 2013 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    Thank you Pirjo. If I am not able to post frequent blog updates because of various limitations here in the field I sure will keep sending short frequent updates for twitter. We/the team appreciate your continued long-term support of our efforts here on the ground.

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