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.

Keep reading and supporting our work on the blog.

Decoy Poachers

Dear readers,

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.

Scouts’ supervision still key in Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme

Dear readers,

Apologies for not posting updates for some time. I was away from Bunyala from the 9th until the 14th of this month on a Western Kenya bird guiding trip but also on a marketing mission for this work against bird poisoning in Bunyala. I anticipate more support from the pledges from my friends that I was with during the trip and I am hopeful this will extend the project for an even longer time.

As my birding trip neared its end on the 12th of October, I received the first text message bearing news of poisoning from my lead scout who I had left in charge of the monitoring for poisoning of birds. The coded text read, “50P-R, WS”; this when translated means 50 birds poisoned-Ruffs and Wood Sandpipers. My first reaction was to travel back to Bunyala as soon as the safari ended in Nairobi. This I did.

I got to Bunyala on the morning of the 15th & proceeded to do the inspection of the site for any obvious signs of poisoning. It was easy to predict the area with easy likelihood of poisoning. This was the eastern end which has since last month been the area focused on for rice planting. With change of dress code and not bearing my customary grey & white strap bag (those that follow me on Facebook know the bag well; if you wish to follow me on FB please just search and add Martin Odino), I was not easily recognizable.

One notorious and stubborn poacher therefore ended up walking right into my company brandishing a bait sack-bag and hoe for digging up earthworms and insects. These he had mixed with poison-allegedly Furadan- and he was off to lay it out in the fields which continue to be ploughed and sown with the rice crop. The fortunate thing however is that his plans did not match having taken note that I was back in the neighborhood.

I had also been informed that one of my scouts was playing a double role also as an informant to the poachers briefing them on my available on site in exchange for a small fee. While he objects to the allegations, he has been reprimanded and warned that he has attracted possible reporting for his arrest.

The recent past days have been characterized by extended scouting hours from early morning with a few hours break after midday then gain a late afternoon-into-the night watch. We however sometimes have to work in smaller teams at the moment as the scouts also have to work in their fields and these rotate as time-tabled so that each also has crop cultivated for their sustenance. We have also had to approach a few local elders who have complied to persuade the obstinate poachers against the poisoning. While the only poisoning incident this month seems to have taken us aback and short of attaining our goal of ensuring absolutely no poisoning this month we are still hopeful that the situation will be contained and the project’s effect enhanced through the intervention of the village elders. I am further required to keep my appearance pronounced at the site for the sake of preventing any further poisoning incidences and I am therefore camping on a few yards just from the rice scheme.

From an early morning scouting session; taking off my binoculars

That aside, the site continues to thrive with more and more migrants alongside local species.

 Migrant Ruffs at Bunyala congregating for the night time

Migrant waders joining in foraging resident egrets

Representatives of some of the migrants in Bunyala; Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and Ringed Plover

A few more of the increasing numbers of White-faced Whistling ducks that were nearly all poisoned just a few years back

Please keep reading for updates and support our work.

Vigilant scouting into the second month

Dear readers,

My presence in the field during the past month puts me in a position to to  state in confidence  that an operational birding/monitoring group is now in place in Bunyala. However, it is not just enough that there is now an actively monitoring team of recruits on site. It is paramount that the group is efficient and effective. This will ensure the problem of poisoning is eradicated or in the least, it is suppressed to its all-time low alongside collecting of sensible data. I stand as the trainer and assessor of the team though sooner or later the team shall have to stand judgement by others when they qualify as effective scouts and guides which is the coveted success of this project. We have now commenced on our second month of vigilant scouting, thanks to our donors who already raised the amount for the scouts’ wages. Thanks to you and we still ask you to keep supporting us.

This second month will be an assessment and tougher training month for the scouts so that they can attain a level of independence. I will be away in the near future (during which time I will inform you here on the blog) for a week during which time I will only interact with my team via daily telephone correspondence after which I will then return in the field to resume and evaluate the reliability of the gathered information. I will expect accurate information since the crucial aspects of this project have been emphasized during the entire month of September; these are proper bird identification and prospecting poisoning or poaching via the 4 main dynamic aspects (the fifth of which is trapping) that I mentioned in the post on the Evolution of the Vigilance Strategy. I assess the members in identification on a daily basis using similar species, most of which are migrants and these are the majority on site at the moment.

Similar palaearctic migrants at Bunyala: Green Sandpiper & Common Sandpiper

During my absence, the scouts will therefore give me a feedback via short message texting on the observed species (initials of their common names and the number seen) utilizing the range being monitored and poisoning cases and species poisoned if any and the interjected intended poisoning cases and names of the poachers (since we now know these).

During September, our monitoring skills most of which I already shared in earlier posts were pitted against poacher shrewdness and obstinacy with scout recruiting exercises grossly impeded by bent cultural values and vices. Nonetheless a level of successful perception change was attained given that the intended team of 10 scouts was successfully formed and more may join if we are able to raise more funds to support these additional individuals. Overall I believe we have learnt our lessons and are better scouts this month.

In summary, we have started this month with 2 additional palaearctic migrants on our list of migrants, the Yellow Wagtail and the Black-winged Stilts. These have been targeted for poisoning in the past. There however have been no poisoning incidents encountered so far, this month. Last month we only had 2 cases of poisoning, 1 case of trapping and 2 cases (one of these during last week) of interjected poisoning. The latter indicates that there is still the potential of poisoning poaching therefore we need to continue keeping on high alert. Our target is to record absolutely no poaching this month.

Keep reading our updates and support us on the blog.

A birds’ haven in the making

Dear readers,

It is now just about a month since we effected the idea of the Vigilance strategy at Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme. With the resources provided by our kind sponsors we have been able to forge the way forward in the face of suspicion, resistance and confrontations by poachers. The physically demanding nature of our scouting activity has seen a few of us to near giving up point while the influence of the local climatic and topographic conditions characterized by heavy rains and flooding as well as the presence of mosquitoes has  not spared the unaccustomed members of the team from contracting deadly malaria. Nonetheless we have continued to realize more positive outcomes than negatives.

The roads in Bunyala during the past rainy week

Today’s update is a sort of pictorial album post indicative of an improving ‘home’ for birdlife at Bunyala. We take pride in sharing this information as we keep up with our work. In summary our daily cumulative estimates of all observed waterbirds have been ranging between 3000 to 4000. Of this number, the migrant waders numbers estimate remained at 2000 until two days ago (today’s survey estimate was 1200) the reason of which we believe is another wave of passing migrants that should now be on their way southwards of the globe.

A section of a flock of waders that seemed all excited (typical behaviour heralding migration) and was seen to fly in the general southerly direction shortly afterwards.

Probably the most dramatic news however is that we have been regularly observing – though in small numbers – species that had been thought absolutely wiped out by poisoning at Bunyala.

 

A lone white-faced whistling duck over Bunyala Rice Scheme.

We count over 10 birds of this species in our daily surveys which is an improvement. During last year, only 2 birds were irregularly observed at the site. It was generally alleged by the locals and poachers that the white-faced whistling duck was poisoned enmasse and the few surviving individuals had become suspicious and may have changed their foraging grounds. We are therefore likely witnessing the beginning of a bouncing back population of the species at the site.

Wattled Starling (picture not taken in Bunyala)

The Wattled starling is another species that was not recorded at the site during surveys in the previous two years. 6 individuals of the species have been regularly observed in our recent surveys to feed and water at the flooded grasslands bordering the rice plantation.

Generally, the dynamics of birdlife at Bunyala therefore seem to be normalizing as affected by water hence food availability with species of migrant flocks seen to be arriving and settling at the site alongside resident species.

Migrant waders flying into Bunyala Rice Scheme

 

Settled flock of migrant waders.

Resting Cattle Egrets after foraging in the rice scheme grounds

 

Less congregatory Black Egret & Yellow-billed Egret

 

Glossy Ibis (at Bunyala) of which both afrotropical and palaearctic migrant sub-populations migrate into Kenya inclusive of Bunyala.

 

Knob-billed Ducks

 

Fulvous Whistling Ducks

 

A section of a mixed flock of swallows (Barn Swallow, Angola Swallow and Banded Martin) resting after an insect meal over Bunyala.

These and many other species seem to be gaining confidence at the site once again. We have the challenge of ensuring this comfort is sustained.

Keep visiting the blog for more updates.

 

Evolution of the vigilance strategy

Dear readers,

We are glad that in our third week of intensive scouting and monitoring, only few cases of poisoning have been encountered with no poisoning during the past 2 weeks. We are however careful not to declare absolute successful eradication of bird poisoning as yet since poisoning of birds on a smaller scale has been known in the fields beyond the rice scheme.

A flooded field out of the rice scheme just prone to poisoning as in the rice plantation

The poachers are therefore more likely to relocate their poaching activities to these areas to avoid our presence at the main rice scheme. Their successful poisoning of birds in these areas is however dependent on flooding conditions at these outside sites. These fields are therefore just as good poisoning grounds as the main irrigation scheme when there are heavy rains and the main river-River Nzoia- has burst its banks. This last week has been characterized by heavy downpours and has seen our monitoring extend well beyond the rice scheme. With my 11-man team, we have at times wished we were more so we would be able to spread out during monitoring and cover the entire rice scheme separated by overlapping territories. At the moment however, we have to cover the territory in three phases; these are approximately a third of the east-west expanse of the plantation. I always resurvey the farmland after the exercise just to ensure no opportunistic poacher comes behind us after we finish the surveys.

An image that I captured from atop Wanga Hill representing approximately a third of the area of the main rice irrigation scheme

Generally, we have altered the manner that we perform the monitoring to try improve on our efficiency. Initially, I targeted recruiting scouts from homes on the immediate periphery of the rice scheme. This would ensure that they kept watch for 24 hours. Only 2 scouts –Joseph and Asembo- live on the immediate periphery. I also camp within 20yard from the north eastern end of the rice plantation so that makes us 3. The rest, come from more distant places.

Monitoring from the edge of the rice scheme; but the scout is far from birds/poisoning at the furthest extreme end especially if there is no scout on that opposite side.

There was however the danger of dishonesty by the recruits claiming that they were monitoring from a remote section of their home when they would actually not be monitoring. There is therefore an advantage of scouts coming from villages beyond the rice scheme being that they report at my camp each morning and we set off for the monitoring as a team. This approach has ensured regular attendance and active participation.

Once in the irrigation scheme pairs of scouts distribute themselves along the central roads in the plantation and circuminspect the areas.

Central roads in the rice plantation from which we monitor for birds and poisoning. There is a monitoring scout appearing as a black dot towards the horizon where the road appears to end

My monitoring pair; the next distal monitoring pair is along the road in white ‘inside’ the picture.

From these mid sections we are able to look up to the north-south ends of the rice scheme. We however have to move to the next 3 sections before we cover the entire east-west stretch. In some areas however, there are raised mounds of the ground. Pairs of scouts therefore conveniently monitor for birds and poisoning from these vantage points.

Monitoring from vantage raised grounds

The routine monitoring ends at around 1100 hours with a likely random scouting session in the evening starting 1600 hrs up to 1830hrs. I however prefer carrying the afternoon session mostly with my lead scout-Joseph- alone as it gives me the opportunity to train him better on bird identification and ecological aspects. He in turn is able to teach the others especially when I am away. However, on other occasions, I select any scout whom I train and scout with during the evening scouting session.

The scouts also have the role of monitoring for developments at the rice scheme which influence presence of birds and may determine if there are poaching activities or not. These are flooding of grounds prior to ploughing, ploughing and flooding of the ploughed fields, flooding of flat expanses beyond the rice scheme by rain water and also position & phase of the moon in the early morning. Recently, we added monitoring for trapping to our activities since this poaching activity may take root parallel to poisoning as we focus on the latter. The monitoring of each of these 5 activities has been delegated to the 5 pairs of scouts who alert the rest of the team whenever more so out of the routine bird and poisoning monitoring every day. I am solely responsible for the trapping as I work closely with the lead poacher that we found with the Long Crested Eagle.

We are grateful to the sponsors who have facilitated this initiative and I am confident that we will beat the bird poisoning and poaching with this strategy. I have been sharing images and information of this wonderful site and its birdlife on some social internet sites as a start-up marketing strategy of Bunyala as a tourist destination. I am focused towards moulding birding guides out of my scouts with the knowledge that when they are eventually able to earn an income as guides from the bird resource, it will also mean absolute liberation from the backward bird poisoning for the good of birds and humanity. Meanwhile, please keep reading and supporting our work and be assured that each of your additional donations will go to sustain a scout or support a very much needed extra recruit therefore save bird and human lives.

 

Investigation results into the Long Crested Eagle’s killing

Dear friends,

We try to understand the motive of bird poisoning or other killing of the cases we encounter so as to better understand what we are standing up against. This in turn helps us to be able to know how to formulate applicable solutions. Broadly, bird poisoning and general poaching in Bunyala is a cultural issue and we are trying to straighten the bent perceptions of the wild killing of birds because traditionally bird meat is a delicacy and also apparently biblically God has availed birds to our use-according to locals; in this case poisoning and eating them at will! The part on caring for the creation is obviously omitted. However, other reasons for bird poaching are also in play inclusive of poverty, ignorance and idleness! I must be honest that while our vigilance strategy this palaearctic bird migration season aims at changing poachers into conservationist scouts and eventually guides, this will not be applicable to all the poachers. Some are tough and stubborn and while it is unfortunate, these may have to be reported to local chiefs or other authorities who may end up getting them arrested, others will switch to other activities especially fishing or rice farming. Still others will remain poachers and play hide and seek with my team snatching every available opportunity to poison and kill birds. Either way, understanding these cases places us in a sound position to reason out on how to deal with the bird poaching issues. This we are managing, one step at a time.

LOST, the Long Crested Eagle that my team & I found trapped by a snap trap on 10/09/2012 brought to light another threat that may just be as deadly effective and operational at Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme. I write ‘deadly effective’ because the trapping method discovered may just be as detrimental to raptors/birds of prey with small populations as poisoning is to species with larger populations. In fact, the method is an additional threat to the raptors that are already at intoxication risk from consumption of intoxicated smaller species if the latter are poison-baited. Our current vigilant monitoring tries to eliminate poisoning but may miss out on trapping if we are not careful since clearly this is an alternative that rogue poisoning poachers may just supplement their curtailed poisoning activities for. It is worse if this is employed out of the rice scheme borders where our activities are currently focused.

LOST’s disturbing demise though put behind left me with a lot of unanswered questions. First, were birds of prey being targeted for consumption as well? & did LOST succumb to his lacerated ankle wound or was he killed? In deed I was much in contact with raptor specialist Simon Thomsett after the incident and he opened my eyes to the lessons that lay ahead from the dejecting failed rescue then loss and death of LOST. He echoed my thought that I should do a post mortem on the bird’s carcass and I thought I would also follow up on the seemingly imprecise motive behind the trapping of the bird.

Lost in agony before he was released from the snap-trap

I performed a post mortem on LOST’s carcass guided by Simon’s instructions which revealed that he was killed the evening he disappeared having prior been trapped with the intention of being eaten as food as my follow up investigations found out. The opened cranium of the bird had accumulated blood in the cavity with no obvious external wound on the inspected head. In expertly opinion, this would suggest blunt trauma. I will not share images of the opened up cranium of the bird due to their graphic nature. The birds viscera were also partly eaten especially the gut leaving a gouged out pannel (stomach) and vent region alongside the entire gullet. The lungs, liver and heart were still intact.

Lost’s carcass

 

Lost’s injured right leg from the snap trap

The predator that may have done this is unknown though he managed to partially consume the inner organs. I would think he lacked the ability of removing feathers which remained intact throughout the rest of the eagle’s body. I posit that our likely scavenging predator is small-stomached or he may have been interrupted probably by a human intruder since the eagle’s carcass was found along a foot path in the open much as there were a few bushes around.

On the next morning, our survey path covered the region where we had rescued the eagle from. I curiously and patiently watched for birds perching on the tree on which lost had perched whenever my view diverted from scouting the rice scheme for poisoning and other birds. Part of my speech that convinced the poachers to let me have the bird was a challenge question that if it was true this eagle habitually fed on their chicken, how did they kn0w this was the same bird? I had told them that LOST may likely  have been one of the many Long Crested Eagles coming to the favourite perch that likely provides a vantage point for any subject that is scouting the rice scheme for prey. Before long, my patience paid & a different bird came and perched on the same tree that LOST had landed on the snap trap. This time however, there was no trap to snap and gnaw at this new subject’s leg.

Another Long Crested Eagle perched where LOST was trapped

The poachers had giggled when I asked if they intended to eat the bird now that it was trapped! I was focused on freeing and saving the bird in agony but I thought I had the answer to my question. The lack of a definite ‘NO’ response could well mean a ‘YES’. When I got hold of Lost at last and felt his keel, I thought it was so sharp. In addition his crop was empty so the bird was not feeding well. I immediately thought may be the old bird may then have well taken to easy hunting of chicks at the homestead as the poachers alleged. I moved closer to the tree as I had for Lost to get photos of the new bird with a bad feeling in my heart that I was right that poor LOST may not have been the only unpleasant predator but sadly fell the victim. The new bird was a new bird at its prime as reflected by much darker, less worn plumage. Following is his image when he flew to a nearby tree.

The other Long Crested Eagle that perched on LOST’s last tree perch

In my focused ‘photo-shoot’ session of this other bird, I was lucky to get the missing piece of the puzzle as to the true motive behind LOST’s killing. A few kids watched me from the home’s houses waiting eagerly to be shown the images on the LCD of the strange gadget (my camera) used by this mysterious man! I always do this to ease tension and capture audience of the on-lookers. In what seemed to be a new audience this day, two ladies approached from a field at the back of the homestead and one lady quickly took to enlightening the other of how I am a ‘friend of the birds’ and to directly translate, I was now engaged in a crusade to befriend poachers to birds! He then recounted how the previous day I had snatched away a bird meal from his son! That it was a good thing they were not poultry keepers or else such creatures would eat all their chicken! Aha, so there were no chicks in the home as had been alleged and that LOST habitually hunted them. LOST was just another bird meat meal. I therefore take it that the predatory story was to justify their kill just in case I was going to recommend their arrest. For another likely reason, they were trying to hide the snap-trap’s application to catch birds for consumption which would fool me and my team that we have contained poisoning when trapping would actually continue behind the scenes.

To put it simply, LOST escaped being eaten by humans but did not survive the killing blow of a hating, misinformed villager. Similar hating, misinformed persons may have also released him from the makeshift enclosure while I was gone to get a hawk box constructed for the bird.

Nonetheless I have since met the eagle-trapping & also other bird poisoning poacher on 2 occasions and while he is terrified of what is to follow next since I have discovered the trapping technique, he is willing to join the vigilance strategy to stay safe for now, but I guess we can show him how to better harness the avian resource than kill it.

I am faced by an even more extensive network of poacher’s than I earlier perceived which is why your support is needed. This will go a long way to maintain the ‘converts’ and contribute to ending the deadly bird poaching primarily through poisoning or otherwise other related techniques.

Keep reading on our blog and support us.

One of the first successful bird migrations through Bunyala this season

Dear readers,

The vigilance strategy assesses local and migrant species at the rice irrigation plantation on a daily basis. Through our daily records we are able to observe the trends of occurrence of species and their numbers at various weather conditions (inclusive of position & phase of the moon which is helpful in determining a likelihood of nocturnal poisoning and therefore preventive scouting), arrival of migrants some of which are passage travellers while others winter at the site.

One of our early morning surveys; back to back orientation by pairs of scouts across the rice plantation

Since 2nd of September 2012 until today 16th September 2012, we have noted a general increase in species and their numbers. The heavy rains on Friday night (14th September 2012) and the flooding of paddy fields in readiness to ploughing in the areas of the farmlands that the rice crop has not been planted have played a major role in boosting the man-made wetland as an ideal foraging ground for the waterbirds. Insects, worms, other invertebrates and crustaceans thrive in these flooded conditions and are particularly a delicacy to the worn out waders many of which have traveled at least a quarter of of the circumdistance of the world by the time they arrive at Bunyala.

Ruffs feeding at Bunyala on arrival from their palaearctic breeding grounds

In the fortnight or so that my scouts team has been on vigilant watch, we stumbled on 2 incidences of poisoning of resident bird species (Sacred Ibis, Threskiornis aethiopicus) during the first week and the trapping that lead to the death of one bird of prey.  We were however able to successfully prevent one poisoning incidence (poisoning of African Openbill, Anastomous lamelligerus which was the most targeted and poisoned species in a study at the site) in the second week and have been successful in preventing any poison poaching of resident and migrant waders.

As a result, we may attribute the successful transit of some passage migrants to my team’s vigilance. Two species have been noted absent after their numbers increased then in the following days’ surveys, they were not recorded on our species list.

The Common Greenshank, Tringa nebularia from Europe inclusive of even from as far north as Siberia is not a particularly gregarious wader. The species was regularly observed in our few days of the first week’s surveys. The highest tally of this large waterbird in a day was 9 birds. In 4 days however, the species was not recorded on site and we think the individuals have moved on further south towards their winter grounds in South Africa.

 The highest day tally for Near Threatened Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa was 90 birds. This species was notably the most poisoned palaearctic species in a study at the site.

Black-tailed Godwits at Bunyala Rice Scheme

The migrants have also been noted absent from site for the last 5 days but for one individual. On close monitoring, I discovered that the individual has an injured left leg with a backward facing, probably fractured foot. We hope that through our monitoring no harm will befall the bird and that he will rejoin his group or other incoming godwits soon and successfully complete this migration cycle.

The injured Black-tailed Godwit probably having to wintering at Bunyala this migration season

The palaearctic and oriental bird migration season just began and we are therefore yet to see more and more waves of migrating birds into and through our area. We are obliged to prevent at least their intensive poaching at this site which may be the site with the worst deliberate bird poisoning in Kenya, probably in Africa or even the entire world. The fact that Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme lies on a migratory flyway route means the migrating birds which are die-hard faithful to their winter sites and routes are forever at risk from the poisoning threat if it is not mitigated such as through our vigilant local community monitoring. We hope we can facilitate the successful to and fro migration of these species this season and more to follow.

Keep reading our updates and comment and/or donate in support to our efforts.

1000+ migrant waterbirds this evening alone

Dear readers,

Today’s post is a quick note to share our experience this evening.

This afternoon at about 1430hrs Fetsus, one of my team mates alerted us of flooding in the easternmost section of Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme. Not only did this turn out to be an excellent application of recently acquired knowledge by the scout but that the learned knowledge was true. In summary the principle is that we expect more birds at first flooding just when the farmlands are being readied for ploughing and planting. In deed between 1630 hrs – 1730 hrs we counted about 1100 waders, mostly Ruffs and Wood Sandpipers. I think these were new arrivals given closer distant of approach with the birds paying more attention to gorging on insects and worms than fleeing away from us. Old  birds have been observed to be progressively suspicious with lrager distances of close approach. Below are some random images from the surveyed eastern section.

Flooded eastern section of the rice plantation

Wood Sandpipers dotting a section of the flooded plots

A flock of foraging Ruffs

A mixed species flock of Ruffs & Wood Sandpipers

Some migrant species that have arrived at Bunyala

Most of these species have been poisoned in the past. None has been poisoned since the vigilance strategy commenced.

More updates to follow soon.

 

Fighting Bird Poisoning…& now trapping in Bunyala

Dear readers,

Our early morning survey yesterday (Monday) morning starting 0545hrs to 1100hrs for birds and bird poisoning incidences ended on an exciting note. The evening downpour on Sunday left me expectant of more migrants the next day & we had to cross through mire and water to find our way to the site. In deed we recorded new migrant birds –White-winged Tern and Gull-billed Tern- in addition to the already earlier recorded species. Resident Egrets and ducks were numbering in a few hundreds while the migrant waders, though scattered and flying about in small flocks of about 20 individuals easily got to at least a thousand. The open skies were teeming with birds of prey amongst which were the Wahlberg’s Eagle, Long-Crested Eagles and even a Lizard Buzzard that was seen remarkably tussling with a heavy weight 200grams or so toad! The latter was my first record since the commencements of my surveys at the site during 2009.

The two poisoning attempts that we encountered during last week had been on the remote most westerly part of the rice scheme. Joseph & I decided to use the 4km southerly edge route back to camp skirting the edge of the otherwise East-West stretching rice plantation.  We would then assess the status of poisoning on this edge of the rice scheme. About mid way the journey while resurveying the sections we had passed through in the morning, I noticed a dangling bird on a tree just at the edge of the rice scheme. I was sure it was a Long Crested Eagle and thought the bird had been entangled by a string which had probably gotten caught on the branches of the tree. Someone was standing next to the tree with a club in hand. I also noticed someone was inside the canopy of the tree from which the bird was dangling! At that moment, it occurred to us that this was a case of bird poaching. More precisely, bird trapping using a snap trap.

The Long Crested Eagle dangling from a pole-hoisted trap

We were able to persuade the poachers not to harm the bird just in time to have them not to smash it dead with the club. Even then, the dangling bird with the trap had been crudely thrown down on to the grass, a free fall of about 10meters to the ground.

The ensnared bird

When they noticed who we were-now that the vigilance team has been at work for over the last one week-they gave us an audience. Their justification was that the bird regularly hunted and killed their hens’ chicks. We acknowledged this was a problem but then advised them that using the locally made screens from flexible stems of some readily available species of shrub to shield the chicks would keep them safe from the raptors, otherwise they would have to kill again and again until no bird of prey was left and these creatures are vital in nature. The screens would actually protect the chicken from other creeping predators as well.

A sample traditional-made chicken screen or shield

I also enquired if their intention of trapping the Long Crested Eagle was so as to eat it only to be answered by a mischievous chuckle by the poaching team. Having speedily attained an amicable rapport, I requested to be allowed to take the bird away and persuaded them to consider joining our vigilance team for the good of the birds and the people.

We then quickly got to freeing the bird from the tight-biting saw-edged snap trap that was propped high up to the canopy of the tree by a long pole, hence the impression that the bird was dangling from the tree top.

The long crested eagle still caught on the pole-hoisted trap

Blinding the bird to make him calm

 

Releasing the snapped trap by stepping hard on the release lever by one of the poachers as I carefully freed the leg then hoisted him up.

When the bird was released and safe in hand but for a badly wounded dangling right foot just above the ankle, I became aware of the higher skill that was necessary to keep the bird alive…& I had none!

 

The rescued bird safe in hand

I was however able to get in contact and seek advice from raptor specialist, Simon Thomsett and raptor biologist and Peregrine Fund’s African programs Director, Dr. Munir Virani. Thomsett advised me on phone that it was necessary to get the bird hydrated and kept safe in a secure dark box. I would have to employ forced feeding until I could get the bird to him sooner, ensuring the administered food was fat-free. I would also need to carefully tend to the bird’s wound with an antiseptic-Dettol-in this case and cleverly ensure the bird’s thin string of flesh still keeping it attached to the leg did not tear back! Of all these requirements, my Dettol soap was the only ready necessity and I had to quickly ensure I met the rest!

I succeeded in giving the bird water using an improvised pipette (from a soda straw). I then proceeded with the help of my scouts to construct a dark makeshift structure from black disposal bags and reinforced it on the outside and on top with timber as I went to instruct a local carpenter to make a 1meter cube wooden cuboid that would house and transport the bird before I got it to Simon Thomsett in Naivasha (near Nairobi). It was when I returned from the carpenter’s that I was told by the person I left in charge (a member of my host family at camp) that the bird had escaped! There was no tear in the makeshift structure’s walls and the unconvincing story made me think the bird had been deliberately released for some ulterior motive. Darkness was setting in quickly and with no sign of the bird around, I updated Simon that I had failed in rescuing an old but fighter creature that I had so much desired to! I could only honor the bird with the name LOST, since I had LOST HIM! I was disappointed in myself and sad that I did not want to talk about the bird but Simon ventured into my quiescence and informed me of the possibility of re-trapping the bird, illustrating the feasibility of this move with the tale of how he caught the only Golden Eagle ever caught in Africa using a shoe lace! I derive a lot of inspiration and much of my still limited knowledge from Simon Thomsett & he has been my birds of prey teacher for the few years that I have been budding as an ornithologist. I was therefore optimistic that his proposition would work just right if only I was able to locate the bird and exercise a little more cleverness.

Today morning we assembled at camp at 0530 where I informed my team that while we would keep an eye on the birds and their poisoning, we would also be on high alert for LOST who in his badly injured state was somewhere probably safe and alone and we needed to get him cared for, treated and definitely get him into a foster home

Hardly 150meters from camp, we located the corpse of LOST. That there were no signs of struggle at the makeshift structure that I had put him into, and that he was so near camp, means a high possibility of foul play as I had suspected.

 

LOST…. found dead today

The vigilance strategy keeps a high alert for poisoning incidences as a priority in Bunyala but it is also the reason that we have been able to learn of this deadly poaching method which we are now also required to watch out for.

Keep reading on this blog and support our efforts.