Bunyala Rice Irrigation field may just be known as the most westerly paddy plantation in Kenya and possibly one of the most expanded in recent years.
But the area is the heartland of a once remarkable macrobiodiversity area. The neighborhoods are known by names of animals once known of the area. Budalang’i area, once locally reminiscent of the biblical Noah’s floods due to its yearly seasonal flooding depicts a place of Lions. Close by is an area whose name translates to the Eland and tales and evidence of skin souvenirs of Jackals, Hyenas and Cheetahs among others can be found hung high up in the sheds of small domestic livestock. Tales are also told of gazelles and hares that were once numerous and would spring out of any other bush in the area.In many youth’s memory is also the Southern Ground Hornbill. The mostly biped bird currently listed under the Vulnerable threat category by the IUCN Red list of threatened species quietly matched out of the area to oblivion!
Human pressure like elsewhere on the continent and beyond is to blame for this undocumented and huge biodiversity wipe-out in Bunyala. Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme came as a blessing to the human residents …but also a curse in disguise to humans consuming intoxicated birds and a pure curse to primarily the birds. Phenomenal flocks of local birds visit the site to forage.
A flock of Black-tailed Godwits from northern Europe at Bunyala Rice Scheme
Collared Pratincoles at Bunyala
Other species not easily found elsewhere have found a home in the wetland conditions of the plantation even probably synchronizing their breeding patterns to fall between the planting/harvesting seasons to maximize on their breeding success.
Locally uncommon Greater Painted Snipe in Bunyala
The unobtrusive & restless Little Rush Warbler in Bunyala
But perhaps the most worrying scenario is that of famished migrating birds some from far northern Europe and even Asia which are mostly waders . These come to Bunyala Irrigation Scheme to gorge themselves, fueling up for their southern-bound and then the return northern-bound journeys. Here, I have seen thick flocks of birds that blot out the sunrise! the density so gross than I have ever witnessed during waterbird counts by Nature Kenya and the Ornithology section of the National Museums of Kenya at some of the remarkable water bodies of the Rift Valley known to harbor large numbers of such birds.
Flock of the palaearctic migrant, White-winged Black Terns at Bunyala Rice Scheme.
While these are not directly targeted for poisoning, the stampede that ensues while poisoning other birds, mostly Openbills scares the birds away.
Waders at Bunyala Rice Scheme
The sandpiper waders inclusive of the Spotted Redshank (to the left), Black-tailed Godwit (the bulkiest in the photo and categorized as Near Threatened by the IUCN red list) as well as the Ruff (at the foreground of the photo) above are targeted for poisoning. Others include the Wood Sandpipers documented in earlier posts. The list is long and a total of 33 species of birds are at risk of which 9 are migrants.
A study I carried out during 2009 found estimated mortality losses of 3 in every 10 birds on either the northern or southern bound journeys due to deliberate Furadan poisoning of the birds. Over half the number of individuals that use this site are therefore lost to poisoning every year. Yet migrating birds maintain remarkable fidelity to their stop-over or winter sites. Therefore, as long as there is still poisoning in Bunyala, this vital site for birds remains a dreadful sink for numerous resident and migratory bird species.
Please continue reading the blog and support through donations or otherwise our campaign to end wildlife and bird poisoning in Bunyala and elsewhere.