Tag Archives: bird poisoning

Evident control over the Bunyala Bird Poisonings; thanking my supporters

It has been a long haul in an attempt to check the bird/possible human poisonings in Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme in Western Kenya. I can attest to the fact that the poisoning practice has waned and with our continued persistent efforts, I foresee a total control of the situation.

Perharps the most significant indication that the birdlife populations are recovering is the increase in number or resident White-faced Whistling Ducks. Only between 2 & 5 individuals remained between 2009 and 2011 following their intense poisoning for human consumption. These were evidently traumatized and would fly off from suspicion if we attempted to get near them. At the moment, about 100 individuals reside at the site. The population may constitute individuals that may have moved in from other external subpopulations which may still suggest traumatic nasty poisoning has reduced.

 Whistling Ducks, Bunyala

White-faced whistling ducks roosting at Bunyala Rice Scheme

Lead Scout, Bunyala


Joseph, my lead scout looking complacent

CM Award syrveys 031 

We can afford to look bored at the ‘NO POISONING SIGHT’ on this night survey 2 days ago

When this problem of deliberate bird poisoning was first presented to the pesticide regulatory authorities- the Pest Control Products Board of Kenya- & the local manufacturers of pesticide control substance, Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (Crop Life Kenya), it was received with vehement denial, contempt and even deemed a fabrication by the champions that spoke out about it notably Paula Kahumbu & myself. With hard evidence from the field, it became acknowledged but little attended to. Rather, a majority marvelled at the gravity of the malpractice. Nonetheless, many still supported this research & conservation campaign against the poisonings & my appreciations go especially to Wildlife Direct; grant organizations including International Foundation for Animal Welfare, Rufford Small Grant for Nature Conservation, African Bird Club, Crowder Messersmith Conservation Fund; also individual donors whom I have never met but one. Amongst the donors, I have in addition to their regular funding support, had online correspondence with at least 4 with whom I have directly asked for advice, shared with ideas, problems on the ground & even keep in mind their words of encouragement when the going gets tough. I must also mention that our twitter account @EndBirdPoaching was opened and is managed by one of my key donors (Pirjo Itkonen). Finally, my team of scouts has done/continues doing a commendable job and is the machinery behind the realized results. Amongst these are the very poachers that poisoned the birds but have joined this noble course.

I shall put up an update on our survey for raptors with my team of scouts against poisoning around the rice scheme & beyond in our next post. This is one of our newly added activities to our expansion to the vigilance strategy against deliberate bird poisoning so please keep checking our website, follow us on twitter @EndBirdPoaching and keep supporting us since we are still far from ending our vigilance.

“…Being able to fund your workers in the project is oh so important. We cannot save wildlife and ecosystems if we don’t provide incomes for local people and communities. All successful conservation projects around the world involve local communities in some way….”

– Brenton Head (one of our key donors)

Extensive anti-poisoning surveys, the last of the palaearctic migrants & crop harvesting at Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme

Dear readers,

It has been a while since my last update from Bunyala Rice Fields but with life being back to business as usual after our general elections, I should keep you informed with up to date information on the state of affairs from these rice fields. I will also be updating you on our ‘extended surveys’ with my team of scouts especially aimed at monitoring against possible poisoning of raptors beyond the rice irrigation scheme (thanks to Crowder-Messersmith Conservation Fund of the Audubon Naturalist Society). In particular, we will focus on the Hooded Vulture whose range is in the neighbourhood of Bunyala & Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle whose recent sightings have been made on site then again both raptors are known to be threatened and are victims of poisoning in their traditional range areas.

Hooded Vulture 070

Hooded Vultures photographed from neighbouring Busia Town

 Circaetus beaudouinii

Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle at Bunyala Rice Scheme

Having been here for just about 5 days this year (but now set to be here for many months coming), I owe many thanks to my lead scout, Joseph who in tough conditions and lack of funds kept the monitoring going. I am also very thankful to my recent donors, Elizabeth ($20) & Max O’Sullivan ($500) which is supporting/will support my scouts in the field. Joseph & the team have done a good job and prevented numerous poison-baiting incidents but for reported escalating cases of poisoning during February where there were 4 incidences of African Openbills killings. I should inform you that between September 2012 & December 2012, only 6 cases of poisoning were reported while a massive 18 were prevented by the scouts.


African Openbill above is the most targeted species & whole flocks are wiped each year

The migrants however remained safe during this year and after lingering for weeks on site (probably due to the extended winter in the north) have only managed to leave, perharps the flock in the image below being of the last individuals of this spring’s migration that we may see leaving for northern latitudes.

migrating waders

Waders in Exodus, today from Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme

At the moment, following thorough surveys during last Monday & today, it appears 16 out of the 17 migrant waterbirds at Bunyala have migrated into Europe & the Oriental world. We can only find Wood Sandpipers & even these occur singly or in pairs gorging on the last worms before they leave for their breeding ranges in the north.

 wood sandpipers

Scantily occurring Wood Sandpipers

Elsewhere in the rice scheme, most farmers are engaged in manual harvesting. They however have to deal with incessant crop raids from the parasitic bird species! Red-billed Queleas are here by their tens of thousands and completing the band of raiders are Village Weavers, a variety of waxbills, finches and manikins! Anyone with a solution to this menace that does not include poisoning is welcome to share via a comment on this post.

humans harvesting rice crop

Crop harvesting by humans

 queleas et al

Crop harvesting by parasitic birds!

Keep reading our blog for the latest news from Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme and do not forget to support us in any manner or kind.

Non-poisoning cases of the African Openbill and Collared Pratincoles

Dear readers,

During bird migration seasons in Africa and additionally the palaearctic bird migration from Europe and Asia, we experience increase in bird species and numbers, naturally in Africa. This is between August and May of the following year.  Technically it is a period that most of the world’s birds may be said to be on the African continent though distributed variously in different areas known as stopovers and/or wintering sites. Nonetheless every stopover (where birds break to eat and rest after flying many miles from their breeding grounds before proceeding on) and wintering site (where birds settle to eat until it is spring in their winter grounds in time for their return) on the continent is therefore vital for their preservation. And so we keep watch against bird poisoning at Bunyala Rice Scheme which is one of such stopovers for some species and a wintering site for others.

A mixed flock of resident egrets and palaearctic migrant waders at Bunyala Rice Scheme

The high prevalence of the problem of bird poisoning at Bunyala Rice Scheme over the years has my team always expectant that any bird death on site is as a result of poison-poaching. In the event that we come across a dead bird especially this season, we are then left wondering how we missed the poisoning and yet we still keep vigilant watch through our daily scouting!

In the past week, we walked on a drowning African Openbill on a flooded paddy plot. We quickly thought the disoriented bird may have been poisoned and while the ingested poison dose with bait may not have attained the lethal dose, the bird had dropped into the pool of water and we arrived just in time to find it struggling for its life in the pool. We were late to rescue the bird but even then some of us thought we could not especially if he had been poisoned and was now drowning. In the 1 minute or so that the bird was still alive I was able to examine it and establish that there were no signs of poisoning that we have ever observed of other victims. The eyes were not tearing and there was no foaming in the mouth. The wings were also not drooping; a state which many atimes for the poison used in Bunyala is coupled with stiffness at the wrist/wing joint. I checked for any stiffness in the wing and leg joints and these seemed to be folding and stretching normally. I proceeded to open the bird’s beak to check just in case there was a snail bait (Openbills feed on and are baited using snail bait in Bunyala) caught in its mouth or upper gut (usually the case for most cases of poisoning) but there was none.

I was skeptical that this was a case of poisoning! Another look at the likely indications of poisoning and I saw partially hidden in feather legging a tibial (of upper leg) tear on the bird’s left leg. The injury was reminiscent of a partially roasted strip of meat! The leg-bone was also exposed alongside a blood vessel taut like a guitar string!…a painful site to gaze at but nonetheless a  revelation of the most probable reason that may have contributed to the Openbill’s death. The wound may have impaired the bird’s ability to successfully wade and fly from the rice field filled with water hence the death of the victim. I posit the bird may have had prior collision on an electric transmission cable as he flew in high speed just above and past the cable thereby ripping backwards his thigh muscles.

On 29/11/2012, I stumbled on 2 Collared Pratincoles on the ground in the rice cultivation fields while on a lone evening survey. I had spotted a flock of about 300 Collared Pratincoles roosting on one of the ploughed but still to be cultivated fields.

Collared Pratincoles on the ploughed ground just waking for the day at Bunyala Rice Scheme

I inched on the flock to have a good look and while I was counting the birds, I got distracted by some squeaking call about a meter from where I stood. Right there were the 2 seemingly limp birds.


One of the Collared Pratincoles on the ground


Seemingly limp bird when it was picked up

I picked up the 2 birds and found that one was energetic but for some reason would not successfully fly away. He would stand alright on the palm of my hand but when he attempted to fly away, he only dropped on the ground. I examined both birds as I had the Openbill and nothing seemed to point to poisoning. If anything both birds seemed alert but for their inability to fly! I held the stronger bird for a little longer on my palm in a manner a ringed bird would be in readiness for release and a few moments later he successfully took to the wing. The other bird, however also alert made attempts to fly away was unsuccessful.

One of the Collared Pratincoles seeming in perfect form

I was not yet done with the survey and therefore had to device a means of securely carrying my acquired baggage. My hat just did fine.


Myself with one of the recovered collared pratincoles

Collared Pratincole in my hat

An hour or so later, the bird was still not able to fly away and I had to return to camp with it. I was totally disturbed by what the matter with the bird was and what to do. The day time temperatures had been uncomfortably high with likewise high humidity; the night time did not seem any better. As a gamble, I decided to give the bird water, an exercise that required much patience. I was then gone for refreshing and supper. When I returned, my flash light startled the bird, prompting him to fly around my tent from his hat nest! I knew he had improved for whatever reason. I carefully captured him and put him back in the hat keeping conditions totally dark lest he became restless. In the morning, just before first light I took the Collared Pratincole and released him close to where the others were roosting.

The paranoia of bird poisoning in Bunyala dominates the minds of those of us who have witnessed for long the birds poison-poaching activities at the site. To find casualties or near casualties affected by other factors but poisoning is a breather and indication that other threats to birds in Bunyala are no longer totally masked by the threat of poisoning as must have been the case for many decades. This in essence suggests a reduced trend in the poisoning which is the very objective of our vigilance strategy this palaearctic bird migration season.

Keep reading our updates on the blog and support our work.

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.

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