Tag Archives: Birds

Higher numbers of Near Threatened Black-tailed Godwits & other winter migrants

Apologies for the silence on the blog since late August. Sometimes I am away from the field and have to run the fieldwork by correspondence while in Nairobi from where I majorly fundraise, consolidate data and write reports. There has also been a Malaria epidemic in Bunyala the past 2 months sweeping through the 11-man team incapacitating one member after the other with the hardest blow dealt when my dedicated assistant and lead scout, Joseph came down with the fever and has had to be off duty for close to one month even having been admitted in hospital at some point. Nonetheless he is making good progress and should join us soon. Even on this bad news starting note, monitoring to prevent bird killing/poisoning has been on-going with individual donors keeping us running when we had absolutely no grant funding between August 2013- October 2013. These included USD 100 from Nella of Australia, USD 350 from Max Osullivan of Australia, USD 320 from Ngaio, R of Canada and USD 280 from Pirjo of Finland. Thank you very much for your support.

 

The greatest news from our surveys is that we have not observed any poisoning since May 2013! A fortnight ago we recorded up to 60 Common Buzzards hunting/passing through the neighborhood of Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme-the largest number since we started our surveys- and 2 records of each of Eurasian Hobbies and Black Kites. Overall, the migrating raptors influx seems to have slowed down but even then afrotropical raptor species are more common as they come to feast on smaller migrants, more so the waders at the rice irrigation scheme .

Common buzzards

Migrant Common Buzzards photographed in neighborhood of Bunyala

Hobby

Migrant Eurasian Hobby observed in neighborhood of Bunyala Rice Scheme

Gymnogenes

A pair of resident African Harrier-hawks exhibiting rather aberrant ground-hunting behavior

Peregrine

 Peregrine Falcon watching for waders to hunt from atop a Eucalyptus  tree in the neighborhood of the rice plantation

We are currently observing thousands of palaearctic originating migrant waders at our site including Yellow Wagtails, Ringed Plovers, Little Stints, Common Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshanks, Black-winged Stilts, Whimbrels, Ruffs and Black-tailed Godwits.

Waders

Waders arriving, mostly Godwits & Ruffs

Stilts, Greenshank, Ruffs, Godwits

Godwits, Ruffs, Black-winged Stilts & Common Greenshank

Picture2

Wood Sandpiper

Marsh Sandpiper

Marsh Sandpiper

Greenshank & Marsh sandpiper

Common Greenshank & Marsh Sandpiper

Black-tailed Godwits are Near Threatened according to the IUCN Red List of threatened species and were the most poison-killed migrant species in our study at this site in 2009 (Odino 2011). Our nearly precise approximation of the number of Black-tailed Godwits currently at Bunyala Rice Scheme is 1900 distributed in 3 sub-populations around the rice scheme. This number is higher than the cumulative number of live/dead birds (about 500) that we counted in our quantification of bird mortality study for one year in 2009.

Black-tailed Godwits Stirring up in early morning

A few of the Black-tailed Godwits currently on site, stirring up in the early morning

Black-tailed Godwits, feeding

Feeding Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits arriving

Flying Black-tailed Godwits at Bunyala

I posit that poisoning and accompanying chasing and battering of intoxicated birds may have been traumatizing birds and just a few were able to settle and forage. Our monitoring has been able to create some serenity at the site that may be behind the general increase in the flock sizes that we are observing this season. We are glad that the birds can refuel their energy reserves here before continuing on their southerly migration. We are also happy that our preventive monitoring has kept them all safe at our site this migration season and we will keep it so throughout the entire season.

 

We will keep you posted on any incidences and observations as and when they arise here at Bunyala Rice Scheme.

Winter migrants and surprises at Bunyala Rice Scheme

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

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

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Arriving waders at Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Resident Greater Painted Snipes at Bunyala

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

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Sparing Openbills probably enjoying a little peace from being watched over

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

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Madagascar Pratincoles resting on a rice plot embankment

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A warbling Madagascar Pratincole

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

The tail of the migration

Today’s update is a quick note to inform you that much of the monitoring in the coming days will be local (rather than beyond the irrigation field). The rains have intensified in the week gone & while the floods have not been as intense as in the past year in the region (due to the renovation of the dyke wall to guard against the notorious flood waters of river Nzoia), we are having to wade to get to the roads (& beyond the rice scheme) which are also not usable because they are all ‘soft’ & sticky.

In the coming few days we will be focused on:

  1. Monitoring the dynamics of the migrants on site
  2. ‘Class room’ identification lessons; the component of monitoring raptors demands technical identification expertise & many of the scouts have had a frustrating fortnight with many having to rely on the instructor’s identification. So I will be dedicating attention to individual persons to ensure they can identify more species independently during our next raptor road census survey (next week).

Importantly however, the rains seem to have flushed in a few more migrants. The species numbers are however small but this is not unusual since the spring migration period is in its final stages. Over the past 4 days we have observed not more than 5 Black-winged Stilts, variable number (4-13) of White-winged Black terns donned in breeding dress (Black bodies and underwing linings), 2-38 Wood Sandpipers and 4 Black-tailed Godwits.

Godwits

Transiting Black-tailed Godwits

Our excitement is in the godwits classified by IUCN as globally Near Threatened.  The species was the most poisoned of the migrants according to a study in 2009-2010 and we feared poisoning may have been playing a significant threatening role in the population migrating through Bunyala. The 4 Black-tailed Godwits were first observed in our morning survey on 16/04/2013 and are still present at their site of choice (even though they may leave nut return to roost) – a small section constituted of 4 adjoined plots flooded with water in the southern end of the rice scheme.

Godwits in their site of choice

The Godwits in flooded paddy plots

The waders seem fat even from scrutiny with bare eyes and are fairly approachable by my team (which we do discretely everyday).

Godwits, healthy

This is a good sign that they are well-fed and have not been traumatized by poacher’s activities and when the time is right in the coming few days, they will leave for their breeding northern latitudes.

Status of deliberate bird poisoning for human consumption in Kenya

This video of struggling intoxicated African Openbills, recorded about a month ago sums up the current situation of bird poisoning in Bunyala, Kenya.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

During 2009, the first study of this kind in Kenya documented tallies of deliberately poisoned birds for human consumption in Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme. Over 30 species of birds were affected with over 3000 dying from poisoning out of the 8000 observed live individuals during 10 day surveys for 10 months . The dire effects of the practice to the human population have not yet been assessed but there is no doubt that humans continue to suffer unknowingly. These activities were highlighted on this blog and were for long regarded inaccurate and unreal, atimes outrageously branded as unlawful creations of the main authors of this blog; that we would direct the poison-poaching activities on the ground to create the scandalous effect then broadcast it to the public. Misunderstandings therefore ensued characterized by accusations and denials especially between WildlifeDirect and relevant government and other responsible departments with little action to arrest the situation. Nonetheless, we eventually settled on negotiations with a successful multi-institutional fact-finding trip to Bunyala during last year. Unanimous practical recommendations were passed by all involved but one year later, there has been no action to implement even the most vouched for effective recommendation- education campaign to the public.

Surveys during December 2011 – January 2012 observed an auspicious situation (although isolated cases of bird poisoning were still reported) with poaching teams reported disintegrated and absorbed in other trades particularly fishing and rice farming. This was attributed to the fact-finding trip that was regarded by locals as forewarning of the soon to follow punishment by government authorities. Local administrative officers on the site also stayed on high alert. In the few months that followed, I was informed on the improving situation on the ground mostly by telephone correspondence.

My visits at the site starting April 2012 however observed an escalating situation. On my first day of the survey, an intoxicated Openbill was pursued and captured on my camping grounds. The poacher immediately strangled the bird unaware that he was being watched. My 2 scouts also reported that there had been a massive dove and pigeon harvest through poisoning during March into April 2012. I noted during the few survey days that I was on site of May, June and July 2012, poisoning of Fulvous Whistling Ducks and the African Openbills. During this period there was flooding of the rice fields in preparation for the planting of the crop thereby attracting large flocks of water birds.

Above is my illustration that we are still faced by the dreadful problem of deliberate bird poisoning characterized by dismal attention from relevant authorities, meagre man power in the field and lack of the much needed funds. Yet someone has to act to rescue all biodiversity at stake here; to end the massacre on the birds at these important concentration centres for the species and potential human intoxications. We are just starting the Palaearctic and Oriental bird migration season into Kenya and other southerly territories. Poison-poaching activities will therefore conveniently peak at Bunyala and other major rice irrigation scheme with this problem to maximize kills on the abundant avian resource. I will therefore kindly call on your support in the next few days for localized education campaigns, advocacy initiatives and poacher recruits as scouts and birding guides.

Dying birds of of the world in Bunyala

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.

Photo taken in January 2011

Photo taken in January 2011

A flock of Black-tailed Godwits from northern Europe at Bunyala Rice Scheme

Photo taken in January 2011

Photo taken in January 2011

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.

Photo taken in June 2011

Photo taken in June 2011

Locally uncommon Greater Painted Snipe in Bunyala

Photo taken in June 2011

Photo taken in June 2011

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.

Photo taken in January 2011

Photo taken in January 2011

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.

Photo taken in January 2011

Photo taken in January 2011

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.

Bizarre bird poisoning scenes this week

This is Carbofuran being handled with bare hands by a bird poacher.

Bunyala poisoning May 2011 096

This poacher is comfortable with his catch when it is stored under his shirt!!

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This is not a humane way of handling birds, even though they may be intoxicated.

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In a rice field the sight of sacks evokes the thought of harvested rice grain. This troupe is transporting live and dead birds secured through poisoning.

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Bird meat business flourishes on professional etiquette like any other business. The customer is allowed to select freely from the assortment.

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The poacher then proceeds to pack the goods selected by the customer.

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Finally money changes hands (3.75 dollars for 4 pieces of intoxicated carcasses).

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Continuing Bunyala Bird poisoning Woes

Dear readers. Its been 3 years since Furadan was pulled off by FMC from Kenya. That notwithstanding, Furadan is still in full scale availability and use in some of our rice irrigation schemes but sadly for anything but proper agricultural application. The source of the poison enjoys loyal concealment by the poachers with varrying and confusing tales of its distributors such as it is the old stock that some vendors keep to date and sell it to the poachers at exhorbitant rates. Others say it is crossing in from Uganda while other openly lie that it can be purchased across the counter from local agrovet shops.

Bunyala poisoning May 2011 105

Rice mixed with Furadan for killing ducks

In Bunyala, the local rice irrigation scheme boasts an endless expanse attracting lots of birds and we (my assistant, Terry & myself) could not stop being baffled that at least 5 waders from the palaearctic region- Common Greenshank, Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Ringed Plover & Curlew Sandpiper- are still foraging and roosting at the site way past the time they should be gone to their breeding lands; probably just shows how optimal conditions are for the varied species.

At the moment, the Fulvous Whistling Ducks are congregating in historical large numbers as has ever been witnessed in any local’s remeberable past.

Bunyala poisoning May 2011 035

A flock of Fulvous Tree Ducks at Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme

This species is said to come from a nearby large scale farming enterprise-Dominion Farm-apparently because food and wetland conditions have turned in their favor in Bunyala. The congenic White-faced Whistling duck used to be more common in Bunyala but has since been seen to decline to almost none due to poisoning by poachers. The fate of this duck is therefore uncertain but there is a high likelihood of it being exterminated at the site as well.

Bunyala poisoning May 2011 041

Poacher collecting intoxicated Fulvous Whistling Ducks

Other species at risk have also been observed and include the Knob-billed Duck

Bunyala poisoning May 2011 059

The Knob-billed Duck

and the African Yellow-billed Stork.

Bunyala poisoning May 2011 030

A pocher’s catch: Openbills & Yellowbill.

The explicitly poisoned African Openbill is still faced by its merciless killing woes employing live decoy individuals to attract them to poison bait.

Bunyala poisoning May 2011 034

Captive Openbill decoy

Generally, sacks of birds are harvested from the site each day.

Bunyala poisoning May 2011 051

Poacher carrying away a sack of birds-Openbills and Yellowbills

Furadan 5G still enjoys legal status in Kenya with these destructive effects to Kenyan Wildlife and likely, to people.

Pierre Mineau interview on bird deaths due to pesticides

Dear all,

These are exerpts from an interview between Pierre Mineau and Laura Sevier published in The Ecologist

Reports of mass bird mortality from pesticide use made environmentalist Rachel Carson speak of a ‘silent spring’ in her groundbreaking 1962 book. Forty seven years after the publication of the book, uncounted millions of birds around the world continue to die from the effects of pesticides. The industry still resists regulation and governments are slow to deal with the problem.

Dr Pierre Mineau, a leading expert on pesticide ecotoxicology, conducts research for Canada’s federal department of the environment at the National Wildlife Research Centre in Ottawa.

LS: What’s the most shocking thing you’ve ever seen or heard of in relation to pesticides?

PM: What I find really shocking is when a company does studies that show significant impacts and then continue to market the pesticide around the world. Take granular carbofuran. The first time they did the tests for the EPA they found 799 dead birds of a single species (a lark) in a few fields. Other species were affected also but not in such numbers.

Nevertheless, it took about 15 years for that product to be removed from North America – it continues to be used worldwide. When your profit from selling a pesticide is high enough, it pays to oppose and delay any regulatory change. Every year you delay you’re making millions. My calculation is that every year this product was killing between 17-91 million birds in US maize fields alone.

LS: How do pesticides affect birds – is it through eating contaminated things or through the spray?

PM: In the case of granule formulations or seed treatments, it is clearly ingestion. When it comes to sprays, exposure takes place through several  routes, chief of which appears to be dermal contact from the feet and body. This is not yet acknowledged by regulators who still assume all exposure is dietary. …

There are studies where you manipulate conditions. An American study carried out almost two decades ago paved the way. It was very inventive. Birds were exposed to pesticide sprays in a controlled environment under varying conditions, e.g. some of them wearing little raincoats etc… and various routes isolated. We’ve done some work along those lines and arrive at the same conclusions.

LS: What do you propose should be done? Is it a question of more regulation?

PM: Yes, I think the ball is clearly in the court of the governments. The evidence is there, the replacement chemicals exist. I think it’s a matter of saying: those chemicals – chiefly the organophosphorous and carbamate insecticides – were brought in at the same time as DDT. These 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s products don’t belong in this millennium. They really don’t.

The problem with that message is that it seems like you have to start all over again in every country because with migratory birds every government has got to follow suit. Then of course the industry will demand that studies be repeated and evidence be amassed in every country. It’s going to take a long time.

There are a few bright lights out there. In the US there was an act (the Food Quality Protection Act) which put the emphasis on children’s exposure. It said for the first time that the compounds which have a similar toxic mode of action should be considered as a group. This led to the removal of many pesticides and pesticide uses and, as a result, the situation has been getting better for birds in the last 10 years or so – but this was in order to reduce the risk to children.

The Ecologist

Pierre Mineau: let’s get rid of the pesticides that are killing birds

Laura Sevier

17th December, 2009

Canadian scientist Dr Pierre Mineau talks about the ongoing struggle to protect birds from pesticides that ‘don’t belong in this millennium’

Reports of mass bird mortality from pesticide use made environmentalist Rachel Carson speak of a ‘silent spring’ in her groundbreaking 1962 book.

Forty seven years after the publication of the book, uncounted millions of birds around the world continue to die from the effects of pesticides. The industry still resists regulation and governments are slow to deal with the problem.

Dr Pierre Mineau, a leading expert on pesticide ecotoxicology, conducts research for Canada’s federal department of the environment at the National Wildlife Research Centre in Ottawa.

Laura Sevier: Would you say that birds are still the canary in the coalmine?

Pierre Mineau: Yes, I think that’s a great analogy on several levels. They can be very quick to move in after the fields have been sprayed so they put themselves at risk by being in the wrong place in the wrong time. We judge it’s not safe for people to go back until 14 days even though people are a whole lot bigger and they’re not eating – and then we’re surprised when there are problems when birds fly into these areas. It’s common sense.

LS: What impact did reading Silent Spring have on you?

PM: I’ve read it twice. Having re-read it 8 months ago I was amazed at how many things she got right. Because she was so vilified at the time everyone thought she was making it up… But you know what? She was pretty close to the mark.

LS: Is the threat of a silent spring behind us now?

PM: Well it’s really a different threat. We’ve replaced a lot of the old persistent organochlorine pesticides products with other pesticides. In terms of bringing some species close to the brink – such as the sparrowhawk in Britain from aldrin and dieldrin seed treatments and the pelican and the bald eagle from DDT – the situation isn’t as bad. However when you consider the total loss of bird biomass it’s probably worse today. What’s shifted is that the impact is now on birds lower down the food chain. Although these smaller birds (sparrows and so on) can more easily recover from population losses than a sparrowhawk or eagle.

LS: Is this the case throughout the world?

PM: I would really say it’s throughout the world. You really live in a bit of a bubble in the UK. Because you are a nation of bird lovers, very early on there was a political decision in your country to ban pesticides that cause bird mortality. That had a positive impact on the birds. That was unheard of; the only country where that happened.

The whole Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) here – that’s unique also in how thorough it is. Compounds known to cause problems were removed from broad use.

A lot of other countries are still struggling with those compounds – whether N. America or parts of southern Europe. Europe is probably cleaning up its compounds faster as a result of the EU. Most of developing countries are still making massive use of these bird-toxic products. The pesticides are off-patent and there are now a number of manufacturers including offshore, cheap Chinese knock-offs. In fact, the use of such compounds appears to be increasing in developing countries of Latin America, Africa, Asia.

LS: What’s the most shocking thing you’ve ever seen or heard of in relation to pesticides?

PM: What I find really shocking is when a company does studies that show significant impacts and then continue to market the pesticide around the world. Take granular carbofuran. The first time they did the tests for the EPA they found 799 dead birds of a single species (a lark) in a few fields. Other species were affected also but not in such numbers.

Nevertheless, it took about 15 years for that product to be removed from North America – it continues to be used worldwide. When your profit from selling a pesticide is high enough, it pays to oppose and delay any regulatory change. Every year you delay you’re making millions. My calculation is that every year this product was killing between 17-91 million birds in US maize fields alone.

LS: How do pesticides affect birds – is it through eating contaminated things or through the spray?

PM: In the case of granule formulations or seed treatments, it is clearly ingestion. When it comes to sprays, exposure takes place through several  routes, chief of which appears to be dermal contact from the feet and body. This is not yet acknowledged by regulators who still assume all exposure is dietary. …

There are studies where you manipulate conditions. An American study carried out almost two decades ago paved the way. It was very inventive. Birds were exposed to pesticide sprays in a controlled environment under varying conditions, e.g. some of them wearing little raincoats etc… and various routes isolated. We’ve done some work along those lines and arrive at the same conclusions.

LS: What do you propose should be done? Is it a question of more regulation?

PM: Yes, I think the ball is clearly in the court of the governments. The evidence is there, the replacement chemicals exist. I think it’s a matter of saying: those chemicals – chiefly the organophosphorous and carbamate insecticides – were brought in at the same time as DDT. These 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s products don’t belong in this millennium. They really don’t.

The problem with that message is that it seems like you have to start all over again in every country because with migratory birds every government has got to follow suit. Then of course the industry will demand that studies be repeated and evidence be amassed in every country. It’s going to take a long time.

There are a few bright lights out there. In the US there was an act (the Food Quality Protection Act) which put the emphasis on children’s exposure. It said for the first time that the compounds which have a similar toxic mode of action should be considered as a group. This led to the removal of many pesticides and pesticide uses and, as a result, the situation has been getting better for birds in the last 10 years or so – but this was in order to reduce the risk to children.

LS: What about GM crops? How do they affect birds?

PM: For birds, large amounts of insecticide sprays were replaced by BT cotton and BT corn. In the Americas cotton receives 12-15 sprays of extremely toxic insecticides. In terms of acute direct impact on birds the impact of GM crops with built-in insecticide has been positive.

LS: Do you think the ultimate answer is organic?

PM: This is not necessarily always the case. For example, a lot of tillage is not good for birds either. Chemical tillage has been shown to be actually less disruptive to upland-nesting waterfowl.

LS: Can there be such a thing as a bird friendly, chemical-based pesticide though?

Just because they’re chemical-based that does not mean they’re necessarily bad for birds. You have to consider the product’s toxicity and direct and indirect impact on birds on a case by case basis.

LS: So there are alternatives that have lower levels of toxicity?

PM: Yes. It’s quite rare now that we have an agronomic need to use the more toxic products.

LS: What are the obstacles preventing these less toxic pesticides being used more widely?

PM: It’s economics. First of all, pesticides broadly effective against a wide array of pests are economically desirable – even if ecologically more damaging. Also, the price that they sell pesticides at has very little to do with manufacturing costs – it is what the market will bear.

For example new pesticides tend to be more complex and expensive to make. The older style pesticides (like organophosphorus), are more simple and cheaper to make. The research costs have all been paid off so the profit margin is much higher. Hence industry’s desire to keep these products around for as long as possible.

The one thing that changes this is when governments start applying pressure saying: ‘We don’t like this – you have to do more studies to demonstrate safety’. When the studies start to mount then the economics are turned around.

But let’s just start with the obvious. Let’s get rid of those compounds that are killing birds. The indirect impacts are harder to decipher.

LS: Is your work often attacked or dismissed by the chemical industry. in the same way that Rachel Carson’s was?

PM: Oh yes. Years ago they handed out pamphlets to every wheat and canola farmer in Canada to tell them what an irresponsible scientist I was. That my research was wrong…

LS: But it hasn’t stopped you?

PM: Not yet.

You can read the full interview here.

The Continuing Saga of Disappearing Birds in Bunyala

Dear readers,

I have had to partly keep you off from the monotony of bird poisoning in Bunyala to and in part to deal with a larger study area having extended my surveys into a section of a southerly bordering nationally unique Important Bird Area. The area has been renowned to contain 8 of the 9 papyrus and lake Victoria endemic bird species in East Africa. The birds once enjoyed a continuously undisturbed papyrus swamp and most likely a peaceful neighbourhood before the sick culture of poisoning birds using Furadan set in.

Bunyala-Yala NovDec 062.JPG

An island of papyrus stands on my background; these are poor given the dry soil conditions and the size. The plants are struggling to attain their massive size after having been slashed down then the culprit delayed digging their root systems out.

Bunyala-Yala NovDec 032.JPG

Bunyala-Yala NovDec 019.JPG

Bunyala Rice Scheme- you can hardly see its end now, and it keeps growing by the day. Bird poisoning goes on in these areas of the irrigation scheme that flood with water.

Walking around the adjoined local centres, one branded ‘Canteen’ and the other ‘Nyadorera’ in Bunyala, agrobusinesses seem to have a disappointingly trace number of visits by customers. As a matter of fact there is only one specialist agroveterinary shop while the other is a general shop and in the farming section are stocked a couple of pesticides and farm inputs. With the intention of finding whether these stocked Furadan, curious dealers turned us away with a bold ‘NO’ in response to the question we asked, ‘If they had any Furadan’ at the general shop and the agrovet. At the agrovet however, my keen assistant spotted the 200gm packs at a lower side shelf and alerted me. But the shopkeepers are sensitive as far as Furadan is concerned and are quick to show you the way out if you are suspected not to be a poacher since poachers somehow have a way of getting the poison for their work without much ado.

Close toBunyala Rice Scheme is Yala Swamp. We have surveyed several kilometers into the site. No people inhabit the area that we have walked so far. Phew! no poisoning here! Indeed there has been no observed poisoning of birds in the IBA hitherto but it is disturbing that you find bird feathers along the paths especially where the habitat is still boggy. Further, none of the endemic bird species has been sighted so far despite our scanning deep into the few papyrus vegetation stands that await to be cleared because we were informed that they are already marked for farming.

Bunyala-Yala NovDec 084.JPG

A poor pphoto showing the silhouette of a Swamp Flycatcher still lucky to hold his ground. The undisturbed papyrus endemics like the Papyrus Yellow Warbler and the Papyrus Gonolek are not so lucky

The endemics need these extensive papyrus stands if they are to survive but which unfortunately are no more in this area . These are being impacted on by the locals from upland in Bunyala area.

Yet when we return to the rice scheme on our way back to camp, the killing scenario is the same. Furadan poisoned birds!

Bunyala-Yala NovDec 094.JPG

Part of a troupe of poachers loaded with their kill; waders in the sack and African open-billed Stocks on the leading poacher’s back

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Huge Bird deaths in Thika, Kenya

We have just recieved reports that there has been a huge die off of birds at the Thika sewage works just north of Nairobi. This sewage works has been a favourite place for birders as it attracts a huge diversity and massive congregations of birds local and migrants

bird deaths thinka kenya

A team from Ornithology dept NMK in the company Oliver Nasirwa went to the Thika
sewage ponds to assess the reported case of dying birds at the site on the 26th
August 2009.

poisoned duck kenya

Ronald Mulwa notes:

“From my assessment and talking to the officers on the ground, the die off cases could
be going down. We found one Sacred Ibis really sick and unable to fly, also found one
Red-billed Teal just dying – apart from that the rest were 1 week old (or so) carcasses –
we assume that some carcasses also get swept away into the sewage outlet.

Though we are working on a more detailed update, the following are the
birds we found dead:
Sacred Ibis – 2 + 1 unable to fly
White-faced Whistling Duck -1
Red-billed Teal – 15
Red-knobed Coot – 5
Hadada Ibis – 2
Black-winged Stilt – sickly and unable to fly 1

black winged stilt poisoned

We thought this may not be termed ‘Mass Die Offs’ as such, since there were still 100s of birds feeding and actively flying around. But the root cause for the deaths need to be established urgently.

We took samples some carcasses that were in reasonable shape and have been taken to
Kabete Vet Labs this morning. The Cape Teal we found dying had a strange swellings ballooning out of both eyes like bubble! photos available!

The officer in charge was quit concerned, supportive and was keen to be involved in this
assessment and to see the results of the Lab analysis.

We welcome suggestions and further discussion.
Best regards
Mulwa Ronald
Research Scientist Head – Ornithology Section, Zoology Department
National Museums of Kenya
P. O Box 40658 00100
Nairobi Kenya
Tel: 254-20-3742131/3742161 extn 243
Fax: +254-20-3741424 Cell Phone: +254 722499

According to Brian Finch and a report from Oliver Nasirwa of Nature Kenya, the three days between the initial discovery on 23rd August 2009 and Olivers visit three days later, there was incredible variation in what both parties recorded.

Some of the dead birds disappeared including fifteen dead Spur-winged Plovers, Yellow-billed Ducks, Hottentot Teal, several Ruff and more than five Coot, is a mystery. This could be due to scavenging animals are moving in from the surrounding farmlands, maybe even local dogs.

Brian notes “the difference in live presence which is amazing, our figures
in brackets:

Little Grebe 450    (250)
Sacred ibis 170     (6)
Cattle Egret 5     (nil)
Yellow Billed Stork 13  (1)
Yellow-billed Duck 30   (15)
White-faced Whistling Duck 30   (20)
Red-knobbed Coot 50 (75)
Egyptian Goose 60  (40)
Grey Crowned Crane 12  (4)
Black-winged Stilt 100  (60)
Spur-winged Plover 50  (4 live fifteen dead!!!!)
Common Sandpiper 20 (20)
Curlew Sandpiper 30 (5)
Wood Sandpiper 10  (70)
Marsh Sandpiper 6 (1)
Little Stints 70 (90)
Chlidonias terns 30  (1WWBT)

We also recorded 2 White-backed Duck,  8 Hottentot, 2 Glossy Ibis, 10 Hadada, 2 Long-toed Plover, 6 Blacksmith Plover, 15 Three-banded Plover, 50 Ruff, 2 Green Sandpiper.

I think it erroneous to assume that birds that appear perfectly healthy are not infected and succumb later. Also I think that the difference by the two counts testifies that there is a considerable movement through the ponds, but even the birds that move on south or
wherever could have taken in a fatal dose.

If this were a terrorist situation we would be on a RED not ORANGE alert!”

The hotline to report bird die-offs to the Department of Veterinary Science is 0722-726-682.

To join the Nature Kenya bird group email [email protected]