Tag Archives: Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme

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


Migrant Eurasian Hobby observed in neighborhood of Bunyala Rice Scheme


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


 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 arriving, mostly Godwits & Ruffs

Stilts, Greenshank, Ruffs, Godwits

Godwits, Ruffs, Black-winged Stilts & Common Greenshank


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.


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.

Raptors at risk as effective scare decoys to parasitic birds

Our campaign against poisoning of wildlife has for the past 4 years focused on the special ground case of Bunyala. Bunyala is remotely located and otherwise latent atrocities against wildlife are easily detected here compared to less remote sites in our republic thereby offering an opportunity to illustrate the threat issues (starting with poisoning), flag up these conservation concerns and furnish the public on the status quo and relevant authorities on need to act. The latter and ultimate intended aim has however on the general remained unattended to leaving us with no options but to act in our own capacity however small.

In our vigilance approach to minimize/prevent the indiscriminate poisonings of birds….and most probably humans in Bunyala, my team and I stumbled on bird trapping/snaring of birds particularly raptors during September 2012. The first discovered case of LOST the Long Crested Eagle snared & killed in Bunyala was an awakening call to watch out for all threats to birds for their protection. The perpetrator’s defence was that the bird habitually took on his newly hatched chicks, a genuinely understandable reason but even then, decent, effective screens/shields for baby chickens against raptors are locally available and sold cheaply. My scouts however purport that some raptors are snared for human consumption. The Long Crested Eagle is a locally abundant species at the site and is said not to be spared by some of the bird-eaters. When I rescued LOST, one onlooker stated in local vernacular that ‘this boy has just snatched away one hell of a rooster that would have supplemented Ugali’. From my stand point, this is sufficiently authentic of the raptor-eating allegation.

It has now emerged that there is more than one motive to killing raptors at the rice irrigation scheme. Raptors kill smaller birds for their meal. I reckon one or two well-fleshed queleas/weaver birds per day are sufficient for an accipiter, a large kestrel or a falcon. Larger raptors like the Ayres’s Hawk Eagle in the locality may go for larger doves but then again just a couple of these per day are adequate. Hundreds of thousands of smaller birds come to feed at the rice scheme which at the moment is a combination of habitats ideal for all species. Certain plots are fallow while others are flooded and being readied for planting. A few have the crop ready and is being harvested but in a majority, the rice crop is maturing up. The maturing/mature crop is the main attractant for parasitic seedeaters and raises concern for raptors which local farmers are aware terrify the seed-eating raiders but are crudely and unsustainably harnessing this use of raptors.

maturing Rice crop

Rice Crop in maturing stage


Bunyala Rice FieldsRice field with crop at different developmental stages; in the foreground the crop is almost ready; in the middle ground & further out the crop is still in the vegetative state

 Locust birds

Hundreds of thousands of seedeaters arriving at Bunyala Rice Scheme at dawn

As the raptors hunt in the natural setting, they certainly cause panic as they ambush the smaller birds and the emanating frenzy sends the assailed birds scurrying and scattering away from the rice field. However, the shock wave is only effective over a narrow front of just a few acres leaving many thousands hectares unscathed with the parasitic hordes enjoying their cereal meal!

We have observed that most modes of scaring away the likes of queleas, waxbills and weavers from the crop are ineffective. These range from vocal cord ripping yells, hitting or churning of shakers to human-form scarecrows otherwise just secured polythene bags flapping in the wind. The case of suspending hawks in mid-air to mimic a raptor on decent to a kill is said to work wonders and keeps most if not all parasitic bird species from destroying the rice crop. Our latest victim is a Grey Kestrel that a poacher employed his taxidermy skills to preserve the bird’s feathers and body in perfect condition but for the messed up head and neck that the snap-trap struck the subject.

Grey Kestrle, carcas

Snared then propped Grey Kestrel decoy to scare parasitic birds from rice fields

In an attempt to find out if for sure this method works, I picked a random neighboring plot and realized the farmer in the nearby plot actively engaged in chasing away the birds by hitting on some percussion container (plastic container laden with stones) as the raiding locust birds stubbornly gorged on his crop. The farmer in the plot with the suspended preserved kestrel sat down clearly with little or no concern for the parasitic birds I bet from guaranteed security from the poor murdered watchman’s carcass guarding over his farm!

Scare-ccrow & human watchmen

Scaring away queleas, weavers & waxbills using human-form scarecrows & human watchmen; also note suspended polythene bags flapping in wind in the background

 Hawk scare

Lazy farmer enjoying the services of a killed kestrel to keep off parasitic queleas, weavers & waxbills

This is not the only incident and my scouts describe at least one other incident of a raptor that I infered to be the African Marsh Harrier, possibly a juvenile from their description (a mostly all-brown raptor with some white speckling on the nape region  harrying just above the rice fields, head down-facing,).

In seeking a solution, one is quickly forced to suggest toxic aerial spraying which we know full well falls in the very category of the misdeeds that our campaign seeks to address. This is because aerial spraying would be indiscriminate, affecting other species and also raptors when they go for the easy, dying intoxicated smaller birds with a further translocation of the poison (and resultant poisoning) to areas afar by the intoxicated, but still able to fly birds. I wish to ask yet again anyone/experts to share information of known effective methods of scaring the parasitic birds away which we could possibly introduce in Bunyala and help conserve our raptors.

Keep reading our blog for the latest updates.

Motorcycle Raptor Surveys beyond Bunyala Rice Scheme

Every morning flocks of small birds come to forage at Bunyala Rice Scheme mostly from the northern direction. With them come the lured raptors that up till now, 23 species have been observed at the site. Despite results from the study that quantified the effect of poisoning to birds in Bunyala including 3 raptor mortalities, we felt that birds of prey were misrepresented and most fatalities went unobserved & unrecorded. This is because raptors are not the direct target of deliberate poisoning but are not absolutely safe from the poisoning. While they are avid hunters, they are likely to carefully select weaker, intoxicated smaller birds for their quary. The result however is that in the event of intoxication, birds of prey although with higher lethal doses, greater resistance to toxic loads and being extensive flyers may succumb at far flung sites beyond our deliberate observation and detection. We are focusing especially on Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle & Hooded Vulture, both globally threatened and in our study area range.

We have therefore embarked on a monitoring survey, where I am currently training my scouts on motorcycle raptor road counts. The route covers the area between Bunyala & Busia along an elliptical route between these 2 limit points.

 RRC, western Kenya

RRC, wetsrn KenyaOne of the trainees & myself on survey

We hope to obtain comparative data over time for their population trends. Of conservation merit however, the data can simply be an inference of effect of poisoning to raptors where we will crudely compare the local population & diversity of raptors to that of the surrounding population & diversity (observed during the road counts). Further, though a study that will gather data, it will also be a preventive vigilance survey to curb the poisoning paying special attention to birds of prey which have not been focused on keenly before, though a critical component of birdlife.

Here are some of the species that we observed & are staying alert for to ensure they are unharmed by poisoning & other threats.

Beaudouin's SEBeaudouin’s Snake Eagle


Long-Crested Eagle

 Banded Snake Eagle

Banded Snake Eagle


Peregrine Falcon

 In our next post, I will inform you on a looming threat to raptors at Bunyala Rice Scheme as they are killed, preserved & used as ‘scarecrows’ to pest birds to the rice crop.

Keep reading, keep supporting.

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.

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.

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.

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