Naretunoi Conservancy

In October Nature Kenya’s Sunday Birdwatch spent a delightful day at The Wildlife Foundation on Naretunoi Conservancy – across the Mbagathi River from Hippo Pools in Nairobi National Park. We drove in from Kitengela town, watched birds in the acacia woodland, and ate our picnic in the cool of The Wildlife Foundation centre on the site of the former School for Field Studies.

Naretnoi Conservancy is a group of households who may be farming or herding livestock, but commit to allow mammals to migrate in and out of the National Park. The Wildlife Foundation looks forward to establishing joint studies with museum scientists or Nature Kenya members. In particular, they would like to record the traditional Maasai names of birds. If you are interested, please contact Jacob Tukai <miliatukai@gmail.com>

The bird we ringed is back from North

A single bird can “make the day” for ringers at the ringing exercise at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) Nairobi. This might be through re-trapping an exceptionally old bird or having an unusual visitor or even having a migratory bird using the same site over years. Last month the ringing group welcomed back a Common Nightingale which was ringed at the National Museums on March 2018 and was re-caught on 11th November at the same ringing location.

Common Nightingale is an insectivorous species that breeds in forest and scrub in Europe and in Asia as far as north-west China. Assuming this bird didn’t go further south and that it went to breed at its nearest breeding grounds in Turkey, moving in a straight line through the well-known migratory route for passerine birds through Egypt, then it would have travelled a journey of at least 4500 kilometers one way and 4500 km back to Nairobi.

Bird ringing entails tagging of birds using individually numbered metal or plastic ring to the leg. The exercise is done every Tuesday at the museum ground by the Nairobi Ringing Group under the leadership of the Ornithology Section staff through the support of Nature Kenya. The birds are caught using specialized nets called mist nets, measured, ringed and released to continue their life, hoping they will be caught again.

Birds migrate to escape harsh winters in the North, and go back to their breeding grounds in summer. It’s phenomenal for tiny birds like a Common Nightingale to travel thousands of kilometers and find its way back into the same nets months later. As the threats to birds including loss of habitat, climate change, poisoning and illegal trapping increases, we hope our Common Nightingale will be able to make more journeys back and forth. We wish the Nightingale an enjoyable stay here at the tropics.

The Journal of East African Natural History

The first issue of “The Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society” was published in January 1910. It Contained papers on birds, butterflies, plants, fish, elephants, snakes and the Kariandusi deposits. For the next 105 years the Journal, under various titles and different layouts, continued to be published and distributed as a hard-copy journal containing an ever changing, eclectic mix of papers on the biodiversity of the eastern African region.

However, the times are changing, and the publishing world in particular has gone through a drastic reorganisation. Few of us still go to a library to browse through rows and rows of dusty books and journals to find information of interest. Instead, we google and download the papers we are looking for, all done and dusted within a couple of seconds. For a long time, we continued printing the Journal as an exchange resource to stock the joint library of the East Africa Natural History Society and the National Museums of Kenya. However, with many support systems in place to provide scientific information free of charge in those countries that are unable to afford subscriptions to content gatherers, and with Open Access publishing gaining in popularity, the need to exchange hard copy for hard copy has fallen away. Furthermore, the increasing costs associated with printing and postage of the Journal have become a serious burden for a small society such as ours.

Thus, like so many other journals, the management of the Journal of East African Natural History has decided to stop printing hard copies, and from now on to distribute the Journal as an electronic publication only. We will continue our partnership with BioOne, which hosts all issues produced since 1994.

The older issues are Open Access, whereas the more recent ones can only be accessed through subscription. The income that we generate in this way has been a lifeline in the continued production of the Journal. Our content can also be accessed through African Journals Online, and issues from 2016 onwards will be posted there as Open Access, meaning that anyone can download them free of charge. With this mixed model, we hope to continue generating income while we also offer our articles free of charge to institutions and the public that cannot afford a subscription to BioOne. A long printing tradition as the Journal has cannot just simply end without a flourish, and we have therefore decided to make our last printed issue a special one in dedication to the 80th birthday of a great scientist, namely Jonathan Kingdon.

On behalf of the East Africa Natural History Society, the National Museums of Kenya and the editorial committee of the Journal of East African Natural History, I sincerely hope that you will understand and support our decision, and that you will continue to enjoy reading about our amazing biodiversity.

Hinde’s Babblers Breeding in Kabete, Nairobi

Following the initial sightings of Hinde’s Babblers at the University of Nairobi’s Upper Kabete Field Station on 26th February (Simon Carter and David Guarnieri) and 8th March 2017 (Nature Kenya Wednesday Morning Bird Walk), marking the first official records of the species in Nairobi, I have been monitoring the birds as I am a student at UoN Upper Kabete Campus. On one occasion while observing the birds with Allan Kipruto (a schoolmate), we got a brief glimpse of what seemed to be a very orange-looking individual in the bushes where the rest of the Babblers (4 adults) were noisily moving around. We suspected it was a juvenile but couldn’t confirm since it quickly went deep into the bush and did not re-emerge.

About 2 weeks later on June 12th, this time on my own, I once again saw this orange-ish babbler in amongst the more regular-looking babblers. Luckily this time I had a camera and quickly snapped a couple of photos before the strange bird dove back into the bush. On taking a closer look at the photos, I was amazed to see that it was indeed a juvenile Hinde’s Babbler! Its head and tail had the same dark grey colour of the adults but it lacked the typical ‘scaling’ patterns and it was orange/rufous on nearly the rest of its body. Its eyes were dark (unlike the red of the adults) and it had a clear yellow gape, a sure sign of its youth. This marks the first ever breeding record of Hinde’s Babbler in Nairobi and the first ever record of a Kenyan endemic bird species breeding in Nairobi. Birds continue to surprise us every day and this unpredictability is what to me keeps bird watching so interesting.

TAITA HILLS IBA

The Taita Hills in south-eastern Kenya (3º20’S, 38º20’E) rise abruptly to peaks ove 2,000 metres above the semi-arid plains of Tsavo. The hills contain some of the highest levels of endemism in the world, forming a key part of the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot. They also serve as a catchment for the expansive Tsavo ecosystem. Taita Hills also form the northernmost extreme of the Eastern Arc, a chain of forested mountains extending from Kenya to southern Tanzania.

Taita Hills forests Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) are part of BirdLife International’s Tanzania-Malawi Endemic Bird Area. The hills harbor the montane cloud forest whose vegetation is much influenced by both Eastern Arc and Kenyan highlands.

Biodiversity

Despite losing about 98% of forest cover in the last 200 years, the remaining Taita Hills forest fragments continue to support a high number of endemics and unique flora and fauna, including Kenya’s most threatened birds: the Critically Endangered Taita Apalis and Taita Thrush. Other endemics include: the Taita Hills Purple-glossed Snake, the Sagalla Caecilian, the Taita Warty Frog, the Taita Blade-horned Chameleon and three endemic butterflies. The flora is also rich and full of endemism in these small and extremely fragmented forests, where more than 13 plant species endemic to Taita Hills occur. The hills are also home to the Vulnerable Taita Falcon and Abbott’s Starling, the Endangered Taita White-eye and the Near Threatened Southern Banded Snake-eagle.

Conservation

Dawida Biodiversity Conservation group (DABICO) is the Taita Hills IBA site support group. The group has 13 constituent groups and is involved in activities such as establishment of tree nurseries, beekeeping, handicraft, eco-tourism and butterfly farming. DABICO manages the Ngangao Forest community resource centre that was built through collaboration with Nature Kenya, the Taita Taveta Wildlife Forum and the Community Development Trust Fund. The resource centre offers environmental education to school children and is also a camping site for visitors.

Nature Kenya in partnership with DOF – the BirdLife Partner in Denmark, through funding from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) through CISU (Civil Society in Development), has been running the “Integrating Livelihoods and Conservation – People Partner with Nature for Sustainable Living” program in Taita. The long term objective of the Program is to: reduce the destruction of forested IBAs and contribute to the realization of best participatory forest management practices for the benefit of all. To achieve the objective, the program is supporting the formation of two Community Forest Associations (CFAs) which is still ongoing. The program is also supporting groups engaged in livelihood activities such as beekeeping, fish farming, tree nursery, handicraft and butterfly farming.