The legacy of the Osprey: Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group benefits from birdwatching training

Since the sighting and rescue of the ringed Osprey from Finland in Usalu village, Siaya County, there has been growing interest among local people to learn about birdwatching and the birds found in the Yala Swamp Ecosystem. Aspiring birders and nature enthusiasts hope to tap into the unexploited potential of bird-tourism as a way of diversifying income streams for community members who rely on the Yala Swamp Ecosystem for their livelihood.

In response, Nature Kenya with funding from the Darwin Initiative, supported an on-site training in bird identification for the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (YESSG). The training brought together 38 participants – 27 men, and 11 women – from the four cluster sites of Upper Yala, Yimbo and Kanyaboli in Siaya county and Bunyala in Busia county. The two-day training focused on how to identify common and uncommon bird species using sight and sound and how to distinguish resident birds from migrant birds.

The training took the participants on birdwatching excursions to the scenic Rawalo hills in Upper Yala, the spectacular Dhogoye causeway at the mouth of river Yala, Lake Kanyaboli and Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, places where birds flock all year round. The outings offered the birders a practical opportunity to enhance their skills on how to use binoculars to scan for birds across large open expanses, how to minimize disturbance and maximize bird observation time, how to use field guide books, and recognizing songs and other types of bird calls. They were also able to observe bird behaviour including feeding, flocking and predation. During the bird walks, Nature Kenya staff and   seven trainers trained in Ornithology trained bird mentors  freely offered  the participants lessons on adaptations of birds to their preferred habitats, how to use bird calls to discover what other wildlife is around and, interpreting bird behaviour.

There were plenty of birds to keep the birders enthralled. Over 118 bird species were recorded in Rawalo hills including the Hartlaub’s and Ross’s Turacos.  Forty one bird species were sighted in Yimbo including Osprey and Gabar Goshawk. Another 70 bird species were recorded in Kanyaboli including papyrus endemics – Carruthers’ Cisticola, Papyrus Gonolek and White-winged Swamp Warbler.  Birders also spotted a Palm-nut Vulture in Kanyaboli which is an uncommon species in the area.

A total of 69 bird species were recorded in Bunyala including  Collared Pratincole and Giant Kingfisher which are uncommon there. Some of the bird enthusiasts extended the excursions into the late evenings while on the lookout for nightjars and the mythical nocturnal owls.

The birders acquired skills in bird monitoring through bird survey techniques including common bird monitoring and waterfowl counts. They gained understanding on why birds are often seen as a good measure of the health of the environment. Upon their return to their clusters, they will help Nature Kenya to conduct bird surveys within their localities.

The relaxed outdoor atmosphere for training was acknowledged by the trainees as most appropriate for learning and offered a suitable platform for them to practice their new found skills. Mentorship of the birders and tour guides is ongoing to enhance their capacity to exploit the future avi tourism opportunities within the Yala Swamp complex while contributing to conservation through biodiversity monitoring.