Sharpe’s Longclaw survey

A Sharpe’s Longclaw survey recently conducted by a group of volunteers in Kinangop grasslands indicates the Endangered bird’s habitat is still under threat from human activity. Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FoKP), a Nature Kenya site support group (SSG), conducted the study between April and May this year. The study covered four locations in Kinangop, namely Magumu/Nyakio, Njambini, Engineer and Murungaru.

Bird experts from BirdLife International assisted the volunteers in the study, which had identified 24 farms as suitable habitats for the grassland specialist Sharpe’s Longclaw.

Various data was captured and recorded during the survey. It included: the number of Sharpe’s Longclaw individuals observed, their breeding status, GPS coordinates of the areas visited, habitat quality as per the requirements of the target species, among others. Other bird species observed were also noted. A total of 286 Sharpe’s Longclaw individuals were recorded during the survey.

Sharpe’s Longclaw depends on tussock grass that grows in Kinangop. The grass species grows in clumps or tufts and thrives in dry highland habitats. The bird uses tussock grass to feed, nest, and protect itself from predators when threatened.

The Kinangop grasslands are one of the three main areas where Sharpe’s Longclaw, a bird endemic to Kenya, is found. Mau Narok and Timau grasslands are the other two areas. In Kinangop, the bird’s range is mostly restricted to privately owned grasslands.

The study noted that loss of the tussock grass habitat due to land-use conversion for farming and woodlot establishment is a leading contributor to the Sharpe’s Longclaw population decline. Over 12 newly converted private grasslands were recorded in the course of the survey. Overgrazing was also observed as a contributor to tussock grass habitat degradation.

To mitigate the threats, FoKP proposes the strengthening of grassland and species conservation knowledge and the capacity of private landowners and managers in Kinangop. Other recommendations include the annual monitoring of the Sharpe’s Longclaw in Kinangop, Mau Narok and Timau grasslands, and conducting a nationwide survey for the species after every five years.

Volunteers who participated in the survey also took time to create community awareness on habitat conservation. The interaction between FoKP members and bird experts also served to sharpen the SSG’s monitoring skills.

Nature Kenya is working closely with FoKP to promote the conservation of Sharpe’s Longclaw and its habitat in Kinangop. In 2010, Nature Kenya secured the purchase of 20 hectares of land at the Kinangop Grasslands Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) to protect the Endangered bird’s habitat.