What a Morning! Birding in Dakatcha Woodland KBA in June

By Fleur Ng’weno and Adam Scott Kennedy

Clarke’s Weaver, Ploceus golandi, also called Kilifi Weaver because it’s only found in Kilifi County, had not been seen – or at least reported – in 2023. On the Global Big Day of birding in May, it was missing both in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Dakatcha Woodland. After five seasons of drought, we feared the worst.

Then on June 14th at the Kibaoni Nature Reserve near Marafa, Maxwell Issa, a bird guide from Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group, Edwin Utumbi of Nature Kenya, and Japhet Masha of Kibaoni, finally saw a flock of Clarke’s Weavers, males and females! The next day, Maxwell Issa and Julio Mwambire found more Kilifi Weavers in the nearby Munyenzeni wetland, also called Bore wetland.

Adam Scott Kennedy picks up the story: 

I heard the news from James Apolloh on Thursday morning and immediately booked my flights! I flew into Malindi on Friday afternoon, met with Apolloh then drove straight to Marafa where we spent the night. Next morning, around 5am, Julio and Maxwell took us to the wetland site. First weaver flies by at around 6am, and our small group located at least 25 weavers at the wetland before 9am.

At the same site, at least 10 Madagascar Pond Herons (it has been a long time since a double-figure site count of this endangered species was last recorded in Kenya), a Dwarf Bittern, a busy pair of Little Bitterns flying back and forth, several vocal and reed-jumping Allen’s Gallinule, and healthy numbers of confiding Red-headed Quelea with recently fledged young. Then the heavens gifted us 4 Mascarene Martins – vagrants from Madagascar – circling over the swamp!  Unbelievable.

Around 9am we moved from the wetland to the woodland at the Nature Kenya Kibaoni Nature Reserve, where we observed another c.25 Kilifi Weavers, plus both coastal helmetshrikes and a Mombasa Woodpecker. All this before lunchtime – a truly remarkable morning.

Grass Seed Banks for restoration in Tana River Delta

By Rudolf Makhanu

On an open piece of land at Sofia village, Tana River Delta, lies a seed bed planted with grass. Grass is a critical part of our environment, and especially here in Tana Delta, where great herds of cattle graze.

Villagers manage the 15-ha pasture seed bank planted with four varieties of grass. The Sofia seed bank is one of the many established in villages across the Delta under The Restoration Initiative (TRI) Tana project funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Nature Kenya (implementing partner) and other partners are supporting local communities in the Delta to restore degraded grazing lands and other degraded landscapes.

Since 2021, Nature Kenya has distributed 1,942.5 kg of four pasture seed varieties to establish 455 ha of seed banks in 29 villages, including Sofia. The distributed grass seed varieties are Needle (Enteropogon macrostachyus), Buffel (Cenchrus ciliaris), Abyssinian/Boma Rhodes (Chloris gayana) and Saw-toothed Love/Maasai Love (Eragrostis superba). Beneficiaries manage the seed banks through established community structures like village natural resources and land use committees. The pasture seed banks are treated as crops, and protected from free-ranging livestock. Once mature, the pasture seedlings are transferred for planting in degraded grazing lands.

Measuring approximately 225,000 ha on the Kenya coast, the Tana River Delta is an extraordinary ecological and cultural site. The Delta is the second largest estuarine and deltaic ecosystem in East Africa and a designated Ramsar Site, Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), and a global biodiversity hotspot. The Delta provides diverse ecosystem services that support livelihoods and the local economy. It serves as a critical dry-season grazing ground for pastoralists.

However, unsustainable use coupled with climate change has compromised the Delta’s ability to sustainably provide these ecosystem services and retain its ecological integrity, significantly contributing to resource use conflicts. Inadequate rangeland management is one of the main challenges in the Delta, with overgrazing being a key driver. Its associated manifestations include habitat loss, soil erosion, siltation, the spread of invasive species like Prosopis juliflora, conflicts over pasture, low livestock productivity, and decreased community resilience, especially during droughts and floods.

Collaboration between the Tana River and Lamu County Governments and local administration promotes community awareness and peacebuilding efforts, which in turn contribute to social fencing that safeguards the pasture seed banks. To this end, the TRI Tana project has facilitated several forums where the County Commissioner’s office has convened community meetings to address grazing control issues in the Delta.

To further empower communities to actively engage in rangeland restoration, Nature Kenya has facilitated training sessions and engaged livestock extension officers to provide support services. Nature Kenya is also working with the two county governments to mainstream biodiversity needs into their policies and legislation.  The TRI Tana project has supported the Tana River County review and enactment of the Livestock Grazing Control Act. The Act seeks to enhance management and orderly use of grazing resources to minimise conflict and maximise peaceful coexistence between various land users.

KBA in Focus: Masinga Reservoir

By Timothy Mwinami and Joshua Sese

Masinga Reservoir Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is the largest water impoundment along the upper Tana River. It is part of the Seven Forks Hydroelectric Power Generation Scheme aimed at harnessing the water resources of the Tana River for multiple purposes, including power generation, irrigation, and water supply. The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KENGEN) and Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA) jointly manage the dam. The reservoir is shared by Embu and Machakos counties, and borders the Mwea National Reserve KBA to the north-east.

The KBA is a critical ecological habitat, home to a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. It hosts breeding colonies of African Darter, cormorants and grebes, among other water birds. The Martial Eagle, a globally endangered bird, can be seen perching on the tall trees adjacent to the dam. The Hinde’s Babbler, a vulnerable and range-restricted Kenyan endemic bird, has been recorded in the Acacia trees on the eastern shores of the reservoir.

Despite its importance, the KBA faces threats from increasing human population in adjacent areas. Unregulated subsistence fishing is widespread in the dam. Gill-net fishing has been a major threat to diving birds, particularly the African Darter. Poor land use in cultivated areas nearby has led to siltation and eutrophication from fertilizer runoff. Although Hinde’s Babbler and Martial Eagle are present at the dam, data on their conservation status and population trends remain scanty.

Addressing the conservation challenges facing the KBA requires continuous monitoring, adaptive management strategies, and collaboration among stakeholders, including government agencies, local communities, and environmental organizations. Discussions between Nature Kenya, KENGEN and TARDA are ongoing to safeguard the site and its wildlife, and encourage communities living adjacent to the reservoir to appreciate the KBA’s ecosystem services. Like Masinga, six other dams along the Tana River host important biodiversity that needs to be identified, monitored and conserved.