Dressing to amaze

Choosing a soul mate is not an easy task. Many things are factored in, with the potential mate required to meet a set of minimums for consideration. Even if it means traversing rough terrains, climbing hills or descending steep valleys and slopes, the mission of pursuing a soul mate largely depends on a strategy invested in preparation.

Courtship behaviour in birds is one of the most fascinating. Both males and females may be choosy about their mates. Usually, it is the males who attempt to attract females by showcasing prowess in displays. They do so by wearing striking and attractive plumage and even singing out fine tunes to lure their potential mates.

If positive, females reciprocate by firmly standing ground and not moving away. If not interested, they fly off.

Females need to ensure they pair with quality and strong males. The females keenly look at several details before arriving at a decision. Males in good shape and have attained the right breeding plumage are often better placed to win over females. The intensity and frequency of displays give more attraction to the female. Males with previous mating success or experience often edge out new entrants.

The quality of the territory defended by males also determines the decision of the female. A neatly constructed nest in the best location wins the heart of many females to call it home.

Guardians of the Mount Kenya forest ecosystem

The Mount Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group (Mt Kebio) is one of the Site Support Groups (SSGs) of Nature Kenya in the Central region. The SSG works with local communities alongside conservation authorities to conserve the critical Mount Kenya forest ecosystem.

Rampant cases of deforestation, the disappearance of rare species like the Kenyan Jewel damselfly, Abbot’s Starling and Mountain Bongos, coupled with increased cases of charcoal burning and solid waste pollution led to the formation the SSG by porters and tour guides in 1999.

Currently, the group operates from the Mount Kenya Eco-resource centre in Naro Moru town at the base of the mountain. The Eco-resource centre was constructed in 2002 by Nature Kenya through funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The centre serves to encourage the appreciation of the Mount Kenya forest ecosystem and its biodiversity by offering an integrated environmental education program. It hosts a conference hall alongside a library and an artefact shop where learners, researchers and tourists can access materials on conservation.

The SSG also uses the facility as a venue for public awareness creation. School children, college students and other groups visit the centre to learn more about the critical Mount Kenya forest ecosystem. Souvenirs made by SSG members are also sold at the centre.

Besides advocating for the conservation of the Mount Kenya forest ecosystem, the SSG has also integrated outreach programmes to schools.

“The aim is to let the learners know of the challenges stemming from destructive activities. We want children in schools around the Mt. Kenya area to learn and conserve this ecosystem. Children get to learn about the devastating effects of activities such as illegal logging and charcoal burning. Teaching children the values of conservation at a tender age is the best way to ensure the sustainability of this valuable ecosystem,” says Mr Alex Karuri, secretary of the SSG.

Alice King’ori, a senior teacher at Kiboya Primary School in Kieni East notes that the integrated educational programmes offered within the eco-resource centre are helping to boost learners’ understanding of conservation.

“This initiative is excellent because when learners visit the library, they get to access a lot of conservation-themed materials. They are also taken through lessons, and they get to learn of rare species found within these forests,” Ms King’ori says.

One can also spend a night camping around the eco-resource centre by hiring tents owned by the SSG and enjoy guided nature hikes offered by tour guides who double up as SSG members.

Nature Kenya has supported the training of SSG members on bird identification. The training has enhanced the guides’ bird identification skills enabling them to lead bird enthusiasts, researchers and visitors to bird-rich areas.

Planning to visit the Mount Kenya Eco-resource Centre? Kindly get in touch with Gerald on 0722172285 or Alex 0702104488.

Overcoming the Covid Storm!

The risk of getting Covid-19 is still very high. The more infectious variant is with us. Despite these dangers we hope our members remain safe and well, engaged and cheerful. We remain careful – wearing masks, washing hands and working from home when we can. Membership activities are taking place with caution.

  1. The ‘Lungs for Kenya’ Charity Golf Tournament is scheduled to take place on 23rd July 2021 at the Karen Country Club. Book your slot to participate by contacting Gloria Waswa, Membership and Marketing Manager at nkmembership@ naturekenya.org or telephone 0726 134029.
  2. Wednesday Morning and Third Sunday Bird walks have resumed. See back page for details.
  3. The Nature Kenya office is closed. However, membership can be renewed online http:// naturekenya.org/support/ membership/ or via M-pesa. Books, honey, etc. may be purchased online or with M-pesa (Paybill 100300, Account write in your purchase) and collected on Mondays or by arrangement. Ring the bell at the entrance of the office behind the galleries.
  4. Members will continue to receive an electronic version of the Nature Net
  5. The EANHS/NMK Library will be opened from 1st of July 2021. Museum galleries and sites are open to the public under Ministry of Health guidelines (as at end June 2021).

Nature Kenya conservation efforts continue locally and nationally:

In June, Nature Kenya continued actions to save species, conserve sites, encourage ecological sustainability and empower people. Key highlights include a new approach for forest landscape restoration in the Tana River Delta. Kenya targets to restore 5 million hectares of degraded landscapes. Traditional restoration approaches are based on raising trees in tree nurseries. While this still works, each tree has to be planted one by one. This is expensive and time consuming.

Nature Kenya is piloting a new approach in the Tana Delta. This involves mobilizing communities to form Village Natural Resources and Land Use Committees (VNRLUC) at 55 villages, formation of five Community Forest Associations (CFAs) and four Water Resource Users Associations (WRUAs). These groups have been trained in seed collection and together collected 5,000 kgs of seeds of a wide range of indigenous trees. When seeded in the rainy season, this may translate into 5,000 acres of land being restored.

Landscape restoration is not just about tree growing; it’s also keeping bushland areas as bush and grassland areas grassy. In the Tana Delta, 1,300 kgs of grass seed were supplied to pastoralist communities to restore livestock grazing areas.

In Mt. Kenya, CFAs located in Hombe, Kangaita, Chehe and Nanyuki planted 140,000 trees. These CFAs in Mt. Kenya have become so good in tree growing that their skills are being sought by communities from other sites in Kenya. In June, 37 local community members including five chiefs visited Mt. Kenya CFAs and were able to learn the art of tree growing for restoration and also as a business.

In Taita Hills, Arabuko-Sokoke and Dakatcha forests, 90 local community members were trained in ecosystem-based adaptation.

In Sabaki River Mouth and Arabuko- Sokoke Forest, 33 members of the Sabaki River Conservation and Development Organization (SARICODO) and Arabuko- Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association (ASFADA) and CFAs were trained as forest scouts, have been uniformed, and are ready to patrol and protect forests.

In Mutitu and Mumoni Key Biodiversity Areas, a participatory biodiversity assessment was conducted and local community members including 16 SSG members were trained in bird monitoring.

In Yala Swamp, community sensitization meetings were held in 22 villages and Village Natural Resource and Land Use Committees (VNRLUC) formed to support the conservation of a designated Indigenous and Community Conservation Area (ICCA) in Yala Swamp.

Please support us as we work towards a greener future!

For clarifications or to report your observations on species and sites, kindly contact us through email: office@naturekenya.org or telephone: 020 3537568, 0780 149200, 0751 624312, 0771 343138

Dr. Paul Matiku,

Executive Director, Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society

Birding on Mt. Kenya

Dawn approaches, and Mount Kenya is preparing to wake up. The African sun, to the east, is on the rise, casting its rays over Kenya’s tallest mountain. Members of the Mount Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group are on a bird-watching adventure. Their destination is Gathioryu forest, a block of the Mount Kenya forest.

Armed with binoculars, field guides, water and snacks, they hit the road. As they say, birding is mind therapy and draws one closer to nature. The group of enthusiastic birders is out to quench its thirst for a thrilling encounter with birds.

Sweet bird melodies fill the cold morning air. Sunbirds, bee-eaters, warblers, doves and weavers take turns in the morning dawn chorus. Here, birds are more heard than seen. Bird calls are key identification features. Apart from understorey dwellers, the majority spend most of their time in the high canopies.

We tick boxes on our bird checklist. Variable Sunbirds and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters are the first entries on the list. The diversity of birds here is broad, making it one of the top hotspots in the central Kenya region. The forest is home to other animals too.

Olive Baboons cling on tree trunks as they grab insects hiding in the bark. Their young ones playfully hop from tree to tree, spilling dry leaves on our heads. Black and White Colobus Monkeys lazily fed on leaves and seedpods, their long graceful tails dangling from the branches, evidently not bothered by our presence.

Mounds of elephant droppings cover the forest trail. It is fascinating to witness life emerge from relatively older droppings: seedlings sprouting, dung beetles taking off and landing. Francolins have scattered the dung profusely in their quest to hunt for insects to eat. The droppings are indeed magnets attracting an array of organisms.

As we proceed, a member of our troop recalls some information on elephants. An adult elephant can eat up to 200kgs of vegetative matter on a single day and equally excrete large amounts of droppings. These droppings contain seeds and nutrients. The seeds will germinate and grow, feeding on nutrients supplied by the droppings. Elephant calves will eventually wean on these plants to keep the cycle going. Quite a revelation!

More unravels. The shy and elusive bushbucks hop around and venture deep onto thickets, perhaps to conceal their identity from us. Our trail weaves deeper with every corner we take, opening up a new chapter of encounters to see and learn.

Our four-hour walk in the forest comes to an end with 30 bird species recorded. It’s been an exciting experience interacting with our natural world.

Safety in nesting

One Saturday afternoon, I took my five-year-old to a shopping mall. As usual, there were a lot of sale items on display at the mall. One, in particular, caught her attention: a dome tent. Curiously, she peeped inside the tent and asked me if she could have it as her home. I promised to buy her the tent the following week. The time came, and she came asking for her promise. Oops, it had slipped off my mind! She reminded me I had promised to get her a nest. A nest? I pondered. Yes, she insisted, saying I had promised to get her a house that looked like a bird’s nest for her to live in, referring to some weaver bird nests we had seen on a farm. Oh, I recalled amid some laughter. She meant the tent!

Talking of homes, it’s everybody’s dream to own one, a place to call their own. The array of numerous architectural marvels dotting our landscape exhibits the dynamics of modern building trends and designs. But what inspires all these home designs? Is it creativity? Is it necessity, functionality or the desire to fit?

A Village Weaver constructing a nest. PHOTO CREDIT :PETER USHER

For birds, it is a different notion altogether. Each species has a basic standard approach to nest building. Some birds seem to have mastered this art better than others. The nest-building skills, details and effort they display are beyond human imagination.

But what particular factors do birds consider when constructing their nests? Security is a prime consideration. Birds need to safeguard themselves and protect their eggs and young ones. They achieve this by strategically locating their nests.

An African Paradise Flycatcher nest. PHOTO CREDIT: PETER USHER

Many passerines (“songbirds” or “perching birds”) conceal their nests in thick bushes and lay ‘camouflaged’ eggs. Other birds resort to building numerous nests only to use one. The decoy nests serve to confuse predators. Some birds have nests with multiple false entrances.

Placing nests in hard to reach areas is another trick employed by birds for security. Some species build nests at the tips of thin branches that cannot support the weight of potential predators. Many birds of prey nest in inaccessible cliffs. Barbets, hornbills and woodpeckers find safety in holes on tree trunks, while bee-eaters prefer to burrow in the ground.

A nest Spot-flanked Barbet. PHOTO CREDIT: FRANCIS MUNGAI

Communal nesting for many of the weavers provides strength in numbers in mobbing predators and deterring them from accessing the nests. Some perch their nests’ entrances on thorny barricades.

Sparrows and some weavers have learnt the trick of securing their nests by building them close to human habitation. Interestingly, some birds engage ‘external protectors’ for their nests. They do so by building them near colonies of dreaded insects like ants, wasps or even bees!

Plovers simply gather small rocks or loose soil to lay and conceal their eggs.

All in all, nest building is a fascinating phenomenon, a marvel of our natural world, so to speak. Let’s go outdoors and enjoy nature’s thrilling experiences.

Do you know that:

Contrary to popular belief, birds don’t generally sleep in nests. While actively incubating eggs or raising chicks, birds may occasionally sleep on their nests. Once chicks are grown, the parent birds don’t return to their nesting sites to spend the night.