October Global Big Birding Day Update

The eBird October Big Day in Kenya has been a big success. Kenya has placed 6th globally with a total of 816 species reported on the day, from 258 checklists submitted. We were beaten by five South American countries, four of which posted day totals of more than 1000 species. To give you all an idea of the capacity of citizen science to monitor bird populations, some 7097 species were reported across the globe on the 17th October, from more than 78000 (!!!!) checklists submitted. More information on Kenya’s effort, including a full species list for the day, can be found at the link below.


A big thank you to all those who submitted lists for this event, thus highlighting the incredible birdlife on offer in Kenya. Outstanding efforts include:

Site high list – Ole Sanoe Henry (205 species – Soysambu)

Coastal birders – almost a cleanup; a very good contribution

Most remote list – Sibiloi NP and Ileret (Ambrose Ajiko)

Thanks to Pete Steward for pulling everyone together and to the eBird review team (including James Bradley, Stratton Hatfield and Tyler Davis) for going through and checking the data.

Birders, make sure to sign up for the next eBird big day in May 2021!

Meanwhile, enjoy the Global Bird Weekend and Global Big Day video by Washington Wachira


Rice growing boosts forest restoration in the Tana River Delta

Until recently, Ozi was considered a major community grown rice-producing area in the Tana River Delta. Seawater intrusion, however, forced communities to abandon rice growing in the area. At the time, the rice variety cultivated could not survive in brackish waters. Communities sought alternative livelihood activities, some of which were not good for the mangrove forest found in the area.

“The abandonment of rice growing in Ozi hurt the surrounding environment, particularly the mangrove and Ozi forests. Harvesting of mangrove poles was one of the alternative livelihood activities people got involved in. Communities also started clearing vegetation for farming further into the natural forest, and this was not good for the environment,” says Serah Munguti, then Policy and Advocacy Manager at Nature Kenya.

Since 2019, Nature Kenya, with support from EU Rebuild/CISP, has embarked on a new initiative aimed at reducing degradation at the Ozi forest and adjacent areas through the revival of rice growing.

Correlation between food insecurity and habitat loss

The aim of this initiative, Serah, points out, was to improve on food security as well as safeguarding the Ozi forest’s unique biodiversity.

It all started when Nature Kenya supported 126 households in Ozi village, representing 936 individuals (470 males, 466 females), with 2,571 kg of certified ITA 310 (NIBAM 110) rice seed. This seed variety was recommended for the area by experts from the Ministry of Agriculture.

ITA 310, according to Infonet- Biovision (https://www.infonet-biovision.org/PlantHealth/Crops/ Rice), is a long-grained rice variety that matures in 110-120 days. This variety is suited for growing in irrigated lowlands and is tolerant to rice blast and the Rice Yellow Mottle Virus (RYMV). ITA 310 is grown for subsistence and commercial use. It has a grain yield of 3-5 tonnes per hectare (t/ha).

Out of the supported households, 91 harvested 867Kg of paddy rice per acre, translating to 79 tonnes of unprocessed rice. The harvested paddy rice, working with a conversion rate of 65%, yielded 51 tonnes of milled rice valued at Ksh 3,076,983 at farm gate and Ksh 3,589,814 at market prices. This translated to an average income of Ksh. 33,813 and Ksh. 39,448 per household at farm gate and market prices respectively. These results of the rice harvest constituted a 33.83% and 61.56% increase in annual household incomes for male and female-headed households respectively at farm gate prices. At market prices, the annual household incomes increase by 39.53% and 72% for beneficiary male and female-headed households respectively.

Demand for the new seed variety has also increased as more farmers request for it. Nature Kenya, once again, has supplied 4.2 tons of the rice seed to the farmers this year, targeting 247 farmers.

Said Nyara, a rice farmer in Ozi, is upbeat about this initiative. Nyara, who has a three-acre farm, harvested 30 bags of 50kgs last season.

‘The rice variety is good. It is resistant to salt and yields a better harvest,” says Nyara, adding that it also fetches better prices in the market.

Mwanaharusi Bakari, another rice farmer from Ozi is excited to be growing the rice this year.

‘It’s my first time growing this rice variety, and I’m happy about it. I saw other farmers having a good harvest last season. This has inspired me,” she says.

Mwanaharusi intends to put two out of her three acres under rice cultivation.

Environmentally, the revival of rice growing has somehow also contributed to an increase in mangrove forest cover.

“Boosting household incomes through rice growing is one way of reducing over-reliance on forest products for livelihoods at the Tana River Delta. Nature Kenya is working with different communities spread across the delta to promote sustainable use of natural resources,” says Serah.

The Tana River Delta Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is designated as a wetland of international importance (Ramsar site) and is one of the most important wetlands in Africa. In 2011, Nature Kenya led a collaborative effort of various stakeholders in the development of a Tana River Delta Land Use Plan (LUP) that was guided by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The process was concluded in 2015. The land-use plan has since been approved and adopted as a policy by the Lamu County government.

The land-use plan is now in its implementation phase. Nature Kenya has also been promoting the Indigenous Community Conservation Areas (ICCAs) approach. Community Conservation Areas are biodiversity-rich areas partially or largely managed by local communities.

Bird and human mutualism: The Greater Honeyguide and honey-hunters

Greater Honeyguides know where bees’ nests are located and like to eat beeswax; humans know how to subdue the bees using fire, and open the nest using axes. By working together, the two species can locate the bee nest, overcome the bees’ defences and gain access to the nest, thus providing beeswax for the honeyguides and honey for the humans.

This specialised relationship is a rare example of animal-human cooperation – mutualism – that has evolved through natural selection. Pioneering research was done in Kenya by Dr Hussein Isack in the 1980s, who first demonstrated scientifically how the mutualism functions. Now we have the opportunity to take part in a citizen science study.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK and the University of Cape Town in South Africa are working in close cooperation with rural honey-hunting communities in Africa to study the foraging partnership between the Greater Honeyguide and the human honey-hunters whom it guides to bees’ nests. They want to understand the ecology, evolution and conservation implications of the honeyguide-human relationship, as a window into the origin and maintenance of mutually beneficial interactions between species (mutualisms).

If you have seen or heard a Greater Honeyguide anywhere in Africa, and whether or not it guided you, please tell them about it! Visit the citizen science project at <Honeyguiding.me> for more information and to submit a sighting.

“The honeyguide-human relationship is currently dwindling throughout Africa, and before it fades away, we need to understand this ancient part of our own species’ evolutionary history in those few places where it still thrives. This is relevant to conservation, because mutualisms can have wide reach in shaping ecological communities,” reads an excerpt from the Honeyguide Research Project.

Improving livelihoods in the Yala Ecosystem through chicken farming

You are likely to find indigenous chicken or Kuku Kienyeji on almost all menus in the eateries you visit. Many years of research and improvements on indigenous chicken breeds have made them one of Kenya’s most sought-after delicacies and rearing them a popular business undertaking. Improved local chicken breed possesses characteristics like their ability to thrive in different weather conditions, resistance to diseases, and improved growth rates, which allows it to favorably compete with exotic breeds.

The latest entrant into the chicken rearing business is a group of 50 women from Rawalo Village in Gem sub-county, Siaya County. This follows the operationalization of the poultry production unit constructed by Nature Kenya, with funding from the Darwin Initiative, through the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group. The unit has a capacity of rearing 600 chickens. The three main functions of the unit will be incubation of chicks, rearing of chickens, and collection of eggs for sale. Brooder equipment including feeders and drinkers have been procured and 150 improved kienyeji chicks; 100 White Leghorn and 50 Kuroiler chicks delivered to kick-start the project.

“The first batch of chicks will be reared up to two months before being distributed to beneficiary farmers. Eggs produced by layers will be sold either for consumption or to local farmers for hatching to improve local breeds,” explains Emily Mateche, Nature Kenya’s Project Officer based in Siaya.

Nature Kenya has been at the forefront of initiating, developing, and diversifying sustainable nature-based enterprises in partnerships with local communities in Important Bird Areas (IBAs). The aim of such initiatives is to improve community livelihoods and support local conservation activities of the sites. These enterprises also provide alternatives to unsustainable livelihood options detrimental to the IBAs and have helped reduce over-dependence on nature products for livelihoods. Nature Kenya has successfully implemented similar ventures in Dakatcha Woodland and in Tana Delta.

“Our main objectives for establishing the chicken rearing business is to improve the household diet and income for the members of the local community. We also want to give women an alternative livelihood source to ease their reliance on natural resources to make a living,” says Emily.

To manage the chicken business, the chicken farmers have constituted a Chicken Business Sub-committee whose role is to develop internal business targets for the chicken rearing enterprise and to ensure continuous production of high quality and quantity at all times. Part of the committee’s responsibility will be to mobilize beneficiary chicken farmers to attend training and follow up to ensure skills acquired are shared with other farmers within the community and effectively utilized to enhance productivity in chicken farming.

The unit will also act as a marketing center for chicks, mature chicken and eggs. They will also negotiate for good prices in liaison with Upper Yala Site Support Group, Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group, and other partners including Nature Kenya. Value addition of products through the provision of services such as slaughtering, packaging, and sale of assorted chicken parts to butcheries or mini-markets will also be done by the unit. The beneficiaries have been linked to fish feed producers in Usenge town who will supply poultry feed at a subsidized cost. The fish and poultry feed making machine was procured with support from Nature Kenya and has helped fish farmers in Yala to minimize the cost of their fish production project.

Celebrating the use of technology in tracking bird migration

The news of the nonstop return flight of a Common Cuckoo from Kenya to Bangladesh on its way home to Mongolia is one of the highlights of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day. The cuckoo departed from Kenya on April 29, passed through Somalia on May 1, and flew 6,300 kilometers over six and a half days to arrive in Bangladesh on May 6. This shows both the amazing abilities of migratory birds and the effectiveness of technology in helping ornithologists to understand migration patterns.

The cuckoo was named Onon when together with three other Common Cuckoos it was fitted with a transmitter in 2019 by the Mongolia Cuckoo Project. Since June 2019, the project has been giving updates through their website <www.birdingbeijing.com>

The Common Cuckoo left Mongolia in 2019 for Zambia, its wintering grounds. Records of his return journey show that he arrived in Kenya from Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and spent three days in the upper Tana River after which his movement could not be tracked for a week. The next time his movement was picked up was the day he departed from the north eastern part of the country.

Onon flew over Somalia, the Indian Ocean and most of India. From Bangladesh, Onon moved to northeastern India and then to China. By mid-May, the transmitter placed him near Wuhan in Hubei Province in China where he was resting. On May 23, Onon was in Shanxi Province in northern China, still 1,200 km away from Khurkh in northern Mongolia where he was fitted with the transmitter.

Onon is not the only Cuckoo that made headlines. Carlton ΙΙ, another tagged Common Cuckoo, flew 7,500 kilometers from Ivory Coast to England in seven days. The Daily Mail reported that: “Cuckoos normally take two or three weeks to reach the United Kingdom after starting their journeys in the western Africa country of Gabon before stopping in the Ivory Coast. The three-year-old bird becomes the fastest tagged bird to make the trip from Africa to England.”

Since getting tagged by the British Trust for Ornithology in 2018, Carlton has flown over 35,000 Kilometers on his migration between Africa and England.

The World Migratory World Bird Day is celebrated every year in May and October. The day is set aside to raise awareness about migratory birds and to highlight the need for conservation of birds and their habitats. The National Audubon Society – BirdLife in the U.S. – estimates that at least 4,000 species of birds in the world are regular migrants. This represents about 40 per cent of the world’s bird population.

This year’s theme – Birds Connect Our World – was brought to life by the epic journey of these two cuckoos. By tracking their movement and relaying information about their migratory routes, birders were able use technology to appreciate the global linkage created by a single migratory bird. Onon, for instance, crossed through 20 borders connecting 15 different countries at a time the movement of humans within nations has been grounded to a halt following the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus Covid-19.

Some of the widely known hazards faced by migratory birds include high winds, ferocious hailstorms, lengthy sea crossing, thunderstorms and the trapping and killing for their meat. Habitat loss through the conversion of their feeding habitats to human settlement and ill placed infrastructure are some of the emerging bird migration barriers. The online platform created by the two projects offered an opportunity to gather information about the change of routes and the duration of rest taken by the migratory birds. The information will be used to coordinate efforts towards the conservation of some of the ecosystems which are important for the survival of these migratory birds.