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

Now you see me, now you don’t

The ‘Birds of East Africa’ second edition by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe describes this bird as a ‘tiny secretive quail-like birds, usually only seen when flushed (and hard to flush a second time)’. I must confess that the Common Buttonquail aptly fits this description.  

 

We bumped into this elusive bird on our way to the footbridge over the Nairobi River at Michuki Memorial Park. The unmowed lawn adjacent to the walkway provided perfect cover for the buttonquail. In an instant, the startled bird flew and shortly landed about three meters away. We caught a glimpse of its streaked sandy brown upperparts. 

 

Unfortunately, that was the last we saw of it. Our second attempt to flush the buttonquail bore no fruits. None the less, we entered the sighting in the eBird mobile app for the Global Big Day. As it turned out, this was the first eBird record of the Common Buttonquail for the Nairobi National Museum/Michuki Memorial Park hotspot!

 

 

The Global Big Day is a bird sighting event. On that day (second Saturday of May and October), birders observe and submit their sightings on the eBird website. 

 

Our team, comprising nine volunteers, chose the Nairobi National Museum grounds and Michuki Memorial Park as our birding sites. Saturday Nation columnist Rupi Mangat was among the participants. 

 

For close to six hours, we scoured the grounds in search of birds. The usual ones included Hadada Ibises, Pied Crows, Black Kites, Common Bulbuls, African Paradise Flycatchers, Singing Cisticolas and Bronze Mannikins. There were some unusual sightings too. They included the Common Buttonquail, and a few migratory Willow and Marsh Warblers, late to depart for their nesting sites in the North. 

 

 

Another highlight of this bird walk was the sighting of an un-identified raptor. We came across the mysterious raptor perched on a tree. It had an entirely white head, with black eyes and beak, and all dark above. John Mwacharo managed to get some shots of the raptor. A review of the images left us even more confused. The photos were shared experts, who identified it as a Great Sparrowhawk with an unusual white head – perhaps leucistic. Then Sidney Shema of Kenya Bird Map informed us that he had photographed that bird two years earlier at the Museum! It will be interesting to track it in the future, with that distinctive face.

 

 

All in all, we covered 5.2 kilometres and managed to enter 49 species as part of Kenya’s impressive total on the Global Big Day. 

 

Sighting a Rare Leucistic Ring-necked Dove

Ring-necked Doves (Streptopelia capicola) are common birds in our gardens, parks and even in towns in dry country. They are grey in colour, with darker colours on their back, the iconic black feathered collar and black eyes.

Sighting a leucistic Ring necked Dove in the bushes of Ilekunyeti village (2 degrees south and 37 degrees east) in the Amboseli Ecosystem was thrilling. We immediately noticed the grey collar which drew our attention. A few seconds later, it started calling, which ascertained that it’s a Ring-necked Dove. This individual had all white feathers, grey collar and dark eyes.

What are Leucistic birds? – These are birds with a genetic mutation that results in a total or partial reduction of colour in a bird’s feathers. Due to this mutation, pigments are inadequately fixated or fail to be deposited properly in the feathers.

Leucistic birds have a normal coloration of the eyes, bill, legs, and bare parts which make them different from albino birds that totally lack melanin (this is what gives the feathers and eyes their colour). Albino birds are always pure white and have reddish or pink eyes.

Exploring Mida Creek

A blend of red, orange and yellow paints the sky whilst the setting sun casts silvery glitters on the vast expanse of Mida Creek, a tidal inlet in Kilifi County. On the beach, hundreds of silhouettes of birds move with the constant ebb and flow of waves. A suspended boardwalk cutting through the dense thicket of mangrove forest completes the charm of this special place tucked within Kenya’s North Coast.

All around the boardwalk, which opens up to the sea at the end, is a rich concentration of mangroves. Of Africa’s nine species of mangroves, Watamu’s Mida Creek boasts of eight, making it an important breeding and feeding ground for marine species.

“Mida Creek is a place rich in biodiversity. This creek attracts tourists and researchers who come to learn more and study the complex marine ecosystem,” says Ali Bakari, the chairperson of Mida Creek Conservation and Awareness Group.

From the boardwalk, one can discover the many aspects of Mida Creek: mud and sand flats, open shallow waters and mangrove forests. It is these diverse habitats and the birds and marine life they sustain that give Mida Creek global recognition.

Together with the adjacent Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Mida Creek is part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems that promote the reconciling of conservation of biodiversity with sustainable use.

The mangrove channels form important feeding and breeding grounds for various fish species, including parrotfish, rabbitfish, jacks, snappers, groupers, emperors and barracudas. The creek is also hosts thousands of migratory and resident birds, including regionally and globally threatened species. Mida Creek is designated as an Important Bird Area for hosting large congregations or gatherings of migrating birds from Europe and Asia

With binoculars, one might observe Dimorphic Egrets, Lesser Crested Terns and Roseate Terns feeding. Between September and May, one can also spot migrant birds like Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, and Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. Mida Creek is famous for hosting Crab Plovers, white and black shorebirds that nest in Somalia.

In the water, marine life includes varieties of seagrass and seaweeds that provide food and habitat for other aquatic species. Among the mangroves, one can spot fiddler crabs with one big bright claw carpeting the sand.

Nature Kenya Coast Regional Coordinator Francis Kagema explains the need to keep the creek’s environment healthy to support its large number of marine species.

“To sustainably conserve the creek, we rolled out livelihood empowerment programs that involved building capacity of local communities to enable them to tap from tourism and conserve Mida Creek,,” Kagema says.

The Mida Creek Conservation and Awareness Group is the area’s Site Support Group (SSG). The group conducts conservation activities, including site monitoring and restoration, awareness creation and environmental education. It also runs income-generating activities in the form of a restaurant and boat rides for visitors. Nature Kenya provided the group with life jackets and other marine safety gear.

“Our group is actively engaged in various conservation activities,” notes Bakari. “These include beach cleanups as well as the planting of mangroves in degraded areas. This creek plays a critical role both in conservation and in supporting our livelihoods.”