Early Saturday morning found us piling into the pick-up truck and making the drive to the Sabaki River, north of Malindi. There, we met the local bird enthusiast group, the ‘Sabaki Skimmers’ – Dixon, Michael, Joseph, Patrick and Sammy all guys from the village who are excited by conservation. A long walk through muddy mangroves and dunes to the river mouth followed and from there, we were ready to start counting the multitude of birds that were hanging out there.
Colin gives the Sabaki Skimmers a pep talk
Armed with a plethora of binoculars, telescopes, notepads, tally counters and the ubiquitous suncream (for the mzungus at least!), we split into two teams and started purposely pointing our lenses towards the fields of flamingos, Sanderlings and Crab-plovers and scribbling frantic notes.
As the morning wore on, we gradually made away up the delta, crossing hippo tracks and checking out the fish the local kids had caught, which amounted to a small handful of tiny baby fish. Disappointingly, there were several groups of kids out in the river fishing with mosquito nets. Not only is fishing illegal by national law in the river, fishing with a net with such small net sizes means that no fish can escape. Estuaries such as the Sabaki River Delta are vital habitats for juvenile fish, offering them protection amongst the mangroves from predators and other threats in the open ocean. Such non-discriminating fishing methods sweep up young fish and allow only the very very lucky ones to reach maturity and thus threaten the long-term viability of local fisheries. And yet, these kids need to eat. One of the challenges of conservation is ensuring the long term sustainability of habitats, as well as the livelihoods of the local people.
Nearly 3 and a half hours later, with the mzungu skin truly beginning to crisp, we made our final counts. A successful morning indeed – we counted 42 species and a total of 7,305 individual birds. Of these, it was particularly interesting to large numbers of White-cheeked Terns and surprisingly, a major lack of Little Stints, a reason for which still baffles!
I’ve been away for a couple of weeks in Nairobi for a Micah Network conference discussing the church’s response to Climate Change. It was an awesome week involving people from c.46 nations and making a strong statement that the church has no option but to be fully involved in making a difference to reduce carbon emissions and the impact of climate change on particularly the poor and disadvantaged.
When I talk of A Rocha Kenya as a Christian conservation organisation I get a lot of people being quite surprised to hear that we are a specifically Christian organisation that is doing on-the-ground conservation work – doing biological research and monitoring surveys, working with communities and also environmental education in schools etc. It seems that amazingly few people (Christians and non-Christians alike) have really made the link between the environment and Christian living / biblical teaching. In fact a famous essay in 1967 by Lynn White Jr put the blame of the ecological crisis fair and square on the church’s shoulders – something which in many ways, Christians cannot deny as many have, sadly, misinterpreted the bible to say that we have the right to use the environment around us just as we want to – rather than to be the good stewards that in fact God would have us be. To use the world, yes – but to use it wisely and respectfully and not to harm it nor degrade it.
It was therefore awesome to be in a conference with such a diverse group of people who unanimously agreed that the church should be in fact leading the way in fighting against the environmental degradation we see in the world today and particularly to be lobbying governments to implement legislation to reduce carbon emissions as well as teaching their congregations to change their lifestyles to something more sustainable. A statement was written with input from everyone there that is aimed at the global church together with another one for the politicians of the world – to be tabled at the summit in Copenhagen later this year. This statement can be found on the Micah Network website so do check it out.
I of course managed to get some birding in and actually found a tiny patch of highland forest that is still clinging on amongst the tea fields of Limuru where we had great views of some forest birds – White-browed Crombec, White-starred Robin, Abyssinian Hill Babbler, Brown Woodland Warbler, Grey Apalis (and three other species of apalis – Chestnut-throated, Yellow-breasted and Black-collared) and Cabanis’ Greenbul. At the conference centre – Brackenhurst – they’ve cut down some eucalypt plantations and planted indigenous forest trees which are now 5-10m tall and the bird life has really increased. Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, 9 species of sunbird and Giant Kingfishers in the small dam at the bottom of the hill.
This was followed by a Sunday morning at Lake Nakuru National Park joining the team from the National Museums of Kenya Ornithology Section doing the July waterfowl counts – which was awesome… we counted over 15,000 Great White Pelicans in one flock in front of us and about 45,000 lesser flamingo… stunning, stunning views (whilst dodging grumpy buffalo at the same time). A very good couple of weeks away!