Category Archives: New species

3rd ever Kenyan sighting of Greater Short-toed Lark!

Ten years ago, whilst working with Turtle Bay Beach Club, Colin produced a map of the local area for the benefit of bird enthusiasts who were visiting the resort. The map covered nearby Turtle Bay and Dabaso areas and showed visitors taking a walk inland what kind of birds the might expect to see where.

In the intervening years, the local area has changed drastically as a result of development, but the map hasn’t been updated to indicate any changes to bird communities this may have caused. So, with a mind to change that, an intrepid group set out very early Thursday morning to see what they would see, with little anticipation of how significant the morning would be.

On the old airstrip by Dabaso rock, Colin noticed a pair of small brown birds feeding that he couldn’t immediately identify. Back at Mwamba, a study of the field guides suggested that it might be a rare sighting of the Greater Short-Toed Lark. On the suspicion  that  they might still be feeding there, another group hopped in the jeep and sped back out to the airstrip. Hopes were raised when they were immediately found again in the same spot and the view through the telescope confirmed that they were indeed Greater Short-Toed Larks!

The significance of this sighting is that according to the book ‘Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania’ by Zimmerman et al (1996), there are only two previous records for the whole of Kenya! The first was way back in 1899, whilst the most recent was 45 years ago in 1964! Whilst it is conceivable that there have been more sightings since the book was published, their rareity means that is unlikely that they would have happened without Mwamba Bird Centre hearing about it. Therefore, we can tentatively claim to have recorded Kenyas 3rd sighting!

Greater Short-Toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla longipennis)

Owls and goshawks

Happy 4th of July to any Americans reading this! It’s 6.30 a.m & I’m sitting around the ringing table on the edge of the forest with Albert & some volunteers – Ruphous & Francis from around here, Mercy from Nairobi & Sam from the UK. We’ve opened the nets in the forest 1/2 hour ago & are having a cup of chai & some bread & blue band (margarine) as we wait for the first round… So I thought I’d try & tap something for the blog on the PDA I was given The sun’s coming up, it’s still & the bird song is awesome with a couple of Fischer’s Turacos going bananas in the trees just behind us. Also a Bat Hawk just cruised past at low level looking for any bats who’ve stayed out longer than they should have done. These relatively little-known raptors are crepuscular in activity & are a serioisly sought after species by visiting birders. Mornings like this are just so special…

Dawn at the ringing site – the forest is behind me.

Breakfast while waiting for the first round – good time to see Bat Hawks…

Continuing this a bit later… Not as many birds in the first round as yesterday – only 7, BUT one was very special – my first to catch though we hear them most times we’re in the forest at night – yes, an owl, an African Wood Owl in fact & a beaut of a bird!

Also caught 3 Tropical Boubous (a type of bush-shrike) which I took blood samples from as apparently some samples taken 15 years ago by John Fanshawe were recently analysed for DNA & it seems like they may be a new species. This and the Grey-backed Camaroptera (a not very brightly coloured warbler – that also doesn’t “warble” in fact! In South Africa they’re called “Bleating Warblers” as they basically just do that: bleat!) both seem like the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest population is unique & quite distinct from any others. Jon FjeldsÃ¥ of the Uni of Copenhagen, Denmark, is the guy behind this new discovery so I’m taking blood samples for him.

A “Sokoke Boubou” – currently a race of the Tropical Boubou, lacking the white wing bar of the inland races and apparently with a distinct DNA signature…

Very sadly still no SGT (Spotted Ground Thrush) – this species really seems like it is on the way out… 15 years ago they were relatively common. Now… Well, we’ve yet to even see one on this survey. Right. Time to take the nets down & shift to a new site…

Am now back at the centre, Mwamba, having got back at 3.30pm – a long morning! When we went to close the nets at 10.15 we reached the first net & there was something large flapping away – an African Goshawk!! a total beauty with eyes to die for – fierce golden yellow accentuated by the sharp eyebrow & what with being majorly equipped with the ultimate bird murdering & ringer stabbing implements as talons, a bird to hold in great respect!!

…the goshawk’s talons sticking through the bird bag we brought him from the nets in…!

He got his ring & flew off no problem after Sam & Ruphous posed with him & Sam released him… We caught a total of 16 birds including 4 that we ringed yesterday and which came back to be re-weighed!

Sam and Ruphous with the African Goshawk just before releasing it

We then put nets up again along the road to the view point about 15kms away – there’s a heck of a lot of elephant activity so opening nets in the morning before dawn will be interesting.. as that’s when the eles are most active!