Category Archives: Training

Fundamentals of Ornithology and a dying Lake Naivasha

This past weekend I spent three days with some of my old colleagues and friends from the Ornithology Dept of the National Museums of Kenya – only its now called the Ornithology Section apparently. Kuria, Njoro, Chege, Malaki, Agatha, Musina and myself headed for Elsamere Field Study Centre on the shores of the lake and were there from Friday to Monday working on revising the notes and structure of the Fundamentals of Ornithology course that I’ve been teaching at Elsamere every April since 1996. After almost 15 years, we felt it was high time to update the notes and revise the course!

teaching on the Fundamentals of Ornithology course, Elsamere

Njoro helping with the ringing at the 2009 FoO course

It was an excellent time going through the notes and improving / re-writing / adding / deleting parts of the notes and we really managed to achieve something worthwhile through it – despite the serious distraction of the Dubai Rugby Sevens going on all day Saturday when Kenya almost beat the worlds best teams of New Zealand and South Africa!!

It was shocking, however, to see the condition of the lake – it has dropped to level like I have never seen it and apparently it hasn’t been like since before the 1940s possibly earlier. On the north and eastern side, the water has receded by about 3 kilometres and Douglas Tchagara one of the bird guides around the lake who has been fighting for its conservation, reported that they had been measuring the lake receding at 4cm per day!!! Hippos are dying every week as the water has receded so much they get stuck in very deep, soft mud trying to get out to feed; the bird composition on the lake is changing as a reflection of what is happening with there being both Greater and Lesser Flamingo on it for the first time that I can remember.

This spells a real disaster for the lake. Furthermore by this time of the year it is all meant to be green and there should be some off-flow from the escarpments the east and west of it particularly by way of 3 or so underground aquifers. However Elsamere was dry, brown and dusty – no sign of rain and not a lot of hope of any for the rest of the year in terms of anything significant. That lake is really on its way out and the government clearly has no concern whatsoever for it and has done absolutely nothing to mitigate or stop the disaster from happening. The problem is there’s too much money involved through the flower farms and it is said, which all can well believe, that they powerful farms are paying the politicians in order to get their own way…

I need to find out more and post it, but it is definitely a hugely worrying senario and deeply sad to see such a jewel of a place going down the drain…

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Bird ringing training course at Mwamba

We’re in the middle of a bird ringing training course where I am training particularly a Tanzanian PhD student, Robert, but also some of the Mwamba team and volunteers. I had hoped to have more trainees come from Nairobi and from the local Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Guides, but for one reason or another (mainly lack of funds to cover the costs of the Nairobi guys and the local guides are too busy with taking tourists into the forest) they didn’t make it. We’ve got Alan from South Africa with us for three weeks to help with the training which has been great. He took early retirement from business and has committed himself to ringing as many birds as possible and helping out bird conservation projects around the world where his ringing skills might be useful – hence he’s come to help with the ringing and has been keen to get his hands on any new species that he doesn’t get in SA as well as share his knowledge with the others on the course.

Alan ringing a dove

We started off with some basic introductions at Mwamba to the whys and wherefores of bird ringing before setting up 14 nets in the Mwamba nature trail at the back of the property where we often put nets for surveying the coastal bush birds. For some reason that I’m still in the dark about (any ideas welcome!), the bush habitat seems perfect for good numbers of birds… and yet we catch relatively very very few. In the three mornings we ringed there we only caught 27 birds of which 9 were retraps (birds we’ve ringed before and have been re-caught). However we did catch a couple of Mangrove Kingfishers – one immature and an adult – the latter was one of the retraps and we’d ringed it here 3 years ago! And also a ‘Bananabill’ (more correctly a ‘Yellowbill’ tho’ I prefer Bananabill as it really looks like it…) which Alan was also very happy to clamp a ring onto. These birds are not very well known or understood but it appears that around here most of them are migrants as come November they become very few and far between whilst now they are very vocal and can be seen and heard in many of the patches of bush and forest.

you can see why “Bananabill” is a good name for it!

The main trainee is Robert from Tanzania who’s about to start a PhD on coastal forest birds in Tz. It’s always great to have someone who’s enthusiastic to learn and he’s doing really well in picking up a lot of information in a very short time. Rehema (volunteer), Albert (you’ve ‘met’ him already before on this blog) and Tony & Jonathan (see the ASSETS blog) who’re keen to learn a bit about ringing as well to broaden their skills – though actually Jonathan already has done quite a bit of ringing in the past.

Ringing training on the veranda at Mwamba

We’ll be putting up some more news from the training – do ask any questions or make comments on it!

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