Water is the mainstay of life.
In our area of North America, birds have a breeding season that corresponds to availability of food which is based on the climatic conditions we get in Spring and Summer. In the tropics breeding doesn’t necessarily follow a set pattern like ours in terms of dates. It is based on when the rains fall. This past Fall, evidently, Kenya got a substantial amount of rain. The various ponds were full and plants were flowering and then producing berries. And the birds were responding by building nests and raising young – most noticeably the Weavers (but many others as well). People who had been in Matangwe last year (and some locals) remarked that there were many more birds around this year as compared to last and they attributed this to the recent rains. I had no basis for comparison but couldn’t get over the bonanza!
I simply had NO idea that bird life was as plentiful as it was: birds were everywhere. My pre-trip fears of not finding any birds to catch were quickly proven to be completely unfounded!! And, making it somewhat easier for me – actually, a lot easier for me – was the fact that many species were in breeding plumage. For many species this is a huge difference – sort of like the difference between our warblers in bright breeding plumages and the same birds described in the Peterson guide as “Confusing Fall Warblers”.
But here it is all based on water – day length has nothing to do with it. This brought to light one of the things that I had the most difficulty adjusting to: water sources that the people use. Any depression, big or small, that holds water will likely be used by people as a source of water for drinking, cooking and washing. It will also be used by cattle and goats. Sometimes a chemical agent is added to a bucket of water to cause the suspended sediments to settle out. Sometimes another chemical might be added to “purify” the water. But often it was scooped up and consumed right from the source without treatment of any kind. Amazingly, to me, no one seemed to get dysentery. If I had drunk it, I would have been sick for days.
But back to birds……the best (or at least busiest) spot for netting was close to a large pond which was a major water source for birds, cattle, goats, turtles and people. It was a great choice on my part for a couple of reasons: the first is that birds were always going back and forth between the water (where they drank) and the bordering scrub – between which I set up my nets; and, second, there was a steady stream of people of all ages coming down to the pond for water which allowed me to show them what I was doing and explain the why’s and wherefore’s. I could see that initially they thought I was nuts (here birds are for eating!)….but when their children came home from school and began talking about what they were learning they began to take an increasingly bigger interest and soon were coming over to see what was going on. Later, some even came to tell me about sighting banded birds as much as a kilometre away. For this project to “go” in the long run, I needed to interest people and get them on board. This was proving to be a great way to do it!
I had close to 300 bands. I figured this would be plenty (and so did Titus Imbomo at the National Museum who supplied me with them). But I ran out by the third week – I could have banded twice as many if I had had more bands. Oh well….next year.
Here are some more pictures of the birds I was catching/seeing: