June 6th – The Matangwe Bird Club Just Keeps Getting Better

Introducing Titus Imboma of the National Museum in Nairobi.

Introducing Titus Imboma of the National Museum in Nairobi.

You know….sometimes good things just happen. Almost like they were meant to. Consider the unlikeliness of the following: Volunteer David Brewer just happened to go to school with and is a good friend of David Pearson, one of the authors of the Kenyan Bird guide. Peter Scholtens just happened to bring Peter Harris, the founder of A Rocha and the founder of a major banding program in Kenya, to the banding lab and he put me in touch with Colin Jackson who is running the banding program there. When I contacted these guys (Pearson and Jackson) I didn’t get a reply until just a week before I was to leave for Kenya. But both had the same recommendation: contact Titus Imboma at the National Museum in Nairobi.

So I did….but I have to tell you that I had given up any hope of doing any banding. I thought that my “project” this time around would be just teaching – how to bird, use a bird guide, use binoculars – and assessing the area. I hadn’t counted on Titus’s zeal. Two emails later my bands and permits were lined up (and he had even worked out how to get them to me in Nairobi). He’s a pretty amazing guy.

Kenn Otieno - principle founder of the Matangwe Bird Club.

Kenn Otieno – principle founder of the Matangwe Bird Club.

Teaching kids how to bird, how to use binoculars and field guides is one thing but it was setting up nets and banding that really made things go – banding jumpstarted the whole project. And then Kennedy Otieno, the vice principal at Matangwe School (and now a keen birder) came up with the great idea of forming a Bird Club with the students. By the time I left Kenya toward the end of February, we had the nucleus of a wonderful project and it was up and running. But now came the question: how do we keep it going so we can build on it in the years to come?
Kenn Otieno and Dr. Ruth Mathieson watching the banding. (Amos and Sharon in the background)

Kenn Otieno and Dr. Ruth Mathieson watching the banding. (Amos and Sharon in the background)

Discussing this with some of my colleagues produced a simple answer. Dr. Ruth Mathieson, a wonderful doctor who has been donating a month of her time for the past several years to the medical clinic in Matangwe, had access to some modest donated funds and kindly made them available so that we could bring Titus to Matangwe to do a weekend workshop for some of the staff and 22 students/bird club members. [It should be noted that Ruth too was bitten by the banding bug in Kenya – every other morning she would help me set up the nets….and then spend a 12-hour day in the clinic.]

This past weekend Titus made his way to Matangwe (an 8-hour bus ride) to run the workshop. Following are excerpts of the report he just sent to me. As you will see, it was a very comprehensive activity. [Please note that I was able to supply mist nets, bird guides and binoculars when I was in Matangwe through generous donations by a variety of organizations and individuals – and you will see that your donations have been put to GOOD use.]

The Community Centre in Matangwe made an excellent place to hold the classroom part of the workshop.

The Community Centre in Matangwe made an excellent place to hold the classroom part of the workshop.

Progress Report, Matangwe Environmental Education Programme.
Prepared By Titus Imboma
Bird Workshop.
This was a weekend workshop held between 25th and 27th May 2013 at Matangwe community heath centre. This was attended by selected 22 students from Matangwe Primary School.
The workshop was officially opened in the Presence of the member of school board, the Head Teacher of the school, the Deputy, Mr. Kennedy, who is also the patron of the club and two other teachers. Present also was Mr. Wilfred Nyakundi and to Canadian student volunteers.
Puzzling over an identification.

Puzzling over an identification.

The first day was spent in class(community hall) on introduction to field techniques in birding, preparations required for birding, ethical considerations while in the field birding. The wise use of tools, binoculars, note books and guide books. The importance of taking notes while in the field and how to take quality notes.
Field equipment
Students were introduced to different important field gear. These include the use of note books, where it was realized that the correct use of note books can provide key scientific information either from professional scientists or just from amateurs, including students and birders. Such information noted or recorded include the location of birding, season or time of the year, weather condition, species lists and field description of some species. These can provide important information on presence or absence of species, their distribution and status (both conservation and migration status). It can also indicate population status in terms of species abundance and distribution within a given area. Description of the habitat types can assist in recognition of important habitats for certain species, and how and why different species prefer or are restricted to a given habitat. This can be used to identify various conservation measures for some habitats and species. This will include areas like the important bird areas or endemic bird areas.
Titus teaching students how to weigh a bird using a pesola scale.

Titus teaching students how to weigh a bird using a pesola scale.

Students also learned how to make bird sketches as they describe birds in the field and later use the guide books for final identification. This will help them learn how to make descriptions of the birds they come upon and may not identify them immediately, or very strange or new birds. They can use such sketches later on for further identification using guide books or when they are discussing amongst themselves.
We practically looked at binoculars and learned how to adjust them to differences in eye strength. We learned how to focus and make visibility better in observation of objects. We also looked the best way to handle binoculars in order to make them comfortable, handy and easy to use them. We looked at binocular maintenance eg keeping them free from dust, rain and putting them on.
Students working on their notebooks.

Students working on their notebooks.

Identification skills
Students were introduced to simple identification methods. They include the
– use of the birds behaviour eg how it feeds, what it feeds ( woodpeckers, seed eaters, weavers, sunbirds, birds of prey), flight characteristics( swallows, flycatchers)
– Size and shape of the birds
– Songs and calls
– Habitat type or environment
Student with a Weaver.

Student with a Weaver.

Field craft and ethics
Students learned why and how to be quiet when birding (silent is gold). This will help them not to scare birds and will let one see birds before birds see the birders. It was also realized the need to have small groups. The type of clothes and colour is much important to conceal the environment. Having quiet clothes( cloth that do not make sound, or flaps, cool coloured cloth that blends with the environment)

Figuring out an ID with Titus.

Figuring out an ID with Titus.

In the evening went out to scout for areas to pitch nets the following morning.
Titus and the students getting ready to set up.

Titus and the students getting ready to set up.

Putting up the nets.

Putting up the nets.


The second we started with setting of mist nets…….we got quite some interesting species such as the Black-rumped waxbill, White-browed robin-chats, Grey-backed Camaroptera among others. We used only two nets of 12 meters each. The catches were low but enough to demonstrate ringing aging and Identification. The ringing was quite participatory, whereby studnds were involved in recording the data in the data book, while others were introduced to measuring tools. They took all the mass measurements. Bird banding helped the students appreciate identification techniques. They matched live birds in the hand with the pictures from the guide books and involved in the discussions on how to identify different species using shapes and colour patterns. All birds were correctly identified before ringing.

Many hands make light work.......

Many hands make light work…….

Bird Migration
Bird migration was the most interesting and fascinating topic to students. We discussed the meaning of migration, why birds migrate, what they need for migration and problems faced by migrating birds.
I wish I had this much help opening nets in the morning.....

I wish I had this much help opening nets in the morning…..

To find if the students benefited from the weekend workshop, Kennedy and I structured oral questions to be answered by the students from the topics covered. Oral discussion was the best way to do because air out their views in open and a participatory manner.
We asked only two questions:
1. Which part of the lecture did like and enjoyed most?
1. Identification of birds
2. Importance of birds in the environment
3. Use of binoculars in bird identification
4. Two types of wing feathers in birds( primaries and secondaries)
5. Taking notes in the field.
6. Preparing binoculars for birding
7. Appreciating birds during birding
8. Reporting birds with rings
9. Importance and problems of migration
10. How to remove birds from the net
11. How birds find their way during migration
What would you like to be taught again?
1. Feeding and movements in birds(adaptation)
2. Why some birds are active during the night while others during the day.
3. Distance covered by migrating birds and how long they can take flying
4. More importance o birds.
Titus going over some of the finer points of netting.

Titus going over some of the finer points of netting.

Species of birds observed
Cattle egret
Golden-backed Weaver
Village or Black-headed weaver
Spectacled Weave
Black-winged Red Bishop
Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu – Ringed/banded
Black-rumped Waxbill –Ringed/banded
Green-winged Pytilia – Ringed/Banded
Grey-headed Sparrow
Yellow-fronted canary
African Thrush
Long-tailed starling
Superb Starling
Red-billed Oxpecker
Pied Crow
Black-headed Gonolek
Common Fiscal
Beautiful Sunbird
Scarlet-chested Sunbird
African Paradise Flycatcher
Grey-backed Camaroptera
Grey-caped Warbler
Trilling Cisticola
Rattling cisticola
Grey-backed Camaroptera
White-browed Robin-Chat – Ringed/Banded
White-browed Scrub Robin
Laughing Dove
African Mourning Dove
Red-eyed Dove
Blue-spotted Wood Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Angola Swallow
Blue-naped Mousebird
White-browed Coucal
Speckled Mousebird
Red-chested Cuckoo
Black Cuckoo
Klaas’s Cuckoo

Discussing (and taking notes on) identifying birds.

Discussing (and taking notes on) identifying birds.

When I was that age (grade 6-8) I would have loved an opportunity to learn like that!!

But what about the future? Here is an excerpt from another email I received from Titus right after the workshop. I found this message exhilirating in terms of thinking about what folks there might be able to do through this project. The fact that the students are so keen and now have good tools to work with is a wonderful thing. As well (and this was a very pleasant surprise to me), Titus, who has travelled a lot in Kenya doing bird-oriented activities, points out that the habitat in the area is still in good shape for birds and that species diversity is high.

The pupils were great, active, participatory. And for sure with some commitment
from the school management these pupils will go far because of the the passion I saw in them. They need just some
drive motivations, and encouragement. I will recommend that as a club they need to establish and dedicate time for going birding and keeping species list and further continue with discussions on bird identification. They can even set some time for monthly quiz or bird spotting challenges. Thank God that they have the valuable field equipment like the binoculars and books. I think there is need for the school to realize that this a pioneer programme that if well managed can be replicated in the other schools in area and can promote the love for nature
for generations. Good thing about Matangwe area is that there is still a lot of natural habitats compared to
other areas in the country where there is a lot of cultivation is going on. The bird life in this area is just wonderful.
Species diversity is quite rich.

I will be returning to the Matangwe area in January/February. I’m already excited about the possibilities and moving forward. Finding ways to help folks there preserve the rich habitat that they have will be goal #1.


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