This will be my last post on my experiences in Kenya: still lots to talk about but it’s time to move on….
As I’ve tried to convey and you will see in the pictures embedded in this post, Kenya has some fantastic birds…and fantastic people. But I’m worried for them. A quickly growing population is putting an ever greater strain on the country’s resources. The country all around Matangwe and Bondo (and for that matter, everywhere I went in western Kenya) is a patchwork of trees and shrubs, small agricultural holdings, houses, and fields for grazing. I don’t know how these “patches” can survive: the use of firewood for cooking is slowly but steadily diminishing any tree growth. Cattle and goats (which constitute a person’s wealth) are overgrazing the fields leaving them vulnerable to drought. Goats are especially bothersome as they eat almost anything and right down to and including the roots. They have been cited as a major cause of desertification in sub-Saharan Africa. I saw flocks of goats numbering over 40 individuals.
But population is the key…and right now it is growing fast.
Don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here. The same forces, or similar ones, are at play here in southern Ontario. The GTA, a huge swath of buildings and roads running from Oshawa right around the western end of Lake Ontario to Niagara, has been built on some of the country’s richest agricultural land – once known as the “Golden Horseshoe” – effectively destroying it. And for many years now I have watched with trepidation the spread of housing along roads leading south from Hamilton and the “explosion” in new homes going up in small towns like Caledonia and Cayuga. So we’re no different. It’s a worldwide problem.
But for the Kenyans and their wildlife to survive, they will have to make some tough decisions around family planning, agricultural practices and land use. To continue on the way they are will lead to an environmental catastrophe. And, sadly, someday maybe these magnificent birds will be seen only in aviaries or, even worse, as pictures in history books.
The sunbirds, reminiscent of hummingbirds, are like jewels as they flit around flowering trees and shrubs. They were almost impossible to film “in the wild” – fortunately I was able to catch and band these 3 different species.
Overall I saw 9 species of Swallows: 7 typically African ones and 2 Eurasian-breeding migrants (Barn Swallows and Sand Martins or Bank Swallows). One day there was a large movement of a variety of swallows ahead of a rain front that was going through. For at least half an hour thousands of these birds raced by ahead of the storm.
I was able to watch a Long-crested Eagle go after weaver nests – it didn’t seem to be overly concerned about my presence. The bird flies up to the woven nest and grips it with both feet. Then, hanging from it upside down, it tears into the nest devouring whatever it finds inside. The weavers gather to mob it in an attempt to drive it off. They seemed to annoy the giant predator but not deter it.
For the record, I saw 128 species and banded 273 birds of 51 species.