After much planning, the day was finally here! The A Rocha Kenya science team was busy loading camping equipment, food items, insect trapping apparatus, and doing the last checks to ensure that nothing had been left out. Led by Science Director Colin Jackson and Mike, an entomologist from National Museums of Kenya (NMK), the team was setting out for a week-long bioblitz survey in the Dakatcha Woodlands.
A bioblitz survey is an intense period that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible within a selected area over a short period of time. Whereas most biological surveys involve few researchers or concentrate on one species, a bioblitz concentrates many people in one area for an intensive period of study, which means we’re much more likely to find a new or rare species. This bioblitz took place at Dakatcha Woodlands, north-west of Malindi, which is an important bird area (IBA). The woodland is internationally recognised for holding substantial populations of globally threatened species such as the endemic yet endangered golden-rumped elephant-shrew, Clarke’s weaver, and Sokoke pipit, as well Africa’s smallest owl, the Sokoke Scops Owl. Despite the specialness of the woodland, not much has been explored, especially of the plants, trees and insects.
It took about four hours to get to the selected area. Once on the ground, the team sprang into action: offloading the items, setting up the tents, laying out the equipment and preparing a light snack before the main meal. With an entomologist and ornithologist on the team, it was all gears go. For the birders, mornings started off at 5am. Early mornings are always the best for birding watching. Entomologists started off a little later since much of their work was not very far from the campsite. By midday, all teams were usually back at the campsite and comparing notes and specimens as they waited for lunch. At this time, insect traps were placed around the campsite and checked after 2 pm for specimens trapped during that period. Very minimal activities took place during the midpart of the day because of the heat. Most wildlife is inactive at this time as well. In the afternoon after 4 pm, birders went for a birding session until 6 pm, when they came back to the camp for dinner. Dinner was served at 7pm, after which birders went out to listen for the Sokoke Scops Owl and map its location. The bioblitz survey is always a busy and demanding time that requires people with great passion.
On the last day, as Colin Jackson was rolling up his sleeping mat, he noticed a very tiny but interesting insect on his mat. He picked and gave it to Mike the DUDU (Swahili for ‘insect’) guy. The team drove back to Mwamba, exhausted but happy after a successful survey. Mike, later on, confirmed that the insect was a species Embiopteron. In the museum, there were just three records of this insect: two from Uganda and one from Ethiopia. That was incredible!
The best part of a bioblitz is that you don’t have to be a scientist or a biologist to be part of it. A bioblitz allows anyone who loves nature to explore and learn as they interact with different professionals in the biodiversity field who have dedicated their lives to studying nature. And for A Rocha Kenya, whose main purpose lies in conservation, it is so much more than that. In order to conserve something, you have to first know what you are conserving.
And wouldn’t it be fun to be a part of it? Volunteer now, and help us preserve God’s creation!