Kenya is important for tens of thousands of wintering waders. While some species like the Little Stint (Calidris minuta) and Caspian Plover (Charadrius asiaticus) prefer the fresh water bodies inland, many others target the coastal zone. The rich inter-tidal mud of Mida Creek, Sabaki Estuary, Tana Delta and Lamu are essential for their survival. After breeding in the Artic Region, in places such as East Kazakhstan and Mongolia, vast numbers of waders migrate southwards spending their non-breeding season in India, East and Southern Africa. Between September and May, they feast on worms, shrimps, crabs and other invertebrates along the coast.
Wader ringing forms an important part of A Rocha’s research programme. Monthly monitoring, annual counts, anthropogenic disturbance, nutrition and moulting strategy are part of our research efforts which have been carried out on over 5000 waders which have also been ringed and measurements taken on them. We have demographic data of different species which has helped in designation of IBAs and general habitat conservation which local communities can access. We are working with conservation partners to safeguard wader habitats and migration corridors. The ringing itself creates excellent opportunities for training as it is a way of establishing environmental education knowledge of wader ecology in their non-breeding habitats.
Our lead scientist, Colin Jackson, is currently in the process of preparing a number of research publications on the collected data. Recently, Jaap Gijsbertsen; Science and Conservation Director at A Rocha Kenya, organised a birding event, and as he narrates, it was quite an experience:
The cloud layers gradually thicken as I feel the wind drop. A first quarter moon is visible behind the clouds and radiates blazing light every time it hits a gap in the clouds. It is neap tide, with a water level of 2.45 meters expected for 01.12. On the exposed tidal plain next to the ASSETS boardwalk, gentle wind blows through the wader net which is supported by long bamboo picks running deep into the mud to withstand wind and waves. These are the perfect conditions for catching wintering waders.
The team, comprising A Rocha Kenya, local bird guides and students from Pwani University gathers at around midnight to go round to inspect the more than 200-meter-net stretched across the plain, which is now flooded. Equipped with bird bags and ‘red’ headlights, we pull up our pants and wade towards the net. We are curious and full of anticipation. It is now deep dark and we rely on our experience to avoid deep pools.
As we progress, the last group of Crab Plovers (Dormas ardeola) fly off to their high-tide roost on one of the off-shore islands. Most birds have been pushed off by the incoming tide. We just hope some of them fell into our net. After wading for five minutes, we find a Lesser Sand Plover (Chardrius mongolus). Skillful hands safely drop it into the bag. Then another Sand Plover, Curlew Sand Pipers (Calidris ferruginea ) and Terek Sand Pipers (Xenus cinereus). Soon we discover that we have a good catch and eager students carry the birds. Large birds like Crab Plovers, Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) and Whimrel (Numenius phaeopus) go into larger bags. We return to the table and it is hands on as we ring, colourflag and take measurements on the more than a hundred birds belonging to eleven species, including a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and a juvenile Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) which we have caught for the first time at Mida. Assessing moulting patterns requires much experience and dominates our discussion all night long. At day break, we down our net and drive home through the early morning, tired but inspired. The wonder of creation diversity and beauty overwhelms me.
The team at the ringing table.
A Ruff being ringed for the first time at Mida.
A Ruddy Turnstone ringed for the first time, too, at Mida.