Over 100 bird species observed during bird watching in Yala Swamp

It started with a call from one of the bird guides living around Yala swamp informing me of the intended bird watching and excursion for a period of four days. Ibrahim the bird guide wanted to know if I can get time to be part of the local guide to tour the vast Yala Swamp and its environs, and after looking at my Itinerary and engagement for the said days and date I gladly agreed.

Our guests were no just ordinary visitors doing birding but comprised of a team from the National Museum of Kenya and China Zoo. The two governments currently undertaking a joint project mapping out birds through bird count and bird ringing and the project covered both mammals and butterflies but I will stick to our experience during birding.

The arrival of our visitors were delay due to heavy rains in the earlier project site, but made it though late and on arrival it was time for the birders to set up their camping tents at the Yala Swamp view camp. a place cool enough for visitors to reside as if you’re putting up outside your home. At the Camp you have the full view of Lake Kanyaboli while seated on the rocks.
The team divided into two comprising of a three persons, doing different transects. The birding transects were designated by Nature Kenya and help in bird monitoring and counting. The bird transect are used by local birders during their monthly bird watching activity.

It was time for us to assemble our birding equipments; I brought with me a birding book titled “Birds of Kenya & Northern Tanzania” by Dale A. Zimmerman, Donald A. Turner and David J. Pearson. This guide book is very informative and useful for bird watchers whether veteran or young ornithologist getting started in the world of watching birds. The book is organized in a pictorial section known as plate showing particular bird in picture and its locality. I also had my binoculars and Smartphone for photo taking.

bird watching in yala swamp

Birding and bird ringing in Yala Swamp

Our day one started at 6.00am Kenya’s time with the teams diving into two with each team having a bird guide showing the routes and possible places to find the birds. The teams were equipped with both recording data sheets and GPS taking coordinates of every sighting point. The weather was very favorable and it was the best time of the day to do bird watching and bird counts. With the sun rays hovering over the water of Lake Kanyaboli and water birds slowly were coming out to feed. And within no minutes the Pied kingfisher was already dancing up the sky and below it was the Hamerkop Scopus u. umbretta. A good start for the team as 10 birds were recorded at the starting point, at every point we watch birds and recorded species for a period of 10 minutes before moving to the next point. We had a total of 100 bird’s species spotted for team one in just three hours of birding and these species included the following. The birds potted are some of the most common in the area and some migrants due to short rains the region is experiencing so far.

1. Hamerkop Scopus u. umbretta
2. Pied kingfisher Ceryle r. rudis
3. White browed coucal Centropus s. superciliosus
4. Winding cisticola Cisticola galactotes
5. Grey-backed fiscal Lanius e. excubitoroides
6. Common bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus
7. Ban swallow Hirundo r. rustica
8. Lesser striped swallow Hirundo abyssinica unitatis
9. Nubian woodpecker Campethera nubica
10. African mourning dove Streptopelia d. perspicillata
11. Speckled mouse birds Colius striatus kikuyuensis
12. Blue-naped mousebird Urocolius macrourus pulcher
13. Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash brevirostris
14. Little egret Egretta g. garzetta
15. Cattle egret Bubulcus i. ibis
16. Black-headed heron Ardea melanocephala
17. Purple heron Ardea p. purpurea
18. Grey heron Ardea goliath
19. Red-eyed dove Streptopelia semitorquata
20. Blue-spotted wood dove Turtur afer
21. African green pigeon Treron calva gibberifrons
22. Laughing dove S. s. senegalensis
23. Beautiful sunbird Nectarinia pulchella
24. Red-chested sunbird Nectarinia erythrocerca
25. Marico sunbird Nectarinia suahelica
26. Scarlet-chested sunbird Nectarinia Senegalensis lamperti
27. Green-headed sunbird Nectarinia verticalis viridisplendens
28. White-browed robin-chat Cossypha h. heuglini
29. White-browed scrub robin Cercotrichas leucophrys
30. Olive thrush Turdus olivaceus tephronotus
31. Black headed gonolek Laniarius erythrogaster
32. Papyrus gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri
33. Malachite kingfisher Ispidina p. picta
34. Grey-headed kingfisher Halcyon c. senegalensis
35. Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon s. senegalensis
36. Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle m. maxima
37. Pied kingfisher Ceryle r. rudis
38. Ruppell’s starling Lamprotornis purpuropterus
39. Common drongo Dicrurus a. adsimilis
40. Bronze manikin Lonchura cucullata scutata
41. Brown twinspot Clytospiza monteiri
42. Yellow -fronted canary S. mozambicus
43. Double-toothed barbet Lybius bidentatus aequatorialis
44. African paradise flycatcher Terpsiphone viridis
45. Swamp flycatcher Muscicapa aquatic infulata
46. Arrow-marked babbler T. jardineii emini
47. Black-lored babbler T. sharpie
48. Brown babbler T. plebejus cinereus
49. Plain martin or African sand martin Riparia paludicola ducis
50. Lizard buzzard Kaupifalco . monogrammicus
51. White-browed sparrow-weaver Plocepasser mahali melanorthynchus
52. Red-cheeked cordon-blue Uraeginthus b. bengalus
53. African firefinch Lagonosticta r. rara
54. Long-tailed cormorant Phalacrocorax a. africanus
55. Yellow crowned canary S. canicollis flavivertex
56. Double toothed barbet Lybius bidentatus aequatorialis
57. Slender-billed weaver Ploceus pelzeini
58. Village weaver P. cucullatus
59. Common waxbill Estrilda astrild
60. Black shoulder kite
61. Chasnet weaver
62. Spur wing plover
63. Purple grenadier
64. Red-billed fire finch
65. Long crested eagle
66. Banded snake eagle
67. Plain-backed pipit
68. Southern fly catcher
69. Grey headed sparrow

The morning birding ended at around 12pm with each team covering a distance of one kilometer, it was time for the team to meet at the starting point to take notes of the exercise and then left for the camp site for lunch. After lunch the team left to survey a possible bird ringing site along Lake Kanyaboli, it was at this site that we managed to spot two Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle m. maxima. It was a surprise sighting as the Giant Kingfisher in Kanyaboli as it’s known to be in Lake Naivasha. After carefully identified possible net trapping sites the team retread to have some tasty watermelon at the shore of the lake.

Day two birding Excursion
With a successful day one birding exercise, the team was upbeat for a greater bird study exercise. The guides decided to take the bird twitchers to one of the furthest transact fearing being caught up by heavy rains the following day. It was all system go, as we had our guidebooks and binocular ready for task. The site covering part of the Dominion farms and the manmade Lake offered some of the spectacular water birds with first sighting being the black crake Amaurornis flavirostris. In day two the team recorded over 60 bird species. The two teams headed back to the camp site for lunch and later set off to survey the second possible bird ringing site. On our way back the team stumbled on a rotting Python which seem to have been killed by local fishermen. Our second potential site was selected near day one birding transects and with that the team’s day birding activity ended. It rained heavily in the evening making some parts of the swamp inaccessible by small vehicles.

Day three: Bird ringing
Bird ringing exercise started at 5.45am with the team converging together and setting up trapping nets along the identified site. What a successful start of the ringing exercise with sixty birds ringed. The ringing specimen included, the ring number which is a unique serial number for bird identification, bird species were being noted, age of the bird, measurement were taken on the wing, head, Tarsus sizes. Weight of the birds measured and recorded other biometrics such as fat, bp primary and secondary wings, tail and body molt, the time of capture being recorded and initial of bird ringer lastly blood samples were taken too. The nets were left for overnight stay to enable the team have a smooth starting the following day. The evening wasn’t that smooth as mosquitoes started biting the team, Yala swamp being a watery place sometime experience a lot of mosquitoes during the night, any birding activity should be concluded just minutes after the sunset.

Day four: Bird ringing continues
During day one ringing exercise the team managed to ring over 60 birds, an exercise that took almost 8 hours but with surprises. This the day we managed to capture the brown crown Tchagra and the brown twin spot. In the afternoon I received a call that an owl have been spotted in the rocky caves 6 kilometers from the ringing site. It was again time to catch up and identify the owl species. We left for the site and drove for 15 minutes to the site and the surprises continues here was the spotted eagle-owl Bubo africanus in the cave which is common and widespread. The owl has a somehow a dull or brownish on the breast. This time we managed to spot only one but we were informed by the locals that they live in pairs and sometime up to four being spotted.
It was time to join the team and finish bird ringing exercise, it was around 6pm when we started folding the nets, it took us 15 minutes to bring the nets down and call it a day.

bird ringing bronze mannikin

bronze mannikin

Day five: Birding at Lake Kanyaboli peninsular
Lake Kanyaboli offers some great sites to do bird watching and monitoring, rocky places, swampy areas and the shrubs are just among sites to choose from. The peninsular is enclosed by water, shrubs and the papyrus. The team then divided themselves into two heading in different direction. Some of the species observed were the water thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis inornatus, Common sandpiper, Catitis hypoleucos, and the Black-crowned night heron, Nycticorax n. nycticorax. To have a successful birding event always remember to carry your twitcher binoculars, a pen, a guidebook and a notebook and if in a position have a camera for photo graphing the birds. When birding with young ones don’t forget to carry children’s binoculars to assisting them in bird watching as it makes birding more exciting for the children and helping become better birders in the future. It was time to say bye to the visiting team as they head to Kakamega rainforest to capture forest birds and sceneries. When visiting Yala Swamp for bird watching and other related activities consider carrying birding boots to help when it rains, carry with you a water proof notebook as birding trip may require you boarding a boat. A bird guide as explained helps make birding easier and help in identification of birds faster saving time. Bright clothes scares birds, consider putting on dull or green colored clothes. Always have a local bird guide to assist traversing the area, the swamp is too big and without local knowledge you might get into deep water points, these section are known by the local bird guides.

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