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Birds, Bees and Busy at Baringo
Munir Virani — in East Africa Project    Share

Munir's note: This is part two of Seren Water's blog about his African Fish Eagle study at Lake Baringo

By Seren Waters

Once again, I woke early this morning to the joyful sound of the morning chorus. The male Black Headed Weavers were constantly chattering as they meticulously constructed their nests on an Acacia tree that had recently been surrounded by the rising water of the lake. Today was the first day my research was taking me off the waters, and into Kampi ya Samaki (the nearby town) and its surrounding settlements to conduct some interviews. I had loved every minute of the previous three days of Fish Eagle counting, during which Shiv and I had concluded that there were 25 individual eagles present around the lake. Since Shiv’s last count, in February this year, the population of Eagles has remained stable and we were encouraged to see that a number of the lakes pairs had recently built nests. One of Shiv’s main concerns for the eagles was the threat of poisoning – in previous incidents fish had been laced with poison intended to kill crocodiles, which often take people’s livestock, and the Fish Eagles had been unintended victims of this. It was pleasing to see that there had been no evidence that any more eagles had perished in this way since February.

As we were not going out on the boat this morning, I took the liberty of staring my research at 8:00am which left me just enough time to sample a full English breakfast from the Thirsty Goat. Eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, toast and fresh coffee made for a perfect start to the day! Breakfast (or any meal taken during the day for that matter) at the Thirsty Goat is never taken alone. Watching you from the low-hanging branches of the nearby Acacia tree are always a family of mischievous Superb Starlings and the cunning male Jacksons Hornbill, who do not hesitate to pounce on any stray crumb and are happy to clean your plate once you have finished.

Cliff, my new guide and translator for this part of my research, met me at the gates of Robert’s Camp and we quickly set off to our first interview location, which was a house about 1km inland from Robert’s Camp. As I chatted to Cliff as we walked, I quickly realised how extremely fortunate I was to have found him to help me. Cliff works out of the guiding office at the back of Robert’s Camp, and I met him by chance one evening at the Thirsty Goat whilst he was with one of his clients. He speaks 6 languages, including Pokot, Tugen and Njemp which are the three main tribal languages spoken in this area. He also knows the area like the back of his hand, everyone seems to know him, and is an expert on birds, having seen over 800 of Kenya’s bird species – a very impressive feat!

My interview location was the home of a bee-keeper, and we arrived just as he was releasing his forty, bleating goats for their day’s grazing. I was taken aback by the welcome we received. Once Cliff had introduced me in Tugen, I was given the most comfortable stool of the house, which was placed for me under the shade of a small tree, and then offered ‘Chai’ (tea) for breakfast. The interview was lengthy, the bee-keeper very happy to talk, and Cliff able to switch from Tugen to English with consummate ease. I am interested in speaking to bee-keepers because for many people in the area the production of honey is a very valuable, if not the principle form of income. In many ways bee-keeping is an environmentally friendly and sustainable livelihood, however hives are often placed in tall trees near the lake shore, and Shiv had informed me that this is limiting the number of nesting sites available to Fish Eagles. Whilst nesting, the Fish Eagles are very sensitive to any form of disturbance, whether it is from the bees themselves or the keepers who have to climb the trees in order to harvest the honey.

The next few hours were spent walking from the house of one bee-keeper to the house of another. The distance between each house was often up to one kilometre, allowing plenty of time for some bird watching along the way. Thanks to Cliff’s expertise, whilst walking between houses today, I saw three species of bird that I had never seen in Kenya before, including the beautifully marked Greater Spotted Cuckoo. During the minute I took off the walking to watch these magnificent birds calling to each other, I could not help but think how fortunate I was to be carrying out my research in such an amazing place, and felt sorry for some of my class mates back in Durham whose research was based in the far less inspiring setting of the university library.

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