Sunday, February 21, 2010

Arabuko-Sokoke Forest

It's a peaceful Sunday morning here at Mwamba in Watamu – the Indian Ocean is calm & glassy as the sun starts to heat things up; birds are singing, and the Sykes monkeys are already scrambling through the trees, occasionally crashing noisily into the corrugated metal rooftops of the cabanas where we're staying. We've been in Watamu now for over a week; the last two days we made a few forays into nearby Arabuko-Sokoke Forest (ASF), setting up mist nets in order to capture some of the forest-dwelling bird species for which ASF is famous. Yesterday shortly after dawn we had a chance to see the birds we captured “up close & personal” while they were being measured (beak length, weight, etc.) and banded (or “ringed” - fitted with a small metal band to record when and where they have been caught); students had the chance to release them back into the forest after data collection was complete. Several of these birds (including some that we caught) are endangered or threatened because their populations are dwindling and/or they are only found in Arabuko-Sokoke forest – the last remaining large forest remnant on the East African coast. For one of the species (East Coast Akalat – a small Afrotropical thrush), we also collected some faecal pellets as part of the ongoing research that I (Buck) have been conducting in collaboration with the ornithologists here – we're trying to pinpoint more precisely what sort of arthropods comprise the diet of this insectivorous bird. We also took a walk inside the elephant roaming area (separated by an electrified fence that discourages elephants from straying out of the forest and running into conflict with the local villages surrounding ASF), where we saw evidence of elephant activity as well as a beautiful sand snake sunning itself on the path.
Today students begin their presentations on various aspects of sustainability (part of their final research projects for the course) – and we continue to work with Watamu Turtle Watch and Mwamba this week on turtle patrols and shore bird counts (Wednesday) in nearby mangrove habitat in Mida Creek, respectively.

Message from Mwalimu Jim:
It has been a busy time here in our first full week at the coast. The students are working on their initial research talks, which is a challenge as they had to try to plan in advance what they would need as references before leaving Washington at the beginning of the month. The reason for this is that the Internet connection here is very slow and sporadic so it takes 10-15 minutes to try to upload one article and inevitably the connection goes before it is done! You can usually hear the cries of frustration of this digitally-addicted group from well down the beach! Some of the students are really getting into their chosen topics. For example, Laura has been into Watamu to the HIV testing clinic to get info on HIV/AIDS in the region, Daniel has been to the marine science resource center to look for info there (latest papers are 2001 though), and some other students have been over to talk to the Watamu Turtle Watch staff about their projects as well. Besides preparing for their presentations we spent 5 hours catching and banding tropical birds in the threatened Arabuko-Sokoke Forest with our host from A Rocha, Colin Jackson, we have gotten to participate in the release of 6 sea turtles (green and hawksbill) caught in fishing nets, we have visited Swahili architectural ruins at Gede, we have held snakes at the well-respected Bio-Ken snake farm in Watamu (a wonderful source of anti-venom right in our neighborhood; Here snaky snaky!!!), and of course we have been working on our Kiswahili language. Whew!!! All we have left this last week is 2 more days of bird banding (including an all-nighter), more turtle patrols, snorkeling in the Marine Reserve, research talks, and a safari in Tsavo East!

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