By John Wanyoike

I am a passionate birder from Kuresoi in Kenya’s Nakuru County. One morning in February 2022, I went on a birding excursion to Kenyatta Dam near my home.

One of the birds I love to see is the Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) breeding in the wetland.

Kenyatta Dam

On that day, I was excited because it was the time of the year that the Great Crested Grebes arrived to breed at the dam. I have been seeing this for the past three years. This particular morning was very cold and wet from rain the previous night. It was drizzling.

The other bird I saw at the wetland near the dam was a bird l had not seen there before. I focused my binoculars on the duck to confirm its identity. And yes! It was a special bird to me, the Maccoa Duck (Oxyura maccoa).

It was a special sighing for me because the Maccoa Duck is considered globally Endangered according to the IUCN Red List. I think my record is the first in this wetland.

Great Crested Grebe

After enjoying watching the duck for a while, I continued around the wetland and saw a good number of Red-knobbed Coot, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, and Little Grebe, Wood Sandpiper, and Egyptian Goose.

In flew another Endangered species, the Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum). I have recorded them here before, trying to nest on the shoreline. A census in 2019 revealed that there are about 7,500 cranes in Kenya compared to 12,000 in 2015.

About 60 metres from the Cranes, I saw what l had come in search for — a beautiful Great Crested Grebe. It was alone in the same spot I had recorded three others in August 2021.

Maccoa Duck

A flock of Grey Crowned Cranes landed on a freshly harvested maize field and I followed them. There was an even bigger flock there. I counted 62 as they drank water from a small man-made pool.

The wetland is surrounded by grassland, which makes it great to look for grassland birds. This time I was really excited when l saw another Endangered species, the Sharpe’s Longclaw (Macronyx sharpei). I missed the chance to photograph it, but this is an exciting record of a rare bird that lives only in highland tussock grasslands that are diminishing very fast.

Suddenly there was a heavy downpour which put an end to my exciting day of birding but the following day when l returned I saw the nest of the Great Crested Grebe floating on some water lilies – a good sign that they were breeding. I finally managed to photograph the Maccoa Duck.

Wetlands are not wastelands

The wetland around Kenyatta Dam is becoming degraded. Communities living around it bring their livestock to graze here. Much of it is now overgrazed. This has negatively affected the breeding of ducks and Grey Crowned Crane where they build their nests. People also pump water from the wetland to their homes and some have even started fish farming in the dam.

But the biggest threat is a plan to extract water from the dam to irrigate e the Molo green flower farms in the greenhouses four kilometres away. Already, the water level is dropping.

If the communities and their leaders do not take care of the natural environment, soon this wetland and all its birds and many other species will disappear.

We need to act now to protect our wetlands.