By Brian Finch
As yet another year ends, it is traditionally a time to review the events of the past 12 months, take stock of what has been learnt and draw some comparison to what might be considered the norm.
What I have come to notice is that as far as the resident birds of the paddock, there is quite an unsuspected instability in population dynamics. Birds that have been here for what seemed always, have disappeared completely and whilst there has been no change to the area, replacements have not found the area as a currently vacant lot for their kind.
Lost species have been Black-collared Apalis which was omnipresent in the hedges and understorey, just the one pair then as of 24th October 2015….gone and apart from two single sightings of neighboring individuals wandering in since… never to return.
It’s a number of years since Grey-capped Warbler was a resident, on 27th April a bird came in and sang well, staying into July but failing to attract a mate moved on and did not re-establish itself as part of the local avifauna. However it left a legacy, and as I write this I can still hear Grey-capped Warbler, except it is because during its stay a Ruppell’s Robin-Chat has found this to his liking and uses it with convincing gusto! 0(See Swara Oct-Dec 2015).
It should be said that both of these species are fairly numerous locally. We lost Sulphur-breasted Bush-Shrike also some years before the study, in the first two years of the survey only two single birds were ever recorded but on 10th June a young male arrived with a very squeaky voice which gradually improved, he stayed through until early November, then vanished, the song still hadn’t the maturity of a territorial adult. Then just as suddenly 10 days later he was back!
The most amazing disappearing act though has been our (we thought) ever faithful Common Fiscals. They have successfully raised broods, and fed the young on the washing line. In July the female departed leaving the male alone, then suddenly on 10th August, was the last day he was seen.
Once again there is no obvious reason for the disappearance, maybe the female died, then maybe he did too, but with the species common locally it would have been thought that birds would have wandered in as the area has always been occupied by the species before. Then suddenly at the end of October he reappeared. I know it was the same bird, choosing the same perches, and extremely tame for a Fiscal, then a few days later he was attached, and the pair stayed on.
All of this has led me to the thought that as much as we take species presence for granted, there is an underlying instability, but were it not for the intensity of the survey who would have noticed? It becomes obvious when dealing with only one pair, as it is the
species that vanishes, but maybe it is also happening un-noticed amongst the species of which there are multiple pairs but with the constant presence of the species, it masks the real status of the individuals themselves.
The day before I sat down to write this article I was sitting waiting to see what was coming into the paddock in the evening, and to my delight an Eastern Honey-bird came in to the Shrebera next to me shortly after 5.00 pm and occupied the same perch as the bird I wrote about (Swara July-Sept 2015). This bird went through the process as previously described, of disheveling it’s plumage to reveal the whitish bases and transform itself into camouflage cloaking. The amazing thing is that it had not used this roost since the article was published, but now it has come back to the very same roost site! Even more amazing, it was present at the roost just that one evening, although the birds are present daily… and so am I!
In Swara April-June 2015, I reported on the presence of a third White-eye species in Langata gardens. The birds were identified as Yellow, and found in association with both Abyssinian and Kikuyu. In October 2016, I found a pair of White-eyes feeding two juveniles, but the shape and size of the eye-wattle (ring) is suggestive of a member of the Montane group to which Kikuyu is one.
However the extensive yellow on the front of the crown blending into the green on the top of the crown, bright yellow and green plumage and the large lower lobe of the eye-wattle confusingly suggests that there might be a fourth White-eye here and this is Mbulu White-eye which in Kenya is restricted to Chyulus and forest on Ol Donyio Orok (Namanga). So the White-eye story is far from over…watch this space!
Admittedly the only Paddock relationship for the next item is that the subject up to our rediscovery, had been considered a form of Tropical Boubou as are the two pairs we have around the paddock, but this is in the nature of updating a previous article. In Swara Jan-Mar 2010, Nigel Hunter and myself prepared a report on a black form of Boubou (Bushshrike) from Manda Island. This was the first place that the discovery of this potentially new species for East Africa was announced.
The task then fell on us to, not only supply the morphological details, but the theory to be further supported by genetic evidence. The paper was finally published in “Bulletin of the British Ornithological Club” (2) 2016. Clearly proving that the bird is not even related to the Tropical Boubou group where it had been languishing since it’s initial discovery in north-eastern Kenya over a hundred years ago.
It has now been renamed Manda Black Boubou Laniarius nigerrimus, and the story of its unraveling can be found under the title of “Redefining the taxonomy of the all-black and pied boubous (Laniarius spp.) in coastal Kenya and Somalia.”
In October Grey-headed and Giant Kingfishers, and Northern Wheatear were new for the Paddock, bringing the bird list to exactly 250 species on the very date the survey started but two years later on (20th Oct 2014-16). In November new additions have been Purple
Heron, Long-legged Buzzard, Ruff and Eurasian Rock Thrush, so the list continues to grow and more can be expected.
The wonderful Bat Hawks that have not been seen since March this year, have made another three appearances in November so are still living somewhat secretively in this area. (See Swara Jan-Mar 2016).
CAPTIONS FOR IMAGES
As the daylights end approaches after a day in the paddock, so we say goodbye to 2016 and revisit with updates on the discoveries.
This image of the pair was taken only days before their sudden disappearance never to return. What could be the reason for them suddenly leaving?
Decides to revisit its old roost for one night only. Where is it all the other nights, does it have multiple regular roosts?
Is this really the Mbulu White-eye feeding young in the paddock?
A wandering Grey-headed Kingfisher turns up in the paddock, but from where?
After being absent for seven months we again have Bat Hawks in the vicinity, but where did they go?
MANDA BLACK BOUBOU
Now the Manda Black Boubou is officially recognised as a unique species. But with the threat of the Lamu Port construction it is in immediate danger from destruction of its habitat unless a reserve on Manda Island can be set up to ensure this enigmatic species survives.