Category Archives: African Fish Eagle

New Guides Get Stuck In

Hello everyone,

 Quick update on our awesome new guides that are being trained up for the Friends of Shimoni Forest tourist trail.  Like I said in previous blogs, they are three young guys from the Safe Shimoni Youth Group who heard about the opportunity to become forest guides and volunteered themselves.  Their names are Hassan Ropa, Hamisi Mwalago and Kopa Halafu.

 They sat in on our forest training that we give to our volunteers on Monday, and listened to the lectures on primate ID and survey methodology, mammals of Shimoni forest and bird ID and survey methodology.  Those were the only lectures that were relevant to them at this time, but they seemed really interested and keen. 

 What we are now doing, is rushing to get some tailor-made lectures together specifically for them, that will focus on species that they are most likely to see, and will focus on the morphological and ecological aspects of those species. 

 The primate lecture they will get will include the Angolan black and white colobus, sykes monkey, yellow baboon, vervet monkey and the small-eared galago (bushbaby).  It will go into a lot of detail about social structure, behaviour and ecology; stuff they can pass on to tourists!


Yellow baboon

Yellow baboon

The next lecture will be mammals, and will include:

  • Zanj elephant shrew
  • Giant pouched rat
  • Red-bellied coastal squirrel
  • Zanj sun squirrel
  • Suni
  • Harvey’s duiker
  • Bushbuck
  • Bushpig
  • Common genet
  • Blotched genet
  • Banded mongoose
  • White-tailed mongoose


Red-bellied coastal squirrel

Red-bellied coastal squirrel

The bird lecture will include the species that through experience, we know they are most likely to see with the tourists. It will also include species that are less likely to be seen, but are of conservational importance.  Species to be included are:

  • Various snake eagles
  • African fish eagle
  • Palm nut vulture
  • Black kite
  • Three hornbill species
  • Bee-eater species
  • Common bulbul
  • Parrots
  • Hoo poe’s
  • African green pigeon
  • Drongos
  • Coucal species
  • Woodpecker species
  • Various kingfishers
  • Rollers (broad-billed, lilac-breasted)
  • Flycatchers
  • Barbets
  • Tinkerbirds
  • Turaco’s
  • Weavers (lots!)

 Learning the bird species is going to be a challenge, as there are many of them.  But we have found that practise, day in and day out, tends to do the trick!  They are already picking up the more common species, and they’ve only been out in the forest for two days!


Afrcian fish eagle (amazing photo!)

Afrcian fish eagle (amazing photo!)

We are then going to have a miscellaneous section that will include things like common spiders, lizards, frogs, insects, snakes and butterflies.


Snouted night adder

Snouted night adder

We will then have a section about east African Coastal forests, and Shimoni forest specifically.  It will include things like biogeographical history, ecology, biological value, socio-economic value and the threats.  This will be used as essential general knowledge for the guides, as well as the foundations of an introductory talk they will give to the groups before going into the forest.


East African coastal forests are one of the most critial habitats for the perseverance of species in Africa

East African coastal forests are the most critical habitats for the conservation of biodiversity in Africa

The final section will be focussed on ‘being a guide’, and will include how to act and behave around people from different cultures, the differing manners and ideas of politeness that vary in countries around the world.  We will hopefully (cue internet search…!) be able to teach them basic greetings in a handful of the main languages they are likely to encounter.  We are going to coach them on public speaking, delivering information, and hopefully put them through an Emergency First Responder first aid course. 

 At the end of each lecture, they will get the material to take home with them.  They will then have to complete some assignments on each section.  The purpose of these will to get them thinking about the animals in more depth, really studying the notes, as well as using the resources GVI can offer them (books, scientific papers, internet) to do some independent research on the animals and topics they will cover.  Once all units and assignments are completed, and they feel comfortable with the in-field experience, they will sit a final exam.  If they pass, they will receive a certificate and will be the first ever official Friends of Shimoni Forest tourist trail guides!

 So far they have demonstrated enthusiasm, plenty of existing knowledge and a desire to get stuck in and learn.  Keep your fingers crossed for them, and we’ll keep you updated!

A Blue Day

Yesterday we had an incredible blue day out in Marine. The days start quite early, by 6:00am we are all taking our breakfast, while the sun is still half asleep. At 7:00am we are already in the boat, searching for some animals in the blue pristine waters of the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area.
Just as we went off, we saw this beautiful African Fish Eagle, just staring at the water, resting in a tree by the water. This big eagle is commonly found in this area and nests in high trees, especially acacias, figs or euphorbias and feeds mainly on fish, but also water birds and carrion.


The magestic African fish eagle (Haliaetus vocifer) 
After surveying the beautiful Funzi bay, we changed course and headed to Nyuli Reef and the Marine Reserve. In the shallow waters of Nyuli, we had another interesting sighting; two big green turtles were mating just about 30m from our research vessel. We turned off the engine and witnessed the courtship and mating behavior, while we recorded the coordinates on our GPS. Hopefully all went well for this pair and soon enough the female can lay her eggs in the sandy beaches of Funzi Island. Green turtles can lay more than 100 eggs, which take about 60 days to incubate and hatch. In Funzi, the Local Turtle Conservation Group, helped by KESCOM (Kenya Sea Turtle Committee), and GVI Conservation interns, patrol de beaches and provide environmental education to local people to help to conserve and protect this endangered species.


 The mating turtles


A turtle surfaces and is caught on camera
We continued our survey and headed to Kisite Marine Park, when we found a group of dolphins socializing and traveling. Excitement on the boat, while we grab our marine mammal sighting form, GPS and camera for photo-id. Some of the animals in the group are well known to the research team, such as chiizi, as well as two mothers and their calves. The water was so calm that we were lucky enough to see the calf breastfeeding under the water, just next to the boat. Wooohh! The mother and calf association in dolphins is very strong and the baby dolphins can breastfeed for more than two years. The mother’s mammary slits are located in either side of the genital slit.


 A mother (catalogue number 37 or “Patsy”) and her calf


“Patsy” and her calf

The day went on and we decided to snorkel transect 9. As if it couldn’t get an better, we had two turtle sightings while snorkeling; one juvenile hawksbill turtle and one adult green turtle. This green turtle seems to be resident at this spot, since we have seen her over and over on transect 9. It is very easy to identify her, as she is missing the back right flipper. It might have been caught in a net or hit by a propeller while younger, but managed to survive and heal its wounds. Alongside with the turtle we witnessed the amazing reef fish variety of the Marine Park.


 The turtle spotted on transect 9

Hopefully, all the data GVI is collecting will continue to contribute for this ecosystem to maintain its unique characteristics and help to conserve its biodiversity for the years to come!

Colobus Census of Shimoni Forest

Today will be the first of a two part update on some exciting research going on in Shimoni Forest.  We are attempting to build on work previously done in 2001 by Julie Anderson and then in 2007 by GVI.  We are doing a colobus census of the whole forest!

Marta is a volunteer here with us for three months and is currently working towards her masters in environmental modeling, monitoring and reconstruction.  She contacted us asking if she could use her time here to do the field-work for her project in the forest, consisting mainly of a colobus census – we welcomed her with open arms!


 Preparing to synchronise watches

We timed the census for when we had the most number of people on the mainland, and managed to get a keen group of 15 people fired up and ready.  To do the census we require groups to conduct what is essentially a primate community survey along all of our regular transects, plus groups moving through the forest in between the transects following compass bearings, so a group every 100 metres.  Unfortunately our GPS’s do not work in the forest due to poor satellite coverage, so we had to devise a cunning system of counting paces and regular check points coordinated using mobile phones (on silent of course!), to ensure we were all moving through the forest at a similar pace. 


 The team heading in

In an ideal world, you would have enough people to do the entire forest in a single day, leaving you with a ‘snapshot’ population count.  We don’t have enough people so are having to do it over two days.  For those groups traveling between our regular marked and cut transects, it was pretty rough going – there was plenty of crawling through thickets and fighting through thorns.  However our sense of adventure and the belief in the value of the work prevailed, and lots of smiling faces headed back to base.


 Getting through one of the many thickets!

During the day five groups of colobus, ten groups of sykes and one group of yellow baboon were sighted.  Some of the other casual observations included a pair of zanj elephant shrews, hornbills, African fish eagles and lots of red bellied coastal squirrels!


One of the sighted colobus 

We’re all tired, but looking forward a second day out in the forest.  We really can’t wait to see the results and compare them with the previous years.  I’ll hopefully get a post out letting you all know how it went!

Tapping Local Knowledge

As part of GVI’s marine research programme here in Mkwiro, we conduct interviews with the local fishermen on the island.  The people here have been fishing for generations, and spend more time out on the water than anyone.  They can provide invaluable information about sightings (of dolphins, whales, turtles, dugongs etc), catches, pollution and illegal activities. A GVI volunteer Hooi Ling, tells us about her day conducting interviews.

The villagers on the island are Muslim so we made sure we had our head, shoulders and knees covered before we set off for our excursion. As usual, the children greeted us with loud, enthusiastic “Jambo! What is your name?” as we walked through Mkwiro village. Some of the faces were familiar because we were working with the community last week teaching them English and Creative Arts, and playing sports and singing songs with the children. A few of the children had learnt Mandarin phrases and it warmed my heart to hear them greet me with “Ni hao” (how are you) and “Huan yin” ( welcome).


 A sacred ibis, seen from the mangroves

After about 15 minutes, we reached the mangroves. Felicity explained the importance of mangroves for preventing soil erosion and creating a breeding and feeding ground for fishes and birds. We learnt how mangrove trees survive in salt water by growing roots, which protrude above ground for oxygen and shed leaves to discard excess salt. The trees also grow long, green seed pods which float around at high tide before setting itself in the ground at low tide. She pointed out tiny gastropods (snails and sea slugs).

Fiddler crabs fascinated me!!! The male crabs have one very enlarged chela which they use to wave in a circle to establish territory and to attract females. When lots of fiddler crabs waved together, they looked like they were doing a Mexican wave; quite comical to watch.  And the number of amazing birds you see from the mangroves is just incredible!  We saw herons, african fish eagles, a sacred ibis and a knigfisher! 

When we arrived in Wasini village, we looked for the local fishermen and found a few young men who could speak English and were willing to translate Kiswahili for us. I interviewed a 55 year old fisherman who had been fishing for over 20 years. GVI had a comprehensive interview to find out from local fishermen such things as the types of fish they had caught, fishing equipment, whether their catch had increased/decreased over the years and which fishing grounds they used. We also asked them about the dolphin and turtle population and the level of damage caused to their nets. After the interview, fishermen informed us that the local villagers had set up a committee since 2003 to protect the Wasini reef from fishing and coastal pollution.


Another beautiful sight – a western reef heron 

Annica and I ate some local food (chapatis with a nice cup of hot ginger tea) while the others (Flick, Kirsty and Mila) visited the coral gardens. The coral gardens consisted of dead corals surrounded by mangrove trees and the local women’s group has built boardwalks around the corals. My highlight of the day was when I saw four bottlenose dolphins jumping and travelling with the tourist dhows.

Although I was not out on a boat today, it has been an enjoyable day learning about the mangroves and seeing the dolphins. Asante sana Flick!

African Fish Eagle Nest Found in Shimoni Forest

GVI’s research team headed back in to Shimoni Forest today, to survey the primates along our Transect 1, which runs parallel within 100m of the coastline – the area of forest at most risk of development. We survey Shimoni East forest on a regular basis to keep track of the presence of the Colobus, including ‘Burundi’ troop who have shown remarkable resilience in maintaining their home range over the last two years in the face of the felling of trees in a plot of land being cleared for development at the beginning of Transect 1.

So it was good to hear that Burundi troop were still present with two adult males, three adult females and the sub-adult that we had first recorded as a juvenile three months ago. The team recorded two further troops within 500m along the transect, with the excitng news that one small group of an adult male with two adult females also had an infant present – clearly identifiable as being within 3 months of age by its all-white fur colouration. From 3 months their fur becomes grey with the characteristic black and white pelt colouration showing up after 6 months. The third group, observed in an area where we have often seen an unusual troop of predominantly adult males, contained 3 males, 3 adult females and another sub-adult.


However the exciting news from the field today was the presence of an African Fish Eagle nest on the transect… the adult eagles were seen and the chicks heard calling in the trees above although the team couldn’t quite see where the nest was today! We will be keeping our eyes and ears open in future to see how they fare. The African Fish Eagle is a beautiful raptor and, for me, its haunting cries are one of the most evocative sounds of my time in East Africa.


Fortunately the team weren’t looking up in to the trees the whole time or they would have missed the hinged tortoise along the transect. We are still uncertain of which species we find here in Shimoni, with the both Bell’s and Speke’s Hinged Tortoises potentially in the area, and to confuse matters more, they may also have the potential to interbreed!