As part of a long-term study to determine whether climate change is affecting bird populations, a Wildlife Works team hiked up Mt. Kasigau in Southeast Kenya to monitor the local wildlife and collect data on the many species of native and migratory birds. Wildlife Works has been conducting these expeditions three times per year for the past two years. The thinking behind this, is that global warming could cause birds to abandon their natural homes and move higher up the mountain or perish.
Hiking up Mt. Kasigau’s iconic humpback outcrop to conduct a bird monitoring expedition is no simple matter. A small team traveling at a leisurely pace with no luggage could reach the top of Mt. Kasigau in roughly 3 hours, but when you add bird-ringing equipment, bamboo poles, mist nets and camping equipment the journey becomes much more cumbersome.
The Wildlife Works team began their climb from the foothills of a small village called Kiteghe and set up four ringing stations from the mountain’s base to its peak.
Bird ringing, also known as bird banding, is a technique used in the study of wild birds by attaching a small, individually numbered tag to a bird’s wing or leg so that various aspects of the bird’s life can be measured and studied. Ornithologists use the tags to identify the same bird over a period of time and gain information on migration patterns, population studies, feeding behavior, territoriality and more.
Wild birds are carefully captured in mist nets, which are typically made of a fine nylon mesh suspended between two poles and resemble oversized volleyball nets, and fitted with a lightweight ring of suitable size. The rings are designed to have no adverse effect on the birds, in fact the whole basis of using rings to gather data is that ringed birds behave identically in all respects as the non-ringed population.
The Wildlife Works team began their first day by setting up 12-meter nets at the base of Mt. Kasigau at 6:00 in the morning, ringing birds until noon, and packed up the equipment to travel up the mountain to the next station. For over a week the team carefully caught, ringed and released a total of 119 birds of 25 different species.
During this expedition the team got to see Nightingales, Eurasian Scops Owls and Spotted Flycatchers, which all migrate to Africa from Europe. They caught many Plain Nightjars and Ashy Flycatchers, which are species native to Kenya. The highlight of the season was seeing a huge number of fledged young chicks wearing their very first coats of un-molted feathers!
According to our Wildlife Works’ team, any changes will take place over a period of ten years, so it is important that we continue to collect data. In the meantime, this research is a great indicator of biodiversity levels on Mt. Kasigau. We will continue to study the wildlife in and around our REDD+ project area, and continue to fight against climate change.