A Rocha Kenya: Bird Ringing
All of last week I was at the A Rocha Mwamba Field Study Centre in Watamu, Kenya. Watamu, is a village in the Kenyan coastal county of Kilifi near Malindi. A Rocha, which is Portuguese for Rock, is a Christian conservation organization that believes that as Christians it is it is their duty to protect God’s planet and His people. They do this by engaging in scientific research, environmental education and community based conservation projects. They are based in 19 countries around the world. I was asked to come to their Kenya branch, which is their second oldest after Portugal, to help them tell their story of their newest venture – marine research.
The thing is – I needed to understand them and their work. Up until a few months ago I had never heard of them. The best way is to observe them at their work or better yet, roll up your sleeves and jump in and participate in what they are doing. I was fortunate that this week they would be “ringing birds” (banding a bird’s leg with a small metal tag), visiting a community educational project and researching various corals in the marine park. A busy week and I was invited to join in.
The first project I observed was the bird ringing. Now, I am not an ornithologist but “bird ringing” sounds like something you do on the farm right before you make fried chicken. I quickly found out it is not quite so violent, though they do capture birds. Bird ringing is “ornithologist speak” for putting a small band on a bird’s leg with a number and a short message. The message reads something to this effect, “Please inform the Kenyan National Museum – K29“. In short the ring is so they can track the birds migration and growth. So if a bird is found anywhere in the world people can send the band or just the number to the museum and they will have an idea of where the bird has been. When a bird is recaptured they can track the bird’s band and record it’s growth and health. To collect the birds a team sets up large nets throughout the A Rocha property and on national parks in the area. On my visit they set up nets one morning on their property at Muwamba and then later in the week at Mida Creek, a mangrove forest reserve on Kenya’s coast near Watamu.
The whole process is done with the utmost care for the birds and meticulous notes are taken on each captured and ringed bird. The nets are 50 or 60 feet in length and around 8 to 10 feet high. They are set up in areas of high bird population and birds fly into them and get caught. Volunteers and staff researchers visit and collect the birds every hour. The birds are carefully brought back to a location where each bird is weighed and measured. It is here where either a ring is added to its leg or if it is already ringed the number is read and data added.
These amazing folks at A Rocha, Kenya have ringed and recorded thousands of bird over the years, leading to an endless amount of research on these beautiful creatures. If you would like more information on this organization, please visit the A Rocha website or for more specific information on the Kenya work or better still if you ever get to the region they have a guest house you can stay in for a while and volunteer. But A Rocha is not just about birds. It is about the whole ecosystem and it’s people. More to come…