The bird is all red – from beak to tail. In the afternoon sunlight it seems to glow as it displays below its woven nest. That is the Red-headed Weaver found in the extreme eastern corner of Kenya, including the Boni and Dodori National Reserves and the Awer Community Conservancy between them.
This little-known but biodiversity-rich area revealed a few of its secrets during a two-week bird survey in April. The expedition was led by John Musina of the National Museums of Kenya, sponsored by the Zoological Society of London, and coordinated by World Wide Fund for Nature, in partnership with National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service, Northern Rangelands Trust, A Rocha Kenya and Nature Kenya.
The Boni and Dodori National Reserves and Awer Community Conservancy comprise diverse habitats, ranging from coastal forest, dense thicket and acacia woodland to a scenic mosaic of palm savanna, grassland and groves of trees and shrubs. Small seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands dot the sandy landscape, and now, in the rainy season, much of the area is likely to become extensively flooded. African Fish Eagles turned up in nearly every habitat in April, presumably anticipating the rains.
Boni-Dodori is proposed as an Important Bird Area, as it shelters populations of threatened bird species as well as 16 of the 30 species of the East African Coast biome. The threatened birds seen in April include - Near-threatened: Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Crowned Eagle, Martial Eagle, Fischer’s Turaco, Plain-backed Sunbird, Malindi Pipit and migrating Eurasian Rollers. Vulnerable: Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures. Endangered: Basra Reed Warblers on migration.
Over 225 species of birds were seen, heard or caught in mist-nets, ringed and released. These included characteristic coastal forest birds such as Forest Batis, Tiny Greenbul and Red-tailed Ant Thrush. The mystery of the Red-naped Bush Shrike with no (or hardly any) red nape was investigated; three birds were caught and photos, measurements and tissue samples taken.
This new IBA, however, is already under threat. There is a land rush, because of the area’s proximity to the LAPSSET project. Oil and gas deposits have been found offshore, in the area of Kiangwe. A wide new road is being cleared through the Dodori National Reserve.
To protect their land and resources, the Awer (Boni) people set up the Awer Community Conservancy with help from the Northern Rangelands Trust. WWF is working with the Awer people on livelihood improvement and habitat conservation. The Awer people, NGOs and government conservation agencies, however, now face an uphill struggle of mitigating the imminent human-induced threats that will come with the land rush.