Clarke’s Weaver, Ploceus golandi, is a bird found only in Kilifi County in Kenya. Clarke’s Weavers have been seen in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest south of the Sabaki River, and in Dakatcha Woodland north of the river.
They are usually seen in small flocks, feeding on insects and fruits in forests of Brachystegia spiciformis trees. Their nesting site, however, had never been found ….until now—March 2013.
In the first week of January 2013, a monitoring team from Nature Kenya and Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group, a site support group working with Nature Kenya, visited Dakatcha Woodland. The team comprised Fleur Ng’weno, Albert Baya, Japhet Garama, Samson Katisho, Julius Mwambire, Kazungu Thuva, Samson Barisa, Maxwel Issa, Jonathan Kalama, Annet Sifa, Faith Mbago and George Odera. It had rained heavily in December 2012, and many of the small wetlands had filled with water and water lilies.
On 6 January 2013, after a survey in Brachystegia forest, the team stopped along the edge of a low area lush with grasses. A small part of it seemed to be deeper, with two kinds of Cyperus sedges growing in water. The sedges were full of Clarke’s Weavers.
The Clarke’s Weavers were flying in and out, chattering, perching on the sedges and nearby tree and bush, then disappearing among the sedges. Small flocks flew out and over the trees, and others arrived and landed in the seasonal wetland. The team estimated more than 100 Clarke’s Weavers, most of them males in adult plumage. There were also females.
The team observed the seasonal wetland over the next two days. The weavers were there each day, morning and evening, although it was not clear what they were doing. This was the first observation of Clarke’s Weavers roosting in a wetland.
In late January, the team returned to the seasonal wetland, with Gabriel Katana and Nick Gardner of A Rocha Kenya. There were fewer Clarke’s Weavers in the wetland, but they were still there, together with Grosbeak Weavers and Red-billed Quelea.
A smaller monitoring team from Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group found the weavers in the same seasonal wetland again in early March 2013.
On 22 March, a team composed of Fleur Ng’weno, Jonathan Mwachongo, Patrick Changawa, Julius Mwambire, Japhet Garama, Kazungu Thuva, Samuel Kenga, Samson Katisho and Peter Wario visited the area again. There had been some showers of rain, and all the Brachystegia trees were vibrantly green and in flower.
At the seasonal wetland, however, they saw with consternation that the sedges had been cut for thatch. A few empty nests on the ground were collected to take to the National Museums of Kenya.
Then on 23 March 2013, the team stopped at a seasonal wetland where they had stopped several times in other years. About the size of a football field, but more narrow, it was an area of grasses and sedges surrounded by trees and bushes. A few men, women and children from nearby homesteads came to the north end of the seasonal wetland to collect water. At the southwestern end, a large flock of Clarke’s Weavers was in the sedges.
The team observed the weavers from the shade of low trees bordering the seasonal wetland. On March 23, there were several hundred, males and females, actively flying back and forth across the wetland. Some males seemed to be displaying, others just perching on the sedges. Several birds flew off to another part of the seasonal wetland, and despite their speed, a few males were seen carrying strips of sedge as they returned. They were making their buzzing, sizzling calls. Then the brownish, rounded shapes of nests was noted. One male was seen weaving more sedge strips onto a nest.
This was the breeding site.
At 6:10 am on March 24, the Clarke’s Weavers already active, flying back and forth within the seasonal wetland and singing. Flocks of 60 to 100 birds began to lift up from the wetland and fly up and away, presumably to feed in the forest. Seven flocks flew off in the next half hour, giving an estimate of about 550 birds. Many weavers could still be seen in the wetland. The team estimated the weavers to be about 700 birds – perhaps as many as one thousand.
On 26 March, the team was joined by Mike Davidson, George Odera and Brian Finch from Nature Kenya and Colin Jackson and Silas Ekesa from A Rocha. They brought telescopes and took photos. The weavers were still active, but less busy building; many of them sitting on top of the nests. Brian Finch estimated some five hundred nests concentrated in the small area of sedges within the grassland.
The breeding of Clarke’s Weavers in Dakatcha Woodland is thus confirmed.
Because of their low numbers and limited range, Clarke’s Weavers are considered an endangered species; Dakatcha Woodland is designated by Nature Kenya and BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group (DWCG), with support from Nature Kenya, is taking active steps to protect this first known breeding site. DWCG members visited the area the same week to talk to the local elders. They also informed representatives of the government in the area. The hope is that once the people living near the seasonal wetland realize the importance of these birds – found only in Kilifi County and nowhere else in the world – they will take steps to see the wetland and forest are conserved.
Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society – has had activities to monitor Clarke’s Weavers and raise community awareness in Dakatcha Woodland IBA since 2005. The management and governance capacity of Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group was built by Nature Kenya and their members trained to become bird guides and monitor the IBA with its many patches of Brachystegia forest. Fleur Ng’weno from Nature Kenya visited Dakatcha Woodland regularly since 2007 to search for the breeding site, together with members of Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group. Fred Barasa in Nairobi and Francis Kagema, Dominic Mumbu and George Odera of Nature Kenya at the Coast coordinated the visits.
These activities were made possible by Paul Matiku and other Nature Kenya staff who mobilized support from visionary donors:
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF)
The European Union’s Community Development Trust Fund (EU-CDTF)
The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund
The Government of Finland
The Government of Spain
Nature Kenya worked with many partners in Dakatcha Woodland. These include BirdLife International, Kenya Forest Service, National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI), the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (UK), A Rocha Kenya, World Wide Fund for Nature, Action Aid and Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Management Team (ASFMT). We also thank NEMA (Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority) for rejecting a plantation of Jatropha that would have destroyed the Clarke’s Weaver nesting site.