In the February Nature Net, we brought you the first report of Clarke’s Weavers roosting in a seasonal wetland. We are now happy to confirm that this endangered bird is breeding in Dakatcha Woodland Important Bird Area.
On 22 March, a team composed of Fleur Ng’weno and Jonathan Mwachongo from Nature Kenya, and Patrick Changawa, Julio Mwambire, Japhet Garama, Kazungu Thuva, Samuel Kenga, Sammy Katisho and Peter Wario of Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group, visited the area again. There had been some showers of rain, and all the Brachystegia trees were bright green with new leaves and golden with flowers.
At the seasonal wetland that hosted a flock of Clarke’s Weavers in January, however, the sedges had been cut for thatch. A few empty nests were found on the ground and were collected for the National Museums of Kenya.
The next day, 23 March 2013, the team stopped at another seasonal wetland. 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 there was a large flock of Clarke’s Weavers.
The team observed the weavers from the shade of low trees bordering the seasonal wetland. There were several hundred birds, males and females, actively flying back and forth across the grasses and sedges. They were making their buzzing, sizzling calls. Some males seemed to be displaying, others just perching on the sedges. Several birds flew off to another part of the wetland, and some males were seen carrying strips of sedge as they returned. Then the brownish, rounded shapes of nests were seen among the sedges. One male was weaving more sedge strips onto a nest.
This was the breeding site!
The next morning at 6:10 am the Clarke’s Weavers were 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 sedges. The team estimated the weavers to be about 700 birds.
On 7 and 8 April 2013, a team from Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group and A Rocha Kenya observed the Clarke’s Weavers in the seasonal wetland. Males and females were feeding young with large caterpillars and other insects. The breeding of Clarke’s Weavers in Dakatcha Woodland is thus confirmed.
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 Government representatives. Meetings to inform the community and chart a way forward were scheduled in April.
Clarke’s Weavers are found only in Kilifi County – nowhere else in the world. BirdLife International estimates their population at only 2000 to 4000 birds. Because of their low numbers and limited range, Clarke’s Weavers are considered an endangered species, and Dakatcha Woodland is designated an Important Bird Area (IBA). The forests and wetlands of Dakatcha Woodland have no official or formal protection, but local communities have marked out 26,000 hectares of Community Conserved Areas (See February Nature Net).
We wish to thank Nature Kenya – especially Paul Matiku, Francis Kagema, George Odera, Dominic Mumbu and Fred Barasa ; the donors – Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), the European Union’s Community Development Trust Fund (EU-CDTF), Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Government of Finland and the Government of Spain; and our Partners in conservation – 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, East African Wild Life Society, 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.