Celebrating and Conserving Kenya’s Wetlands
March 14, 2017
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On February 2nd this year I joined other conservationists in celebrating World Wetlands Day – yes, there is such a day. What’s the significance of marking it, you may ask? Wetlands are important as they support livelihoods, the economy and provide ecosystem services like enriching soil, purifying water and sheltering endangered species. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I’m an avid birder and wetlands are especially important to birds.

People taking part in waterfowl census
Looking out for our feathered friends…

They are vital bird habitats,which are used for nesting, breeding, and rearing young. Wetlands provide a source of drinking water and safe places for feeding, resting, shelter, and social interactions. Studies show that the survival of some waterfowl (e.g. grebes) as individual species , depends on the availability of certain types of wetlands because the birds have have adapted to wetlands to a great extent.

Red-knobbed coots swimming.
Red-knobbed coots having fun.

Every year, Nature Kenya organises waterfowl counts in various wetlands. Results help to track the population growth/ distribution of bird populations, which is also an indicator of the status of the wetlands. This year I managed to take part in some of those counts. Two were at wastewater treatment plants, and two more at lakes.

Water waves close-up.
Wave after wave, slowly drifting away…

The count at Ruai wastewater treatment plant was quite interesting. I had never even heard of the place before that day (gasp). Apart from a nasty smell, I didn’t know what to expect upon getting there. But it turned out to be quite fascinating! We left the National Museum at 8.45 AM and drove for what seemed like eternity. Finally at 9.40 AM, we arrived. A large number of swallows flying gracefully was a welcoming sight.

Ruai waste water treatment plant, Kenya.
Setting out for the count…

We were divided into groups and each was assigned its number of ponds. I was impressed by the beauty of the place. The large expanses of water with many flocks of birds – it was hard to believe we were at a waste treatment plant, and the smell wasn’t all that bad after all. I was assigned the role of scribe for my group. A scribe records the number of birds counted. The other group members each choose a species and count the birds from one part of the wetland to another.

Ruai waste water treatment plant, Kenya
Too beautiful for a waste water treatment plant, right?

The sun was blazing that day as if it was on a revenge mission. Not to be left behind, the wind also joined in and raged fiercely and almost blew our data sheet away. This gave me a hard time recording, but I soldiered on. At some point we came across a monitor lizard. How much more interesting could the day get? I saw a number of birds for the first time, like Hottentot teal and White-winged terns. We counted more than 500 birds for the latter. Wow! Who would have thought that a wastewater plant would be this captivating?

Ruai waste water treatment plant, Kenya.
Looks inviting for a swim, eh?

By the time all groups were done counting, more than 2 hours had elapsed. Yes, the place is that big. We were tired, hungry and dusty as if we had walked through the Kenyan diaspora. My skin felt like stretched animal hide due to the harsh wind. All in all, it was a great experience. I knew I would like to do it again- and I did. The next count was at Brookside Dairies wastewater treatment ponds and this past weekend, we were at Lake Bogoria and Nakuru (post coming soon, yaaay).

People taking part in waterfowl census at Lake Naivasha, Kenya.
Waterfowl census at Lake Nakuru.

I believe I made the right choice taking up bird watching – there’s much to be learnt every time and I get to see more of the beauty of our country. So get out there my fellow Kenyans and see for yourself! Travelling is therapeutic and opens your mind. You’ll never be the same after that.

Ruai waste water treatment plant, Kenya.
Hot, dusty, windswept expanse.

About author

Michelle Ajema

Michelle Ajema is an artlover who is deeply fascinated by the exciting world of DSLR photography. She loves shooting nature, and can often be found stalking monkeys and birds in her backyard.

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