The Violet-backed Starling belongs to the family of birds classified as Sturnidae. This species, also known as the Plum-coloured Starling or Amethyst Starling, is the smallest of Kenya starlings, reaching only about 18cm in length. It is a successful breeder, and is fortunately not listed as a threatened species.
The sexes are strongly sexually dimorphic, meaning that there is a distinct difference in the appearance of the male and female. The breeding male is brilliantly coloured, with feathers an iridescent shining plum violet colour along the length of is back, wings, face and throat, contrasting with bright white on the rest of the body. Females (and juveniles) are a streaky brown and buff colour, and can easily be mistaken for a thrush.
Less noisy than other starlings, this bird is a monogamous species, and will remain so unless its mate dies. Under those circumstances it will seek a new mate in replacement. These starlings are normally seen in small flocks in summer, just before the breeding season when they will break off into pairs to nest.
Violet-backed starlings will nest in cavities such as tree holes high off the ground, holes in river banks, even in old hollow fence posts, lining the nests with dung, leaves and other plant material. They have been known to reuse nests in successive breeding seasons
In Kenya, they are found a long riverine vegetation in big dead tree trunks in Machakos, the low areas of Tugen hills, Lake Nakuru and Nairobi national park.
With around 10,000 bird species to look at, it should come as no surprise that birdwatching (or ‘birding’) has become one of the more popular nature-related hobbies.Bird watchers, ornithologists and wildlife photographers spend millions of dollars every year travelling around the globe searching for this incredible swimming, walking and flying beauties. It is however, important to note that bird watching, or birding is the fastest-growing recreational activity in the United States, and that the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds alone boasts one million members. It’s a specialist outdoor activity that enjoys a huge global following.
Kenya is one of those destination where any self respecting birder must visit at least once in their life time. Well don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way suggesting that we can compare Kenya important bird areas to Manu national park in Peru or Pantanal in the lowland of Brazil!. First, let’s look at the product; there is no doubt about it: when it comes to Landscape, we’re right up there. We have sweeping savannas that makes the heart sing, picture-perfect beaches that cleanse the mind and soaring mountains that pacify the soul on its upward journey. We have hidden universe of creatures in our deep oceans and most importantly, the second-largest collection of bird species on the planet. Now, that is an exceptional fact that put us forward as significant destination to the ornithological community globally.
Which brings me to this question, are birders good for birds? Birding and nature tourism are compatible with environmental preservation. Kenya communities living close to important bird’s habitat must take advantage of natural scenic areas by promoting ecotourism. In Promoting bird watching and those areas natural assets will in turn promote a greater awareness of for species conservation and habitat protection and rehabilitation. However, we need to be careful not to over utilize significant habitat which are home to critically endangered and endangered species. Research shows that, the number of visitors increases when more birds are present, but as the number of visitors increases, the number of birds decreases and their minimum distance from the visitors increases, this clearly demonstrate that we must strike a balance between the two.
Birdwatching and twitching tourism has been particularly significant in opening up more remote places including deserts and wetlands, but particularly offshore islands, where more unusual and rare species are to be found. It has contributed to the economic development and environmental management of rural and remote areas, while also being one of the most ecologically sound and sustainable of versions of wildlife tourism. Birding therefore, creates economic value for conservation, and this has been true for different conservation initiative in various part of Kenya, and of important to note is Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP), Kijabe Environmental Volunteers, Lake Victoria Sunset Birders, Guides of Arabuko Sokoke forest and Lake Baringo Biodiversity Conservation Group.
There is potential of considerable expansion on benefit from avian tourism in Kenya. For example, incomes earned by local workers working in establishment developed to cater for birdwatching interest group and improved fees paid to local bird guides for their priceless services which most of the time contribute notably to client’s satisfaction. By raising local income and developing skills at the destination site, it adds to sustainable local development and community based conservation. At the same time, involvement of the local communities in the avian-tourism, improve the product (birdlife) and enhances popular support for the industry.
Lastly, this extract from an interesting book LIFE LIST, by Olivia Gentile. This is a story about Phoebe Snetsinger, an outstanding birder of our time. ‘ The group drove a van with a pop-up top all over the country, and everywhere there were birds and mammals in plain view, against a backdrop of green-gold grass and occasional lonely acacia tree. Some of the common birds in Kenya –or the ones you see day after day, and after a while, even when you close your eyes-are among the most spectacular. The common Ostrich is eight feet tall and bathes by rolling around furiously in dry dirt.The African Jacana’s back shines like a newly polished copper. TheLittle Bee-eater wears a different shade of green on each feather,or it seem in the four o’clock sun. The Gray Crowned-Crane stands tall and still, with a “crown” that looks like freshly picked wheat.
In a Nature Notes pieces, Phoebe couldn’t say which birds had been her favorites, because pretty much all of them had left her “ecstatic”. “One really has to include the Lilac-breasted Roller, ubiquitous though it is. And how can you compare an Emerald Cuckoo (unbelievable shades of green and yellow) to a group of Madagascar Bee-eater –or a paradise Flycatcher –or a Hoopoe –or an Orange-bellied Parrot (Unlikely combination of bright orange and green –or a majestic Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl –or that jewel of a Kingfisher, the Malachite ?……..I feel like the man in the children’s story ‘Millions of Cats’ who chose them all because they were all the most beautiful.”
Phoebe Snetsinger died in 23rd November 1999 while on birding tour in Madagascar. By the time of her death, she had seen 8398 species! Amazing. Asked of her favorite birding locale in the world, this is what she said “ Kenya, for its “spectacular” and “easily seen” birds.
This species is commonly seen in Kenya especially around Tugen Hills, Kakamega Forest and Cherangani Hills. It is an easy species to identify and birders will have less difficulty spotting this species even in primary forest habitat as its flight betray his presence.These birds are mostly frugivorous, with the fruits of Ficus trees composing more than half of their diet. Overall, they are known to eat the fruits of over 41 plant genera, which they forage by hopping from branch to branch in the rainforest canopy and reaching for fruit with the tip of the bill, which they then swallow whole. They also consume birds, eggs, insects, bats, snails, lizards, molluscs, other small animal prey, mosses, lichens, and fungi. Sexual dimorphism is exhibited by these species, and male tend to be slightly bigger than their female counter parts.
When we started our journey at the shore of Lake Victoria in such for the seldom Papyrus Gonolek with Titus who was our boat man, we didn’t expect to have such a luck!!we were all surprised after a few minute of calling back its call, the bird made an impressive show off for a cool 1 minute. This is how such a photo was taken. In Kenya, this bird is mostly seen in the extensive shores of Lake Victoria. For this one, we were at hippo point side. But you have an equal chances of seeing it in Sio port too.
The Papyrus Gonolek is similar to the black headed Gonolek but with a bright-yellow cap complementing her crimson breast, and white bar on the black wing.The bird has specialized habitat requirements, being restricted to papyrus swamps.Papyrus Gonolek is not yet a threatened spicies but she has become rare due to habitat loss and pollution.
Crested Guinea fowl has a wide range in Kenya and northern Tanzania. In Kenya it is found mostly in western tropical rain forest remnant of Kakamega forest and Lake Manyara national park in Northern Tanzania, Body plumage is much like a typhical Guinea Fowl, with whitish spot; most recognizable features is the short, curly “mop” of black feathers on the head, the rest of the head and neck are bare with blue skin, red skin arond the eyes and on the neck;eyes are red;legs dark brown to black.The species is mono morphic.
Golden-winged Sunbird has a bright yellow tail and wings, the shoulders are dark gray, the dark gray extending to the nape and throat, while the head and downturned beak are lighter gray. The tail is long and ends in two long, very narrow parallel feathers.These birds are found in East Africa; Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.Golden-winged sunbirds live in grassland, bamboo thickets, and tropical mountain forest.
In Kenya this species if found in Lake Nakuru and Naivasha,Nyahururu,Mt.Kenya and Aberdare National Park.
Buff-crested bustards are small in size compared to other species that we have in Kenya. They are cryptically colored to help them blend into their environment. They also are sexually dimorphic. Male buff-crested bustards have an olive colored crown, a black stripe down the front of the neck, and a black chest and belly. The upper feathers contain light orange-brown coloration. The females have brown heads, a much reduced crest, and are buff colored in the throat, chin, and breast area.The buff-crested or crested bustard prefers drier acacia scrub and woodland of northern arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, especially in regions like Samaburu and Meru National park, Lake Baringo and Bogoria and further north in areas like Kapedo.
Red-and-Yellow Barbet like so all the other species of Barbet that I have come across are creatures of distinctive beauty. Barbet are closely related to tinkerbirds, woodpecckers, honeyguides and wrynecks. They are usually found alone or pairs.
This Barbet has a strong red billed, which is hooked and the face is generally red with bright white eared patches. The nominate race which is generally common is boldly white spotted above, with a black and white speckled band across the yellow breast, yellow-white tail spots, and boldly barred outer tail feathers; rump yellow, upper tail coverts red and yellow; and under tail coverts red and yellow tips.
Very social species and always prefer hanging around termite mounds where they both derive their food stuff and build their nest is circular holes.
Locally common and widespread in dry bush, savanna and woodland scrub of Kerio Valley, Lake Baringo, Lake Bogoria , Meru national park, Olorgesaillie and Magadi road.
This rare norrow-winged, Kestrel-sized falcon typically associated with Palm tree.It can easily be identified from its Red-rufous crown that extend all the way to the scapular. This beautiful raptor has a white face, chin and the upper breast, with broad pale rufoous band across upper breast.Pale blue-grey above with fine black barring;primaries and primary covert darker. The wings are pretty short compared to typical falcons like Peregrine.
Uncommon in low open country, especially with palms and acacia of Galana river, Meru and Samburu national park, Lake Turkana and the coastal part of Kenya.This photo was taken by a friend of mine in Samburu National Reserve.