africa, birding, wildlife safari

The Best of Beasts with Brilliant Birding – That’s Northern Tanzania

TZ Oct 12 004 (Zul Bhatia)

Our tour commences of an evening at the relaxed and peaceful Kilimanjaro International Airport. That is when the daily KLM direct flight from Amsterdam Schiphol (and hence other capitals) arrives in Tanzania. Here you will be met by both James, your global-standard bird guide, and your Tanzanian driver-guide and taken, in a customised Toyota safari vehicle with pop-up roof hatches, the short distance to a spacious hotel in Moshi.

Moshi, which is remarkably clean and quiet for an African market town, sits at the foot of snow-capped Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain. Here we will spend our first night.

After a reasonably early breakfast we will head off south eastwards, making birding stops en route, to our spectacular cliff girt ‘eco-lodge’ at Mambo View where we shall spend the second night. Today we will be travelling through dry lands, red-earth acacia country, alongside jagged and precipitous peaks of those ancient crystalline mountains – the North Pare and West Usambara – ranges that seem to vault straight out of the dry savanna. These beautiful partially forested mountains are home to very many endemic taxa.

During this first morning we will make brief sorties into the bush searching for specialities of the acacia-commiphora Maasailand habitats through which we pass. Above us we may see the magnificent black and white Verreaux’s Eagle soaring, whilst ‘down in the bush’ there should be highly localized White-headed Mousebirds, the anomalous, pipit-like Pink-breasted Lark, secretive shrike-like Pringle’s Puffbacks, and the unique, spectacular, scintillating Golden-breasted Starling. We may make time to visit Nyumba ya Mungu reservoir, if water levels are suitable, to get an early taste of the wetland avian riches of East Africa.

In the late afternoon-early evening we may be able to explore a cool montane forest, quite close to our mountain lodge, where many of the speciality birds of the West Usambaras are to be found including the endemic Usambara Nightjar, Usambara Sunbird, Tanzania’s near-endemic African Tailorbird and with luck the critically endangered, endemic Usambara Weaver.

Next morning we will travel early to Magamba forest to search for other birds of these mountains including the monkey-eating African Crowned Eagle, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Usambara Mountain and Stripe-faced Greenbul, Sharpe’s Starling, that cryptic, inveterate skulker the Spot-throat, the lovely White-starred Robin, the secretive and endemic Usambara Akalat (Ground Robin), bell-sounding Usambara (now split from Fulleborn’s) Black Boubou and another, as yet undescribed potential-split the Usambara Drongo, which will be hawking insects along the forest edge. After an early lunch in Lushoto, the capital of these mountains, we will descend to the plains and drive for four hours to our simple jungle lodge in the lusher, moist evergreen setting of Amani forest reserve deep within the East Usambaras where we will stay for the next two nights. Rare mammals encountered today could include the Angola Pied Colobus monkey and Lushoto Mountain Squirrel.

Naturetrek TZ Highlights trip 2008

At Amani there are so many important bird species to search for that we may be stumped for choice. Our primary aim will probably be to get good views of some of the more elusive species of these unique forests; birds such as the spectacular Fischer’s Turaco, Green-headed Oriole, gorgeous Red-tailed Ant-Thrush, modest-looking Usambara Thrush, secretive but noisy White-chested Alethe, Kretschmer’s Longbill, enigmatic and near-endemic Long-billed Tailorbird, here at its only accessible location, pretty Yellow-throated Woodland Warblers, the delightful black and white Vanga Flycatcher and the tiny Banded Green Sunbirds. In addition to birds there are, of course, several endemic reptiles – especially Chameleons, several amphibians, and an unknown number of endemic invertebrates. Next we head to the Indian Ocean – for two nights at Fish Eagle Point an idyllic spot 50 km north of Tanga.

Fish Eagle Point is easily the best place along the coast of Northern Tanzania for ‘diverse’ birding.This small strip of coral rag forest continues to support a very pleasing variety of coastal wildlife. There are observable medium-sized mammals here too – Blue Monkeys, Yellow Baboons, Galagos and even the diminutive and retiring Sunni antelope. The canopy community includes the nationally scarce Green Tinkerbird and on the forest floor there are such localised butterflies as the Gold-banded Forester. It appears that this elfin coastal woodland currently delineates the northern edge of the distribution of some southern bird species – such as the Kurrichane Thrush.  More conspicuous are the Black-bellied Starlings and Purple-banded Sunbirds present all day, all year, in the trees around the lodge.

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Over the Indian Ocean there are good numbers of terns with at least five species offshore at all seasons. Crab Plovers are the  stars of a nicely varied shorebird roost, especially evident at neap tides in the east-facing bay and during the northern winter. In less than an hour’s cruise offshore in the lodge’s motorised dhow, you are over the deep waters of the Pemba Channel. Here there’s often a good variety of southerly seabirds, plus northern hemisphere migrants, whilst presumed vagrant specials, such as Long-tailed Jaeger, occurring in the appropriate season. There are adrenalin-inducing cetaceans here too! Occasionally, just after sunrise, on calm mornings during the South-east Monsoon (August onwards) Humpback Whales may be observed, engaged in fluke-slapping courtship, less than a kilometre from land.

Turning around and travelling north westwards, via the eastern margins of the South Pare mountains, we visit Mkomazi reserve, a dry country environment where several species of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem may be found.  Here we will stay at Babu’s, a special camp near the edge of the reserve, where the habitats are most diverse. Mkomazi should be our Tanzanian introduction to many ‘essential African’ bird groups: the Hamerkop, Secretary Bird, the Gymnogene, two Guineafowl, two Thicknees, three Coursers, three members of the Musophagidae – the Turacos and Go-away Birds, three species of Mousebird, African Hoopoe, two Wood Hoopoes, three honeyguides, three savanna hornbills, four thorn-wood barbets, three bush-shrikes and at least one helmet-shrike.

These semi-arid bushland habitats are also home to some rare mammals such as the giraffe-necked gazelle, or Gerenuk, and the shy and beautiful Lesser Kudu who browse inconspicuously among the acacias. Of the beautiful birds found here some have very restricted ranges e.g. Friedmann’s Lark, Scaly Chatterer and Tsavo Sunbird. When migration southwards across the equator is in full flow, in November-December we should find numerous Palearctic ‘winter visitors’ who come to Africa from Scandinavia, the Middle East, Central Asia, the farthest corners of Russia and even from Arctic Canada. Some unusual, or rarely seen, ones that we will be watching-out for include: the delightful insectivorous and highly social Amur Falcon and the scythe-like Sooty Falcon that preys upon the migrating flocks of passerines, Iranias (White-throated Robin) skulking in the undergrowth, River and Basra Reed Warblers in the damper spots together with several other species of warbler. There are many wonderful resident birds here too; ranging in size from the antelope-killing Martial Eagle and trumpeting Buff-crested Bustards to the tiny tail-less Yellow-bellied Eremomela and dapper Mouse-coloured Penduline-Tit.

After a morning in the lowlands of Mkomazi we will return toward the highlands at Arusha (1500m) where we will stay for two nights in a quiet lodge set in well-timbered grounds, on the outskirts of this world-famous ‘safari city’, its bustling streets almost overshadowed by the dormant volcanic cone of mighty Mount Meru. Around the lodge itself we may see interesting and unusual birds such as the Brown-breasted Barbet, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Black-backed Puffback and Bronze Sunbird. We will rise extra early (0500hrs) today to make the hour long pilgrimage out to Lark Plains, in the arid rain-shadow of Meru, to see the rarest bird in all of East Africa – the critically endangered and especially hard-to-find Beesley’s Lark which has a tiny population of perhaps no more than fifty individuals. James Wolstencroft probably knows this bird better than anyone, and, so far has never failed to show them to visiting birders! These amazingly scenic plains, surrounded by great mountains, may be green and grassy at the time of our visit. We might find nine or even ten species of Alaudidae – including two other range restricted larks, Athi Short-toed and the so-called Foxy, (although this sizzle-song Calendulauda – alopex – intercedens would surely be better named the White-browed Lark), plus five species of pipit and five species of wheatear during our day in the “Arena of the Larks”.

Naturetrek TZ Highlights trip 2008

Graceful Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, Steppe Buzzards, Lanner Falcons and four kinds of kestrel quarter the plain in search of rodents (and baby larks!). Ostriches and Kori Bustards and three species of Sandgrouse (Yellow-throated, Chestnut-bellied and Black-faced) may make their first appearance on our birding journey, Lammergeiers (from their eyrie on Mount Meru), Bateleurs and other less-noble looking scavengers, such as Marabou storks, and six vultures that include Lappet-faced and White-headed Vulture, are at least possible overhead. Among a hundred other regular species we may find: acrobatic Abyssinian Scimitarbills investigating the acacia twigs in search of caterpillars and spiders, White-fronted Bee-eaters, smartly pied Northern White-crowned Shrikes and Taita Fiscals, migrant Red-tailed Shrikes, Long-tailed and gorgeous Rosy-patched Shrikes hunting bees and beetles in the dry and scrubby ravines, here they are called ‘korongos’. Around the periphery of this birding arena Long-billed Pipits and Cinnamon-breasted Rock Buntings sing from the buff-coloured boulders, the graceful Red-fronted Warbler tail-wags in groups in the thickets, and somewhat comical and nuthatch-like Red-faced Crombecs, ash-coloured Fischer’s Starlings, Grey-capped Social Weavers and Southern Grosbeak Canaries will hopefully perch-up obligingly on the thorn bushes.

Next day we will continue our safari westward into the moister Zambesian ecological zone where we will stay at a spectacular lodge in Tarangire National Park on the eastern slope of the Rift Valley. Giant baobab trees and hundreds of African Elephants and other ‘big game’ species are major attractions of this large protected area. Birdlife is diverse and, depending upon the scale of the recent rains, we will be looking, in particular areas, for yet more special migrant and localized resident birds.

Species of special interest here might be Black Storks and Steppe Eagles from Central Asia, Rufous-bellied Heron, two species of Snake-Eagle, Red-necked Spurfowl, Yellow-collared Lovebird, family parties of the incredible-looking grasshopper and beetle eating Southern Ground Hornbill, sleepy, pink eye-lidded Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls, Mottled Spinetail (a small swift), the localized Rufous-crowned Roller, highly social Magpie Shrikes, Ashy Starling – the brown and dowdy, yet highly range-restricted, endemic cousin of the Golden-breasted Starling, Swahili Sparrow, the endemic Rufous-tailed Weaver and the Black Bishop

After Tarangire we will head for the Crater Highlands stopping-off at freshwater swamps at the northern margin of Lake Manyara NP. In addition to the unforgettable antics of the hippos we will doubtless enjoy the thousands upon thousands of Lesser Flamingoes who create an intense broad pink margin to the lake that it is visible for miles. At the hippo pools there is a pair of Saddle-billed Storks, there are two species of Pelican, many species of herons, ducks, terns and migrant shorebirds galore together with Red-throated Pipits from the high Arctic tundra; all will be sorted-out and their identification explained by our specialist guide who has worked with these migrant birds for over forty years. After our fill of new species of palearctic shorebird and their ilk we will leave Lake Manyara and climb the switch back road out of the Rift Valley. The evening will be spent, hopefully listening to the evocative whistles of Montane Nightjars, at a homely and comfortable lodge, once again in the refreshingly cool highlands.

TZ Oct 12 057 (Zul Bhatia)

Gibbs Farm is a functioning organic farm and coffee estate on the very edge of the verdant mountain forests of the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. In the morning we will trek up a gentle, well-graded trail through the Croton forest looking for several forest bird species such as the rather scarce Ayres’ Hawk-Eagle, the shy and retiring Crested Guineafowl, the more widespread Hildebrandt’s Francolin, unobtrusive ground-haunting Lemon Doves, beautiful Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrikes, noisy Grey-capped Warblers and the marvellous Oriole Finch. In the late afternoon we will enter the ‘NCCAA’ by vehicle and climb to the rim of “the Crown” – and for the first time we will view the greatest jewel in all of Africa – the indescribable Ngorongoro Crater. Tonight will be spent at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge where numerous montane forest specials will be searched for including Schalow’s Turaco, several sunbirds including the Golden-winged and the scintillating Tacazze, and some somewhat more sombre greenbuls and seedeaters.

Next day we must once again rise early in order to make the most of our time in what is truly one of the greatest wonders of the world. Words cannot describe the uniqueness and value of this place for any naturalist. By entering the park early we should be able to admire the stupendous wildlife without feeling in any way pressured. Apart from some twenty species of large mammal, in healthy numbers, we will certainly encounter an abundance and diversity of bird life that is almost as rare in this modern world. Flocks of White and Abdim’s Storks, statuesque Grey Crowned Cranes, numerous herons, five species of egret, close views of the two flamingo species on Lake Magadi, many more shorebirds including the rare and delicate-looking Chestnut-banded Plover, Pied Avocets, Black-bellied Bustards, brilliant Rosy-breasted Longclaws, tiny Pectoral-patch Cisticolas, bouncing ‘lekking’ groups of the spectacular male Jackson’s Widowbird and no doubt many more besides. Reluctantly we will have to tear ourselves away from the marvels of the crater in the afternoon and drive to Ndutu which lies on the border between the NCA and “the Crown” itself – the mighty, world-renowned Serengeti – a Maasai word meaning an endless plain of grasses. We will spend the night at Ndutu, in either the lodge or a luxury tented camp nearby, under the infinity of a star-studded, unpolluted, utterly African sky.

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In the following days we will explore the eastern perimeter of the world famous Serengeti ecosystem making the most of local knowledge and climatic conditions to see as much as is possible in such a relatively short time. Everyone with an interest in wild animals has heard of the Wildebeest migrations of the Serengeti that move with the rains around this unique and almost unbelievably rich region. By late December the Wildebeest and Zebra should be massing in the south east toward Ndutu Lake; and the famous feline predators will be following them. In addition to seeking out our own families of Lion, gazelle-hunting Cheetah brothers and stealthy solo kopje-living (a kopje is an isolated rocky outcrop) Leopards, we will marvel at the circling storks, the packs of vultures (and hyenas and jackals), the harriers, various eagles, five kinds of falcon and the kites that at times so fill the skies, with so many varied forms of flight, that one does not know where to look. A further two endemic birds are to be found here in the Acacia tortilis woodland around Lake Ndutu – the Grey-breasted Spurfowl and Fischer’s Lovebird. The area is also especially good for migrants and itinerant cuckoos in particular come here for the caterpillars in the acacias; they include the Great Spotted and handsome Jacobin. These two nights will probably be spent at the same camp, to make the best and most comfortable use of our time here.

At about midday on day fifteen, reluctantly we must make our way to the nearby airstrip, in order to catch our plane to Arusha, and thereby transfer to Kilimanjaro airport where the principle safari will conclude.

A three night birding extension (with optional afternoon snorkeling) to the beautiful and unspoilt northern tip of Pemba Island (more Crab Plovers, four endemic Pemba birds – a Green Pigeon, a Scops Owl, a White-eye and a Sunbird – and fine shorebirds, terns and exciting seabirds along the coastline) is available by emailing a request to the author via ” gonolekATgmail.com “.

FEP.J&DH

As usual I offer my sincere thanks to the photographers : Zul Bhatia, Debbie Hilaire and Rob Tizard for sending me the lovely images captured during our delightful safaris together.

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africa, bird migration, local-patch

The Nightingale Gardener

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Mount Meru viewed from the edge of the Aga Khan University estate. Our Wilding Wedge of a garden is in the shamba-suburban foothills under that lowest wisp of cloud.

For over a month I’ve been getting the garden ready.  Our wilding wedge beneath the steel grey pyramid of Meru. A rented hectare outside Arusha in East Africa, at a kilometre and a half above the sea. It’s an ever-changing tangled patchwork of exotic, alien hard-browsed Lantana camara in glade-thicket-and-brake. An experiment in non-racist eco-gardening, style ZooBotany-C21. An experiment by the Woolly Rhinoceros himself. A garden of vines, creepers and rank meadow flowers sheltering soft shaded fungi and an impressive annual increment of often noisy mini-beasts.

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Thrush Nightingale photographed in the garden of Geoff and Anabel Harries, in Arusha.

Below all it’s a life amongst and under trees. Exotics, aliens and, for the past seven years since we moved-in, the “Indigenous Pioneers” protected by guerrilla units of the IVF – the Indigenous Vegetation Front. There’s Croton of two species, the stately large-leaved Cordia africana, many little babies of the toweringly exquisite, formerly revered Newtonia. A tree of spirits revered around WaArusha and WaMeru farmsteads prior to the conquest of East Africa by the Middle Eastern God, and those godless Mammonites who followed Him. And more recently there’s been lots of hazel-like Sandpaper Bush springing up around the plot. Yes I’ve been getting it ready.  Readying a garden fit for Nightingales.

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The garden as seen from the balcony near the front door on a recent grey morning. Today’s Eastern Nightingale was under a bough in the top right corner of the photo.

So we’re now officially ready to help those sweet thrush-voiced grey-breasted nightingales, here for the duration, from the Baltic states and Russia Luscinia luscinia, and the cleaner looking, fawn-topped Mongolian nightingales L. – megarhynchos – golzii. As they help me. And to help those passing eye-browed blue Irania, out of some desert ‘stan, as they help me. Or gentle grey striata flycatchers, who’ve flown here from the as yet relatively healthy eastern edges of EU-trophia. I imagine the places. Places not unlike those I recall from a mixed-farming youth, where milk cows amble up and down the lanes, browsing the hedges as they go, where cattle generally are still allowed to host the occasional gut parasite, such that their dung is no longer toxic to all those fly and beetle species who were (formerly) tasked with recycling it. Semi-organic land, of farms where BIGPharma has yet to squeeze the living countryside. Land not yet hollowed-out, or enclosed and then constricted, in the hallowed name of Growth for Profit. Yes, here’s some blasphemy, as we prepare Farmageddon.

I’m here to help skulking lbj warblers, migrants who still eek out a living amongst Eurasia’s mercantilist confusion. And to help vociferous glittering gems, Afrotropical cuckoos, that fly here to parasitise our breeding birds, after a dry season spent bashing caterpillars against twigs in the leafy heart of the great Congo forest. Just as they help me! All of them. Let’s not forget the flitting swallows, the scything swifts and ethereal floating nightjars, all of them, these migrant birds. Feathered lives from far away, hatched in nests they’ve hidden where only the geotrackers go!

Irania

A male Irania ‘performing well’ on a juniper in Uzbekistan. Photo: Steve Rooke.

Just as they help me. Yep! It’s been a Birden of Love.

Since November started, most days it rains. And my avian rewards they are dropping in. The original Manna from Heaven. Just today, on November 6 in the morning, not half an hour ago, when the dark rains eased, as I was snapping spindly Lantana shoots beside the puddled green cement of the basketball court, there was a sharp flutter of wings – right against my ear. And there on the bough just ahead of me, at eye level, was the perfect eyebrowed fawn-and-tan form of a “chucking” Eastern Nightingale. I watched entranced as that out-of-the-sky golzii bounded along the grey lichened bough.

Eastern Nightingale by Anabel Harries

Eastern Nightingale in Arusha in 2007 photographed by Anabel Harries

A gorgeous bundle of energy. A small bird, relieved, a bird who might have been singing late last May along a briar bedecked stream next to a Mongol yurt.

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Birders on a Sunbird/Wings nature holiday scan a valley near Samarkand for Central Asian specialities which mostly winter in Eastern Africa. The mountains of Tajikistan are just visible in the background. Photo: Steve Rooke.

That’s why I so love these long distance migrant birds. In an instant they can fix us in the living, utterly interconnected, planet. So I can’t help but think. Where was that Nightingale skulking at Halloween, or on Midsummer’s afternoon, where was this lovely nightingale on passage last May Day? Yes, what was the world like, where this little brown bird was then? The same but a different world  – somewhere – out there. Out there far beyond this garden hedge. Way beyond my ken, but still sheltering in my heart. If I can help birds like these I will. I’ve got no further cash to fund yet more research. No more money for endless meetings between the good and the bad. I’m in no way content, not any longer, to entrust their future to a salaried caste of bureaucrats. Woefully corrupt or otherwise fallen. That’s why I do my biggest bit in the garden. Wherever that garden might be. Staggering, sweating, kneeling before the Mother of God. Until the last breath I take. Until that day when I can no longer raise my Faroffskis, nor hold these Mammoth secateurs.

For Wonder, like Biodiversity, begins at home.

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Linnaeus was briefly here in June, and doubtless listening to Thrush Nightingales, nearly three hundred years ago. A swampy area in the forest at Ottenby, Sweden.

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africa, biodiversity, birding, local-patch

Our Strange Little Garden – Earth

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Falteringly I have become a gardener. Although not in any sense a typical gardener. I’ve become a Gardener for Nature. It started, at what was then our family home in Cumbria in northern England, in January 1983. But I now see it as every sensible person’s duty, in this Age of Extinctions, to welcome Nature back into our garden, our immediate outdoor living space. If you are any kind of naturalist, surely it makes sense, because almost certainly that’s where you will be spending most of your time, that is when you are not sitting beside a shining screen.

This short piece is a call to arms, or rather a call to tools. A plea for folk to get ecologically active in their garden wherever they live. For example, I myself am an alien where I live, having existed here in Africa only since 2005. So this is a request that people dig-in, wherever and whenever possible, get with an Ark-ival Rewilding Programme, right there “on your own plot”, no matter where or how small that parcel of ground might be. So please just try it and see!

This is a brief summary of one man’s very limited activities, during seven years in an area of almost one hectare, at an elevation of 1,400 metres on the southern slopes of a dormant volcano in Equatorial East Africa, to create what already has succeeded in becoming a very Strange Little Garden indeed.

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It might seem perverse, someone lives within fifty miles of the fabled Ngorongoro, and the star-studded Serengeti, yet feels absolutely compelled to engage in what some might call “extreme wildlife gardening”. Or “adventure gardening” as I now prefer to think of it. Yet that is precisely what I am doing. A more mundane description of the aims of this endeavor might be: Maximising biodiversity per unit area. Yet I prefer above all: Gardening for Nature and for those with courage to feel it, it’s Gaia Gardening. Even here, in East Africa, the original home of the Big Game Safari, urban development is progressing so fast that the need to do something for nature is arguably even greater than it is in the declining nations of the North. As a peep through that hole in the hedge above will attest.

Gardening. Wilfully and manually disturbing an otherwise undisturbed, or unneeded, small piece of ground, in this case of one hectare – is to recreate a plot, a fragment, a shard, sliver, wedge or scrap of undeniably contrived wildness. It’s a small area, yet one where one hundred years ago there stood lofty semi-deciduous afro-montane forest, and where less than two hundred years ago black rhino, african buffalo and savanna elephants roamed, in numbers, browsing, bending and moulding the living landscape as if to their will.

IMG_4717A Wildness Garden does not mean that there should be no people actively participating in it! On these slopes of Mount Meru, for example, for as far back as we need to go, there have always been people, ‘hunter-gathering’, all around the mountain. After all this is a miniscule piece of land, but one in the middle of a continent where we humans first began to evolve, evolving In Nature. And to this day, especially in large parts of this huge continent of Africa, people remain a fundamental constituent of the wildness, “scratching a living” with a panga (aka machete, ‘cutlass’, bill-hook), with fire-stick and hoe from out of the forest and bush. Above all this is the continent where we the Super-Ape co-evolved with the rest of the fauna, and vice versa.

A Wildness Garden does require there are some restraints, by our more gentile Anthropocene standards, quite severe restraints on what should be done, and what should not be done, in order to get the best possible developments in the garden in the shortest possible time.

There should be no use of the agro-veterinary chemicals arsenal so beloved by the increasingly toxic mainstream – toxic at a global level that is, despite some apparent local improvements since Silent Spring in several of the more gentrified corner paddocks of our planet. There should be no pesticides, nor herbicides. Although I must admit that in our case there remains a disgusting rectangular cement-lined rubbish pit, deep in the garden-forest, where seemingly unavoidable domestic plastics, that feed a conservative family of four – our life-style packaging, must be “destroyed”. There are virtually none of the higher order public utilities functioning effectively hereabouts, compared with northern continental Europe for example.

To counter this there are many actions that must or should be done, again admittedly in my case, in an unavoidably ad hoc and flagrantly unscientific manner. Here, in brief are the Thirteen Steps that we have undertaken in order to rewild our plot into the exciting bird-filled “Sonic Shamba” that it is today!

We introduced simulated grazing and browsing. When we moved into our small-holding we gradually reduced the grazing pressure. Continued grazing by goats and sheep, chickens and geese, which severely constrained the ecosystem of the existing garden – maintaining a rather sterile grassland, dotted with ornamental alien saplings and flowering shrubs – was out of the question.

It had been my intention to maintain the regular presence of a single cow and her follower but that proved unworkable. Gradually, over the first three years, cattle grazing was phased out.

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However simulated browsing, using pruning shears, clippers, secateurs and brute force with some ignorance, was maintained. Effort was concentrated especially upon the alien shrub community. Of whom the very rapidly proliferating exotic shrub – Lantana camara has been the most troublesome. However, in truth, working with Cherry-Pie Lantana, the indefatigable neotropical wayfaring bush, the “Curse of India”, the”American Bramble”, has provided the most difficult, and yet also the most profoundly insightful, dimension to this entire rewilding experience.

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Cyclical or rotational disturbance of the ground. In essence this is further simulation of some of the activities of large herbivores, in this case upon the upper levels of the soil. At our location, in this garden, we attempted at first to simulate only some of the behavior of the recently excluded Masai hybrid-zebu cattle. But bearing in the back of the mind the knowledge that there used to be African Buffalo, Black Rhino and even forest living Elephant, trudging through here less than one hundred years ago, I gradually became a bit more creative with this disturbance! Thus the activities became more robust and we supplemented the destruction and removal of unwanted plant material with importation of what I perceived as some elements that were key to the whole rewilding process.

We began the importation to the plot of indigenous forest leaf-litter, and some forest fruits and indigenous seeds, dry twigs, bark and branches, from the nearest available ‘sustainable sources’.

We began the importation of wherever possible ‘totally’ organic cattle dung from neighbouring areas that were still being grazed by the local Mwarusha Masai zebu-hybrid cattle.

We engaged in the importation of elephant and buffalo dung on a very few occasions only; basically whenever a convenient and accessible source presented itself.

Extirpation of some of the least wanted alien trees, shrubs and ruderals – “weeds” to the eco-fundamentalists – those botanic racists who seem to believe, after five hundred years and more of globalization, that even at the continental scale, all of the bolted horses can be put back into the stables.

IMG_5648We proceeded with the gradual elimination, so far as is possible, of “unhelpful” exotic herbaceous perennials – an almost entirely alien ground flora (especially of the Compositae) – on the assumption that, at this location, an indigenous ground flora would support far more invertebrates, and therefore attract a much greater diversity of birds into the garden. For the first two years I observed closely who ate what. If nobody – whether invert or herp, bird or mammal -seemed interested in eating any product from a particular alien plant species then that species was deemed unhelpful to the programme!

We gradually expanded a programme of alien suppression. The gradual elimination of exotic ornamental tree species began in 2008. Wherever feasible we lopped, pollarded, coppiced, felled and removed – if that was acceptable to the aesthetic dictates of my own family, of our close friends and some near-residents – several trees that had been planted by the late owners, some fifteen years ago. Note that in January 2007 there was only one indigenous tree on the whole plot, near the vehicle gate, an African acacia.

We have undertaken the provision of supplementary food in the dry season to some bird species. This has been chiefly in the form of various African millets (mostly yellow millet) which are scatter-spread (broadcast) in cleared areas, and latterly in the glades that are forming within our rapidly evolving neophyte woodland.

During the recently expired La Niña sequence, which lasted from 2008 – 2013, it proved essential to provide a little grey-water to some of the indigenous saplings, especially those which we had planted in those early years, before I realised that planting was in itself “unnatural” and contrary to “the necessary rewilding flow of our times”. In any case grey-watering was ineffective largely due to the amount of watering that would have been required to establish indigenous trees in the wrong places. Places where they, themselves, had not chosen to grow. Scattering seed is fine, just as mulching with an open mind is best, and some assistance, to self-sown tree seedlings, especially in their early stages, is often a necessity! Nowadays, given the exponential urbanisation of this hill in the past five years, the pressure that has put upon our village’s gravity-fed piped water supplies, we can only afford to water plants that are growing in areas immediately around the house.

The suppression of cats: well, despite the ‘damage’ they do to the bird fauna, the feral-domestic cats are part of another story. Suffice to say we ourselves have none, there was an occasional wild cat that came here to hunt when we first moved in, and we were surrounded by fields, but nowadays, it’s nearly all cement, and our dearest neighbours, well they have six! Nevertheless being such a socialistic greeny-pacifist I have yet to resort to any action more violent than dodging off into the tangles, shouting and stone throwing!

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