Manguo Swamp Waterfowl Census with Nature Kenya

Hey peeps! After a momentous election season, it’s time to get back to ‘normal’. I still don’t get why it has to be such a big deal. I mean, our neighbor Rwanda held her election around the same time and it was over before we even realised…yet here life came to a standstill for a whole week! That being said, I went for a birdwalk in an unexpected location a few weeks ago and it was such an interesting experience!

Manguo Swamp, Kenya.
Where is all the water?

One chilly morning late last month, I went to the Museum for Nature Kenya’s Wednesday birdwalk as usual. A slight drizzle had fallen as I was heading there and I just hoped the rain would hold off till we were done- which it did. Soon it was time to leave after reaching a fair quorum. But the venue was still a subject of debate. After some discussion we decided to head over to Manguo swamp for a waterfowl census. I had really wanted to go for the July bird counts after the exciting January edition, so this was a heaven-sent opportunity.

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

My only concern was the biting cold- Manguo swamp is located in the Limuru region, famed for its frigid climate. Off we went along the Nairobi-Naivasha Highway. After a relatively long drive we finally arrived. As expected the cold wasn’t playing that day, but the sun struggled to shine through the clouds. A beautiful Malachite Sunbird in a nearby maize plantation welcomed us. It constantly flew from there to a tree some distance away. Probably feeding on insects among the maize then heading to its nest in the tree.

Manguo Swamp location along A104 (Nairobi-Naivasha Highway)
Manguo Swamp location along A104 (Nairobi-Naivasha Highway). Source: maps.google.com  

It was so shocking to see the swamp dry! In all my years of travelling to the countryside using this route, I don’t recall Manguo being dry. The water had collected in a small puddle, a pitiful comparison to the vast expanse in earlier times. People were even walking from one side to the other comfortably. From the look of the footpath the place had been parched for a long time. My first guess is the prolonged drought from late 2016. Could seasoned environmentalists  shed light on this anomaly?

Manguo Swamp, Kenya.
Waterfowl congregating at the puddle.

We were dismayed and expected very few waterfowl. Still, we forged ahead and began the census. Those without binoculars embarked on ordinary bird watching and recording species seen. Contrary to our earlier assumption, a good number of waterfowl were present despite the low water level. Grey Herons seem to have dominated this place, with adults and juveniles in abundance. Apart from birds, herds of goats grazed freely, seemingly unbothered by our presence.

Marabou Stork in flight.
One of the ugliest birds according to me…the Marabou Stork.

It was an amazing one hour at the swamp. I couldn’t believe I was walking through a place I had seen numerous times but only at a distance. African Spoonbills, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Hamerkop, various species of Egrets, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Yellow-billed Ducks and many others ensured we had an extensive list. I got to see the beautiful Red-billed Teal for the first time. A group of 4 Grey Crowned Cranes foraged nearby. Unfortunately, this gorgeous national bird of Uganda is facing extinction due to habitat loss.

Grey Crowned Cranes at Manguo Swamp, Kenya.
Such beautiful birds…

Eventually we wound up the exercise. Since it was still early (11 am) we passed by some ponds near Limuru to check on their status. We found them dry as well, with cows grazing in the middle. Some women were collecting fodder for their livestock. A few waterfowl were present but there wasn’t much action. We wrapped up and headed back to the Museum with lots of lessons learnt.

Pond near Limuru, Kenya.
Cows grazing at the dried ponds.

That was definitely a morning well spent. The litter around the swamp saddened me though. We really need a solution to solid waste management in this country, especially the plastic bags menace. I just read about an initiative by Village Market dealing with this. You take your old denims there and tailors turn them into shopping bags as you wait. Cool huh? Offer runs till the end of this month. I might just try it. Now about the dry swamp, can anyone help me crack that mystery please?

Manguo Swamp, Kenya.
Can you believe this whole area was once submerged? (People walking across on the right).
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