Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Southern Banded Snake Eagle Sighting In Shimoni Forest!

Today in Shimoni East Forest was a particularly special one for us here on the south coast of Kenya. There were the usual vegetation and habitat surveys being conducted, as well as the primate community surveys which provided some wonderful sightings of the Angolan black and white colobus monkey. Today however, the limelight was stolen from these charismatic monkeys by a much rarer sight.

We were walking down the negative sections of transect 5, which is largely low, dense canopy, when I glanced up through one of the few breaks in the canopy and was provided the most spectacular view of a Southern banded snake eagle! It was gliding slowly, and surprisingly low over the canopy directly above my head, and I had at least five seconds of perfect, uninterrupted visibility.

Luckily, I had my binoculars in my hand so got several seconds of perfect, up-close viewing. Because the southern banded snake eagle is listed on the IUCN red list as near-threatened, all of us here are trained on its identification specifically for this reason. I clearly saw the thinly barred body and wing linings, the plain brown head and upper chest, and the tail with the four brown bands. The moment I saw it, I was 95% sure it was the southern banded snake eagle, but on returning to base I checked the bird book just to be sure.

Southern banded snake eagles (Circaetus fasciolatus) have very restricted distributions, found only in coastal Kenya, inland along the lower Tana river, and once near Voi. They are locally common in Tanzania's East Usambara Mountains. The preferred habitats are coastal areas and near-coastal forests.

This is a very exciting sighting not only because of the conservation status of the eagle, but because it reiterates that the Shimoni area is a confirmed habitat for the species. This will add weight to the research GVI is doing in Shimoni, in conjunction with the community-based organisation Friends of Shimoni Forest with the eventual aim of protective status and community led management. The more we can highlight Shimoni Forest as a biodiversity hotspot and key habitat for threatened species, the sooner we will achieve this goal.