Category Archives: Lakes

Blog Action Day – Climate Change!

Dear All – thanks for the kind comments – only just saw them!

 

Will post a link to the BBC piece asap.

 

On a separate note, today is Blog Action Day and the topic of focus is climate change. As I write this it is raining outside (unusual that its before 7 am) and this is the first real rain we have had this year! It last drizzled here on the 24th of July – so we’ve had almost three months with NO rain at all. Livestock and wildlife are suffering all around, as are people, who depend on the grasslands and rivers for survival.

 

 

Insects are just one group of creatures that are deeply affected by climate change – butterflies and bees get confused about when to forage or leave their hives, and are more susceptible to diseases and parasites when stressed by unusual weather patterns…

 

For more information on this global event, please look at

 

www.blogactionday.org

 

 

More from the world of bugs soon!

Termites hard at work!

Termites hard at work at Lake BaringoDear All, Hello – greetings from the road here. Have been travelling through the Rift valley and Western Kenya looking at plants, birds and insects along the way. Many of you will be familiar with the massive termite mounds that are found on the East African savannahs and in the drylands. Here is a typical mound from the Rift Valley area near Lake Baringo.dino_termite-moundlr1.jpgIt has been really dry, and therefore most insect life is lying low waiting for rain. Driving through the Rift and the highlands there are clouds building and it looks like the rains are finally on their way at least for this part of Kenya.A couple of nights ago as I was walking by a termite mound I heard a strange rattling noise. Like any good entomologist I went over and investigated. Peering down into the mound the most amazing sight greeted me. Thousands of termites were lining the walls of the main tunnel.temites_baringo-lr1.jpgtermites_baringo-lr2.jpgThey trooped up in organized squadrons and settled down to work on repairing the mound. There were two different castes of termites present – the workers – who are the smaller ones in the pictures with pale bodies and the soldiers who are larger with their very big heads and jaws. It was the workers who did all the labouring while the soldiers stood guard. We often think of termites as a nuisance when they feed on wooden structures. However, they are the ultimate re-cyclers of the bush taking indigestible plant matter and converting it into nutrients with the help of fungi and other micro-organisms (more on this soon).Here is a video of a view into the termite mound and some close-up pictures of them too.[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/8OlhynnOdss" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]termites_baringo-lr3.jpgtermites_baringo-lr4.jpg

A Vanishing Lake?

Hello – I’ve been meaning to run a number of posts on the changing environment in East Africa. As pretty much everyone is aware, there are a lot of changes taking place globally, with shifting weather patterns having serious effects on many different habitats. In Kenya, and much of East Africa, drylands are very sensitive to change and without annual rains that renew and refresh, they slowly turn to deserts. Even though much of the Eastern Great Rift Valley and it’s extensions are hot and arid, there are many lakes in it that area fed from streams and rivers that originate in forests in the surrounding highlands. These highlands are also home to millions of people and the ‘bread-basket’ of the country as this is where all of the food is grown. However, much of the agricultural land is expanding and many rural populations rely on firewood for fuel which places a lot of pressure on forests.Many local watersheds (areas that drain into a single lake/river system) are impacted by human activities both close by, and far away. Kenya’s lakes are in deep trouble, and this message is being screamed out by one small lake in the Northern Rift, Lake Kamnarok, a blue canary in the coal-mine, if you will, but is anyone listening? The Kerio Valley is one of my favourite places in the world. Many of the more exciting posts on this blog have been about the insects and other inhabitants of this special place…kerio-valley-dec05-lr1.jpgIn the central floor of the valley is Lake Kamnarok, which has been until recently, a permanent freshwater lake fed by the Kerio River from the surrounding highland forest. These forests have been relatively undisturbed until recently and are especially lovely when the Cape Chestnut trees flower, dotting the green mosaic with pink.eldama-forest-lr1.jpgLake Kamnarok, like many of the lakes in this region does undergo seasonal fluctuation.Here is a picture of the lake from a few years ago:kamnarok-july05-lr1.jpgJuly is just after the ‘long rains’, and the lake was pretty full at the time. Even in the dry season that same year, there was still water in the lake from the ‘short rains’…. kamnarok-dec05-lr1.jpg  Over the last few years, Lake Kamnarok has been getting shallower, and large beds of rooted weeds have appeared in the lake. You can see this in the picture below taken in August last year…kamnarok-aug07-lr1.jpg So what’s going on here?Well – two separate things, but both having the same result.Firstly, there is severe soil erosion taking place locally. The pastoralist peoples of the valley floor are increasingly sedentary. More and more people are keeping more and more goats who are busy eating anything they can find. Here is a picture of some serious erosion on the valley floor near the lake…kerio-erosion-lr.jpgThe result of this erosion is hundred of tons of silt and soil washing into the lake. This raises the lake bed and makes it easier for invasive plants to take hold. It also makes the rate of evaporation go up.Of course, as this is a remote part of Kenya, with only a poor, rural subsistence economy, it never received much attention. Through 2007, more and more silt was washed in by the rains. And, simultaneously, water began to be diverted upstream in the highlands. Of course this had very serious implications. If you put in less water than is being lost to evaporation, well even a pre-school child can figure out that the lake will shrink: if you put in less and take out more, sooner or later you will run out! Not only did it shrink, but it dried up completely! This happened some time at the end of 2007/beginning of 2008.Despite the rains (you can see the green fields in the highlands above the valley in the bottom of the picture), the lake did NOT fill up. The local community cannot remember when the lake last dried up, and many of the plants now appearing in the drying mud-flats are also ‘new’ to them – i.e. recent invasive species. Here is a picture of the lake entirely dry earlier this year:kamnarok-june08-lr1.jpg In case you can’t tell where the lake is, this picture highlights the dry lake bed:kamnarok-june08-lr2.jpg The lake was home to an estimated 20,000 crocodiles. They retreated to a series of tiny pools trapped in hollows towards the Kerio River. Then in August some very heavy rains did bring water back to the lake. But not much, as you can see from these pictures taken from the lake-bed itself…kamnarok-cow-lr1.jpgkamnarok-boys-mamlinlr1.jpg(Above photo by J. Mamlin) The lake is currently rapidly drying up once more. While this dramatic event has not made any headlines in Kenya or elsewhere, Lake Kamnarok, as fragile as she is, is still crying out a warning to us – stop deforestation and soil erosion or soon there will be no freshwater! The people most affected by this will be those in the valley first – as many thousands of households rely entirely on the lake and surrounding pools/ponds for all their livestock and human daily water needs. This girl has to walk even further
when the lake dries up in order to fetch water for her family (Photo by J. Mamlin)…kamnarok-girl-mamlinlr1.jpg  When I last looked at the lake, before travelling, it was rapidly drying up again…kamnarok-sept08-lr1.jpgHopefully this time someone will listen to her…