Category Archives: Bird Ringing

Bird Ringing at Mwamba Field Study Centre

Bird ringing can be a very entertaining experience. Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting a good number of visitors from different hotels around Watamu who happily arrived at A Rocha Kenya’s Mwamba Field Study center one early morning to join the whole team in bird ringing.

The whole process of bird ringing
Tying of the nets to strong poles is what kicks off the whole process either at the beach or at the nature trails a day before the D day.



As this picture below shows you the tied net, what follows after is letting it free the next day at around 5.45 am for the birds to be caught while flying around.
A check is then made after every one hour to see if some birds have been caught. A total number of four birds were caught on 25th June, 2015 and a thorough study were done on them.
ark_002 IMG_9146

When caught or rather captured, the birds are put in cotton bags and everyone proceeded to the ringing table.

At this stage the birds are studied one by one by first attaching a metal ring on its leg with a unique identification number. Two common Drongos, African kingfisher and Northern browbull were the birds of the day. Everyone was excited to have learnt something about birds that and more so about the African kingfisher which happened to be the favourite to almost everyone who had visited.

On the ringing table different measurements are recorded of the different birds that were captured in the nets before releasing them. The measurements include the weight of the birds, the wings and the tarsus. Moulting of their feathers is also recorded and an estimation of the age of the birds is also done and recorded by analysing them all in a general view.
Bird ringing is therefore a very interesting activity as it exposes one to the field of ornithology; which is the study of birds.

Wader Ringing in Coastal Kenya.

Kenya is important for tens of thousands of wintering waders. While some species like the Little Stint (Calidris minuta) and Caspian Plover (Charadrius asiaticus) prefer the fresh water bodies inland, many others target the coastal zone. The rich inter-tidal mud of Mida Creek, Sabaki Estuary, Tana Delta and Lamu are essential for their survival. After breeding in the Artic Region, in places such as East Kazakhstan and Mongolia, vast numbers of waders migrate southwards spending their non-breeding season in India, East and Southern Africa. Between September and May, they feast on worms, shrimps, crabs and other invertebrates along the coast.
Wader ringing forms an important part of A Rocha’s research programme. Monthly monitoring, annual counts, anthropogenic disturbance, nutrition and moulting strategy are part of our research efforts which have been carried out on over 5000 waders which have also been ringed and measurements taken on them. We have demographic data of different species which has helped in designation of IBAs and general habitat conservation which local communities can access. We are working with conservation partners to safeguard wader habitats and migration corridors. The ringing itself creates excellent opportunities for training as it is a way of establishing environmental education knowledge of wader ecology in their non-breeding habitats.
Our lead scientist, Colin Jackson, is currently in the process of preparing a number of research publications on the collected data. Recently, Jaap Gijsbertsen; Science and Conservation Director at A Rocha Kenya, organised a birding event, and as he narrates, it was quite an experience:

The cloud layers gradually thicken as I feel the wind drop. A first quarter moon is visible behind the clouds and radiates blazing light every time it hits a gap in the clouds. It is neap tide, with a water level of 2.45 meters expected for 01.12. On the exposed tidal plain next to the ASSETS boardwalk, gentle wind blows through the wader net which is supported by long bamboo picks running deep into the mud to withstand wind and waves. These are the perfect conditions for catching wintering waders.
The team, comprising A Rocha Kenya, local bird guides and students from Pwani University gathers at around midnight to go round to inspect the more than 200-meter-net stretched across the plain, which is now flooded. Equipped with bird bags and ‘red’ headlights, we pull up our pants and wade towards the net. We are curious and full of anticipation. It is now deep dark and we rely on our experience to avoid deep pools.
As we progress, the last group of Crab Plovers (Dormas ardeola) fly off to their high-tide roost on one of the off-shore islands. Most birds have been pushed off by the incoming tide. We just hope some of them fell into our net. After wading for five minutes, we find a Lesser Sand Plover (Chardrius mongolus). Skillful hands safely drop it into the bag. Then another Sand Plover, Curlew Sand Pipers (Calidris ferruginea ) and Terek Sand Pipers (Xenus cinereus). Soon we discover that we have a good catch and eager students carry the birds. Large birds like Crab Plovers, Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) and Whimrel (Numenius phaeopus) go into larger bags. We return to the table and it is hands on as we ring, colourflag and take measurements on the more than a hundred birds belonging to eleven species, including a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and a juvenile Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) which we have caught for the first time at Mida.  Assessing moulting patterns requires much experience and dominates our discussion all night long. At day break, we down our net and drive home through the early morning, tired but inspired. The wonder of creation diversity and beauty overwhelms me.


The team at the ringing table.


A Ruff being ringed for the first time at Mida.


A Ruddy Turnstone ringed for the first time, too, at Mida.

Bird ringing at Karara

Birds are excellent tools for monitoring and understanding environmental changes as well as wildlife resources that bring employment and enjoyment to millions of people all over the world. It is for this reason that there is need for their conservation. For effective conservation to take place, their migratory and behavioral patterns should be known to both conservationists and ornithologists, hence the need for bird ringing.

Bird ringing, also known as bird banding, is the process of attaching a small, individually numbered metal or plastic tag to the leg or wing of a wild bird. This process involves identification of the bird species, its age, sex, moulting state of the flight, body feathers and weight. Other measurements such as bill length and tail length can also be taken if one wants to do a keen observation of a certain species.

Through monitoring of the birds, information such as their life span and migration habits is obtained, which is crucial in their conservation.


A Rocha Kenya, in conjunction with the National Museums of Kenya carried out a bird ringing session at Karara (A Rocha Kenya’s Nairobi Office). The session which lasted half a day, begun with mist nets being set up along the nature trails in the forest. A total of 33 birds were captured from 13 different species. The green backed twin spot was the most beautiful bird ringed on this particular day.

We are indeed grateful for the great partnerships, as we carry out conservation work.

Fundamentals of Ornithology 2014

05.45 I wake up five minutes before my alarm. Outside it is still dark but the first signs of the new morning are already floating into my room. A soft melodious song tells me the Easter Bearded Scrub-Robin has already woken up. I walk into a cool morning breeze after a refreshing shower. In front of Elsamere Field Study Centre on the shores of Lake Naivasha welcomes me an enthusiastic assembly of students. Yesterday’s lecture on equipment and a birders attitude proves to be fruitful. All my students are up before sunrise, binoculars ready and determined to spot another bird. Teams for the morning walk have barely been formed of overhead flies flashed a falcon silhouette. Although the bird flies high over the chestnut-orange legs and undertail-coverts are visible in the early morning sun. After a good discussion we conclude that it was clearly a Eurasian Hobby, a Palaearctic migrant moving north after spending the winter in Africa. I enjoy listening to the freshly learned terminology to describe colors, patterns and other characteristics of a bird proving that our lectures have had their impact.

FoO 2014

‘Fundamentals of Ornithology’ has been a tremendous success this year. It was the 20th time A Rocha Kenya, together with the National Museums of Kenya, Nature Kenya and the Tropical Biodiversity Association offered this course. With 23 keen students ranging from University lecturers to Safari guides the course was fully booked. Hosted at the pleasant Elsamere Centre we spent nine intensive days on this for East Africa unique training. Lectures covered topics ranging from fundamental knowledge of bird taxonomy and evolution, via physiology topics such as flight, feathers and food, to conservation issues worldwide and in your home area.

It is well known that education and increased understanding influences our attitude and mobilizes to act responsibility. In that respect I believe this course goes beyond bird facts appealing to our attitudes and deeds. The passion and enthusiasm expressed by this year’s student indicates that we reached their hearts and equipped them to take part in conservation. And that is exactly where A Rocha is all about: touching hearts and changing lives. Encouraging people to enjoy birds (as part of the whole of creation) and care for their wellbeing.

Jaap Gijsbertsen

Director Conservation & Science _ A Rocha Kenya


We thank God for the great partnerships that we as A Rocha Kenya enjoy with friends and other organizations that are as well cautious of the environment. We complement each other’s efforts and it is an honor to have such people who see what we see! Recently our friends from Nature Kenya led by Fleur Ng’weno visited us for a bird walk at our Karen plot, Karara in Nairobi. We are indeed grateful for the close network which has existed between us and Nature Kenya.


The day began with a short assembly for a brief introduction about the Karara premise especially the forest and the organization in general, and then the walk began. Initially, it looked disappointing a day for bird watching with showers of rain both impending people’s movements and keeping the birds away. The fact that we were doing bird watching on the thicker portion of the forest didn’t help the situation either.


Despite all this, Fleur’s bravery and charm kept us moving, and when there were no birds to watch, she had other stories about nature to tell us! She brought to our attention orchids and other epiphytes, the silver oak (Brachylaena huillensis) among other tree species.


The walk did bear fruits eventually and we ended up identifying 25 different species of birds including a pair of superb Hartlaub’s Turaco and a Cabanis Greenbul with a ring!

Jointly with the National Museums of Kenya, we have undertaken ringing on the site in the past and therefore this was quite a significant finding. We do pray for more partnerships and to able to undertaken more of these activities in the future!


Catching Crab Plovers, avoiding ants and ringing zombies in Kenya!

Conservation and Research volunteer Ben Porter spent an amazing time birding and ringing with A Rocha Kenya. For you interested in volunteering with the team here are a few tips, tricks and eye-fizzling photography…

Looking out towards the south end of Bardsey Island as I write this, with winds gusting 104 mph and lashing rain, it is hard to believe that Kenya even exists, let along think of the warm climate and number of birds that I remember experiencing. However, I will attempt to give a bit of an idea of the birding on offer in the area, and some (hopefully) useful details about volunteering and staying with A Rocha Kenya.
Whether other members of the party would say the same as myself I am not sure, but for me, wandering aimlessly around in the forest in a state of severe dehydration for eight hours was definitely worth it for this…

Ben porter 1

A short way inland from the the Mwamba Field Study Centre is the Arabuko Sokoke Forest. Some 420 square kilometres in size, this mix of ancient coastal forest is home to the most threatened inhabitants of the area. It is the largest stretch of coastal dry forest remaining in East Africa, and so it is perhaps no surprise that six globally-threatened species depend on the forest, namely the Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, Amani Sunbird, Clarke’s Weaver (Endemic to the forest), East Coast Akalat and Spotted Ground Thrush. On top of these, over 260 species have been recorded within the confines of the forest, including such superb birds as the Narina Trogon, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Fischer’s Turaco, BÖhm’s Spinetail, Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill and Blue-mantled Crested-flycatcher to name but a few…

Ben porter 2

Keen to read more about Ben’s adventures with A Rocha? Follow the link below and see some of his amazing pictures of local wildlife, read how the team got lost in the forest for eight hours, walked long distances through knee deep mud and spend the whole night netting and ringing waders …

Teamwork, Large numbers and Rarities during the national waterfowl count 2014

Waterfowl count

They were wonderful days filled with new experiences and fun moments; Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th Jan 2014 when A Rocha was spearheading the waterfowl count for the National Museums of Kenya. Turtle Bay Hotel supported A Rocha with transport and catering while students from Pwani University and volunteers from Mida Creek aided the A Rocha team to do the counting. Our efforts covered the main sites ranging form Gongoni to Mida including Lake Jilore and Sabaki River Mount. The team had unifying moments as we all marveled at the beautiful creation of God. A sky filed with over 3000 Lesser Flamingos or the splendid colors of the Malecite Kingfisher. We endured long moments of standing under the heat as we diligently counted the birds, with a dedication that can only emanate from the heart. However, the difficulties were nothing compared to the electrifying moments that characterized the spotting of rare bird species. Among them Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, Common Snipe and a very rare species at the coast the Grey-headed Gull. Furthermore, it was a learning experience for all of us especially for those joining the exercise for the first time. We thank God for making the 2014 NMK waterfowl count a success!

The Kenya Bird Map Project



A Rocha Kenya has for many years played a vital role in scientific data input especially in the distribution and status of bird species in Kenya and East Africa. Through intensive scientific research and monitoring, our team has been able to collect reliable data that can be used in Conservation management.

Recently our Research and Monitoring team joined a larger community of fellow bird enthusiasts in a project referred to as The Kenya Bird Map Project. The sole motivation behind this project is to update the existing bird guide “A Bird Atlas of Kenya”.

This is a publication that recorded and described the status of all the 1065 species of birds that existed in the country 30 years ago. Since that time much is expected to and has changed in relation to habitation and climatic conditions. How and to what extent, are questions to be answered; but truth be told these changes have had a drastic impact on the distribution and status of many of our bird species.

Grey Headed Bush Shrike

The project will draw on the insights of Citizen Scientist birders as well as conservationist institutions such as of National Museums of Kenya, Tropical Biology Association, NatureKenya Animal Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town and managed through the Bird Committee of the East Africa Natural History Society.It is an exciting and stimulating project that combines a lot of excellent birding, exploring new and fascinating parts of the country, state-of-the-art technology and communication and serious science to produce dependable results that can be used to take real action for conservation.

Sabaki birding

A Rocha Kenya’s particular involvement in this project will be to develop a website as well as a significant contribution of data through weekly bird monitoring focusing on the surroundings of Watamu and the Dakatcha woodland. The project is being funded by a Marie Curie Actions grant and the Natural History Museum of Denmark

Credits to:

Picture 1. Waders by Ben Porter

Picture2. Grey headed bush shrike by Ben Porter

Picture3.Sabaki birding by Jaap

Ecstatic excitement around the ringing table at 4:30am at Ngulia over a small, dull ring

20th Nov. After the couple of hours sleep in the afternoon yesterday, the weather was hazy and the breeze was from the valley and after dinner the sky was overcast and it really felt like the mist was coming in soon. I had to organise a few things so didn’t get to bed till just before 10pm and was in a very deep sleep when the door was knocked and it was Hamisi at just 10:45pm saying the mist had come!! Sure enough it had – but was still not fully down and the moon was still up until midnight and I knew the birds would not be many while there was still moonlight so told him I’d sleep until then. Apparently the generators were switched off at midnight to change the oil and he then came to wake me at 00:20am only for me not to appear and he came and thoroughly woke me (!) at 00:45am at which point there was thick mist rolling in and it was definitely time to get the nets up. Once again the whole team were aroused and we caught steadily with the two nets until finally closing them at 04:15am to give us time to clear the birds we’d caught by dawn.

We set up two tables of ringers and were hammering through them – great diversity with Barred Warblers, Olive-tree Warbler, Iranias, many more Spotted Flycatchers, Willow Warblers, River Warblers etc… I was ringing with Andrew and Malcolm with Alex as scribe and it was about 04:30am that Andrew pulled a Thrush Nightingale out of the bag, was about to put a ring on its left leg and saw it already had one!!! Not only that but it was DULL – always an exciting moment as it isn’t going to be one of your recently ringed birds that has found its way back into the net – and not only that but it said “TBILISI (GE)” on it!!! Yes – a Thrush Nightingale ringed in Georgia (just south of Russia)!!! Our first ever ringed bird from Georgia and a huge exciting moment!! We will write and find out where and when it was ringed, but it was a first year bird going by the plumage so it must have been ringed this year – there will be some Georgian ringer who will be WELL stoked to have his/her bird caught in Kenya!

 The TBILISI ring…

 …showing the (GE) section

 The whole Tbilisi bird – amazing things this bird has seen in its short life!

Dawn was thick with fog and we opened nets not being able to hardly see the end of them – but again the birds just sat still and it wasn’t really ever majorly hectic in terms of numbers of birds in nets. Perhaps with the more open habitat, they don’t move as quickly out of the thicker bush just behind the lights?? We had further highlights in the morning including the first retrap (a bird we have ringed ourselves) migrant from a previous year – a Common Whitethroat – and then in terms of species a beaut of a small Gambaga Flycatcher, an Afrotropical species which appears to migrate as there have been a few caught at Ngulia in the night (this will be the 10th) but for which there is still very little known about it, and a couple of Upcher’s Warblers – a specied from southern central Asia which has really decreased in numbers over the years. Right towards the end of the morning Andrew was doing an awesome job keeping track of the nets and extracting a load of shrikes (very painful to get out of the net as they can seriously draw blood!)…

 A stunning Red-backed Shrike taking Richards fingers apart – that is blood you can see on his finger… 

…when two cuckoos flew into the nets – another Jacobin but then also a smaller, heavily barred cuckoo – an Asian Lesser Cuckoo and a lovely bird at that! Kane ringed that one and Chris (both from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, UK) ringed the Jacobin Cuckoo just before they left to head back to what they’d heard was snow and freezing temperatures back home. We’re down by two ringers therefore which will be a challenge – but David Gitau from the Nairobi Ringing Group is coming tomorrow so that will be a real help.

 Asian Lesser Cuckoo- with a beautiful underwing pattern

Final total for the day… 1,075 migrants and 9 Afrotropical birds – but the moment of the season has to be that one at 4:30am when Andrew produced the Georgian Thrush Nightingale – a real ‘HALLELUJAH!’ moment and the first in three years in fact.

Well Andrew and Alex leave tomorrow and I was to leave but am staying on til the end now – but my computer has been broken for about 3-4 weeks now and only operates in Safe Mode (we just don’t have computer technicians around Watamu who are good enough to deal with major issues… and I’ve not been able to get it to someone who does) which means I don’t have internet access so this will be the last blog before I get back to Watamu at the weekend. So more updates at that point but it’s looking good again tonight and the leopard has had his meat and a Spotted Hyena has just come to the waterhole and wandered off through the net rides – so it’s all looking good again!


Finally a misty night and 1,000s of birds

19th Nov. It has happened at LAST!! After wondering if we’d ever get the mist which is so necessary at Ngulia to bring in the birds, it was looking potentially good at dusk (but then it often does..!) and sure enough I was woken by Hamisi, the night watchman who has really got into the ringing (understandable, as a night watchman job is surely not the most stimulating of tasks!) at 11:55pm saying there was mist! Sure enough, it was rolling in thick and beautifully and birds were popping out of the sky.

 The mist with birds being extracted from nets

 some of the 1,000s of moths attracted to the lights

Andrew and I put up the two nets and immediately we were catching birds, mostly Thrush Nightingales but also a River Warbler and others and it was quickly clear that we needed the rest of the team up to assist. So it was all hands on deck and some frenetic extraction of birds and setting up the table with the night lights to get the ringing going. Mist turned into quite heavy rain at 3:15am and it stayed for an hour or more which was a blessing in disguise as we already had caught over 400 birds and with the one ringing team were being hard-pushed to clear them all.

 Nightwatchman extraordinaire Hamisi watching the night time ringing action

Dawn arrived in still thick mist though the rain had stopped and found us still ploughing through Marsh Warblers and Thrush Nightingales with a great smattering of Olive-tree Warblers, Rufous Bush Robins, quite a lot of Iranias (also known as White-throated Robins) and a couple of Eurasian Nightjars, another Plain Nightjar and towards the end of the catching, a dazzler of a Donaldson-Smith’s Nightjar – tiny and bright rufous with gorgeous white, black and brown spots.

Surprisingly, the bush nets were not nearly as busy as we’d thought they’d be – though the birds were there but just not moving out so much. However it was still plenty busy enough and by the end of the morning we’d caught and ringed just short of 1,400 birds… and there were swallows around in good numbers – so it was up with the swallow nets and one other one in the bush which was still heaving with migrants for a couple of hours of more trapping after lunch resulting in another 80 or so birds. Total for the day: 1,470 migrants and 26 Afrotropical birds!!

Other stars of the day were no less than five Golden Pipits – the brilliantly golden male being the most startling. Also Jacobin Cuckoo and a couple of Basra Reed Warblers.

 Stunning male Golden Pipit


By the time we were done with the swallows we were all totally ‘done’ and it was time to get a couple of hours sleep ready for the next night which promised to be good as well…