It’s that time of the year again – New Moon in November / December during the short rains. It’s this time of the year that birds are pouring out of Asia and Europe to escape the cold winter conditions and into Africa to look for warmer and more friendly weather and food supplies. Every year over the New Moon since 1969 nets have been put up at the Ngulia Safari Lodge in Tsavo West National Park and to date almost half a million migrant birds have caught, ringed and released to continue their journey.
A team of 12 of us arrived on Sunday afternoon at Ngulia made up of a a group of seven from Australia led by in indomitable Clive Minton (actually, one of the group, Nick, is in fact from Cambridge, but we’ll call him an Aussie for the sake of it… though his accent is certainly not Aussie!), four others from the UK and myself from Kenya. The park was wonderfully green as we drove through and there were plenty of Eurasian Rollers along the way (counted 110 in fact) and clearly there was rain about though the pools were not full suggesting it hadn’t rained for a few days. Elephant and Giraffe and a few birds were the only thing to stop us along the way as well as a stop to appreciate the view of the Ngulia valley up which migrant birds probably travel at night and see the lodge lights which they get attracted to. A pair of Pygmy Falcons with young was a bonus as this tiny raptor is not seen every time you visit Tsavo.
On arrival we managed to get the store opened where the Ngulia Ringing Group equipment is kept and pull out some very dusty boxes, spot lights, old car battery etc including my gum boots which I leave here since I never use them at the coast – only they’d been used as a foundation for a wasp to make its mud palace in though the young wasps had hatched and left behind just large clumps of mud to knock out… Armed now with pangas (machete type knife) and slashers (efficient grass-cutting implements) and nets we set out to put up the ‘L’ of nets in the bush just in front of the lodge and prepare the lines where we put the night nets – managing to do so just in time before the leg of a goat got strung up on the tree in front of the lodge and literally c.8 mins later a leopard was on it enjoying the free snack it gets offered every night in return for being flashed at by innumerable tourist cameras. I guess it was watching us put the nets up…
After a full on Ngulia dinner and a great welcome by the hugely friendly staff, we had a briefing about the project and how things operate and then headed for bed with a thin cloud hanging not too far above the lodge but not down enough to really pull in the birds. I was finished as I’d had two very late nights in Nairobi working and had a deadline to complete on a document so didn’t sleep till after midnight, managed to mis-set my alarm and was (finally) dragged from deep sleep by Dr David Murdoch at 3:50am with the thin cloud now more or less at tree top level and a few birds in evidence flying around. In the next hour we managed to catch 68 birds which was a good introduction to night ringing for the team and then opened the ‘L’ at dawn to get another 134 making a total of 202 for the first day. Not too bad and in fact totally perfect given that the Aussies (doing not as well as they’d like in the Ashes…) had never even seen a Marsh Warbler let alone any Acrocephalus warbler and so were on a steep learning curve and so needed to take it slowly.
Bird of the day was certainly the Isabelline Wheatear – the first I’ve seen ringed at Ngulia for many years – and also the White-browed Sparrow Weaver, not a migrant of course, but also very uncommon at the lodge.
Totals for the day:
Ngulia Ringing Totals – 2010
date 29 29 29
night (N), day (D), total (T): N D T
Hirundo rustica 21 21
L. luscinia 20 30 50
Irania gutturalis 2 2 4
Oenanthe isabellina 1 1
Monticola saxatilis 1 1
Muscicapa striata 2 2
Locustella fluviatilis 5 6 11
Acrocephalus griseldis 1 1
A. palustris 26 39 65
S. communis 13 26 39
Phylloscopus trochilus 2 2
Lanius collurio 4 4
L. isabellinus 1 1
Number of full species 6 12 13
Daily total 68 134 202
Running totals 68 134 202
Night as % of whole day’s total 34%
Last night / this morning was a different story. It started raining during our brief at 7pm and continued on and off heavy rain until I slept at just after 10pm with piles of birds coming down around 8:30pm including Euro Rollers. It was clearly going to be a good night… Sure enough, Dr Dave woke me again but this time at just after midnight with good mist and plenty of birds to be seen so it was to work once again and nets up by half past and over 100 in the first half hour. It was busy until about 2:30am when the mist lifted a bit and then there was a flurry of birds again at 4am just before we closed at 4:30am to try and clear the backlog. 537 birds ringed during the night it turned out with 6 Donaldson-Smith Nightjars, 4 Eurasian Nightjars and 3 Plain and a Dusky as well. Bird of the night however has to be the Common Redstart that emerged from a bag just before dawn, which will be about only the 13th or 14th since 1969.
The ‘L’ was opened at 05:35hrs and the Sprossers hammered into the nets until 6am on the dot when the Marsh Warblers took over and continued for about half an hour before calming down. We opened a second ringing book and had two tables of ringers going as now several of the Ngulia newcomers were getting up to speed and finally took the swallow nets down which Clive, Nick and Robin had manned at 12:30pm. A full 12 hours of ringing producing a very healthy total of 1,454 birds. Bird of the day must be the Common Redstart, though to catch 6 Donaldson-Smith Nightjars was a treat – our smallest and most brightly coloured nightjar. One we caught just before dawn was kept snoozing in a bag till later and when released was placed gently on the dead tree that decorates the base of the stairs into the dining room where it sat very happily continuing its snooze for a good two hours before shifting to one of the beams in the ceiling…
Yet again we had a very bizarre capture – one of the 233 Barn Swallows had yet another home made ring. ‘Yet again’ as it must now be about the 4th we have caught at Ngulia with such a ring. This time it was a beautfully crafted ring of wire on its left leg. Someone, somewhere presumably in Eastern Europe has been putting their own tags on ‘their’ Barn Swallow that no doubt breeds in their cow shed just to see if it is the same bird that comes back after the winter…
The lodge electricians have done an awesome job in resurrecting our second spot light that had blown the first night so we’re back up to full speed the day before major reinforcements arrive in the form of 9 British and 4 Kenyan ringers including David Pearson who is the Project Leader having been coming every year since 1970. So all we’ll need is thick mist and we’ll have enough for people to do… otherwise there will be a lot of hanging around and looking for ideas for how to get birds into nets.
I’ll try and update again tomorrow. The internet access is proving too poor to get photos uploaded but I’ll try and add them later.
Technorati Tags: Ngulia, Tsavo West, A Rocha Kenya, David Pearson, migration