Tag Archives: Marsh Warbler

Ngulia Safari Lodge as awesome a ringing site as ever

18th Nov. The night started off with a bit of a drama: the main generator for the lodge had broken down and the support machine could not run all night and the news was it was going to be switched off between 2am and 4:30am – exactly the hours when we need it on for the lights to work and attract the migrants! However after a discussion with the lodge manager he very kindly agreed that it could be switched off at 10:30pm and back on at 2am.

However despite this… there was a significant lack of mist once again and whilst the askari (night watchman) banged on our door at 4am saying the mist had come down and sure enough it had done… it only stayed down for 10 minutes and then evaporated again leaving our nets standing proud under the starlight and a very vague thought of mist at high altitude. Result? Night total: 7 birds, full day total: 27. There were no swallows to catch either even with the tape running so our final total was exactly that: 27. 12 Thrush NIghtingales, 13 Marsh Warblers and one Whitethroat – the first day, however that Marsh Warbler has ‘beaten’ Thrush Nightingales.

ONce again the Afrotropical species saved the interest of the day with a second African Green Pigeon making Malcolm puff up the hill at high speed to get it out of the net before it escaped, 2 Red-billed Buffalo Weavers with a very powerful bite, the first Vitelline Masked Weavers and a male Nubian Woodpecker.

The Leopard has come already and also the old porcupine has come for his bread rolls once again – hugely bizarre and ridiculous creatures! We’ll see what the night brings us this time!

2,650 migrants ringed in a very smooth operation at Ngulia

Finally a night with ‘perfect’ mist! Action started at 00:30hours with the nets going up and very quickly we needed to wake most of the ringers up to come and assist in extraction, ringing and releasing. There had to be 3 extractors working non-stop on both nets in order to keep things under control at all – and all the time there were 20-30 birds still in the net to be taken out. Two tables of ringers started pretty much straight off and we closed nets at 3:30am having caught enough birds to keep us going non-stop til 5:30am when we would need to open the bush nets. Over 1,200 birds were caught in the night and a further 1,400+ in the bush in front of the lodge during the day. But even then, since we didn’t open all the nets at dawn – in fact the full suite of nets were only finally opened at about 8am – there wasn’t a totally uncontrollable rush of birds and whilst there was a threat of running out of bird bags and we actually closed 4 of the nets opened at first, it was all operated very smoothly and birds were ringed and released with no problems at all.

However… STILL no dull ring with ‘Bruxelles’ or something simiar on it!! Also the variety was very low with a huge percentage being Marsh Warblers and Sprossers, far fewer Whitethroats and only a handful of anything else – a couple of Basras, Olive-tree Warblers, 2 or 3 more Iranias (we probably have hardly reached 10 in total this year). Very odd how we had no overseas ringed birds last year at all… and again so far in almost 10,000 birds caught still none. There have been years when we’ve even had 6…

A little bit of excitement came during breakfast when Bernard came running up to the ringing by the pool saying we needed to radio Martin at the nets to warn him and the others to come quickly and quietly up along the cliff top as there was a lone bull elephant at the waterhole and that was making indications of being interested in trying to find a route through the net rides..! Thankfully he decided against it and wandered off down the valley again, but it was a reminder to our European team members that we’re not ringing in a friendly English woodland!

  Heading for the nets..??? (located beyond the tree)

No.. changed his mind and headed for the valley!

When the Palaearctic birds slowed down towards the end of the morning, we caught a few more Afrotropicals – the first Vitelline Masked Weaver and a few Lesser Masked Weavers, several quelea, a couple of Tawny-flanked Prinias which we tried to turn into Pale Prinia but which were really too tawny to be pale! However these gave a really good opportunity to now go through the Afrotropical ageing methods and codes with Wairasho and Kevin with ‘Scopus’ (Bernard) giving his input too. The reason for putting all this effort into the ageing of the Afrotropical birds is that even now we don’t really have a system anywhere in Africa that is across the board and which has clear definitions as regards how to age birds into set, defined age categories which can then be used confidently to look at survival rates, breeding success, differences in moult and migration strategy between young and adult birds etc etc. Ageing in many ways is THE most important variable that is collected from a bird that is caught after its identification – and yet there has been relatively little effort put into this critical part of handling wild birds for research and conservation purposes. So it has been excellent over the years to work on a system together with David Pearson and others like Bob Medland that should be applicable anywhere in Africa – at least south of the Sahara. The challenge is getting it understood, accepted and then put into practice – we’re working on it!

Overall a really great morning of ringing – even the swallows started to come and almost 40 birds were ringed. A small flock of just 50 Amur Falcons were seen, a couple of flocks of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters – but still no Rollers other than just 2 birds at dawn. None of the hundreds pouring through the valley heading further south that we are used to. An extremely interesting year…

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Thundering floods and storms hit Ngulia

I ended up last night with saying it was looking good for a busy night… Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong! About 10 mins after finishing writing at about 11pm, Ian, Niko and co. put the nets up – there was some low cloud and it looked like it might come lower and there were birds quite high up there. However within just 5 mins of finishing putting the nets, it started raining and within 3-4 mins was tipping it down… and continued that way until c.2am!! To begin with there were a lot of birds flying low in the rain and brought down partially by the lights, but they soon vanished and just left torrential rain. It let up for about an hour at 2-ish but came on again to pour down and only really stopped just short of dawn – enough to just open the night nets to let them dry and take down – though 6 birds were caught at that point which was a surprise.


In fact in the couple of hours that we kept the nets open (closed at c.8am), we managed 92 migrants and about 8 Afrotropicals. Best bird was an Isabelline Shrike – the first of the season – and another Garden Warbler. Though the two Lesser Honeyguides, Pygmy Batis and Diederick Cuckoo took the lime light pretty successfully over the Palaearctic birds.

Andrew extracting a Marsh Warbler

Andrew extracting a Marsh Warbler

So it was another very quiet day – no Swallows except for about 5-6 that went through earlier in the morning. Nothing responded to the tape so House Martin song was put on and within about half an hour we had about 50 House Martins sitting in the tree over the tape – but despite keeping it going for about 3 hours, not a single one went into the net! So it was either to bed or to working on our ringing database for the rest of the afternoon until the 80 or so guests rocked up for the evening.

…another day at Ngulia.

clear night followed by misty – famine and feast

The night of the 7th brought some excellent mist for a while from about half midnight. We had the nets up soon and caught for about 40-45 mins when completely out of the blue, the thick mist and busy catching (2 of us at each net extracting non-stop) a blast of freezing air (OK, that’s relative to anyone reading this in Europe or America right now… we were still in shorts and t-shirt, but it was certainly cold!) hit from the west that billowed the nets out like windsurfer sails and was now blowing birds into the net and holding them there by its force! Not only that but as we looked the birds that had settled in the trees around just lifted off and headed up high and away. There was lightening beyond the mountains to the west and it felt like it was about to rain – and sure enough 20 mins later it chucked it down. We had to then try and find a corner out of the wind and rain to do the ringing as our normal spot by the Leopard Cocktail Bar is in the line of a full blast from a westerly wind. The mist never returned and in the end we ringed 354 birds in the night. The rain did bring some birds down and it’s possible that some remained grounded after that initial mist because at dawn with all the nets open we caught a further 428 making an overall total for the day of 782 birds ringed.

There was a little more ‘colour’ in the catch, however with only 49% of the catch being Marsh Warblers. A second Sedge Warbler, 9th Upcher’s Warbler and 13th Barred. 29% of the catch were Thrush Nightingales which is higher than other days – but still no dull ring of a bird ringed overseas. The increased variety really seems to be a factor of good mist – on nights when there is not much mist, and particularly when we play the tape of Marsh, River Warbler and Sprosser, we pretty much only catch Marsh Warblers. Something interesting to look into and analyse a bit further..

We thought the 782 total was quiet – well the night of the 8th / morning of the 9th was completely clear – the first mistless night we’ve had so far. No nets were put up but Kevin from the Nairobi Ringing Group did manage to catch a Common Button Quail (also known by the wonderful name of ‘Andalusian Hemipode’ in some parts of southern Europe) by hand that had flopped into the lodge viewing area – the second for the year. I was working on comments on the EIA for the Bedford Biofuels fiasco of a project in the Tana River Delta which I must blog about seperately, but it meant I was up late also half keeping an eye on the mist. I was sitting next to one of the windows of the dining room that faces east and at about 2am there was a ‘thump!’ next to me on the glass and looking out there was a second button quail! I managed to creep round and grab it as well and since it was only slightly stunned we ringed it too! David & Ian then saw a third hit the wall of the lodge near them but it recovered immediately and took off before they could get it. Three in a night must be near a record..

Common Button Quail

But no mist meant no birds. We had the Marsh Warbler tape on which meant that we just managed to get over 100 – 113 – for the day, but it was a day for meetings and discussions and I had an excellent training session with the Nairobi Ringing Group guys going through the theory and logic of why you age a Marsh Warbler ‘3’ (first year) or ‘4’ (adult) which I think we all found stimulating.

The oddest thing the past 3-4 days has been the almost total absence of Barn Swallows around. Normally with the tape switching on you suddenly have 100s of them flying all over. However we put the tapes on and absolutely nothing happens. This stems back from the night we had the 2-hour long heavy storm and other rain around during the day too – it seems after this, the swallows just dried up, even when we had reasonable mist last night, the number of swallows was still pitiful. The previous days we had been catching over 200 per day and in the park there were birds all over – then they just disappeared. I discussed the possible reasons for why with David P but really couldn’t come up with much of an answer… Interesting. I never managed to get the photo uploaded of the home-made ring we had on a swallow – here it is:

Our ring is at the top, the home-maded one below

And so to the morning of the 10th. Immediately after supper while we were still having animated discussions with one of Kenya’s leading bird guides, Brian Finch, about various splits and lumping of species that is going on / needed… the mist started to come in and not long after that – by 10:30pm in fact – the mist was rolling in thick and beautiful and there were birds all over the place. The leopard had behaved wonderfully and come at 6:35 pretty much as soon as his leg of goat had been tied up, so there were no tourists waiting for it and we therefore went straight out and stuck up the nets catching 60+ birds in about 20 mins. We were therefore just getting settled in for a really big night… when the mist cleared and lifted and turned into a high film of cloud that wasn’t going to bring any birds in – and sure enough the catching evaporated. I figured I’d hit the sack and woke at 4:40am to find thick mist outside and two tables of ringers at it. The mist had returned at c.3:30am and was almost too thick and in fact persisted until almost 8am.

View from lodge at 6:15am on 10th Dec

Ngulia in the mist

Catching had been steady from then ending with a night total of 502 birds and once again some good variety with lots of Thrush Nightingales and Iranias. It meant, however that there were plenty of birds in the bush. We opened in the thick mist and in fact didn’t get the flurry of hectic activity that can so often be the case after a night of good mist – perhaps it was too thick and the birds stayed in bed as it were. But they continued coming and as a result we caught over 1,100 more giving a total of 1,623.

Kerry (yellow bag) & Ian (black coat) carrying poles of bags up to ringing tables

Bird bags full of birds by net

<DJP at the nets. < Sunrise through the mist

I’ve not got the breakdown of the species but there were several Rock Thrushes, Upcher’s, Olive-tree and Olivaceous Warblers, a v bright-eyed adult male Barred Warbler, several Basra Reeds, our first ‘Bog Thrush’ – Great Reed Warbler – for the season and the first Blackcap as well. What was interesting was a pulse of Willow Warblers – but not only that but many of them were of the very grey far eastern race, yakutensis, which were the first we’d seen this year. On the table where I was ringing with David & Kerry we had three in a row.

a very grey yakutensis race of Willow Warbler

DJP, professional scribe Fi, & Kerry at the ringing table

Swallows were a bit more in evidence but not greatly, but one of the major distractions of the morning apart from the variety was another of a very odd form of swallow that several had been caught of last week – a young bird that was very white underneath, had very large spots in the tail and had apparently already moulted its body feathers but was a few weeks behind all the other ‘normal’ swallows on its primary moult – a strategy / pattern that totally does not fit for normal Hirundo rustica.

That was the end of the ringing for me for the year as I have had to get back to work in Watamu. I left in the most thunderous rain at about 6pm driving our trusty old blue car that is part-owned by the Ngulia Ringing Group and had a very muddy hour’s drive over to Mtito to wait for the night bus back here. On the road I had no less than 3 scops owls – Eurasian? African? apparently nigh on impossible to tell in the field and I didn’t get good enough views to really say, though at least two were quite silvery which might have meant Eurasian. Also 2 Heuglin’s Coursers and a smattering of nightjars. Talking of nightjars, a dead Nubian Nightjar was found near the lodge walls during the swallow catching operations. It must have got dazzled and hit a wall in the night – a real shame as it’s probably our rarest nightjar at Ngulia and one of the most beautiful.

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Heavy rain, high mist, first Sedge Warbler, total 11,161 birds ringed

A very different night last night. A heavy rain storm came in at around 11pm and continued until almost 1am after which there was just a low cloud / high mist that didn’t really bring any birds down at all. During the rain, however, there was about 1/2 hour when apparently the birds dropping out of the sky were like moths, there were so many… a sight never to forget which I was sad not to see as I was trying to catch up on missed sleep. I was up at 3am to see what was happening but found no birds hanging waiting to be ringed, a very small crew standing around doing not a lot and no mist in sight – though no stars either, but just no birds coming in. So after sorting out a light issue with David P, I headed back to try and have a fitful 1 1/2 hours sleep before dawn.

Dawn came in a torrent of rain from the west and a freezing wind (well, freezing for here..). For pretty much the first time I can remember in 18 years of coming we had to wait 20 mins before opening the nets at dawn and even then it was raining a bit still. In the night all the hundreds of birds that had come down in the rain had clearly drifted off as there was very little going into the nets and the total for the day ended up as a mere 391 birds – next to no Swallows in sight even with the tapes on so nets were closed early and instead some lengthy discussions on ageing of Afrotropical birds and wader moult and migration studies were had around either a cold beer or a hot coffee…

There was a highlight in the morning catch – the first and only Sedge Warbler of the season which are one of my favourite migrant warblers with their handsome stripy head and streaked back. Very cool. Also a Eurasian Cuckoo was caught in the thick of the heavy rain – soaked and waterlogged on the lawn and pretty much unable to fly. After a couple of hours in a warm bird bag it looked like a cuckoo once again and was released with its ring – a fortunate bird as otherwise it would not have survived the drenching. With some interesting moult in a couple of immature weavers and a Crimson-rumped Waxbill, some of us had some good stuff to talk about.

Marsh Warblers continue to make up the vast majority of the catch with 62% of todays birds being this species and 59% of the years total. I’ve tried to put the last two days totals with the season’s total as well below – hope it comes out OK on the blog.

The mist seems to be coming in already and it’s only 11:30pm. The leopard hasn’t come for his leg of goat but we may put the nets up soon anyway if the birds are coming in…

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Species/month                     Dec                                                                                                      

date                                      6           6          6              7          7           7              2010     2010     2010

night / day / total:               N          D          T              N          D          T              night    day       total

Tringa ochropus                                                                                                                  1           1

Oxylophus jacobinus                                                                                                           1           1

Otus scops                                                                                                             1                        1

Caprimulgus europaeus                                                1                       1              8           1           9

Coracias garrulus                                                                                                   2           3           5

Hirundo rustica                                 209      209          1          4           5              9           1668     1677

Delichon urbica                                 26        26                                                                  60         60

Anthus trivialis                                                                                                                                  

Luscinia megarhynchos       2                       2                                                       7           6           13

L. luscinia                             42         34        76            29        53         82            500       664       1164

Cercotrichas galactotes       2           2          4                                                       4           5           9

Irania gutturalis                   11         12        23                        3           3              69         107       176

Phoenicurus phoenicurus                                                                                       1                        1

O. isabellina                                                                                                                        1           1

Monticola saxatilis                           2          2                                                       1           4           5

Muscicapa striata                             4          4                                                                    21         21

Locustella fluviatilis             20         11        31            5          5           10            97         104       201

Acrocephalus schoenobaenus                                                               1              1                        1    1

A. arundinaceus                                                                                                                                

A. griseldis                           2           7          9              1          4           5              4           21         25

A. scirpaceus                                     1          1                                                                    3           3

A. palustris                           635       642      1277        37        207       244          3061     3475     6536

Hippolais pallida O’vacs      2           11        13                                                     4           26         30

H. languida  Upchers           1           1          2                                                       1           7           8

H. olivetorum O’tree                        4          4                                                                    11         11

Sylvia nisoria                                                                             1           1              1           12         13

S. communis                        57         117      174          1          27         28            321       683       1004

S. borin                                              1          1                                                       1           4           5

P. collybita                                                                                                             1                        1

P. trochilus                           11         7          18                        5           5              38         30         68

Lanius collurio                      1           9          10                        5           5              6           76         82

L. isabellinus                                     6          6                          1           1              5           24         29

Number of full species        12         19        20            7          12         13            22         27         30

Daily total                            786       1,106   1,892       75        316       391          4,142    7,019    11,161

Running totals                     4,067    6,703   10,770     4,142   7,019    11,161     4,142    7,019    11,161

Night as % of whole day’s total       42%                                 19%                                   37%         

% Ap of day’s catch:            67%                                  62%                                  59%                  

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Marsh Warblers swamping out most other species


I’ve been away in Watamu for three nights and just got back this evening to find a cheerful team having managed to ring a total of 9,957 migrants so far this season, which is very reasonable. Mist has been bad, however, or rather it has been there but stayed high meaning you get a fee birds come in but generally not settling in the bushes. Under these conditions we often play a recording of Marsh Warbler which has a dramatic effect on bringing birds in… but mostly the one species. Today, out of c.1,850 birds ringed, 1,200 were Marsh Warblers…

There have been some other sparkles, however. A Eurasian Scops Owl 3 nights ago, c.3 Eurasian Reed Warblers, a Chifchaff on the morning of the 3rd I think it was which is only the 2nd ever at Ngulia in 40 years. Lilac-breasted Roller of the rare migratory race lorti was a first for here & there were a couple of hornbills ringed today. Barn swallows have stayed constant with 209 ringed today but also about the 3rd ever highest daily total for House Martins – 26. Roller numbers have dropped off but nightjars have stayed high with now wuat must be an all-time high of Donaldson-Smith’s of 27 so far this year.

The leopard hasn’t come tonight but there were 5-6 buffalo at the water hole 10 mins ago… amazingly, despite being in the heart of a national park, we have very little run ins with the local landlords. This (below) was an ele by the road not so far from the lodge…

Hopefully there’ll be more mist – we’ve had 5 mustard keen Israelis join us tonight who will be desperate to see some action..

Will try and do more details tomorrow .

Gambaga Flycatcher, Shikra and 1000s of Marsh Warblers at Ngulia

Internet access is worse than last year here at Ngulia so the chance to post blogs is even less. Also it has been wonderfully busy meaning I’ve had little time to sit and tap out any updates. It’s after 11pm now and I’m hoping to get up at 1am to assist with whatever ringing is going on so this will have to be short.

Yesterday the rest of the main team arrived – Dr David Pearson and 8 others from the UK together with 4 from the Nairobi Ringing Group / National Museums of Kenya. However before they came we had the third night with just the Aussie group and 4 others and yet another excellent night it was. The mist came in sooner and thicker than before and whilst we put up 2 nets at 1am we only actually used the second one for about 30 mins before closing it and working just the one net. There was some heavyish rain showers which helped bring the birds in and by the end of the night we had ringed a total of 668 birds. At dawn we opened the ‘L’ again but after 20 mins closed most of it in order to handle the vast number of birds going into the nets – our difficulty being that another 500 bird bags were not yet with us so we were running out of bags to put birds in. In the end it worked fine and we managed to stay in control and ring 1,015 birds during the day making a daily total of 1,683.  Once again an excellent total for a group who only have about four experienced Ngulia ringers.  

There were a couple of surprises, the best one being a Gambaga Flycatcher – again not a Palaearctic migrant, but rather an Afrotropical species but one that is hard sought after by birders and in fact was new for me since I’ve never been the Kerio Valley hunting for it. Strangely it came through in the end of the morning – about the same time that we finally got ones of the three Hippolais warblers (Olivaceous, Upcher’s and Olive-tree).

There was a magnificent movement of Eurasian Rollers not long after dawn with an estimate of 5-700 birds going through southwards in about 1 1/2 hours. There were also several Amur Falcons around at dawn and later in the afternoon probably several hundred moving through quite high with a handful cruising down lower to investigate the lodge.

So it was that Ian (joined these days by Kerry) took up his annual role of “Mist Watcher” – staying up all night waiting for the mist to roll in so that as soon as it does we can have the nets up and can be catching birds… I confess that when I finally managed to get to bed, I was out cold until 4:45am by which time the nets had been opened and furled and the majority of the 700-odd birds caught at night had been ringed. Nothing out of the ordinary during the night – just lots and lots of Marsh Warblers. In fact of the birds ringed so far, a massive 57% of them have been Marsh Warblers – but still none with a dull ring with some exotic script on it with a message from a far flung corner of Europe telling us where the bird has originated from… but it’ll come!

Nets open at dawn and it really felt very slow – a very different picture to yesterday, however birds were going into nets and in fact continued to go into nets well into the morning such that we closed at c.10:30am and had a network of swallow nets up with an army of ringers handling them. As a result, the day catch was in fact considerably higher than yesterdays and ended up at almost 1,300 birds! Total for the day was 2,047 Palaearctic migrants. There were a good number of Afrotrops as well including yet more Donaldson-Smith’s Nightjars and the first Slender-tailed Nightjar for quite a few years. These were ringed just before dawn and were gently placed on the ornamental dead tree at the base of the dining room stairs once again – where they in fact stayed the whole day even with hordes of tourists and noisy ringers gavorting around them within 2-3 metres!

Three Eurasian Rollers were ringed and another 2 Euro Nightjars. Several Harlequin Quail, a Common Button Quail, Red-wing Starling, Golden-breasted Bunting and a mad catch of the day was Janette and Nick going for a couple of Cattle Egrets on the pond in which they were 50% successful and got one of them…  and at the same time a Shikra was caught in a swallow net and half an hour later Ngulia’s 7th Green Sandpiper (I’ll need to double check on this, but it’s not much more than that).

The swallow catchers continued all day until 5pm catching a total of 307 Barn Swallows.

The totals for today are being double checked, but up until yesterday they looked like this:

Ngulia Ringing Totals – 2010                                                                                                

Species/month                         Nov                                                                   Dec                     

date                                            29        29       29       30       30       30          1          1            1

night (N), day (D), total (T):                N          D         T          N         D         T             N         D            T

Tringa ochropus                                                                                                                             

Oxylophus jacobinus                                                                                                                     

Caprimulgus europaeus                                             4                     4             1                         1

Coracias garrulus                                                                                                                           

Hirundo rustica                                     21       21       3         230     233        2          157        159

Delichon urbica                                                                                                                              

Anthus trivialis                                                                                                                               

Luscinia megarhynchos                                             3         2         5                                         

L. luscinia                                  20        30       50       135     175     310        90       172        262

Cercotrichas galactotes                                              1         1         2                                         

Irania gutturalis                       2          2         4         10       29       39          29       21          50

Phoenicurus phoenicurus                                          1                     1                                         

O. isabellina                                          1         1                                                                            

Monticola saxatilis                              1         1                                                                            

Muscicapa striata                                2         2                     2         2                         9            9

Locustella fluviatilis                 5          6         11       9         7         16          19       27          46

A. griseldis                                             1         1                     1         1                         3            3

A. scirpaceus                                                                                                                                   

A. palustris                                26        39       65       343     286     629        482     496        978

Hippolais pallida O’vacs                                                        1         1             1          1            2

H. languida  Upchers                                                              1         1                         1            1

H. olivetorum O’tree                                                               1         1                         1            1

Sylvia nisoria                                                                           1         1                         7            7

S. communis                              13        26       39       62       120     182        37       93          130

S. borin                                                                                     1         1                                         

P. trochilus                                2                     2         4                     4             6          8            14

Lanius collurio                                      4         4         1         13       14          1          16          17

L. isabellinus                                         1         1         2         5         7                         3            3

Number of full species           6          12       13       13       17       20          10       15          16

Daily total                                  68        134    202     578     876     1,454     668     1,015    1,683

Running totals                          68        134    202     646     1,010 1,656     1,314  2,025    3,339

Night as % of whole day’s total 34%                            40%                                40%                     


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The perfect Ngulia effect at Lions Bluff – it works!

Fri 20th Nov 2009… Titus had done a check on the conditions at midnight and had not woken me so I woke at just before 2am to have a look, stuck my head out of the tent door and knew immediately that things were looking good – there was mist gently wafting all around! The walk from room no. 10 to the main lodge is about 200m and there are often buffalo and elephant that wander into camp during the night so it was with great care and stopping to listen into the mist every now and then to make sure I didn’t walk headlong into an ele’s backside that I reached the lodge and woke Solomon, the askari (night watchman), to turn the generator on. I didn’t wait to see if it would bring birds down before opening the ‘night nets’ – two nets we’d strung across the front of the spot-lit area below the main viewing terrace of the lodge, and stood there looking up and waiting in anticipation…

It actually took a good 5-6 minutes before the first bird appeared which is interesting and gives an idea of how far up / away they are flying to be able to reach and come down to the lights – though in fact the very first bird was a Ring-necked Dove that perched on a bush below the terrace! It didn’t take long after that, however, for several migrants to appear and for the first to hit the net… and escape. But the second stuck and was Lions Bluff’s first Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris. Solomon kindly went back to the room to wake Titus and the others and by the time they’d come I had half a dozen birds already and it had started raining – turning into quite heavy rain by 02:40hrs. We stuck at it and managed to catch a few more during the rain and had a full dozen by 3a.m. The nets weren’t in the ideal position it turned out which I was expecting to discover, it being a learning experience, but Albert duly started putting up more nets which significantly increased our catch. Also the first two night nets, whilst being Gundreys which are great netting material for catching in damp conditions, were either quite old and holey or had the slightly larger mesh that is better for waders and so we had Marsh Warblers sometimes just flying through it pretty much.

The ringing station at 4am… you can see the mist in the background

The mist thinned a bit after the rain and the catch rate slowed down quite a bit but then as I started the ringing in the lodge it picked up a bit more and by the morning we had ringed 122 birds – mostly Marsh Warblers and Sprossers (Thrush Nightingales) Luscinia luscinina but also a Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis, several Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata and a couple of River Warblers Locustella fluviatilis.

Basra Reed Warbler – and Iraqi speciality

We closed the nets at just before 5am to try and clear the back log of birds before opening all the nets at Dawn expecting there would be a big flush of birds in the first 1/2 hour of daylight. As it was, the catching wasn’t too hectic and we probably could have kept on catching a bit later. The place was alive with the sound of Sprossers peeping and churring and bushes were shimmering with Marsh Warblers and a scattering of Whitethroats Sylvia communis. A great and amazing experience!

Looking down from the viewing platform to the nets at dawn with the mist still thick…

By the end of the morning we finished up with 314 birds ringed which included an Olive-tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum, several more River Warblers and Basra Reed Warblers. It was also very interesting that we caught 3-4 Garden Warblers Sylvia borin which are never very common at Ngulia and even rarer on the coast. Once again the swallow Hirundo rustica tape played up and we therefore didn’t manage to catch many of those though there was one during the night.

  Olive-tree Warbler – you can see the tip of the tail in the second photo is darker than the base. This is a “fault line” and is an indication of a young bird. The fault bar is formed when the tail is growing and the parents have trouble feeding the young in the nest for a day or two (bad weather, disturbance etc) so a weakness is formed right across all feathers showing up in this way.

Overall it was an awesome success and very exciting to have it work the way I had hoped it would. We just need to get some better condition nets and work out the best positions for them.

Lions Bluff Manager David taking a photo of a bird held by Tito. Nick (blue top) is supposedly scribing but looks like he’s taking a quick 40 winks!

A few of the other decent birds we caught included the following photographed:

Nightingale – Luscinia megarhynchos

Black-necked Weaver Ploceus nigricollis – this handsome guy is often hanging around the lodge

Speckle-fronted Weaver Sporopipes frontalis – this was one of the major surprises in terms of Afrotropical species as its range is apparently a couple of hundred kms to the west of here

As it had been a bit of an early start, we had a kip after lunch for a couple of hours and then headed out again with Kobin, Chris and Bernard from the lodge to do another Eurasian Roller survey and to see what else we could find. Again we had a good number of rollers though we’d left it a bit late to do a very long section but at least got 10kms of transect in. We then took the long route home in the hope of finding some nightjars on the road after dark… but in the typical way for Jackson – whenever I’m out actually looking for nightjars on the road I never see them, but when just driving from A to B there are loads!! It was early to bed after dinner in the hopes of another 2am start with mist – but it wasn’t looking good as the skies were clear in the evening and there hadn’t been any rain on the plain in the late afternoon.

clear evening skies at sunset except for clouds too far off to really make a difference…

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Best mist so far and highest night catch with reduced team

The weather yesterday afternoon felt and looked more hopeful – it was more humid and the wind was from the east with a lot of cumulus cloud around. Sure enough before 1:00am the mist was down and we had the two night nets up and by 2:30am had woken the whole team to assist with extraction, ringing and releasing birds. It was going to be a loooong day. Variety of birds caught was again not particularly great – mostly Marsh Warblers but with definitely an increase in Sprossers (Thrush Nightingales) and quite a few Iranias as well.

The Star of the Show, however, was a tiny and very fiesty and utterly beautiful Eurasian Scops Owl that flopped into the net beside Erik who had no qualms about extracting it despite it’s fierce tiny claws. We’ve only ever caught 12 since 1969 so it was wonderful to get this one:

The tiny Eurasian Scops Owl Otus scops – and a total beaut at that.

Despite a reduced team, we managed to ring the highest night total of the season – 946 birds from just the two nets. Jeff tried hard to get a nightjar but had one bounce near him and get out before he could get hold of it.

At dawn we opened just the first line of bush nets (the ‘L’), but despite the thick mist, there wasn’t the rush of Sprossers we were expecting and even the ‘Marsh boom’ at 6am didn’t really happen. However we caught solidly and continuously until well after 9am and were kept busy with Swallows after that as well.

We caught some stunning Afrotropical birds as well – most gaudy were two Diederik Cuckoos, both young though one more so that the other, but both with the glistening shimmer of green plumage on their upperparts mixed in with the rufous red of juvenile colours. Beautiful.

You can see the rufous juvenile feathers in the wing of this Diederick Cuckoo

Kate and Rachel (wives to Jeff & Erik) joined in on bag carrying and scribing and did an awesome job. Erik was at the nets enjoying extracting birds and was there to get our second Eurasian Roller out of the net which was also awesome. At dawn in and just above the mist we had a couple of Amur Falcons feeding on insects attracted by the light which, in the first light of day, made a stunning sight – they’re just so incredibly ‘fluid’ and at ease with their flying.

looking back up towards the lodge from the net ride at 5:45am at the spot lights through the morning mist – just before the Amur’s turned up.

At around 3am a large flock of Cattle Egrets appeared over the lodge and circled for almost 2 hours before settling in the Acacia tree beyond the night net ride. There were about 70 in total and later some came and sat on top of the fig tree near the swimming pool where we ring in the day. There has been a recovery of a South African-ringed Cattle Egret in Tanzania, so they really do migrate a long way some of them…

If you look hard enough, you can just make out the white spots on top of the far tree – Cattle Egrets all lined up on top of it in the mist just before dawn..

Total for the day? 2,095 migrants ringed. Not bad at all for a small group of 11 people – a good candidate for the highest number per head of ringer ever..

Not a wisp of mist means more rhinos seen than birds caught!

Well it had to happen at some point… yes, no mist. We went to bed last night fearing the worst as we could see stars after supper and it had got quite chilly. Gitau had volunteered to get up at midnight to check – though Scopus said he’d back him up as from his experience DG had trouble waking up without three or four attempts, and sure enough it was Scopus who spent the hour and a half awake on the stoop watching to see if the stars would disappear and mist come in – but to no avail. David P put the tapes on at 2am and went back to bed and we woke pretty much every hour after that to look out of the window and finally got up at 5am to be ready to open the bush nets at 5:40am.

As expected dawn was hugely beautiful with the sunrise… but there were no birds.

img_0266.JPG  Sunrise over the plains below Ngulia – from the nets..

In fact Mike remarked on how he had seen more rhino than birds after 1/2 an hour – 3 Rhino were together in an open patch of mud below the lodge and he’d only extracted 2 birds! There were 5-6 Amur Falcons around the lodge at dawn joined by the local Lanner again – more powerful and heavier, which are always stunning to watch in action. There was even a rhino in the valley just down from the lodge – my first ever to see here and one of those released out of the Rhino Sanctuary this year and very neat to have just 400m away.

We had a small wager on how many birds we’d catch – which ranged from 60 (David P) to 350 (Rachel and Anthony). I guessed 120 but it was David who was nearest with a total of 73 birds only!!

img_0260.JPG  Bernard taking out one of the few birds caught this morning…

But there were 3 ‘Warden Gobblers’ (Garden Warblers) in there which was very nice (some years only 3 the whole season) and a couple of shrikes and as predicted a lot more Afrotropical birds – 36 in fact (compared to sometimes only 3 or 4 when there are vast numbers of migrants chasing the locals out). Stars of the show were a non-breeding plumage Paradise Whydah, White-browed Scrub Robin, another Fork-tailed Drongo (why haven’t we caught them all these years?!), a female Paradise Flycatcher and a pair of Purple Grenadiers. There were lots of Red-billed Quelea which are not exactly ‘exciting’ since we catch so many of them but you never know, one day we might have one recovered somewhere else since they are known to move even over 1,000kms.

img_0270.JPG  White-browed Scrub Robin wing – showing older juvenile (brown) feathers & new adult (black) feathers in the wing

img_0282.JPG  Fork-tailed Drongo – again a young one showing pale tips to feathers on its vent & not such a bright red eye

So we packed up and shut the nets at 8:30am and gave those with less ringing experience a chance to do some ringing. David P and I continued our discussions on what is the best fat scoring methodology and checked a few wing lengths against each other to calibrate the measurement and basically had a very relaxed morning. It ended off with some discussion with Scopus about a new order of rings for the Ringing Scheme of eastern Africa until I started to doze off and headed to bed for a kip followed by a swim to wake up. We’ll see what happens tonight. Yoav and Nadav left today and Jeff & Kate (+ Brennan aged 2 – a ringer in early training!), Erik & Rachel arrived this afternoon, so we hope there will be mist so they can see some ‘action’.


During dinner, a pair of Greater Galagos (bushbabies) come and take bread of a ‘bushbaby table’ – very fluffy and beautiful creatures that are very hard to see normally…