The waders (shorebirds) are just about to leave for their breeding grounds in Asia and it’s a very interesting time to collect data from them to understand their migration strategies better. We usually invite volunteers and any guests staying at Mwamba to join us for the night – or part of it. Laura and Jonny, volunteers from England with us for six weeks tell of their experience…
A normal Saturday night for this average British teenager is not usually spent knee deep in Mida Creek with a bird in both hands and dark shadows under my eyes. Yet this is where I found myself on the 4th of April 2009.
The field trip commenced at 4:30pm, battling against the wind to assemble 10 nets, with the aim of catching, ringing and then releasing as many wading birds as possible.
putting nets up at Mida
By sunset the team (Colin, Albert, Ian, Yop, Marika, Jonny, I and later Ruth) were ready and waiting, not just for birds, but also the delivery of supper. At 8:30pm we were joined by Henry and Roni bringing guests, food and most importantly chai (tea brewed together with milk). Some of the group had a great and wobbly time experiencing the ASSETS boardwalk in the moonlight! A check of the nets at 9:30pm produced four birds (two Terek Sandpipers – both with rings on already that we had ringed them with in 2006 and 2007 – and two Curlew Sandpipers) to ring before the guests left, minus the cushions from the car we had poached for ourselves.
the beautifully up-turned bill of a Terek Sandpiper
By 11pm morale was low. Everyone but CJ was tired, the wind was much stronger than we would have liked, and worst of all we were running out of Milk Chews. But things turned around at midnight with the net round producing 22 waders whose plans for the evening had been disrupted when they found themselves in our research nets! Among these were a bemused Wood Sandpiper:
and an angry Gull-billed Tern. I was informed by those more knowledgeable about birds that this was very exciting! [Ed. the Wood Sand is the first one we’ve ever caught at Mida and is rarely seen there being more of a freshwater bird, and the tern is also uncommon to actually catch though is commonly seen there.]
Colin very chuffed holding the Gull-billed Tern
As we were excitedly transferring our catch from the bird bags to the holding cages, I noticed a bird that looked suspiciously like a Sandpiper sneaking off into the night. There was the sinking realization that one of the three holding cages had a bird-sized hole in it, and that to prevent anymore bids for freedom we would have to store all the birds in the remaining cages. To everyone’s relief, the Wood Sandpiper had not escaped!
After this mini crisis had been resolved, most of the group succumbed to fatigue, and had crashed out in the van, on stools and the ground. It’s amazing how comfortable stone is when you’re exhausted! At 3.30am we were roused by Yop and Marika who were laden with a huge number of wriggling bird bags. They gave us the great news that they needed to go back out to the creek with more bird bags.
Once the nets had been emptied, from 5am we became a human conveyor belt, transferring birds from the holding cages to Colin and Albert who ringed the birds and collected the biometric data whilst Ruth scribed, and then releasing the wobbly and accessorized birds at the edge of the creek. By 9:30am 79 Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers, Grey Plovers, Little Stints, Curlew and Terek Sandpipers, Crab-plovers, Ringed Plovers, a single Common Greenshank
ringing a Crab-plover
Crab-plover ready to go – including with it’s blue colour-ring with white letters that will allow it to be identified by simply readying the letters through a telescope – anyone reading this in the Middle East keep a look out for these birds!
…and even a very unexpected Sedge Warbler (normally found in reed beds or thick scrub – not in the top panel of a wader net several 100m away from the nearest bush or tree!) had been sent back on their way to Mida Creek.
Then the exhausted (apart from CJ!) team loaded up the land cruiser and returned to Mwamba for some well deserved fruit salad and a much needed shower!
Ed: Total tally for the day was 105 birds ringed which is a very reasonable number for a night out. There was some excellent diversity and it was excellent to get a good number of weights of birds many of whom are about to leave on migration and so are really fattening up for the journey.
a Lesser Sandplover
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