Tag Archives: ringing

Busy week for birds in Watamu & Arabuko-Sokoke Forest

Last week was a very busy week for the Research and Monitoring staff and volunteers. On Monday morning, we went to Sabaki for a shorebird, gull, and tern count. Sabaki town is at the delta of the Sabaki River (which is also the Galana River in Tsavo East, and starts in Nairobi as the Athi River). There were five birds of prey flying around over the roosting waders and terns, including Marsh Harrier, Mantague’s Harrier, Black Kite, and two Peregrine Falcons. Unfortunately, they were scaring up all the birds we wanted to count, so instead we practiced our identification skills.The falcons were very impressive to watch as they swooped down from great height to catch a bird, but each time we watched this, no bird was caught.  On our way back to the vehicle, we saw two hippos playing in the surf at the very point where the river becomes the ocean.

Hippos playing in the surf

Colin mentioned that the delta has changed quite a lot in the last few years, with much less sticky mud, and mangroves starting to fill in where the water used to come up to. There are probably two reasons that these changes are occurring. One is that poor farming practices up river are causing a lot of erosion, which makes for a greater sediment load in the river, and then much more settling occurring at the delta. Secondly, there are a number of wells that have been drilled to pull water out of the river, and supply water to all of Malindi, Watamu, and the surrounding areas. To me, the habitat at the delta seems great for shorebirds, but I wonder what these changes will bring in the near and distant future.

On Tuesday afternoon and evening, we prepared for banding birds in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, the largest remnant dry coastal forest in eastern Africa. This forest supports many endangered species, one of which is the East Coast Akalat, a small robin, which is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (www.iucn.org) Red List, indicating that it is critically endangered. With a group of college students visiting from Washington State, USA, we set up 11 18-m mist nets in three runs, ready to be opened early the next morning.

On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, we banded four new akalats, and recaptured two, one from 2010 and one from 2008. Andrew, Colin’s research staff person, who has been here for about  five months as an official employee and was here previously as a volunteer, has never even seen the East Coast Akalat (he was in Nairobi for our two banding sessions), and I got to help band them! This was very exciting for me. We also banded four new Fischer’s Greenbuls, three new Tiny Greenbuls, four new Eastern Bearded Scrub Robins, four new Forest Batis, and one new Grey-backed Camaroptera.We were also lucky to catch a Crested Guineafowl, the first one that Colin has banded, on our first morning. Our total count was 30 birds.

Finally, on Friday morning (i.e., 3:oo am), we were up and out to the beach setting nets to catch waders. When the tide is high, a lot of the smaller waders, like Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, leave Mida Creek and come to roost on the beach in front of Mwamba. When the high tide is overnight, we can set up our nets in the dark and catch the birds to ring them, because they can’t see the nets and will fly into them. When we were setting up the nets, there were very few birds around us, so Colin went down the beach towards Garoda, and “twinkled” the birds toward the nets. At the end of the morning (i.e., 8:00 am), we had caught 20 birds, with eight of them being retraps.

Ringing waders at Mwamba

It was a great week for the R+M staff here at A Rocha, with lots of field work and birds-in-hand. As a volunteer leaving in early April, I look forward to all opportunities to get into the field and learn about Kenyan wildlife and culture.

Post written by Maggi Sliwinski, a volunteer from New York, USA.

Final tally, new species for Ngulia & wildly coloured pigeon

I had to leave Ngulia to get back to Watamu on the 30th November and the night was a clear one – no mist – and so… no birds. However we still opened the nets in the morning to see what we’d get and as we’d had the tapes on playing the song of Marsh Warbler, Sprosser, Whitethroat and River Warbler (the ‘Ngulia Mix’), we did get 285 migrants to ring and the swallows have finally turned up meaning 210 were ringed.

Service with a smile – Ian doing the Passionfruit Juice run during the early morning ringing…

There was a ‘dull’ ring – the first of the year – on a Marsh Warbler, but it wasn’t one from another scheme but one one of our own from a previous year – still, it’s interesting to trap birds that have flown into Tanzania, possibly Malawi, then returned to Europe and come back again following the same route as before. We also ringed a Sedge Warbler – the first of the year and a species I always enjoy catching as they look so smart with their strong white supercilium (eye brow) and streaked back.

However it was the Afrotopicals that took the lime light instead – a Paradise Flycatcher was the first for this year and is always popular with overseas ringers, but we did have a new species for the Ngulia ringing list: a Scaly Chatterer. A smart and slightly bizarre looking bird with naked skin around its eye and strongly decurved bill. Chege Kariuki of Birdwatching East Africa Safaris had seen them not far up the valley a week or so ago though had been surprised to see them there. But really it was the African Green Pigeon – only the 3rd ringed at Ngulia (though commonly seen) – that was by far and away the most outrageous and stunning bird we caught and drew the most ‘WOW!’s from people in its incredible combo of colours – beautiful green plumage with startling red feet and crazy blue eyes… Will get some pics to add to this later from other ringers as I didn’t have a camera at the time.

Another smart Afrotrop caught at Ngulia – Diederik Cuckoo

I’ve heard from David Pearson since the end of the ringing session and the final tally of migrants by the time they closed up and left was just over 10,800. Not so bad considering we had relatively few nights with mist – and good to get over the 10,000 mark – though certainly different to many of the seasons we’ve had over the past 15-20 years when we’ve caught over 20,000.

David has written up a major report on the ringing since the early 1990s that we hope to publish – we’ll let you know when and where it gets published.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

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…

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Incredible, outrageous movement of Amur Falcons through Ngulia valley, Tsavo West NP, having come from China…

It was Jan, Fransie and Andrew’s last night and at least Fransie stayed up all night in the hope of setting nets as soon as the mist came in… which it did but only at 4:50am and only for about 15 minutes – enough to catch 6 birds…! All nets were opened at dawn and a lot of ringers stood around appreciating yet another stunning dawn at Ngulia – but extracting very little from the nets! Only a handful were caught and a couple of Afrotropicals such that by 9am we had closed nets and were packing up by the pool.

Instead of ringing large numbers of birds, it was a day for UNbelievable falcon migration… at around 9:30am most of the team were down on the open patio in front of the lodge looking for raptors as is the custom and a flock of Amur Falcons were seen quite high up moving mostly west, if not slightly north of west towards the Ngulia mountains. Ian and David started counting them as we do and were joined by others of us… and we didn’t stop for about 2 hours!! The sky was literally peppered with falcons spiralling together in flocks of 200-1,000 birds with more joining them and all moving off the same direction only to be followed by more… and more.. and more! Other flocks were seen off the escarpment and also coming in over it heading north-west as well and later still more over the small hills directly in front of the lodge.

Part of a huge flock of Amurs

Part of a huge flock of Amurs

Counting Amur Falcons

Counting Amur Falcons

The total quickly rose to 9,000… 10,000 birds and still more were pouring through! Eventually a grand total of an extraordinary 26,000 birds were counted – by far and away the largest flock of Amurs ever recorded in Kenya. A wonderfully stunning sight to watch and pretty much the highlight of the whole season.

Closer shot so you can really see they're falcons & not locusts

Closer shot so you can really see they're falcons & not locusts

More Amur 'pepper'

More Amur 'pepper'

Amur silhouette

Amur silhouette

DJP contemplating falcon migration - falcon numbers petering out but still some coming through

DJP contemplating falcon migration - falcon numbers petering out but still some coming through

The swallow nets were put up on the lawn infront of the lodge while the falcons were pouring over and by lunch 35 had been ringed, but it was really a day for raptors with not just the falcons but we also had another (the same? – probably, in fact…) Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a migrant Black Kite ssp. milgrans, Steppe Eagle and late morning a beaut of an adult Crowned Eagle appeared over the hill in front and cruised at mid to low altitude right over the lodge giving stunning views – a species which we have rarely recorded at Ngulia, in fact as it is very much a forest dweller. We had one more Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture over to add to the smattering of vultures we’ve been seeing this year.

Adult Crowned Eagle over Ngulia

Adult Crowned Eagle over Ngulia

Fransie & Jan left not long before lunch giving Andrew a lift with them thus leaving us with three less competent hands to handle birds. Andrew took measurements and photos of the tripods for the lights so that we can try and make some new ones as these ones which have lasted probably 30 years (for one of them) can be retired – or put in a museum – since they are beginning to break up!

Andrew photographing tripods...

Andrew photographing tripods...

Later in the afternoon Chris took myself, Kevin and Peter up to the Kalanga spring where Ngulia gets its water from on the hill to the west and saw some great stuff – a small microcosm of coastal birds with Red-capped Robin Chats, Bearded Scrub Robin singing away, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Greenbul – and a Buff-spotted Flufftail calling from some long grass and bush just as we were leaving. Stunning views from there too of the valley and lodge.

African Pygmy Kingfisher at Kalanga

African Pygmy Kingfisher at Kalanga

A flood of Marsh Warblers & also several ‘Hippos’ caught & ringed

I left Ian, our Ngulia Ringing Group ‘night watchman’ + a few dedicated fellow mist watchers sitting on the wall of the dining room after dinner discussing whether they could put the nets up there and then since there was some thin mist around or whether they should wait until nearer mid-night since the leopard hadn’t come for his goat leg and we might upset tourists who would think we’d scared it off by wandering around near its bait extracting Marsh Warblers from nets in the mist… I headed for bed as I wanted a couple of hours kip before setting in to any work that might come with mist. When I woke at around 1am there was mist but also rain – and it didn’t get any lighter but rather heavier & I couldn’t see any action from my room so turned over and slept some more. I got up just before 3am when I woke to find it had stopped raining & went out to find David and Ian having just opened the one net that had been put up at midnight (so it turned out) and discussing putting up the second one. We then caught quite rapdily for about 3/4 of an hour and had the Kenyan contingent up and assisting before it chucked it down with rain again and we had to close. From then til dawn it was a cat and mouse game with the rain / mist of opening for a short while and being forced to close as the rain came in again. However we caught about 400 birds in total during the night.

Dawn arrived in a solid downpour of rain that delayed opening nets until 6am. We therefore missed what main Sprosser catch there might have been though in fact there were not that many in the night anyway and Marsh Warblers very much dominated the scene for the day.

It was busy for about 1/2 and hour but not overly so and before long the first ringing table was started up and we got going with ringing and releasing the Marsh Warblers – but finding among them some diversity, the best being an Asian Lesser Cuckoo – very smart in his boldly barred underparts and long black, barred tail, golden eye ring and legs. There were also quite a few ‘Hippos’ – Hippolais warblers, mostly Olive-tree Warblers but also a couple of Olivaceous and at least one Upcher’s. We also had 2-3 Common Rock Thrushes which are always great birds to handle and a beaut aduult male Barred Warbler showing off his barring and bright golden-yellow eye. A freshly plumaged Tree Pipit was also greatly admired and despite several more showers of rain we managed to end up clearing all birds by 10am with a total of 1,178 migrants ringed – and in fact only 3 Afrotropical birds – x2 Plain Nightjars during the night and one male Harlequin Quail, the first of the season.

An encouraging observation was 26 Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture heading west over the lodge mid-afternoon – encouraging because of the massive collapse of vultures in Kenya – in fact AFrica-wide – due to poisoning as well as habitat destruction and a reduction in wildlife that reduces their food source. Talking to David Pearson who has been running the ringing project here since 1970 there used to be many more around – even I can remember seeing 30-40 at a time over the lodge in the late 1990s.

One of the great things about Ngulia that I enjoy is spending time with the Kenyan ringers and revising or teaching ringing skills with them, particularly to do with Palaearctic birds which are not handled very much anywhere else in Kenya. Today, after the ringing had wound up I sat down with Gitau, Sylvester ‘Stallone’, Sameer, Nathaniel, Edson, Andrew and Chege and had what turned out to be a 3 hour session on age codes, ageing and discussing how the Ringing Scheme of Eastern Africa can develop and grow. We had a lot of fun trying to get our heads around the EURING age code system and then also the new Afrotropical age codes and seeing how and where they match – or don’t as the case may be.

David Gitau – one of the long-standing (16 years) and most experienced Kenyan ringers and a regular at Ngulia

Sameer (Right) looking up ageing information on a bird he has just ringed. Andrew training with a Sprosser (left) and Fransie scribing for them

One of the UK ringers had handed me a pair of brand new ringing pliers to give to the most deserving Kenyan ringer who I felt would really use them – but it was really hard to decide who should have them, so in the end I decided to put together a little ‘quiz’ for them about ageing and identification of the Palaearctic migrants at Ngulia and the winner would then get the pliers. So last night after supper and our briefing session with everyone I sat them down and gave them 10 questions such as ‘how do you age a Common Whitethroat?’ or ‘what is the key identification feature of a Sprosser against a Nightingale in the hand?’. It was again a lot of fun to do and the Kenyans told me I should have done this two or three times while they had been there. Gitau was the overall winner and is now the proud owner of a very fine pair of Porzana ringing pliers.

Ringing a Marsh Warbler

One of the key things to come out of the discussions was again the very real and urgent need to get the ringing permit system operating in Kenya – it is very difficult for a Kenyan to just take nets and go and ring anywhere if s/he does not have some sort of documentation to allow them to catch and ring birds and so as a result none of the young ringers actually go out and od their own ringing apart from the project work they are involved with (mostly someone else’s project as well). The stage we’re at is that we have submitted the proposed system of training and qualifying to the KEnya Wildlife Service who we need to have fully on board and to endorse and suppor the whole concept and system if it is going to have the authority and weight it needs to succeed. The response has been positive so far, but there is still a long way to go – we’re trusting those in charge will recognise the advantages of such a system and will support it whole heartedly.

Sameer studying the ageing guide

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

DSCN2939

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.

Ngulia: First night was looking hopeful – but mist vanished into thin air

After the rain and thick mist last night at dinner, Ian did his usual staying up all night to watch for the mist coming in but the mist and rain dissipated around mid-night and a cool westerly wind set in that drove any hopes of real mist away. There were a few birds in the bush and trees before the mist lifted, but nothing stayed and our total catch from the ‘L’ in the morning (9 nets) was just:

Marsh Warbler – 3

Common Whitethroat – 3

Sprosser – 2

Red-backed Shrike – 1

Total: 9 (!)

…and a few Afrotropical species which included a beaut male Variable Sunbird. So it was over to a huge Ngulia breakfast and discussion about the wild bird trade in West Africa and then to watching raptors. In fact it has been good for raptors today – with a fine Eurasian Sparrowhawk in the tree just below the look out point by the pool (see photo below) and at least 4 Booted Eagles, a couple of Steppe Buzzards and 5 Steppe Eagles, the pair of Augar Buzzards are around, a pair of African Hawk Eagles came through and a superb Eurasian Hobby early evening with a stunning backdrop of storm clouds filling the horizon to the east across the plains. Also a flock of 15 Amur Falcons mid morning, a ring-tail harrier, 4 Ruppell’s Griffin Vultures which are becoming so rare all over these days, and the usual Wahlberg’s Eagles. Other birds of interest included a few Eurasian Swifts, a single House Martin, just 2 Barn Swallows seen and a flock of c.30 Wattled Starling.

A.nisus_Ngulia_C_JacksonEurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus in the tree just below the swimming pool look out..

DSCN2920

This was taken at 8:30am – when we would normally be ringing hard to clear 100s of birds!! So much for a busy morning!!

DSCN2915

Waiting at the nets… for not a lot!

We put up the rest of the day nets in the late morning -but the bush has been badly bashed around by elephant during the dry season so we have adapted the layout a little since much of where the mid-line used to go is just open ground now. Niko has put a net up by the thick bush to the immediate east of the dining room – up a steep slope but in a v good looking location… we’ll see how it does.

This evening is looking more promising with some mist coming down just after dinner – the Verreaux’s Eagle Owls have been in to the usual perch of the dead tree over the water hole and a hyena ambled across just before it got dark. Leopard has come for his bit of goat leg at 9pm and the Kenyan team from Nairobi Ringing Group and Taita have arrived safely so we have reinforcements for the (hopefully) huge numbers we’re expecting tonight.

Ngulia 2011 – ringers arrive in rain and set up ready for migrants

Thursday night saw us back at Mida Creek for another wader ringing session – two nights in fact, Thurs & Friday (which was last night…) before coming up to Ngulia today to start the migrant passerine ringing project for 2011. This time at Mida we had very helpful assistance from Niko and his team (Monika, Jan and Franziska) together with volunteers John (from Kinangop – Rift Valley) and Josephat (from Voi Tourism Training College). Niko had come with some outrageous 30m wader nets and so we set up 324m of net and sat back for the action. There was a lot of rain around and threat of wind as well but God was awesome and we had a dry two nights and wind dropped to very little.

A total of 159 birds were caught over the two nights, with quite different composition from one to the other – a good number of Grey Plovers the first night and only one Crab-plover, a few Terek Sandpipers and sand plovers, and on the second night 11 Crab-plovers, two Whimbrel, only 2 Tereks – and no Curlew Sandpipers the second night. In fact numbers for this latter species have really seemed to reduce in our catches – something worth looking further into…

 Andrew attaching colour flag to Lesser Sand Plover

Results for the 2 nights were as follows:

   

17-Nov

18-Nov

 

 

Species

 

New

Rtrp

New

Rtrp

Total rg’d

Total caught

Crab-plover

Dromas ardeola

1

0

10

0

11

11

Ringed Plover

Charadrius hiaticula

0

1

0

0

0

1

White-fronted Plover

Charadrius marginatus

0

0

0

0

0

0

Lesser Sandplover

C. mongolus

10

4

10

3

20

27

Greater Sandplover

C. leschenaultii

18

4

13

1

31

36

Grey Plover

Pluvialis squatarola

5

2

2

0

7

9

Little Stint 

Calidris minuta

30

2

11

0

41

43

Curlew Sandpiper

C. ferruginea

5

6

0

0

5

11

Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus

0

0

2

0

2

2

Common Greenshank 

Tringa nebularia

0

0

0

0

0

0

Wood Sandpiper

Tringa glareola

0

0

0

0

0

0

Terek Sandpiper

Xenus cinereus

11

1

2

0

13

14

Saunders’ Tern

Sterna saundersii

1

0

1

0

2

2

Common Tern

S. hirundo

3

0

4

0

7

7

Total

 

84

20

55

4

139

163

So it was a very successful couple of nights wader ringing – and all sand plovers and Terek Sandpipers now are sporting a gaudy coloured flag with inscription on them in the hope we’ll get some recoveries of sighted birds elsewhere. Franziska also colour-ringed the Grey Plovers we caught as part of her studies back in Germany – and she promptly saw one of Thursday night’s birds on Friday foraging on the reef at low tide off Ocean Sports c.4km from where we ringed it…

  Common Tern

But back to Ngulia.. we left this morning eventually at 8am, somewhat bleary-eyed after a 2:30am return from the waders, but being ably driven by James in his minibus and by 3pm were in Mtito Andei. KWS at the gate gave us a great welcome and were hugely helpful in letting us in with the letter we had from HQ – thank you again to KWS for that assistance. 

The park is really green and there had been a really heavy storm come through just ahead of us as the road was very wet and pretty slick. We had several sightings of elephant on the way and a family of giraffe were keeping their feet dry on the road rather than in the wet grass – so it seemed – and which were greeted with glee by our German visitors.

Bird-wise there were not that many migrants – c.6 Eurasian Rock Thrush were nice to see and a flock of c.50 Amur Falcons as well. Next to no Barn Swallows were seen and just one Euro Roller. 

At the lodge we met David, Ian, Richard and Julia having arrived only some 20mins ahead in our ‘Blue Crane’ – ancient Nissan Sunny which used to be Graeme Backhursts before we bought it off him… They had a puncture in the circle just outside reception – and the spare it turned out was also without air…! An answer to prayer that it happened at the lodge and not in the middle of the park!! (and I tell you – the age of that car… I was totally praying they’d arrive safely!). As the generator was off, we used a hand pump to inflate the spare enough to move the car out of the way of other cars…

We took time in finding Chege to open the store to access our gear eventually managed and had the main ‘L’ of nets in the bush up and ready for the morning before the leopard bait was put up for the big cat. He came early this time – immediately after the meat was tied to the tree and even before the waiter was off the lawn, the leopard was on the bait and entertaining the punters.Good news – means we can put the nets when we want without fearing putting off the leopard for the tourists.

 

During dinner a solid rain storm moved in and has been raining on and off for 2-3 hours now including quite thick mist… but next to no birds at all, which is very bizarre. It is easing now as I tap but the mist has also lifted. Ian is stopping ‘on guard’ as it were for the mist arriving. The rest have hit the sack… which I’m going to do likewise with to try and catch up on that which I’ve missed over the past 3 nights.

Some pics from the day….

 mist at dinner – and it was raining hard.. but no birds

 David watching the mist – I guess the ‘not’ was cut off in the photo??!

 David & Ian not very impressed with the lack of birds in the mist.

Waders leaving Mida Creek for breeding grounds in Asia

Friday morning saw a somewhat bleary-eyed and hilarious group of A Rocha Kenya staff and volunteers return from another all-nighter on Mida Creek catching and ringing waders – or doing our best to, at least! We’ve been focussing on trying to ring waders (shorebirds) at Mida over the past few months in particular the past 4-6 weeks to try and get data on the weights of birds and their moult patterns in the build up to them departing on migration back to their breeding grounds in Asia and eastern Europe. 

This is one of the most interesting times of the bird calendar in terms of these birds. They have just spent possibly even nine months in Kenya after the last breeding season hanging out on Mida where life is pretty easy for a wader – warm conditions so no cold to fight, not many predators to worry about just a bit of disturbance from fishermen and tourists. As a result they don’t need to feed too heavily nor carry much fat to survive any potential harsh conditions – unlike their cousins who are wintering in Europe where a cold spell can come in and freeze their food source and can lead to death if you’re not fat enough to live it out till a thaw comes in.

However at this time of the year, March-May, birds are frantically foraging to fatten for the 6,7 or even 10,000km journey that they’ll be making back to their breeding grounds in Asia. This means as we catch them for ringing and weigh them, over this period you can see the weights of the birds increasing steadily and then numbers of adults suddenly start to reduce as adults leave for the north while mostly the youngsters from last year’s season stay behind and probably won’t migrate but will chill til next year when they’ll head home to join the fray of trying and find a territory and a mate to raise a family.

Moult-wise, it is also interesting. Adults have all completed their non-breeding season wing moult and have fresh, new, strong feathers to take them back to Asia and bring them back to Mida in August. Young birds, depending on the species and the population, will either have simply retained the feathers they grew in the nest last year, or will be moulting some in preparation for the next year spent in the harsh sunlight of the tropics which bleaches feathers like crazy and wears them out fast. 

The other neat thing to see is to go to Mida in the evening in early May and watch for flocks of birds that are setting off for Asia. We did that not long ago – headed out about 6pm with the tide low and birds spread all over foraging away. There was already a clear reduction in the numbers of birds around but still there were adults in 70-90% breeding plumage who would be heading north at any point. At about 6:15pm a flock of c.40 very handsome Curlew Sandpipers in their brick-red breeding plumage landed about 60m from us calling excitedly and looking alert. They only were there a few minutes before they took off trilling loudly and started climbing higher calling as they went. They climbed steadily heading off across the water and then started circling whilst still climbing making 2 or 3 circuits still calling quite clearly. After the last circuit they then adjusted their bearings and headed off just east of north still climbing as they went and flew on and on until they were out of sight. 

Amazing to think that within a matter of hours they would be over Somalia and only a couple of days easily beyond the Middle East. Below is a photo of a Curlew Sandpiper on its nest in its lovely plumage. Then a few images of one of our recent wader nights..

 by Benjo Cowburn

Rings & equipment with Crab-plover behind by Benjo Cowburn

Lesser Sand Plover wearing it's shiny ring

The morning after at Mida Creek...

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…

<!–[if gte mso 9]>

Normal
0

false
false
false

MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

<![endif]–>

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%                  

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,