Tag Archives: Tsavo West

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.

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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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A night to catch up on sleep…

Perhaps it was the heavy storm during the day that came in from the west, but whatever it was that caused it, there was no mist at night and dawn broke with thick layers of cloud but very high and with no sign of any landfall of birds in any numbers. We opened all 22 nets at 5:40am and ended up catching and ringing just 96 migrants and a handful of Afrotropical species. Nothing to write home about with the migrants – mainly Marsh Warblers, Sprossers and Whitethroats – and just one Nightingale and one Garden Warbler. Afro-wise we caught a Lesser Honeyguide that was interesting as it had retained feathers that appeared like juvenile-type feathers thus allowing you to age it more accurately. Also there are a few Red-billed Quelea turning up which were not there a few days ago and the first Chestnut Weaver as well.

Afternoon storm clouds from Ngulia over Cherangani Hills

Afternoon storm clouds from Ngulia over Cherangani Hills

There was more going on in terms of visual observation therefore and while ringing we had a couple of flocks of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters go over heading south, a couple of Booted Eagles, only 2 Barn Swallows but about 520 Amur Falcons counted. A beaut of a young male Peregrine came and sat in a tree beyond the far nets for 10 mins or so giving great views through the scope before being chased off by a Bateleur Eagle. A large eagle went passed at one point that was identified as a Lesser Spotted Eagle which is not commonly reported in Kenya, and a group of guys who went out in a car briefly had a flock of over 1,000 Common Swifts, a few Mottled and just one Alpine Swift. A lone Black Kite of the migrant race milgrans was around in the afternoon clearly showing its black bill.

Rock Agama at Ngulia

Rock Agama at Ngulia

Overall is was quite a quiet day – I spent the whole afternoon with Bernard Amakobe, the Coordinator of the Ringing Scheme of East Africa, going through Ringing Scheme admin and giving ideas and input into various ringing issues. Chris Wade arrived mid-afternoon who is the last of the arrivals to come and join the team this year.

Bernard explaining warbler ageing to Helen

Bernard explaining warbler ageing to Helen

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

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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..

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

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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.

Final tally: 17,174 migrants ringed – but no controls

It’s now almost two weeks since I left Ngulia. David Pearson, Bernard “Scopus” Amakobe and the others left on the 14th and David has sent the final tally of numbers – 17,174 of which 1,691 were Barn Swallows or House Martins which were tape-lured at the front of the lodge during the day and so in some ways don’t ‘count’ for the tally of migrants brought in by the mist which can then be compared to previous years.

A good year all round though one of my first when we haven’t had a single foreign-ringed bird caught. We’re just going to have to hope that we get some recovered of our own instead.

I had an eventful drive out from Ngulia that last night – just as I was about to leave the heavens opened and it thundered down with a classic tropical storm – and it rained most of the way back to the gate, all 55kms of it. It was getting dark as well as left but it meant there were some excellent birds on the road in the early evening: no less than 3 scops owls – probably African Scops but one of them might have been the rarer Eurasian. Also 2 Heuglin’s Coursers which are very dapper birds. Along one particularly wet section I flushed up a Corncrake as well – which I think is the only record from Ngulia this year unless there was one I didn’t hear of. I managed to get to the gate without slipping into a ditch which would have made life ‘interesting’ and got the night bus around midnight to get me back to a hot and sticky Watamu by dawn. Now we have the task of looking to see how we can analyse the data and get something interesting out of it…

The final tally for each species for the year (Palaearctic species at least) is given below for your interest. I’ll try and get the Afrotropical list done too…

Species                                 Total

Green Sandpiper                              1

Common Cuckoo                             1

Eurasian Scops Owl                         1

Eurasian Nightjar                              8

Eurasian Roller                                 5

Red-backed Shrike                       102

Isabelline Shrike                            55

Barn Swallow                             1,703

Common House Martin                  60

River Warbler                                355

Basra Reed Warbler                       47

Great Reed Warbler                          1

Sedge Warbler                                  3

Eurasian Reed Warbler                    4

Marsh Warbler                           9,393

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler          65

Upcher’s Warbler                            24

Olive-tree Warbler                          10

Willow Warbler                             143

Common Chiffchaff                          1

Blackcap                                            1

Garden Warbler                              18

Barred Warbler                                25

Common Whitethroat                1,695

Thrush Nightingale                   2,832

Common Nightingale                     49

Irania                                              505

Rufous Bush Chat                           14

Redstart                                             1

Isabelline Wheatear                          1

Pied Wheatear                                  2

Rock Thrush                                   12

Spotted Flycatcher                         35

Tree Pipit                                           1

Totals                                       17,174

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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Marsh Warblers swamping out most other species

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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 .

Ngulia migrant ringing project starts off well in Tsavo West National Park

It’s that time of the year again – New Moon in November / December during the short rains. It’s this time of the year that birds are pouring out of Asia and Europe to escape the cold winter conditions and into Africa to look for warmer and more friendly weather and food supplies. Every year over the New Moon since 1969 nets have been put up at the Ngulia Safari Lodge in Tsavo West National Park and to date almost half a million migrant birds have caught, ringed and released to continue their journey.

A team of 12 of us arrived on Sunday afternoon at Ngulia made up of a a group of seven from Australia led by in indomitable Clive Minton (actually, one of the group, Nick, is in fact from Cambridge, but we’ll call him an Aussie for the sake of it… though his accent is certainly not Aussie!), four others from the UK and myself from Kenya. The park was wonderfully green as we drove through and there were plenty of Eurasian Rollers along the way (counted 110 in fact) and clearly there was rain about though the pools were not full suggesting it hadn’t rained for a few days. Elephant and Giraffe and a few birds were the only thing to stop us along the way as well as a stop to appreciate the view of the Ngulia valley up which migrant birds probably travel at night and see the lodge lights which they get attracted to. A pair of Pygmy Falcons with young was a bonus as this tiny raptor is not seen every time you visit Tsavo.

On arrival we managed to get the store opened where the Ngulia Ringing Group equipment is kept and pull out some very dusty boxes, spot lights, old car battery etc including my gum boots which I leave here since I never use them at the coast – only they’d been used as a foundation for a wasp to make its mud palace in though the young wasps had hatched and left behind just large clumps of mud to knock out… Armed now with pangas (machete type knife) and slashers (efficient grass-cutting implements) and nets we set out to put up the ‘L’ of nets in the bush just in front of the lodge and prepare the lines where we put the night nets – managing to do so just in time before the leg of a goat got strung up on the tree in front of the lodge and literally c.8 mins later a leopard was on it enjoying the free snack it gets offered every night in return for being flashed at by innumerable tourist cameras. I guess it was watching us put the nets up…

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After a full on Ngulia dinner and a great welcome by the hugely friendly staff, we had a briefing about the project and how things operate and then headed for bed with a thin cloud hanging not too far above the lodge but not down enough to really pull in the birds. I was finished as I’d had two very late nights in Nairobi working and had a deadline to complete on a document so didn’t sleep till after midnight, managed to mis-set my alarm and was (finally) dragged from deep sleep by Dr David Murdoch at 3:50am with the thin cloud now more or less at tree top level and a few birds in evidence flying around. In the next hour we managed to catch 68 birds which was a good introduction to night ringing for the team and then opened the ‘L’ at dawn to get another 134 making a total of 202 for the first day. Not too bad and in fact totally perfect given that the Aussies (doing not as well as they’d like in the Ashes…) had never even seen a Marsh Warbler let alone any Acrocephalus warbler and so were on a steep learning curve and so needed to take it slowly.

Bird of the day was certainly the Isabelline Wheatear – the first I’ve seen ringed at Ngulia for many years – and also the White-browed Sparrow Weaver, not a migrant of course, but also very uncommon at the lodge.

Totals for the day:

Ngulia Ringing Totals – 2010

Species/month                           November

date                                                               29           29          29

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

Hirundo rustica 21          21

L. luscinia 20           30          50

Irania gutturalis 2              2             4

Oenanthe isabellina 1             1

Monticola saxatilis 1             1

Muscicapa striata 2             2

Locustella fluviatilis 5              6             11

Acrocephalus griseldis 1             1

A. palustris 26           39          65

S. communis 13           26          39

Phylloscopus trochilus 2                             2

Lanius collurio 4             4

L. isabellinus 1             1

Number of full species                           6              12          13

Daily total                                                 68           134       202

Running totals                                        68           134       202

Night as % of whole day’s total       34%

Last night / this morning was a different story. It started raining during our brief at 7pm and continued on and off heavy rain until I slept at just after 10pm with piles of birds coming down around 8:30pm including Euro Rollers. It was clearly going to be a good night… Sure enough, Dr Dave woke me again but this time at just after midnight with good mist and plenty of birds to be seen so it was to work once again and nets up by half past and over 100 in the first half hour. It was busy until about 2:30am when the mist lifted a bit and then there was a flurry of birds again at 4am just before we closed at 4:30am to try and clear the backlog. 537 birds ringed during the night it turned out with 6 Donaldson-Smith Nightjars, 4 Eurasian Nightjars and 3 Plain and a Dusky as well. Bird of the night however has to be the Common Redstart that emerged from a bag just before dawn, which will be about only the 13th or 14th since 1969.

The ‘L’ was opened at 05:35hrs and the Sprossers hammered into the nets until 6am on the dot when the Marsh Warblers took over and continued for about half an hour before calming down. We opened a second ringing book and had two tables of ringers going as now several of the Ngulia newcomers were getting up to speed and finally took the swallow nets down which Clive, Nick and Robin had manned at 12:30pm. A full 12 hours of ringing producing a very healthy total of 1,454 birds. Bird of the day must be the Common Redstart, though to catch 6 Donaldson-Smith Nightjars was a treat – our smallest and most brightly coloured nightjar. One we caught just before dawn was kept snoozing in a bag till later and when released was placed gently on the dead tree that decorates the base of the stairs into the dining room where it sat very happily continuing its snooze for a good two hours before shifting to one of the beams in the ceiling…

Yet again we had a very bizarre capture – one of the 233 Barn Swallows had yet another home made ring. ‘Yet again’ as it must now be about the 4th we have caught at Ngulia with such a ring. This time it was a beautfully crafted ring of wire on its left leg. Someone, somewhere presumably in Eastern Europe has been putting their own tags on ‘their’ Barn Swallow that no doubt breeds in their cow shed just to see if it is the same bird that comes back after the winter…

The lodge electricians have done an awesome job in resurrecting our second spot light that had blown the first night so we’re back up to full speed the day before major reinforcements arrive in the form of 9 British and 4 Kenyan ringers including David Pearson who is the Project Leader having been coming every year since 1970. So all we’ll need is thick mist and we’ll have enough for people to do… otherwise there will be a lot of hanging around and looking for ideas for how to get birds into nets.

I’ll try and update again tomorrow. The internet access is proving too poor to get photos uploaded but I’ll try and add them later.

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