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.
Technorati Tags: Ngulia, A Rocha Kenya, Marsh Warbler, Tsavo West, migration, Hirundo rustica, Willow Warbler, Andalusian Hemipode