Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Uganda Ringing Expedition
8th to 20th December 2008
Dean Backhouse
John Glazebrook
Mick Wright
Roger Buxton
Nathan Eluku
Malcolm Wilson

Setting off from Entebbe we had the usual ordeal of circumnavigating Kampala on roads, no tracks with traffic just everywhere. Our driver Baker did a sterling job of diving and darting into spaces with not the most nippy of vehicles, a 10 seater stretch Landcruser!

Even so birding in this environment is quite productive with Long-crested Eagles, Lizard Buzzards and Grey Kestrel watching patches of roadside scrub for the many fat rats which do very well here. White-throated Bee-eaters festooned the tangle of phone wires and Winding Cisticolas defended tiny scraps of rank grass in between truck washing bays.

Eventually we got clear of the desperate traffic and were soon driving through the magnificent Mabira Forest, which has so far had a stay of execution from the voracious appetite of the sugar cane industry.

Soon after Jinja we had a chance to drop a trap for a Long-crested Eagle which soon hit the trap, but for some reason flew off before a noose could do its work.
Also tried for a Lizard Buzzard, but the usual problem of a party of village kids coming out to watch made it impossible for the bird to come down.

We got to Kibimba rice scheme at 1600hrs and after checking in to rooms, went to find a good spot to set nets for the night.
There had been no rain these last 3 weeks and so many of the paddies were dry and it took a while before we settled on Block 14 which had a good flock of mixed waders. We set 3 lines over mud and started catching as soon as the light went.
We caught steadily till 0100hrs with 44 Wood Sandpiper and 10 Little Stint making up the bulk. One Wood Sandpiper was a retrap from November 2007.
On the way back to the accommodation we put up a Genet which gave great views as it ran along the track in front of us which also put up a few Swamp Nightjars.

We opened the nets at 0600hrs in the pre dawn and continued catching as dawn broke and hundreds of thousands of Red-billed Quelea came out of roost in droves. Cashing in on this were a pair of Peregrine of the Siberian race ‘calidus’ which gave us a spectacular performance of catching these little pests!
Soon the peace of dawn was shattered with the screams and shouts of the Quelea patrol, a mob of locally employed lads whose sole task was to stand all day in the middle of the ripening rice paddies armed with good vocal chords a long whippy palm frond, with a lump of clay at the end, and fire the clay projectile at flocks of Quelea which looked like landing in the rice. These missiles can be fired over unbelievable distances and with incredible accuracy, flushing the Quelea off and onto less guarded paddies. Occasionally a Quelea would collide with the lump of clay and all you would see was a ‘puff’ of feathers and nothing more, not a great loss in the broad scheme of things!

A flock of 43 Grey-crowned Crane came out of a roost somewhere and dropped into the site to the south, while at least 6 European Marsh Harrier plied up and down the bunds dropping in on unsuspecting prey.
We furled late morning and took a drive down to the dam and flushed a Spotted Crake across the track, seems this species has become scarce over the years as we used to catch them here in the past. On the dam were a couple of Osprey and just to the north we found 3 large paddies well inundated that had approximately 800 Black-winged Stilt, a flock of 30 Greenshank and the odd Spotted Redshank also 9 Garganey, a duck we also used to catch and from observations has greatly declined. In addition to this were small flocks of White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks and to cap it all a Lesser Jacana! Ok this is where we were coming next!

Coming back for lunch we spotted a Lesser Kestrel on a phone wire and so dropped for it, but the bird had fed well and showed no interested in rodent fare after all the dragonflies in the area.
In the afternoon before opening we came across a track with dozens of Red-throated Pipits feeding on something good. On closer inspection they were picking up rice seeds and bits of broken rice spilt from a couple of tractors and trailers that had been running up and down full of harvested rice.
Here was an opportunity, so we set a couple of single panel nets along the track and sat back and watched. In no time at all, the pipits came back onto the track and we started picking off one’s and two’s and after an hour had 8 Red-throated Pipits and a couple of Yellow Wagtails.

We opened at 1600hrs and continued to catch mainly Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint. The catch rate had slowed from the previous day as water was draining off the mud and so we had time to put up a nightjar net. Before we had walked back to the ringing camp, the ipod had done its trick and pulled in a cracking adult male Swamp Nightjar.
The best though was when after a string of ringing Common Snipe had been ringed, Mick pulled out a bird and with mild surprise identified a Jack Snipe!
Not a great rarity in the UK but the first one I have ever seen in Africa and a new distribution record.

Opened first thing and picked off a few Painted Snipe, Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint and Ringed Plover. After breakfast we set off along the main road to find some raptors and soon came across a Long-crested Eagle. Getting the trap under the bird was tricky, people came out to watch of course but these birds are sometimes so tame you can walk underneath the pole ther’e sitting on, as in this case. However despite the bird showing interest, it refused to drop to the trap.
We went through a patch of forest where Black and White Casqed Hornbills glided over the road. Sadly the forest was fast disappearing with obvious signs of the absence of the larger more valuable timber trees taken.

Back at Kibimba we had a go for the Red-throated Pipits again and got three birds and 3 yellow Wagtails despite the stiff breeze. We had a look round this huge place in search of a nice wader concentrations and found a pair of Spotted Redshank and a Black-headed Gull in one paddy as well as a European Roller and a Montague’s Harrier.

After lunch we set two big lines across fairly deep water each end of the paddy with some 800 Black-winged Stilt in between. The idea was to go for duck such as Garganey which would prefer this deeper water to feed in.

As dusk approached we had caught a few waders but the stilt were not moving, being notoriously difficult to catch our best hope was if they began moving with the moon. A Black-headed Heron flew into the net and Nathan dived in to get it, quite a handful but he did well and it was duly ringed by John.
At midnight we realised we were not going to be busy and had caught a few of the usual as well as 5 Long-toed Plover and a pair of Spurwing Plover. A Barn Owl was using the poles to perch on as it watched us extracting or getting stuck in the mud!
We decided to shelf the duck and stilt catching operation and set up on a new site for the last session that had just been rotivated where a huge concentration of Intermediate and Little Egret were feeding on beetle or cicada grubs. Also cashing in on this freshly revealed food abundance were White-winged and Whiskered Terns. Here we found Ruff, good numbers of Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Glossy Ibis and Open Billed Storks.
We caught fairly well with a run of the usual painted Snipe, Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper as well as a Ruff and Common Pratincole.

We set off early for the Magic Garden at Ggaba allowing time to drop a trap for raptors. This predictably was a Long-crested Eagle on a telegraph pole set back in a shamba and by usual standards a piece of cake. However with the trap right under his nose he looked keen for a while but eventually settled on an item not so trap bound and nailed a small rat 10m from the trap!
The next had the bird on the trap but did not try very hard to get the mouse and took off for some unknown reason before it could work a noose round its leg.
We spotted a real gem in the form of a Red-necked Falcon which was sat up in a big old palm tree but in a yard full of children, we had also released our Quelea bait from Kibimba which would have far out succeeded the mouse as a lure.

We got to Ggaba which is where David Pearson’s ringing site used to be in the 50’s when he taught at Makerere University and where he did a lot of pioneering work on Garden Warbler moult.

The Magic Garden is a sight for sore eyes, carefully planned and landscaped by our host Roger, it is a profusion of awesome colours and every kind of tropical shrub buzzing with dozens of sunbirds!
We soon set 5 x 60’ and 3 x 40’ before Kathy came out with the G&T’s on the veranda which had a commanding view of Lake Victoria. We got a few birds before dark including a Green Crombec, Yellow-throated Leaflove and last thing an adult male Shikra. African Hobby’s were hunting in the dusk as we furled.

Opened at 0600hrs and first round got a Black-headed Gonolek and a huge adult female African Goshawk. During the morning we caught a good varety of birds from Willow Warblers, to Snowy-headed and White-browed Robin-chats, Pygmy Kingfisher and 5 species of Sunbird. We were taunted with a large family flock of Ross’s Turaco flying across the garden but never low enough to get caught. African Grey and Meyer’s Parrots called from the nearby stand of Albizia trees.

We had to get on the road to set nets this afternoon at a new site in Budongo Forest and so got on the road just before lunch. On the way we had two more Long-crested Eagles ON trap, but again the nature of this beast is to shuffle on its tarsi and flatten the nooses.
Observations included Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles and 2 grasshopper Buzzards a very encouraging sign as we this was to be our main quarry in Murchison Falls National Park.

We got to Busingiro in Budongo Forest and got 6 x 60 and 40 x 2 along one of the perfect transect lines needing the minimum of clearance to make a perfect net-ride. First round we got a rush of birds mostly White-throated Greenbuls with Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Eastern Forest Robin, Chestnut Wattle-eye and Olive Sunbirds closed by 1730hrs.

Opened at 0550hrs, a bit too early for my liking, as we had caught a bat which had chewed through a shelf string to liberate itself, but it’s hard to keep a good trainee down and Nathan was just that. We took a good catch this morning with Brown Illadopsis, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Dwarf Kingfisher, Little Greenbul and a stunning male Jameson’s Wattle-eye added to the list of species.
Around the very comfortable ringing camp we had Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher and Black-capped Apalis and calling Chocolate-backed Kingfisher which are indicators of the association this forest has with the great Ituri Forest in the Congo. Other examples of this are White-thighed Hornbills flying over camp and the Ituri Batis which is not a bird easily seen here. We also had a Honey Buzzard over.

We set off at 1030 for the Nile and our camp for the next 3 days. On the way we had a Grey Kestrel which wouldn’t sit for us and a Western banded Snake Eagle which came to the trap, hit it then was off! Also dropped for a Brown Snake Eagle but too hot for the mice. Observations included 4 Bateleur, 3 Wahlberg’s Eagle and a Montague’s Harrier. Just before the camp we found a Dark-chanting Goshawk and got it on the trap but flushed off continually by cyclists!

Set the line of nets along the path at Nile Safari Lodge and got a few birds before dark from Willow Warblers to White-browed Coucal! Before dusk we set a net along the track and with the ipod, caught a beautiful adult male Long-tailed Nightjar.

Opened at 0600hrs and got hit by a Village Weaver flock which is one way focusing one to the days tasks! These birds are nothing but trouble! Hissing, biting, grabbing and generally very unpleasant things to extract from nets, especially when you have 50+!
When things calmed down we began catching a more pleasant array of species such as Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Spotted Morning Thrush (including a 6 year old retrap) and a spectacular adult male white morph Paradise Flycatcher. Andy the fishing guide had arrived at 0700 to take Roger upto the falls for a days fishing for the mighty Nile Perch.
Before lunch we took a drive to the top of the falls looking for Grasshopper Buzzards, and found an adult male Pygmy Sunbird, this was a lifer for me, and is not common in these parts being restricted to arid savannah around the Sahel and moving into Uganda during the dry season.
Other observations were a group of Abyssinian Ground Hornbill and a group of Buffalo, but NO Grasshopper Buzzards!! Conditions were ok, there were burnt areas which is what this species comes all the way here for from the Sahel, so maybe we were too early?

At the falls we counted a flock of approximately 80 Rock Pratincole wheeling around the top of the falls and stood mesmerised by the sheer violence of this awesome river as it thundered through an 8m gap! Above the falls there were a few Steppe Buzzards lurking around the entrance to the small caves where thousands of bats roost and where upto 6 bat Hawk can be seen at dusk and dawn.
On the way back we noticed quite a few Harriers, mainly Marsh and Montague’s.
Back at camp opened at 1600 and got among others a Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Black-billed Wood and Vinaceous Doves and a Nubian Woodpecker.
Andy and Roger returned triumphant having bagged a brace of Perch of 28kg and 38kg.

North Bank
At 0700 we crossed over with Andy who was waiting for clients and avoided the old ferry, always a tense affair with regular breakdowns mid stream! And set off via a sandbar which had 60+ African Skimmer that all took wing a flew around the boat, often ‘skimming’.
We set off on the Buligi Circuit and got a few of the specials, Rufous Sparrow, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Weaver, Black-billed Barbet, Lesser Grey and Woodchat Shrike, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Black-headed Plover, Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle an adult male Pallid Harrier, 8 White-backed Vulture and 3 Osprey. Sadly there were no Shoebill at the usual spot so the pressure was on now to find them with one option left!
At last we found a single Grasshopper Buzzard, too far to drop a trap for and so resigned ourselves to the fact that they had not come in. the best count for this species was this month the previous year with 300 on one burn site.

We spotted a few Giraffe here of the Rothchild race as well as a few lone bull Elephant, but no Lions!
We had a go for a Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, a family group of 3 birds were sat up in a large Kegilia tree but refused to drop, only bob and look curiously from within the tree.
Other wildlife seen included lots of Oribi, Side-striped Jackal, Jackson’s Hartebeste and Warthog.
We crossed back to the south bank in time to open at 1600hrs where among other birds got the 3rd Yellowbill for the site.

At 0700 the next day we got picked up by Andy in the boat and set off down river to the Delta on Lake Albert in search of the elusive Shoebill. On the way we saw lots of huge Nile Crocodiles and Hippos which erupted from the water in front of us. All the classic habitats were devoid of the large grey bird and now the pressure was really mounting!
But then at noon just before reaching the delta I spotted one about a mile off ahead. We all got cameras ready and quietly floated up to the bird which stood motionless, listening for lungfish.
We manovered ourselves into position and watched this mammoth bird, so focussed on listening for its quarry, all quietly euphoric and elated at finding this ancient and vague relative of the pelicans.

Kanyo Pabidi

After lunch we made our way back to Budong Forest via the park and the next site of kanyo Pabidi. It was hot and still with little moving and made good time to KP where we set 8 x 60 and 4 x 40 catching Eastern Forest Robin, White-throated and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls and Olive Sunbirds before furling.

Opened at 0630hrs and through the morning got a variety of new and retraps including Fire-crested Alethe, Rufous Flycatcher Thrush and the usual run of Greenbul species.
Three of the guys went Chimpanzee trekking this morning and so left three of us to run the slow shift during the heat of the day, however we caught well up to the rush at 1700hrs with a stunning White-tailed Ant-thrush.
The others returned in the late afternoon having trekked many kilometres in the forest in search of the Chimps only to draw a blank. Such are the habits of this primate in the dry season as they travel far and wide in search of fruit which is more readily available in the wet season.

Opened again at 0630 to the blood-curdling screams of Tree Hyrax evoking primevil emotions in the gloom of the forest!
On the way back from opening we found a late returning Wood Owl which had hit the morning commuter rush and was currently being mobbed by a riot of small birds.
Through the day we continued to come up with surprises and one of which was a spectacular Blue-breasted Kingfisher. This large west African kingfisher just reaches into east Africa here in Western Uganda and like many species in Budongo is an indicator of how it is semi contiguous with the guinea-congo basin rainforest biome.
There was a second expedition to reach the Chimps and the team returned late morning and what a find! Not only did they find the chimps but also witnessed a kill of a Black and White Colobus monkey! This is a very rare and spectacular event which few people ever see. Usually the hapless creature is caught and torn to pieces by the dominant males whilst the monkey is still living. It is quite gruesome and particularly shocking to see such violence from beasts which share 98.7% of our genes! Needless to say we have made modest progress when it comes to dietary needs.

During the afternoon we continued to get more birds and one in particular
requires special mention here as there are birds and birds and this particular creature really has sock-blowing capabilities, a Narina Trogon.
A party of tourists had just returned from trekking and were shown the bird resulting in some impressive camera equipment taking a salvo of images.
After the Trogon, a Dusky Blue Flycatcher was caught and as enthusiastic as one can get over this species, it just did not educe the same reaction!
We carried on till dusk catching a few more Eastern Forest Robins, Cameroon Sombre Greenbul and a Yellow-spotted Barbet. Sadly we got the only Green Twinspot of the trip which had sadly been attacked by something, probably a rodent of some sort.

We couldn’t afford another mornings netting as people had to get flights in the early afternoon so we set off at 0700 and made good time till we spotted a Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle sat up on a pylon in a marsh. I walked/crawled the trap in and managed to get it right under the nose of the bird and for a hopeful minute got a good response of bobs. However that’s all that happened! Often in overcast and cool conditions birds of prey are reluctant to come to a trap and sit tight not feeding until its hot again.

After an hour or so we spotted a Long-crested Eagle on a telegraph pole in difficult conditions between two villages! I got a trap out whilst Baker shouted to approaching pedestrians that there was a snake and not to approach! I walked the trap right underneath the bird, dropped it and crossed the road to watch. It took about 20 seconds for the bird to spot the mouse, then lots of bobbing and after another 20 seconds launched itself down onto the trap.
Then another 20 and I could see a foot caught which eventually alerted the bird to its predicament and tried to fly off.
Mick ringed the bird which was a female and in its second year just starting its primary moult. A few photographs and then it was released to the befuddlement of the gathering crowds!

Next stop was Entebbe and farewells after a very pleasant and thouroughly enjoyable trip.

Species totals of new birds

8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Total
Black-headed Heron 1 1 2
Knob-billed Duck 1 1
African Goshawk 1 1
Shikra 1 1
Long-crested Eagle 1.20th
Greater Painted-snipe 10 4 4 1 1 20
Collared Pratincole 1 1 2
Long-toed Lapwing 5 5
Spur-winged Plover 3 3
Common Ringed Plover 7 1 4 12
Jack Snipe 1 1
Common Snipe 7 6 4 17
Common Greenshank 1 1
Wood Sandpiper 33 9 5 9 1 57
Little Stint 10 35 5 50
Ruff 1 1
African Mourning Dove 1 1
Vinaceous Dove 2 2
Black-billed Wood-Dove 1 2 3
Blue-spotted Wood-Dove 4 1 5
Yellowbill 1 1
White-browed Coucal 1 1
Swamp Nightjar 1 1
Long-tailed Nightjar 1 1
Speckled Mousebird 1 1
Narina Trogon 1 1
Malachite Kingfisher 1 1
African Pygmy-Kingfisher 1 5 6
Dwarf Kingfisher 1 1
Blue-breasted Kingfisher 1 1
Yellow-spotted Barbet 1 1
Scaly-throated Honeyguide 1 1
Nubian Woodpecker 1 1
Buff-spotted Woodpecker 1 1
Sandmartin 1 1
Barn Swallow 1 1
Red-throated Pipit 8 4 12
Yellow Wagtail 2 2 4
Dark-capped Bulbul 2 3 5
Little Greenbul 2 3 5
Cam. Sombre Greenbul 1 1
Yellow-whiskered Greenbul 1 3 4
Yellow-throated Greenbul 2 2
White-throated Greenbul 18 1 9 3 31
Red-tailed Bristlebill 1 3 1 5
Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush 1 1 2
White-tailed Ant-Thrush 1 1 2
Brown-chested Alethe 2 2
Fire-crested Alethe 1 1
Tawny-flanked Prinia 1 1
Yellow-breasted Apalis 1 1
Gray-capped Warbler 1 1
Grey-backed Camaroptera 1 1 2
Olive-green Camaroptera 1 1
Eurasian Reed-Warbler 1 1
Green Crombec 1 1
Northern Crombec 1 3 4
Green Hylia 1 1
Willow Warbler 1 1 1 1 4
Dusky-blue flycatcher 2 2
Forest Robin 5 3 8
White-browed Robin-Chat 2 1 3
Spotted Morning-Thrush 3 3
Red-backed Scrub-Robin 1 1
Chestnut Wattle-eye 1 1
Jameson's Wattle-eye 1 1
Red-bellied Para-Flycatcher 2 2
African Paradise-Flycatcher 1 1 2
Scaly-breasted Illadopsis 4 1 5
Brown Illadopsis 1 1
Green-headed Sunbird 1 2 3
Eastern Olive Sunbird 3 1 1 1 1 7
Olive-bellied Sunbird 2 4 6
Red-chested Sunbird 2 5 7
Variable Sunbird 4 4
African Yellow White-eye 2 2
Black-crowned Tchagra 1 1
Black-headed Gonolek 1 1 2
Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike 1 1
Little Weaver 2 2
Spectacled Weaver 1 1
Village Weaver 1 1 2
Yellow-backed Weaver 3 3
Cardinal Quelea 4 4
Red-billed Quelea 1 1 2
Black-rumped Waxbill 1 1
Brimstone Canary 1 1
Day totals: 71 72 33 18 15 48 24 44 10 3 15 24 377
Total species = 87

Additional species that were retraps:
Yellow-breasted Apalis
Brown Twinspot
Collared Sunbird
Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird
Snowy-headed Robinchat
Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu
Rattling Cisticola
Puvel’ Illadopsis

If only i'd put the net......!

Mozambique Wader expedition

Wader ringing reconnaissance to the Quirimbas archipelago, Quirimbas National Park
Northern Mozambique

14-28 October 2008

This was my second trip to Quirimbas National Park to work with WWF on a project to assess bird diversity and develop bird-watching tourism in this very un explored and remote part of the world.
In addition to this I wanted to find concentrations or roosts of Palearctic migrant waders to trap and ring.

Arriving at the coastal town of Pemba I was met by Rebecca Marques-Phillips who is the WWF tourism officer for the Quirimbas National Park. I was to stay at a beach lodge accommodation in a nature reserve just outside of the town run by Brenda and Rudi, a magnificent area of coastal scrub and huge Baobab trees set inside the largest inland lagoon in Africa.

Got there just in time for sundowners and a tray of huge fresh cooked prawns, however thinking of work I surreptitiously dropped a Sherman trap behind the bar and carried on with my sundowner. Half a beer later I heard the familiar ‘snap’ of the trap and on inspection found a perfect sized rat for the following days journey into the bush!

It gets light here at 0400hrs as Mozambique doesn’t have any time zones but Pemba is 1000kn east of Maputo and so should be on the east African time zone, so it gets dark at 1700hrs!
At dawn took an early morning walk along the trail system which are perfect net-rides and got a very good list going including a couple of coastal endemics, Pale Batis and Brown-breasted Barbet. Found a Spotted Eagle-owl which had left it a little too late returning to roost and so got caught out by a mob of other goodies from Square-tailed Drongo, Blue-mantled Crested flycatcher and a pair of Black-throated Wattle-eye, listed as threatened by the IUCN and then rounded off the morning with a lifer in the form of another coastal endemic, Grey Sunbird!

It was low tide and there were only a few waders on the waterline Whimbrel, Terek Sandpiper, Greenshank and a few Lesser Crested Tern.

We got off late morning after loading up the vehicle and set off with Roger the driver and Ibraim who was a park field assistant form the historical island of Ibo where we were to visit.
About 30 minutes out of Pemba a Northern Wheatear flew across the road which subsequently has become the first record for Mozambique!
On the way through the park we spotted a few raptors, Bateleur, Brown Snake-eagle, Black-chested Snake-eagle and a Wahlberg’s Eagle.

Going through some nice tall Miombo woodland Rebecca spotted a real gem and threatened coastal endemic in the form of a Southern-banded Snake-eagle! I feverishly got the Bal-chatri trap out and shook the rat out of the Sherman all the while preying for the bird to sit, when the rat ungraciously rolled out of the Sherman dead as a doornail! Bugger! just didn’t cover it! Here we were in perfect position to catch a rare and little known bird of prey and we get let-down by the hardiest of hard rodents in the crucial stages.

One of the remarkable produces of this part of the world is bamboo. Perfectly sized net-poles in 3 and 3.5m lengths, everywhere! And unlike the UK prices we ended up paying 35p for 20 X 3m poles (that’s for the lot!), Ibraim thought we got ripped off, the mind boggles!

Situ Island

We got to the landing stage for Situ Island in thick mangrove where Mangrove Kingfishers were calling everywhere.
This coastal endemic has the strange migratory habit of breeding inland in lowland forest and spending the non-breeding season back on the coast in mangrove forest. Unfortunately much of its breeding habitat has disappeared and so this kingfisher if very rare over much of its range. On the way we spotted a Wahlberg’s Eagle sitting on a nest, interesting record for this species which is could be either a central African breeder or a breeding migrant to the south.
We were met by South African lodge managers Tess and Craig who in their very flash boat took us to the island of Situ.

Landing on the golden white beach in front of the lodge I struggled to think of a better sited ringing spot, (with the exception of the Rye Meads sewage ponds, in Hertfordshire) along the beach were a flock of 20 Greater Sandplover and ten Greenshank.

We spent an arduous couple of hours snorkelling off the beach on a fantastic little reef where I spotted an immature Emperor Angel Fish (very different to the adult and far more beautiful) 3 large Devil Firefish, Moorish Idol, big Puffer-fish, Parrot Fish a large Boxfish and many more.
Eventually we dragged ourselves to the sundowner spot watching Dimorphic Egrets and Black Herons heading to roost, when Rebecca asked me what the flock of birds were which were flying into the bay, casually glancing at them I dismissed them as Greenshanks, then did a double take and nearly choked on my G&T as there, coming into land at the other end of the beach were a flock of 60 Crab Plover!!!
Right now we had work to do!

It was too late now to put up a net as I would just flush the birds but would watch tomorrow and work out a plan to catch them at high tide as it was a spring tide and only one spot to take a catch on a sand spit the birds were using to roost. The trouble was the birds were coming in well before dark, so other than taking a day catch I had to try and catch them once they were at roost.

The next day at dawn I put up a net in the mangrove for the afore mentioned Kingfisher and a riot of birds coming into a fruiting bush but ended up with only a single Sombre Greenbul. We walked/waded through the mangrove putting up hundreds of the delightful mud-skippers and found small islands with giant Baobabs the air above twittering with the strange looking tail-less Bohm’s Spinetail.

Before the Crab Plovers were scheduled to come into roost, we got 3 X 40 foot 2 panel nets up covering the sand-spit and left it open to wait for the birds. Eventually they came round the headland and were making a strong line directly to the nets and with heart in mouth hoped they were as dopey as Thick-knees when it came to catching in daylight. At the last second, the whole flock veered out to sea again to come round several times, eventually landing on the beach on the near side of the nets well below the high-tide mark, I had miss-judged the tide by 4 metres!

At 2130 I moved the line of nets down the beach to be in 1 m of water at high tide and furled.
At 0300hrs I crept along the beach to open the line, when half way along had the eerie sensation that I was being watched. Looking round in the now low moon right up on the top of the beach behind me was the entire flock of Crab Plovers some 10 metres away! Talk about getting caught with ones pants down. What to do? I quietly finished opening the line and carried walking on past the last net to think. It was soon going to be light so I had to do something now and decided to wade across the channel flowing out of the mangroves which formed the sand spit the birds were on and tried to get right behind them with the idea of flushing them out to sea and into the nets, simple yes, but a shorebird’s a shorebird and the lot then began to walk along the beach out of the line of nets so I then decided to charge them and watched as they all passed by the last net pole, however a single bird, the thick one, went the wrong side and into the net!

But what a bird! It was in primary moult and had brown streaking on the head making it a young bird in its second year. More like a robust tern than a wader but with very long legs!
Taking down later we caught a consolation Common Sandpiper!

After breakfast Craig announced a fishing trip so we all set off in the nice ski boat and out to sea. The sea was like a millpond and we soon found shoals of feeding Skipjack Tuna, jumping out in pursuit of fleeing baitfish, some of which were the amazing Flying fish zipping out of the water to glide 20-30m before landing back in the water, what an adaptation!

In no time at all we were stuck into fish, stripping metres of line of the small multiplier reels and after a great fight landed a pair of 12lb specimens.
Once we had 4 fish we called it a day and headed back to land when all of a sudden a tremendous explosion of air made us all jump and look round to see a huge Humpback Whale with calf surface 100 metres away! We watched them for 20 minutes before they sounded not to be seen again!
Thinking it couldn’t get any better the water in front of the boat erupted with jumping Bottle-nosed Dolphins! They spent 10 minutes playing around us before going back to chasing baitfish.

Ibo Island

To get to the landing for Ibo Island we had to drive north on the mainland for 3 hours through beautiful miombo woodland and visited a campsite the park was preparing which would have chalets and a bar to be run by the local community. The mist-netting potential here looked fabulous with nice thick bush just next to a wetland and a huge roost of African Open-billed Storks, Great White Egret and lots of other herons.
We arrived at the Ibo landing site in the dark and loaded the park boat with all the equipment and set off with Greater Galago screaming right next to the boat from the dense mangroves.

Ibo island is like an architectural museum of art deco and 14th centaury Portuguese. We got to the famous Ibo island Lodge and met Kevin the owner who promptly filled us up with a big plate of monster prawns and cold beer!

At first light I went to inspect the sea in front of the lodge and noticed that the tide was going out revealing a sandbar at one end of the sea wall. As this sandbar got bigger I noticed lots of waders landing on it having come from roost. I walked up along the sea wall and got quite close to see mostly Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Curlew and Terek Sandpiper, Greater Sandplover, Little Stint, Sanderling, Turnstone, Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and scatterings of White-fronted plover.
Pretty good variety and approximately 2000 birds.
The tide went out to reveal a wonderful inter-tidal mud-flat where Dimorphic Egrets, Black Herons, Yellow-billed Storks and thousands of waders began feeding.

So, the high tide was at 1800hrs and I reckoned on setting a line on the sandbar to catch birds on the incoming tide and again on the outgoing tide.
At 1600hrs with the help of half the kids on Ibo, we set a line of 3 X 40’ and set up on the sea wall not too far away so we could watch the progress of the birds.
As the tide soon came in, birds started to congregate toward the sandbar but it was still too light for any birds to start flying into nets and so we watched as birds began to leave well before the tide was fully in.
Eventually at dark, all birds had left and so we waited for the tide to go out to see what that would do. At 1930 I went to inspect the nets and low and behold there were two Crab Plovers in! At 2000hrs I got another Crab Plover and thought that if only all the other waders were doing what the crab Plovers were doing, coming into the revealing mud and sand to feed. I left it till 2100hrs when the tide was not well out and nothing was moving to take down and get some sleep.

The following day we set off to explore a small island called Manual de Silver and found a considerable roost at high tide of mostly Whimbrel, Greater Sandplover and Grey Plover around 2-300 birds. We also had a Eurasian Curlew here too. Then we found a roost of 200 Crab Plovers on a sandy beach before getting back on the high tide as leaving it too late we faced a long walk across the mud and sand.
Back on Ibo the flats outside the lodge had a good number of birds. Again that afternoon we set the same line of nets plus 2 more 60’, I had to be aware of the fact that I was the only ringer present and if I did take a big catch, could get into trouble.
The high tide was now going to be an hour later and darker so hoped we would take a catch of birds leaving for roost. However the birds just left earlier and to the north away from the nets, I don’t think they had seen them.
Left it till 0100hrs and caught a Lesser Sandplover, Terek Sandpiper and a White-fronted Plover. The Crab Plovers were moving as we could hear the distinctive calls out across the bay.

Next day at high tide we took the boat to explore another part of the archipelago and crossing the bay got 4 Humpback Dolphins, a rare and unusual estuarine cetacean and great that they had survived the Chinese nets which are all over the place. We then had to pass through a fantastic maze of mangrove for an hour along impossibly tight channels, how the boatman knew was a mystery to me.

Out on the other side we passed a long spur of grey-brown jagged coral rock and thought what an odd colour, till we suddenly realised it was coverd in countless birds, what a shock! Here was The roost! Just on one side I estimated there to be at least 6-8,000 birds and possibly 10,000. It would be an easy site to work as the sea all round the roost was only a metre deep at high tide and completely dry at low tide. Hmm, would need a few more hands for that, but noted it and we moved on.

That evening we set nets again and caught another Crab Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, closed then opened again at 0300hrs and got another Terek, Curlew Sandpiper and a White-fronted Plover and took down.
There was a Black-chested Snake Eagle on the island and during the night we had some success with the Sherman trap and had got a decent sized rat. However getting the beast into the balchatri was not so easy and Florentine the French dive master whom we had been staying with decided to fast track the process and grab the tail of the animal before I could stop him. Needless to say the creature savaged his thumb, eliciting thundering Gallic curses and made off in the direction of the long-drop!
Ok so scrap that plan!
However at that point Demitri, another French dive master on the island wandered in with a plastic bottle containing another rat which we successfully transferred to the balchatri. At the airstrip we couldn’t find the Black-chested Snake Eagle but dropped for a Black-shouldered Kite which with utter distain flew off to better things.

Matemo Island
We packed the boat up and made off for Matemo Island and set up camp in the park HQ hut and took a walk along the beach to the very posh Rani Lodge. On the way we stopped to count a flock of 65 Roosting Whimbrel and suddenly realised that the entire area in front of us was covered with roosting birds. Mostly Greater Sandplover, Curlew sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper and Greenshank.
Wow! there must have been 5000 birds and not 15m away from where we stood! They were all congregated on a slightly raised bit of the beach where it came to a point, very subtle but a perfect roost.

We went and said hello to the lodge managers and got some alarmed looks from the guests (I tend to look a bit ‘bush’ after a few days of limited facilities!) before returning to make a plan for the coming night tide.
At dusk we set the 4 nets again, thinking I was probably taking a risk here and retreated to the beach head to wait, high tide was at 2130hrs. At 2100hrs I took a peek as I could not hear anything and took out a single Greater Sandplover. At 2130 went to see and there was one Curlew Sandpiper and a Water Thick-knee! Blast, missed judged the positioning as I could hear the roost very close of lots of birds. Waited till 1050hrs and took out a Sanderling before closing at 1230hrs.

At dawn we went to look at the site and 15m past the end net were the thousands of footmarks in the sand! Took down and thought about the following night.
Went to check on two other roosts within walking distance both smaller but one had a European Oystercatcher, a rare bird for this part of the world.

It was now a neap tide and so it would be the same as last night so that evening we set the same line of nets further out to cover the roost.
High tide was to be at 1110hrs and so other than a Terek Sandpiper and Greater Sandplover, had nothing till 1000hrs before taking a look.

OK now we were in business! The last two nets had caught a considerable number of birds, 87 to be exact!
The sight was something to behold in the dark, but now the tide was doing something very odd, it was coming in very fast and was already way beyond where it should have been. Getting stuck into the birds I worked with Rebecca holding bags and then running them up the beach to the camp. To make matters worse a wind had got up and things looked rather dire as the tide was now coming in fast!
I ran back and got one of the ‘pop-up’ tents to put birds in to save time but going to put the first lot in realised the wind had taken the tent out to sea!
Back for the other one this time with large rock and gradually filled it with birds.
I extracted the last bird at 1230hrs, with the sea up to my waist and furled. I then got stuck into the lot with Rebecca scribing and finished ringing the last bird at 0400hrs! quite an epic catch by normal standards and no casualties !

We collapsed on the wet sand at our feet to try and sleep, but the adrenalin had kicked in big time so I went to take down the nets at first light 20mins later and found the missing pop-up tent on the shoreline!

Birds from just the two nets were;

Whimbrel 3
Turnstone 2
Greater Sandplover 3
Lesser Sandplover 1
Sanderling 3
Terek Sandpiper 52
Curlew Sandpiper 22
Little Stint 1

The reason we later found out for the freak tide was a big cyclone to the north which had upset all the tides. Just goes to show how one can be caught out. Fortunately the shore gradient was very slight so no danger of complete submergence!

We had now come to the end of the archipelago trip and so made for the mainland in a heavy sea to meet up with Roger on the mainland. We spent a few hours heading south to Taratibo, on the way we spotted a Western Banded Snake Eagle, quite a good record and a first for the park, only being recorded as far as the western border with Zambia in the past.

Taritibo is a beautiful place, set at the base of a massive inselberg in pristine Miombo forest, the birding was gong to be interesting in the morning!

At 0500hrs (lie-in) we set off and soon got a bird party with Pale Batis, Dark-backed Weaver a party of 8 Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike, and a pair of crowned Eagle above us causing havoc among the Samango Monkeys.
I put a net up to try and get the Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrikes but got a pair of Striped Pipits and an Emerald-spotted Wood-dove instead!
Then Rebecca spotted a pair of sunbirds which disappeared before I could get onto them. She described them as Ulunguru Violet-backed Sunbirds, quite a rarity in this part of the world and would be a new species for the park, after an hour of searching I found them again and indeed they were indeed Ulunguru Violet-backed Sunbirds, the only species to have both male and female with metallic plumage.

Last stop was Pemba and back to the beach lodge and this time with nets!
We got there and put up a line of 4 x 60’ nets and furled for the morning.
Went down to the fire on the beach where Rudi had prepared a feast of prawns and sea fish again.

Opened at 0430hrs and before I had finished birds were piling in. mostly Sombre Greenbuls but all sorts of other stuff too.

At one point I got hassled by a male African Goshawk, grabbing a Sombre Greenbul before I could get to it, the Greenbul was ok, but next net round he was in the net again again and this time I managed to get him. Then something big was bouncing around in the end net which prompted a quick dash to the last net and I had the female as well!
Considerably bigger at 378g compared to the male at 226g wings were 260mm for the female and 214mm for the male.

Netting here was such a pleasure and everything so convienient from the accommodation to the net lanes, not to mention the abundunce of birds. With more time and people it woould be a great wader site as well putting nets on the beachfront.

Here follows a list of species caught;

African Goshawk 2
Emerald-spotted Wood-dove 1
Little Bee-eater 1
Burchell’s Coucal 1
Brown-hooded Kingfisher 1
Sombre Greenbul 47
Yellow-bellied Greenbul 2
Terrestrial Brownbul 3
Dark-capped Bulbul 1
Tropical Boubou 4
Brown-crowned Tchagra 1
Black-backed Puffback 4
Square-tailed Drongo 3
Orange-breasted Bush-shrike 1
Eastern Nicator 2
Red-capped Robinchat 13
White-browed Robinchat 1
Bearded Scrub-robin 3
Eastern Olive Sunbird 10
Purple-banded Sunbird 1
White-bellied Sunbird 3
Variable Sunbird 1
Collared Sunbird 3
Grey Tit-flycatcher 1
Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher 4
Green-backed Camaroptera 8
Black-throated Wattle-eye 2
Dark-backed Weaver 1
Yellow Weaver 2
Spectacled Weaver 4
Green-winged Pytillia 3
Red-throated Twinspot 2
Red-billed Firefinch 5
Blue Waxbill 1
Red-faced Cisticola 4

Altogether over 3 mornings ringing I caught 146 birds of 35 species and a total of 107 Waders of 12 species.

All in all a great trip and with a team of 6 or so, considerably more birds could be ringed.

I will be returning to Quirimbas National Park over the next few years with the aim of training a team to carry out CES style ringing.