Friday, January 22, 2010

Quirimbas National Park Wader Ringing expedition Mozambique
November 14th to 28th 2009

Participants ;
Nick Tardivel
Jill Tardivel
Eugene Hood
Phil Hanmer

The focus of this trip was to spend most of the time ringing waders but to start with a bit of bush ringing to acclimatise the group was in order.

Pemba 14th to 16th
After settling into the chalet under an enormous Baobab tree, we set a line of nets through the coastal thicket and started catching. Most common were Sombre Greenbuls others included Terrestrial Brownbul, Tropical Boubou, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, White-browed Robinchat, Square-tailed Drongo, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Burchell’s Coucal, Forest Weaver, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-winged Warbler and a Basra Reed Warbler.
Several retraps of over a year were caught of Red-throated Twinspot, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Green-winged Pytilia, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, Pygmy Kingfisher and Olive Sunbird. Sitting in the beach-bar restaurant in the evenings we could hear lots of Whimbrel and other waders calling from the beach.

Mareja 17th and 18th
Mareja was an old renovated colonial farm house, set on a hill with commanding views across unspoilt Miombo forest and woodland. Our host was a German Count who had found the old house by driving into the front step with his landcruiser when exploring in the area 20 years ago and never left!
We arrived too late to set nets and as a pride of Lions had been in the area decided to wait for the rangers to assist us in the morning!
Set a line of 60’ nets at 0400hrs to the distant and mournful cries of a Southern Ground Hornbill and were out at 0500hrs just as a male African Broadbill started displaying deep in the woodland, such an odd sound as the bird flies from its perch in a circle rapidly clapping its wings together creating a manic buzzing sound.
Well its displaying worked as it wasn’t long before we caught the incoming female African Broadbill, a great result, such an interesting looking bird.
Netting in woodland is always slow but the species caught make up for this as we caught Pygmy Kingfisher, Little and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Eastern Nicator, Pale Batis (a coastal endemic) and a real treat, Mangrove Kingfisher. A tail feather was taken from the latter species for stable isotope analysis to see if this bird was of the more southern migratory populations or had moved from the coastal mangroves to breed here in Miombo woodland.

During the heat of the day we had a net set in front of the accommodation and caught a few Little Swifts and Lesser-striped Swallows. One afternoon I was doing a net-round and looked down the line and about 4 nets down saw a big bird bouncing about in the net! Legging it I was fortunate to get hold of a very outraged male African Goshawk! During the day we were in a good spot for raptor watching and saw a very high fast moving European Marsh Harrier, several Bateleur, and a family party of 3 African Hawk Eagles. But best were a pair of pale morph Elenora’s Falcons heading south.
On the last day we got a pair of Ashy Flycatchers and 2 more African Broadbills! Also bounced a few Red-chested Cuckoo which were responding to the ipod and speaker. Sightings here included a pair of Livingstone’s Flycatchers which we somehow missed!
Nick and Jill as the trip Bat experts, caught a few specimens of the huge roost in the accommodation roof and painstakingly identified them as Small Free-tail Bats.

Ibo Island

Leaving the site we saw a few Dark-chanting Goshawk and lots of Broad-billed Rollers before heading for the landing site to the archipelago.
We met our motorised dhow which we were to have for the next 10 days at our disposal and set off at high tide for Ibo Island with thousands of waders flying about trying to find suitable roosting sites.

Landing on Ibo we met our team of trainees, Omar, Abdulla, Sufo, and Sufo Ibo who were all keen and ready to go.
We were not able to set nets this evening as a fierce wind had got up and so we relaxed on the terrace overlooking the bay and mangroves watching for Bat Hawks and enjoying the hospitality of our hosts.

Early next morning we set a few nets in the thickets around the ancient slave fort and started picking up a variety of birds including Little Bee-eater, Red-capped Robin-chat, Black-backed Puffback, and Brimstone Canary.
Sightings here included another pair of Elenora’s Falcons going over and at least 3 Osprey in residence.

The wind had dropped enough for us to get two lines of nets up on the flats on Ibo Point. The method here is for the tide to recede at dusk for birds to start dropping back in from roost and especially the Crab Plovers which come in once it is fully dark to feed on the abundant Ghost Crabs.

Just before dark there were a lot of birds dropping back in and we started picking off the odd individual including a surprise of 5 Common Terns.
We finished the evening at 2230hrs with 30 Crab Plover, 3 Greenshank, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Terek Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Sandplover White-fronted and Ringed Plover.
We had a group of tourists come to watch us from the Lodge which was a great opportunity for our trainees to see how interested their visitors were.

Quirimbas Island

We only had the one night on Ibo as we had to get to Quirimba Island to get the right tide for the big roost where I had counted previously over 4,000 waders. Setting off at dawn we navigated the narrow winding channels through a vast swathe of mangrove forest eventually getting to Quirimba at 0700hrs. on the way we were lucky to have seen a pair of Humpback Dolphins and a single Elenora’s Falcon.

At the landing we were met by Kurt, one of a family of palm oil farmers who had been on the Island since the early part of last century and were taken to our very nice accommodation looking west out to sea.
The first thing we noticed was that we were surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of Madagascar Bee-eater burrows, mostly occupied! In no time we had a few 2 panel nets up and started catching these large and beautiful birds.
That afternoon we set off for the big roost only to find it was just too dangerous to work at night, too deep and very treacherous rocks made it impossible to take a catch safely.
Undeterred by this we set nets in the coastal thickets around the accommodation and had fun over the next two days catching a variety of new birds. Furling on the first day at dusk a small and very fast falcon came screaming along the beach and swooped just before the half furled net actually passing under it!!! Talk about bad timing!

Across the bay and on the low tide line we could see countless waders flying up and down as well as Swift Terns, Lesser Flamingo flocks and always the ubiquitous Osprey and Black Kites. At night we could hear the yapping calls of Crab Plovers moving with the tide.
The beach bush nets caught well with some surprises including Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, Brown-hooded, Malachite and Pygmy Kingfishers, Brown-breasted Barbet (a coastal endemic) Grey Sunbird (also) and African Paradise Flycatcher.

Ibo Island

We decided to head back to Ibo as wader netting was not an option here ad so caught the early morning tide and set off back to Ibo spotting another pair of Humpback Dolphin on the way.
That afternoon we set nets again on the flats and caught another 30 Crab Plovers, with Whimbrel, Greenshank, Grey Plover, Greater Sandplover, Terek Sandpiper and a Pied Kingfisher!

Matemo Island

Set off early on a mirror calm sea on the 2hr crossing to Matemo Island watching Common and Lesser-crested Terns feed above Skipjack Tuna crashing into bait-balls of smaller fish.
Wading ashore through the aquamarine sea, we saw at once the roost was good as birds began to congregate in the day. I had caught well here in the past and hoped to do so again.

We set up base at the ranger post for the island and in the afternoon set two lines of nets and waited for the tide. Over the next two nights we got 30 Whimbrel, Sanderling, Terek and Curlew Sandpiper, Lesser Sandplover and a Crab Plover. Unfortunately the tide had gone against us, not we were 3 days going into Neap tide from Spring tide so couldn’t get the concentration in the netting area.

Ibo Island
Back on Ibo we set the nets on the flat again and that night took a catch of mostly smaller waders a Whimbrel, Crab Plover and a Lesser-crested Tern.
Spent a pleasant morning during the heat of the day round the pool at the lodge and watched the waders out the front as well as Dimorphic Egrets, Black and Western Reef Herons working the exposed pools, the Black Herons employing their ‘umbrellas’.
That evening we took another catch, Whimbrel mostly, 2 Crab Plover and the usual smaller waders.

The rains were expected and this morning as we set off on the Dhow as rain clouds gathered. We drove back to Pemba, counting no less than 25 Bateleur Eagles on the way as well as another 3 Elenora’s Falcons, a pair of Lanner and Wahlberg’s Eagles.
The rain now looked like it was serious, but we managed to get a few sessions in at the site in Pemba catching Red-winged Warbler, African Paradise Flycatcher, Grey and Blue Waxbills, a Garden Warbler and Yellow-breasted Apalis.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable fortnight with ample species and time to look at them, spent at some very relaxing and conveniently situated sites.

See blow the species totals sheet

African Goshawk 1
Crab Plover 56
Common Ringed Plover 5
White-fronted Plover 5
Mongolian Sand Plover 3
Greater Sand Plover 12
Grey Plover 8
Terek Sandpiper 33
Common Greenshank 4
Sanderling 6
Bar-tailed Godwit 2
Common Whimbrel 30
Lesser-crested Tern 1
Common Tern 6
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove 5
Burchell’s Coucal 1
White-rumped Swift 6
Malachite Kingfisher 1
Mangrove Kingfisher 1
Brown-hooded Kingfisher 1
African Pygmy-Kingfisher 4
Pied Kingfisher 1
Swallow-tailed Bee-eater 2
Little-Bee-eater 3
Madagascar Bee-eater 83
Brown - breasted Barbet 1
Golden-tailed Woodpecker 3
Cardinal Woodpecker 1
African Broadbill 3
Lesser Striped Swallow 3
Square-tailed Drongo 3
Dark-capped Bulbul 9
Terrestrial Brownbul 2
Sombre Greenbul 35
Yellow-bellied Greenbul 1
Eastern Nicator 2
Red-capped Robin-Chat 3
White-browed Robin-Chat 1
Bearded Scrub-Robin 1
Basra Reed Warbler 1
Garden Warbler 1
Red-faced Cisticola 1
Red-winged Warbler 2
Yellow-breasted Apalis 1
Green-backed Camaroptera 4
Ashy Flycatcher 2
African Paradise-Flycatcher 3
Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher 2
Pale Batis 2
Black-throated Wattle-eye 2
Black-backed Puffback 6
Brown-crowned Tchagra 1
Tropical Boubou 1
Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike 1
Eastern Olive Sunbird 1
Grey Sunbird 2
Collared Sunbird 1
White-bellied Sunbird 1
Purple-banded Sunbird 5
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow 1
Spectacled Weaver 3
Village Weaver 2
Lesser Masked-Weaver 1
Dark-backed Weaver 4
Yellow Weaver 1
Yellow Bishop 2
Green-winged Pytilia 3
Red-billed Firefinch 7
Blue Waxbill 7
Grey Waxbill 1
Yellow-fronted Canary 3
Brimstone Canary 2
Golden-breasted Bunting 1
Bird Ringing Workshop
Quirimbas National Park

9th to 22nd April 2009

Facilitator; Malcolm Wilson

This workshop was designed to introduce the techniques of bird trapping and ringing to a selection of participants living in the National Park. The process of learning how to conduct this technique to full competency takes 2 to 3 years and requires a considerable level of enthusiasm and commitment.
Nine participants were chosen who consisted of park rangers, community volunteer rangers and two guides from Ibo Island. In addition to these participants Rebecca Phillips-marques was to begin her post observation practical training. Also in attendance was Mark Blythman an Australian volunteer who had been bird ringing for 3 years and still a trainee.
The purpose of showing and involving the participants the various techniques was to give them a sense of association as well as a different outlook and attitude towards birds and what they represent in the environment.
Four sites were chosen for the diversity of species of which a total of 63 were caught of 292 individuals.

Pemba Dive site.
This site constituted a very convenient and most effective venue for this type of workshop, being set in coastal scrub and thicket, the birdlife was prolific. Many individuals of lots of different species were caught here providing the participants with a good introduction to the technique.
With ample facilities to stay on-site, the participants were able to be in at the dawn start.
As usual there was a delay in all the participants arriving on the first day. The vehicle which was sent to collect the participants from Bilibiza and Mareja did not arrive on time and eventually appeared on the 3rd day.

It was explained at the start that the participants would initially just observe and gradually begin to assist and conduct tasks as directed. Extracting birds from mist nets, taking biometrics is a very difficult and intricate task which requires many hours of practice and therefore initially participants observed the method whilst an explanation was given by the facilitator.

Setting nets, opening and closing them for the night however was an activity the participants could and did get involved with and soon learnt the procedures.

It was important to explain to the group why we ring birds and an explanation was made that when a bird is ringed with a uniquely numbered ring it allows an accurate study of any given species population demographics. by identifying a large number of individuals in a number of local populations, it is possible to ascertain the health of a population and by looking at such things as adult to young ratios, impossible by just observation alone.
And even explaining the obvious reasons such as international recovery with is important as coastal Mozambique is on a migratory flyway and many birds are ringed to the north and south of Mozambique in Africa.

During the three mornings and days we caught a total of 105 birds of 28 species giving the participants a good opportunity to look at the various adaptations and specialisations of each species. In order for the participants to understand the complexities of specialisation and adaptation that creates bio diversity, we looked closely at what each species fed on, its habits, weather it was a terrestrial or arboreal species and sexual dimorphism which is a confusing phenomenon to anyone starting to learn about birds.

Among the 28 species we caught a number of Black-throated Wattle-eye, a bird which is listed by IUCN as near-threatened which seems to be particularly common here and in the park. it was noted that this would be a much sought after species by visiting birdwatchers. We listed all the ‘priority species’ that would be of prime interest to visitors, namely coastal endemics within this bio-geographical region.

There was a good opportunity to show everyone the abundance of African Paradise Flycatchers which given their high numbers in the area were on migration or had just finished and were now on their over-wintering grounds.

Other species which were of particular interest were Marsh Warbler and Basra Reed Warbler. These two species are very difficult to see in this dense bush habitat and so provided an opportunity to get a really good look at them. It was also pointed out that they were Palearctic migrants having finished breeding in the northern hemisphere, we compared the different shaped wings of a local resident and could see how much longer and better designed the migrants wings were for marathon flight.

Initially 3 x 18m nets were set so as not to get too many birds and not have time to go over the details with everyone. When Mark arrived on the second day I was able to put up another 2 x 18m and 4 x 12m, any more would have been too much with no time to spend on each bird.


This site was quite a different habitat to the previous one, set in tall miombo woodland it did not have the abundance of species. However there were a few species which were quite different to what we had caught previously.

This was the first site where two of the participants lived and worked with the lodge and as such had more contact with visitors then the others.

We set 5 x 18m and 5 x 12m nets with everyone assisting the operation. As it was getting late we still managed to catch 4 birds before furling the nets for the night. At dusk we set a single 12m net at the accommodation buildings and caught 5 White-rumped Swifts and a Lesser Striped Swallow.

All the while I am under the impression that the participants are attending simply because they have been invited to. I don’t think they have a particularly demanding day in terms of work and it was somewhat disappointing to see some of the participants leave the workshop dead on 1700hrs even when there were still birds being caught and assumed this was the official time to finish work.

Conditions were not optimal with a strong wind blowing but caught a few birds at first light before things slowed down. We covered birds of prey in the bird book, which species occur in the park and how to tell them apart. The participants, in particular Jossias, asked a good question, why were some birds present in the park when the distribution map in the bird book said otherwise? It was pointed out that there had been very little observations and record submitting by ornithologists and so a lot of the work we were doing was discovering new species in areas otherwise unexplored.

We took a walk mid morning at one point to go and see a particular site which had riparian forest and possibly new species. We came to an area of open grassland where we found a lot of the coastal endemic, Zanzibar Red Bishop and decided to try and catch them the following day.
We never did find the riparian forest as the guides seemed hesitant to walk there, possibly due to elephants.

Anser Sofu was called to Pemba as his sister had unfortunately passed away during the night.
We caught very few birds in the morning however one in particular was an African Broadbill and as such an indicator of good forest.
We returned back to the open grassland area with 3 nets and spent an hour catching some of the Bishops here. As striking as the males are in this group, they differ only subtly and we went over the criterion of what to look for in each species as three quite similar species occur in this area.
In all we caught a total of 42 birds of 15 species at Mareja.

We had arranged for the driver to collect us early in the morning so that we could catch the tide to Ibo Island, the next site. However the vehicle failed to arrive until the afternoon having been used for other tasks around Pemba despite the vehicle having been allocated for this workshop. By the time we did get going it was far too late to set nets as planned for that evening on the tide flats for waders. As we only had three nights on Ibo this was very frustrating and disappointing as we had effectively lost one night of netting. Given the costs of the workshop as well as all the planning and logistics undertaken by Rebecca, it was a great waste and very short-sighted and selfish of whoever was responsible.

As we had not managed to organise any sites the previous afternoon, the morning was lost. However we took a walk round the town part of the island and found some good sites near the fort we could use for the next morning. The wind was quite strong which made it near impossible to do any netting.

That afternoon at 1500 we set two lines of special wader nets out on the sand flats in front of the lodge. It was explained to the group that in order to catch wading birds at night you had to know about the tides and how they influenced bird movements accordingly. As this activity began at dusk most of the group elected to leave and go back to base and so few of the participants got to see some of the shorebirds caught. In particular 3 Crab Plover were caught which is a much sought after bird in this part of the world and it was a shame all the group did not get to see this bird.
We continued till 2300hrs by which time the tide gone out and with it the birds.
In addition to the three Crab Plovers we got 3 Greater Sand Plovers and one White-fronted Plover.

The next morning we walked to the Old Fort and erected 2 x 18m and 3 x 12m nets in low scrubby vegetation and had a good morning catching a good variety of species and a good amount of individuals.. we got each member of the group to actually start extracting and ringing some of the birds. It was encouraging to see how keen they were, although one or two birds were handled a bit too roughly. This is normal though when it is the first time to handle a bird in this manner and were guided through the whole process from extracting from the bag, fitting the ring, measuring the wing, tail and finally weighing the bird. I checked all the wing measurements and was surprised to see how accurate they all were.

Thus all were very happy to have got to handle some birds and I hope that they can be given the opportunity to practice this technique more regularly in order to become more adept. It will take a long time as in all cases the skill level is directly correlated to the amount of time one spends training.

Ibo Island could potentially become a very good site for a bird observatory with a permanent ringing effort conducted by resident qualified rangers or local guides. This would enable the regular training of guides, rangers, community fiscals and others who would be interested and ultimately passionate about doing so. In time this can become a draw card for the many tourists who visit Ibo as happens in many other countries, the concept of which has been presented in previous proposals to WWF by Malcolm Wilson.

That evening we set the same number of nets in roughly the same area and waited for the tide to push birds up along the tide line. The wind was very strong and restricted us from setting too far out and putting more nets up.

We caught till 0030hrs and ended with 2 Crab Plovers, 8 White-fronted Plover and a Greenshank. Only one of the participants remained with us as well as 3 local students who helped take the nets down.

The following day we set off for Guludo Lodge in the bark boat with all the participants except the two from Ibo who remained behind.

On arrival at Guludo we made a reconnaissance of the area and set 5 x 18m nets at different location. The participants now getting to grips with the process and were all very keen to help.

During the three days at Guludo the participants made progress by handling and becoming more involved with the ringing. We caught 74 birds in all of 34 species, giving everyone many new species to observe close up. During the days we would cover the subject in the manual by having informal discussions and noted many good questions put forward, particularly by Jossias Paulo and Anser Sofu.

This was the last site of the workshop and from here we returned to Pemba directly.


Of the nine participants who attended, those who stood out marginally above the others, in terms of showing the most interest, were Jossias Paulo, Joao Assane and Anser Sofu.
The is an element among them which would seem to make it hard to venture into a new area of expertise. Having been employed in their current services for a long time, it will take time for projects to develop and with it this area of capability.
In time it would be good to recruit more younger people to the park service who are just starting out and can immerse themselves fully into the development of avi-tourism and research related monitoring projects.

One of the tasks of the workshop was to look at the potential of each site visited to see if they could be suitable for bird ringing expeditions and permanent monitoring sites (bird observatories) in the future.

For general convenience and good species diversity and numbers, the Pemba Dive site in Pemba was exceptionally good. Although not in the Park, it makes a perfect focal point for workshops to be held with all the facilities to cater for a large group.
Mareja has good potential having the facilities to cater for students and tourists alike. However the abundance of birds is lower with much the same species other than the various forest indicator species.
Mareja would not make a particularly good site for a bird observatory but possibly a once a month visit to monitor movements, moult and breeding stratagem.

Ibo Island would be an ideal choice to establish a bird observatory. With the main emphasis placed on ringing Palearctic migrants. It has the best habitats in the form of inter tidal sand-flats for migrant shorebirds as well as thicket scrub for migrant passerines. It is a good base to visit the many large shorebird roosts on Matemo Island and others. With a growing population on the island there are a lot of young people who showed very willing to get involved and it would be a great shame if these youngsters cannot be employed in some way to ultimately run an observatory. With good numbers of visitors to the island, an operational bird observatory can be a first class attraction to casual observers and keen birding enthusiasts alike. If a nominal fee could be charged per person with an explanation of how the fee is used it could go a long way to sustaining the operation. One example was of a group of over 100 tourists who came ashore from a visiting National Geographic oceanic cruise in an impressive operation involving 10 large ridged inflatable boats. If each one of these amateur naturalists were to donate $1 it would go a long way to helping a few local trainees become more focussed. Ultimately establishing a Bird Observatory on Ibo would not be a costly exercise.

Guludo in particularly the lodge was a good site, but really only if a group of visiting bird ringing tourists were staying at the lodge. The area all round the village has good habitat and in time a appropriate site could be found here and residents of the village may become interested in being trained to run a project. There is little potential for catching shorebirds here.

Future perspectives

To realise some of the projects outlined previously, the way forward now is to attract some of the many skilled and experienced bird ringers to come to Quirimbas National Park and spend time imparting this skill at some of the sites mentioned.

Malcolm Wilson with African Affinity have a pool of many such people who to date have spent many weeks bird ringing in South Africa, Kenya Rwanda and Uganda and as such are continually interested and passionate about visiting new countries to gain new experiences. From my experiences of ringing in Africa, Quirimbas National Park is an exceptional site generally and even more so for shorebirds.
Between the months of September and May hundreds of thousands of Palearctic migrating shorebirds visit the archipelago and valuable data on where these birds are actually from and where they may be going to, needs to be collected by trapping and ringing.

Once a picture is built up of the requirements these birds need on passage and at stopover sites, we can then pre-empt population declines due to short-sighted development because of bad management decisions. This can be done by making informed management decisions based on insight gained from accurate data collected from ringing effort.

These expeditions will have a three-fold purpose
1. bringing a new kind of tourism
2. gathering valuable research
3. capacity building.

Already after 3 visits we have discovered new species not only for the country but for the park and many other range extension records.
With additional numbers of skilled amateur ornithologists visiting the park, it will mean that the biodiversity increases and as such make the park even more of an attraction. There is the potential to initially conduct 4-6 of these expeditions per year and as found in other countries this will increase as word of mouth and editorials take effect.

List of birds caught and ringed during the workshop

White-fronted Plover 9
Greater Sandplover 3
Crab Plover 5 a priority target species
Greenshank 1
Brown-breasted Barbet 6 Coastal endemic
Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird 1
Golden-tailed Woodpecker 1
African Pygmy Kingfisher 7
Brown-hooded Kingfisher 3
Malachite Kingfisher 1
Red-faced Mousebird 1
White-rumped Swift 14
Little Bee-eater 6
Red-billed Wood Hoopoe 3
African Broadbill 1 Forest indicator
Lesser Striped Swallow 1
Black-throated Wattle-eye 7 IUCN threatened
Blue Waxbill 1
Red-billed Firefinch 6
Collared Sunbird 3
Purple-banded Sunbird 7
Olive Sunbird 1
Scarlet-chested Sunbird 2
Grey Sunbird 1 Coastal endemic
Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher 1
African Paradise Flycatcher 14 Afro-tropical migrant
European Marsh Warbler 2
Green-backed Camaroptera 5
Red-faced Crombec 1
Pale Batis 3
Short-winged Cisticola 2
Red-faced Cisticola 4
Tawny-flanked Prinia 2
Green-winged Pytilia 11
Red-throated Twinspot 5
Eastern Paradise Whydah 1
Zanzibar Red Bishop 15 coastal endemic
Black-winged Red Bishop 8
Yellow-mantled Widowbird 1
Yellow-fronted Canary 1
European Sedge Warbler 1
Basra Reed Warbler 1
Red-billed Quelea 2
White-browed Scrub-robin 1
Red-capped Robin-chat 11
White-browed Robin-chat 1
Bearded Scrub-robin 1
Sombre Greenbul 26
Yellow-bellied Greenbul 27
Yellow-streaked Greenbul 1
Dark-capped Bulbul 12
Terrestrial Brownbul 3
Black-backed Puffback 8
Lesser-masked Weaver 10
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow 2
Spectacled Weaver 3
Village Weaver 4
Black-bellied Starling 3
Brown-crowned Tchagra 5
Eastern Nicator 2
Tropical Boubou 1
Grey-headed Bushshrike 2
Emerald-spotted Wood-dove 7
Tambourine Dove 1

Limpopo Ringing Expedition South Africa
March 19th to 31st 2009

Billy Rutherford
Barry Williams
Richard Charles
Tim Ball
Claire McGuire
Mark Blythman
Jim Williams
Michael Parker

Loading up the trip vehicle was a challenge to say the least, but eventually we managed to fit everything in then squeeze in ourselves including the pigeon, 20 mice, zebra finch and mealworms!
First off we started dropping for raptors in the Nylsvlei area, big open farms with large patches of bushveld which made for good birding too.
So far we had seen 3 Brown Snake Eagles (BSE) and 1 Black-chested Snake Eagle (BCSE) a few Amur Falcons and Lesser Kestrel, but the bulk of migrant raptors it would seem had left. Steppe Buzzards were conspicuous by their absence.
We had a few Black-shouldered Kites onto traps but unusually very half-hearted attempts. These birds were very common and a count of 50 were made in this area. Eventually we caught an adult Greater Kestrel which was duly ringed by Billy and then had to get going to the Woodbush Forest.

We arrived late and managed to get a load of nets up before dark and furled. As we were preparing a braai (South African BBQ) a Wood Owl flew down onto the track by the cottage and picked up a beetle! In moments we had an owl net with a bal-chatri under it and watched for the next 2 hours as the owl swooped down over the net and back up into the trees. Eventually hunger or curiosity got he better of it and landed on the trap then quickly took off but into the bottom shelf of the net!
What a gorgeous bird, an adult with an interesting mix of new and old flight feathers.

We were hampered here in the mornings with a heavy drizzle, but between net rounds managed to pick up a number of birds of a variety of species including Kurrichane Thrush, Chorister Robin-chat, Dusky Flycatcher, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Cape White-eye.

Setting off late morning to look for raptors we were soon presented with a Long-crested Eagle which took no time in coming to the trap and getting caught. It was a young bird, no primary moult and an off-yellow eye, Tim had the honor of ringing it and we had our first eagle in the bag.
A bit later we got a juvenile Jackal Buzzard not far from the town of Hearnetzburg.
During the morning we saw 3 Forest Buzzards but could not get near enough to drop a trap for them. Eventually we spotted one across the small valley by the guesthouse and put a trap up on the bank of the track and waited. It was a good 200m away and after 5 minutes it saw the mouse and came in, but very wary and took 20 minuets to alight next to the trap then another 10 to get on it where it caught itself. Unfortunately Jim, nominated to secure the bird, spent far too long getting to the trap by which time the buzzard had slipped free. A great shame after so much time and effort had gone into catching this bird, but that is the nature of the game.
In all we saw 5 Long-crested Eagles an adult Jackal Buzzard, 3 Steppe Buzzards and 4 Fish Eagles.

Mist netting in the garden that afternoon and the next morning produced a few more sunbirds and new birds included, several Forest Canary, Black-throated Apalis, Cape Robinchat and Cape Batis.

On the way out of Woodbush Forest we took the famous ‘Forest Drive’ which traverses many kilometres of beautiful forest. The highlight along this track was finding an adult Forest Buzzard which flushed as soon as we came across it, but fortunately landed in a dead tree further along the track. Got a trap down and in seconds the bird was on the trap, a very different attitude to the bird of yesterday.
We had the bird in no time where Barry Williams duly ringed it, having spent 3 trips previously attempting to catch this species he was suitably chuffed.
There is not much known about the seasonal movements of this species, breeding only south of the 30th parallel and moving up the escarpment to the northern Transvaal. This bird, an adult would have possibly finished breeding and possibly moving into a rainfall area to ‘over winter’.

On the way to Tzaneen, the small town en route to our destination we encountered 6 Brown Snake Eagles and dropped for 3 to no avail. Also had a Steppe Buzzard come in to the trap but ‘smelt a rat’ at the last second and kept on going!
Just outside the town of Phalaborwa an adult Black-chested Snake-eagle dropped out of the sky in a screaming dive to some unseen prey item, but aborted and landed in a tree nearby. We got a trap down but the bird was too interested in what it had missed.

Arriving at our lodge we got a good number of nets up in nice thorn scrub and before dark got a few Red-backed Shrikes, Fork-tailed Drongo and after supper the ipod produced a beautiful immature Southern White-faced owl.

The next morning after the catch rate subsided Claire whilst taking a shower was bitten by a tiny scorpion on the instep of her foot effectively putting her out of action and in great pain for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile some of us went out on a raptor run and just outside town came across a Brown Snake-eagle on a pylon, managed to manoeuvre the vehicle into position along a goat track and got the trap down. This time the eagle came in immediately and on the trap. we then spent a ‘heart-in-mouth’ 10 minutes before the bird was caught and we had a beauty of a beast, an adult at 2.9 kg and in fine shape. Billy was the lucky one who ringed it and thus confidently charged set off into the bush.
We caught 2 Dark-chanting Goshawks in the normal way and 2 Lilac-breasted Rollers, coming to mealworm bated spring-traps, but no more snake-eagles.

Back at the lodge we continued to run the nets catching till dusk when we put the ipod on a mix of nightjar calls and were rewarded with a Firey-necked Nightjar and whilst dazzling produced a Mozambique Nightjar and a Water Dikkop. We were not so lucky to have caught a Bronze-winged Courser and a Double-banded Sandgrouse which flushed too soon.

After a 2 hour session first thing we set off to the Soutpansberg Mountains following lots of little back roads, but again just outside Phalaborwa the pylons produced again, this time a second year Black-chested Snake Eagle. I was convinced it was a bird we had tried to catch the day before which was impossible to drop for, but this time we got a trap on a service track and the bird came in immediately. It was duly ringed (by Billy again!) and we continued.
We dropped for another Black-chested Snake Eagle an adult later on which came in, hovered over the trap and then landed in a tree nearby which sometimes happens. Then flew up to another tree apparently loosing interest.

Next up was a Lizard Buzzard which came in typically rocket-like and was caught right away. Richard ringed this one, a sub adult.

We arrived at the foot of the Soutpansberg and began the 8 km ascent up a tiny one lane track in the large mini bus we were in! Ignoring the crunching and grinding of the undercarriage we made it to the top, quite an achievement and the first 2x4 ever to do so!
We set a long line of nets in this wonderful wooded bushland right on the edge of a spectacular view overlooking the south. A pair of Verreaux’s Eagles had a nest just below us and would from time to time soar over us providing wonderful views of this magnificent eagle.
The setting here was paradise, with the ringing table set by the edge of the escarpment where we could keep an eye on passing raptors. Observations included three Cape Vultures a pair of African Hawk-eagles, an adult Black-chested Snake Eagle, an adult Jackal Buzzard, a Pair of local Peregrine Falcons, a Lanner, a fantastic displaying male Crowned Eagle a Honey Buzzard, 5 male Amur falcons heading north with a Steppe Buzzard.

A really exciting moment was seeing a small falcon way off hunting over the bushveld which could of possibly been a Taita Falcon, a very rare and localised bird found only in South Africa some 200km away as the falcon flies. However we were not able to get enough on it to clinch the identity, just that it was different!
The camera traps in the Soutpansberg to date have now caught 11 individual Leopards. Very encouraging to know this beautiful predator is doing well here.

We had the pigeon out in the basket trap all day and at one point a Peregrine looked very interested, cutting off a convincing stoop just before the trees.
During the night we played various calls for Cape and Spotted Eagle-owls and even got a response from the former but no luck.

Limpopo Valley
After the mornings catch we set off back down the track reshaping the bodywork as we went and headed north over the mountains to a vast area of dry bushveld. On route we caught a juvenile Pale-chanting Goshawk and a Purple Roller and had a Brown Snake Eagle on the trap which got off at the last second.
At our camp we caught another Pale-chanting Goshawk, this time a large adult female which had just devoured a dove.
We got into this great camp and set 2 wader nets by the waterhole before dusk and waited. After a while we heard the tale-tale whistling of Double-banded Sandgrouse coming into drink and got 6 birds, not as many as I had hoped as numbers were very much down compared to the catches last time.
Michael Parker arrived in time to ring one of the Sandgrouse. After supper we set the nightjar net and caught a Rufous-cheeked and European Nightjar.

In the morning we flushed a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl whilst opening the nets, one to watch! Caught lots of Cinnamon and Golden-breasted Buntings as well as Namaqua Dove, Familiar Chat, Arrow-marked Babbler and Fork-tailed Drongo.
After lunch we set off on a quick raptor run and for provisions down to the town of Alldays and got a Lesser Kestrel, a cracking adult male a lat one as this species has almost entirely moved north by now. Also caught were Rock Kestrel another adult male and an adult Shikra.
That evening we caught a few more Sandgrouse including a 29 month old re-trap.

Leaving after a couple of hours netting first thing we headed north to the Limpopo valley, the habitat changing now to a mixture of mature bushveld and thorny scrub dotted with giant Baobabs. On top of one of these we spotted an African Hawk Eagle and got two traps down. After 5 mins the bird saw the mouse and reacted by cautiously flying in to have a look, eventually landing beside the first trap. After a while it reassured itself this was ok and made a lunge for the mouse with the very long, extremely powerful legs and talons of this species.
Just then another bird flew in, a juvenile, landing next to the second trap just as the adult got caught, with the ensuing struggle the juvenile flew up into a tree, but we had to grab the first bird before any harm was done.
We aged it as a third year female at 1.520kg, it had two moult centres in the primary tract, with a retained outer juvenile feather.

By now the juvenile had taken to the wing and was circling overhead looking for its mum! So we quickly release the female and continued. We came across a Peregrine whch we set down the pigeon for, but unfortunately it hardly moved and the falcon never spotted it.
We passed through Mpangubwe Natioal Park and came across a large heard of Elephants at the same time as spotting a Brown Snake-eagle on a dead tree. Keeping a wary eye on the elephants we dropped for it and were soon rewarded with an incoming bird which soon got caught, but at the last moment, got off.

As we moved west we spotted lots of raptors up in the air, a pair of Tawny Eagles, a Steppe Eagle, 8 Wahlberg’s Eagles and 4 Brown Snake-eagles. We tried for 2 Black-chested on a pylon but they flew for some unknown reason.

Limpopo River
Arriving at our next camp in beautiful riparian forest on the banks of the Limpopo river, we set 12 nets and managed to catch a few birds before nightfall including Grey-headed Brown-hooded and Woodland Kingfishers.
The owl net produced a stunning little African Scops Owl at around midnight.

Next morning we opened at 0530hrs and began to catch quality not quantity with the best bird undoubtedly being a Greater-spotted Cuckoo, the 12th ringed in South Africa. Other birds of note were a Levaillant’s Cuckoo, several Meve’s Starling a Burchell’s Coucal and a Shikra.
The day was spent very pleasantly round the camp playing with spring-traps, and trying out ideas to catch targeted species and even time in the pool!
That night we made a night drive and managed to dazzle 2 Spotted Thick-knees and got a cracking Southern White-faced Owl on a bal-chatri. We searched in vain for a Verreaux’s Eagle-owl despite it calling from within the canopy of the huge Nyala trees along the river.

After the morning session some of us went on a raptor run which caught 3 Pale-chanting Goshawks and a Shikra. We almost had a Lanner which came in over the trap but decided against it and flew off. We found two Tawny Eagles but one was too low and far back from the track and the other flew on our approach.
Netting at the camp produced a whole flock of white Helmet-shrikes, delightful birds with such a strange adaptation of head feathers and eye-wattle. Other birds included a netted Jackal Buzzard! which must of gone in after a bird in the net, a Natal Spurfowl, 2 Red-billed Hornbill, a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, a Lesser-grey Shrike in one of the spring-traps, 2 Greater Honeyguide, a Pygmy Kingfisher, Willow and Marsh Warblers.

Dazzling that night was fun despite not catching anything as the moon was up making it difficult to approach birds. There were lots of Crowned, Blacksmith and Senegal Plovers as well as quite a number of Bronze-winged Coursers and Water Thick-knee.

After a short session we continued to add to the species list with a Terrestrial Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul a pair of Tropical Boubous.
We set off for ‘the Farm’ on the banks of the Oliphants River and on the way got Billy his target of 50 ‘ringing ticks’ in the form of a Dark-chanting Goshawk, one of two caught. Nearing the farm we began to see Black-shouldered Kites, the species greatly favouring farmland with so much spilt grain attracting mice along the roadsides. We caught two birds, an adult and juvenile but were pushed for time and got to the farm to set nets for the morning, not before catching a Mocking Cliff-chat and a Rufous-naped Lark around the farmhouse!
The morning provided Kurrichane and Karoo Thrushes, Fiscal Flycatcher, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Lesser-striped Swallows, Jamison’s Firefinches, Blue Waxbills and Rattling Cisticolas.

Then it was time to go, the airport an hour away allowed for some diversions to do some birdwatching, continuing to add to the impressive list of over 400 species seen on the trip.
From a ringing point, we managed to ring 322 birds of 109 species, not a huge amount of birds, but great diversity.
The main factor against us was an early winter front coming in from the south-west which in my opinion prompted an early northward migration for a lot of birds of prey. In the past this very period in march has produced far greater catch of raptors in particular Black-chested Snake-eagles which are usually present in far bigger numbers then Brown Snake-eagles which were the more common on this trip. However 18 species of raptor is not bad by any standards on a trip and what is nice is for everyone to have a good look at individual species instead of ‘doing big numbers’ and missing the details.

See below the trip list of birds ringed.

Natal Spurfowl 1
Greater Honeyguide 3
Lesser Honeyguide 1
Crested Barbet 4
Red-billed Hornbill 4
S Yellow-billed Hornbill 4
Green Wood-Hoopoe 2
Lilac-breasted Roller 2
Purple Roller 1
African Pygmy-Kingfisher 1
Grey-headed Kingfisher 1
Woodland Kingfisher 3
Brown-hooded Kingfisher 3
Levaillant's Cuckoo 1
Great Spotted Cuckoo 1
Burchell's Coucal 1
African Scops-Owl 1
S White-faced Scops-Owl 2
African Wood-Owl 1
Fiery-necked Nightjar 2
Square-tailed Nightjar 1
Rufous-cheeked Nightjar 2
European Nightjar 1
Laughing Dove 6
Cape Turtle-Dove 2
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove 3
Namaqua Dove 5
Double-banded Sandgrouse 11
Spotted Thick-knee 3
Black-shouldered Kite 2
Black-chested Snake-Eagle 1
Brown Snake-Eagle 2
Lizard Buzzard 1
Dark Chanting Goshawk 4
S Pale Chanting Goshawk 9
Shikra 3
Forest Buzzard 1
Jackal Buzzard 2
African Hawk-Eagle 1
Long-crested Eagle 1
Lesser Kestrel 1
Rock Kestrel 1
Greater Kestrel 1
Black-headed Oriole 1
Fork-tailed Drongo 4
Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher 1
African Paradise-Flycatcher 3
Black-backed Puffback 5
Tropical Boubou 2
Southern Boubou 2
Olive Bush-Shrike 1
White-crested Helmet-Shrike 7
Cape Batis 6
Red-backed Shrike 5
Lesser Grey Shrike 1
Southern White-crowned Shrike 1
Black Cuckooshrike 2
Lesser Striped Swallow 1
Dark-capped Bulbul 6
Yellow-bellied Greenbul 1
Terrestrial Brownbul 6
Marsh Warbler 2
Lesser Swamp-Warbler 1
Long-billed Crombec 1
Willow Warbler 2
Arrow-marked Babbler 2
Common Whitethroat 1
Cape White-eye 16
Lazy Cisticola 5
Rattling Cisticola 4
Neddicky 1
Tawny-flanked Prinia 2
Bar-throated Apalis 5
Grey-backed Camaroptera 6
Rufous-naped Lark 1
Kurrichane Thrush 10
Karoo Thrush 1
Fiscal Flycatcher 1
African Dusky Flycatcher 1
Ashy Flycatcher 5
Grey Tit-Flycatcher 1
Cape Robin-Chat 2
White-throated Robin-Chat 7
Chorister Robin-Chat 1
Bearded Scrub-Robin 1
White-browed Scrub-Robin 1
Familiar Chat 1
Mocking Cliff-Chat 1
Meves's Starling 5
Violet-backed Starling 2
Collared Sunbird 2
S Double-collared Sunbird 5
Southern Masked-Weaver 5
Red-headed Weaver 2
Red-billed Quelea 1
Yellow Bishop 2
Violet-eared Waxbill 1
Blue Waxbill 7
Green-winged Pytilia 6
Red-billed Firefinch 7
African Firefinch 2
Jameson's Firefinch 2
Bronze Mannikin 1
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow 6
Forest Canary 4
Yellow-fronted Canary 1
Streaky-headed Seedeater 1
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting 18
Golden-breasted Bunting 2

109 Species 322 Birds