Friday, January 22, 2010

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

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