Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Republic of Congo
November 2015

Back again this time to work on the Rosy Bee-eater and African River Martin colonies respectively.
With me were Dr Stuart Sharp from Lancaster University hoping to get a project off the ground to study the African River Martins, a very little known species of conservation concern. Also in the ringing team were Helen Hipperson, Phil Clay and Rael Loon.

Arriving there a week ahead I had time to go and have a peek at the colony. To my huge relief, there were plenty of birds in full nesting mode! The River Martins were feeding young and the Bee-eaters I was to discover, were mostly gravid or incubating. 
I was with a couple of day visitors to the reserve, Jim and Kevin from Chevron Oil who were very excited to see the operation.
I set a single 2 shelf net and in one hour managed to ring 22 Rosy Bee-eaters in an hour! I wanted to leave the River Martins until Stuart arrived.

When everyone had arrived, over the next two days we ringed 106 Rosy Bee-eaters. Stuart managed to do some endoscoping in the River Martin colony and discovered the burrows were over 1 metre long, more than the digiscope arm! We did see a snake of some sort enter a burrow and come out with a River Martin, it was hard to not interfere with the plight of such a vulnerable and data deficient species.

Giving the site a rest, we focussed on the scrub around the guest house and caught a few Palearctic migrant warblers, Garden, Willow and the first European Sedge Warbler for the site!
Overhead were big flocks of Common Swift and a single Common Sand Martin, the 2nd national record.

Nights were on a few occasions spent dazzling and here we managed to catch a few of Swamp, Firey-necked and Gabon Nightjars, as well as a Flappet Lark and Senegal Plovers!  

Our first attempt at River Martins back at the colony produced 9 birds, such spectacular things and it was great to see the suitably awed expressions on the other ringers. In this session we also did another 50 odd Rosy Bee-eaters.
Giving the colony another rest, we went to survey a forest in another part of the reserve, where recently I had seen a family of Chimpanzees! We set 6 nets in this good tall mature forest. We were not disappointed! We got a good variety of species with Chestnut Wattle-eyes, a few Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers (sub species Neumanni), Olive-green Camaroptera, and remarkably a male Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill followed by a stunning Gabon Coucal! Not to mention a cracking Blue-billed Malimbe. 
On the way back we found a Green Sandpiper, virtually unknown in the country! 

We spent another session at the guest house and in the bush nets were extremely surprised to get an young Chestnut-Flanked Sparrowhawk! This is the 2nd one caught and ringed here, a very secretive and elusive bird of prey of which there are virtually no photographs! This one was a 2nd year female and what a bird!

Next was a trip up river to a camp on the banks of the Kouilou River and another forest type to survey.
We got a load of nets up with a lot of work with the machete and listened to the Wood Owls calling at night. The morning proved very productive, several species, including Fire-crested Alethe, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Red-tailed Ant-thrush (first for the reserve), White-throated and Red-tailed Greenbuls (also 1st) and a Brown-eared Woodpecker. Other firsts seen here for the reserve was a White-crested Hornbill, a very smart bird.

On the way back, we visited the beach on the Atlantic Ocean, quite a setting at the Kouilou River mouth. Just before setting a few shore nets, we did a recce in the daylight and found an adult summer plumaged FRANKLIN’S GULL!! This was a first for the country and a very good record indeed of this New World gull! 
That night we set a few wader nets to see if we could get any of the 20 odd thousand Royal Terns which roost here. We also set a line of single shelf nets for Grey Pratincole.
In what seemed like no time at all, we had got 3 Royal Tern, 6 Grey Pratincole and 2 White-fronted Plover. But the real bonus bird were a pair of AFRICAN SKIMMERS!!! All this and back at the guest house for supper, what a great little session!! 

In addition to the ringing we got 14 new species for the reserve putting the list now at 306.

We also managed to ring 200 Rosy Bee-eaters.
the Rosy Bee-eater colony
Phil and Helen ready to ring a few Rosy's

Stuart endoscoping the River Martin colony
setting off up the Kouilou River

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