Friday, February 21, 2020

Christmas Owls in Canada December 2019

This was to be my 4th winter visit to catch and band the great White Owls of the North!

This time we had 2 friends come visit us, Steppe Wilson from California's Golden Gate Raptor Observatory and bander Debby Wheeler from Vancouver, who last came to the Kalahari with me in 2018.
Steppe arrived first and we set off to our regular sites. Steppe has banded raptors all over the states and has been active at a site in Montana catching Golden Eagles, of which he told us recently they got 14 in one day!!! After seeing a few owls we finally got 2 adult male Snowy Owls last thing in -16 as well as a grumpy Northern Shrike (they are always grumpy)!
It was still early and not cold enough to get the numbers of Red-tail Hawks we had last year, but we got 4 one day at the southern site on Lake Erie including 2 American Kestrels.
Christmas Day we went to Charlotte's sisters and got a festive American Kestrel on the way!
Just Charlotte and I one day at a site just north of Toronto, caught a big female Snowy and taking it off the trap, I noticed it had a rivet band on, a text to Nigel Shaw soon revealed that it had been banded in Montreal 6 years previously as a 2nd year!
With Debby, we had a good first day with 7 Snowy's seen and 2 caught, including 3 Red-tails and a Rough-legged Hawk. The next day we saw 10 Snowy's and caught 3 plus a Red-tail.
At one site we stayed late to try mist net several Short-eared Owls, we around 10 bird hunting, one even landed on a net pole! But no luck.
Charlotte and I went to Meaford, a lovely little town on Lake Huron where our friend Jim and Catherine let us stay in their house whilst they were overwintering in Mexico. Our aim was to explore a new area to the west and we found lots of Owls! The weather was shocking, horizontal gale force winds and driving snow, BUT, we managed to get 6 Snowy Owls and dropped for 12! We also got a Red-tail, that came in from 300m, sideways! And an adult female Rough-legged Hawk at 1.6kg!
Our last session was one of the best. Back to a regular site, new birds had come in and we got 6 Snowy Owls, including a control! a bird that had been banded in New York state as a hatch year in 2013!!
Totals were:
Snowy Owl 23 (2)
Red-tailed hawk 29
Rough-legged Hawk 3
American Kestrel 12
Northern Shrike 7
a big 'northern' Red-tail adult
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Charlotte doing what she loves best!

lovely adult male

Step with an adult male
Step and me with a Red-tail

Indignation at best!
Grumpy at best!
American Kestrel male

took a break from eating my finger!

the Montreal band
the rough legs of a Roughie

adult female Roughie
Debby and I with a double header RT's

adult male all white Snowy

a Christmas kestrel!

a Kenyan pilgrimage to the ringing mecca of Ngulia, November 2019

I was besides myself looking forward to this trip. Not only had it been a few years since I'd been, but that Charlotte was coming out too!
We set off from Nairobi to the coast to go stay with Colin Jackson at his wonderful Arocha site at Watamu, but first we stopped off at a concession in Tsavo East for a night to break the journey. On the way we caught an Eastern-chanting Goshawk, a bird I'd wanted to catch for years! So much like their Dark and Pale cousins, but also quite different.
At Tsavo, we were greeted by a pair of quite large male lions sitting in the track! In the morning we had a drive around and saw a few nice birds, in particular QUAIL-PLOVER!! a bird Ive wanted to see!! and also a very good record (eg, Colin has never seen one!).
At the coast it was great to se Colin, Roni and young Kai, but the rain!!! The weather was against us and we only managed to put nets up one morning and caught a few local species. We went to Mida Creek, (I'd not been here for 35 years!) a famous site for wader ringing and saw a good high tide flock of mixed waders, including a flock of CRAB PLOVERS!!
Back to Tsavo East for a week, before Ngulia, and through the eastern gate. There had been some really good early rains and the savannah was alive with displaying Golden Pipits, Chestnut-headed Sparrowlarks, displaying Hartlaub's Bustards, Somali Bee-eaters, Von der Decken's Hornbills, Taita Fiscal,  Martial, Tawny, Steppe, Lesser-spotted Eagles and many ringtail Harriers.
It was nice to see one of the strangest antelope in Africa, the Gerenuk, such a wonderful looking beast!! Vultures were thin on the ground, but we did see 2 Egyptian, some Lappet-faced and Ruppell's. But the best sighting was seeing a Striped Hyena trotting along the track in front of us!
Back at our lodge we found a Verreaux's Eagle-owl in a tree and dropped a trap for it with an instant response and caught it. When getting the bird off the trap, it made a good lot of bill clacking, which in turn brought into the tree; 2 other Verreaux's Eagle owls (mum and juv) a Wahlberg's eagle and last but not east, a Martial!!! Crazy tree full of huge raptors! unfortunately before i could get the trap out agin, the birds disappeared. Charlotte was very happy, the one owl she wanted to catch more than anything!! We next got a Pygmy Falcon, such a wonderful little raptor, and in very different habitat from Southern Africa.
On arrival at the gate, it was so good to see Ian Kerton and Phil Jones and to finally meet Martin Cade. Conditions for this session looked so good, great mists, even in the day!! but the birds were few and our best night was just shy of 3000 birds ringed, mostly Thrush Nightingale, Marsh Warbler and Whitethroat. The final tally was just shy of 10,000 bird ringed at the end of the November session, not the best of catches, (Ive been here when we have caught 28,000 birds in 10 days!). Other friends arrived, Richard Charles, Paul Roper and Keith Dean whom we all got raptors for. Charlotte and I road trapped and got another favourite of Charlotte's, Auger Buzzard, including a massive female of 1.5kg! We managed to get in total, 9 Eastern-chanting Goshawks, 2 Wahlberg's Eagles, 2 Brown Snake Eagles, 2 Pygmy Falcons and 4 Auger Buzzards.

the first Eastern-chanting Goshawk

on the way to the coast!

Road block!

1.85kg, adult male VEO

those eyelids!

Pygmy Falcon, adult male


Paul with his Wahlberg's Eagle

A cardiologist with an ECG!
Auger Buzzard, adult 
Steppe, Gtr-spotted and Lesser Spotted Eagles on the termites

Huge Auger Buzzard

Ngulia is in a very beautiful park

Chestnut Sparrow

young Brown Snake Eagle

End of a great trip!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Dry North-West and the Kalahari

After a month in the UK, much as I love an autumn nest full of Blackcaps Chiffs and Whitethroats, I was ready for some African bush birds again. So with Graeme, Graham and Roly, we set off on a different trip to what I normally do, to the west and the Kalahari in the Northern Cape.
We made our way via a couple of really nice bush lodges, and caught a good variety of species, a Klaas's Cuckoo was notable for winter as an afro-tropical migrant, either a very early bird, or one that stayed over?
We were extremely lucky to find a few flowering Jamesbrittenia bergae which were discovered in 2002 only here on this small range of hills!
Heading West, we stayed at a camp near the Botswana border, so dry, the dam at the camp, that we had nets round, was very low and well attended by a few White Rhino, which made net checks interesting!
Lark-like Buntings had arrived, and we caught a few of these nomadic and irruptive birds. 
It was so dry we were not seeing many raptors, other than a few Pale-chanting Goshawks of which we caught a few.nWe managed to catch 2 Rufous-cheeked Nightjars in camp, these are an afro-tropical migrant and had clearly arrived already!
At our next camp, we netted at a waterhole for Burchell's Sandgrouse and got several of these cool birds as well as a little Pearl-spotted Owlet one night. There were a few Fawn-coloured Larks singing which responded very well to playback and we caught an individual which was a first for me!
On the way to the Kalahari and our next camp, we were lucky to find a Martial Eagle sitting on a pole at 0800. We got a trap down and the bird was soon on the trap and was caught soon after! It was an adult female at 4.3kg's and a bird Graeme would not forget in a hurry!
After having caught Africa's largest Eagle, we then caught Africa's smallest raptor, a Pygmy Falcon! 
We lost quite a bit of netting time to the strong wind that was constantly blowing, so a day in the park was had where we saw lions and a Caracal catching sandgrouse at a waterhole!
On the way back, we stopped off at a big dam to see if we could catch some arriving waders from the palearctic, and whilst there were a few Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshank and Ringed Plover present, there were not enough to take big catches and just caught White-fronted, Kittlitz's and Blacksmith Plovers.

the crazy looking White-crowned Helmet-shrike!

Jamesbrittenia bergae

always sassy, Magpie Shrike

Klaas's Cuckoo, adult female

Acacia Pied Barbet

Violet-eared Waxbill

Lark-like Bunting

Rhino and the nets opposite!

a Puffy!

Fawn-coloured Lark

Burchell's Sandgrouse

Rufous-cheeked Nightjar

endemic Southern Pied Babbler

the business end!

the Martial!

Pygmy Falcon

Kittlitz's Plover

White-fronted Plover