11 December 2011

First Foreign Recapture of a Barn Swallow at Umzumbe


30.11.2011 will go down as the day the first foreign recapture of a Barn Swallow occured at the Umzumbe Barn Swallow Roost. We have previously had one recapture which was a bird that I had ringed there 2 years previously.

Adult Barn Swallow

During one of the many ringing sessions that will be held at the roost that hosts approximately 1.5 million birds, a total of 57 birds were caught of which one bird already had a ring on its right Tarsus. The ring had the inscription "BRITISH MUSEUM LONDON SW7" with the ring number X111901.

Barn Swallows flying around the nets

The information has been sent to England and we are waiting for the information as to who, where and when the bird was ringed, when this information comes through we will get to know the distance that the bird has travelled. Information returned by the BTO is that the bird was ringed in Retford, Nottinghamshire by the North Notts ringing group on 16th September 2011 as a first year bird. The straightline distance from Retford to the Umzumbe roost is 11 167km. The bird obviously has travelled further than this due to migration routes.

The British ringed Swallow

The Ring

The Ring

For more information please visit my website listed under the links "Barn Swallow Research"

27 November 2011

African Finfoot and Whitebacked Night Heron Breeding in Umzumbe

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from a Richard Hulley to say that his son Brangan had found the nest of an African Finfoot on his farm dam in Umzumbe. The bird has been present on the dam for ten years that I know of and possibly a lot longer.
African Finfoot incubating
The two of us investigated and found the nest on an Island in the dam, and low and behold it had chosen the one island that has a bridge leading to it. We moved around the dam and crossed the bridge and saw the nest with one egg in it (normally the clutch is one or two eggs), virtually nothing is known about the breeding habits of these birds, so this would be a good chance to record and learn something. The nest is in the branches of the tree over-hanging the water, at a height of about 50cm above the water. This is done so that if there is any disturbance the female can quietly slip off the nest into the water and swim away to avoid giving the nest location away. We also found another nest in the tree about 1m above the water and with four white eggs in it, the adults of which had flown off when we arrived on the island. 

African Finfoot egg

Whitebacked Night Heron eggs
Ten days later I went to check the progress of the nests and walked across the bridge, which this time after the recent rain collapsed on me when I got close to the island, so there was me up to my chest in water, binocs around my neck (now totally submerged), camera in its bag with phone and keys for save keeping, also in the water. A quick swim to the island and everything got laid out to see what damage had been caused, luckily camera and phone were still relatively dry and the binocs are gas filled. However the birds on the nest quickly disappeared with all the commotion. I investigated the Finfoot nest first and found the egg still intact; I then checked the other nest and found three chicks and one egg. Now to sit patiently to see what would happen. Firstly the Finfoot came back and continued incubating allowing me to take a few pictures, then after what seemed forever one of the other birds flew back and I was able to identify it as a Whitebacked Night Heron, so we have a new breeding record of this most elusive and rarely seen birds. 

Whitebacked Night Heron chicks
The trouble came three days later when heavy rain fell at the dam with 75mm falling overnight on Friday. On Saturday I went to have a look without going onto the island as a good viewing site had been found looking straight at the African Finfoot nest, however the Whitebacked Night Heron nest is not visible. The water level in the dam had risen to the point of almost touching the Finfoot nest, the nest has been abandoned and was at an angle of 30deg off horizontal, the only hope now is that the egg hatched on the Wednesday or Thursday as being a water bird the chick is able to swim at two days of age. My plan was to borrow a small boat and conduct further investigations once the weather improved. 

African Finfoot nest after the rain
A week later the rain haf stopped so I went to the island after borrowing a small boat. I paddled to the island to avoid too much noise and was shocked at what awaited me, The Whitebacked Night Heron nest is also devastated and there were no sign’s of the chicks so we must assume that they have perished, Roberts 7 gives the nestling period at around 40 days, and records that the chicks can climb around the tree at about 21 days, these chicks are only 11 to 12 days old, and no sign could be seen.
Whitebacked Night Heron nest after the rain

14 November 2011

Bird Ringing - Umzumbe 13.11.2011

A great day of ringing on a day surrounded by terrible weather, however Sunday the wind stayed away as did the rain and cloud cover made for a an extended ringing session.

The first of 2 immature Gorgeous bushshrikes caught and ringed

Tawneyflanked Prinia

Ashy (Bluegrey) Flycatcher

Balckbellied Starling

8 November 2011

Latest bird pictures in the Garden

Redwinged Starling - female

Yellowbilled Kite coming for his food

sub adult African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)

9 October 2011

praying mantid pseudocrebotra wahlberg

Whilst ringing in the garden I caught something that was not expected so I thought I would share a few pictures of what I have since found out is praying mantid pseudocrebotra wahlberg.

3 October 2011

Ringing Umzumbe Floodplain 2nd October 2011

For once the forecast was fair and accurate, with nice cloud cover and no rain. With a total of 9 nets up a total of 66 birds were ringed mostly species that were to be expected in the area, and 1 recapture of a Cape Weaver from June last year. Interestingly the Cape Weaver seems to have pushed the Village Weaver out of the area to a great degree, up untill last year Cape Weavers were not recorded there but good numbers of Village Weaver were always caught. The first Diederck Cuckoo of the season was heard calling in the morning but never came near the nets, Lesser Striped Swallows were trying to repair their nests underneath the N2 bridge, they seem to battle with the high traffic flow above constantly causing movement on the bridge, every nest from last season had to be repaired.

Male Common Stonechat

Male Cape Weaver

male Redcollared Widow changing into breeding plumage

male Amethyst Sunbird - a stunning bird

Lesser Striped Swallow sitting under the bridge

25 September 2011

Ringing on Umzumbe Floodplain

Despite the forecast changing at the last minute we still decided to take a chance and do some ringing, after all how many times is the forecast correct when the predict 10% chance of rain, and to taop it all at 4am there were no clouds to be seen just lots of stars. By 6am the nets were up and 2 Yellow Weavers had already been caught, one of which was a recapture and was ringed on 6th December 2003, making this the longevity record for the species.

male Yellow Weaver

I then put out a few flap traps and went to check the nets again, with a nice assortment of birds that I was expecting to catch including Rufouswinged Cisticola, Fantailed/Redshouldered Widow, Village Weaver and Yellowfronted Canary. Then it started to drizzle so we made a hasty retreat to the vehicles in the hope that it was just a passing shower, not to be so by 7am it was time to take down the nets and make a hasty retreat to shelter under a bridge to ring the birds. As always happens when the nets were down it stopped raining.

Rufouswinged Cisticola

male Fantailed/Redshouldered Widow
note the new feathers coming through on the neck
typical of birds coming into breeding plumage

female Stonechat

18 September 2011

Birds in the Garden Today

Deciding to have a lazy Sunday relaxing in the garden today and spend some time doing some photography was one of the best things I could have done on a hot 33deg heat with high humidity on top of the temperature, it would appear that summer has finally arrived.
The day started with the usual visitors Yellowbilled Kite, Magpie Mannikins etc, then everything scattered and a male African Goshawk landed on the wash line and was looking at one of the rabbits and trying to decide if he could take him away, he decided against it which was a good job as the rabbit weighs in at about 3.5kg. I had previously ringed 2  Goshawks at home and this male was ringed just over 2 years previously.

African Goshawk

Next to sit for photo's was a female Brownhooded Kingfisher.

Brownhooded Kingfisher

This was then followed by a flock of Blackbellied Starlings that had the right idea and cooled off in the bird bath, this bird then sat in the Flat Crown and preened itself.

Blackbellied Starling

Numerous other birds made an appearance including the Lanner Falcon but then royalty arrived in the form of the majestic African Fish Eagle.

Majestic African Fish Eagle

15 September 2011

Vervet Monkey

Vervet Monkey - female

Although claimed to be "cute" by large numbers of the population the Vervet Monkey has undergone a population explosion in recent times, mainly due to peoples urge to feed the monkeys, and a decline in the natural predators, the main predators of Vervet Monkeys are Leopard and Crowned Eagle. Feeding them is possibly the worst thing that you could do as all wild animals, birds and reptiles included only breed according to food availability, if there is no food available then they will not breed as the chance of the babies surviving is slim, the next problem occurs that when food is given to the monkeys they breed throughout the year and their actual breeding season falls away resulting in a population explosion. Another problem that now occurs is that the monkeys so desperate for food remove the eggs and/or chicks from birds nests to provide food, resulting in us losing a generation or two of birds. Even the Village Weavers that have always been common throught the region have shown a decline especially in areas that have high monkey numbers.

Vervet Monkey

I don't have a clear solution to the problem except to say "PLEASE DON"T FEED THE MONKEYS". 

6 September 2011

Cape Vulture Count

During the winter breeding months myself, Mike Neethling and Roger Uys do the Cape Vulture breeding count at Oribi Gorge. The first count of the season was held in June and due to the unavailability of Mike we postponed the 2nd count until vulture Awareness Day on Saturday 3rd September. Andy Ruffle of Birdlife Trogons joined us for the day and hopefully the club will become more involved in the future.

Immature Vultures are the outer 2 birds with adults in the middle

This season has been an exceptionally good season with a record number of 25 chicks at this stage, our previous record was 18 chicks. In addition to this we counted 73 adult birds which is a conservative number and is possibly closer to 85 or 90 birds. Our next step is to try and ring some of chicks either next season or the season afterwards in the hope of finding out where these young birds travel to before they start their breeding and hopefully adding to the worlds population of Cape Vultures which is estimated to be about 2600 birds.

Adult birds flying above the nesting site

Adult bird in effortless flight

31 August 2011

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

Its amazing how immature birds plumage will change as they become adult birds, so much so that it is hard to believe that they can be the same bird. The Gorgeous bush Shrike is a bird in point as this sequence of pictures show.

Very young Gorgeous Bush Shrike

The very same bird 30 days later

And of course the adult, one species where the name does the bird justice

27 August 2011

Animals Karoo National Park

Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to visit the Karoo National Park on a few occasions and these are a few of the animals that I have photographed.


Male Kudu

Red Hartebeest

26 August 2011

Yellowbilled Kite

The Yellowbilled Kite is a common inter African Migrant that frequents the region in summer, generally arriving between the 7th and 10th August.
For the last couple of seasons I have been feeding chicken necks to the kite and he seems to love it. I can always tell when they are back from their trip up north as their behaviour is pretty standard. The male sits on the telephone pole waiting for me to put his food out.

Waiting for food

Watching the food coming out

I'm coming!!!

24 August 2011

Whitefaced Duck

Whitefaced Duck often referred to as the Whitefaced Whistling Duck due to its call.