I left Ian, our Ngulia Ringing Group ‘night watchman’ + a few dedicated fellow mist watchers sitting on the wall of the dining room after dinner discussing whether they could put the nets up there and then since there was some thin mist around or whether they should wait until nearer mid-night since the leopard hadn’t come for his goat leg and we might upset tourists who would think we’d scared it off by wandering around near its bait extracting Marsh Warblers from nets in the mist… I headed for bed as I wanted a couple of hours kip before setting in to any work that might come with mist. When I woke at around 1am there was mist but also rain – and it didn’t get any lighter but rather heavier & I couldn’t see any action from my room so turned over and slept some more. I got up just before 3am when I woke to find it had stopped raining & went out to find David and Ian having just opened the one net that had been put up at midnight (so it turned out) and discussing putting up the second one. We then caught quite rapdily for about 3/4 of an hour and had the Kenyan contingent up and assisting before it chucked it down with rain again and we had to close. From then til dawn it was a cat and mouse game with the rain / mist of opening for a short while and being forced to close as the rain came in again. However we caught about 400 birds in total during the night.
Dawn arrived in a solid downpour of rain that delayed opening nets until 6am. We therefore missed what main Sprosser catch there might have been though in fact there were not that many in the night anyway and Marsh Warblers very much dominated the scene for the day.
It was busy for about 1/2 and hour but not overly so and before long the first ringing table was started up and we got going with ringing and releasing the Marsh Warblers – but finding among them some diversity, the best being an Asian Lesser Cuckoo – very smart in his boldly barred underparts and long black, barred tail, golden eye ring and legs. There were also quite a few ‘Hippos’ – Hippolais warblers, mostly Olive-tree Warblers but also a couple of Olivaceous and at least one Upcher’s. We also had 2-3 Common Rock Thrushes which are always great birds to handle and a beaut aduult male Barred Warbler showing off his barring and bright golden-yellow eye. A freshly plumaged Tree Pipit was also greatly admired and despite several more showers of rain we managed to end up clearing all birds by 10am with a total of 1,178 migrants ringed – and in fact only 3 Afrotropical birds – x2 Plain Nightjars during the night and one male Harlequin Quail, the first of the season.
An encouraging observation was 26 Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture heading west over the lodge mid-afternoon – encouraging because of the massive collapse of vultures in Kenya – in fact AFrica-wide – due to poisoning as well as habitat destruction and a reduction in wildlife that reduces their food source. Talking to David Pearson who has been running the ringing project here since 1970 there used to be many more around – even I can remember seeing 30-40 at a time over the lodge in the late 1990s.
One of the great things about Ngulia that I enjoy is spending time with the Kenyan ringers and revising or teaching ringing skills with them, particularly to do with Palaearctic birds which are not handled very much anywhere else in Kenya. Today, after the ringing had wound up I sat down with Gitau, Sylvester ‘Stallone’, Sameer, Nathaniel, Edson, Andrew and Chege and had what turned out to be a 3 hour session on age codes, ageing and discussing how the Ringing Scheme of Eastern Africa can develop and grow. We had a lot of fun trying to get our heads around the EURING age code system and then also the new Afrotropical age codes and seeing how and where they match – or don’t as the case may be.
David Gitau – one of the long-standing (16 years) and most experienced Kenyan ringers and a regular at Ngulia
Sameer (Right) looking up ageing information on a bird he has just ringed. Andrew training with a Sprosser (left) and Fransie scribing for them
One of the UK ringers had handed me a pair of brand new ringing pliers to give to the most deserving Kenyan ringer who I felt would really use them – but it was really hard to decide who should have them, so in the end I decided to put together a little ‘quiz’ for them about ageing and identification of the Palaearctic migrants at Ngulia and the winner would then get the pliers. So last night after supper and our briefing session with everyone I sat them down and gave them 10 questions such as ‘how do you age a Common Whitethroat?’ or ‘what is the key identification feature of a Sprosser against a Nightingale in the hand?’. It was again a lot of fun to do and the Kenyans told me I should have done this two or three times while they had been there. Gitau was the overall winner and is now the proud owner of a very fine pair of Porzana ringing pliers.
Ringing a Marsh Warbler
One of the key things to come out of the discussions was again the very real and urgent need to get the ringing permit system operating in Kenya – it is very difficult for a Kenyan to just take nets and go and ring anywhere if s/he does not have some sort of documentation to allow them to catch and ring birds and so as a result none of the young ringers actually go out and od their own ringing apart from the project work they are involved with (mostly someone else’s project as well). The stage we’re at is that we have submitted the proposed system of training and qualifying to the KEnya Wildlife Service who we need to have fully on board and to endorse and suppor the whole concept and system if it is going to have the authority and weight it needs to succeed. The response has been positive so far, but there is still a long way to go – we’re trusting those in charge will recognise the advantages of such a system and will support it whole heartedly.
Sameer studying the ageing guide