Army Ornithological Society Blog

South Africa

My time in the Western Cape is coming towards the end.  I arrived a week ago to brilliant sunny weather that I went up Table Mountain where I had fantastic views as did hundreds of others.  A Rock Kestrel caught its prey from a steep drive.  The next day was some serious bird watching at Strandfontein with lot of water birds and a Spotted Eagle Owl. It was my first ighting of African Oystercatcher which have mad a come back from the brink of extinction thanks to a French water snail that has colonised the shore line.  In the afternoon I drove around the Cape visiting Cape Point (Souther Right Whales) and Cape of Good Hope.  It was my first sighting of Ostrich as well and of course I stopped at Boulders Bay for Aftican Penguin.  Sunday was the pelagic in a small boat.  I was not sea sick thanks to a pill that kept sending me to sleep though one chap did not last a hour before he turned green!  Anyway about 7 miles south of Cape Point we met a trawler that was finishing processing fish and then took up another catch.  It was a superb experience to see so many birds including 5 types of Albatross.  O the way back we picked up all 4 types of Cormorant and for good measure also added Black-bellied Storm Petrel.  Monday morning I headed for the West Coast National Park and on the way followed the Darling loop.  This was birding paradise with so many species with Blue Crane, Cape Long-billed Lark, Bokmakerie, Cape Bulbul and lots of Karoo Prinia which was to become a common bird.  At the park there were a lot of waders  as as well as Southern Black Korhaan and Black Harrier.  A extension to the Cerebos salt Works for Chesnut-banded Plover proved fruitless as did a stop the following morning after successfully finding 2 Verreaux's Eagles.  It was avery long drive to Karooppoort with roadworks that had a waiting time of around 10 mins.  One way traffic for about 5 kms was the norm at least 3 times on one particular road.  The Karro was warm unlike the coast and I spent ages trying to find Karoo specialists but only succeeded in White-backed Mousebird, Booted eagle, Karoo Chat, Lark Like Bunting, Grey Tit and Namaqua Warbler.  Along drive back to Cape Town and experienced rush hour at Paarl; never to be repeated.  On Wednesday morning met up with the Cape Birding Club at Kirstenbosch for just over 2 hours when they finished and I continued.  The Spotted Eagle Owl was nesting in the courtyard and we could see the top of the chick.  I added Cape Sugarbird and Brimstone Canary to my list.  The afternoon was spent looking for the elusive Knysna Warbler that was heard but not seen so does not get added to the list.  Yesterday I met the committee of the Hermanus Birding Club at Rooiels by chance.  We had excellent views of Cape Rockjumper and Cape Rock Thrush as well as other birds. The next stop was Harold Porter Botanical Gardens with Cape Siskin and Swee Waxbill.  I was shown a back road that was covered in birds including Plain-backed Pipit.  The afrernoon I stood where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans met doing the tourist bit.  Today is my final day here and more birds to find around Agulhas.  My total now stands at 356 species for the trip.

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Gibraltar Ringer 2015 - 8

Blue Rock Thrush (juvenile male)

A dismal morning turns rapidly into a great day with good news and a fantastic catch. After the usual light round of Blackcaps and the threat of further showers and strong gusts threatening the safety of the nets, Julia returned with a single bird bag and a very big grin. Blue Rock Thrush - a target bird but very elusive. As the picture shows, the colour of the bird, despite being a juvenile, and length of the bill are both striking. Fortunately it was a male with little of the brown that characterizes females. Carl and my name were in the hat and I had the privilege of ringing the bird. What a perfect end to a great fortnight.

In the middle of the excitement, Richard Seargent texted to say that today he had reached his target of 200 members of the Army Ornithological Society and before he hands over. I know that we’ve all done our bit but great effort Richard!

There are two days remaining but my flight leaves soon and therefore this will be the last blog of the series. We have all benefited hugely from the experience of ringing birds out of our normal environments and with a lot of fun thrown in. Thanks to all my fellow ringers, Mark Cutts, Carl Powell, Julia and Robin Springett and particularly to Julia and Robin for setting up the exped. Lastly, Ann Powell has kept me under control and returning to the UK several pounds heavier. A great team.

The Team

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Gibraltar Ringer 2015 - 7

Short-toed Treecreeper

Who asked for a change of weather? It rained all last night and for most of the morning and into the afternoon. The upper slopes have been swathed in dense cloud. As there is no shelter on the slopes and it would take time to empty nets in a hard downpour, the ringing site was abandoned for the day. A couple of nets opened in the garden where we could monitor continuously, caught a new and a retrapped Blackbird. Suppressed excitement!

View from the uppermost nets

Wrestling to make something of the day, admin took priority and a chance to work on some species’ totals. It is without doubt that Blackcaps have once more held pole position and followed by Robins. On different days, other species have topped the list - Blackbirds, Pied flycatchers and Sardinian warblers in the early days, Redstarts in the middle and lately Chiffchaffs. Of the 748 birds processed, 300 have been in the last two days.

The team stay on for another couple of days but my last day’s ringing (weather permitting as storms are due) is on Monday before an afternoon flight out and home via two days with the BTO. Hopefully the final blog comes from Gibraltar airport.

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Gibraltar Ringer 2015 - 6

Grasshopper Warbler in typical pose

Two great days of ringing at last! Weather in Spain and then a shift in wind to the East has resulted in a massive fall of birds for which we were unprepared. A high number collected in the first round was a clue, followed by the extraordinary sight of masses of birds in every single net. Now we were seeing chiffs and Willow Warblers that need careful handling and because of their size, were the most tangled. In total 197 birds on Friday. Today started with a gale and glum looks all round and we decided to keep many of the nets closed to avoid damage to the birds but the remainder, in the more protected places on the hill, still managed to catch 140 birds. Stars amongst them were Iberian chiffchaff, Grasshopper warbler, and Dartford warbler.

One of our overlapping diagnostic birds! Suggestions?

Oddly, this fall of passerines was not complemented with a passage of raptors. A Merlin put in an appearance and Ring ousel have so far evaded us. Still no nightjar despite their numbers during the dawn unfurling of nets and the Barbary Partridge have resisted the urge to take flight and be caught. To our discomfort, Jew’s Gate bird observatory have managed to catch Scops again and today caught the first recorded Common crossbill for Gibraltar. Nevertheless we did catch a control - a Blackcap ringed on the north coast of Spain near San Sebastian.

Both of our readers will have noticed that there was no blog last night. Slasher’s run ashore, before meeting up with the rest of the team for supper in the town, was a lapse in judgement and not to be repeated. However, his wife Nicky has now joined us and, less for the rugby this evening, normal service is resumed.

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Gibraltar Ringer 2015 - 5

Redstart

After yesterday’s fall of nightjars we rather expected a repeat today. So much so that we managed to persuade Steve Copsey to get up early and accompany us out to the nets well before dawn. This reasoning was reinforced by the sound of Scops owl calling from the garden during the night and a brisk breeze blowing across the slopes. Despite Jews Gate catching a record 5 Scops in their nets, nothing for us and so it was with relief that the first net round of the day produced a good mix of birds including redstarts and our first Chiffchaff.

The redstart theme continued for most of the morning (total of 6 birds) but usually with juvenile birds and it was mid morning before we caught the first male in full striking adult plumage. Always good to catch several species at the same time as it is one of the few times that plumage can be compared. A total of 54 birds altogether including 9 robins and, oddly considering the habitat and altitude, our second Reed warbler. Probably the best sighting of the day for all of us was a juvenile Cirl bunting and only the second to be seen since 1991. Regrettably no photos!

Comparing juvenile Redstarts

On the admin side, no lasting effects from last night’s chilli, Steve reverts from under command exercise to under command his wife who flew in this morning and Robin has discovered Wavepad - an excellent sound system for tape lures.

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