Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Gambia Training Project February totals - February 2020

Sessions in February were held mainly at Tanji bird reserve SE and the surrounding area. The first of the month was our first session at Batokunku Farm where five nets captured over 80 birds.

Total - 379

African Thrush - 6
Beautiful Sunbird - 16
Black-billed Wood dove - 12
Blackcap - 1
Black-headed Weaver - 6
Black-necked Weaver - 7
Black Scimitarbill - 1
Black-winged Bishop - 3
Bronze Mannikin - 4
Brown Babbler - 6
Bush Petronia - 2
Common Bulbul - 4
Common Nightingale - 4
Common Whitethroat - 12
Eurasian Reed Warbler - 7
European Hoopoe - 1
Grey-backed Camaroptera - 6
Grey Woodpecker - 1
Laughing Dove - 2
Lavendar Waxbill - 1
Lesser Honeyguide - 1
Little Weaver - 6
Long-tailed Nightjar - 1
Long-tailed Starling - 1
Melodious Warbler - 4
Northern Crombec - 6
Northern Red Bishop - 127
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow - 4
Northern Puffback - 1
Red-billed Quelea - 21
Red-billed Firefinch - 15
Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu - 8
Red-winged Pytilia - 1
Senegal Coucal - 2
Tawny-flanked Prinia - 2
Tree Pipit - 1
Variable Sunbird - 6
Village Indigobird - 1
Village Weaver - 47
Western Olivaceous Warbler - 7
Western Subalpine Warbler - 3
Yellow-crowned Gonolek - 6
Yellow-fronted Canary - 2
Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird - 1
Yellow-mantled Widowbird - 1
Zitting Cisticola - 1

Gambia Training Project - Commencement of the Gambian Ringing Scheme part 5 - February 2020

Day 24.

Just over a week of the basic training left to go now and as well as completing skills check feedback on each trainee, there will also be a written test. This is all to help those in authority at the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management and West African Bird Studies Association select the right two candidates to travel to APLORI, Nigeria for a further two weeks of training. The test is now set, so we can get on with the practical training.

The trainees arrived 20 minutes late today so it was already lighter than we would have wanted when we arrived at Batokunku Farm. Added to that, we arrived to find the gate locked  and had to enter via the other entrance. It seemed likely we'd miss the best of the day.  The trainees put up an 18m and 12m in the area of reeds and we sited a further two 12m nets.

Catching was progressing slowly when FC asked to put up another net, so he took the 9m and went off with AS. It wasn't long before the net intercepted a mixed flock of bishops and quelea, leading to a total of 83 birds ringed today.

Day 25.

A return to Batokunku Farm. An unusual site in that the numbers of birds caught tends to increase rather than drop off after 10am. There were more Northern Red Bishops coming to drink in the late morning and new birds for the project too, with European Hoopoe, Village Indigobird, Long-tailed Starling, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Black-winged Bishop, Yellow-fronted Canary and Black Scimitarbill captured among the 90 new birds.

Black Scimitarbill

Black-winged Bishop

Yellow-fronted Canary immature female

Northern Grey-headed Sparrow (Immature)

Senegal Coucal immature (note barring on retained juvenile feathers)

Long-tailed Starling

 Day 26.

Osprey at the pool by Darwin Field Station

Green Vervet Monkey

Snowy-crowned Robin-chat

Water Monitor lizard

A change of pace today as we met the trainees at Abuko Reserve. After a walk round, during which time we finally managed to get good views of Green Turaco, we delivered an introductory session about recording data on access sheets for SAFRING. It was slow going as each trainee tried their hand at inputting and calling data.

Day 27.

Another early start with nets at the lagoon but there was no reward of terns, gulls or waders this time. The landside nets still did well with new species Lavendar Waxbill, Zitting Cisticola and Grey Woodpecker.

Lavendar Waxbill

Grey Woodpecker

Zitting Cisticola

Day 28.

Batokunku Farm produced 88 birds and only 2 of these were retraps. We still encounter new species on an almost daily basis, today adding Bush Petronia and Red-winged Pytilia to the Gambian Ringing Scheme list.

Bush Petronia

Immature Red-winged Pytilia

After dark CL & DKL set off along the beach in search of any birds that might be dazzled and captured. We didn't get close enough to anything. However, it was not a complete waste of time as the Long-tailed Nightjar that frequents the quarry below the eco-lodge was captured on our way to the beach.

Adult male Long-tailed Nightjar

While we were on the beach, we became aware of large numbers of White butterflies coming in off the sea. It was most odd, all these butterflies flying in and settling on the beach in the dark save for our torch light. There were still some around, at Batokunku farm the next morning.

Caper White - one of the few migrant butterflies attracted to lights at night.

Day 29.

Plans to revisit Tanji Reserve (SE) were set aside on account of a late start due to the late arrival of the lodge manageress that in turn led to the late preparation of our takeaway breakfast. As a result we returned to Batokunku Farm (also one person short) and put up five nets, avoiding the reed-bed. It became obvious that the birds are becoming too accustomed to our nets, and avoid them.The wind soon got up and there were also stray dogs wandering the site so on just 18 birds, the nets came down just before mid-day.

AS talks to local youngsters about what we are doing and takes the opportunity
to ask them to preserve the vegetation.

Today was AJ's last day out with us and that's the reason for having brought the written test, yes written test, especially requested by one of the senior people forward to the 6th. It is unfortunate that two other people were unexpectedly unavailable - perhaps I'll catch up with them later.

Day 30.
The penultimate ringing day was spent at a different area of Batokunku farm. The area, separated from the sea by only a narrow beach and very high wall, provided some challenging sunbirds, a few migrant warblers and the ever present weavers. The total of 56 was a good number for the three trainees present to share amongst themselves. Some even started scoring fat in addition to scoring primary moult.

Sun, sea, sand and a shady spot for our base.

AS & MS compare two individuals of the same species.

Grey-backed Camaroptera adult on the left, immature on the right

Day 31.

This was to be the last ringing day - but it didn't turn out that way. We read a message late on the Friday telling us that one of the Gambians that rings at Kartong would be joining us in the morning. Also that the 1pm lunch booked for the trainees, ourselves and a senior DPWM official (who had been particularly helpful solving the problem about extending our visas) would also be attended by two additional people, with a journalist and photographer. So, this posed two issues, firstly that we didn't know whether the ringer was training under the British scheme, in which case he should not join us without the permission of his trainer. Then, there was the lunch that seemed to be getting expanded beyond the money we had available to pay for it. The lodge manageress would not be aware of the changes either. We spent an unsettled night.

Next morning there was only one of the three expected trainees in the car. The one attendee didn't know anything about the changes that were being made to our plans and we opted for a chat and a drink and the kit didn't even make it on to the 4x4. It was soon getting really windy, then the ringer that we'd been told about arrived. He and I have been Facebook friends for quite a long time. We also knew some of the ringers that he met while in the UK and he quite understood that the ringers in charge should be asked rather than told if someone else wants to attend a session. Then the journalist arrived at 11am. We were quite bemused, not having been let in on the planning. Later people started arriving for the lunch - and the chef was off so Haddy was trying to manage on her own, not being sure exactly how many people would be eating. Eventually Lamin from WABSA arrived. Apparently the T-shirts (that should have been ready from the start of the project) would be brought by FC, along with certificates for an award ceremony. We were unimpressed that such plans had not been communicated to us. Lunch was very late, and by 4pm people started to leave as FC and the T-shirts had still not turned up. So, the final day was rather a let down for all.

Day 32.
A day to complete reports, tidy up and spend some time at Pirang fish farm. This was a little reconnaissance with another trip in mind. On arriving there after an hour's drive we found that the birds tended to congregate on the raised areas with shallow water to cross if nets were to be placed there. The mud looked deep and it was incredibly windy, it being such an open area. The area was also vast, so plenty of other areas for the birds if put off by mist nets. There could be some hope if nets were set in the dark, but then there will be an awful lot of bats over the water and along the bunds. I doubt this site will be on any agenda soon.

So, we have done what we came to achieve. The first birds have been ringed with rings issued in Africa. We've completed the introductory training for the Gambian Ringing Scheme with six trainees. Since the first African Thrush that was ringed to the last Village Weaver, we have ringed 800+ birds. Best wishes to those selected to continue training with APLORI. We hope you will be able to take advantage of this opportunity at some stage in the future and continue working towards becoming fully qualified ringers able to operate your own ringing scheme.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Gambia Training Project, Commencement of the Gambian Ringing Scheme part 4 - January 2020.

Day 17.

Plans to cover Tanji bird reserve SE were quickly set aside when time was lost due to a bread collection delay, plus, due to sickness and a late change of plan, we were starting with 50% of the trainees originally planned for. Instead we flipped the Saturday/Sunday planning and simply dropped the few fixed nets at Tanji eco-lodge.

We still caught 27 birds with plenty of weavers to go around for AJ, FC & JN who also joined us a little later on. Things quietened quickly and although we relocated to Kenebery Junction water tanks it was too bright with birds seeing the net and changing their routes in and out.

Day 18.

Tanji bird reserve SE gave us  around 30 birds to process today. There was our first Senegal Eremomela and Black-headed Weavers. We had three species of sunbird.

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird (a small barbet)

Senegal Eremomela

Black-headed Weaver

Adult male Village weaver with traces of breeding plumage
on the head.

A brief meeting with some Dutch birders gave the trainees a chance to handle birds in front of a very small audience and even explain how one of the birds had been aged.  We made it a short day as a demonstration was scheduled between midday and 2pm in Banjul and we wanted to ensure that all trainees were home in advance of the march, in case of trouble.

Day 19.

Following the problems at yesterday's demonstration some of the trainee's were reluctant to leave home and we ended up telling those prepared to come out not to, as the driver didn't want to drive anywhere and turned off his phone. We were fairly certain that the trouble was confined to Banjul and decided to bird Brufut woods, just up the road from Tanji and also look at two other sites, the first for birds and dragonflies and the second as a possible ringing site - if we saw the driver. We dropped the eco-lodge nets, in case we ended spending the entire day at our accommodation but the driver turned up before 7am after the boss had a word with him.

We had a slightly later breakfast, taking the first three rounds of the day before closing. It was nice to get a couple of Eurasian Reed Warblers, Beautiful and Splendid Sunbirds.

Beautiful Sunbird male

Splendid Sunbird male

African Thrush

There were very few birds and it would have been disappointing with the full team.

Then, on to Brufut woods, just a remnant of what must have been there before all the clearance for farming and building. The main thing that we recalled, apart from the birding being disappointing was all the rubbish. That hadn't changed.

Cattle browsing the rubbish at Brufut.

There were more butterflies than birds in Brufut woods.

A second species to identify later

The water pots attracted a lot of Laughing Doves

Lavendar Waxbill, Black-necked Weaver, Village Weaver, Bronze Mannikin, Blue-spotted and Black-billed Wood Doves, Greater Honeyguide and Red-billed Queleas were seen at the Brufut water pots.

Driving to the ponds just outside Tanji we managed to find Painted Snipe at the water's edge just when we'd been told to look for it.

Painted Snipe

Another butterfly to research for its name

Finally, we had a look at some scrubby bushes, quite close to the lodge, down at the coast just after an area of market gardens. A reedy area was also found to hold some very shallow areas. This may be suitable to ring. So, tomorrow's rest day is cancelled as in effect we had that today and we'll be back at Tanji SE tomorrow.

Day 20.

Today we were joined by AS, FC, MS & BM at Tanji reserve SE. Even at this point in the training, we continue to encounter new species.

A ring is carefully fitted on an immature Lesser Honeyguide

BM processes a weaver  

FC gives the ring number while AS scribes

Day 21.

A slight change in location so a little clearance was needed today. We caught our first Common Nightingale among the handful of European migrants. The leading species over all was Yellow-crowned Gonolek (5) and one of the four Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters was a very obvious youngster.

Juvenile Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

The last 5 minutes before take-down time.

Day 22.

An unusually cool morning, followed by a windy day that was rather hot. Catching at Tanji SE was disappointing and we finished on just 8 birds.

Immature male Western Subalpine Warbler

There was plenty of time for a little photography when not checking nets or teaching the trainees.

Bearded Barbet

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Day 23.

An earlier start with 5 nets either close to the mangroves skirting the beach edge, or in the vegetation immediately behind and two larger mesh nets set by the lagoon for terns, gulls and possibly waders.

CL, FC and AS went paddling and set one full height and another two panel net. While DKL, MS, BM & AJ took care of the other nets. It was a good day with 25 birds processed. This included a retrap of the African Pygmy Kingfisher from 11 days before. The lagoon nets succeeded in catching several gulls and terns, but the combined weight was sufficient to break the central shelf string and the net failed to hold any. A single Caspian Tern was captured in the full height net on the subsequent round.

AS finally gets a chance to use large pliers to fit an 8mm ring.

Adult Caspian Tern

The bush nets also provided another new species. The Senegal Parrot was extracted by DKL, observed by AJ and ringed by FC. No ringers were harmed in the processing of this bird.

The tarsus was so short that none of our rings were suitable, instead a 9mm
steel ring was fitted on the tibia.

A full list of all species ringed by GRS throughout January will be published shortly.


Gambia Training Project January totals - January 2020

Ringing commenced on the 10th of the month.  The bulk of the ringing took place at Tanji bird reserve and eco-lodge, usually in the morning and on most days.

Totals: 456 (58 species)

African Pygmy Kingfisher - 1
African Silverbill - 1
African Thrush - 12
Beautiful Sunbird - 19
Black-billed Wood Dove - 21
Blackcap - 2
Black-capped Babbler - 2
Black-crowned Tchagra - 1
Black-headed Weaver - 4
Black-necked Weaver - 16
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - 9
Blue-spotted Wood Dove - 14
Bronze Mannikin - 5
Brown Babbler - 11
Caspian Tern - 1
Common Bulbul - 24
Common Nightingale - 3
Common Redstart - 4
Common Sandpiper - 1
Common Wattle-eye - 5
Common Whitethroat - 19
Didric Cuckoo - 1
Eurasian Reed Warbler - 15
Greater Honeyguide - 2
Grey-backed Camaroptera - 12
Grey-headed Bristlebill - 1
Laughing Dove - 7
Lesser Honeyguide - 2
Little Bee-eater - 8
Little Greenbul - 3
Little Weaver - 1
Melodious Warbler - 4
Northern Crombec - 5
Northern Puffback - 2
Orange-cheeked Waxbill - 2
Pied-winged Swallow - 1
Red-bellied Flycatcher - 1
Red-billed Firefinch - 49
Red- billed Quelea - 2
Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu- 17
Red-eyed Dove - 4
Senegal Coucal - 1
Senegal Eremomella - 1
Senegal Parrot - 1
Senegal Thick-knee - 1
Snowy-crowned Robin-chat - 4
Splendid Sunbird - 5
Stone Partridge - 1
Tawny-flanked Prinia - 3
Variable Sunbird - 5
Village Weaver - 78
Vinaceous Dove - 1
Western OlivaceousWarbler - 5
Western Red-billed Hornbill - 1
Western Subalpine Warbler - 3
Yellow-crowned Gonolek - 17
Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird - 2
Yellow Wagtail - 4

Friday, 24 January 2020

Gambia Training Project, Commencement of the Gambian Ringing Scheme part 3 - January 2020.

Day 12.

A session to the south-east corner of Tanji reserve looked as though it may not go ahead at all when the driver failed to put the car into 4 wheel drive before ploughing the Pajero into soft sand. A little brute strength managed to free it, but instead of taking it easy he revved hard and in no time the rear nearside wheel was up to the axle in sand! So, plan A to drive to the area we reccied earlier was set aside and we carried the equipment to a place where we could see places to site four nets.

We were pleased to find a shady spot too and by the end of the morning had ringed 33 birds.

Immature African Pygmy Kingfisher

Immature Splendid Sunbird

AJ with Snowy-crowned Robin-chat

Other birds present included Tree Pipit, Common Nightingale and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. With the assistance of park rangers we had our vehicle back in an hour or so.

Day 13.

Back to Tanji Eco-reserve today for a modest 23 birds and a problem with monkeys. MS & AJ ended up stationed close to the nets to prevent the animals from approaching. New species for the day were Stone Partridge, Greater Honeyguide, Little Weaver, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Red-billed Quelea.

Adult female Greater Honeyguide

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Day 14.

Five nets up at Tanji Reserve (SE) brought a few more European migrants including our first Western Olivaceous Warbler.

Western Olivaceous Warbler

Amongst the Afro-tropical species were two Yellow-crowned Gonolek, a Tawny-flanked Prinia, 3 Beautiful Sunbird and some rather stunning adult Brown Babblers with the oh so striking orange eyes. There were Green Vervet close by in the trees and the nets closest to them needed very frequent monitoring.

Brown Babbler adult

We spent the afternoon inputting data and maintaining project funds records by the Tanji Eco-lodge drinking pool, and saw a few more beautiful birds.

Greater Honeyguide (immature)

Violet Turaco

After dark, for the fifth time since we arrived, we went down into the old quarry with a high powered torch to look for Nightjars. As occurred on the previous four nights, we were avoided by them, but did find and pick up a Senegal Thick-knee in the dried out pond.

Senegal Thick-knee

Day 15.

Tanji bird reserve (SE) again, this time further away from the large trees to reduce the risk of problems with monkeys. A large flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were in the area but only one was tempted into the nets, despite an 18m net being walked into a more open area. Again, there were new species for the trainees to experience, European migrants Blackcap, Common Redstart and Western Subalpine Warbler as well as Pied-winged Swallow and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird.

Male Greater Honeyguide

Pied-winged Swallow

Day 16.

A  change today as we had received an invitation for our novice ringers, who had not seen the Kartong operations before, to observe a morning with the team there. We attended with AS & AJ. They very much enjoyed seeing a large scale ringing operation and got the opportunity to ring a few birds too, instructed by one of Kartong's Gambian ringers who is just coming up to a permit upgrade.

Later, we took a walk along the beach to find the Northern Carmine Bee-eaters.

Two of  four Northern Carmine Bee-eaters seen

Followed, on the way back, by a detour to Bolong Fenyo community wildlife reserve. We were hoping to find waders that might be catchable at the lake. There were a few Spur-winged Plovers, and a Redshank. The large flock of gulls and smattering of terns looked very tempting, but commonsense prevailed and all four of us rejected the prospect of working close to the water, in the dark, with 20+ crocodiles in and around the lake. There were no waders on the beach to be forced up at high tide - even if there had been, we weren't working around that lake, especially not in the dark.