Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Gambia 12th - 23rd December

Finally got round to sorting my photos of my first experience of ringing abroad which was literally quite amazing.  I was lucky enough to get a place on the third ringing expedition to the Kartong area of The Gambia along with ten other British and Irish ringers.  This expedition to The Gambia was very well organised by Jez Blackburn and Colin Cross in conjunction with British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Gambian Parks and Wildlife Department and Kartong Bird Observatory.  The objectives of the expedition were to learn more about migrant Western Palearctic birds on their wintering grounds and to increase the limited knowledge of West African birds.  The team pictured below:
The Kartong area has a great mix of habitats within a walkable area, such as beach, mangroves, coastal scrub/acacia, scrub woodland, wetland scrapes, reedbed, secondary forest and paddy fields.  Most days started around 5.30 - 6am and finished around midnight with mist netting in the morning, ride cutting and net setting in the afternoon and dazzling in the evening - full on!
Good numbers of herons, raptors, terns, shrikes and African passerines were caught including 70 Long-tailed Nightjar (above) and 50 African Jacana.  Most importantly 250 Western Palearctic passerines were caught including warblers such as Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Melodious, Subalpine, Orphean, Bonelli's, Western Olivaceous, Reed and Sedge as well as Nightingale, Redstart, Bluethroat, Tree Pipit and an amazing 19 Woodchat Shrikes (below top).  We also saw an Osprey with a satelite tag but were unable to read the colour ring.  Some of the African birds were doing some very interesting moult strategies, but the most curious was a 1st winter Chiffchaff that was in active primary moult.  As we know neither adults nor first year birds moult in their wintering quarters, so it seems like it could actually have been an Iberian Chiffchaff (below bottom) which does moult in this way and would also be a new species for The Gambia.  The team also proved winter site fidelity with a Melodious Warbler that was retrapped after being ringed here in March and some direct migration thanks to three birds that were already ringed by other ringing schemes. The first was from a Sandwich Tern with a BTO ring that had been ringed on Coquet Island, Northumberland earlier this year, followed by another Sandwich Tern from Helgoland, Germany and a Sedge Warbler wearing a French ring.  Can't wait for the feedback on these.
Woodchat Shrike study group

possible Iberian Chiffchaff in wing moult
The combination of bird ringing and bird watching produced 217 species of bird with a number of new species recorded for the area such as Great Swamp Warbler, European Rock Thrush, Short-toed Lark, White-crowned Robin-chat, Red Kite (only the fifth record for The Gambia), Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (a new species for The Gambia - North African race reiseria below) and Horus Swift which is potentially a new species for West Africa!
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Difference between Western (left) and Eastern (right) Olivaceous Warbler - note the paler colour and the shorter and thinner bill of Eastern, also noted was pinker shade to the legs with the legs of Western being greyer.
So, eleven days multiplied by eleven team members equals 121 species caught - how freaky is that!  With over 1200 birds caught below is a selection of photos:
Purple Glossy Starling

Red-billed Hornbill

Yellow-billed Shrike

Red-billed Firefinch

Double-spurred Francolin - unfortunately unringable due to the appendages below! Must be another way we can tag these birds so that we can learn more about them!

Yes, that is my blood!
African Pygmy Kingfisher - one of two caught that were originally ringed over 3 years ago

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu - renamed on the trip as Red-cheeked Gordon Bennet by Mr Prior to defy the French!

Little Bee-eater

Spur-winged Plover - caught over 60 and fitted with leg flags.  What an amazing attacking device on its carpal joint!

Yellow-winged Bat - the most impressive of a number of bats caught.

Yellow-winged Bat - head view
African Paradise Flycatcher


Slender-billed Gull

A very excited team having caught two European ringed Sandwich Terns as well as two Grey-headed Gull, Whimbrel and Slender-billed Gull

African Jacana  - makes a noise like a Velocoraptor and feet like a spider!

Laura and her three Orphean Warblers

A very happy Colin with the first Blue-cheeked Bee-eater to be caught in the area especially as it is the emblem of the Kartong Bird Observatory

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Wood Sandpiper study group

The big boy - Giant Kingfisher
...and with two of its cousins the smaller Malachite above (also the most aggressive in the hand) and Pied below

An amazing beast eyeing up a Lanner Falcon 

...and another view - how it stayed in the net we will never know!

Crested Lark - one of three caught on the edge of the mangroves

Four-banded Sandgrouse

Little Bittern

One of six Cattle Egrets caught being held by Manuel
African Grey Hornbill

Squacco Heron

Standard-winged Nightjar - a female so no flamboyant flight feathers

Grey-headed Bush-shrike

The Gambian whoosh netting team with Toby and Keith and their catch of four Piapiacs.
Piapiac -  these birds with amazing purple eyes are being darvic colour ringed so hopefully lots of in field sightings may highlight how far these birds are moving.

Fine-spotted Woodpecker
Another memorable experience was the establishment of the 'Kartong Navy', which involved myself Submariner Sam 'The Bagger' Bayley, Captain Matt 'The Ticker' Prior and 1st Lieutenant Roger 'The Dodger' Walsh being the intrepid adventurers cutting an 80ft ride into dense reedbed within crocodile infested waters to cut a net ride.  The borrowing of a little boat from a local fishing guide saw Matt and Roger splayed out the front of the boat forcing the reeds out of the way whilst I was up to my armpits in the water pushing the boat forward!  Only the laughter, songs and sheer determination kept us going to get it completed for the following day.  Setting the net that morning was all done from the boat as was the net round which was a new experience for all of us!

After two hours and in near darkness we finished, having no disturbance from crocodiles, but on removing my waders I found 24 leeches attached to my legs!  My initial response being to take them off as quickly as possible was the wrong move, but Doc Keith was at hand to apply bandages, ably assisted by 1st Lieutenant Walsh who also proved to be a very good nurse.  The hidden talents of a Headmaster!

A big thank you to all of the intrepid team, Jez Blackburn (ringer in charge), Colin Cross and Binta (Kartong Bird Observatory), the Gambian helpers Moses, Manuel, Denbo and Abdoulie and the village of Kartong for enabling such an amazing trip!  Also to Hanni and the staff at Lemonfish who managed to keep up with my voracious food appetite!

Another team are heading out at the end of January so I wish them a very jealous best of luck.  Hope we left some birds for you to ring!

1 comment:

  1. Would you add your bat photo as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist?:

    AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

    Please locate your picture on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

    Many thanks!