April 14th – Warm (Malawian) Thoughts On An Icy Night

Here it is, the middle of April. The migration should be in full swing. And here I am, listening to ice pellets drumming against the window in the midst of a serious ice storm. For an escape I though I’d continue to work through my pictures of Africa…..here’s some more from Malawi.

My clearing crew hard at work. Kids learn to use a panga from a young age and become quite proficient early – much more proficient than me.


A banding setup in Malawi is a lot different than my setup here. At Ruthven I have been using most of the same net lanes since 1996. It is predictable that they will catch good numbers of birds when they are migrating as they cut across lines of travel that the birds take when they’re resting from the night’s flight and feeding, fattening up for the next leg of their journey. The lanes are cut into the dogwood shrubbery that provides a buffer between the fields and the forest. Migrants seem to like this habitat; it provides lots of food as well as dense protective cover.

But this strategy wouldn’t work particularly well in Malawi. The birds aren’t migrating: it’s either their home or (in the case of Eurasian migrants) their winter home. They move around to find whatever food is available. When I first set up nets I put them close to a fruiting tree and had good catches. But in two days the tree was stripped and if I had kept the nets there it would have been pretty slow going. So I had to look around and figure out where they would show up next. It’s an interesting, albeit, challenging game.
This requires that new net lanes are created every few days while others are abandoned. The nice thing about my situation in Malawi is that I had an enthusiastic clearing crew with great skills. Kids there learn how to use a panga (or machete) quite early and are proficient before they are even teenagers. I was more than happy to let them swing away – they were much better than me at it anyway.

The crew after helping me put up a net.


Here are some more pictures of the birds that I encountered there:

White-bellied Sunbird.


Temminck’s Courser – look for them in plowed fields in Malawi and in Kenya.


Common Sandpiper – the spitting image of our Spotted Sandpiper. I wouldn’t know how to tell them apart in the field.


Bohm’s Bee-eater – a Malawian endemic.


Stunning Green-winged Pytillia.


Paradise Whydah with an ornamental tail. The enlarged tail makes flight quite cumbersome.


Another bird with an ornamental tail – Pin-tailed Whydah.


Purple Heron.


Squacco Herons were plentiful in the Elephant Marsh.


Spotted Flycatcher – a Eurasian migrant. I banded a number of these at the Chokpak banding station in Kazakhstan.


Woodland Kingfisher – often found a long way from water…..hence the name.


Rick

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