January 7th – Out Of Africa – Malawi (Banding)

The banding “lab” at Iris orphanage. -DOL

Abu taking it all in. -AB

Abu applying the band. -AB

Birding-wise in Malawi I wanted to do 3 things: 1) contribute to the country’s bird atlas by contributing the sightings I made following their atlas protocol to the organizers – In this I have been quite successful: I’ve seen 203 species within a 10-kilometer diameter of the Iris Orphanage. 2) when opportunity arose band as many birds as I could realizing that I would have to be extremely lucky to have one of “my” birds recovered any distance away as there are so few banders in the country and, most people who might recover a banded bird wouldn’t know what to do with it – on this last trip I managed to band 148 birds of 29 species and (really interesting from my point of view) I recovered 10 birds I banded on previous trips (February 2018 or February 2019). 3) In doing these two activities I hoped to involve (or at least interest) some local people in what I was doing- I have been able to involve some of the children in my activities and, when wandering the countryside, have had a number of people approach me to find out what I was doing and I would spend time with them demonstrating how binoculars work and showing them the many birds they might see by using a guide book. Still there’s a long way to go before we could form a local naturalists’ club. But….Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Saturday/Sunday banding group. -SARAH

Banding in Malawi (as in Kenya) is a different process than I’m used to at Ruthven. At Ruthven we have set net lanes that we use from year to year knowing that migrants predictably are going to flow through at a particular time each year and will be using the “corridors” (edge habitat) where we set the nets. First of all, in Malawi there are a LOT more birds around, migration or no migration. And where they are and when they’re there is dictated by the rains which can be quite variable. They can start early, or late, last a long time or not long at all, drop a lot of water or, in bad years, hardly any or none at all. So I set my nets based on observations of where the birds are at any particular point in time assessing why they’re there. Usually it’s because of a concentrated food source or an abundance of nesting material. The thing is: these are not constant and can vary from day to day (if not hour to hour – when the fruit on a particular tree is used up then they need to find another tree). Also, birds soon learn where the nets are and begin to avoid them. Consequently, I would move my nets every couple of days and place them where I thought I would get a day or two out of a resource. Fortunately, I was using only 2 nets so this wasn’t a big deal (other than clearing the lanes). The reason for using only 2 nets is that I was worried about a couple of things: a big hit (e.g., a wandering flock of weavers or mannikins could involve a lot of extraction); I didn’t want birds to be hanging in the nets in the heat of the day (on a couple of days the temperature soared into the mid-40’s by mid-morning); I was concerned about predators – birds and, especially, snakes (I encountered a sizeable [1 meter] Green Mamba coiled up atop a shrub next to a net lane – it would be attracted to any bird in distress and I certainly didn’t want to have to try and extract this very poisonous snake- especially when anti-venom wasn’t available).

Due to the heat and intense sunshine, I banded for only 2 to 2 1/2 hours first thing in the morning and then for another hour and a half in the late afternoon/evening. There was less bird activity as well between banding times but I’m sure I could have caught considerably more birds but….at what cost to the birds. As it was, I ended up banding 148 birds of 29 species. Interestingly, I recaptured 10 birds from previous visits. (See the list of both banded and retrapped birds below.) In the future, I would like to “blitz” the area – band with a crew of several people so that we could run more nets in a variety of habitats. Also, I am trying to figure out ways of identifying and then involving and training interested local young people who might be able to carry this on – as has happened in Kenya (with Dan Odhiambo and Brian Ochiago). Isaac Mponya is a young man from Bangula that my colleague Andrew Bremner and I had a chance to work with for a couple of years; he is just finishing off college and is doing a field placement at Majeti Game Park (which I HIGHLY recommend) but whether he will be able to keep going in this field is up in the air. People need to simply survive and this kind of pursuit may not lead to gainful employment – sometimes eating the birds is required just to sustain oneself……

But there’s so much to be learned!!! Very little is known about the distribution of various species within a country; their general movements; intra-African migration/movements; migration between Eurasia and Africa; impact of growing human population and changes in agricultural practices; impact of deforestation; moult strategies; and on and on.

Anyway, here’s some results:
Banded 148 of 29 species:
2 Diederik’s Cuckoo

Younger male Diederik’s Cuckoo – green plumage isn’t as bright as that of an adult and the eye is just turning red. DOL

Adult male Diederik’s Cuckoo – compare the “brightness” of the green plumage and the eye colour with the preceding picture. -DOL

5 Speckled Mousebirds

Red-faced Mousebird. -DOL

5 Red-faced Mousebirds

Little Bee-eater. -DOL

2 Little Bee-eaters

Black-backed Puffback – note the red eye. -DOL

1 Black-backed Puffback

Brown-crowned Tchagra -DOL

1 Brown-crowned Tchagra

Tropical Boubou – note the brown eye. -DOL

1 Tropical Boubou
2 African Paradise-flycatchers

A migrant from Eurasia – Red-backed Shrike. -DOL

6 Red-backed Shrikes

Long-billed (Cape) Crombec -DOL

1 Long-billed (Cape) Crombec

Green-backed Camaroptera -DOL

1 Green-backed Camaroptera

Rattling Cisticola -DOL

2 Rattling Cisticolas

A large Acrocephalus Warbler that I need help IDing – possibly Great Swamp Warbler.

4 Acrocephalus Warblers (Great Swamp Warbler??)

Greenbuls are very difficult to sort out but the white eye identifies this one as a Sombre Greenbul. -DOL

3 Sombre Greenbuls
4 Common Bulbuls

Pale flycatcher. -DOL

2 Pale Flycatchers

A melodious songster: White-browed Robin-chat. -DOL

1 Black-throated Wattle-eye
2 White-browed Robin-chats

Male Spectacled Weaver – female lacks the black chin/throat. -DOL

2 Spectacled Weavers

Male Lesser Masked Weaver – identified by the white eye. -DOL

24 Lesser Masked Weavers

Southern Masked Weaver – note that the black on the face does not extend over the top of the head. -DOL

6 Southern Masked Weavers

Male Village Weaver – note the black extending over the head. -DOL

For comparison: 2 red-eyed weavers – Village on the left and Southern masked on the right. The Village has more extensive black on the head and a more massive bill. -DOL

31 Village Weavers

Southern Cordonbleu – the red eye indicates it’s an adult. -DOL

10 Southern Cordonbleus

Female Green-winged Pytilia (no red on the face/throat). -DOL

Male Green-winged Pytilia. -DOL

2 Green-winged Pytilias (Melba Finch)

Female Jameson’s Firefinch.

1 Jameson’s Firefinch
5 Bronze Mannikins

Southern Gray-headed Sparrow -DOL

3 Southern Gray-headed Sparrows
18 House Sparrows
1 African Pied Wagtail

Karen’s Kreepy Korner:

Scorpion. -AB

Another noxious denizen of the night: tarantula. -AB

Lesser Masked Weaver with an engorged tick on its head. -DOL

Snake – possibly a deadly Boomslang (although a second opinion suggested something less dangerous) – slithering along under my doorway. -AB

Underside of a lizard with a termite in its mouth. -AB

A very cryptic species of mantis. -DJM

VERY colourful grasshopper. -AB

Helmeted Guineafowl (the size of a very large chicken) wrapped up in a mist net. -DOL

Retrapped 10:
1 Rattling Cisticola – originally banded February 1, 2019
1 large Acrocephalus warbler (Great Swamp Warbler?) – originally banded February 2, 2019
2 Lesser Masked Weavers – February 11, 2018
– February 4, 2019
1 Brown-crowned Tchagra – February 14, 2018
1 Pale Flycatcher – January 26, 2019
4 Spectacled Weavers – male; February 18, 2018
– female; February 18, 2018
– male; February 19, 2018
– male; February 5, 2019

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