It's 4 am and amidst the calls of Fiery-necked Nightjars, six of us (Billy Attard, Dirk Botha, Marianne McKenzie, Quentin and Marja Hagens and I) arrived at our faithful ringing station at the Aloe Ridge waterhole in the Polokwane Nature Reserve. Our goal: to have the mist-nets up and open before dawn. No easy task in the dark when it feels like every Umbrella Thorn (Vachellia (Acacia) tortillis) is trying to get you and your precious mist-nets. Despite some mixed success by the Umbrella Thorns, most nets were up and open by dawn and we barely had a moment to enjoy our coffee when the first birds were caught.
Our account for the day was opened with three Palearctic migrants: Willow Warbler, Marsh Warbler and the sought-after Olive-tree Warbler - the latter a lifer for quite a few. A short while later, another Palearctic migrant, a male Red-backed Shrike, was caught. This was soon followed by a flock of Red-billed Queleas and a few Southern Masked Weavers, and I was beginning to fear the worst - a day of relentless quelea and weaver ringing. It turned out to be a false start and only a handful of individuals of these two species were caught the rest of the day. In general, bird numbers were notably down compared to previous years, but this is probably due to the good rains Polokwane received in the 10 days prior to our ringing day. These rains resulted in plenty of temporary pools in the veld and many of the seed-eaters utilize these instead of drinking at our own 'Old Faithful'.
Anyway, after the queleas and weavers were processed, things calmed down and we had a steady stream of birds throughout the day. This gave all of us plenty of time to admire and study the birds from close-up and to show the attendees some of the identification features not always visible through our binoculars. Our ringing trainees, Marianne and Dirk, added a few new species to their ringing life list and are making steady progress towards their goal of becoming registered ringers - keep it up. Leoni Kellerman was so taken by the ringing that it seems like she may join Marianne and Dirk. Congratulations Leoni on ringing your first five birds and special thanks to Billy Attard who took her under his wing - excuse the pun.
The Palearctic migrants aside, other notable highlights of the day included two male Diederik Cuckoos, a pair of Cape Glossy Starlings, a pair of Crested Barbets, an Orange-breasted Bushshrike, and an Ashy Tit. Two immature Jamesonís Firefinches and a triad of juvenile Marico Flycatchers presented nice identification challenges for some, but what better way to learn than to have a bird in the hand. As they say, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (or is it book?). The catch of the day would have to be the Olive-tree Warbler, but the Orange-breasted Bushshrike did draw its well-deserved share of oohs and ahhs. Blue Waxbills topped the charts for most individuals ringed (18 individuals), but Red-billed Queleas were a close second at 15 individuals and Laughing Doves (10 birds ringed) completed the winners rostrum. In what must be a first, we didnít have a single retrap of a ringed bird. The grand total for the day was 86 individuals ringed, represented by 29 species.
Overall, the day was a great success with over 30 people, young and old, visiting the ringing station. On behalf of Birdlife Polokwane, I wish to thank Dr. Ali Halajian who brought some students from the University of Limpopo and the municipality and the reserve management, in particular Mr. Maxwell Ledwaba and Me. Jane Mabasa, for their support of this day, for allowing us access to the reserve and providing logistical support to prepare the area at the ringing station.
Photo Above: The ringing day in pictures. The ringing station resembled a flea market at times (top left). Helga Chauke and Abigail Ramudzuli from the Department of Biodiversity at the University of Limpopo had some hands on experience with birds (top right). Young and old(er) showed you are never too old to learn. Here Jade, May-Amy, Daniel and Jonathan share a lighter moment while ringing a Blue Waxbill (bottom left) and Billy is hawk-eyeing Leoni while she is ringing a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting (bottom right).