Category Archives: Mida Creek

Wader ringing isn’t always so successful!

The tide was about right for another night on Mida Creek catching and ringing waders – 2.6m at 03:40 hrs… a bit late in the night, but not impossible to work and I’ve ringed over a 2.7m tide before and done pretty well, so figured we’d go for it. I’ve never ringed waders in Kenya in early August and I don’t think anyone else has on the coast either and I was keen to get some weight and moult data on birds which had either just arrived back from breeding in Asia or had stayed over the breeding season as first year non-breeders.

We had a two lots of visitors at the centre – the Van den Bosch siblings (& cousin Mike), and Sarah & Liz – medical students from the UK in Kenya for some work experience and now on R&R – who were keen to join us. Said from Kenya Wildlife Service (Watamu Marine Park) was also very keen to spend the night on the creek together with Tony from our ASSETS team and Rahema who’s volunteering with us currently. So we had a pretty good team to work with and headed out with gusto to put nets up before dark as per usual… only to get there and find the whole area flooded with the high tide from the afternoon! I don’t think I’ve ever ringed on such a late tide before and just hadn’t thought that of course it would be high in the afternoon just when we would be putting nets up! So it was back to Mwamba for dinner and out again at 9pm in the moonlight – which was just as well as putting nets up in pitch dark is really not very nice.

mist nets set for waders on Mida Creek – the tide has come in under the nets and we were coming to take them down at dawn

I knew it was going to be a long night as we don’t usually catch much when the tide is low and with High Tide being 3:40am we were unlikely to catch a lot – though most times we catch one or two every hour or so. Six hours later we had caught… nothing! The tide was coming in nicely however and I was confident we’d catch at least 20 maybe 30 birds… Once the water was up under the nets we headed out and sure enough there was a bird in the net… (a Greater Sandplover) and another… (Terek Sandpiper) and another… (Greenshank – yes! we catch very few of those) and another… (Terek again)… but… that was it!! Just four birds – and by now the beauty of a Mida dawn was beginning to lighten the sky and there was no chance we would catch any more.

Terek Sandpiper at Mida – by Tasso Leventis

Four birds for a whole night’s work is pretty dire… but all the same very good to have caught a Greenshank and also excellent to have even the little data on some non-breeding birds which had stayed the northern summer with us. The sandplover had fresh primaries but had also started moulting its inner primaries again and so could have been an early returning adult. The other three had ‘classic’ 1st year moult patterns of new outer primaries, freshly growing inners and old worn feathers in between.

Why had we caught so few? I realise I hadn’t taken into account that of course in August there are very few waders around yet, most not having returned from breeding grounds and so with the relatively few nets we put up (10) in a vast open space they only cover a very small percentage of area. We could have put up a lot more and thus had a greater chance of catching more. Also the late tide meant that by the time the water receded (which is when you can catch a lot of birds as they come back in to forage) it had already got light so birds could see the nets. All in all we were only ever going to catch a small number… but four?!!!

Taking nets down at dawn – from left: Mike, Tony’s arm, Peter, Said, me, Sarah – and the bird hide in the distance

It was excellent to have Said with us from KWS – dressed to kill in his lumo bright orange railway worker outfit with flourescent bands and all! – and I hope he’ll be able to come more often and I can train him in extracting birds from nets and then in ringing. The rest of the crew were great company for the long night (actually most of them slept much of the night!) and were good fun to have along as well as a help to get the nets up and take them down. Kate was wielding the camera and kindly gave me these shots for the blog which give a taste of the early morning…

The bird hide at high tide set amongst the mangroves
the team… ready for breakfast after a long 4-bird night! From left: Kate, Mike, Peter, Albert, Tony, Saran, Rehema, Liz (Said’s in front with me…)
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A night at Mida Creek ringing waders about to leave for Asia

The waders (shorebirds) are just about to leave for their breeding grounds in Asia and it’s a very interesting time to collect data from them to understand their migration strategies better. We usually invite volunteers and any guests staying at Mwamba to join us for the night – or part of it. Laura and Jonny, volunteers from England with us for six weeks tell of their experience…

A normal Saturday night for this average British teenager is not usually spent knee deep in Mida Creek with a bird in both hands and dark shadows under my eyes. Yet this is where I found myself on the 4th of April 2009.

The field trip commenced at 4:30pm, battling against the wind to assemble 10 nets, with the aim of catching, ringing and then releasing as many wading birds as possible.

putting nets up at Mida

By sunset the team (Colin, Albert, Ian, Yop, Marika, Jonny, I and later Ruth) were ready and waiting, not just for birds, but also the delivery of supper. At 8:30pm we were joined by Henry and Roni bringing guests, food and most importantly chai (tea brewed together with milk).  Some of the group had a great and wobbly time experiencing the ASSETS boardwalk in the moonlight! A check of the nets at 9:30pm produced four birds (two Terek Sandpipers – both with rings on already that we had ringed them with in 2006 and 2007 – and two Curlew Sandpipers) to ring before the guests left, minus the cushions from the car we had poached for ourselves.

the beautifully up-turned bill of a Terek Sandpiper

By 11pm morale was low. Everyone but CJ was tired, the wind was much stronger than we would have liked, and worst of all we were running out of Milk Chews. But things turned around at midnight with the net round producing 22 waders whose plans for the evening had been disrupted when they found themselves in our research nets! Among these were a bemused Wood Sandpiper:

and an angry Gull-billed Tern. I was informed by those more knowledgeable about birds that this was very exciting! [Ed. the Wood Sand is the first one we’ve ever caught at Mida and is rarely seen there being more of a freshwater bird, and the tern is also uncommon to actually catch though is commonly seen there.]

Colin very chuffed holding the Gull-billed Tern

As we were excitedly transferring our catch from the bird bags to the holding cages, I noticed a bird that looked suspiciously like a Sandpiper sneaking off into the night. There was the sinking realization that one of the three holding cages had a bird-sized hole in it, and that to prevent anymore bids for freedom we would have to store all the birds in the remaining cages. To everyone’s relief, the Wood Sandpiper had not escaped!

After this mini crisis had been resolved, most of the group succumbed to fatigue, and had crashed out in the van, on stools and the ground. It’s amazing how comfortable stone is when you’re exhausted! At 3.30am we were roused by Yop and Marika who were laden with a huge number of wriggling bird bags. They gave us the great news that they needed to go back out to the creek with more bird bags.

Once the nets had been emptied, from 5am we became a human conveyor belt, transferring birds from the holding cages to Colin and Albert who ringed the birds and collected the biometric data whilst Ruth scribed, and then releasing the wobbly and accessorized birds at the edge of the creek. By 9:30am 79 Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers, Grey Plovers, Little Stints, Curlew and Terek Sandpipers, Crab-plovers, Ringed Plovers, a single Common Greenshank

ringing a Crab-plover

Crab-plover ready to go – including with it’s blue colour-ring with white letters that will allow it to be identified by simply readying the letters through a telescope – anyone reading this in the Middle East keep a look out for these birds!

…and even a very unexpected Sedge Warbler (normally found in reed beds or thick scrub – not in the top panel of a wader net several 100m away from the nearest bush or tree!) had been sent back on their way to Mida Creek.

Then the exhausted (apart from CJ!) team loaded up the land cruiser and returned to Mwamba for some well deserved fruit salad and a much needed shower!

Ed: Total tally for the day was 105 birds ringed which is a very reasonable number for a night out. There was some excellent diversity and it was excellent to get a good number of weights of birds many of whom are about to leave on migration and so are really fattening up for the journey.

a Lesser Sandplover

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