One Thursday last month we were back in the Gede Ruins National Monument forest – an area of beautiful indigenous forest with huge old trees surrounding the Gede Ruins – for the first monitoring session of the Spotted Ground Thrush this year at the ruins. It was great to have some good assistance in the form of four young volunteers from West Nairobi School (Anna, Stephanie, Natalie and Mario) together with Andrew (volunteering with GIS work), Alex (intern from Tsavo Park Institute) and of course my right hand man, Albert. As usual we finished putting up the 15 or so nets just as it was getting dark but managed to complete before we would have had to use torches / flash lights.
Up at 4:45am friday morning to be in the forest by 5:30am so as to open nets and be away from the catching area before the first bird starts calling at 6am. After a well-needed cup of chai and some bread and jam we did the first round to see what we had. Conditions were good – a couple of very light showers of rain only – and we were in high hopes for a good catch. Sure enough in the third net there was a huge ball of feathers at the far end of the bottom shelf! An African Wood Owl! and with a ring already which from our book turned out to be the bird we ringed there in July last year. That was in fact about it for ‘sparkle’ that morning other than a beautiful all-white morph African Paradise Flycatcher – though he was moulting his tail so wasn’t as glorious as he is sometimes.
There was a bit of rain but it wasn’t too bad and whilst it was good we put up the tarp to keep dry we didn’t really need it. Once we’d closed the nets we hid the stools and table behind the big baobab nearby and headed back to Mwamba to get on with other things planning to return the next morning for the second day of ringing (we normally do two mornings in a row).
That night we got everything ready as usual and went to bed early(ish)… I got up at 4:30am again, made tea for Albert (no milk) and climbed in the old Toyota landcruiser to go pick the others but as I turned the key all I got in response was a dull ‘wuw’ from the engine – the battery was flat! Disaster! – here I was stuck 2kms away from the centre, the other car was with Stanley 10kms away in Gede, there’s no slope around to push it down to kick-start it and no other car to do a jump-start… and we had 40 mins in which to pick everyone, get to Gede, then to the nets in order to open them in time. No chance! So I had to call Mwamba and tell Andrew and the four volunteers they could go back to bed – and the same to Albert who had walked 20mins from his home to get to Gede!
Such is life in rural Kenya esp with old second-hand and well-used vehicles!
It wasn’t going to work to do it on the Sunday – I play the guitar at church and everyone takes the day off – so we planned for Monday morning. At least we were used to the routine by now and everything was sorted and we managed to get off easily by 5:30am and had nets open by 6am sharp. We were expecting 20+ of the BIOTA group who have been staying with us for 3 weeks on a course. They were keen to see some birds in the hand and learn a little about ringing so we were really hoping we would catch at least a few birds – though the second morning is nearly always worse, sometimes totally quiet, so it was a bit of risk. Sure enough the first 6 nets… nothing. But in the 7th net, an Olive Sunbird – phew, at least we has something to show them! But there was no need to worry as it got better with a couple of Red-capped Robin Chats… and THEN in about the 13th net… a whoop of delight from Alba as he came to a Spotted Ground Thrush hanging neatly up-side-down in the second shelf! In all 10 birds which was very reasonable for a second morning.
Spotted Ground Thrush being examined in the hand
We got back to the ringing table and had ringed just one when the 20 guys arrived and we were able to display the star of the day and discuss the conservation status of the thrush and the possible threats facing it. We had just about finished ringing and processing the thrush when the rain started. It started gently with just a few drops but within a few minutes had come on steadily and it decided to stay steady and if anything get really seriously hard! We at least had the tarp up over the ringing table – but it’s showing its age and has a few small holes so we were trying to push it up so the water would run off fast as well as squeeze 24 people under it and finish the last 2 birds! Mad. Needless to say we pretty much all got wet. The birds flew off fine and we snuggled closer together under the tarp. We spent the next hour and a half like that with a couple of net rounds which had no more birds (which is usual in the rain – they really don’t like to fly when its raining unless they have to) but we had plenty of time to discuss the ins and outs of ringing birds.
Amazing though to have caught another SGT – the first one recorded there since 2006. It’s always really encouraging to find one and to catch it in the net is an added bonus.