Sunday 20 September 2015

Birding: Ringing at the Paarl Bird Sanctuary

I am the least adept in a family of birders, seriously outclassed by my siblings and my mother. My sister, Kate, is closely involved in vulture conservation and rehabilitation, while my mother, who is well into her 80s, has been organising bird counts at the Paarl Bird Sanctuary at the town's waste water treatment works for over 20 years. 

But that doesn't stop me from enjoying being around birds, and no surprise when I visited recently that my mother suggested we head down to the sanctuary to say hello to some bird ringers who were busy that morning. 

Ringer Robyn checks an African reed warbler's vital statistics. Robyn also writes a blog about her ringing activities.

The ringers were gathering more information about the African reed warbler, a tiny little bird that migrates between the southern tip of Africa to the tropics in central Africa. It's hard to imagine how it achieves a feat like this given its size (not much more than 10g). One such bird was found to have returned to the same little patch of reeds at the Paarl Bird Sanctuary over a period of eight years. Quite remarkable, really, given all the human obstacles it must encounter on its journey!

The capture nets

To capture the birds, the ringers put up special, light-weight nets. It was a bit breezy when we were there so conditions weren't ideal but they managed to capture several African reed warblers and a few other species.

When a bird flies into the net it is removed quickly and gently so that it can be checked all over for weight, size, wing length etc. All of this information is noted down carefully for science and is invaluable for researchers. If the bird has an existing ring, this provides important information about its movements and longevity. If it doesn't have a ring yet, it will be recorded and have a new ring put on it.

Gentle hands are required to untangle the bird quickly

The nets are set up in a shady patch between reed beds

Once we had said goodbye to the ringers, we went for a drive around the bird sanctuary where some 140 species of birds, including many waterfowl, have been recorded.

A Western cattle egret eyes the camera with a great deal of suspicion.
Same egret close-up
African hoopoe (I used to call this a 'concert bird' when I was a child because of its crest that it raises when alarmed)
It's always lovely to see the greater flamingos that are resident at the sanctuary

Visiting the Paarl Bird Sanctuary

The main sanctuary area, which is home to many types of waterfowl, is only open over the weekends when additional security is available. The inner, fenced-off area of the water treatment works is open during the week and is also good for birding. For more information and directions visit the Drakenstein municipality website.

My mother (seated centre) spends time with the ringers, Felicity (left), Robyn and Sharon.