Saturday 23 March 2019

South Africa 2019 Part 1 - Raptors

Wendy, Alison, Andrew and myself of the Group were joined by Ian Beggs and Mike Polling on a trip to South Africa for 2 weeks this February / March. The plan was to ring at 5 sites in the general area of NE South Africa with Malcolm Wilson of African Affinity.

Starting at Johannesburg we headed up to the Limpopo valley and the Botswana / Zimbabwe border. We then skirted the Kruger before heading south to the Highveld plains. We birded and ringed at the 5 sites and trapped raptors whilst travelling between sites too.
This first post covers the raptor experiences, a second post will cover some of  the 51 species of non - raptors ringed plus other activities including mammal watching.

Raptors are always a highlight of a trip to South Africa and here is a list of the species we ringed on this trip...

Whilst in South Africa we are able to catch birds with a variety of traps using live bait, generally mice in Bal Chatri or Spring Traps. We colour ringed 2 species Steppe Buzzards and a Brown Snake Eagle

Ian holding the Brown Snake Eagle with Malcolm fitting the colour- ring.

These are the legs of a Pale-chanting Goshawk given to Malcolm by a farmer after it hit a fence. It had been ringed 18 years ago and retrapped 3 times all at the same site originally ringed by the Pretoria Ringing Group.

Steppe Buzzard re-sightings are regularly received, Ian managed to take a photo of one that Malcolm had ringed in January 2018 in exactly the same place. A great record of a sight faithful wintering bird.

Steppe Buzzards have very variable plumage, this was a particularly sandy one.

Now follows a selection of the other species of raptor ringed

Black-shouldered Kite, one of only two ringed.

Black-chested Snake Eagle, an amazing six birds ringed, adults as below

and this juvenile which we trapped in the Highveld grassland south of Johannesburg, further south than Malcolm had ever come across this species before.

5 Brown Snake Eagles were ringed too. This is one being weighed by Alison.

Several Dark and Pale Chanting Goshawks were ringed.

African Goshawk ringed at our Highveld farm at 1700m, actually caught in a mist net.

This is one of the nets showing the surrounding extensive green grasslands.


Lizard Buzzard

In the Highveld areas visited we came across small numbers of Jackal Buzzards but this juvenile was the only bird we ringed.

Moving up a scale from Hawks and Buzzards to Eagles....

This adult female Tawny Eagle weighed 2.4kg. Pictures of outspread wings are taken to record the wing moult, the main criteria in ageing large birds of prey.

Note the 3 moult waves in this wing of this adult eagle.

A 3rd year Wahlberg's Eagle was also caught in the Lowveld grasslands near the Kruger.

Every opportunity to educate is taken with impromptu ringing demonstrations to passers by about the importance of raptor ringing. On this occasion it was a group of trainee safari guides who were fascinated to hear about the work.

Four African Hawk Eagles were ringed including these two that were caught independently on two traps placed 20 metres apart, quick thinking by Malcolm and the team to have two traps ready to drop.

More quick thinking following a cunning plan....Secretary Bird !!
Over years of study Malcolm had decided that Secretary Birds when confronted by wire fences walked along them whilst hunting - much like waders do when presented with a baffle.
This Secretary Bird appeared near a fence as our vehicle drove over a rise, we drove past and dropped a trap c400m ahead near the fence, drove on and waited to observe. The bird did wander along the line of the fence and find the trap. After a little wing flapping the rare processing of a Secretary Bird.

The bird weighed 3.7kg, the thigh muscles were incredibly powerful.

The following Falcon species were also ringed - this an adult Greater Kestrel

Lesser Kestrel, we often found small groups of  Lesser Kestrels feeding with the far more numerous Amur Falcons, great roadside spectacles watching these flocks feeding on flying insects.

We only came across 1 migrant Peregrine, occasionally we found roadside Lanner Falcons of which we caught two, again note the different age flight feathers.

Newcastle, near our last base of the trip, has one of the largest Amur Falcon roosts in South Africa, right in the middle of the city

Here, Rina Pretorius has been conducting some great research into the Amur Falcon migration. The use of tagging devices has shown how these small falcons cross the Indian Ocean and most of India before their 1st stop - a non-stop 5 day/night flight.

It is worth watching The Incredible Journey of the Amur Falcon to see Rina at work in the second half of the video, using canopy nets and ringing the Amur Falcons,
We were fortunate that Malcolm had arranged for us to ring at the roost, an incredible experience. 14000 Amur Falcons coming in to roost, catching a small sample with a very high mist net and the findings of this research as discussed above.

Finally, a Red-crested Korhaan

This small Bustard was one of the amazing experiences in the next post which will follow our journey, the ringing sites, mammals and other birding and ringing highlights of this trip with Malcolm Wilson and African Affinity

Text by Rich and Wendy, photos by various trip members with a major contribution from Andrew.

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