25 years of Bird Ringing 

So many memories!   Some amusing as when the late Bob Ellis  stood  his ground in front of the nets to protect them from an irate male ostrich charging towards him. When Bob started singing at the top of his voice the ostrich came to an abrupt halt and, with a bemused look, turned and walked slowly away.    What were you singing Bob I enquired.The Lord is my Shepherd, he replied!   Then when ringing at Doordekraal dam, a man approached us to say his wife had noticed us from her stoep and had sent him to find out what those ‘bergies’  were doing sitting and eating at a table in the reserve. 
We have tried to hold regular ringing sessions on Wednesday mornings, weather permitting, and arrive on the designated site an hour before sunrise so the nets are up when the birds start flying at dawn.This means a really early start in mid summer – the alarm going off around 3.30am -  and a very cold one in mid winter.  But no pain no gain! George Underhill, our early mentor, suggested that regular monitoring of our designated sites would provide the most useful data and this has proved to be the case, especially now with global warming.Trends we have noticed are that whereas Cape Weavers used to be the most common weaver ringed, now Southern Masked Weavers are  more plentiful.   In addition the number of Yellow Bishops ringed are considerably less than in the 90’s.Certain areas that were good for catching small bush birds such as Cape Robin Chat, Barthroated Apalis, Karoo Prinia, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, are now providing very few of the species due to the relentless behaviour of the Pied Crows which have increased in numbers.
The Ringing Workshops we attended at Sandveld Reserve, Wakkerstroom, Lamberts Bay, D’Nyala and Potberg reserves were all very informative, and a chance to meet other ringers. Also a chance to ring birds not found in our area. 
Cape Nature Students are invited to attend our sessions held at Tygerberg, Durbanville and Botterblom reserves to learn about bird ringing.Lamees Chikte, who is stationed at Durbanville Reserve won the Frank Wygold award for the best  oral presentation in 2016 and has been invited to speak at the Cape Bird Club’s meeting in July. She regularly attends our ringing sessions.We have also held ringing workshops for students at Rocher Pan and Grootvadersbos.On one occasion while at Rocher we were struggling with some new students who could not recognise a Red Bishop so we asked a female student to write down the data – ring number, species, age, sex, mass etc. I noticed the column for sex had not been filled in for the bird in hand, so I questioned her saying Sex? And she replied – Yes Please!
Over the years we have trained a number of would be ringers including university students needing to ring the birds they were studying – our own Anina Heystadt being a good example.    Mike Ford was one of the most keen – he travelled weekly from Hermanus for a year in order to qualify and is now one of the top SA ringers. 
Three of the projects with which we have been involved are: 
1.Dr. Penn Lloyd’s project to study the  breeding success of fynbos birds at Koeberg Nature Reserve, helping him during the week and at week-ends. We would put up and monitor around 20 nets and each of the target birds needed a metal ring plus 3 coloured rings. We caught a lot of birds and it was very hard exhausting work!
2.Monitoring Rocher Pan. We started off assisting Jo Johnson about 15 years ago but have accompanied him every session since 2005. Now the Unit is responsible for all the monitoring. Some very interesting data has resulted.
3.Barn Swallow roost at Clara Annafontein which we monitored in 2010 and 2011 with Jan Hofmeyer giving us the benefit of his experience. We recaptured 7 birds ringed in Europe, one from Spain and the rest from the UK.These were exciting recaptures! 
At a normal Wednesday session most birds are caught early in the morning when the birds leave their roosts and weavers and bishops are normally the most prolific species ringed.    However the rarer birds are always a pleasure to ring – Malachite Kingfisher is always spectacular and we catch a fair number of these.Over the years we have ringed a Peregrine Falcon at Protea Valley, a Lanner Falcon at Durbanville Nature Garden,
A Barn Owl, Spoonbill, African Black Duck, and Hoepoe at Rocklands, a Spotted Eagle Owl and two Black Sparrowhawks at Groot Phesantekraal , 2 African Goshawks ringed in my garden in Durbanville, a Burchell’s Coucal at Botterblom, Fieryneck Nightjars at Rocklands and Durbanville Nature Garden, European Bee-eaters at Rocklands and Goedeontmoeting, Klaas’and Diederiks cuckoos at Rocklands and Goedeontmoeting and two weeks ago a Fairy Flycatcher at Botterblom where we have never seen or heard this bird before!     It is great to be able to see these birds in the hand. 
We are still recapturing birds that provide good data.The last retrap of note is a Redwing Starling ringed at Glencairn and discovered dead on a ledge on Redhill 14 years 6 months and 4 days later. 
Six years ago only Lee and I were trying to keep the sessions going.   Then Gerald Wingate phoned to say he would like to join us and he is still assisting us.     He calls himself our caddy and without him we would not have managed.   Thanks Gerald.      Since then we have been joined by Ettienne Kotze and sometimes his wife, Mariana when she can skip work, and Gail and John Maberly and their help has made a huge difference. 
The Unit has ringed over 60,000 birds and without the donations for rings and equipment from the committee and Tygerberg members this would not have been possible.   Thank you.
 
Margaret McCall