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2011-2012 Season

25 March 2012 - Well that is the end of the ringing for this season, despite the fact that there are still good numbers of Barn Swallows around. The swallows are now definately in migration mode and their behaviour has changed making it very difficult to catch them unless you can erect the nets in the reedbed itself. The total for the season stands at 1192 new birds being ringed and of course the one recapture from Retford, England. I also hosted Michaela Strachan from the BBC, to film an insert for a program called "Winterwatch".
Now for the difficult task of comparing all my data with that of previous seasons, at least it allows me to keep working on the swallows whilst they are in the northern hemisphere.
03 March 2012 - Thanks to the strong winds I have not been able to go and catch any swallows until today, so with the wind a thing of the past for the day, and rain forecast for next few days I had to have a go. Just as the Swallows stared to gather close to nets and it was looking like I may get a good catch a flock of Yellow Weavers flew into the nets, these have to be removed quickly before the swallows get caught with them otherwise the swallows will suffer, so it was a quick removal for the weavers but all in vain as the swallows moved off with all the activity. I managed to get 20 swallows so it was still worth going to the roost. Numbers at the roost are down to about 50 000 swallows, it will be interesting to see if the numbers increase once the rain stops as in bad weather they move to the roost that is about 10km's inland from the main roost, or if they have dropped due to an early migration.
26 February 2012 - Great weather with cloud cover to force the Barn Swallows lower to where their food was and this made a difference, I called it quits with 60 birds in the nets, if I hadn't I could easily have had 150 birds to ring. Unfortunately that would have been too many for me to handle on my own and to ring them comfortably without bringing any harm to them.
25 February 2012 - Wonderful evening with no wind, the swallows were behaving very strange by keeping away till much later than normal but I still managed to ring another 30 swallows. The swallows came into the roost and dropped into the reeds almost immediately, the reason for this was a Sooty Falcon flying around trying to get his supper. This is the first sighting of a Sooty Falcon at this roost and so far south.  
22 February 2012 - A very disapointing evening due to a strong North Easterly wind with only 8 birds being caught, although who knows maybe one of these eight birds could be recaptured. The mass of swallows was incredible despite numbers being down a fraction due to the migration having started. Strong winds forcast for a few days and should calm down by saturday.
21 February 2012 - A very successful evening at the roost, although numbers are starting to gecrease due to the fact the migration has already started, I was still able to capture another 48 swallows bringing the season total to 1045 newly ringed birds, hopefully some will be found in Europe and give us a better indication on the parts of Europe that our visitors come from. Most of the birds caught were white or buffy in colour on their bellies and only 5 were pale reddish, possibly indicating that the Eastern Europe birds have started to migrate.
the outer primary feather on this bird is totaly clean. It will be changed within
the next couple of weeks
16 February 2012 - A good evening despite the wind managed to capture a further 49 Barn Swallows bringing the season total so far to 997 newly ringed birds and the 1 recapture.
15 February 2012 - A comfortable evening with 39 swallows being captured.
09 February 2012 - A nice evening for viewing and catching the swallows with a further 39 birds being ringed. The Peregrine Falcon made a flyby of the nets unfortunately he failed to hit the nets, this would have been a nice bird to ring.
08 February 2012 - the Peregrene Falcon was in attendance for a short period of time before he headed off to the mass of birds flying over the roost. Another 30 birds caught and ringed.
06 February 2012 - A dissapointing evening with the swallows but there was a Peregrene Falcon on patrol, I saw him take at least one swallow when I first saw him he was eating a small rodent of some some kind (very unusual for a Peregrene), hopefully his luck was like mine and he failed to catch a ringed swallow. I managed to catch 32 swallows with a good mix of adult and immature. Seasons total now stands at 835 Barn Swallows ringed with 1 recapture.
05 February 2012 - Great evening with a fantastic display of swallows at the roost, managed to get another 71 Swallows ringed. Still waiting for another recapture. The season should last another 2 months for me so I need to do as much as possible then over our winter I can analyise all my data.
03 February 2012 - A perfect evening for swallows and I had a film crew with me to film an insert for the BBC program "Winterwatch" which is a 1 hr special to show how Englands animals and birds survive the winter, obviously as with the swallows some don't endure it they migrate south to escape it, I was lucky to have a great host in Michaela Strachan with me and her partner Nick as one cameraman and another cameraman Greg, who I had worked with before for the Carte Blanche insert a few years ago. Anyway the swallow catch was good as we were able to gain access to the reed bed where the swallows are roosting, we called it quits with 50 swallows in the nets and this number could easily have been triple the amount. The swallow show was great however if you looked with the naked eye you would see very little.
01 February 2012 - Another decent evening with a bit of wind but I decided to go and catch some swallows and it turned out to be a very productive evening with another 41 Barn Swallows being ringed of which only 7 were adult birds and the balance were all immature birds. It is possible to see from the primary moult that some of the birds are nearing the end of their stay and could start to migrate in about a months time. The biggest surprise of all though was not a swallow but a male Harlequin Quail. this is a rarity in Kwazulu Natal so it is nice to catch one. 
31 January 2012 - I went down to the roost despite what was too much wind, gut still had a go at catching swallows, I managed to get another 48 Barn Swallows, unfortunately still no more recaptures, just shows the roost size.
27 January 2012 - Perfect weather conditions so I was looking forward to a good evening. For a change I thought I would move my nets a few hundred meters to the spot where I was ringing last season. The advantage of this spot is that you can see the swallows gathering over the reedbed, and what a sight it was. The swallows started to gather over the roost just before 7pm and within 15 minutes over 1.5 million swallows had dropped into the reeds for the night. Anyway to the ringing, a slow start was more than compensated for by a great finish. In total 42 Barn Swallows were ringed consisting of 15 adult birds and 27 immatures. A lot of the birds are now well into their primary feather moult with some birds already having moulted 7 or 8 primary feathers leaving only the 9th left to moult, perhaps the northerly migration will be early? There was also 8 Lesserstriped Swallows caught and 2 little Bee-eaters.
26 January 2012 - A slight wind was blowing but I was hoping it was not going to be too much for the nets, I went to the ringing site and erected the nets, due to the sugar cane on the one side growing rapidly I decided to put the nets a little higher, the only problem with this is that with a slight wind blowing the nets do tend to billow out. After a slow start with swallows it started to pick up once the sun started to drop close to the horizon, in total I caught 33 Barn Swallows of which 9 birds were adults and 24 were immature birds. In aggition to the Barn Swallows I also caught a couple of Lesser Striped Swallows and a juvenile Whitethroated Swallow.  
22 January 2012 - what a wonderful evening after a few days of strong winds from the north, obviously caused by the tropical storm that has caused so much damage in the southern Kruger National Park and Mozambique. There was not even a breeze so the nets just hung dead still, however it was a very clear evening and this is bad news for catching swallows as they are always at a higher altitude, so the catch is normally low. I was able to catch another 20 Barn Swallows, consisting of 11 adults and 9 immature birds, it is unusual that there was more adults caught. The wind is forecast to blow till friday so unless the forecast is incorrect then it will be a quiet week. The season total is now just under 500 swallows ringed and the one recapture of the swallow from England.
16 January 2012 - disapointing evening for the swallows today, numbers were still magnificent however with clear skies it is always hard to catch them unless you are right at the reedbed. Only 8 swallows were caught and ringed consisting of 2 adults and 6 immatures. During the night we had some very welcome rain on the coast it came in 3 short downpours and a total of 10mm of rain fell.
13 January 2012 - Nice overcast conditions with the wind not that strong so I expected a good session. I managed to catch another 60 Barn Swallows consisting of 17 adults and 43 immatures. So far this season that makes a total of just under 500 Barn Swallows being caught and ringed and I still have to recapture one of my ringed birds. This is a good indication as to the number of swallows at the roost. At a smaller roost it is common practice to recapture ringed birds from earlier in the season.
10 January 2012 - Good weather was forecast for today with windy weather for the rest of the week so It was off to catch swallows while the going was good. With temperatures reaching into the 30 deg centigrade range today and very humid conditions adding at least another 10 deg with the discomfort index it was hot and the swallows were having a great time feeding over the sugar cane. A total of 37 birds were caught and ringed of which only 3 were adult birds and 34 were immature. Today was the day that I caught the first swallow of the season with a deformity in the form a missing leg, there was not even a stump there so the bird must have been born this way. I have in a previous season caught 2 swallows with a similar deformity. I duly ringed the bird but on the left hand tarsus due to the missing right tarsus. The view of the swallows gathering above the reedbed was unbelievable today and the numbers certainly exceeded the previous estimates of 1.5 million birds, today it was much closer to 2 million. a sight to see for anybody who loves these birds.
missing left leg
07 January 2012 - My first oportunity of the year to catch some swallows, very difficult conditions with an on shore wind blowing at about 12 knots so the nets were very visible, I did however manage to catch another 37 Barn Swallows consisting of 6 adult and 31 immature birds. I am not sure if it is my immagination but the number of the darker bellied Barn Swallows seems to be less this season compared to previous seasons, only time will tell when I analyse all the data at the end of the season. Perhaps swallows have moved to Umzumbe from a different roost giving the impression that their is more of the normal white bellied Barn Swallows.
23 December 2011 - A break in the weather saw an oportunity to catch swallows, no rain since the morning so it looked pretty good with overcast conditions forcing the swallows to a lower altitude. 26 Swallows were caught before the misty rain started, not bad considering that due to the weather forecast there should have been no chance to ring. the total consisted of 23 immature's and 3 adults.
21 December 2011 - With rain predicted for the next few days I took advantage of the cloudy but rainless evening and caught a further 23 birds, consisting of 20 immature birds and 3 adults.
20 December 2011 - The display of swallows flying low today was impressive, I managed to catch 28 Barn Swallows consisting of 20 immature birds and 8 adults.
19 December 2011 - Very strange weather today a strong north east wind was blowing all morning then at about noon it changed to a strong south westerly wind and got very dark and good rain looked a good possibility, then by 16h30 the wind had blown the clouds away and the wind had almost stopped, a quick load up of the equipment and at 17h30 the nets were being erected and by 18h30 the nets were down and packed away with 53 Barn Swallows in bags ready to be ringed, the numbers consisted of 26 adult birds and 27 immatures. I am not sure if it is my imagination but we seem to have more Barn Swallows than last year, although they are still playing games as to which reedbed they are going to use as their roost, with two reedbeds no more than 500m apart. The third reedbed about 10km's further up the river normally takes a good percentage of the birds especially when the weather is bad on the coast.
16 December 2011 - Decided at the last minute to go down to the ringing site, the wind was blowing a little but I still put up the nets. What a showing of Barn Swallows, numbers flying low over the sugar cane feeding was unbelievable. The wind dropped to a very gentle breeze and I managed to catch 45 Barn Swallows consisting of 16 adult birds and 29 immatures. It is becoming apparant that a moult pattern is showing through, as mentioned regarding the colour variations on the white underparts it appears that the white birds are at the same stage in their moult, as are the buffy, pale red and even the reddish coloured birds. Could this possibly indicate birds from different regions in Europe arrive at different times depending on migration routes and distance travelled, I will keep monitoring this throught the season and future seasons to confirm if a pattern does exist.
14 December 2011 - Better luck today caught 25 birds consisting of 17 immature and 8 adult birds.
12 December 2011 - Returned to the usual ringing site and managed 10 more birds before the wind picked up a little and started to blow the nets so the swallows kept away. The catch consisted of 7 immature and 3 adult birds.
11 December 2011 - Tried to ring at a new spot near the roost without much joy, only caught 6 Barn Swallows consisting of 4 immature birds and 2 adult birds. Managed to catch an immature African Goshawk that was trying to get his supper in the form of a Barn Swallow or 2.
immature African Goshawk
04 December 2011 - With strong wind and rain forecast for the whole week I took advantage of the semi decent weather conditions and went to catch more Barn Swallows. The wind was a little strong and the Birds could see the nets so the catch was not as expected. A total of 38 Barn Swallows were caught of which 22 were immature birds and 16 were adults.
Swallows Gathering around nets
30 November 2011 - The first suitable night for ringing since the heavy rain started a couple of weeks ago. We have had 336mm of rain throughout the month with most of this falling in the last 2 weeks. Anyway to the Swallows, what an evening to view the swallows flying low over the sugar cane feeding before going to the roost, there were hundreds of thousands of swallows flying around us with as many at the roost as well, so I can safely say that the roost is up to its normal figure of between 1 and 1.5 million Barn Swallows.
I was able to catch and ring 56 Barn swallows, 1 Brownthroated Martin and of course the highlight of the day was a ringed Barn Swallow, The ring inscription was "British Museum London SW7", and the ring number was X111901. This is the first foreign control of a Barn Swallow at the Umzumbe Roost. The Swallow was ringed at Retford, Nottinghamshire by the North Notts Ringing Group on the 16th September 2011 as a first year bird. The straight line distance between Retford and the Umzumbe Roost is 11 163km, obviously the distance covered on this epic journey far exceeds this distance due to migration routes.
Interestingly a lot of the birds have only just started to moult their primary flight feathers showing that they have just arrived, one of these birds was the recapture from the British Isles.
14 November 2011 - Well with the weather improving it was finally time to ring some Barn Swallows at the roost. This was going to be a test as the sugar cane on the one side of where the nets are to placed was cut during winter and is still very low. In the past this has produced very few birds as they normally feed over the sugar cane before moving to the roost. I was able to catch a few swallows 22 in total which consisted of 11 immature birds and 11 adults. The wing moult was well under way on some birds with the first 3 primary flight feathers almost fully grown, whilst some birds had no sign of moult yet. As they generally moult up to the first 5 primary feathers within the first 2 months of being here I can assume that the birds are still arriving.