Karoo ringing

New Holme farmstead, a green oasis in the vast Karoo


Farm houses in the Karoo can be oases for birds, allowing relatively many birds to be ringed.

Les, Karis and I visited New Holme guest farm (Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve) from 10-12 November 2019 to test out ringing there, and take Virtual Museum photos en route. The farm lies halfway between Cape Town and Johannesburg. The first BDI visit to New Holme was in May (read here), with Virtual Museum records collected en route (see here).

Pied Starling
Pied Starling – note the striking eye and bill colours


We put a few nets around the farm house on Monday, and also before breakfast on Tuesday, and caught 86 birds. Top of the list was Cape Sparrow with 42 birds ringed (30 males, 12 females). Second was Southern Masked Weaver, partly due to a large colony in some reeds – there were many green nests, and at least 8 males in the colony – 1 juvenile, 15 males in full breeding plumage, and 8 females (two with brood patches) – it seemed as if breeding only started recently. Six Pied Starlings were caught, but there is potential to catch hundreds!

Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Masked Weaver colony in dry reedpatch


Southern Red Bishop
A colourful Southern Red Bishop (male) – several were displaying in the reeds


Cape Sparrow weights vary by region, as shown in the figure below. These birds are lighter in arid regions as represented by Namibia (Nam) and the Northern Cape (NC) compared to other regions in South Africa. The dots show the average and the vertical lines show the extreme ranges. A better analysis would be to separate males from females, but this shows the value of ringing very common species.

Cape Sparrow mass
Cape Sparrow weight by province


Although the ringing was relatively limited, there is great potential. In addition to ringing around the farm house, other nearby habitats provide interesting species. The river is within walking distance from the farm houses, and hosted many Three-banded Plovers. The surrounding karoo veld hosts the usual larks, chats, flycatchers, starlings, buntings  and other specials – night spot-lighting could be used effectively to catch and ring these.

Spike-heeled Lark
Spike-heeled Lark


Greater Striped and White-throated Swallows breed (nests and juveniles seen), and could be targeted for ringing. Flocks of Barn Swallows forage over the karoo veld.

White-throated Swallow
White-throated Swallow juveniles, waiting to be fed


Table – total number of birds ringed at New Holme, 10-12 November 2019

  Species   Latin  Ringed
  African Reed Warbler   Acrocephalus baeticatus  4
  Southern Fiscal   Lanius collaris  1
  Pied Starling   Lamprotornis bicolor  6
  Cape Sparrow   Passer melanurus  42
  Southern Masked Weaver   Ploceus velatus  25
  Red-billed Quelea   Quelea quelea  3
  Southern Red Bishop   Euplectes orix  5
  Karoo Prinia   Prinia maculosa  1

Thanks to PC and Marisca Ferreira and their staff for hosting us incredibly well! Thanks to Karis and Rozaan for help with the ringing!

Would you like to ring birds in the Karoo? Book a trip with African Ringing Expeditions!


Dieter Oschadleus
Dieter Oschadleus
Dieter Oschadleus leads the BDI bird ringing expeditions, and is able to organise bird ringing courses (having run many courses in South Africa, and some in the Seychelles). Dieter is also a registered bird guide in South Africa, and has birded widely in Africa and the Indian Ocean islands. Dieter is able to act as a bird guide for day trips in Cape Town, and is able to customise birds tours in South Africa and beyond.

1 Comment

  1. This is great. Very concise but detailed analysis of what happened within the two days of the ringing exercise.

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