Bird ringing courses in South Africa

The BDI and Birds4Africa run bird ringing courses in South Africa regularly, and we aim for at least four per year. The aim here is to give a broad overview of what to anticipate. The courses are led by Dieter Oschadleus. We keep the list of planned courses up to date at Upcoming Events on the BDI home page. If you have a group of anything up to eight or so people that would like to attend, let us know and we can organise a special course for the group! An overview and summary of all our past courses and ringing events is here.

Who should attend?

The bird ringing courses are designed to cater for trainee ringers with any level of experience. These courses will further your training, provide good theoretical background, and opportunities to learn from others. Note that a one-week course is far from enough to become a qualified ringer, but it is a great boost to be ringing every day for a week.

People who have never been involved with bird ringing are also welcome to attend. We will help you take your first birds out of mistnets, and show you the basics of bird ringing, putting a ring on and taking measurements.

Qualified ringers, both local and international are invited to participate, and even bring their own equipment (but see below). The attraction is to share experiences, help with training, and learn from others. This is a great opportunity to enjoy a week of ringing at amazing ringing sites, and hopefully get to handle new species.

What will the daily programme look like?

On arrival on Day 1, the first thing is to settle in to accommodation. It is best to aim to arrive just after lunch time. In the mid-afternoon, we will set up nets, and start ringing. At around sunset, we will close the nets. Then it is supper time!

From Day 2 onwards, we will open nets at dawn – which varies through the year. Coffee will be available. We will ringing until around 10am; this is flexible depending on the catch rate etc. Then we will have brunch. Sometimes breakfast or brunch is earlier with shifts so that we can keep ringing until midday, but this depends on conditions, and especially temperature – we stop if it gets very hot. The bottom line is that we are flexible.

The middle part of the day is a rest time.

In the afternoons we have practical and information sessions, and/or data entry. We cover topics such as mapwork, putting up nets, trapping methods, and all the other things that a ringer needs to know. There will be opportunities for talks on the scientific results that have emerged from bird ringing. Visiting ringers might want to tell the group about experiences back home.

If conditions permit, we will do some more ringing in the late afternoon, followed by supper.

At some sites, there are opportunities for night ringing after supper. If the course is at the New Holme Lodge, there will be a couple of opportunities to join the “Shy Five Night Drives.” Not only do you have an excellent chance to see aardvark and aardwolf, there is the opportunity to see nightjars, owls, and other birds.

We will move between ringing sites and bird catching techniques. So each day is not a replay of the previous days. This will involve taking nets down and setting them up at different places.

Weather is unpredictable. We cannot usually ring when it is very hot, raining or excessively windy. At most sites, the early mornings are usually best for bird ringing, with the middle part of the day and afternoons often hot and windy, make ringing either unrewarding or impossible. If there are rainy days, we will try to ring during the times when the rain stops, and use the rainy periods for data entry and theory.

Typically, we catch several hundred birds of 30-40 different species during a course, but there are no guarantees with ringing. Invariably, there is the excitement of seldom caught species.

At our ringing sites, passerines usually moult from December to March. Trainees at bird ringing courses during this period will learn the important skill of scoring primary moult.

We won’t be ringing on the final morning. We will have breakfast and depart.

What does a course cost?

This varies with the venue, and depends on the type of accommodation offered. The fees include the course itself, plus accommodation, supper and breakfast on Days 1 and 7 respectively and meals daily on Days 2-6. Also included are the use of ringing equipment and rings. At New Holme, Hanover in the Karoo, the price includes two Shy Five Night Drives.

Transport to and from the ringing courses is not included.

Usually accommodation is in rooms, sharing or single, at the ringing site. At some of the sites, it is feasible to camp, or bring a caravan. Mostly meals are prepared. But occasionally, to bring costs down, we will run courses where we take it in turns to prepare meals.

What should I bring?

• Outdoor clothes – note that handling birds means getting some bird droppings on you.
• Warm clothes, even in summer, some early mornings may be cool.
• If you have gumboots, bring them along for mistnetting at water edges. If you don’t have gumboots, no need to get them because there will be some people who can check nets in shallow water.
• Strong, closed shoes are usually advised, although casual crocs are useful for garden ringing.
• Hat, sun cream, and water bottle
• Binoculars and camera

SAFRING Ringers are welcome to bring their own ringing equipment. If you bring your own rings, please obtain a provincial permit in advance of the course.

International ringers may not use rings from other schemes in South Africa, and do not need to bring any equipment (but welcome to bring own pliers or measuring items if you prefer using your own).

Do the bird ringing courses in South Africa contribute to research?

Yes. At each of our sites we are building a body of data that can be used for the study of survival and movements. We are particularly interested in moult, and how the timing of primary moult varies between years. In fact, for most of the species we handle, little is known about moult.

Sometimes the ringing course will make a contribution to a specific research projects. This might involve colour ringing to make individual birds easily recognisable.

I’ve been to a ringing course, should I come again?

No two courses are the same!

While the basic structure of each courses is similar, each course is different – there are different people attending, each person adds a unique perspective. Although the primary species at a site remain fairly constant through, different special birds are caught on each course, even when the same place is visited a month later. Each season brings different birds and opportunities, and new learning opportunities. The sites we uses for the training courses are also different.

So if you have attended one of our courses and you enjoyed it, try attending one at a different site or different time of year. Also invite anyone else that may be interested!

Although we try to catch as many birds as possible of as many species as feasible, we operate within ethical considerations and the various constraints imposed by weather and safety. The birds are shared so that all participants equally take part. Some days we spend catching special birds where the catch rate is much lower, but the rewards of handling special species are great. Trainees need to be extracting more or less as many birds as they are ringing from mistnets. SAFRING ringers and trainees with a fair bit of experience, around 200 birds or more ringed, are encouraged to enter their ringing data daily, so that the ringing data is up to date by the end of the course (bring a laptop or tablet if you have one, for data entry, else you can use one on site).

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.