Bird ringing course at Botuin : 28 June to 4 July 2023

Although mid winter, we had a great bird ringing course at Botuin, in Vanrhynsdorp. The days were shorter and colder, and the migrants had left (except for one! see below). Two trainees with no previous experience did very well getting started on their ringing training adventure.

Bird ringing course at Botuin
Ringing training on the go!

Very unexpectedly a Eurasian Golden Oriole was found in a net at Botuin near a fig tree. This oriole is a migrant species, breeding in the northern hemisphere. The bird we caught was an immature bird that was overwintering in South Africa. Trevor Hardaker comments: “Eurasian Golden Oriole turns up annually in the Western Cape and I saw them at Somerset West and Mamre earlier this year. They have also been seen at several places on the Garden Route this past summer. I don’t know of any records from Vanrhynsdorp though, but they have previously been recorded as far north as Citrusdal. As far as I recall, this record is the northernmost on the West Coast”. This is the first time a Eurasian Golden Oriole has been ringed in the Western Cape.

Weavers and sparrows

As usual weavers and sparrows were the most ringed species, with more Laughing Doves caught than usual. One male Cape Weaver had started nest building in the large Prosopis tree in the Botuin garden, but most breeding activity was in the next door garden and at the sewage works. Several females had brood patches. A few juveniles were also ringed, suggesting that these birds had been breeding for the last few weeks.

A few Southern Masked Weaver males were in near full breeding plumage and 3 females had brood patches. Southern Red Bishops showed no brood patches, but one male was completing his moult into breeding plumage. Several recently fledged Cape Sparrows were also ringed – the gape flanges were distinct.

Southenr Red Bishop getting into breeding plumage at the bird ringing course at Botuin
Southern Red Bishop – male with last vestiges of non-breeding plumage

Laughing Doves

We had a larger mesh net up in the area that they scattered to when disturbed from the seed in the driveway – we only discovered this on the second last day! So next time these doves may be at the top of the list. Some of the doves were showing primary moult.

Laughing Dove in moult
Laughing Dove with the first primary newly replaced (black) and the outer nine primaries older (dark brown)

Sewage works

The Vanrhynsdorp Sewage Works is about a kilometre out of town. It consists of a series of plastic lined pans. By the time the “water” reaches them it has been through the main processing stages! We have special permission to ring here. We put mistnets up along the dividing walls between pans. One of the pans has a substantial reedbed, used both as a roost and as a breeding colony by Cape Weavers and Southern Masked Weavers. About half the birds we handled were weavers.

Vanrynsdorp Sewage Works
The neatly maintained Vanrhynsdorp Sewage Works. Mistnets along the dividing walls target species moving between pans

There was a roving flock of starlings at the sewage works, and we caught a few African Pied and Wattled Starlings. There was a variety of ducks at the sewage ponds, but we did not catch any this time. However, two adult moorhens that flushed into the nets were exciting catches. A Three-banded Plover was also great to catch and ring.

Moorhen at the sewage works during the bird ringing course at Botuin
The brightly coloured beak of the Moorhen contrasts with its black body plumage. Note the large legs and long slender toes, in comparison with the size of the bird

Karoo birds

We spent one morning in nearby karoo veld. It gave us a chance to get close up to the block of rock that defines Vanrhynsdorp. The !Khoi name for the mountain is Maskam, “the mountain that gives water”. It is most widely known as the Gifberg, because this is the only place in the world where the Gifboom Hyaenanche globosa grows.

In spite of the very long line of mistnets, the catch, as expected, was low. But we come here because the site offers some great birds that cannot be caught anywhere else. This time it delivered two Sickle-winged Chats. Until you have the bird in the hand, and have a chance to inspect the outermost primary, the motivation for the name is a mystery! Look at the shape of the primary with the arrow in the photo below:

Sickle-winged chat mistnetted during the bird ringing course at Botuin
Sickle-winged Chat – outer primary indicated by arrow; note also the rump pattern differs from the similar Familiar Chat


We ringed 202 birds and caught 49 birds with rings, giving a high recapture rate of nearly 20%. All recaptures had been ringed at the same site (except some Cape Weavers) and within the last three years, when ringing at Botuin first started (see blog).

Four Cape Weavers (two males and two females) had been ringed at Botuin previously and were recaptured at the sewage works, presumably to breed here. The distance is only 1.5 km as the weaver flies, but no other ringed species seems to have traversed this distance.

The district had had the most amazing rainfall in the weeks before the course. The countryside was uncharacteristically green. The upcoming flower season in Namaqualand will be spectacular. It will also be early. The photo below was taken on 3 July …

The Namaqualand wild flowers will be magnificent this spring

.. and the spring flowers had already started … over the next couple of weeks, this scene will morph into a carpet of colour. And all the birds will be breeding!

THANKS, Salome. for hosting us so well at Botuin! This was our second bird ringing course at Botuin; the blog on the first one, in February this year. is here. That course had two interns from the Global Training Programme of the Basque Country, Spain … in exchange for learning skills in bird ringing, they gave us the skills to make Spanish omelettes:

Salome, Spanish omelettes, and some red wine at the end of a superb day’s ringing!

Since 2019, we have done increasingly regular ringing at Botuin. Here is a summary. This course brought the ringing total to almost one thousand birds. Continuing ringing here will soon enable us to estimate survival rates for at least the most commonly caught species. Estimating survival is one of the values of bird ringing.

For more ringing courses and other opportunities, go to Events on the BDI website! Do join us on a future event. There will be another bird ringing course at Botuin early in 2024.

Total catch at three sites in Vanrhynsdorp, 28 June-4 July 2023

Sp noSpeciesBotuinSewageGifbergTotal
210Common Moorhen2 2
238Three-banded Plover1 1
317Laughing Dove221 23
391White-backed Mousebird42 6
506Rock Martin3 3
519Eurasian Golden Oriole11
544African Red-eyed Bulbul15116
566Karoo Chat 11
570Familiar Chat11
572Sickle-winged Chat 22
581Cape Robin-chat22
583Karoo Scrub Robin2125
604Lesser Swamp Warbler 55
646Levaillant’s Cisticola112
653Namaqua Warbler22
665Fiscal Flycatcher22
678Fairy Flycatcher11
707Southern Fiscal33
735Wattled Starling33
746Pied Starling33
784House Sparrow516
786Cape Sparrow35237
799Cape Weaver193958
803Southern Masked Weaver72532
808Southern Red Bishop268
843Common Waxbill1010
873Cape Bunting11
1104Karoo Thrush (split)77
1172Cape White-eye88
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.