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Targeting Rufous-eared Warblers at Bankfontein farm, Philippolis: 13 – 17 May 2024

Dawie de Swardt (HOD Ornithology Department) and intern, Zingisile Mbo visited the Bankfontein farm, Philippolis from 13 – 17 May 2024 to collect biometric and DNA blood samples for the research project on Rufous-eared Warblers.  The aim of this field trip was to target the “pectoralis” sub-species of these birds. I visited Bankfontein farm in the past to collect data for other museum projects, but we never targeted this site for Rufous-eared Warblers. I was able to have an idea where to go and hopefully have success based on previous observations of this species at Bankfontein.

On arrival at the farm, we stopped at a few suitable habitats (open veld with low karroid shrubs) and while playing playbacks of Rufous-eared Warblers calls we waited for any responses to show their presence.  At a Birdlasser app GPS location (we use to record birds for the Sabap2 project), we used playbacks again and violà we got our study site for the week. Two birds appeared and responded to the call while perched close by.  After unpacking at our tented camp accommodation, we returned to the study site and began to set up mist nets. For two days we captured and ringed 3 Rufous-eared Warblers (biometric data and 2 DNA samples collected for our collaborator). This was achieved by moving mist nets (and the 2 shelf nets) to areas where we located them during the first day and by playing their calls with a voice recorder. Upon hearing the playbacks, the birds flew towards the nets and subsequently captured. We were not always successful. Sometimes they do not respond to playbacks and there were incidences when we tried to “chase” them towards the net, they would either bounce into the net and escape or flying above or past the nets!

On the last day we moved our nets to the camp area where we opened the nets up to catch “other” birds.  An early morning wake-up from a few Red-eyed Bulbuls, Karoo Thrushes and other birds kept Zingisile busy. Interesting birds captured include Kalahari Shrub-robin, Brown-crowned Tchagra and a Pririt Batis female.  We surveyed 3 Sabap2 pentads – our Rufous-eared Warbler site was in a corner of a pentad that had only one Sabap2 card, and now we have 3! On return to Bloemfontein, we found several Jackal Buzzards and Pale Chanting Goshawks perching on telephone poles (Zingisile made video recordings of them!). Some of the Jackal Buzzards were individuals of dark plumage colour variations.

Our field trip results yielded 32 birds ringed (including the 3 warblers), 8 avian vocalizations (including Brubru, Larklike Bunting, Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Longbilled Crombec) and 3 Sabap2 full protocal cards (Bankfontein farm camp area 68 species) and a handful of ad hoc Sabap2 cards.

Fig 1 – Typical Rufous-eared Warbler habitat at Bankfontein farm, Philippolis.  They prefer karroid veld with low shrub like Asparagus species and Yellow-thorn Daisy (Voëltjie-kan-nie-sit-nie bush).

Fig 2 – One of three Rufous-eared Warbler males captured and ringed at the Bankfontein study site on 14 May 2024. Note the longish tail, the breast band that is not complete (in winter months can be reduced or absent) and rufous face.

Fig 3 – Video recording showing Rufous-eared Warbler in the and after processing and bird released (Zingisile Mbo).

Fig 4 – A Kalahari Shrub Robin captured at the Bankfontein camp area on 16 May 2024.  Note its tail pattern that is an identification feature in the field.

Fig 5 – One of the Jackal Buzzard observed perching on roadside telegraph poles en route to Bloemfontein on 17 May 2024 on the Luckhoff – Fauresmith road.

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