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Expedition of the Bird Migration Research Station team to South Africa

By 18 marca 2019 No Comments

The team of our Bird Migration Research Station has just returned from a research expedition to South Africa from 8 February to 3 March 2019. The team leader was prof. Magdalena Remisiewicz, head of BMRS, accompanied by Krzysztof Stępniewski and two biology students at the University of Gdańsk: Agata Pinszke and Samuel Sosnowski. The main aim of the expedition was to collect data on migration and moult of birds  that migrate between breeding grounds in Europe and wintering grounds in South Africa, as Red-backed Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Warbler. Timing of migration and moult of these birds depend on environmental conditions, mainly temperature and rainfall; hence they can serve as bioindicators of climate change at both hemispheres. We fitted Red-backed Shrikes with geolocators which may help to track their migration routes from South Africa. We also ringed and measured local resident birds to supplement vast biometric database we have collected over last ten years. We conducted the research in two nature reserves, Telperion and Barberspan, which we were familiar with from the previous expeditions.

Recording the moult score of the Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus). From the left: Agata Pinszke, Magdalena Remisiewicz (photo K. Stępniewski)

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) with a geolocator, an example of a bird species that migrates between Europe and South Africa (photo M. Remisiewicz)

We captured, ringed and measured 309 birds from 60 species during this expedition. We have been constantly marveled by the astonishing variety of African birds. We observed 265 species, including such spectacular birds like Marabou Stork, Secretarybird and Verreaux’s Eagle. Twelve Red-backed Shrikes in Barberspan were fitted with Geolocators and we hope that they reveal new data on their breeding origin and migration routes. While staying in Barberspan our team took part in the study on the breeding biology of Kittlitz’s Plover by Claire Tanner, PhD student at Milner Centre for Evolution, University of Bath, UK and Joel Avni. We also exchanged experience with field rangers working in Barberspan reserve. The bi-annual Census of Waterfowl (CWAC) was an opportunity for a training workshop in methods of bird monitoring, such as ringing, field censuses and counts. The South African TV network SABC showed a footage on this training and collaboration in the countrywide evening news (available HERE).

Participants of the training in bird monitoring methods, 3-4 March 2019, Barberspan Nature Reserve. Upper row from the left: Agata Pinszke,  Joel Avni, Krzysztof Stępniewski, Magdalena Remisiewicz, Claire Tanner. Barberspan rangers in uniforms (photo M. Remisiewicz).

Birdwatching by the Barberspan water reservoir. From the left: Magdalena Remisiewicz, Agata Pinszke, Samuel Sosnowski (photo K. Stępniewski)

The expedition was a part of a three-year project ‘Building an Early Warning System for Biodiversity in the Face of Climate Change’, jointly lead by prof. Magdalena Remisiewicz (Bird Migration Research Station, University of Gdańsk) and prof. Les G. Underhill (Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town). The project has been jointly funded in South Africa by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and in Poland by the National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR) within a research cooperation agreement between Poland and South Africa.

More information on the project HERE.

Marabou Storks (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) at the Barberspan reservoir (photo K. Stępniewski)

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster), another species that migrates between Palaearctic and South Africa (photo K. Stępniewski)