My first field trip!

I’ve just started an M.Sc. project looking at genetic connectivity in fynbos endemic birds (starting with Cape sugarbird, Promerops cafer, and orange-breasted sunbird, Anthobaphes violacea). To do this, I will of course need DNA, for which I’ll need blood samples. This means I’ll have to go out and catch birds. Birds are normally caught using mist nets, usually by ringers (a bunch of people that fit numbered rings to birds and take all sorts of biometric measurements, building up a goldmine of useful information, especially through recaptures [check out SAFRING]).

Despite having attended as many ringing outings as possible over the past months, my ringing skills aren’t really on par yet, particularly not if I want to be able to catch birds in the field on my own (which was sort of the idea initially, though it’s looking less likely now). The biggest struggle for me is extracting birds from the tiny mesh of the mistnets, especially tiny birds like Cape white-eye (Zosterops capensis). Enter Alan Lee, a post-doc at the Fitz whose current research focusses on conservation of fynbos endemic birds, particularly in relation to climate change (click here and here). Alan played a major role in conceiving “my” project, and the bulk of the available blood samples were collected by him. He and his family live at Blue Hill Nature Reserve, a Cape Nature stewardship reserve bordering the renowned Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve. Alan kindly agreed to have me at Blue Hill to hone my bird ringing/handling skills and also organised a whole ringing road trip to collect samples from a variety of locations. Continue reading