Building youths’ capacity in bird research and scientific writing

Biodiversity conservation is facing many challenges. Science-based evidence and information are needed to address these challenges and to prioritize resources and time. Committed and skilled people are also key to successful biodiversity conservation.

The Bird Ringing and Monitoring Program (BiMO), a locally craft­ed program for Nature Tanzania members, was launched in Septem­ber 2020 at Amani Nature Forest Reserve (ANR) with only 9 partici­pants; 6 males and 3 females. ANR is among the 80 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) in Tanza­nia with many special (rare, threat­ened and near-endemic) birds such as Long-billed Forest-War­bler, Amani Sunbird, South­ern (Usambara) Hyliota, and Usambara Eagle-owl. The first cohort targeted young mem­bers in their early career and especially those with passion with nature. The program aims at imparting practical knowledge and skills to Na­ture Tanzania members on birds and their ecosystem services. Participants were trained on the bird trapping techniques with a focus on the use of mist nets for understory bird species, bird handling and ring­ing. Most of the participants had not had a chance to handle birds pre­viously and few had seen or heard about mist netting. It was an excite­ment for many of the participants.

All participants were guided to set mist nets, remove trapped birds, process them (measure weight, length of the tail, tarsus, beak, wings). Using 19 mist nets erected in four different forest patch­es of different sizes, 112 birds from 20 species were trapped, banded with aluminum rings obtained from the East African ringing scheme in Nairobi, Kenya and re­leased. Some interesting species were African Broadbill, Sharpe’s Akalat, White-chested Alethe, Lemon Dove and Red-tailed Anti-Thrush. The four different forest patch­es had different levels of disturbances, and the presence of Maesopsis eminii, an invasive tree species at Am­ani was used to infer the index of disturbances in the respective forest patches. To obtain the disturbance in­dex participants collected and measured the weight of the leaves of M. eminii against the total leaf litter weight from 30x30cm plots. We also measured other environ­mental variables to explain the disturbance index of the forest patches. We used birds to demonstrate the effect of habitat disturbance and fragmentation on biodiversity.  The results from the brief study, of two consecutive days, were amazing and meaningful results to demonstrate the intended objectives as shown in the below graphs.

Bird species richness and abundance in the four forest fragments.

Forest disturbance index in the two large forest blocks, named against two participants, Abdulhaman and Abigael.

The influence of flower colour in flower visitation by potential pollinators.

The other component covered during this training fo­cused on avian ecological services, and in this part, the focus was on avian pollination ecology. Although target­ing avian pollinators ‘ornithophily’ particularly sunbirds, other flower visitors (butterfly, bees, wasps etc.) were in­vestigated. Participants conducted field observations to study the ‘pollination syndrome’ and explain the role of colour, morphology and odor in determining types of pollinators. Participants investigated the flower visitors in farmland mosaic at Amani and took measurements/ estimates of the corolla tube length (CTL) and sunbirds’ beak length to be able to identify the effect of morphol­ogy on the sunbird flower visitations and behaviour. While doing this exercise, the nectar robbing behaviour was observed for some sunbird species on certain flower types, for instance, Olive Sunbird was observed robbing from morning glory flower (CTL=5.7cm). This scenar­io happens especially when a pollinator is feeding on the flower with longer corolla tube than its beak length.

The point count method was explained to participants and used to collect information on the abundance of avi­an pollinators in the same general areas where flow­er visitors were investigated. Participants had also time to conduct focused birdwatching for rare and special birds at Amani that were not trapped in the mist nets. They include Long-billed Forest-Warbler, Southern Hyliota, Half-collared Kingfisher and Gi­ant Kingfishers. There were also sessions for night walks for species that are easily seen during night.

The ten-days training (23rd Sept to 2nd Oct 2020) started with gen­eral introduction of BiMO and the area (done in the ANR conference room), where Mr. Emmanuel Mgim­wa (NT CEO) gave a brief presenta­tion on BiMO, its evolution, aims, objectives, and envisioned outputs. Introductory presentations were followed by a talk from Dr. Jasson John from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) who explained the importance of ANR and the East­ern Arc Mountains (EAM) in gen­eral for the conservation of birds in Tanzania. The same ANR venue was used on the last day where par­ticipants made group presentations of the information obtained during the field training. This session was preceded by the guidance on data management, analyses, presentation and scientific report writing. The ANR Conservator and his team ex­tended a warm welcome to BiMO participants and the Conservator gave a presentation about Ama­ni before the group presentations.

In summary, the following top­ics were covered during the train­ing period and participants were awarded a certificate of attendance at the end of the program;

  1. Avian pollination ecology.
  2. Bird survey techniques: point count, mist netting and bird ringing.
  3. Introduction to Scientif­ic Writing and Publications

The BiMO initiative is a partner­ship program between NT and the Department of Zoology and Wild­life Conservation, UDSM, in which the first cohort drew participants from the UDSM, College of African Wildlife Management – MWEKA, Attraction Bird Club (ABC) – Aru­sha, National College of Tourism and few non-aligned Nature Tanzania members. In addition, 7 students from the University of Dodoma on their field attachments at ANR joined some of the sessions during BiMO. In the future, the program aims at in­viting participants from all higher learning institutions in the country, with the hope that it will grow to include participants from other countries. 

This being a membership activity, all BiMO participants must be a member of NT. Nature Tanzania members, partners and friends made this first footing of BiMO a success. In par­ticular we thank NABU (BirdLife in Germany), BirdLife Internation­al and its partners for the support extended to NT and BiMO. Stay tuned for the BiMO next call by up­dating your membership status. To join NT membership kindly contact NT via