If you like it, put a ring on it…


By Davide Gaglio

Here we are again… I’m happy to let you know that I’ve survived my 3rd and final field season and I have plenty of photos to show you!

So, did you find it difficult to identify the prey in my last entry? The prey species were (2) Sole, (3) Pipefish (4) Anchovy (5) Squid and (6) Atlantic Saury If you have free time and feel like contributing to ecological research, I have tons of photographs that need identifying, and would love to use your help. Just email me (swift.terns ‘at’ gmail dot com) and we can chat about the possibilities. I believe that “Citizen Science” is an exciting way to bring people and wildlife together for conservation. Citizen-scientists can create the world’s largest research teams, gathering data on a scale that would be impossible to achieve otherwise, as these scientists are ordinary people all across the world, who are simply interested in helping researchers out. Trained scientists then analyse these data to understand how animals are affected by environmental change, including climate change, urbanization, pollution, and land use. Participants learn about their environment and have the opportunity to see their own data on maps along with those of thousands of other participants. Here’s an interesting example:


From my point of view, getting involved in swift tern citizen science is a brilliant way of spending your free time 😉 Taking photos of the adult terns can lead you to great surprises…and discoveries. For example look at this image… can you see anything special about it?

tern in flight

Well, look closely at his legs….

tern leg close-up

Yes! This swift tern has a metal ring on the right and a red colour ring on the left. As you may know, the ringing of wild birds for scientific purposes has provided a wealth of information, revealing the life histories and movements of many different species. Read more about it here.

The ringing of swift tern chicks started in South Africa in the late 1970s already. This individual was banded on Marcus Island in 1979. At age 34, this is a new record for this species, confirming that like most seabirds, swift terns have great longevity! What a coincidence… the oldest swift tern ever known was the same age as me 😀 Now, imagine discovering a tern of even greater age than that. You can be the one!

Ringing birds is a great way to study their survival and movement. It is crucial to ring birds to understand their population dynamics. As mentioned before, the difference between the terns and other local seabirds is that their population is increasing; another interesting dissimilarity is that they have extensive post-fledging care. Parents feed their chicks for several weeks after leaving the colony, during which time they can disperse long distances. So where are they going?? Here it’s my tu(e)rn again!!!…To better understand their dispersal; more than 1 500 chicks have been marked in Robben Island with engraved colour rings over the last three breeding seasons. Which means each individual has a unique code that can be seen from distance…and they look so cute! tern chick

I really had a lot of fun and great assistants over the last years during the ringing sessions. Thanks to all of you guys and girls!!

tern helpersHere some of my assistant’s projects:



So far there have been records of banded juvenile swift terns from Namibia to the Eastern Cape. Gathering dispersal records relies on the assistance from volunteers across southern Africa. And so here I need your help again… There are many immature/juvenile birds out there ready to be re-sighted by you! You can be the first to re-sight one of our banded birds in a new locality, just enjoy a walk on the beach and don’t forget your binoculars! Rings are orange, white or yellow (with black text) and green or blue (with white text). If you see any banded birds please record their location as accurately as possible (ideally GPS), the date and time of sighting, ring colour, letters on the ring (if legible) and age class (juvenile, immature or adults). tern teenagerIf a bird is found dead, please also record the number of the metal ring. Please send the information to me (swift.terns ‘at’ gmail dot com), and to SAFRING.

Your help is much appreciated!!!

Get inspired from this video.

I really hope to receive some exiting news from all over southern Africa…and I will be sure to update you soon 😉

Fishy science for a great cause

By Davide Gaglio

So, I am on Robben Island, it’s dark, I am alone, and in front of me… a dead African Penguin!

Penguin roadkill on Robben Island
My gruesome finding of penguin roadkill along one of Robben Island’s quiet roads

Let’s remain calm, I say to myself, thinking to get the best from this tragic experience. Well, you’d be surprised to see what happens to the penguin next! 🙂

Playing poker with my newly stuffed penguin...

I believe a sense of humour is important even for serious matters and is extremely crucial for scientists! Anyway, the day after I stumbled across the penguin carcass I was still traumatised but feeling ready to start my research. Things like that must not happen again, I kept saying to myself… From that day I promised I would get on top of my research and do all my best to share knowledge and education to those people who do not know/care about the importance of the ocean and its inhabitants. Being on Robben Island, I thought about a quote that Nelson Mandela shared about education in South Africa, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”… and I knew that there was no better place for me to fulfil my promise.

That day I started at 6 am… yes my dream had come true. I was taking photos for my research and at the same time, I knew that those images would help me to communicate love for the ocean and its need to be protected. I would never imagine that very soon two of my photos would be selected as one of the top 50 of the International Photographic competition run by South Africa Birdlife “Ocean of life” 2013 and another one in 2014!



I have been amazed to discover how helpful my photographic skills have become in my scientific research! Did you know that in the last few years, between 6,000 and 10,000 Swift Tern pairs have bred on Robben Island every year? And understanding what’s going on is not always easy! I have been making full use of modern technology to help me out, especially DLSR cameras, camera-traps and

Try to remain sane in this chaotic crowd!
Try to remain sane in this chaotic crowd!

video cameras. Trust me, they are very useful tools in such noisy, smelly, crowded and chaotic colony such as this one.

So, let’s see if you could contribute to some fishy science… Let’s have a poll on this blog to see if you know your sharks from your sardines.

Early in the morning as the sun is coming up, my terns are already busy bringing food to their chicks. And I am busy there taking photos of them…the first photo is the most common species….do you know what species is this?

Fishy prey #1
Fishy prey #1

Right 🙂 , this is an anchovy….easy! What about this one?

Fishy prey #2
Fishy prey #2 (Click on pic to enlarge)

…Ok I am not telling you 😉 Let’s see if you have the right answer in the comments and polls.

And some more for you…..

Fishy prey #3 (click pic to enlarge)
Fishy prey #3 (click pic to enlarge)





Fishy prey #4
Fishy prey #4





Fishy prey #5
Fishy prey #5





Fishy prey #6
Fishy prey #6





I promise to reveal the correct answers by next week Wednesday, in the comments section. At the moment, I am collecting many more photos and soon it will be time to identify new prey species, which I will publish on this blog. So, are you ready to join the challenge in trying to identify their prey and give me your comments? Whether you are a keen photographer, or knowledgeable on fish identification or you just like to know more about it, you are welcome to comment and vote, and let me know your thoughts.

I have found many prey species so far, and it’s exciting everyday, although sometimes it can be exhausting and challenging… but chicks must eat in the wind, rain, fog, well … anytime!

The ultimate goal of my research is to understand how Swift Terns cope with variable food availability and understand differences to other seabirds. I am investigating to what degree their behaviour flexibility underlies their success, in order to assess the impact of commercial fisheries on marine ecosystem dynamics. So there is a lot of stuff to learn, and I have many more adventures to tell you! Keep connected and don’t forget to complete the polls about the prey photos…. the more votes… the more photos 🙂 See you next time!