Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Well, of all the gardens!!  A Mega in Randburg 4th to 6th December 2012

Sitting at my desk and looking out of the window as usual, I was distracted by a small bird which flew into view. Immediately I said to myself, that’s a ‘Pied fly’, then OMG! Realizing the implications of where I was!! A Collared Flycatcher!!!
I feverishly grabbed bins and camera and dashed outside past Irma who was in the kitchen, I told her it was a rare bird, she replied ‘how rare?’, I replied ‘lots-of- people-in-the-garden-rare’!!
I had 20 mins of panic which included climbing on the roof until I eventually found it again and first of all had a good look at the distinguishing features. Once I was certain it was a Collared Flycatcher and not a Semi-collared or Pied Flycatcher, I texted Trevor Hardaker, the countries rare bird coordinator. Within seconds he replied and suitably impressed to phone a bit later to ask me if I realised what would happen if he posted it on the net!
Well, in the next hour there must have been over 80 birders in the road outside as well as on the patio, as the flycatcher seemed very happy in the big Acacia sieberiana which provided perfect feeding habitat for this species.
As it got dark people drifted away, but at 0430hrs the next morning there was already a crowd gathered outside! I located the bird at 0515hrs and gestured for the gaggle of birders to come in onto the patio, whereby a scrum erupted after the ensuing rush to get through the small garden door! 600 to 800mm lenses were set up and the motor drives were going off in steady bursts.
With all these birders present it was no wonder a European Honey Buzzard was picked up heading north quite high!
All the day there were never less than 15 people watching this little flycatcher all the way from eastern central Europe! Occasionally the bird would disappear for an hour or so, but would return.
Several people missed out on the flycatcher during these periods, but as dusk fell again, the bird look comfy and like roosting overnight.
Once again at 0500hrs there was even a bigger posse of twitchers and again I located the bird immediately. Once again a steady stream of birders filed through into the garden, some staying for a minute or so, others spending hours! We had twitchers from as far as Standerton, Potchestroom and Secunda, not to mention many who made the pilgrimage from Pretoria.
As some photos started to come through, I was able to get a really good look at the tertials and in particular the ‘hook’ pattern of a first winter bird. Then a good shot of the tail was taken and it was possible to see the extent of white ‘windows’ in the 3 outer tail feathers which made it a male. Just to make certain we were not dealing with a Pied or Semi-collared Flycatcher, a good look at photos of the tail feathers and white wing patch confirmed it as a Collared.
On Friday morning at 0130hrs a huge rainstorm hit us and as I lay in bed listening to the thundering rain and hail on the roof, I doubted very much that the bird would be there in the morning. At 0500hrs there was no sign of the bird and still birders were arriving including Mark and Tania Anderson who had just got back from Mozambique to the news that there was a ‘mega’ in their neighborhood!
The statistics reveal this to be the first record for Gauteng and the 9th for South Africa. It also just goes to show how many potential ‘megas’ are out there in gardens just waiting to be found!

Raptor Run, Springbok Flats 2nd December 2012
Bruce and Grant Williamson
Bruce picked me up at 0430hrs with Grant and we set off for the Springbok flats, an area of farmland and bush.
With the recent rains I was hoping for some interesting birds to be present in good numbers. Our first bit of action was finding several hundred Amur Falcon and Lesser Kestrels all perched on the trackside in trees. We got a small trap down and watched several Amurs and Lessers come in and hover over the mouse in the trap, and eventually got a lovely male Lesser Kestrel.
We tried all the usual good routes and were wondering where all the birds had gone when we hit a hotspot and found several Steppe Buzzards on poles. We managed to bas two birds, both sub adults and in good shape at 770 and 820 grams.
We were going along one section when we came across a large eagle which had me perplexed for a while. At first I thought it was a Wahlberg’s Eagle, unusual for here but on closer inspection discovered it to be a Lesser-spotted Eagle, very unusual!!
We got a trap down for the bird and waited, when a Black-chested Snake Eagle came over very high up and started dropping!
It came down in ‘stages’ until it was right over the trap when all of a sudden the Lesser Spotted Eagle took off and chased the Black-chested away! The Lesser-spot returned to its perch and the Black-chested disappeared!! Bugger! We spent an hour trying to coax the LS, to no avail as it looked to be feeding on termites in the field.
Our next customer was a Brown Snake Eagle on a pole along a little used track. We got the trap down and in no time the bird was on! We dashed in and I got hold of the bird, quite a beast at 2150kg and an adult. I would so love to know where this bird originated from, oh to put a satellite harness on such a bird. Very few nest records in SA.
One of the birds we were really hoping for was a Lanner. Michael Parker spent the day up here last Saturday and was very unlucky not to have caught a couple and had no less the 5 birds react to his trap. But not a Lanner in sight!
We managed to get one more Steppe Buzzard, a juv and then called it a day and made tracks back to the big smoke.
 We got one more bird, a Pear-spotted Owlet, sitting on a traa in the afternoon, probably a bit cold and hungry given the way it attacked the trap!
 6 birds was not bad and we could have caught a few Black-shouldered Kites, but rather wanted to spend time going for Palearctic migrants and Eagles.

Kenya Ngulia November Session

Ngulia Tsavo-west Kenya

November Session 14th to 24th 2012

Many people have made the pilgrimage to this spectacular event over the last 4 decades, for me it was my 3rd time.
Since the late 60’s when Graeme Backhurst and David Pearson discovered the phenomenon of migrating birds being drawn into the lights of the Ngulia Lodge, over ¾ of a million birds have been ringed of a spectacular number of species.
Nairobi to Tsavo
I met my some of the team and friends Barry Williams and Richard Charles and Graeme Backhurst at the airport where we got the vehicles and set off on the Mombasa road to the park. Graeme was one of the first ever ringers to have discovered the migration phenomenon at Ngulia in the 60’s.

Along the route the development in Kenya was evident, so many trucks coming up from the coast, and going back down. It was good to see a few Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles on the pylons.
We got to Hunters Lodge for a meal and drink and met the others, Kane Brides, Christopher Bridge and Dave Murdoch who were busy birding, the former two being their first time out here.
During the hour or so we recorded several Steppe and Lesser Spotted Eagles going over high as well as Steppe and Honey Buzzards.

We got to the park and just before entering managed to get a couple of feral pigeons in the village for the raptor nets!
The drive in was spectacular as ever, Martial were common and we even watched one nail a Guineafowl, dragging the carcase into the shade of a small bush. We saw 2 pairs of Secretary Birds, Eastern-chanting Goshawks and many more.

At the lodge it was great to see Colin Jackson and meet Andrew and Alex Kinzer who are with Arocha Kenya.
Whilst settling into the room, I stuck out a spring-trap in the hope of nailing one of the many Red-winged Starlings around the lodge. Not much happened until I put out the stuffed Eagle Owl I had bought up with me from SA! Suddenly the veranda was full of the starlings and the owl was taking a huge hammering, so I bought it in and in seconds, snap! Went the springtrap and we had Baz a real bogey bird tick!

Got the raptor nets set up in a ‘V’, set the dove in the middle and made a makeshift hide out of tablecloths filched from the restaurant! I spent a couple of hours in the hide making the dove flap up in the air everytine a raptor went over and got some birds interested, Tawny Eagle, Auger Buzzard and Steppe Buzzards would ‘lock up’ and come screaming down, but reckon were put off by the inefficiency of the hide.

juv Levant Sparrowhawk
No Mist in the night which was possibly a good thing to allow some of us to get a good nights sleep. There were a few birds caught in the night nets, namely Sprosser, but a very interesting turn up was a Singing Bush lark, a lifer for me and a first for the group! The day nets the next morning produced a few Afro-tropicals Pygmy Batis, but then, Colin handed me a bird bag with a long tailed something inside, saying ‘what do you reckon on this’! Gingerly extracting it I discovered a small sparrowhawk in juvenile plumage of whose ID was not immediately apparent. Looking at the breast one could be forgiven for saying African Goshawk, but this bird was far too small and its feet were true bird catchers with elongated middle toes. Also the yellow Cere was misleading for Af Gos, certainly was no African Accipiter I was familiar with. Someone mentioned Eurasian Sparrowhawk, but the juv plumage was completely wrong for that species. Eventually I came down on the possibility of Levant Sparrowhawk and looking in my in-hand raptor ID book by Bill Clark, immediately saw that it was perfect for Levant Sparrowhawk! A very rare bird in these parts and the first ringed at Ngulia.

The next few nights were mist free and people were beginning to get concerned that they would not get to see the incredible ‘Ngulia Phenomenon’. During the days we caught some interesting species, Common Rock Thrush, Rufous Chatterer, Nubian Woodpecker and another raptor, Little Sparrowhawk which chased something into the nets which got out, leaving the unlucky Sparrowhawk caught!

I had another go at the raptor nets, attracting Auger Buzzard, Bateleur, Peregrine Falcon and a huge Greater Spotted Eagle went over, but no luck. There were 2 pairs of resident Wahlberg’s Eagle, a species normally easy to catch like this, but each bird drifted over the dove, had a good look then took off.
All the while some good movement of raptors, Steppe Booted and Tawny, a couple of Honey Buzzards and a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles come over at one point.

Puff Adder being escorted off the premises!  
One evening after supper we had an unwanted guest in the form of a rather large Puff Adder which had made its way into reception. There was no way the snake was going to leave and so had to be taken out manually. I got hold of a wooden spear from a statue and managed to get a good grasp of the beasts’ neck and carried it out to let it go in the bush where it would hopefully feel more at home.

During the days after breakfast, we put the single panel nets up on the lawn a picked up a few hundred Barn Swallows over the days.

Finally on the 19th the fog came. It was all hands on deck as mist rolled in, bringing tens of thousands of bird down with it.
3-5 birds per bag!
The procedure was for 2 extractors to man the two night nets and runners to go and take birds off them. This was performed by the security night watchman who was a huge help. The ringing table was set up with 3-4 ringers and a single scribe, usually Alex as the ringers got stuck into the birds. On occasions there would be 4-5 hundred birds in bags strung out on bamboo poles waiting to be ringed.

Each evening one of the highlights of the lodge for many tourists was the baiting of the ‘Leopard Tree’ where a leg of goat was hung up and the local Leopard(s) would come and feed in front of all the cameras. This was all very well, but when you have to spend the night extracting next to the tree and the Leopard not very far away, it focused the mind somewhat!

In the night nets were mostly Sprosser, Marsh Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Irania, Spotted Flycatcher and River Warbler.
Adult male Barred Warbler
At dawn, we would open the day nets and all the hundreds of migrants which had occupied the thickets would be caught. Oddly there were a lot of new species caught like Red-backed and Isabelline Shrikes, Olive-tree, Upchur’s Barred and Basra Reed Warblers.
Adult male Ortolan Bunting
A great surprise for me was to get to not only finally catch up with after many years, but to ring a Gambaga Flycatcher, only a few have ever been caught at Ngulia! And another real surprise, Ortolan Bunting, the second ever! It was a cracking adult male, and the only Palearctic migratory seed-eater to come to Africa.

David with his Wahlberg's Eagle
One afternoon after ringing a couple of hundred Barn Swallows, we took a little drive and found a Wahlberg’s Eagle on a dead tree by the track. Got a Bal-chatri trap down and the bird came in straight away and eventually got caught. Took the bird into the lodge, much too all the tourists surprise where David Gitau ringed it. It was an adult and probably a female.
Some of the team had left so there were only now six of us left with a couple of busy nights ahead of us!

sub adult Auger Buzzard

Another raptor run the next day produced a sub adult Auger Buzzard again to the Bal-chatri and a very good tick for Richard.
There were a few other interesting birds to turn up in the nets, Asian Lesser Cuckoo, Isabelline Wheatear, Green Pigeon, Black and White Cuckoo, Golden Pipit, Donalson-smith’s and Plain Nightjars.

Lovely male Golden Pipit
The next night was a good one and we were kept busy till dawn extracting continually whilst the ringing table tried to keep up with the numbers. One of the most bizarre bird sightings at around 0300hrs was a Narina Trogon sitting in the thorn tree! Just goes to show what birds move and why, is always the big question. Another bird that regularly turned up in the night nets were Barn Swallows, not a species you would imagine to migrate at night.
the Georgia ring!

Finally one night around 0430hrs we were rewarded with a control Sprosser from Tiblisi, Georgia, this is what it is all about and later discovered it was ringed as a juvenile this year in August.

Eventually the moon became brighter each phase and the birds were beginning to dwindle, so on the last day we took down all the day nets and packed up all the considerable kit and set off for Nairobi.

Over the 10 days we spent at the lodge we had mist on 5 nights which enabled us to catch and ring 7800 birds.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ringing and general bird survey in Tchimpounga Reserve, Republic of Congo
23rd September to 9th October 2012

Carmalite Sunbird
Arriving in a very gloomy and overcast Pointe Noire, I was met by the driver and taken through some of the filthiest streets I have seen in Africa, such is the result of an oil boom.
Walking to the ATM to get a bit of pocket money at the bank, a bird flew across my path, a Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush! Lifer! In this utter pig sty! It was a relief to get to the reserve and the Chimpanzee sanctuary base further up the coast some 50km, where I met everyone, including Debby Cox, whom I have known and worked with on and off for many years in Uganda. I was also greeted enthusiastically by ‘Zorro’ and ‘JJ’ two little orphaned chimps that had lost their mothers and families to poachers supplying the horrific bush meat trade to the big towns in central Africa.
Forested erosion gully
2 lads in a Pirogue, huge forest in background
Before I could get any nets up we did took a day to visit some of the areas in the reserve including a huge forested erosion gully. The cliffs were ideal breeding habitat for many White-fronted Bee-eaters, Banded Martins, Horus Swift and Black Saw-wings. We drove to the Kouilou River mouth and took a boat upto Tchindzoulou Island which will become home to some 150 chimps once the infrastructure is finished. The plan was to survey the birds on the island to see what impact the chimps will have on them. The large bridge over the river was teeming with Little Swifts and Red-throated Cliff Swallows, quite a few Common Terns too.
On the island the first birds I saw were a flock of noisy Swamp Palm Bulbuls feeding on a fig, several African Grey Parrots went over followed by a Rosy Bee-eater! This was one I was looking forward to seeing. Lots of Piping and Pied Hornbills around and zipping up and down the river were a few White-throated Blue Swallows. The forests here are very dense and swampy with lots of Oil Palm and therefore it was no surprise to see so many Palm-nut Vultures.
On the way back we saw more Rosy Bee-eaters up close, feeding over the river and over the forest were flocks of Mottled Spinetails.
Back at the base the first thing was to organise some bamboo poles as I was getting twitchy! In the afternoon, I got 3 nets up and proceeded to catch; Little Bee-eaters, Pygmy Kingfishers, Brown-throated Wattle-eyes, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Green-headed Sunbird and Common Bulbul of the race ‘gabonensis’ with a slight amount of yellow undertail coverts. Thinking about it, this was a new species for me, Pycnonotus barbatus, as opposed to the southern P. tricolor. Then what I was waiting for, two Rufous-tailed Palm Thrushes!
Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush
Opened at 0545hrs and caught steadily all morning, Olive Sunbirds, more RTp Thrushes, a Black Saw-wing of the race ‘petiti’ sometimes treated as Petit’s Saw-wing, Collared Sunbird, Black-necked and Vieillot’s Weaver, Little Greenbul and a real treat, 4 Carmalite Sunbirds!! Went to check on a nearby Rosy Bee-eater breeding site where we found some 40 birds and one or two nests being excavated in the burnt grassland. I set a 2 panel net near the holes and a sound system on, but only got one bird perch nearby in a bush. As I was watching I noticed a large flock of birds high up overhead milling around like Little Swifts do and put them down to something like that. But as they came over and got lower, I suddenly realised what they were, African River Martins!!! Wow! Here was a real target bird and I hastily changed the soundtrack over, but not much happened. Great to see this unusual and huge Martin, there were about 300+ birds. Driving back through the grassland we flushed Black-rumped and Common Button Quail, Black-chinned Quailfinch and a Harlequin Quail.
Opened again in same place at base getting Copper Sunbird, Orange Weaver, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and saw a Collared Flycatcher, a vagrant to this part of the world. I packed up ready to go to the island for 2 nights camping and left instructions for the eco guards to clear a net-ride in a forest site.
The Kouilou River, a big river
We had to take one of the chimps from the sanctuary to be released on the island and so we had a rather upset animal drive with us to the landing site in Bas Kouilou village. The locals of course came out to watch, standing knee deep in the dreadful piles of rubbish and filth, many out of their skulls on local palm wine. Sad.On the way up watched a mix of European and Rosy Bee-eaters swooping over the river and more White-throated Blue Swallows. Got to the Island and set a line of nets whilst the Chimp team released the animal which was overwhelmed by all the natural food!
I caught a few birds in the afternoon, Red-capped Robinchats and mostly Little Greenbuls before closing. New birds seen on the island were Yellow-billed Turaco and Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills. Above us in the campsite I counted a pre-roost flock of 78 African Grey Parrots.
Red-chested Goshawk
During the night I heard African Wood Owl and curiously a group of Great Blue Turacos, strange that I’d not seen them yet, unlike Uganda where you would have seen them on the first day. I also heard Nkulengu Rail not too far off as I was opening at 0530hrs. During the morning I caught; Yellow-lored Bristlebill, White-browed Forest Flycatcher (I love finding a lifer in the net!) Western Bluebill, Tambourine Dove and late afternoon a real prize in the form of a Red-chested Goshawk!! An adult male, right above the speaker which was playing a series of greenbuls, not the first time this trick has worked. I took a blood sample for Michel Louette of the Museum of African Ornithology who is working on these taxa and this bird has now been split from African Goshawk and I could see why!
Manatee River
In the afternoon we took a Pirogue up a tributary to where there is a population of Manatee clinging on to existence from poaching. Birding along this river was spectacular, African Finfoot, Blue-throated Roller, Splendid Glossy Starling, African River Martins, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Cassin’s Spinetail, Cassin’s Grey Flycatcher, Rosy Bee-eater and Blue-headed Coucal.

a few of the thousands of Royal Terns
Rain was a problem on the second morning so didn’t do much, but watched a pair of Blue-billed Malimbe in the camp whilst waiting for the boat. Back at the river mouth we went to the end where I could see a tern roost and there we found around 900+ Royal Terns with 4 African Skimmers.
Set nets in the prepared forest ride in the afternoon and got a few Brown Illadopsis and a Chestnut Wattle-eye before closing. Barn Swallows, Banded Martins, Grey-rumped Swallows and Red-throated Cliff Swallows were hawking all over the savannah. On the way back we were lucky to see a pair of Black-casqued Wattled Hornbills fly over the road from one forest patch to another, what massive birds!

It rained all night so opened late and got a Green Crombec and Western Olive Sunbirds till the rain cam again. Watched a group of some 50 Pied Hornbills fly catching over the forest!
Lake Foni

a convenient picnic table
Went to have a look at this lake and on the way got saw Spotted Flycatcher, Black-bellied Bustard and Black Sparrowhawk. The lake was fairly quiet, but there were dozens of Reichenbach’s Sunbirds feeding out in the reed, so I quickly got a net up and got one! A very curious bird too, the only monotypic genus of the sunbirds, ‘Anabathmis’.
Black-headed Bee-eater, the word 'stonking' comes to mind!
We set a line of nets in the dense thicket bordering secondary forest and furled to give it a rest. Had a drive around and got Red-necked Buzzard next to the road, oh for a Bal-chatri! Opened the nets in the afternoon and got a beautiful Green-throated Sunbird as well as another Carmalite Sunbird. Then on the second round, I was completely gob-smacked, for there in the net was a stonking great Black-headed Bee-eater (so nice to get a lifer in the net!). What a surprise indeed, the bill was almost corvid like and the head feathers all raised to give the head a much bigger appearance. A bit of a come down after was a Village Weaver of the local race ‘collaris’, far more impressive than the southern one! On one net round I was momentarily stunned when I realised there was a Yellow-billed Turaco sitting in a pocket of the net! The bird actually sat there until I was 6 foot from it before waking up and making its escape via a new hole in the net. Cross, naaah!
Reichenbach's Sunbird
We sat watching hundreds of African River Martin and Rosy Bee-eaters washing in the lake and got Osprey and a great record for here, Ayre’s Hawk Eagle. The lake produced some amazing stuff, Hartlaub’s Ducks, we saw 2 pairs of this Near-threatened species, Black Swift which I did get a good look at and would appear to be new to Congo. Sabine’s Spintails too now were joining the impressive numbers of Swifts and Swallows.
We took a walk out to the Kouilou River mouth, some 3 ks of walking through the drizzle and soft sand. But what a sight at the end, there was an enormous roost of Royal Tern, counting as best I could, I managed to block-count between 8 and 10 thousand birds. Along with all these terns I there was a single Kelp Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull, both vagrants to this part of Africa. Also on the beach were a lot of the usual migrant shorebirds, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and a surprise pair of White-crowned Plover.
typical grassland forest mosaic
I set the nets up back at the Base and got a few before closing, Speckled Tinkerbird, Grey-headed Negrofinch, Grey Waxbill, lots more Green-headed Sunbirds and Pygmy Kingfishers. Saw an Icterine and Willow Warbler, but not interested in the tape, but did get a Garden Warbler. 
Next morning caught Yellow-throated Longclaw, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, White-chinned Prinia, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, but not the Long-legged Pipits which were proving hard to get.
Rain became a bit of a problem over the next few days but managed to get into a couple of forests and returned to Lake Foni. The forests produced very little numbers which is normal, but Lake Foni produced some nice birds, Blue Malkoha for one and Little Green Sunbird which caused an identification headache as I caught them with Collared Sunbirds!

All in I ringed 222 birds of 60 species, saw 190 species including 20 lifers and got 13 ringing ticks!

Mozambique trip

Quirimbas National Park, Mozambique Birding and Banding

22nd August to 9th September 2012
Berend van Baak and Sarah Hodges
This trip promised to be an exciting one, as it not only involved some ringing, but included exploring a new area of the park as well as a Dhow safari too.
First stop was the bush camp outside Pemba where I added a new one to the reserve list in the form of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl calling in the night. African Goshawks were very vocal in the morning, suggesting a breeding pair (I did catch a pair here one morning) and the lovely sound of an African Broadbill, making that peculiar sound with their wings during the display flight.
After getting supplies from town we set off into the bush with a few Lizard Buzzards and Dark-chanting Goshawks along the way, and arrived in time to get a nice walk in round the camp before sundown.
The setting here was just incredible, the camp was nestled in a patch of tall forest with a towering granite ‘Inselberg’ above us and towering cliffs above the canopy.
the Inselberg above the camp
First real bonus was finding a pair of Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbirds in the camp along with a huge fruiting fig tree full of Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills. Adding to the list we got Brown-backed Barbet, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Brown-necked Parrot and then a real treat, 4 Grey-headed Parrots.  During the night I could hear African Wood Owl, Freckled, Firey-necked and Square-tailed Nightjars.
Early next morning we hiked up into the forest and sat above a Crowned Eagles nest and watched the male displaying right over the camp. This is the only place I can think of where Africa’s three biggest Eagles, Verreaux’s, Martial and Crowned Eagles, all breed within sight of each other!
Bird parties provided some great excitement with mixed flocks including Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Red-faced Crombec, Grey Penduline Tit, Pale Batis and a flock of Retz’s Helmet-shrikes. A Bateleur cruised overhead.
Back in camp we checked the fruiting fig tree and among the dozen or so Trumpeter Hornbills was a pair of huge Silvery-cheeked Hornbills! Standing there watching these amazing birds we were rewarded with a pair of Livingstone’s Turacos coming in for a feed!
At first light the next day, I heard the unmistakeable crying of a flacon and thinking there may be a pair of Lanner Falcon, I went to try and find them.
After 20 mins I eventually pinpointed the sound which was coming from a recess high up in the cliff face. I noticed some white streaks and realised there was a nesting pair of whatever they were. After half an hour of watching I gave up and we set off for a bush walk.
We followed the base contour of the massif till we met a dried out riverbed which we followed for several kilometres. Our species tally was growing with Nesting Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Goshawk, Little Sparrowhawk, Black-throated Wattle-eye and along the forested paths were little flocks of firefinches including the occasional Red-throated Twinspot.

the trail through the forest

The trees along the river were spectacular, towering above us we were able to locate great bird parties and one included a pair of Woodward’s Batis, a new one for the reserve here. Other exciting finds included Bohm’s Spinetails, a pair of Martial Eagles, flocks of 50 plus large Swifts kept passing overhead which I suspected to be Common Swift returning south on passage. Many of the trees were in flower and the busy pollinators included Red-headed and Forest Weavers, Scarlet-chested, Uluguru Violet-backed, Purple-banded, Olive, Collared, White-bellied Sunbirds!
We found a Crowned Eagles nest with a sitting female in a huge Pod-Mahogony tree.
We arrived back at camp for lunch and a well-deserved cold beer! But I couldn’t get the falcon out of my mind and so got the scope set up in a better position. After a few moments of watching the recess, I glimpsed a head all too briefly, but it looked very interesting. Then just as I was just beginning to think about probable Lanner, all of a sudden a falcon came flying along the cliff face which drew out the bird inside the cavity. At first I couldn’t accept the possibility of what my instincts were telling me, but then what turned out to be the male, landed in clear view and I got it in the scope. TAITA FALCON!!!
Wow! What a turn up! The nearest distribution record of this small falcon to where we were was some few thousand kilometres away in Northern Tanzania and West of Lake Malawi, a huge range extension!!
The habitat was perfect and more encouragingly, it is possible that this bird is more common than we think given the amount of unexplored areas such as this. We watched the birds on and off during the afternoon, once the male bought in a Red-winged Starling it had caught.

IBO ISLAND spring tide

monkey hunters
After a last look at the Taita Falcons, we set off for Ibo Island. On the way we encountered a party of poachers who with a pack of dogs and their bows and arrows had killed several Samango Monkeys which they were wearing like shoulder bags. We were still in the park and so I took their photo which incensed them, but how blatant they were!


We settled into the very luxurious Ibo Lodge before taking the scope out along the waterfront to scan the flats for waders. There were good numbers of the usual suspects, Whimbrel, Terek Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Turnstone and Curlew Sandpiper. Two Osprey were over the mangroves.
We took a walk round the Old Cemetary, nice bush and lots of birds. Grey Sunbirds, Mangrove Kingfishers, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Pale Batis, Madagascar Bee-eaters and a pair of African Harrier Hawks displaying overhead.
Lunchtime was nothing short of spectacular! We sailed out to sea in an old Dhow, and after an hour came to the perfect desert island, all was missing was the palm tree in the middle! The crew set up a shade tent and prepared lunch whilst we went snorkelling.
There were some amazing sea life, thousands of brilliant coloured fish, Lionfish, Parrot Fish, Puffer Fish, Clownfish in their anemones, Octopus, huge Lobster, all sorts of amazing starfish and beautiful coral of every colour.
Whilst waiting for lunch (which was a feast of huge prawns) we drank a few cold beers and watched a distant Humpback Whale breaching beyond the reef.
We went to scan the high tide roost off the flats and got a few more birds, good numbers of Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and 60 or so Yellow-billed and Woolly-necked Storks.
The next morning we loaded op the Dhow and set to sea on the first of a 4 day Safari. Watching the local crew manage the sails of the old dhow was fascinating, skills that are as old as sailing itself. We were very lucky to be escorted for a while by a family of Humpback Dolphins and overhead were the occasional Lesser and Greater Crested Terns.
We got to camp at the mouth of a huge channel which disappeared into the vast mangrove forest, and sat watching the waders arriving in on the high tide whilst the staff set up camp.
Hard work this whale watching...
Just before high tide, a wonderful sight of some 160 Crab Plovers arriving onto a rapidly diminishing sand spit across the channel from us. The other waders were really tightly packed on every available bit of sand and some even perched up on dead mangrove branches!
On the dhow were 2 kayaks which were a wonderful way of exploring the area. We managed to get so close to many different waders, including 9 Eurasian Curlew, Mongolian and Greater Sand Plovers and several Crab Plovers, one so close we could hear the ‘crack’ of a small crab as it succumbed to the formidable bill of the plover!
Explored the many intricate channels in the huge mangrove forest, there were Mangrove Kingfishers, Grey Sunbirds, Ospreys and a surprising Black-chested Snake Eagle.
After 2 days we set sail to the next camp, alternating from dhow to kayak. We stopped at a beautiful reef to snorkel for a while. We saw lots of fish, Maori Wrasse, Bat Fish, Trigger Fish, Blue-spotted Rays, Giant Clams and stunning coral.
The next camp was on a small island which you could walk around in 30 minutes! I decided to Kayak the last leg of 18 kilometres, seeing dolphin, turtles and flying fish, thoroughly enjoying riding the deep swells. After a couple of cold beers on arrival, we explored the island, the first thing which struck me were the dozens of African Reed Warblers all over the place. According to the distribution maps in the field guides, they were not listed for this part of the world, so it was an exciting find. I hastily erected a net and we were soon busy with a few of these Afro-tropical migrants.  
After a wonderful seafood supper we sat round the fire and were given an astronomy show by one of the guides, very good too.
Mangrove Kingfisher
We went on to catch a dozen birds including Grey Sunbirds, Sombre Greenbuls and a lovely Mangrove Kingfisher. Spent a lot of the day snorkelling and seeing so much life on the reefs around the island. Walked round the island and flushed a Black Sparrowhawk, and odd place to find one of these, and watched it fly all the way over to the mainland some 5 km away.
After two days on this island we returned to the mainland and were met by our driver to be taken to our next destination, a lodge set deep in the bush! On the way we saw plenty of Lizard Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawks and a single Western Banded Snake Eagle, another species whose range in the literature is far to the west from where we were.
Once settled in we took a drive to a waterhole where we noticed Buffalo prints in the mud alongside Elephant and Sable. A lone marabou Stork was at the waterhole and a pair of Grey-necked Parrots sat up in a tall tree scolding a Cuckoo Hawk! Black and Eastern Sawings were feeding over the water. A small group of Elephants surprised us by coming out of the forest and at one point got between us and the vehicle, but we were both aware of each other and showed appropriate respect.

That night we listened to the sounds of Lions roaring nearby and later a Hyena joined in the chorus of the African night.
a ground Pangolin, very lucky to see
Bohm's Bee-eater
First thing we walked 4 km to another waterhole in a streambed with tall riparian forest, where we watched a party of B√∂hm’s Bee-eaters, such beautiful little Bee-eaters. Livingstone’s Turacos were quite vocal here and we were treated to a fantastic view of an adult Ayre’s Hawk Eagle which flew over slowly. Bird parties here included Yellow-bellied Greenbul of the race ‘centralis’, Red-headed and Forest Weavers, Eastern Nicator, Red-throated Twinspot, Pied Mannakin, Red-backed Mannikin.
African Broadbill
Back in Pemba I set a few nets at a new site in thick bush and over the 3 days, caught some interesting birds. Red-capped Robinchat, Terrestrial Bulbul, Bearded Scrub-robin, Red-faced Cisticola, Pygmy Kingfisher, Tropical Boubou, Brown-hooded Kingfisher ‘orientalis’, Eastern Olive Sunbird and a real treat, an African Broadbill! Had an African Goshawk in the net at one point, but the bird got out before I could get to it!
In all we saw 190 species and some fantastic sights and scenes. Every time I come to Mozambique, I just think about planning the next trip!



Monday, August 6, 2012

Limpopo Weekend August 2012

Limpopo Weekend 3rd to 5th August 2012

Michael Parker and Malcolm Wilson


We set off from Johannesburg at 0430hrs and were at daybreak just south of the Waterberg Biosphere reserve. We found a pair of Jackal Buzzards and a Lanner in one field and got a trap down for the JB, but not interested. The Lanner took off before we could get to it.
A bit later we found another JB which too was not interested. In the fields here we counted 7 Denham’s Bustards and 30 Blue Cranes.

2nd yr Male Shikra
We spotted a few distant Brown Snake Eagles and one Black-chested but conditions this time of year were always going to be a challenge and many areas had not had rain for six months and many birds would move north to better hunting grounds.
Got up into the Limpopo valley and tried out a new spring-trap method on a Purple Roller which worked very well and then caught an adult male Shikra a little later. Found the camp on the river and set a net up for owls but got a Southern Pied Babbler just before dark.
Having tea with the sun coming up, we were rewarded by the sight of a huge juvenile Martial Eagle flying through the tall riverine forest to land in a dead tree in front of us. The Egyptian Geese were making a royal racket and wondered about them as a potentially easy prey item for this magnificent Eagle.
Set off in the morning and found a Gabar Goshawk which came into the trap but got off. Dropped for a Tawny Eagle which was some distance from the road but we pulled it in with a ‘distressed mouse call’ on the ipod, but the bird was only mildly curious and took off after circling over a couple of times.

Had another Gabar get off the trap and no luck with a few Pale Chanting Goshawks also set back just too far from the track.
Finally our bad luck turned and seemed to lead up to the next encounter when we came across a huge Tawny Eagle on a pole looking at the remains of a dead Steenbok. We got a large trap down for it and it came in in seconds and onto the trap. Giving it a while we saw it was caught and went in, the bird literally dragged a 2.6 kg trap 10m with comparative ease before Michael caught up to it and we had a fantastic looking second year Tawny Eagle of 2.8kgs.

Much flushed with this turn of fortunes we got 2 Black-chested Snake Eagles and a Brown Snake Eagle in the space of an hour! The next bird was a real surprise, thinking a straightforward Pale Chanting Goshawk, turned out to be a Pale-chanting / Dark-chanting Goshawk Hybrid! Very unusual to see or even catch and the first time I have come across it. We caught another adult female PCG back at the bush camp.

That evening just before dark we found a pair of Verreaux’s Eagle Owls in the tall riparian forest but we were too close and they took off before we could get a trap down. After dark we got a pair of beautiful African Scops Owls with the ipod and dazzled a Fiery-necked Nightjar, catching it by hand (who needs a net!?).

We set off back to Johannesburg, getting another PCG on the way out of the camp, this time the male of the pair.  We dropped for a Brown Snake Eagle and got two Lizard Buzzards and a Rock Kestrel on the journey south.

My prediction about the abundance of some species during the winter hunting season seemed to ring true. Normally a rare bird in the province, seing two Tawny Eagles and catching one was good. Also saw 6 Bateleur Eagles including 2 juveniles. I would imagine these birds had come in from the greater Kalahari area to take advantage of the kills and subsequent abundance of offal from game shot on hunts.

Altogether 16 birds of 11 species were ringed on the weekend, could have had a few more, but conditions as they were, I think we did very well.