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!