Friday, July 31, 2015

Winter Birding trip to Tchimpounga National Nature Reserve, and Conkoati National Park, Republic of Congo, June to July 2015

June and July saw me back in the Congo again to guide two groups of Canadians.
This time of the year is the ‘winter’ or dry season and as such not the best time for birding, as many species lose their breeding plumage and migrants are absent.

However, there were some really good highlights and I did manage to get the usual line of nets up in the reserve as well as a morning in Conkoati Nat park to see what was about.
The netting area is one of thick scrub and rank grass, with quite a few introduced Lantana bushes. The latter is a real magnet for the many frugivorous bird species in the area and which turn up most regularly in the nets.
It was quite the time for Tinkerbirds, with one net round producing a full flush of four! Different species, Yellow-rumped, Yellow-throated, Speckled and a new one for me, Red-rumped Tinkerbird!

As well as these were Little Greenbuls, Little Bee-eaters (including 4 in one net round!),  a pair of Klass’s Cuckoo, Pygmy Kingfishers, Green Crombec, Common Bulbul (ssp gabonensis) and a few Green-headed Sunbirds.

Conkoati National Park
This was a quick overnight trip to visit the Mandril release program that JGI have been running. Many individuals rescued from bush meat markets have been given a second chance and are now actually free roaming again in the forest.
It was an opportunity for me to put some nets up in the forest for the afternoon and morning!

I got a total of 36 birds, the highlight for me, was a lifer in the form of a Fraser’s Sunbird! Others were Fire-crested Alethe, Yellow-lored Bristlebill, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Camaroon Sombre Greenbul, Western Bluebill and Red-tailed Greenbul (which I thought could be White-bearded Greenbul for a while, but RT’s were calling in the area). I also got a gorgeous Blue-headed Wood-dove!

One net round, I disturbed a Long-tailed Hawk! This awesome forest raptor had nailed a Yelllow-whiskered Greenbul in the net!! Oh my!! If that had only stayed in!! The greenbul was ok!
Ntombo River Camp is a fantastic site in this park. At night there are Vermiculated Fishing Owls, Wood Owl, Nkulengu Rail, White-crested Tiger-heron and probably so much more. During the day, squadrons of the massive Black-casqued Wattled Hornbills cruise overhead making such a noise with their wings. There were Shining-blue Kingfishers and White-bibbed Swallows zipping up and down the river, Black-headed and Black Bee-eaters along the banks. There were Great-blue and Yellow-billed Turacos calling all the time and Rosy Bee-eaters over the canopy all day. For the first time here, I saw at least 7 White-crested Hornbill’s in the forest, such a stunning bird. Elephant, Buffalo, Gorilla and Chimpanzee frequent the area around the camp, so opening the net at dawn is always charged with a bit of excitement!

Tchimpounga NR
Back at the sanctuary, I took guests on a series of hikes in the reserve and found saw a
single Wattled Starling, being the country’s 3rd record of this Afro-tropical migrant!

Round the house a great flock of swallows were feeding on a hatch of small flies. Included in these were Black Saw-wing Swallow (subspecies ‘pettitti), Red-throated Cliff Swallow, Lesser-striped Swallow, Grey-rumped Swallow, Red-chested and Mosque Swallow!
A boat trip up to the islands in the Kouilou River made a great day out. First off, getting a pair of African Spoonbill flying south over the river constituted a new record for the reserve, with only a couple of previous records for the country. Also a group of Banded Prinias in some herbage along the banks was also new, but expected for the reserve, also previously thought as rare in this part of the world was a single Ayre’s Hawk Eagle. There were a couple of over summering Ospreys on the river and at the mouth, a roost of some 200 Royal Terns, with several Sandwich (new for RNT), Common and Little Tern (also new) along with 50 or so African Skimmer. In among the debris on the beach were a few Grey Pratincole.
A trip out to Lake Foni produced 2 more Black-headed Bee-eaters, now seen regularly here, 3 Pygmy Geese of note. In the forest, we saw Moustached and Putty-nosed Monkey’s.

Looking forward to November 2015 when we go back to ring the Rosy Bee-eaters and African River martins, the latter being the focus of the first ever research done on the species!!

Always looking for people to join us!!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Winter Spring-trapping on a remote hill in Gauteng, South Africa

Niall Perrins and I decided to head to Mabusa nature reserve for the day to have a look round. We took a Bal-chatri with the idea of catching and ringing Ovambo Sparrowhawk, or any other raptor we could get. We also took some spring traps.

Mabusa was a bit quiet, we did manage to drop a trap for a pair of Ovambo’s but they were too busy thinking about nests and family!
We attempted to catch a Brown Snake Eagle, but the bird was also not interested.
We decided to go and have a look at a large rock covered hill which has turned up some good endemic birds in the past. On arrival we saw a couple of endemic Cape Rock Thrush. I set 3 traps and in no time had got one! Incredible eyesight, the bird saw the mealworm from some 30m up on a radio tower!
A bit more perseverance and we got a second Cape Rock Thrush, an adult male this time, such stunning birds. AND THEN, a pair of Buff-streaked Chats arrived and in no time we caught a female, a second endemic!  Also in this time we had no time to appreciate getting 2 Familiar Chat! Lovely little birds, but we were too excited about the Buff-streaked Chat! Then when we thought we couldn’t do any better, we caught a Mountain Wheatear! It was the female and we did get the male briefly, but it got out of the trap.

Flushed with success, we drove out, flushing a group of White-bellied Korhaan on the way!
Limpopo Brown Snake-eagle expedition July 2015
Pear-spotted Owlet
Over the years we have been seeing an influx of Brown Snake Eagles into a particular area of Limpopo Province just south of the Soutpansberg Mountains, so we decided to see if we could get a few.
Michael Parker and I set off form Johannesburg at 0500 and set off north up the N1.
Brown Snake-eagle
On the way we saw some good raptors, adult Black-chested Snake Eagle, African Hawk Eagle and oddly, a pair of Long-crested Eagles near the Nyl Floodplain. Plenty of Black-shouldered Kites and Greater Kestrels around, but we are not after them this trip!
First customer was a BSE on a pylon, straight in, nothing like hungry winter birds to react to a trap! It was a big bird, in good condition at 2.48kg.
Lizard Buzzard

 We got 2 Lizard Buzzards in quick succession in the shadows of the Soutpansberg Mountains and almost had a 2nd BSE, but a vehicle flushed it from the trap.

Tried for an adult African Hawk Eagle near camp, but it had a full crop and was too wary of our vehicle. That night we got a Pearl-spotted Owlet in the net.

Day 2, we were 5 mins out of camp when we spotted, and caught, a juvenile Black-chested Snake Eagle sitting in a thorn tree. Please with its weight of 1.42kg, a good weight for a winter youngster.
Juv Black-chested Snake-eagle
We made a big run for the Limpopo River and Mpangubwe National Park, but all was very quiet. We got our 3rd BSE on the way back to camp and another which got off the trap before we got to it. It was nice to see a Kori Bustard near the camp and the land owner said they had 6 young this year for the first time!
We headed west today for the Woodbush Forest, region of Afro-montane mist-belt forest. On the way we found 3 BSE in one area, and after a bit of manoeuvring, we got our 4th BSE! There were a pair of adult Lanner here which we dropped a trap for with a Zebra Finch lure. Birds did react, bombing the trap several times, but the required ‘flush and chase’ never happened for the two falcons.

Woodbush Forest
Once into the mountains, we saw a couple of Jackal Buzzards and 2 Forest Buzzards, our target here. Last July I spent 2 days here with Charlotte England where we caught 4 of these endemic and local migrants, seemingly arriving in this region at this time of year.
We dropped for one Forest Buzzard which was a peach of a drop, but in the exact spot we had caught one last year. The bird was not at all interested, so I assumed it was very likely the same bird!
Over the next couple of hours we dropped for no less than 6! Long-crested Eagles!!, and catching 2 with one getting off trap. This was quite possibly also a movement up into this region from the lowveld.

All in all a good trip with 9 good raptors ringed and 4 target birds.