Monday, 1 June 2015

My final post from Sudan

It is with sadness that I write my final post after 5 wonderful years here in Sudan, as I will be heading off tomorrow for a new teaching job in Hangzhou, China. The birding has been exciting, with so much still to be discovered here. I have met many great people and made many great friends through my birding in Sudan, from countries all over the world. There are still relatively few Sudanese birdwatchers, but hopefully they will lead ornithology forward in the country in the coming years and make many new discoveries.
Ma'a salama Sudan

Tom Jenner

Saturday, 23 May 2015

First Sunt Forest visit for a while

I haven't visited the Sunt Forest for a while, so I made a visit today with Marwa and her sister Safaa. The White Nile is rising and starting to flood some of the fields, making it good for waterbirds. We took a boat our to Um Shegira, the long thin island about 100m out, which was a first time for me (though known as a former birding and ringing site of local birder Esmat). The big surprise for me was the large number of African Swamphens feeding out on the open mud, with 66 counted from the shore and another 59 on Um Shegira, and both numbers being highly conservative. Previously known by only one published record, Marwa and I have found them to be common at local sewage sites, but I never expected to see numbers like these. I have visited this site 7 times previously, though never at this time of year, and never seen them before.

African Swamphens, Sunt Forest 22nd May 2015

Marwa has seen African Jacanas here before and several others have seen them in the area around Khartoum and published about them on this blog, but this was the first time I have ever seen them in Sudan. Again, they were quite common. There were quite a lot of storks around, including a few Abdim's and Yellow-billed, plus hundreds of African Openbills. The arrival of these species often signal the start of the rains. There were a number of other interesting waterbirds around, including some migrants still present.

African Jacanas, Sunt Forest 22nd May 2015

Pink-backed Pelican, Sunt Forest 22nd May 2015

African Openbill, Sunt Forest 22nd May 2015

Black-crowned Night Herons, Sunt Forest 22nd May 2015

Sacred Ibises, Sunt Forest 22nd May 2015

Great White Pelicans, Sunt Forest 22nd May 2015

Spur-winged Geese, Sunt Forest 22nd May 2015

Grivett Monkey, Sunt Forest 22nd May 2015

Unfortunately this will probably be my last visit here. I wish I had taken the boat out to Um Shegira more often. It only cost 100 SDG for the three of us to take a short 15 to 20 min trip along the length of the island.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The amazing variation of weaver eggs

I have been doing little general birding recently, hence the lack of posts. The reason is that I am trying to finish off my study of Cinnamon and Northern Masked Weavers before I leave Sudan in early June. I have been trying to get some more information about nesting, so, wearing my chest waders, I have been wading through sewage at Bahri to check nests and take measurements. As with the Cinnamon Weavers I've been studying in Sennar, I have been struck by the incredible variation of the eggs. Generally birds show little egg variation within a single species, but many weavers (possibly all, but I do not know) show huge variation, with different background coloration, different levels of spotting and different colours of the spots. A selection is shown below.

Cinnamon Weaver eggs, Sennar, Sudan

Northern Masked Weaver eggs, Bahri, Sudan

These two species have almost never been studied before, but one of the few studies was by Wendy Jackson, who investigated the reasons for this egg variation by studying Northern Masked Weavers in northern Kenya. She tested the hypothesis that this is a defence against brood parasitism, a behaviour more commonly known from groups such as cuckoos and cowbirds. The big difference here is that weavers are not looking to lay their eggs in the nest of another species, but simply to offload eggs into the nests of other weavers to increase their own chances of raising more young. It seems that the small woven nests of weavers limit the number of eggs that can be laid to 3, so any additional eggs above this number are best laid in a nest nearby. By having such variation in eggs the birds are better able to spot when an egg is from a neighbour and remove it. There are actually many species that are known to do brood parasitism in this way, such as the Common Starling, but few have evolved such variation in egg design as a way to combat it.

Monday, 23 March 2015

New blog with posts on birding in Sudan and neighbouring countries

I was recently contacted by Ben, a birder from Belgium. He is working in several countries in the region, including Sudan, and he recently made his first visit here. Unfortunately, his arrival coincided with a trip I was making to the UK, so we did not have a chance to meet up. Fortunately, he has a blog for his birding trips (, and he wrote up a nice report of his trip to Sudan, which included some good sightings. He has also written some interesting reports for his visits to neighbouring countries. He will be returning for future trips and I hope I am around next time to go birding him. I will certainly be following his blog to know what he has been seeing on his travels.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Gull movements at Jebel Aulia

I was down at the 'Escape' camp at Jebel Aulia at the weekend with my family and some friends. There was little time for birding as it was mainly a time for camping, relaxing and chatting, while eating one of Pantelis' amazing spit-roast lambs. However, there were good birds around without having to search for them, including two Egyptian Plovers feeding along the beach in front of us and a couple of Pied Kingfishers.

Egyptian Plover, Jebel Aulia 21st February 2015

Pied Kingfisher, Jebel Aulia 21st February 2015

I noticed some groups of gulls moving north along the reservoir. Once I found my binoculars I was able to identify four groups of Slender-billed Gulls totalling about 40 birds. There were also some large gulls moving through as individuals and in small groups, with about half being Yellow-legged Gull and half Lesser Black-backed Gull, with maybe 10 to 15 of each. By the time I found my camera I had missed the Slender-bills, but I managed a few distant shots of the Yellow-legged Gulls.

Yellow-legged Gull, Jebel Aulia 21st February 2015

Caspian Tern, Jebel Aulia 21st February 2015

Friday, 13 February 2015

Some recent photos from Khartoum Sewage Pools, by Mohamed Ismael

Mohamed Ismael visited Khartoum Sewage Pools on Thursday and sent me these photos to post.

Gargany, Khartoum Sewage Pools 12th February 2014

Common Moorhen, Khartoum Sewage Pools 12th February 2014 

Hottentot Teal, Khartoum Sewage Pools 12th February 2014

Little Grebe, Khartoum Sewage Pools 12th February 2014

Crested Coot, Khartoum Sewage Pools 12th February 2014 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Second visit to Omdurman Islamic University

This was my first proper trip out since my winter break in Cambodia. Marwa and I decided to return to the small sewage site at Omdurman Islamic University that we discovered back in May, and we were joined by Mohamed Ismail. Once again, we were impressed with this site. Although it is small it has a thick reed bed with a good selection of birds. We have only ever been able to get brief views of one Hottentot Teal chick at Khartoum sewage pools, so we were surprised how open they were in Omdurman. We estimated that we saw about 15 chicks that appeared to be from four different pairs. We also had our first sighting of an African Purple Swamphen at this site, though it was no surprise that they are present. We have now recorded them at all four of the sewage sites we are studying and they are clearly a common bird in the region in suitable habitat.

Hottentot Teal with chicks, Omdurman Islamic University 31st January 2015

African Purple Swamphen, Omdurman Islamic University 31st January 2015

There were a few other good birds present, including a Common Redshank, some Common Snipe, and a Common Swift.