Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Wad Medani Birds in the late 50s and early 60s - by Peter Dare

I have recently had the good fortune to be contacted by Peter Dare, who worked as an ornithologist at the Gezira Research Station at Wad Medani between 1958 and 1962. He has offered to provide some accounts of his birding experiences at various locations during his time in Sudan. It seems that travel was less restricted back then, though the infrastructure limited movements in other ways; he described the travel between Khartoum and Wad Medani taking most of a day compared to the two hour journey of today. Much of Peter's data was used in Nikolaus' Distribution Atlas of Sudan's Birds, but these accounts will be of great interest to anyone wishing to learn more about these sites that have, for the most part, not been visited since Peter's time here. As we discover more about these sites we may also have the chance to find out what changes have occurred in the intervening years. Even in his first report, below, there are a number of species that I have never seen and which whet my appetite for further exploration of this country. Tom Jenner

Sudan, Sahel – Blue Nile river, Wad Medani 
14º30’N Annual rainfall  400 mm

 Dry season – view south at low water, March       
Rainy season – peak flood, September, view up river at same place

The Blue Nile flows north-west through east-central Sudan for 400 miles from the Ethiopian border before joining the White Nile at Khartoum. It is fed almost entirely by summer rains in the Ethiopian mountains. A dam half-way along at Sennar, 50 miles above Wad Medani, irrigates the Gezira cultivations. Below the dam (as here) water levels can vary by up to 10 m between the rainy season peak in early autumn and the dry season low in early summer (as shown). Falling water levels expose sand banks and silty shores which in places are utilised both by local cultivators and by many Palaearctic and African birds from October to July.

Northern migrants here were numerous in autumn but spring passage appeared to be very light. Notable, later in autumn, were: up to 1,000 Demoiselle Crane, a few European Crane and 2,000 Ruff roosting on sand bars after feeding in grain fields; also, Black Stork (4 in December), a few Black-winged Pratincole, Curlew (4) and Gull-billed Tern. Commoner waders comprised: Grey Heron (up to 30), Kentish Plover (100), Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Little and Temminck’s Stints, Greenshank, Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers; a few spring Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage. White-winged Black Tern (scores) in autumn and a few spring birds in breeding plumage. Beside the river, thorn scrub and woodlands of A. nilotica held passerine migrants: Turtle Dove (flocks), Black-eared and Desert Wheatears, Lesser Whitethroat, Olivaceous and Willow Warblers, Spotted Flycatcher and Masked Shrike; with White Wagtail and European Hoopoe (up to 7 together) on open ground. Occasional raptors beside the river were: Common Kestrel, Short-toed Eagle and Montagu’s Harrier.

Among conspicuous African residents in the dry season: flocks of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse came to drink, Egyptian Plover, White-faced Tree-Duck and Pied Kingfisher were common, and Egyptian Goose scarce. In riverside woods/scrub were: Red-billed Hornbill, White-headed Babbler, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Nubian Woodpecker, Golden-spotted Tinker-bird and Abyssinian (Black-billed) Wood Dove; with Senegal Kingfisher and Long-tailed Starling in the rains. Rainy season visitors also included Black-headed and Squacco Herons, Hagedash Ibis and Marabou Stork; Comb Duck, Carmine Bee-eater bred in large colonies in steep banks, a few Horus Swift prospected nest burrows and African Sand Martin also appeared. Many of the commonest Gezira species were also present.  

Peter Dare

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