Sunday 24 October 2010

Tuti and Blue Nile with Juha

Once again, I had the chance to visit Tuti Island with a different companion. Juha is visiting from Finland for the second time this year and joined me for some birding. There were no new species to report from Tuti this week, but there were still birds that seemed to be new arrivals. There were good numbers of Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps. There was a Red-backed Shrike and several Masked Shrike, that were mostly in juvenile plumage. Northern Red Bishops were still displaying; they will soon lose their bright plumage and look more like the females.

Displaying Northern Red Bishop, Tuti 22 October 2010

Village Weaver, Tuti 22 October 2010

Later we had a brief visit to the Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery, where Juha is based. The grounds were good for birds, with Blackcaps and a Common Redstart in the garden and several waders on a pool near the Blue Nile. Best bird was a Short-toed Eagle that Juha picked up as it hovered over the opposite bank of the Nile, perhaps 1km away. We scoped it for about 10 minutes and finally saw enough to confirm the identification. I imagine he will pick up other interesting birds here and I look forward to hearing what he finds.

Monday 18 October 2010

Heron passage at Tuti

The most visible migration at Tuti this weekend was several groups of herons heading south. Most numerous were Grey Herons in small groups, with larger groups of 20 to 30 individuals. One small group included a Purple Heron. A group of 13 Black-crowned Night-Herons flying over was the first I have seen in the country. A Eurasian Spoonbill flyover was also the first I have seen here, though on an earlier trip Mark Mallalieu saw an unidentified Spoonbill, which may have been an African (based on the dates in Nikolaus).

Eurasian Spoonbill, Tuti, 15 October 2010

Nikolaus describes Pallid Swift as rare anywhere in the country away from Jebel Marra (hills in Darfur), though he does include a sighting from Khartoum. There were several flying around over the north end of the island, allowing poor but identifiable photos.

Pallid Swift, Tuti 15 October 2010

New passerines included Common redstart, Blue Rock Thrush and Chiffchaff. There were still quite a few Lesser Whitethroats around. There were several large kettles of soaring Kites, each numbering several hundred. I wondered whether these might have been migrating Black Kites, rather than the resident Yellow-billed Kite shown in the photo below. They were flying too high to be sure. Many authorities now regard these two forms as separate species.

Yellow-billed Kite, Tuti 15 October 2010

Another interesting raptor that showed well was a dark morph Gabar Goshawk. It was in the same tree as the pale morph bird I photographed a couple of weeks ago and published here.

Dark phase Gabar Goshawk, Tuti 15 October 2010

Friday 15 October 2010

A death trap for the Egyptian Vultures in Africa

The following article and maps were sent to me by Stoycho Stoychev of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds. The orange line on the maps below shows the route taken by the Egyptian Vultures they have tracked by satellite from Bulgaria to North Africa.

A joint expedition between BSPB and the Sudanese Wildlife Society (25.IX-5.X.2010)
has found 17 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures. The main study area of the
expedition was the Red Sea coast in North-Eastern Sudan.

The finding of the dead birds under a particular power line in the
surroundings of Port Sudan confirms a threat there which is known to
cause the death of many birds since many years and continues to take
victims. Still in 1982-83 the German ornithologist Gerhard Nikolaus
found under the same power line almost 55 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures
and during next visit in the area 21 years later, he found another 5
dead birds. Until now there are found almost 80 electrocuted Egyptian
Vultures but this is only the tip of the iceberg since the power line is
built in the 1950es and probably has caused the death of hundreds and
may be more than a thousand Egyptian Vultures.
In the past the area around Port Sudan was the most significant known
stop-over site of the species in Sudan during its autumn migration. But
in spite that the expedition was implemented in the period of most
intensive migration of the Egyptian Vultures, they were found in very
low numbers.
Not only the Egyptian Vultures were found to be victims of this
particular dangerous power line, but also Lappet-faced Vultures, Steppe
Eagles and also during the expedition we found electrocuted Bonelli’s
Eagle and nearby territorial pair which was previously not known to
occur in Sudan.

The probable high mortality during the migration and in the wintering
sites is considered to be one of the main reasons in the complex of
threats leading to the fast decline of the Egyptian Vultures in the
Balkans. Data from the monitoring in Bulgaria and Macedonia for the last
8 years, shows that in the spring significant part of the birds do not
return to their breeding territories. It is well known that often during
migration and wintering the Egyptian Vultures prefer to roost on
electric poles. The power line causing the death of so many vultures
from the endangered species is situated in close distance to big farms
which attract many birds and cover area of a several square kilometers.
On the other hand until the last year this was the only power line going
out of the town and offering an attractive roosting site for the birds.
This power line supplies with electricity and ensures the work of pumps
in the water supply zone which give water to the almost 500 000
inhabitants in the town. We assume that the decades of such impact on
the species caused by this single extremely dangerous power line may
have caused the extinction of Egyptian Vultures populations which
traditionally migrate along the western Red Sea coasts and breed in
Eastern Europe, Western and Central Asia and the Middle East. Following
the results from the expedition, a huge priority in the species’
conservation will be the insulation of the dangerous power line near by
Port Sudan and convincing of the Sudanese Electricity Company to use a
safe model of pylons.

It is still not known whether the Bulgarian birds use this migratory
route but we hope that the future research using satellite telemetry
will reveal more and will assure a better planning of the conservation
measures which necessarily need to cross the national borders.

We thank to the Sudanese Wildlife Administration for assuring the safe implementation of the expedition. For the financial support we thank toAfrican
Bird Club, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Stitching
Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Royal Society for the Protection
of Birds, UK.
Spartacus on the migration way to Africa

Almost two months ago, a BSPB team tagged a satellite transmitter to
juvenile Egyptian Vulture in a nest in the Eastern Rhodopes, Bulgaria.
It has an important mission, which is to carry the transmitter twice a
year across three continents during its migration, wintering and return
to the natal areas. We hope that the modern technology will reveal
unknown details of the vulture’s life and shed light on the poorly known
wintering grounds of the Egyptian Vultures from Bulgaria. We named it
Spartacus, because we wanted to inspire it with courage, strength and
confidence during its uneasy and full with dangers life of an Egyptian
Spartacus, who we hope will carry out the so important for its species
task, is the first chick, hatched in a nest with two. Its parents,
supported by a nearby feeding station, are breeding on a cliff
neighboring the BSPB’s Nature Conservation Center “Eastern Rhodopes” in
the town of Madjarovo. In the last few years the territory is the most
successful one in Bulgaria. The mother of Spartacus was ringed in 2005
and since then she raised totally 11 juveniles from two different male
partners (the first male died from pesticide poisoning in 2007).

On 19th of August Spartacus did its first flight. The
first week after his fledging Spartacus and his sibling spend in the
close area around the nest, not distancing on more than a kilometer. On 23th of August Spartacus
was photographed feeding on the feeding station near Madjarovo and
later he was observed drinking water from Arda river. On 13-th of September,
after it was observed around the feeding station, eating with its whole
family a dead Hedgehog, Spartacus departured on migration, leaving on
the long way south to Africa, crossed the North-eastern corner of Greece
and at 14:00 reached the surroundings of Corlu west of Istanbul,
Turkey. Later till 21.09 it wandered in an area well populated with
Egyptian Vultures west of Ankara, while on 21-st of September it
was already in South Turkey and we hope that it will safely cross the
Middle East, which is proved to be a very dangerous area for raptors,
with many migrants finding their death there.
On 11 of October it cross  Suez,  on 14 of October it enter Sudan and on 15 of October it was 150 km from the border heading Southwest
The buying and putting of the satellite transmitter is funded by Ed
Keeble (RSPB), David Broadly (Richmond & Twickenham RSPB Group),
Barbara Cross and Michael Roberts (RSPB).

This is only the third transmitter put on the species in Bulgaria,
after one in 2001 and second in 2008. The bird with the first
transmitter reached Chad in Central Africa but probably died by unknown
reasons (Meyburg et al. 2004). The second bird was tagged by Green
Balkans and it reached the western coast of Sinai peninsula in Egypt
where the signal stopped.
Spartacus migration

Spartak Map

Spartak migration

Saturday 9 October 2010

The Amazing Journey

The Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius has declined considerably in recent years and is now considered Critically Endangered (the highest level of risk for a species). Little was known of their migration and wintering grounds, making it difficult to find out the causes of the decline. A few years ago Birdlife International started a project to track migrating birds using satellite transmitters. It was a surprise to discover that many of these birds were wintering in Sudan!
They now have a website click here that allows visitors to see the current locations of all nine tagged birds. They are currently on their way and should be arriving here in the next few weeks. Birdwatchers in Sudan should look out for this species and report any sightings to Birdlife. To my knowledge, nobody has actually seen any of these tagged birds in Sudan, so all their data is based on satellite locations. Any information they receive (such as the size of groups, feeding activity, any observed threats, the type of habitat or farmland etc) could be valuable in helping them protect this species.

Friday 8 October 2010

Visit to Jebel Aulia

Today I made my first visit to Jebel Aulia, a large reservoir on the White Nile about 40km south of Khartoum. We were visiting a new camp (Escape) that has just opened on the lake, run by Pantelis Tiritas. It was a work trip and I only had 45 minutes to wander off and do some birding, but there was plenty to see in that time. 
A few waders were on a marshy patch beside the lake and included Kittlitz's Plover. Quite a few migrants were in the bushes around the camp, but given the time it was hard to identify many. Common Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, Masked Shrike, Tree Pipit, and Spotted Flycatcher were identified, alongside resident species such as Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Abyssinian Roller, and Nile Valley Sunbird. 
Abyssinian Roller, Jebel Aulia, 8th October 2010

Nile Valley Sunbird, Jebel Aulia, 8th October 2010

There were Yellow Wagtails scattered around the area that mostly appeared to be the M. f. beema subspecies (Sykes Wagtail). A flushed Long-tailed Nightjar gave good flight views, showing much warmer colours than is represented in the guides. Unfortunately, it proved to be a bit tough to photograph when it landed. By contrast, a group of Ethiopian Swallows gave great views as they sat on the jetty and let me approach quite closely. This individual still has a fleshy gape indicating that it recently fledged.

Ethiopian Swallow, Jebel Aulia, 8th October 2010

Sunday 3 October 2010

A private show

I made a short trip to Tuti on my own this weekend and the highlight was a fabulous display by a male Pin-tailed Whydah to his would-be mate. Despite her seeming indifference, the female was clearly interested and kept flying back to prominent perches to be courted.

Displaying Pin-tailed Whydah, Tuti, 1st October 2010

By comparison, this Beautiful Sunbird barely deserved a second look.

Beautiful Sunbird, Tuti, 1st October 2010

As my trip was only short I drove most of the way to the end of the island and spent most of my time looking for migrants in the bushes at the end. There were a few about, with Sylvia warblers being the most noticeable. Many went unidentified in the thick bushes, but most common were Blackcaps, with Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler also seen.