Tuesday 20 December 2011

An evening visit to Tuti with Yousif and Patti

Today I made a brief evening visit to Tuti with Yousif (a birder visiting from Canada) and his fiancé Patti. The main aim of the trip was to show them where to go on Tuti Island and how to find the Sunt Forest, as I will be out of the country for most of their time here. Time was short as we didn't get to Tuti until nearly 5pm, but we still managed to see a few good birds. Last visit I had seen some Black-headed lapwings and we twice saw some today, though it wasn't clear if they were two different groups. There were lots of Chiffchaffs around and some large groups of weavers that were difficult to identify as none were in breeding plumage. We managed to find a few new species for Yousif, such as a group of Crimson-rumped Waxbills, plus a Gabar Goshawk showed well just as the light was fading.

Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Tuti Island 20th December 2011

Gabar Goshawk, Tuti Island 20th December 2011

By the time we reached the Sunt Forest it was too late to see any birds, but hopefully Yousif and Patti will be able to return and see plenty at a later date.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Tuti Island and the Sunt Forest with Terry

Terry and I visited Tuti Island yesterday, followed by a brief visit to the Sunt Forest. A group of three Black-headed Lapwings was a nice find and the first that Terry has seen here.

Black-headed Lapwing, Tuti 16th December 2011

As we arrived on Tuti we saw an unidentified Accipiter that seemed to be mobbing a Common Kestrel; surprisingly, this was the first I've seen on the island. We saw a few other Accipiters elsewhere on the island, including a couple chasing each other. One, at least, was an adult Eurasian Sparrowhawk. A Lanner Falcon was also hunting near the northern end of the island. There was a small tree near the northern end of the island containing a flock of about 10 Yellow Wagtails, plus there were a few others feeding in the field nearby. Neither of us recall seeing a flock of Yellow Wagtails in a tree like this, and we wondered if perhaps the number of small raptors around today might have been making them wary. A few Sudan Golden Sparrows were in the tree with them

Yellow Wagtails in tree, Tuti 16th December 2011

Sudan Golden Sparrow, Tuti 16th December 2011

There was little of note at the Sunt Forest that had not been present last visit, though we only stopped briefly and spent little time in the actual forest. The pools that had been good for waterbirds on the last few visits have now nearly dried up, so waterbirds are mainly located on the banks of the White Nile.There were no flamingoes present this time. At least one of the Whiskered Terns was already in summer plumage.

Friday 2 December 2011

The Sunt Forest

I visited the Sunt Forest again today with Stephen and Terry and there were some interesting new sightings. One pleasant surprise was a flock of 125 Greater Flamingoes. The map in Nikolaus shows that it has been recorded here, but shows few other inland locations marked so I had assumed that it would be quite rare away from the Red Sea. There were a number of spoonbills with them that were too far to identify, but there was one Eurasian and one African Spoonbill closer to confirm that both were present. Nikolaus describes the Eurasian Coot as uncommon and shows scattered locations throughout Sudan, including Khartoum. Somehow the bird seemed different to the ones I have seen elsewhere, with much less white on the forehead, but it was clearly not any other species (the black point in front of the eye distinguishing it from Red-knobbed Coot).

Greater Flamingoes, Sunt Forest 2nd December 2011

African Spoonbill, Sunt Forest 2nd December 2011

Eurasian Coot, Sunt Forest 2nd December 2011

There were not large numbers of waders present, but a reasonable selection of different species.  Common Redshank and Terek Sandpiper are both supposed to be common on the coast but rare to uncommon inland. Spotted Redshank are also supposedly uncommon, yet all three were present today.

Common Redshank, Sunt Forest 2nd December 2011

Terek Sandpiper, Sunt Forest 2nd December 2011

Black-tailed Godwit, Sunt Forest 2nd December 2011

Curlew Sandpiper, Sunt Forest 2nd December 2011

These Egyptian Geese were my first sightings in Sudan. There were also a couple of Eurasian Wigeons which were also my first sightings here. Otherwise, there were just a few Northern Shovelers present.

Egyptian Geese, Sunt Forest 2nd December 2011

We spent a bit of time in the forest, but there were few birds present other than Lesser Whitethroats, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Common Bulbuls, White-headed Babblers and a single Masked Shrike. Most interesting was a large group of Grivet Monkeys.

Grivet Monkey, Sunt Forest 2nd December 2011

Friday 18 November 2011

Jebel Aulia with Stephen

I visited Jebel Aulia this morning with Stephen Blight. The water levels were quite high, but there were still some waders along the sandy shores. There were several Kentish Plovers, which were my first in Sudan. There were also a number of other species, such as: Ringed Plover, Kittlitz's Plover, Spur-winged lapwing, Ruff, Little Stint, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone. As the water levels fall there may be more exposed mud, and this should attract more birds and a wider range of species.

Kentish Plover, Jebel Aulia 18th November 2011

Other water birds included several heron species, some Eurasian Spoonbills flew over, a group of ducks flew across the lake, there were several Lesser Black-backed Gulls and lots of terns. These were especially common just below the dam, with lots of Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns, plus a few Caspian and Gull-billed terns.

Gull-billed Terns with Grey Heron, Jebel Aulia 18th November 2011

Pintails, Shovelors and Gargany, Jebel Aulia 18th November 2011

There were a few wintering landbirds present including, surprisingly, my first Chiffchaffs of the year.  There were lots of Lesser Whitethroats and Desert Wheatears. More interesting sightings included Wryneck, Barred Warbler and Isabelline Shrike. I have now seen Isabelline Shrikes on many occasions in Sudan, including at Jebel Aulia. I was surprised to hear that they are quite a rare bird in Egypt, making me wonder how they get here. This presumably means they are not moving down the Nile, but possibly coming across from the direction of the Red Sea.

Barred Warbler, Jebel Aulia 18th November 2011

Wryneck, Jebel Aulia 18th November 2011

Isabelline Shrike, Jebel Aulia 18th November 2011

Monday 14 November 2011

Tuti Island - By Chris Wood

Walked the complete circumference on Tuti Island starting at 0730 and finishing at 1230. Weather fine and cool by Khartoum standards with no significant wind.

Birding quite good with small numbers of waders and some interesting other birds. It was good to find 5 Senegal Thick-knees about 2/3 of the way up on the north western side. The only waders in any number were approximately 50 Black-winged Stilt standing in shallow water on a sandbank in the middle of the river. Also saw my first, for Tuti Island, Blackcap.

Pushing my way through a dense grove of lime trees, almost on my hands and knees, I disturbed 3 Long-tailed Nightjars, a new bird for me. I did manage one photo in deep shadow under the trees. I have extensively “photoshopped”  it to try and bring out the bird.

It  was good to see an Egyptian Plover again on the island. Looking back at my records from last year I recorded 12 on 17th October 2010 and 6 on the 2nd November. This year I have only seen 1 in September and now 1 in November. They do move with changing sandbar exposure but it does seem a bit strange that they have not been here in any number this season.

I also saw one Yellow-billed Egret. Khartoum seems to be just about the northern limit of its range according to Nikolaus. There is a heronry in the trees outside the Corinthian hotel (ex Burj al-Fateh) and I have occasionally seen one or two coming in there in the evening.

Brown-throated Martins seem to have begun excavating nesting holes in the sand cliffs since I was last on the island. In some place they appear quite far advanced. The Stonechat seen was probably a Siberian stonechat, but not completely certain on that.

Grey Heron
Black-headed Heron
Yellow-billed Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Sacred Ibis
Black Kite
Senegal Thick-knee
Egyptian Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Spur-winged Lapwing
Black-winged Stilt
Common Sandpiper
Little Stint
Temminck’s Stint
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
White-winged Tern
African Mourning Dove
Laughing Dove
Black-billed Wood Dove
Namaqua Dove
White-browed Coucal
Long-tailed Nightjar
African Palm Swift
Blue-naped Mousebird
Eurasian Hoopoe
Pied Kingfisher
Little Bee-eater
N. Red-billed Hornbill
Crested Lark
Brown-throated Martin
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
White-headed Babbler
Common Bulbul
N. Wheatear
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin
Black Scrub Robin
Common Stonechat
Olivaceous Warbler
Willow warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Tawny-flanked Prinia
Red-backed Shrike
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Beautiful Sunbird
Cut-throat Finch
N. Masked weaver
N. Red Bishop
Red-billed Firefinch
African Silverbill
Village Indigobird
Pin-tailed Whydah

Long-tailed Nightjar. Tuti Island 13/11/2011. Chris wood

Saturday 12 November 2011

Red Sea - by Chris Wood

Over Eid I went  diving in the Red Sea. During the trip the wind was blowing strongly from the north all the time we were at sea,  varying over an estimated 30 – 50 km/h range. This made birding difficult and the use of telescope was impossible, even binoculars were problematic.

However, we did visit Sanganeb lighthouse (19o 43.35N 37o 26.6E) for an hour from approximately 11 am to midday. The lighthouse is approximately 19 km from the nearest coast. The base of the lighthouse is quite small, the open area (excluding the lighthouse tower) being about 20 x 15 metres with a long wooden jetty stretching out to deeper water.

There were a number of migrating birds on the island as well as on Osprey feeding on a fish at the end of the jetty, and a Green-backed heron feeding on the exposed reef. Around the base of the lighthouse I found 1 dead European Bee-eater, and living, 1 Red-backed Shrike, 1 Southern Grey Shrike, 2 White Wagtails, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 European Turtle Dove, 1 Namaqua Dove and  2 House Sparrows which probably live there. In addition a Chiff-chaff flew into the bridge of the boat we were on where I caught it for id before releasing it. The Willow Warbler, 2 doves and the Chiff-chaff all looked very stressed and probably would not have survived. There is no standing water and very little food on the lighthouse property and as migrating birds need water immediately on making landfall their chances of survival were small. The wagtails and shrikes may have been able to garner enough food in the form of flies and small insects.

At sea the wind and the accompanying 2 metre swell made birding difficult, but birds seen were both Sooty and White-eyed Gulls which took a while to distinguish from each other, Gull-billed Terns, Sandwich Terns, and what were probably Saunder’s Terns. The crew of the boat reported that pelicans commonly occur in Port Sudan harbour and had been the day before we arrived, but they were not there when we were. Probably Great White but no positive id.

Of interest on the drive from Khartoum to Port Sudan was the number of Egyptian Vultures in the vicinity of Haiya. I counted 16 in the few kilometres before and after the town.

White-eyed Gull, Red Sea November 2011

Sooty Gull, Red Sea November 2011

Friday 11 November 2011

Few birds at Meroe

On Tuesday and Wednesday I was camping at the Meroe pyramids with my family and some friends. There was little time for birding, but I had a couple of short walks to look for birds. I spent a bit more time around the jebels, as I had not birded them properly before. As always, it was very quiet in the area and the only birds seen were Desert Wheatear, Nile Valley Sunbird (that seemed to be displaying), Brown-necked Raven, Desert Lark, and Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark.

Male Nile Valley Sunbird, Meroe 9th November 2011

Female Nile Valley Sunbird, Meroe 9th November 2011

Desert Wheatear, Meroe 9th November 2011

On the drive up there was a Steppe Eagle not far north of Khartoum, and on the drive back there were a couple of Egyptian Vultures just north of the turn off to Sabaloka.

Sunday 6 November 2011

A brief family visit to Tuti

I made a brief visit to Tuti yesterday with my family and some friends. There was little opportunity for serious birding, but I was still able to see a few things. There were a few wheatears about, though the only one seen well enough to identify was this Desert Wheatear which is the first I have seen on the island.

Desert Wheatear, Tuti Island 5th November 2011

A few other migrants were around, including a Eurasian Hoopoe, a Common Redstart, a Tree Pipit, some Yellow Wagtails, a Lesser whitethroat plus a few other unidentified warblers. An Osprey was my first sighting on the island, with the bird heading north down the river suggesting it is wintering here rather than on passage.

Saturday 29 October 2011

The Sunt Forest

I visited the Sunt forest again yesterday with Terry Barry and Stephen Blight. The water levels still restricted our movements a bit, but we could tell that it will soon be easy to walk around the forest edge without getting muddy. The main pool near the road also had quite a few ducks, with Northern Shoveler, Gargany, Eurasian Teal and Northern Pintail. All kept their distance, however, making them impossible to photograph. The mudflats are also starting to extend further, offering plenty to attract waders. There were a similar spread to last week, including: Spur-winged Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, and Common Sandpiper. There were a selection of herons around, plus a Eurasian Spoonbill, a Yellow-billed Stork and a couple of Pelicans that were probably Pink-backed. Unfortunately, we didn't have a telescope with us, which is probably quite important at this site.

Black-tailed Godwits, Little Stints, a Curlew Sandpiper and a 
Spur-winged Lapwing, Sunt Forest 28th October 2011

Little Stints, Sunt Forest 28th October 2011

Great Egret, Sunt Forest 28th October 2011

Pied Kingfisher, Sunt Forest 28th October 2011

We only spent a short while in the forest; there were birds calling from all around us, but it was hard to get decent views. Most common were Lesser Whitethroats and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, though there was also a Common Redstart, a Spotted Flycatcher, plus a Pied Wheatear and a couple of Hoopoes at the forest edge. In the more open areas there were probably about 40 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters hawking for insects. A Lanner Falcon also passed through a couple of times and made one unsuccessful dive at a bird.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Sunt Forest 28th October 2011

Lanner Falcon, Sunt Forest 28th October 2011

Friday 21 October 2011

An unexpected Australian visitor to Tuti and a brief visit to the Sunt

I visited Tuti Island this morning with Chris Wood. Without doubt the biggest surprise of the day was the dove shown below. It was clearly very different to anything we had seen before, but was most like a Namaqua Dove. It had a similar size and shape and flew in a similar manner. Also in flight it showed rufous patches in the wing, though in all other respects the colouration was completely different. The large amount of white in the tail made it look like a leucistic individual, though the rest of the plumage didn't quite give the same impression. On returning home and checking photos I realised that the bold Red orbital was not found on Namaqua Dove, suggesting it was either some domesticated version or another species entirely. I also considered the possibility of it being a Namaqua Dove hybrid with some other species. I checked through some field guides but didn't spot it, so put the photos on Birdforum to get some help. The responses soon made it clear that it was a Diamond Dove, which is an Australian species. In the wild they have browner backs, but they are a common cage bird and a quick check through the internet revealed many domestic individuals like the one below. Clearly it had escaped from somewhere in the city.
Escaped Diamond Dove, Tuti 21st October 2011

More expected was this Black-billed Wood-Dove. They are reasonably common on Tuti, but tend to be quite flighty and tend to be found in more wooded areas, so I have not had a chance to photograph one before. This one was feeding out in an open field, so it was easier to take a distant shot, though it flew as I tried to get closer. I wonder how often they are seen in Canberra.

Black-billed Wood-Dove, Tuti 21st October 2011

There were a few new migrants in today, with my first Blackcap of the Autumn and a few other warblers around. There was a good selection of Wheatears, with Northern, Black-eared, Isabelline, and Pied, the latter being my first sighting on Tuti.  Another first for me on Tuti was the Lesser Kestrel shown below. A single juvenile Red-rumped Swallow allowed us to approach quite close and take some photos.

Lesser Kestrel, Tuti 21st October 2011

Red-rumped Swallow, Tuti 21st October 2011

After Tuti we headed down to the Sunt Forest. This is a well-known area of Acacia that is protected as a national forest. For much of the year it is flooded, which probably explains how it has survived so long so close to the city centre. This was my first visit to the area, though Chris has been many times mainly to look for shorebirds on the mudflats. Chris tells me that the water levels have been falling rapidly, but that there is still a long way to go. We only made a short visit to check out the status of the exposed mud. There were good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, lots of Eurasian Spoonbills, some Yellow-billed Storks, some Pink-backed Pelicans, some Gull-billed Terns, and a variety of herons. There were lots of Spur-winged Plovers and a few other waders such as Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, and Black-winged Stilt. Chris tells me the numbers go up rapidly once more mud is exposed and we look forward to some more visits.

Friday 14 October 2011

Red-necked Falcon at Tuti today

I was at Tuti again this morning and there were some good birds around, even though there were few migrants. The best sighting was definitely a Red-necked Falcon; last year one had flown right past me in almost exactly the same place, but had been too quick for me to raise my binoculars and identify it with certainty. Today's bird also flew past and quickly out of view, but I went straight after it and tracked it down to where it was sitting in an open tree beside the White Nile. Luckily it let me get quite close for some photos.

Red-necked Falcon, Tuti Island 14th October 2011

Another species that I have not seen previously in Sudan is the Barred Warbler. Today I saw my first, skulking, as they often do, in the low bushes beside the White Nile. Eventually it came out and showed well enough to get some photos. Other migrants were scarce, with a similar selection to previous visits, but in much lower numbers.

Barred Warbler, Tuti Island 14th October 2011

Since arriving in Sudan I have been struggling to identify the migrant Black Kites from amongst the many migrating Yellow-billed Kites that move down the Nile from Egypt. An adult Yellow-billed Kite is easy, because of its all yellow bill, but juveniles have dark bills like Black Kites. Today I had the chance to photograph two birds in quick succession that seem to show the features to separate them apart. The first bird is what I believe to be a Juvenile Black Kite and the second is an adult Yellow-billed Kite. The Black Kite has slightly broader wings, a much shallower tail fork (though the tail is admittedly very worn), it has 6 distinct primaries (while the Yellow-billed has 5, plus a blunter 6th primary), plus the overall colouration of the Black Kite is duller than the Yellow-billed. I would welcome comments, as I am still not confident that my eye is properly tuned in to separating the two.

Black Kite, Tuti Island 14th October 2011

Yellow-billed Kite, Tuti Island 14th October 2011

Here are a few other shots from today's trip. White-headed Babblers are everywhere on Tuti, yet they are an almost completely unknown species and there are very few photos available on the internet. This male  Village Weaver was moulting out of its breeding plumage, but was still an attractive bird and very vocal. There were quite a few Red-billed Hornbills feeding in the fields today.

White-headed Babbler, Tuti Island 14th October 2011

Village Weaver, Tuti Island 14th October 2011

Red-billed Hornbill, Tuti Island 14th October 2011

Friday 7 October 2011

Quieter today at Tuti

I met up with Terry Barry today who is a birder who has recently arrived in Khartoum, and we spent the morning at Tuti. The morning started well and within a few minutes of leaving the car we had seen a Lanner Falcon, a Purple Heron, a Black-crowned Night-Heron, a group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple of Yellow-breasted Barbets. The barbets were the first I have ever seen on the island; neither were very bright individuals and I assume that they were both immatures.

Yellow-breasted Barbet, Tuti 7th October 2011

However, as we moved up the island it was evident that there were fewer migrants than in previous weeks. There were still lots of European Bee-eaters, a few shrikes, a few Whinchats, a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, only a very few warblers, and some hirundines. There were more Yellow Wagtails this week, the first Tree Pipits I have seen this year and a Tawny Pipit.

European Bee-eater, Tuti 7th October 2011

Friday 30 September 2011

Migration at Sabaloka

I visited Sabaloka today with Stephen Blight and some non-birding friends (Chris, Averil and Ranmali). Immediately evident was that every bush had migrants in. There wasn't a huge variety, but good numbers of several species. Most common were the Lesser Whitethroats, with good numbers of Black-eared Wheatears, Willow Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers,  Red-backed Shrikes and Masked Shrikes.

Lesser Whitethroat, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

Black-eared Wheatear, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

Spotted Flycatcher, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

Masked Shrike, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

There were good numbers of hirundines around, with lots of migrant Sand Martins, Barn Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows (all immatures) and a single House Martin, plus the resident Plain Martins and Rock Martins.

Red-rumped Swallow, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

There were a number of other migrant species around in smaller numbers such as European Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Redstart, Isabelline Wheatear, Blue Rock-Thrush, Common Whitethroat, Ruppell's Warbler, and Isabelline Shrike. One surprise find for me came while checking through my photos after returning home. While trying to photograph what were probably Yellow-billed Egrets (and possibly a good record this far north), I took a snapshot of a passing tern on the river in the hope of identifying it later. To my surprise it was a male Pallid Harrier.

Common Redstart, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

Pallid Harrier, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

As always, there were some nice local birds to look at. Blackstarts are always common here, and there were quite a few immatures about. The Northern Masked Weavers had been nest-building when I last visited in the spring, but the males were today starting to moult out of their breeding plumage. Striolated Buntings are common up on the rocks, but rarely get close, making this individual a welcome opportunity for some photos. Red-billed Firefinches were quickly spotted near our picnic site by my non-birding companions. As is so often the case, they were escorted by a Village Indigobird, which was probably an adoptee - this species is a nest parasite of the firefinch, replacing the parents' eggs with its own, like many cuckoo species.

Blackstart, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

Northern Masked Weaver, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

Striolated Bunting, Sabaloka 29th September 2011

Red-billed Firefinch, Sabaloka 29th September 2011