Saturday 29 January 2011

Juba in the dry season

This is a well overdue second post from Juba, after my first in September last year. Juba is now in the grip of the dry season: dusty and hot. The skies are still full of Kites, Milvus migrans ssp., but I have yet to ascertain the mix of subspecies present. I photographed the bird below earlier today. I originally considered it to be of the nominate subspecies, Milvus migrans migrans, as it has a dark bill. However, I see that in his Atlas of Sudan’s birds, Nikolaus states that aegyptius breeding along the Red Sea coast also have black bills, and Stevenson and Fanshawe's Birds of East Africa states that immature parasiticus has a black bill. The head seems very uniform in colour for migrans, so most likely this is an immature aegyptius or parasiticus Yellow-billed Kite.

Presumed immature parasiticus or aegyptius subspecies of Yellow-billed Kite

There are still several tens of Hooded Vultures Necrosyrtes monachus present, often near the abattoir. This area also hosts a population of at least 60 Piapiacs Ptilostomus afer, a curious long-tailed crow that I was delighted to find. In Kenya, where I used to live, the species is very localised along the Ugandan border. In Juba, Piapiacs are not associated with cattle (and obviously not game animals), contra the statement in Stevenson and Fanshawe’s Birds of East Africa, which is my only reference book at present.


Other typical Juba birds are African Mourning Doves Streptopelia decipiens and Grey-backed Fiscals Lanius excubitoroides.

There are a few small wetland areas immediately around the town, and of course the White Nile flows along the eastern edge. Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus have arrived, with a total of 92 seen flying to roost by the White Nile in 30 minutes earlier this week. A small marsh 3kms out of Juba held a variety of herons today, as well as two Yellow-billed Storks Mycteria ibis, which hunted in the shallow water by shading the surface with one wing extended.

Yellow-billed Storks

Sedges along the edge were full of non-breeding plumage Bishops Euplectes sp. There were also a pair of Blue-headed Coucals Centropus monachus, Winding Cisticolas Cisticola galactotes, Zitting Cisticolas Cisticola juncidis uropygialis and Yellow Wagtails Motacilla flava (subspecies not determined).

Winding Cisticola

I’ve started to explore the burnt and parched open bushland and woodland north and east of Juba. Palearctic migrants include Common Redstarts Phoenicurus p. phoenicurus, Whinchats Saxicola rubetra, Woodchat Shrikes Lanius senator, and one Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus of the subspecies isabellinus or phoenicuroides.

Woodchat Shrike

Isabelline Shrike

Residents or local migrants include Foxy Cisticola Cisticola troglodytes, Brown Babbler Turdoides plebejus, Black-headed Gonolek Laniarius erythrogaster, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali, Speckle-fronted Weaver Sporopipes frontalis, Little Weaver Ploceus luteolus and Black-rumped Waxbill Estrilda troglodytes. Perched at intervals on tree tops are Dark Chanting-Goshawks Melierax metabatesi and Grasshopper Buzzards Butastur rufipennis.

Grasshopper Buzzard

That's a taster...more to follow.

Saturday 22 January 2011

What is the status of glossy starlings in Khartoum?

During the autumn I saw the Lesser Blue-eared Starlings reduce in number, with a single bird on October 22nd and no birds after that. This was expected, because Nikolaus describes the species as a visitor to Khartoum from late July until October (though in Cave and MacDonald, 1955, it is only listed as being found in Sennar and the Nuba Mountains!).
However, I thought the Greater Blue-eared Starling was supposed to be a resident here. They also declined in numbers and I saw my last one on October 29th (at least that is the last record in my notebooks and I may have seen them casually after this date). I saw one today beside the Blue Nile, while I was not birding. I wonder if a few hang around, but most leave. I will try and monitor them more closely and try and find a pattern. If anyone has any observations to add, they would be welcome.

Young Greater Blue-eared Starling, Blue Nile 12 Aug 2010

Friday 21 January 2011

Blue Nile beaches

It has been a long time since my last blog entry because I have been traveling in Kenya and Zanzibar, where the birding and general wildlife were both fantastic. Today I went with my family for a picnic on the Blue Nile just south of Khartoum at a riding stables owned by the school where I work. I had been told that the lowering of the Nile would produce lovely sandy beaches, but there was little on offer for my 3 year old son when we arrived. However, the muddy beaches had plenty of shorebirds, which kept me happy. Egyptian Plovers are everyone's favourite and a real specialty of the Nile. Black-winged Stilts are much more widespread, but always nice birds to see.

 Egyptian Plover, Blue Nile 21 Jan 2011

Black-winged Stilt, Blue Nile 21 Jan 2011

Many of the typical waders are more for the serious birder, being similar in shape, brown and quite difficult to identify without experience. In the photo below the yellow leg colour separates Temminck's Stint from the similar, but black-legged, Little Stint. Marsh Sandpiper can be easily confused with the larger Greenshank, but the photos below show the fine delicate bill of the Marsh Sandpiper compared with the thick, slightly upturned bill of the Common Greenshank. Other species included Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, and Ruff.

Little stint (left) and Temminck's Stint (right), Blue Nile 21 Jan 2011

Marsh Sandpiper, Blue Nile 21 Jan 2011

Common Greenshank, Blue Nile Jan 2011

Common Sandpiper, Blue Nile 21 Jan 2011

Ruff, Blue Nile Jan 2011

There were several plovers present including Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Kittlitz's Plover and Spur-winged Plover (or lapwing).

Kittlitz's Plover, Blue Nile Jan 2011

Little Ringed Plover, Blue Nile Jan 2011

There were also several species of tern flying up and down the river. Most common were Whiskered Tern and Gull-billed Tern, but White-winged Black and Caspian Terns were also around. I was surprised to see that some of the Whiskered terns are already showing their breeding plumage. Another surprise was a Gull-billed Tern that chased a much larger Caspian Tern up and down the river for several minutes to try and take the fish it was carrying. This is common amongst terns, but it is usually the larger species that takes food from the smaller one.

Summer plumaged Whiskered Tern, Blue Nile Jan 2011

Winter plumaged Whiskered Tern, Blue Nile Jan 2011

Gull-billed Tern chasing a Caspian Tern with food, Blue Nile Jan 2011