Monday 29 August 2011

Little migration at Tuti

I have been out of the country for the last three months, so it was good to be back out birding at Tuti today. I see from that birds are already moving through the Middle East on migration. However, it was pretty quiet at Tuti this morning with only a couple of definite migrants - one Common Cuckoo and one Red-backed Shrike. A few other birds may have been migrants or local birds (such as a flyover spoonbill that was not identified to species). As always, there was still plenty to watch among the resident birds and summer residents.

White-rumped Seedeater, Tuti 29th August 2011

Southern Grey Shrike, Tuti 29th August 2011

Sacred Ibis, Tuti 29th August 2011

I have been trying to get some comparison shots of Lesser and Greater Blue-eared Starlings for a while, but without success. Today I managed to get a couple together in a tree, but the size comparison is less evident than when they are side by side on the ground. Once you get your eye in they are generally quite easy to separate, but shortly after taking this photo I saw and photographed a probable Lesser, only to start doubting myself about its identity. I would like to get it sorted out so that I can identify separate individuals. I would appreciate any thoughts on the id of the last bird.

Greater and Lesser Blue-eared Starlings, Tuti 29th August 2011

Blue-eared Starling sp., Tuti 29th August 2011

Saturday 27 August 2011

The Red Sea coastal plain

As discussed in my previous posts, the main aim of our trip to Port Sudan was to look for the Red Sea Swallow, which meant that little effort was made to look for coastal birds. However, I will still summarise a few of the sightings made. We had some delay in Port Sudan waiting for our permit, which gave us a bit of time to wander around and to visit the old port of Suakin. One of the most noticable birds in built-up areas along the coast was the House Crow, which is apparently an introduction or escape. The other two crow species in the region were clearly divided from them by altitude, with Brown-necked Ravens in the middle elevations of the Red Sea Hills (including the areas below Erkowit where you turn off the main road) and Fan-tailed Ravens on the higher plateau at Erkowit.

House Crow, Suakin 29th May 2011

Raptors of the coastal plain included Egyptian Vultures (which were also common up at Erkowit). A pair of Lanner Falcons gave good views as they fed their two fledgelings. An Osprey flew over at Suakin, presumably on migration. We had hoped to see Sooty Falcons as they are supposed to be quite common breeders in the region, but they seem to be confined mainly to the islands off the coast.

Egyptian Vultures, Red Sea coastal plain 28th May 2011

Female Lanner Falcon with young, Red Sea coastal Plain 1st June 2011

At Suakin we had a chance to see a few sea birds. Sooty Gulls were common, but we did not see any White-eyed Gulls on our brief visit, though they should be around the area. There were also few opportunities to look for terns, with several species supposedly found (such as Saunders Tern and the two crested terns). One species we did pick up at a bit of a distance was White-cheeked Tern. I would be interested in making a trip up here to investigate the coast a bit more and visit some of the islands.

Sooty Gull, Suakin 29th May 2011

There were a few other species seen on the coastal plain such as Hoopoe Lark (also present at Erkowit), Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Sand Martin, African Silverbill, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (unidentified Sandgrouse were also in the Red Sea Hills), Little and Cattle Egrets.

Friday 26 August 2011

The Red Sea Hills north of Port Sudan

Between Port Sudan and the Egyptian border there is a range of hills that follows the Red Sea coast. While the hills to the south of Port Sudan (e.g. around Arkowit) form a plateau, these hills are in the form  of peaks to a little over 2000m, with low valleys (wadis) between them at around 400-600m. The wadis were completely dry when we were there and filled with boulders and pebbles that had been washed down over the millennia from the surrounding hills. There are few people living in this region (where it must be a pretty Spartan existance), but enough for there to be a network of tracks along the wadis. We were driving a 4-wheel drive pick-up truck and it was easy to get around everywhere in the region. This is a very dry area and I doubt that the summer rains have much effect on this network of tracks, which has allowed them to develop so extensively despite very little traffic.

Our first camp in the Red Sea Hills, 30th May 2011

Valley in the Red Sea Hills, 30th May 2011

House used by locals living in the Red Sea Hills, 31st May 2011

Birdlife was very sparse in this area and many of the species that were common at Arkowit and along the dry areas of the coastal plain (such as Yellow-billed Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Crested Lark and Barn Swallow) were absent here. However, although the numbers were low there were several species found here that were not seen elsewhere, such as Sand Partridge, Bonelli's Eagle, Hooded Wheatear, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Arabian (or Red Sea) Warbler, Southern Grey Shrike, and Fulvous Babbler. Surprisingly, it was also the only place I saw any Blue-naped Mousebirds. The Bonelli's Eagles were a particularly good find and at first I thought they were the first records for Sudan, though I later discovered that a recent expedition had also found them here (near the dam mentioned below).  There have only been a few previous records of Hooded Wheatear in the country.

Bonelli's Eagle, Red Sea Hills 31st May 2011

Sand Partridge, Red Sea Hills 31st May 2011

Southern Grey Shrike, Red Sea Hills 30th May 2011

Arabian Warbler, Red Sea Hills 30th May 2011

Hooded Wheatear, Red Sea Hills 31st May 2011

White-crowned Black Wheatear, Red Sea Hills 31st May 2011

Fulvous Babbler, Red Sea Hills 30th May 2011

On our return journey we accidentally encountered a good track that headed directly to Port Sudan, joining the city in a north western suburb (this would be the best route to access these hills, though it has deep sand in places and would need 4-wheel drive). As we followed this route we came across a few more settlements and for the first time we saw some other vehicles. At one point we could see what was clearly a small dam and we got out to investigate hoping that this might be exactly the place to look for the Red Sea Swallow and other species. Just below the dam there was a marshy patch which had Squacco Heron, Grey Heron, Little Swift and House Bunting, while in the local settlement we saw a Booted Eagle and a Honey Buzzard. Later analysis of photos revealed that this was in fact a Crested Honey-Buzzard, the first record for the country. All of these were our only sightings of the entire trip. This whet our appetites for what the reservoir might offer, but as we approached the dam we saw two men coming to meet us. They were friendly, despite seeing two foreigners with binoculars and a large camera approaching what was clearly a sensitive site, but we knew that there would be no chance of us continuing further so we smiled and headed off. This seems to be the only water in the entire region of these hills and given what we saw from the few minutes we had in the area, it must be good for birds. Google Earth appears to show a second reservoir a bit further up from the first and I would like to check the area thoroughly, but I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to go about getting permission.  

Little Swift, Red Sea Hills 1st June 2011

Crested Honey-Buzzard, the first record for Sudan, Red Sea Hills 1st June 2011

Booted Eagle, Red Sea Hills 1st June 2011