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

Saturday 24 September 2011

Is this a female Cinnamon Weaver?

Last week I had the good fortune to take some photos of a male Cinnamon Weaver at Tuti Island; the first photos of the species I have ever come across (maybe even the first ever taken). There were some other weavers present that seemed to be Northern Masked Weavers and no others stood out as anything different. Later, when going through my photos, I noticed that this female weaver below the male Cinnamon had a pale eye. To my knowledge, none of the weavers this far north should have a pale eye, which made we wonder if it was a female Cinnamon.

I had assumed that female Cinnamon Weaver would be quite easy given the description in Cave and MacDonald's 'Birds of The Sudan (1955) "Above, streaky brown and cinnamon with olive head and yellow eyebrow. Wings broadly edged with pale yellow. Below creamy white, rather richer on breast". However, they only show a painting of the male and I have never seen any pictures of a female. I don't see any cinnamon colouration above, nor do I see the wings broadly edged with yellow. I have never seen any reference to the eye colour of Cinnamon Weaver.

So is this bird a female or immature Cinnamon and, if not, what is it?

Pale-eyed Female Weaver with Male Cinnamon Weaver, Tuti 16th September 2011

Female Weaver with a pale eye, Tuti 16th September 2011

Female Weaver with a pale eye, Tuti 16th September 2011

Eye colour is clearly significant to weavers, as many otherwise near identical species have quite distinct eye colours. According to the literature, this far north in Sudan (or within reasonable striking distance) there should only be Village (Red-eye in both sexes), Ruppell's (male with an orange or red eye and female with a chestnut eye), Little (eyes brown in both), Northern Masked (dark brown eyes in both), Vitelline Masked (Red in both), and Cinnamon (eyes not mentioned in any guides). A lot further south in South Sudan (where the habitat is very different) there are several pale-eyed weavers, such as Lesser Masked Weavers (similar to the Tuti bird), Heuglin's (similar to the Tuti bird), Spectacled (very different looking), and Baglafecht (very different looking).

The difference between male and female eye colouration in Ruppell's weavers suggests that it is possible for a male and female weaver to have different eye colours. The distribution of birds in Sudan and South Sudan is little known, so I suppose Lesser Masked and Heuglin's Weavers cannot be ruled out. However, in both cases it would mean a range expansion of over 1000km and a change from sub-saharan habitats to much more arid habitats. Given that the bird was on the same stalk as a Cinnamon Weaver must make it highly likely that it is also one. They also seem to have similar dark bills and general structure.  However, it will certainly take some more observations to confirm it. Hopefully I will get further opportunities.

Any comments would be greatly appreciated. I am getting most of this stuff from books and my personal knowledge of weavers is very limited.

Migration slightly quieter today at Tuti

There were still plenty of migrants around at Tuti yesterday when I visited with Stephen Blight, though slightly less than last week. Visible migration included a flyover group of Glossy Ibises, a group of ducks that were probably Pintail, and a Western Marsh Harrier flying up the White Nile.

Glossy Ibises, Tuti Island 23rd september 2011

There was a slightly different mix of warblers, with lots more Lesser Whitethroats, a Common Whitethroat, several Reed Warblers and some larger Acrocephalus warblers that were probably Great Reed Warblers. There were still plenty of Willow Warblers around. One bird that had me stumped for a while was an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. This is the common resident warbler on Tuti, so one I am pretty familiar with. I guess that this bird was a migrant and behaving a bit differently, plus it may also be a different race. It seemed to me to be slightly bulkier and with a larger bill than those I am familiar with, leading me to suspect an Upcher's Warbler. I posted the photos on Birdforum and it soon was pretty evident that it was just an Eastern Olivaceous.

Eurasian Reed Warbler, Tuti Island 23rd september 2011

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Tuti Island 23rd september 2011

I was also pleased to see a group of African Skimmers, as I have only seen them in Sudan on one previous occasion. A group of 8 were flying downstream, so were presumably not migrating (Nikolaus describes them as a breeding visitor to the north, so this would have been a possibility).

African Skimmers, Tuti Island 23rd september 2011

As we arrived back home to Araak City at the end of the morning a Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush flew across the road in front of us. A few days earlier I had seen a Red-backed Shrike in the compound and, as mentioned in my post last week, had found a dead Quail just a few hundred metres away. There must be lots of migrants scattered around the city with Tuti Island just the tip of the iceberg.

Friday 16 September 2011

Migrants today at Tuti

Migration was still very noticeable today at Tuti and it was clear that there were many different birds than last week. There were still plenty of shrikes (Masked, Red-backed, Lesser Grey and Southern Grey), quite a few Hoopoes and Whinchats, though fewer Wheatears. More Barn Swallows were moving through along with a couple of Sand Martins, and there was still a single Spotted Flycatcher. There were many more European Bee-eaters, with one flock numbering around 100, but no sign of any Common Swifts, Cuckoos, Little Swifts or Tawny Pipits. As with last week, there were still lots of Yellow-billed Kites that appeared to be migrating, though this time they were mixed in with some Black Kites. I wondered if the Yellow-billed Kits might be the Egyptian subspecies, though Nikolaus (1987) mentions that there is a movement north during the rainy season of Sudanese birds, so these could just be those birds returning.

Whinchat, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

New birds this week included a couple of Common Nightingales, a European Golden Oriole, some Yellow Wagtails, and a Semi-collared Flycatcher. The flycatcher did not show the characteristic white edging to the median coverts, but had a lot of white in the tail which separates it from the much rarer Collared Flycatcher. It seems to be a first year male that has yet to moult its coverts (which are still greyish-brown), but shows the adult patterning to its wings and tail (which are black). New waterbirds included a Common Sandpiper, a group of Black-tailed Godwits and a Whiskered Tern.

Semi-collared Flycatcher, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Black-tailed Godwits, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

However, the biggest change in the migrants this week was the arrival of the warblers. It was evident that they had just arrived, as they were all at the north end of the island in the first few bushes, and there were even several Willow Warblers feeding on the ground in the stubble fields, despite there being more suitable bushy habitat only 100 metres further south. Many of these warblers could be seen hopping from bush to bush in the direction of this thicker cover. Most common were the Willow Warblers, though there were several Reed Warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat, plus many individuals that were not seen well enough to identify.

Willow Warbler, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

As always, local birds gave me plenty to watch, the best of course being the Cinnamon Weaver discussed in the previous post. I was particularly pleased to see a Grey Woodpecker, which is the first of any woodpecker species I have seen in Sudan. A couple of Shikras were circling together and swooping at each other as if it might be display, though both were juveniles and it might have been interaction between recently fledged siblings.

Grey Woodpecker, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Shikra, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Blue-naped Mousebird, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Senegal Thick-knee, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

One bird I have yet to see at Tuti or elsewhere in Sudan is a Common Quail. However, I know they must be moving through right now because yesterday I found a freshly dead bird beside the road close to my house at the southern end of Khartoum.

Cinnamon Weaver at last

Since arriving in Sudan I have been wanting to see a Cinnamon Weaver, which was known to be the only endemic bird in Sudan. However, since the separation of South Sudan this is no longer the case, as it is found in both countries. I have never been able to find photos on the internet, despite careful searching, and the only picture I knew of was in my old copy of Cave and MacDonald's 'Birds of the Sudan', from 1955. Today I finally came across this male at the north end of Tuti Island. It was with a few Northern Masked Weavers, but there was no sign of any other Cinnamon Weavers around.  These may be the first ever photos of this species.

Cinnamon Weaver, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Cinnamon Weaver, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Cinnamon Weaver, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Cinnamon Weaver, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Cinnamon Weaver, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Cinnamon Weaver, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

Cinnamon Weaver, Tuti Island 16th September 2011

It is a nicer bird than I had expected and I hope to see more. There is a lot more yellow than described in the book, especially on the belly and vent. The species is virtually unknown, so I would be interested in finding some nests and doing a short study.

Friday 9 September 2011

Migration well under way at Tuti

After a quiet visit to Tuti Island last week, it was a pleasant surprise to see good numbers of migrants there today. The morning actually started very quietly, with me virtually walking the length of the island through the section with thick bushes and trees, without seeing any migrants. However, once I reached the more open area at the end of the island things were different. I saw the first of several Isabelline Wheatears, the first of many Common Swifts, the first of several groups of European Bee-eaters, several Hoopoes, a Red-backed Shrike and a Whinchat.

Isabelline Wheatear, Tuti 9th September 2011

Red-backed Shrike, Tuti 9th September 2011

From the fort I headed over to the the White Nile and back upriver. Last autumn these fields had been heavily flooded and good for water birds, though difficult to access. This year the habitat has not been as good for waders, ducks and herons, but the fields today were good for migrants. There were a few more Isabelline Wheatears, plus a Black-eared Wheatear and what was probably a Pied Wheatear. I saw a Tawny Pipit for the first time on Tuti, plus a Lesser Grey Shrike, a few more Red-backed Shrikes, three Spotted Flycatchers, three more Whinchats, and several Sand Martins and Barn Swallows. I also saw a Little Swift, though I am still unable to tell if these are resident birds or migrants.

Lesser-grey Shrike, Tuti 9th September 2011

Black-eared Wheatear, Tuti 9th September 2011

Spotted Flycatcher, Tuti 9th September 2011

Tawny Pipit, Tuti 9th September 2011

There was little visible migration, though some ducks were heading south along the river. I saw the first group too late to identify them, but the second group flew overhead allowing them to be identified as Gargany. There were several large groups of kites circling above that I first assumed to by Migrating Black Kites, but on further inspection all the ones I saw well were clearly Yellow-billed Kites. A group of three Little-ringed Plovers flying upriver may also have been on active migration. There was also a Gull-billed Tern.

Gargany, Tuti 9th September 2011

Although a very common bird in South Sudan and many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu does not seem to be very common as far north as Khartoum. I therefore enjoyed watching a pair feeding in the undergrowth that were only my second sightings here.

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Tuti 9th September 2011