Sunday 26 February 2012

Ringing on Um Shugeira – Chris & Esmat

Between the 5th and 9th of January the two of us (Chris and Esmat) made a waterbird ringing expedition to um Shugeira Island in the Blue Nile in Khartoum. We were accompanied by 3 researchers who were taking samples as part of an avian disease survey. The Nile is used as a flyway and stopover for many migrating Eurasian migrating birds and um Shugeira is an attractive stopover for many of them.

Um Shugeira is completely submerged during the flood season and only emerges from the waters as they drop in December. Many thousands of migrant and resident waterbirds use the island as a roost and feeding area during this time. The eastern edge of the island drops off into several metres of water but the western edge shelves very gradually creating large areas of shallow water and soft mud flats, ideal for the feeding waders. This soft mud makes net inspection, especially at 2 am, somewhat difficult and without full length waders the only successful method is to go barefoot, all other footwear is sucked off your feet by knee-deep mud. Esmat had waders, Chris did not.

Esmat ringing a common snipe

We kept the nets open 24 hours a day for the whole time and managed a reasonable number of ringed waterbirds. As usual in this situation, there were a number of frustrating species. Every evening we had 1200 Common Ringed Plover on the dried mud near where we were camped. In spite of our efforts we caught none there and only managed to ring a handful during the whole time. Ruff, as usual, were difficult to catch. There were several medium sized flocks, but they managed to avoid the nets and again we only caught a handful. The big disappointment was our failure with the Black-tailed Godwit; there were numbers feeding and flying past our nets for much of the time, but we only managed to ring three birds of this species. This was probably due to the bright full moon that made the nets visible to birds. The most numerous species ringed were Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Whiskered Tern. In total 242 birds were ringed.

We had one recovery, a Little Stint that had been ringed in 2010 on um Shugeira. This was one of only about 50 birds ringed that year. This site fidelity was interesting in itself, and with the 242 birds ringed this year we are hopeful of some more recoveries next year. Of course the prize would be to have a bird recovered in the north.

Additional birds of interest were a solitary Osprey, flocks of 50 Spoonbills and a flock of 100 Greater Flamingo. In the deeper water beyond our nets were many ducks, predominantly Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and Eurasian Wigeon. The total number of waterbirds recorded  during the survey was 4576 from 33 species dominated by waders.

In general the ringing was a success and with the experience gained from this we hope to improve our “catch” in future.

Species ringed

1.     Little Stint
2.     Temminck’s Stint
3.     Curlew Sandpiper
4.     Whiskered Tern
5.     Greater Painted Snipe
6.     Common Snipe
7.     Jack Snipe
8.     Ringed Plover
9.     Ruff
10.  Marsh Sandpiper
11.  Wood Sandpiper
12.  Yellow Wagtail
13.  Black-tailed Godwit
14.  Common Sandpiper
15.  Gull-billed Tern
16.  White-winged Tern

By Chris Wood and Esmat Faki

Friday 24 February 2012

Migration at Tuti Island

There were clear signs of movement today at Tuti Island which I visited with Terry and Stephen. Gulls and terns were moving up the river in reasonable numbers, though it wasn't always obvious which were actively migrating. The biggest numbers were the White-winged Terns, with a few Whiskered, a couple of Gull-billed and a Caspian Tern; there were a few groups of Black-headed Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull. The best sighting of the day was probably a group of 6 Slender-billed Gulls. Nikolaus describes the species as uncommon on the Red Sea and mentions there being only a single inland record, from Khartoum in spring 1980.

Slender-billed Gulls, Tuti Island 24th February 2012

Black-headed Gulls, Tuti Island 24th February 2012

Gull-billed Tern, Tuti Island 24th February 2012

Migrating land birds were also in evidence with the first Common Redstart and Rufous Scrub-Robin of the year. There were quite a few Eurasian Hoopoes, plus quite a few wheatears and warblers.

Eurasian Hoopoe, Tuti Island 24th February 2012

Sunday 19 February 2012

Probable first record of Yellow-legged Gull for Sudan

In recent years there has been a lot of research on the different varieties of large gull in the northern hemisphere. What was once known as the Herring Gull has now been split into a number of different species, with many birders still questioning the taxonomy of some of the new ones. Many are very similar in structure and markings, but identification is made more difficult by the fact that they have different plumages each year for the first 5 years of their lives, and are different in summer and winter. The main reference for the birds of Sudan is Nikolaus' Distribution Atlas of the Birds of Sudan, from 1987.  He describes the 'Herring' Gull as rare and a vagrant inland, with mapped locations at or near Khartoum and Port Sudan. The subspecies reported is heuglini, now known as Heuglin's Gull. He also comments that taimyrensis (also usually considered a form of Heuglin's Gull) could occur as well. When he wrote this the split of the 'Herring Gull' group had not yet been widely recognised and very little was known about the identification and distribution of the different forms.

On November 16th 2010 I photographed a 'herring-type' Gull at Jebel Aulia reservoir. I posted the photo on my blog for that trip ( and also started a bird forum discussion ( Unfortunately the photo was not clear enough to confirm an identification, though Caspian Gull was presented as a likely possibility. On subsequent trips I have been looking for large gulls, but without success.

On Friday there were at least two 'Herring-type' gulls that flew past with Lesser Black-backed Gulls. One was too far out to photograph, but the other came in quite close allowing some decent photos.

Probable Yellow-legged Gull, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

Probable Yellow-legged Gull, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

probable Yellow-legged Gull, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

Probable Yellow-legged Gull, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

Probable Yellow-legged Gull with Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 
Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

I have not kept track of the difficult identification of these new large gull species, so I went straight to the experts on bird forum for advice ( It seems that this individual was a Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis, though confirmation is still required. This would be the first record of this species for Sudan. However, given that I have seen 3 individuals in two different years, I doubt that this is a vagrant and I would like to find out more. I would like to know whether these birds are just passing through or whether they stop off at the reservoir. I would also like to know if they all Yellow-legged Gulls, or if other species are present.

I would welcome any help or advice on this; if anyone knows of any gull roosts, or has any other records or photographs I would like to hear about them. I would also like to know if any of the records referred to by Nikolaus are from specimens and, if so, where they are located. 

Saturday 18 February 2012

A visit to Jebel Aulia with Terry and Stephen

On Friday morning I visited the lake at Jebel Aulia with Terry and Stephen. We birded on the eastern shore, with our first stop about 25km beyond the dam. This area is quite open with small patches of Acacia along the shore. A couple of Glossy Ibises were feeding along the shore, along with a few Black-winged Stilts, some Egyptian Plovers, a couple of groups of Ruddy Turnstone and a variety of the typical waders. One pleasant surprise was a couple of Collared pratincoles that flew past and landed quite close by.

Glossy Ibis, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

Collared Pratincole, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

There was quite a bit of movement north of gulls and terns. My main interest was the large gulls, which I will discuss in a separate post. Other interesting sightings here included a flyover Openbill Stork, which was my first in Northern Sudan. Another good bird to see was a Fulvous Babbler, which I had only previously seen up near Port Sudan. There were several Cricket Warblers around, plus lots of Lesser Whitethroats.

African Openbill Stork, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

African Collared Dove, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

Fulvous Babbler, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

A Western Marsh Harrier soared slowly northwards overhead and what we thought was the same bird flew past again and then a third time. Later, when viewing photographs of two of the birds it was clear that they were different individuals, so perhaps there were several individuals migrating through. We also saw a Pallid Harrier.

Western Marsh Harrier, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

We then went north to a spot only a few km south of the dam, where we only made a brief stop in the mid-day heat. The vegetation is much thicker here and there are some taller trees. As we drove up a woodpecker with a bright red rump flew past and out of view. It was almost certainly a Grey Woodpecker, because the only other red-rumped woodpecker in the region is Little Grey Woodpecker, which is much smaller. Between us we have only ever seen one woodpecker in Sudan, so it was a shame it didn't hang around. Throughout the day there had been large numbers of hirundines, many of which had been moving north. Most were Sand Martins, but there were also House Martins and Barn Swallows. The local hirundine here is Ethiopian Swallow and this individual posed well for the camera.

Ethiopian Swallow, Jebel Aulia 17th February 2012

Thursday 16 February 2012

A Waterbird Count in Juba - By Chris Wood

Waterbird Count Juba, January 2012

I was recently in Juba and took the opportunity to carry out a waterbird count for the South African Waterbird Census (AfWC) with Richard Trewby. Richard hired a boat at the Oasis hotel for Sunday 29th January. The count was made on the 29th January 2012 from 0745 am to 1200 midday.

We began at the Oasis Hotel harbour (4o50.076’N: 31o36.959’E) at 0745 and returned at around midday. We travelled North along the Eastern bank of the Nile for approximately 2.5 kms and returned along the Western bank. On the return trip a stop was made a medium size island at N4o50.616: E31o37.558’

Good numbers of birds were recorded but surprisingly few waders, the most common being the Common Sandpiper and Senegal Thick-knee. One Osprey was seen and two Rock Pratincole were also recorded. Overhead there were usual numbers of Marabou Storks, Black Kites and Hooded Vultures.

Senegal Thick-knee – Juba, January 2012

We were on a boat and so did not see many non waterbirds but travelling up close to the western bank we came across two breeding colonies of Red-throated Bee-eaters, which was a new bird for me, and lovely to see. The nests were in a vertical bank about 2.5 metres high and at the first site there were probably about 20 nesting holes and we saw around 10 – 12 pairs. At the second site there were fewer nest holes and birds, but the bank was similar in height and structure. The rocking of the boat made it difficult to get a decent photo.

 Red-throated Bee-eaters – Juba, January 2012

The weather was clear and hot with little wind. The Nile was flowing strongly and there were few other boats on the river.

Waterbird List.

Reed Cormorant -7
Fulvous Whistling Duck – 350 (est.)
Comb Duck - 2
Spurwinged Lapwing – 2
Egyptian Plover – 2
Rock Pratincole - 2
Sacred Ibis – 63
Goliath Heron - 1
Purple Heron – 4
Grey Heron – 1
Black-headed Heron – 2
Squacco Heron – 3
Green-backed Heron – 1
Little Egret – 1
Cattle Egret – 120 (est.)
African Jacana – 2
Senegal Thick-knee (Dikkop) – 15
Greenshank - 1
Common Sandpiper - 19
Marabou Stork - 26
Osprey – 1
Other Birds

Black-headed Gonolek
Pied Kingfisher
Malachite Kingfisher
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Dark-capped Bulbul
Common Bulbul
Red-throated Bee-eater
Little Bee-eater
African Mourning Dove
Black Kite
Laughing Dove
Senegal Coucal
Barn Swallow
Brown-throated Martin
Sand Martin
Red-cheeked Cordonbleu
White Wagtail

Chris Wood

Tuesday 14 February 2012

A brief trip to the KICS stables on the Blue Nile

My son now takes riding lessons every Sunday, and this week I was able to pop off for half an hour to check the birds. There was little on the river except for a few stilts and other distant waders, so I checked the fields and bushes. As discussed in my previous post, on Friday the Village Weavers were building nests and displaying in a small colony on Tuti Island. I also observed this at the stables, but with a much larger colony of around 50 nests in higher trees (the only ones in the area). Until recently I had only seen one Little Green Bee-eater at the stables, but there have been a few hanging around recently.

Little Green Bee-eater, KICS stables 12th February 2012

A couple of White-rumped Seedeaters were my first sightings at the stables, as was a Tawny Pipit, which was the best bird of the day. This was probably an early migrant.

Tawny Pipit, KICS stables 12th February 2012

Sunday 12 February 2012

Tuti with Terry and Stephen

I visited Tuti Island on Friday morning with Terry and Stephen. There was a similar selection of birds to what would normally be expected, though there were slightly more warblers feeding in the low bushes at the northern tip of the island, giving the impression that migration might already be underway. I am still not sure whether the Little Swifts I have seen at Tuti are migrants or not, but a single bird was present today.

Little swift, Tuti 10th February 2012

It was noticeable that most of the Village Weavers had moulted, or were in the process of moulting, into breeding plumage. There was a small colony that had almost completed building their nests and the males were hanging underneath and flapping their wings to display to the females.

Village Weaver displaying at nest, Tuti 10th February 2012

I have always had trouble taking photos of Black-billed Wood-Doves, but today a couple of birds ventured into an open area offering slightly better shots than usual.

Black-billed Wood-Dove, Tuti 10th February 2012

Friday 10 February 2012

A brief visit to the Sunt Forest

Last Friday (February 3rd) I made a brief visit to the Sunt Forest. I was most interested in visiting the forest to look for land birds. There were big numbers of Lesser Whitethroats and lots of Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, but not much else of interest in the forest. Much of the pools had dried up, but there was still a similar selection of shorebirds to previous visits, though in smaller numbers. The best bird of the day was an immature Great Spotted Cuckoo in the more open area at the edge of the forest. This was my first sighting of this species in Sudan.

Great Spotted Cuckoo, Sunt Forest 3rd February 2012

I also spent a bit of time trying to photograph a wheatear that I thought might be a Cyprus Wheatear, but could also have been a Pied wheatear. The first thing to determine was whether it was a male or female. If female it would definitely not be a Pied Wheatear, which has a much plainer female plumage. The dark crown suggested a female, but I was unsure whether a first-year male Pied might still have such a plumage. I put the photos onto Birdforum (Click here) and soon had a reply from Brian Small (one of the top birders in Africa and Illustrator of Birds of the Horn of Africa, the main bird book to use in Sudan) which indicated why it was not a Cyprus Wheatear, but in fact a first-year Pied Wheatear. Apparently the crown was not dark enough and the underparts not burnt enough to be a Cyprus. He also discussed how the 3rd primary could be seen to be the longest in one photo, whereas in Cyprus the longest primary should be number 4. Its nice to have such expertise available to help out with identification. Birdforum really is a great place to go for such things.

Pied Wheatear, Sunt Forest 3rd February 2012

Pied Wheatear, Sunt Forest 3rd February 2012 

The wintering range of the Cyprus Warbler is still little known, but it seems that Sudan may be the main area. I hope to keep tabs on records of this species, but it evident that I still need to get my head around the identification. Another interesting sighting was a Speckled Pigeon that flew overhead - my second sighting at this location.

Friday 3 February 2012

Visit to KICS stables on the Blue Nile

The school where I work (KICS) has a stables on the Blue Nile just south of Khartoum. It is a lovely location with many good birds and I have seen over 80 species on my various visits. I made a couple of short visits last week to see what was around. One of these visits was with the riding instructor David Hancock, who is also a birdwatcher. The riding club is approved by the UK Pony Club, which encourages the students to study for badges in various activities related to riding, but also other activities, including birdwatching. David and I discussed how we could introduce the birdwatching badge and get some of the students to learn some of the birds in the area. With quality species like Egyptian Plover available on most rides along the beach, there will be plenty for them to look at.

Egyptian Plover, KICS Stables Blue Nile January 2012

Common Stonechat, KICS Stables Blue Nile January 2012

Northern Wheatear, KICS Stables Blue Nile January 2012

A couple of trip reports by Yousif

I was out of the country for about a month while Yousif Attia and his fiancé Patti were in Sudan, so unfortunately I was unable to join them on any more trips. However, Yousif has sent me a report of a trip they made to Tuti Island and another to Sabaloka, plus a number of photos. I am grateful to him for letting me post them below. I was particularly interested to hear about the Cinnamon Weavers, which extends their known range slightly north of that shown by Nikolaus. I hope to get up there soon to see if they are still around. Yousif also mentioned seeing a Cream-coloured Courser on a brief visit to near the Sunt Forest. This is a species I have still never seen despite lots of searching in several countries.

December 22, 2011

Patty and I took a morning walk to explore Tuti Island a little more.
We saw much of the same as the previous trip but there were a few more birds around.  Cut-throats were the most abundant species today with small groups all over the island and I estimated no less than 250.  Flocks of Pin-tailed Whydahs had a couple males in breeding and transitional plumage.  A Masked Shrike was at the extreme northern end of the island as well as a large group of Little Bee-eaters and a single Wryneck.  Raptors were on the move and I noted a European Honey-Buzzard among the numerous kites. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew by and there was a large feeding flock of White-winged Terns and 2 Caspians. The Black-headed Lapwings continued to show well and a nice male Common Redstart was nice to see.  We were excited to see a couple Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus and a pair of Rose-ringed Parakeets flew overhead.  Black-billed Wood-pigeons showed well which were missed on our initial visit here.

Village Indigobird

Black Scrub-Robin

Black-headed Lapwing

Blue-naped Mousebird

Cut-throat Finch

Egyptian Plover

Namaqua Dove

Plain Martin

White-browed Coucal

December 23, 2011

A group of relatives and friends took Patty and I on a trip to the 6th Cataract or Sabaloka "waterfalls".  Bird diversity was not particularly high but the bushes were active with palearctic migrants, primarily Lesser Whitethroats.  Three Abdim's Storks circled over the hills.  A number of House Buntings (Striolated), Blackstarts and a Blue Rock-Thrush were of note as well as a single Rufous-tailed Shrike (IsabelineShrike). It is interesting to note that many of the local weaver males were in full alternate plumage, in contrast to the birds at Tuti the past few days, which have virtually all been in confusing basic plumage.   We hired a boat which took us up the rapids and on a sand flat area of the island across Sabaloka.  There were a number of shorebirds including Black-winged Stilt, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper Little Stint, Common Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and Egyptian Plover.  Our guide then drove the boat directly across the sand flat to a narrow lush strip of trees along the bank of the Nile after hearing we were seeking birds.  Both Little and Green bee-eaters were found as well as a Striated Heron and a pair of Pied Kingfishers. The true prize for the day however was while drifting by a confirmed but brief look at a male Cinnamon Weaver singing in what looked like a loose colony.  I really did not expect to see this as I had ruled them out after seeing how all the weavers were in basic plumage.  Also present was a male Little Weaver making it a 4 weaver species day.  I later saw a female weaver which had much browner tone and I assume it may have been a Cinnamon Weaver as well.  All in all it was a productive day and we had a delightful picnic by the water to round it off.

Yousif Attia - January 2012