Saturday 31 March 2012

White Pelican movement along the Blue Nile

It is good to hear that Juha is back in Khartoum for another visit. As before, he is staying beside the Blue Nile just south of the city, where he is well placed to see migrants moving along the river.  Yesterday evening he saw large numbers of Great White Pelicans moving north up the river. He ran off to get his camera and after his return estimated about 600 passed by.

Great White Pelicans, Blue Nile south of Khartoum 29th March 2012

Great White Pelicans, Blue Nile south of Khartoum 29th March 2012

This morning he walked north along the Nile a couple of KM and saw lots of large footprints, suggesting they had stopped there overnight. He also saw Black-tailed Godwit, Collared Pratincole and Yellow-breasted Barbet.
African Swallow-tailed Kite, Blue Nile south of Khartoum 29th March 2012

The bird above is one of 12 African Swallow-tailed Kites he saw a few weeks ago near his home, which he felt might be migrating north. This is the most northerly population of this species (actually it is slightly further north of any published records), so one has to wonder where these birds might have been going. On previous visits he has had Cyprus Wheatear hanging around near his residence (which is quite close to the KICS riding stables, where I reported one myself last year), though there have not been any this year. I look forward to hearing more reports from him.

Friday 30 March 2012

Probable Little Terns at Tuti

It was surprisingly quiet today at Tuti when I visited with Stephen. I was expecting a lot of migrant land birds, but there were virtually none. There were still quite a few terns moving up the White Nile, plus some Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Black-headed Gull. The best sighting was a couple of probable Little Terns. The Atlas of Sudan's Birds by Nikolaus dates from 1987, when Saunder's Tern was still considered a subspecies of Little Tern. He mainly shows sightings on the Red Sea coast and shows inland records from Khartoum and just south of the Egyptian border. He comments that the nominate race (i.e. what is now known as Little Tern) has not been recorded.

Probable Little Tern, Khartoum 30th March 2012

Probable Little Tern, Khartoum 30th March 2012

Probable Little Tern, Khartoum 30th March 2012

Probable Little Tern, Khartoum 30th March 2012

Unfortunately, we saw the birds late and just as they were passing us. I managed to shoot a few quick photos, but was relying on autofocus to pick them up. What can be seen from these shots is that the white forehead extends quite far back over the eye (hence my need to include the fourth shot that is badly out of focus), while it extends less far back in Saunder's Terns. The outer two primaries of Saunder's Tern should be black at this time of year, and these birds did not show this. There are also subtle differences in rump coloration between the two, but it would be hard to spot from these pictures. Saunder's Tern is mostly coastal, while Little Tern is known to head inland and along rivers. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the birds on the Red Sea coast are Saunder's Terns (though there could also be some Little Terns) and that the inland records are of Little Terns. I doubt that my poor photos are good enough to confirm this, unless I can find an expert that is able to verify them. It would be nice to confirm the presence of Little Tern in Sudan.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Another Slender-billed Gull

A month ago I photographed a group of Slender-billed Gulls moving north up the White Nile, which turned out to be only the second inland record for Sudan. Today I photographed a single bird moving north up the Blue Nile past the KICS stables. It seems that this might be an under recorded species in the region. The Blue and White Niles lead to very different locations, so I wonder where these birds are coming from. To my knowledge there are no records of this species from South Sudan.

Slender-billed Gull, KICS stables on the Blue Nile
 Khartoum 25th March 2012

There was not much else to see during my brief trip. The only migrant waders were a couple of Little Stints and there were only a couple of White-winged Black Terns that were heading north. There were few land migrants with only a Black-eared Wheatear, about 10 Hoopoes, and several Red-rumped Swallows to note. The last time I visited this site was two weeks ago, when I was surprised to see three separate groups of Wattled Starlings, though there were no sign of any this time. Nikolaus describes them as rare other than in the south east (presumably meaning what is now South Sudan). However, I have recorded them at the stables before.

Saturday 17 March 2012

New blog on birding in South Sudan

I was delighted to hear today that Mark Mallalieu has set up a blog on birding in South Sudan. He wrote many exciting reports of his birding trips on this blog, but felt that once the countries separated it would be best to cover them separately. His first couple of blogs include some great sightings and I am looking forward to visiting him next month. To follow his reports go to

Friday 9 March 2012

South of Khartoum near the Blue Nile

We have been hoping to try out some new spots, so this week Stephen, Terry and I headed south along the Wad Madani Road to an area near the Blue Nile about 30 km south of Khartoum. Stephen had spotted a 'green' area on Google Earth last week and made a brief trip to check the place out, though had had little time for any birding. The area we visited first is a few km from the Blue Nile; it is irrigated by numerous narrow channels lined with bushes and some reeds. We spent most time walking along one of these channels, checking the surrounding fields. It was quickly evident that many waterbirds were using the channel and we flushed Openbill Storks, Grey Herons, Purple Herons, Squacco Herons, Egrets, and Long-tailed Cormorants.

Long-tailed Cormorants, 
Blue Nile 30 km south of Khartoum 9th March 2012

Squacco Heron, 
Blue Nile 30 km south of Khartoum 9th March 2012

There were lots of birds in the surrounding fields, but most interesting for us was that they were quite a different mix to what we have seen at our regular haunts. There were lots of sandgrouse flying around in small groups, but as always they were very hard to see well, photograph and identify.  All those seen well enough appeared to be Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, which is the most expected species. There were quite a few Northern Carmine Bee-eaters and Collared Pratincoles, but none came close enough for photographs. I have seen a few Speckled Pigeons, but this was my first opportunity to get a shot of one, as there were several individuals flying past. A harrier flew overhead too quickly to allow decent views, but on reviewing my photos I had a good enough shot of the underparts to identify it as a Montague's Harrier, which I think is my first in Sudan.

Speckled Pigeon, 
Blue Nile 30 km south of Khartoum 9th March 2012

Montague's Harrier, 
Blue Nile 30 km south of Khartoum 9th March 2012

There were few migrant passerines around, with only an Isabelline Shrike, a Rufous Scrub-Robin a Lesser Whitethroat and a few hirundines. Resident passerines included the more typical farmland birds such as Crested Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Red-billed Quelea, Northern Red Bishop and some unidentified weavers.

Isabelline Shrike, 
Blue Nile 30 km south of Khartoum 9th March 2012

We then headed over to a small farm on the banks of the Blue Nile. It was noticeable how much wider the river is here than in Khartoum, with large sandbanks due to the low water levels. There were few birds on the river, but one nice sighting was a distant Spur-winged Goose - my first outside of South Sudan.

Spur-winged Goose, 
Blue Nile 30 km south of Khartoum 9th March 2012

There were some other interesting birds around including some Red-rumped Swallows and a Black-shouldered Kite. A kestrel flew over and the buffy underparts gave us the impression of a Lesser Kestrel, though it was later clear from photos that it was in fact a Common Kestrel.

Black-shouldered Kite, 
Blue Nile 30 km south of Khartoum 9th March 2012

Common Kestrel, 
Blue Nile 30 km south of Khartoum 9th March 2012

We all enjoyed getting out into some new habitat and seeing different birds. There must be lots of good places along the Nile like this and we will have to keep searching for new ones.

Sunday 4 March 2012

My latest visit to the KICS riding stables

I made a brief trip to the KICS riding stables again today. The last couple of weeks there have been quite quiet, with most of the waders and terns having left. There have been a few migrants, including quite a few Hoopoes, but not much of note. There was a similar spread today, but a few additional birds of note. An Isabelline shrike was the first I have seen at the sight and must be a bird on migration.

Isabelline Shrike, 
KICS riding stables on the Blue Nile 4th March 2012

Another new bird for the site, and only my second in the country, was a Black-shouldered Kite which flew over quickly offering no chance for a photo. I have seen its close relative, the African Swallow-tailed Kite, here on several occasions but have never had the chance to photograph one. Today there were two birds patrolling the area and this time one gave me just enough time for a photo as it flew past. The Distribution Atlas of Sudan's Birds by Nikolaus does not show then coming this far north.

African Swallow-tailed Kite, 
KICS riding stables on the Blue Nile 4th March 2012

Another new species for the site was White-faced Whistling Duck. A group of 35 were sitting on a small island on the far bank of the Blue Nile.

Jebel Aulia - By Chris Wood

On Friday 2nd March we went to Jebel Aulia lake on the west bank of the White Nile and stayed overnight at a lodge on the banks of the dam (Lat: 15.006318. Long: 32.440553), coming back at midday on Saturday.  The wind was fairly strong when we arrived, and the sky hazy but otherwise ok. This was my first visit to the site and I had no idea what to expect so I had brought my ringing equipment just in case.

Inland there was little vegetation, some scattered short scrub and the rest, sand. The shoreline was sandy to gravelly without any emergent vegetation and not ideal for concentrations of waterbirds. There is a large island opposite the site and this looked well greened and could be a good place for the future.

Nevertheless there were a good variety of species along the shore, although only in ones or 2s. The exception being the Kittlitz’s Plovers which were common, paired up and coming into breeding plumage. Also a couple of Kentish Plovers a little to the south of the lodge at a small fishing harbour where I also found a Common Redshank.  The lake would seem to support good fish stocks judging by the number of Pied Kingfishers, at least 8 within 100 metres either side of the lodge, and the numbers of terns patrolling the shallower waters.

The wind dropped about 1700 hours and I decided to put up a couple of nets, 3 in the end, set at right angles to the shore and a couple of metres into the water. I was not expecting much, and I wasn’t disappointed, but having brought the equipment I thought, why not?  About 8pm I caught and ringed a Kittlitz’s and that was all for the night. I didn’t feel the numbers justified staying awake all night so I furled the nets and went to bed around 10.30 planning to open them at 4.30am.

At 3.30 am a very strong wind arose and I decided not to open the nets. Later, around 7 the wind dropped and I opened the nets but by 9 am the wind had strengthened and we were in a full blown dust storm. I took down the nets at 8.30am as it was building up and during the short time that the nets were open I caught 2 Pied Kingfishers which were blown off their perches on the ringing poles by the freshening wind, and fell into the nets! Virtually the only birds flying after that were the Barn Swallows, still struggling northward and flying low to the ground.

I was concentrating on waterbirds as usual, and most other birds were seen in the garden of the lodge. There were a couple of wheatears, a Black-eared and what I took to be an Isabelline. Paler than what I expect from a Northern, with a larger black tail tip and what looked like a prominent alula. There was also a Eurasian Marsh Harrier along the shore to the south and an Osprey flew slowly overhead on the first afternoon. At one stage I could hear in the distance something that sounded like a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, but could not be certain.

An interesting place, and a small harbour to the south with a bit of mud that might make a reasonable ringing site between October and end of March. I was also told of another site several kilometres (two villages) to the south where there are “ducks and things”. Another expedition called for?

Bird List.

Reed Cormorant
White-breasted Cormorant
Grey Heron
Black-headed Heron
Yellow-billed Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Eurasian Marsh Harrier
Egyptian Plover
Kittlitz’s Plover
Kentish Plover
Ringed Plover
Spur-winged Lapwing
Black-winged Stilt
Common Redshank
Common Sandpiper
Little Stint
Temminck’s Stint
Gull-billed Tern
Whiskered Tern
White-winged Tern
African Mourning Dove
Namaqua Dove
Eurasian Hoopoe
Pied Kingfisher
Brown-throated Martin
Barn Swallow
White Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Common Bulbul
Black-eared Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Olivaceous Warbler
Red-backed Shrike

By Chris Wood