Saturday 29 September 2012

Migrants and fig eaters

Julie and I had an interesting morning birding today on Tuti Island. We first popped down to the Sunt Forest to check out the conditions, but it was still very flooded and it will be a while before it will be easily accessible for birding. Tuti was our back-up plan, but it turned out to be a great day for birding with some obvious movements of many species. There were large groups of kites circling overhead and I think that many were probably migrating Black Kites, though there were certainly Yellow-billed Kites amongst them and I have still not quite got my head around identifying the dark-billed birds with certainty. Other interesting raptors included a European Honey-Buzzard, a Pallid Harrier and a Shikra.

Shikra, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

Pallid Harrier, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

Dark phase European Honey-Buzzard, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

European Bee-eaters were probably the most visible migrants as they hawked for insects, but as we checked the bushes we found several warbler species that had not been around on my previous visit to the site three weeks earlier, such as Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler. A group of 11 Glossy Ibises headed down the White Nile, along with several groups of terns that were not identified to species. Several groups of Grey Herons flying south were probably migrants, while a group of Turtle Doves certainly were. There were individuals of Spotted Flycatcher, Barn Swallow and Sand Martin, a few Whinchats and Golden Orioles, and good numbers of Tree Pipits, and Red-backed Shrikes.

Whinchat, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

Red-backed Shrike, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

European Bee-eater, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

The biggest congregation of birds was at a fruiting fig tree. This tree is often good for birds, but today there were many more than normal. Most numerous were the Common Bulbuls that seemed to be everywhere. This tree also attracted lots of Garden Warblers and a couple of Blackcaps, a species I have seen at this same spot many times previously. There were also some African Mourning Doves and Golden Orioles making the most of the easy food.

Common Bulbul, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

Garden Warbler, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

Golden Oriole, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

Although the excitement mainly came from the migrants, we also had some interesting sightings of local birds, some of which showed well for the camera.

Beautiful Sunbird, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

Zitting Cisticola, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

Black-billed Wood-Dove, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

Pin-tailed Whydah, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

White-headed babbler with nesting material, Tuti Island 28th September 2012

I was particularly happy to see the White-headed Babbler pictured above, as it was carrying nesting material. This is the first time I have observed any kind of nesting activity in this little-known species and it would be interesting to make some further observations. Nikolaus includes no nesting records in his Atlas, and I wonder if there are any published breeding records of this species. As can be seen from the photos, it carried material into the main head of a palm tree. There were at least two other birds present, suggesting they are communal nesters like many other babblers, with a dominate pair nesting and others in the group helping to rear the young.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Um Dum by Julie Dewilde

Last Saturday, I went to Um Dum (15°32.164’N ; 32°37.283’E), on the east side of the Blue Nile, a place I already visited last year in May, and found interesting with a small island reachable via a long beach in the middle of the Blue Nile.
The Nile went down, compared to the beginning of the month but unfortunately it was still too high to reach the island and the beach by foot. This was really a shame as a lot of birds could be observed flying above the island but on the other side, and were thus too far to be all identified: among them at least about ten sacred ibis and a few pelicans. It looked like they were chased or disturbed by something unidentified on the other side of the island.

The beach was largely flooded but some sandbanks still emerged. On a sandbank on the opposite side of the Nile, a group of about 50 grey herons were resting: among them pretty sure there were a few black headed herons (but hard to see from so far), some Abdim storks, 4 pelicans (probably pink-backed) and one stork which really looked like a yellow-billed stork.
Some plain martins and palm swifts were flying around.
A lot of gull-billed terns were flying above and landing on the same sandbank.

Plain Martin, Um Dum 22nd September 2012

Gull-billed Tern, Um Dum 22nd September 2012

On the bank of the Nile, I could observe wood sandpiper and common sandpiper, some Egyptian plovers and some spur-winged lapwings.

Egyptian Plover, Um Dum 22nd September 2012

As for passerines, I observed willow warbler, graceful prinia, a male pin-tailed widah (non breeding plumage), two crimson-rumped waxbills and to be noticed, a single yellow wagtail among a group of crested larks, which was my first one of the autumn.

Willow Warbler, Um Dum 22nd September 2012

Graceful Prinia, Um Dum 22nd September 2012

Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Um Dum 22nd September 2012

The day after I decided to go back to this site but to observe the sand bank from the other side of the Nile. Unfortunately from the west side of the Blue Nile it is difficult to walk along the banks of the river because of the fences everywhere.
I found a first place to stop at 15°31.064’N ; 32°38.111’E which was rich in little swamps and where I could observe black-headed herons, common wood and green sandpipers, two squacco herons and one little egret and of course the spur-winged lapwings. Besides this I observed northern red bishops, little bee-eaters, village weavers, abyssinian rollers and blue-naped mousebirds.

Black-headed Heron, Um Dum 22nd September 2012

Northern Red Bishop, Um Dum 22nd September 2012

Then I moved a bit more to the north to try find the sand bank and finally find it at 15°31.064 N ; 32°38.111 E. The group of about 50 herons was still there, and I could confirm the presence of black-headed herons, grey herons, and abdim storks, but there were no pelicans or yello-billed storks anymore. A lot of gull-billed terns were resting in this sandbank and I could observe a few white-faced duckling which were not visible the day before. Besides this I could observe some greater blue-eared starlings and one black-eared wheatear.

Group of herons, Um Dum 22nd September 2012

Monday 24 September 2012

A cuckoo arrives from Ceredigion

The British Trust for Ornithology has tagged some British cuckoos to find out where they move to on migration. Their website allows you to see the movements of each tagged individual. One, named David, has just turned up in Sudan! The bird was originally tagged in Ceredigion in West Wales. My regular birding companion Terry, who is from Ceredigion, will be interested to know that he has been followed here. I am a little surprised that these British birds are travelling so far east, as many other populations of species breeding in Britain tend to head straight south to West Africa.

Saturday 22 September 2012

A Cinnamon Weaver colony

As mentioned in a recent post, we found a colony of Cinnamon Weavers at Wad Madani on Friday. As there appears to be almost nothing published on this species, I will post some pictures and something about the colony. I have posted some photos previously of a male, what was probably a female, and what were probably moulting males. However, the photos below are better quality and show the first ever confirmed photos of a female of this species. I intend to make a thorough study of this colony over the next couple of years and publish something more formally, so please do not re-publish any of these data without permission.

Male Cinnamon Weaver, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

Female Cinnamon Weaver, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

Female Cinnamon Weaver with insect food, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

The nests were located right beside the Blue Nile with several, but not all, overhanging the water. They were located in the grounds of a cafe, but in a location that is almost inaccessible. The main cafe building goes right up to the river with about 1m of land between it and the steep bank down to the water. On either side of the building is a fence that stops people moving along the edge of the river through to another cafe on the other side. This provided a small enclosed section of about 4m of river bank that is closed off on either side. This must provide quite a bit of protection against disturbance. We only noticed the colony because we saw a bird flying in with nesting material. It was only by standing on crate that it was possible to peer over the fence and take a few photos. There were 7 nests in this section and one other that was visible on the other side from the neighbouring cafe. It is possible that there may have been a few others that could not be seen. Three of these appeared to occupied; one was being built, one had young and the other could not be seen well enough but had a male and female nearby. 

Male Cinnamon Weaver building a nest, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

Cinnamon Weaver building nest, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

The bird above was actively constructing its nest and spent long periods working at the nest with its bill, but did not appear to bringing in much new material. At one point a female arrived and he stood on a branch vibrating his wings while the female entered. He then went up and half entered the nest before hanging below the nest and vibrating his wings again, in a similar behaviour to what I have seen with other weaver species. The female exited and left. There was no mating or direct interaction between the two. I got the impression that this might have been a nest inspection by a potential mate.

Male Cinnamon Weaver waiting as female inspect nest, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

Female Cinnamon Weaver exiting nest as male waits, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

About 1m from the green nest under construction was a second active nest that was clearly older, with dry light brown grasses. On several occasions a female flew in carrying food to feed the young. It returned every few minutes. As can be seen from the photo, it never entered far into the nest, making we wonder if the young might be quite large. The entrance was on the far side and could not be seen. As can be seen in one of the photos above, the young were being fed insects.  As with most seed-eating species, the young are fed on insects because they need the additional protein for growth.

Female Cinnamon Weaver feeding young, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

Other than the one under construction, all nests were made from dry grasses and were similar to the one in the photo above. There appeared to be no activity at 5 of the nests, but we only watched the nests for about 40 minutes or so and there could be something we missed; for example there could be incubating females. Next week I hope to get in closer and peer inside all the nests to see what is happening and get better quantitative data. I imagine that I will have plenty of opportunity here for an interesting project.

Nesting Long-tailed Nightjar

I was recently sent this photo of a Long-tailed Nightjar sitting on a nest with two eggs. It was taken at the KICS riding stables on the Blue Nile, and sent to me by David Hancock, who is the head riding instructor.

Long-tailed Nightjar on nest, KICS stables Sept 2012

A mix of new birds at Wad Medani

Terry visited Wad Medani back in July and saw some different species to what we usually see in Khartoum, such as Ruppell's Starling and Cinnamon Weaver. For this reason, Terry, Stephen and I decided to make another visit to see what we could find. I was particularly interested in locating the Cinnamon Weavers in the hope of finding a suitable colony for a study. The drive down of 180km took about 2 hours, and we saw some interesting birds, with lots of Pied Crows and one large group of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, both species not usually seen further north in Khartoum. On entering town we went straight to the area where Terry had seen the Ruppell's Starling and quickly saw one of our own; it headed into an area of thick vegetation that turned out to be a cafe with a well shaded garden (located on the main road beside the river next to a gas/petrol station at N14.41 W33.52).

Ruppell's Starling, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

It didn't take long to realise that we had lucked into a good spot, not just for the availability of a nice cup of coffee and a seat, but for a nice selection of birds not seen by us previously within the new boundaries of Sudan; the starling being the first seen here by either Stephen or myself. We then had a nice surprise when a male Black-headed Gonolek lit up the cafe garden with its bright red underparts. This was quickly followed by a group of Speckled Mousebirds. Both were new birds for Terry and Stephen and my first sightings in Sudan. A Wryneck then put on a brief performance and we also enjoyed watching some Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus.

Black-headed Gonolek, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

Speckled Mousebird, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

Female Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

For me, the highlight of the visit was finding a colony of Cinnamon Weavers right in the Cafe Gardens and in a location that will be perfect to allow me to do a study. I will write about them in a separate blog. We then stopped briefly at a second location a couple of km further north where Terry had seen the Cinnamon Weavers on his previous visit. There were none around, but there were some shrikes and this Vieillot's Barbet.

Vieillot's Barbet, Wad Medani 21st September 2012

We headed north and after 35km noticed some nice scrub habitat on the right. It was already past midday and a bit late for birding, but we stopped off to have some lunch and check out the birds. We commented on how much more 'African' this habitat appeared than further north, and it reminded me a bit of the habitat around Juba in South Sudan. There were lots of birds calling, including a pair of Black-headed Gonoleks, but it was hard to see many birds in the short time we had. There were some Red-backed and Masked Shrikes, some Black-rumped Waxbills, a Yellow-breasted Barbet, some Marabou Storks overhead and lots of sunbirds of both the main species. Best bird here, though, was an Olive-tree Warbler, which is the first I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it didn't hang around long enough to be seen well or photographed. This is definitely a site worth returning to, as I feel it has a lot more new species for us to find.

Friday 21 September 2012

Ed Dueim - By Julie DeWilde

This weekend (Sept 14th and 15th), I went with Laurent to Ed Dueim area, for some camping and some birdwatching. A lot of pied crows, cattle egrets, black kites and Abdim storks were flying above Ed Dueim. We camped about ten km north from Ed Dueim (14°05.897 N ; 032°15.825 E). At the camping site, and all along the road, Abyssinian rollers were everywhere; some with long streams some others without but all with the typical white face! You really couldn’t miss them! One had a broken beak and looked weird.

Abyssinian Roller, Ed Duim 14th/15th Sept 2012

The Nile was still high, it was not a good site for waders, but I could observe some little egrets in flooded fields and of course some spur-winged plovers. Some long-tailed cormorant and gull-billed terns were observed flying above the Nile. A group of big white birds were flying toward south in the middle of the Nile but much too far to be identified (egrets? Spoonbills? Pelicans?). 

Black-headed Heron, Ed Duim 14th/15th Sept 2012

Around the tent, I could see the usual doves observed on tuti (namaqua dove, laughing dove and mourning dove), hoopoes, spotted flycatchers, red-billed firefinches, young golden oriole, red-billed hornbill, young lesser grey-shrike, isabelline shrikes, isabelline wheatear, village weavers and a yellow-crowned bishop which was my first one in Sudan. A group of about 30 black kites were gathering in a field.

Yellow-crowned Bishop, Ed Duim 14th/15th Sept 2012

Isabelline Shrike, Ed Duim 14th/15th Sept 2012

Lesser Grey Shrike, Ed Duim 14th/15th Sept 2012

Spotted Flycatcher, Ed Duim 14th/15th Sept 2012

As for birds of prey, I could observe grasshopper buzzard, montagu’s harrier, and an eagle which I couldn’t unfortunately identified as it was flying too far.

Grasshopper Buzzard, Ed Duim 14th/15th Sept 2012

Before going back to Khartoum we stopped in an interesting “maya” south of Ed Dueim (13°58.627’N ; 032°18.783’E). In this maya, I could observe a group of 11 glossy ibis, with some black-winged stilt, and one black-tailed godwit. In the maya surroundings I observed some little egrets and one great egret, several african jacanas, a squacco heron and a gull-billed tern. Some greater blue-eared starlings as well.

Glossy Ibises and Godwit, Ed Duim 14th/15th Sept 2012

Saturday 15 September 2012

Turtle Dove movement at Jebel Aulia

After seeing little evidence of migration last weekend, it was nice to see visible movements of birds at Jebel Aulia when I visited on Friday with Stephen and Terry. Most noticeable were the groups of European Turtle Doves passing overhead continuously throughout the morning. There were also groups of small sparrow-like passerines that seemed to be heading south, but I never managed to get a good enough look at them as they flew quickly past at a height of about 2m and them swooped up over the larger bushes.

Turtle Doves, Jebel Aulia 14th September 2012

There were a number of other land migrants around, with good numbers of Golden Orioles, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Willow Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats, Spotted Flycatchers, Barn Swallows and Sand Martins, plus singles of Masked Shrike, Isabelline Shrike, Black-eared Wheatear and Montague's Harrier. Most of these were my first sightings of the Autumn. Waterbirds had also arrived, with quite a few unidentified small terns on the lake, including at least some White-winged Terns. A Little Tern was a good sighting, plus a single Lesser Black-backed Gull was present. The only waders present were a couple of Common Sandpipers, though there was little suitable habitat due to the high water. A group of 30 Shovelers headed south down the middle of the lake and were only identifiable afterwards from distant photos.

Golden Oriole, Jebel Aulia 14th September 2012

Black-eared Wheatear, Jebel Aulia 14th September 2012

As always, there were lots of Nile Valley Sunbirds around, and it was nice to find a nest with a female incubating. On close inspection we could see that the nest was mostly woven from sheep wool. A pair of Grey Woodpeckers was good to see, as woodpeckers of any kind are rarely seen in the north. This site is always quite a good place to see Abyssinian Rollers, but today they seemed to be everywhere. This was the first year I have seen them at Tuti Island and I have been seeing them quite regularly around Khartoum, making me think that this has been an especially good year for them.

Nile Valley Sunbird nest, Jebel Aulia 14th September 2012

Grey Woodpecker, Jebel Aulia 14th September 2012