Friday 26 October 2012

Soba Sewage Pools

I made a quick trip to the sewage pools near Soba Hospital yesterday morning. As in previous visits, things had changed a bit, with a couple of pools now dry, while others had been recently filled up. There was also a large flooded area beside the actual pools, one part being open and easily viewable, while another patch had flooded an area of Acacia bushes. This area had many waders on it, but was hard to view properly. The sewage was running freely and the air was pretty funky in places, making me pretty unwilling to enter any of muddy areas. The most common waders were Ruff and Wood Sandpipers, but there were also plenty of Black-winged Stilts, Little Stints, and Temmink's Stints, plus a few Common Sandpipers and Common Snipes. Once again, there was also a Three-banded Plover present, making me wonder if this is a regular site for them.

Three-banded Plover, Soba Sewage Pools 25th October 2012

Wood Sandpiper, Soba Sewage Pools 25th October 2012

Probably the most surprising record of the day was a conservative count of 42 Hottentot Teals. The more open nature of the pools may have helped me to see so many, though I still think this is much higher than usual and may be the result of birds arriving at the pools as other areas dry out at the end of the wet season. There were no young birds present, so there is still no proof of them breeding here, though I strongly suspect they do. There were a few Shovelers and some White-faced Whistling Ducks, including several young birds, probably indicating that they breed at the site. A young Common Moorhen may indicate breeding at the site, which may be the first breeding record for the country. I am still hoping to see a young African Purple Swamphen, but my only sightings were of adult birds.

Ruffs, Gull-billed Tern, Hottentot Teals and Black-winged Stilt,
Soba Sewage Pools 25th October 2012

Shovelers, Soba Sewage Pools 25th October 2012

Juvenile White-faced Whistling-Ducks, Soba Sewage Pools 25th October 2012

Juvenile Common Moorhen, Soba Sewage Pools 25th October 2012

There were still a few White-throated Bee-eaters and Greater Blue-eared Starlings around, but they will probably be heading off soon. There was no longer any sign of activity at the nests of the Northern Masked Weavers and most males had moulted out of breeding plumage.

White-throated Bee-eater, Soba Sewage Pools 25th October 2012 

Tuesday 9 October 2012

A new Sudanese birding blog

I was very pleased to hear today that one of Sudan's leading ornithologists Esmat Elhassan has just started a blog ( Looking at the site I noticed that he actually published his first post back in March, but there have been several posts more recently. I am especially pleased that some of his posts are in both English and Arabic as this will provide a much needed resource for Sudanese readers with an interest in wildlife. A couple of his posts have been on Dinder National Park and include sightings and photos of some really fabulous birds. It is absolutely top of my list of places to visit. I will be visiting Esmat's blog regularly to find out what he has been seeing and to get news on Sudanese Wildlife.

Saturday 6 October 2012

A second visit to the Cinnamon Weaver colony

I returned to Wad Medani this weekend to take another look at the Cinnamon Weaver colony found two weeks ago. In the intervening weeks the Blue Nile must have been flowing extra fast, because the bank had collapsed beside the colony and much of it had been washed away, including the large fence that we had struggled to peer over on our previous visit. There were only three nests remaining of the 8 that had been present last time. One was clearly very old and not in use; the one that had young on the previous visit was now empty, possibly because the young had fledged; and the third nest was still active. Clearly these nests are very well protected against predators, being covered all around and in such an inaccessible place - yet the problems seen here of nests being washed away by the river indicate that there is a downside to this strategy.

Female Cinnamon Weaver at nest, Wad Medani 5th October 2012

Male Cinnamon Weaver at nest, Wad Medani 5th October 2012

One female went into the active nest for a spell of several minutes, making me wonder if there were eggs. However, the male continued to display by vibrating his wings at any passing female. Unfortunately, the nest was hanging over the water and the state of the recently collapsed bank stopped any thoughts of trying to peer in. There was also quite a bit of activity on the far side of the cafe where there are no trees and mostly sedges beside the river. Males were seen following females on several occasions, sometimes with two following and sometimes with the birds vibrating their wings and calling. I would like to know if there are other nests in the sedges, but it will be hard to access unless the river level falls.
Male Cinnamon Weaver, Wad Medani 5th October 2012

Female Cinnamon Weaver, Wad Medani 5th October 2012

Female Cinnamon Weaver, Wad Medani 5th October 2012

Female Cinnamon Weaver, Wad Medani 5th October 2012

The female in the photos above had a particularly large bill almost reminiscent of a Village Weaver. It also had a pale iris. I hope to build up a collection of photos of females to establish ways of separating them from close relatives. I also hope to visit the Natural History Museum in Khartoum soon to see if they have any specimens that may help. I would also like to try and colour ring some males before they change to their non-breeding plumage, so that I can identify them at a later date and determine how to identify them in that plumage. A few other good birds were present at Wad Medani, some of which were feeding on a patch of breadcrumbs. A group of Gargany flew back and forth several times and there were a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the water. I was a bit surprised not to see any terns

White-headed Babbler, Wad Medani 5th October 2012

Gargany, Wad Medani 5th October 2012

On the way back I stopped off at the same site we visited on our last visit, located 35 km north of Wad Medani. A pair of Black-shouldered Kites was displaying when I arrived. I spent most of my time in a small wood that was full of birds, though they kept moving away as I approached and were hard to look at well. Migrants included several Spotted Flycatchers, a couple of Common Redstarts, a Golden Oriole, and a Common Whitethroat. More of a surprise was the number of Cretzschmar's Buntings that seemed to be everywhere in the wood. Many birds went unidentified and I would love to try using mist-nets at this site.

Black-shouldered Kite, north of Wad Medani 5th October 2012

Common Whitethroat, north of Wad Medani 5th October 2012

Cretzschmar's Bunting, north of Wad Medani 5th October 2012

Thursday 4 October 2012

WAD MEDANI GARDEN BIRD LIST, August 1958 to December 1961 - By Peter Dare

I appologise for some of the formatting here. What I see on my screen when I am compiling a post is often very different to what appears on the finished blog. I am still trying to figure out some of these issues, especially where lists are concerned. Please note that these are errors of mine and not Peter's. Tom Jenner

Birds seen in or flying over the  gardens of the two houses where I lived on the Gezira Research Station. The gardens were about 200 yards apart and most species were seen at both, although the first garden was much larger and contained mature trees. Changed from the large rest-house grounds to my own  abode with a small lawn and shrubberies in February 1959.  General status notes for these at GRS are in parentheses.
(0)  = overhead,  all others in the gardens ; further details are in the diary records.

Reed Cormorant 8.8.59, one on the flooded lawn
Purple Heron  (0) 19.4.59, one over – spring migrant?
Cattle Egret  (0) frequent flocks passing to and from fields
Green-backed Heron 3.11.58, one in a tree  (22.7.59, on another flooded lawn)
Night Heron (0) 27-30.4.59, a dozen at dusk from nearby roost (adult & immature nearby on 25.7.59) 
Marabou  (0) occasional 1-2 soaring high in rainy season
Abdim’s Stork  (0) daily in rains, soaring or passing to and fro.
White Stork  (0) 22.9.59, 3 flying south
Woolly-necked Stork  (0) 25.4.59, 2 passing fairly high over (30.4.59, 2 over GRS)
Sacred Ibis  (0) daily in rains, May-October (as Abdim’s Stork)
Glossy Ibis 24.8.61, one (9.9.60, one high elsewhere over GRS)
Egyptian Vulture  (0) occasional 1-2 soaring high
Nubian Vulture  (0) often 1-2 soaring high  with other vultures
White-backed Vulture  (0) occasional soaring birds
Ruppell’s Vulture  (0) often several soaring high
White-headed Vulture  (0) a few records of high soaring birds
Hooded Vulture  (0) often a few soaring
Peregrine  (0) 25.7.60, an immature low over the garden
Common Kestrel  (0) autumn to spring, frequent ; 76 kestrel sp. flying north 10.2.59 might have been the next species
Lesser Kestrel  (0) flock of 7 hawking insects on  4.10.59; 9 on 21.10.59  
Black Kite numerous resident, nesting nearby (up to 500 at roosts)
Buzzard sp. 13.3.61, one low over, possibly a Long-legged Buzzard
Short-toed Eagle  (0) 9.1.59, one soaring
Tawny Eagle  (0) 9.1.59, 2 soaring – occasionally thereafter
Bateleur  (0) 26.4.59, one passed over
Honey Buzzard  (0) total of 119 on spring passage 1959, April 26-May 21
Common Sparrowhawk  (0) 4.11.58, one soaring
Shikra various sightings, possibly resident
Chanting Goshawk 28.8.58, a very confiding bird ( seen elsewhere at GRS)
Gabar Goshawk  (0) occasional ( successful nest nearby in May 1959)
Harrier-Hawk one 30.8.59 and 4.9.60 (9.10.60, 24-29.8.61 elsewhere)
Pallid Harrier 12.2.59, male low over hedge (and elsewhere at GRS) 
Montagu’s Harrier  (0) 13.3.61, male low over – spring passage probably
Marsh Harrier  (0) 9.1.59, one circling over
Tufted Guinea Fowl 1.9.58, in rest-house garden
Demoiselle Crane  (0) a few flocks high in winter, and elsewhere at GRS
Little Ringed Plover 6.2.59, one on lawn being watered (up to 15 in fields)
Green Sandpiper several times one on flooded lawn; others flying past
Wood Sandpiper 13.2.59, 2 over; 23.4.59, 7 on flooded lawn, 4 next day; (11.8.59, 14 on a flooded lawn elsewhere at GRS)
Collared Pratincole  (0) 2.9.58, 12 over; 6.9.58, 50 over hawking insects
White-winged Tern  (0) 18.4.59, flock  ~12 past (12.8.59, 25+ at GRS floods)
Turtle Dove frequent and common late summer - spring
Mourning Dove probably daily (common resident in GRS gardens)
Long-tailed Dove probably daily (common resident in GRS gardens)
Abyssinian Wood Dove probably daily (common resident in GRS gardens)
White-browed Coucal resident pair ; nest with eggs and young on 4.6.59
Abyssinian Roller fairly frequent singles during the rains
Pied Kingfisher  (0) 18.2.59, one over  (regular along field canals)
Carmine Bee-eater  (0) small groups frequently over during rainy season
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  (0) 30.8.60, small flock; daily Sept/early Oct 1960; 1.11.60, 2; 13.3.61, 2 low over 
Hoopoe 12.2.59, 2 low over  (5.9.60, 2 of European race at GRS)
Blue-naped Mousebird resident and near daily visitor in a small group
European Swift  (0) autumn passage migrant in small groups
Palm Swift resident breeder in rains (nest found in another garden)
Yellow’ Wagtail ssp. frequent over  autumn/winter;18.2.59, Blue-headed male
Grey Wagtail 22-24.8.61, one on the lawn
White-vented Bulbul resident, daily presence; 2 nests with eggs 17.4.59 nearby
Spotted Flycatcher frequent  on extended autumn passage in ones and twos
Rock Thrush 13-18.2.59, female; 15.3.59, male ( several spring/autumn passage elsewhere at GRS)  
Black-eared Wheatear one in and around the garden each winter, roosted on the house at night; subsong heard
Common Redstart regular autumn migrant, a few winter/spring records
Black Bush Robin pair resident in and about the garden (others at GRS)
Rufous Bush Chat 19.4.59, one on the ground near the shrubbery
Thrush-Nightingale 1-2 skulkers on passage each autumn, Sept – early Nov.
Lesser Whitethroat common winter visitor, almost daily, Oct. - March
Common Whitethroat one in winter from 29.12.60 to 26.1.61
Garden Warbler 1.11.59, one
Olivaceous Warbler common winter visitor ( a few possibly resident at GRS)
Chiffchaff frequent in autumn and winter in small numbers
Grey-backed Camaroptera occasional (resident in GRS gardens)
Common Crombec occasional  (resident in GRS gardens)
Fan-tailed Warbler 26.4.59, a pair (noted occasionally in GRS fields)
Ethiopian Swallow  (0) regular during the rains; ~50 over on 30.4.59
European Swallow  (0) frequent during autumn passage in small parties
House Martin  (0) 14.9.60, one over low
Common Drongo resident nearby and daily on wires  (other pairs at GRS)
Nubian (Masked) Shrike one wintered in and around the garden each winter
Red-backed Shrike 23.9.59, a male close to my window; 7.9.60, two males; 19.10.60, a female
Black & Red Shrike often heard duetting in cover (1-2 pairs resident at GRS)
Golden Oriole 9.10.60, two green birds in the garden (from a party of up to 7 females/immatures in nearby  fig trees during 7-9th
Pied Crow (0) often overhead in ones and twos (resident at GRS)
Beautiful Sunbird resident, nest found with two eggs on 5.9.61
Green-tailed Starling a few passing by during the rains (when often at GRS)
House Sparrow frequent (common resident at GRS)                     
Little Weaver 24.4.59, a pair – male started nest building on 26th
Purple Indigo-Bird frequent visitor (resident at GRS)
Cordon-Bleu frequent visitor (resident at GRS)
Cut-throat Weaver frequent visitor (resident at GRS)
Rosy Fire-Finch frequent visitor (resident at GRS)
Cretzschmar’s Bunting 6.2.59, a pair on the lawn

Total = 89

Additional species seen elsewhere at GRS  -  in or around other gardens, flying over, or on adjacent irrigated  experimental cotton fields.

White Pelican  (0) one record 
Black-headed Heron  (0) frequent in the rains, May-October, foraging in fields
Squacco Heron occasional records in nearby irrigation ditches
Great White Egret 25.7.60, one beside an irrigation canal
Wood Ibis  (0) one or two sightings
Open-bill Stork 29.8.58, several; others in gardens in spring 1959
Little Bittern 10.10.58, one flushed from ditch and again on 15.10.58; 30.9.60, one of Palaearctic  race brought to me with broken wing, died after 2 days.                           
European Bittern 23.12.61, live bird brought in with poisoning symptoms
Teal/Garganey  (0) several small flocks passing in autumn
Red-necked Buzzard 12.8.59, one in a garden during the rainy season
Buzzard sp.  (0) 9.9.60, one Buteo flying high to south-east
Booted Eagle  (0) 7.1.59, one low over the gardens
Crested Eagle 3.9.58, one in a tree during the rains
European Quail 12.9.60, a live bird brought to me was released in a garden
Harlequin Quail 13.8.59, a female found dead under telephone wires
Crane sp.  (0) 3.10.58, several; 6.3.61, skein heading north; other indeterminate sightings, some probably of European species
Ringed Plover occasional records in the fields
Blackhead Plover  (0) occasional records from the irrigated fields
Black-winged Stilt  (0) occasional records over the fields
Common Snipe  (0) several single snipe over in autumn, presumably this species
Ruff  (0) 12.8.59, 12 on flood water after heavy rain 
Common Sandpiper a few records of singles from irrigation ditches
European Cuckoo 11.8.59, adult; 20.10.60, dead immature of Palaearctic race
Pied Cuckoo 26.6.59, an adult; 4.9.59, an immature – both in gardens
Senegal Kingfisher one or two resident in rainy seasons 
Little Bee-eater several rainy season records
Grey Hornbill 12.8.59, a pair in the gardens                       
White-faced Scops Owl 3.3.59, one; resident, occasionally seen after dark by torch
White-bellied Barbet 3.5.59, one in big trees
Grey-cheeked Woodpecker 29.8.58, one in rest-house garden
Chestnut Finch-Lark 3.10.58, noted in the cultivated area
White Wagtail  winter visitor, October to March
White-headed Babbler resident in gardens
Paradise Flycatcher rainy season resident; pair 16.5.59; a winter record 11.2.59
Semi-collared Flycatcher 4.9.60, a female/immature
Sand Martin  (0) autumn passage migrant in small flocks
Common Wheatear a few in  autumn and winter
Blue Rock Thrush 21.10.58 & 1.12.58, a male on office buildings
Grey Sparrow resident in small numbers
Red-billed Quelea small flocks in the dry season; often trapped for food
Red Bishop fairly frequent records
Silver-bill fairly frequent records
Pin-tailed Whydah fairly frequent records
White-rumped Seed-eater 8.6.59, noted

Total =  44       

GRS Total  = 133

Peter J. Dare

Sudan, Sahel zone, Blue Nile, Gezira cultivations - By Peter Dare

Sudan, Sahel zone, Blue Nile, Gezira cultivations, 14º 30’N Annual rainfall  200-400 mm

Irrigation canal and Acacia nilotica trees, Wad Medani

Fields and canal – a typical Gezira landscape

A vast area (860,000 ha, 8,600 km²) of the arid clay plain on the Gezira, between the Blue and White Niles, has been converted since 1925 into cereal and cotton production using gravity-flow irrigation canals from a dam on the Blue Nile at Sennar.  The virtually tree-less Gezira landscape supports large populations of Palaearctic migrants on passage and in winter. Several thousand Demoiselle Crane, with a few European Crane, forage harvested grain fields as do thousands of Ruff. Irrigated fields and rain floods attract large Pratincole flocks and many waders – especially Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers, and Little Ringed Plover. European Swallow and Swift, and flocks of Yellow Wagtail variants are regular in autumn. Pallid and Marsh Harriers were widespread. Less frequent species include: Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, White Stork (autumn), Glossy Ibis (autumn & spring), Garganey (autumn), Short-toed Eagle (autumn & winter), Common Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel (autumn), White-winged Black Tern (both passages), Ringed Plover and Black-winged Stilt, Little & Temminck’s Stints (autumn & spring), Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (autumn), Sand Martin, Northern Wheatear, and White Wagtail.  Rarer species: Bittern, Little Bittern, Mallard, Griffon Vulture (north end), Steppe Eagle (spring, N end), Booted Eagle (winter), Montagu’s Harrier (spring), Peregrine (autumn), Osprey (spring), Hobby, Saker Falcon (winter, N end), Honey-Buzzard (spring), European Quail, Caspian Plover, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit (autumn), Greenshank (autumn), Marsh Sandpiper (autumn), Gull-billed Tern and House Martin (autumn).

African inter-tropical migrants:  Numerous Cattle Egret, Sacred Ibis, Abdim’s Stork, and some Black-headed Heron, fed in the fields when breeding in scattered colonies in village trees during the summer rains. Carmine Bee-eaters from colonies along the Blue Nile river banks foraged daily over the fields. All these returned south in late autumn.

Amid the extensive Gezira cultivations, the large area of garden shrubberies, mature trees and lawns at the Wad Medani research station provided a veritable ‘oasis’ of cover and feeding habitats for many Palaearctic passerines as well as resident African species and inter-tropical migrants extending north during the rains. Palaearctic species wintering here were:  Turtle Dove, White Wagtail, Masked Shrike, Black-eared Wheatear, Common Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, Olivaceous Warbler, and Chiffchaff. Regularly passing through in small numbers in autumn were Spotted Flycatcher and Thrush-Nightingale.  Less regular were: Hoopoe, Rock Thrush, Willow Warbler and Red-backed Shrike. There were single records of: Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Cuckoo, Grey Wagtail, Rufous Bush Chat, Blue Rock Thrush, Collared/Semi-collared Flycatcher, Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Golden Oriole and Cretzschmar’s Bunting. Pallid Harrier occasionally hunted through the more open gardens.

Most of these species visited my garden (illustrated) as did some waders when the lawn was flooded: Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper (7 together in August). Many of the other Palaearctic species (listed earlier) passed over on passage or when feeding in the fields.

Resident African species at the research station, and noted elsewhere in Gezira, comprised:  Black Kite (abundant), Shikra (small Accipiter), White-browed Coucal, Pied Kingfisher, Blue-naped Mousebird, Palm Swift, White-faced Scops Owl, Grey-cheeked Woodpecker, Black-billed Wood Dove, Long-tailed Dove, Chestnut Finch-lark, White-headed Babbler, White-vented Bulbul, Black Bush Robin, three warblers, Common Drongo, Black & Red Shrike, Pied Crow, Beautiful Sunbird, House Sparrow, Grey Sparrow, Red-billed Quelea,  and 6 other weavers. Tawny Eagles and non-breeding vultures were ever-present in the sky, scanning for dead livestock - mainly Hooded, Rűppell’s Griffon and Lappet-faced with an occasional Egyptian, White-backed and White-headed Vulture. Exceptionally, a Secretary Bird was seen in the southern Gezira.

The residents were augmented during the rains by migrants from the south, some to breed but others being casual visitors. In addition to those already mentioned, these migrants to the Gezira comprised: Grey Pelican, Reed Cormorant, Darter, Green-backed Heron, Night Heron, Great White and Yellow-billed Egrets, Wood Ibis, Marabou, Woolly-necked Stork, Open-bill Stork, Gabar Goshawk, Chanting Goshawk, Red-necked Buzzard, Bateleur Eagle. Long-Crested Eagle, Harrier-Hawk, Harlequin Quail, Senegal Stone-Curlew, Blackhead, Wattled & Kittlitz’s Plovers, Pied Cuckoo, Senegal Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Grey Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Tinker-Bird, White-bellied Barbet, Ethiopian Swallow, Paradise Flycatcher, Abyssinian Roller, Zitting Cisticola, Green-tailed Starling, Cape Rook, Little Weaver and White-rumped Seed-eater. Most of the African species also visited or passed over the above garden.

P.J.Dare  2010

Sudan, Sahel zone – E. Sudan, Kassala & Gash Delta region 14º 30’N - By Peter Dare

Sudan, Sahel zone – E. Sudan, Kassala & Gash Delta region  14º 30’N 
Annual rainfall  400 mm

Kassala mountain, from the west, September (1958)     

White Storks resting near Eritrean border, September (1958)

Some 60 miles east of the Atbara river and below dome-like jebels (granitic inselbergs), are Kassala and c.2,800 km² of the Gash river delta cultivations watered by the ephemeral flood from the nearby Eritrean mountains during July-September. Beyond, to eastward, are the barren-looking Red Sea Hills.

This is the first significant stop-over area in autumn for Palaearctic migrants that have crossed the desert terrain of NE Sudan. Brief visits (September) found several thousand Yellow Wagtail (several forms) feeding in the delta; also European Swift, Sand Martin and European Swallow and Hoopoe; a Hobby (with desert locust swarm), and occasional Short-toed Eagle, Little Egret and European Roller.  Across the verdant plains were Montagu’s Harrier, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, White Stork flocks, numerous Isabelline and Northern Wheatears; with Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes in bushy places, also Hoopoe. Small rain pools attracted occasional Glossy Ibis, Grey and Purple Herons, Garganey and White-winged Black Tern as well as a few waders: Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Greenshank, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff. Gardens with shrubberies and trees in Kassala held Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden and Olivaceous Warblers, Black-eared Wheatear, Thrush-Nightingale and Common Redstart (eastern race samamisicus). Wintering birds seen were Pallid and Marsh Harriers, Common Kestrel, Masked Shrike and Short-toed Lark.

African species noted around this district included: Black-headed Heron, Little and Cattle Egrets, Abdim’s and Marabou Storks, White-headed, Rűppell’s Griffon, Hooded and Egyptian Vultures, Black-breasted Harrier-Eagle, Chanting Goshawk, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Blackhead Plover, Little Swift, Pale Crag Martin sp., Laughing Dove, Red-billed Hornbill, White-throated and Little Bee-eaters, Speckled and Blue-naped Mousebirds, Long-tailed Dove, White-bellied Barbet, Crested Lark, Ethiopian Swallow, Pygmy Sunbird, White-vented Bulbul, Black Bush Robin, Rűppell’s Long-tailed and Violet Starlings, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Red-fronted Apalis, Pied Crow, Yellow-backed Weaver, Pin-tailed Whydah , Red-billed Quelea, Red Bishop, Crimson-rumped Waxbill and Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu. On the Gash River near the border were a few White Pelican and Hammerhead storks.                                                                             
P.J.Dare 2010