Friday 31 May 2013

Ringing on Tuti

For a while now I have been wanting to start a project to study Cinnamon Weavers. A few months ago I received some rings (bands) and I hope to start in earnest when the Cinnamon weavers are back in breeding plumage at my one known nest site at Wad Medani (they were not in breeding plumage when I visited with Terry on May 11th). Part of my study involves determining how to identify females and males when they are in non-breeding plumage, so for this reason I need to compare them with close relatives. Last weekend I went out to Tuti to try and net some birds at one of the Northern Masked Weaver colonies. I had some success in catching 7 birds (4 males and 3 females), plus a few other species, including Little Bee-eater, Plain Martin, Common Bulbul and House Sparrow.

 Little Bee-eater, Tuti Island 25th May 2013

Little Bee-eater, Tuti Island 25th May 2013

Plain Martin, Tuti Island 25th May 2013

Common Bulbul, Tuti Island 25th May 2013

House Sparrow, Tuti Island 25th May 2013

I was able to get plenty of measurements of the weavers; concentrating on things like bill structure, as I have the impression that Cinnamon Weavers may have slightly larger bills than Northern Masked Weavers. Female Northern Masked Weavers are supposed to have a dark eye, but I have seen several individuals with pale eyes, including one of the birds caught at Tuti (see below). However, I have the impression that Cinnamon Weavers may have pale eyes more frequently, though this will need further investigation. I also wish to determine whether age affects eye colour as in many other species.

Male Northern Masked Weaver showing its leg ring that can be read in the field,
 Tuti Island 25th May 2013

 Male Northern Masked Weaver, Tuti Island 25th May 2013

 Female Northern Masked Weaver with a pale eye, Tuti Island 25th May 2013

Female northern Masked Weaver with a dark eye, Tuti Island 25th May 2013

I have also been recording various feather and wing measurements, such as the wing formulae, which compares the lengths of each primary feather with the longest feathers. One good criterion for identification of birds in the hand is the structure of the primary feathers, such as which are emarginated (have a narrowing on the outer web) and which are notched (have a narrowing on the inner web). Unfortunately, this does not appear to be a useful feature for separating Northern Masked and Cinnamon Weavers, as all of the Northern Masked Weavers were emarginated on the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th primaries (using the British numbering system that counts the short outermost primary as number 1) and I have a photo of a Cinnamon Weaver stretching its wing that shows exactly the same pattern of emargination.

Northern Masked Weaver wing, Tuti Island 25th May 2013

 Cinnamon Weaver wing, Wad Medani October 2012

The Red Sea Resort

This is a slightly late report of a trip I made with my family to the Red Sea Resort, just north of Port Sudan, between 3rd and 5th of May. Unfortunately, I do not have internet access at home, so it is proving very difficult to keep up to date with this blog. I did not have my own transport available (we flew up from Khartoum and were picked up from the airport by the resort), so all my birding was in and around the resort itself. There were good birds present in the lagoon beside the chalets, including several Crab Plovers, which seemed to be paired up in scattered locations, suggesting local breeding. There were lots of Kentish Plovers and several small young were seen running on the mud. There were far fewer waders present than during my previous visit at the end of October, but there were still plenty of Terek Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and a few Spotted Redshanks.

Crab Plover, Red Sea Resort 3rd May 2013

 There were some Saunder's Terns around and one bird was seen passing a fish to another, again suggesting breeding.There were also a few Lesser Crested Terns, a Gull-billed Tern and a couple of Caspian Terns. I also saw a couple of Sooty Gulls. other water birds included a Striated Heron, some western Reef herons, and a couple of Greater Flamingos.

Saunder's Terns, Red Sea Resort 3rd May 2013

There were plenty of other birds to look at around the resort itself, including House Crows, Brown-necked ravens, big flocks of African Silverbills, Namaqua Doves, European Bee-eaters, Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks, several Ospreys, and a fly-over Marsh Harrier.

Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Red Sea Resort 3rd May 2013

Osprey, Red Sea Resort 3rd May 2013

Namaqua Dove, Red Sea Resort 3rd May 2013

Some of the best birding was in the acacia scrub a short walk back up towards the main coastal highway. last time I saw a couple of Rosy-patched Bush-Shrikes, but this time they were very vocal and singing from the tops of the bushes, making them much easier to see.

Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike, Red Sea Resort 3rd May 2013

I know that Eurasian Collared Doves have been expanding their range into north Africa, but they have yet to be reported in Sudan. I kept a close look-out, as this would be the most likely place for them to arrive. All the birds I saw were clearly African Collared doves, as told by the white belly and vent.

African Collared Dove, Red Sea Resort 3rd May 2013
I have seen Ruppell's Weavers breeding up in the Red Sea Hills at Arkowit, but never in the coastal lowlands, so it was nice to find this colony. The ones in Arkowit had many nests in a single tree, whereas the ones here were more widely spaced, with two or three in each clump of trees.

Ruppell's  Weaver at nest, Red Sea Resort 3rd May 2013

Quite a few groups of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrous were seen flying over and on two occasions I flushed a bird up from the ground in front of me. On one of these occasions I was able to find the nest and take photographs, and I assume the other one was also nesting.

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse nest, Red Sea Resort 3rd May 2013

A few migrants were still moving trough, such as Sand Martins, Barn Swallows, Red-rumped Swallows, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. There was also a willow warbler and a Golden Oriole. It was not clear whether the Masked Shrikes and Southern Grey Shrike were local birds or migrants. A Greater Hoopoe-Lark was another nice bird in this area.