Friday 30 May 2014

The start of the wet season

Last week we had our first big downpour to herald the start of the wet season. I will head off soon on my summer break, and as always, I will return to find a widely different set of birds. When I arrive back in August there will no longer be any of the winter migrants, plus there will be a number of new arrivals. Last week Marwa and I saw our first Intermediate Egret, which is apparently mainly a wet season visitor. Today there were two birds present. Cattle Egrets started breeding a few weeks ago and there is one colony with perhaps a couple of hundred pairs. It seems that the Little Egrets and Squacco Herons are not going to leave and there are many now in breeding plumage, though we have yet to find any breeding colonies. Black-winged Stilts have never been reported breeding in Sudan, but there were lots around today and many appeared to be in pairs and flying around being very vocal as if involved in courtship.

Cattle Egret nesting, Bahri 30th May 2014

Black-winged Stilts, Bahri 30th May 2014

Storks always arrive over the wet season, with Abdim's being the most noticeable around Khartoum. We had our first of the year today. Openbills and Maribous are less common in the city, but will soon be found in big numbers a bit further south. Both species of glossy starling will soon be in Khartoum, plus other wet season arrivals such as Abyssinian Roller and African Pied Wagtail. Today we saw lots of Fulvous Whistling Ducks, which we have not seen at this site previously.

Abdim's Stork, Bahri 30th May 2014

Today I was a little surprised with the number of winter migrants still present, and I wonder if they will all leave. There were 5 Garganys, a Greater Flamingo, and several hundred terns, including Gull-billed, White-winged and Whiskered.

Vitelline Masked Weaver, Bahri 30th May 2014

As always, most of the morning was spent netting weavers. One nice capture was our first Vitelline Masked Weaver. I had wondered how easy it would be to notice among the Northern Masked Weavers, but it was pretty obvious with its brighter yellow underparts, reddish eye, all pale bill and plain coloured face (more reminiscent of female Cinnamon Weaver). In the hand it had a short bill (shorter than any of the Northern Masked I have captured). Another characteristic appears to be the wing structure, with the 2nd primary falling in length between the 5th and 6th primaries, whereas Northern Masked almost always falls between the 7th and 8th. It was a female in breeding condition with a brood patch, though I have not seen any signs of a colony around the site. Today we accessed a new area of the sewage works and found a large colony of Village Weavers. We have seen a small colony previously, but they seem to avoid nesting in the reeds and this colony was in a row of larger trees at the edge of the site. Northern Masked Weavers were nesting in the reeds below them.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Recent trips to Bahri

I haven't yet written up my last two trips to Bahri, on May 9th and 23rd, so I thought I would mention some of the sightings. Most of the effort was based around netting weavers, but we also caught a few other good birds. On the 9th we caught a couple of Red-billed Queleas, which is a species I rarely see this far north. They are a nightmare for farmers further south, where vast flocks of over a million individuals can destroy an entire crop, but they are still quite attractive birds.

Red-billed Quelea, Bahri Sewage Pools 9th May 2014

Another species I was pleased to finally catch was Ethiopian Swallow. We often see them flying around the reed beds, but they had yet to enter the net. This bird was caught on the 23rd.

Ethiopian Swallow, Bahri Sewage Pools 23rd May 2014

We saw a few other good birds around the sewage pools, mainly on the 23rd. Best was probably an Intermediate (or Yellow-billed) Egret, which I have only seen once before in Sudan. Nikolaus says that they move north during the rains, which probably explains my lack of sightings, as I am mostly out of the country during the peak of the rainy season. We also saw our first Green-backed Heron at the sight, which is surprising given how common they are on the river. Another good bird to see was a Painted Snipe, which was also our first at Bahri.

Intermediate Egret, Bahri Sewage Pools 23rd May 2014

The migration is still far from over. There were still lots of White-winged and Whiskered Terns around, plus a few waders. I was a little more surprised to see a White Wagtail, as I think of these as quite early migrants.

Friday 2 May 2014

Searching for wetlands in Omdurman

For the last few months Marwa and I have been having amazing success birding at wetland sewage sites in Khartoum and Bahri, but we had still not been anywhere in Omdurman. I searched the internet for any information about sewage sites in Omdurman, but nothing came up. I then resorted to searching Google Earth for potential sites. It was soon pretty clear that there was no major sewage works in the city, but a number of smaller wetland sites looked worthwhile. The map below shows the main locations I hoped to visit. Marwa and I met up with Shazali, a Biologist from Omdurman who is currently working in Juba South Sudan, but was luckily in town today. He took us to the first location (marked A). Shazali told us that it is quite a large pool during the wet season, but that it mostly dries up throughout the year. Today it was down to a couple of small ponds and was clearly very polluted as it lies right in the middle of a built up area and is used to dump rubbish. The only birds around were House Sparrows. This information let us know that the Google Earth satellite photos were taken in the wet season and that many of the areas shown would probably only be seasonal wetlands.

Potential wetland birding sites for checking in and around Omdurman

We then headed up towards the north of the city. We by-passed the locations marked E and F, which appear on the satellite image to be smaller versions of A, and which Shazali assured us would be dry. The location marked B was much more interesting. There is a major underground water pipe that sprung a leak 4 years ago and which they have been unable to fix. This has resulted in the formation of a small stream that runs down the hill and forms several small pools, the biggest about 30 m across. There were some small patches of reeds (bulrushes rather than the type we find at the sewage sites) and a bit of open water. There were surprisingly few birds around considering the arid surroundings and water availability, but we did see a Little Grebe and a couple of Little Swifts, plus a few other commoner species. We headed further north to check out a group of small pools (location C) that from satellite images appeared to be very similar to the sewage pools I regularly visit near Soba Hospital. They were hard to find and when we asked around we soon found ourself at location D, which is the main water treatment facility in Khartoum State. There was no open water at the site, but it was interesting to find a dead Barn Own on the ground. Apparently they see them there regularly. Nikolaus describes them as uncommon, and I have not come across them before in Sudan. We headed back down to the pools at location C and found them to be water ponds for a cattle farm, with no surrounding vegetation and no real interest ornithologically.

Dead Barn Own, water treatment works Omdurman 2nd May 2014 

We then headed to the south of the city, to an area beside Omdurman Islamic University (OIU on the map). It was hard to find, but well worth the effort. It is clearly quite a large wetland in the wet season, but the southern end appears to be a small permanent wetland created from sewage - presumably from the university. The whole area is only about 1 or 2 hectares, but about half of it is thick reed beds and the rest an area of open water. We quickly saw a few Hottentot Teals and several Common Moorhens, including lots of juveniles. There were some Northern Masked Weavers in the reeds and a few shorebirds around the edge of the pools, including some Kittlitz's Plovers. There were lots of Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks, including some juveniles. Migrants included a European Bee-eater and a Common Hobby hunting over the pools.

Hottentot Teals, Omdurman Islamic University 2nd May 2014

Kittlitz's Plover, Omdurman Islamic University 2nd May 2014

Adult Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Omdurman Islamic University 2nd May 2014

Juvenile Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Omdurman Islamic University 2nd May 2014

We ran out of time at the end and were unable to visit another small group of pools lying south-west of Omdurman (location G). I hope to check these some time in the near future. I also hope to return to this new site at Omdurman Islamic University to see what is present in the early mornings.