Saturday, 31 March 2012

Northern Bahr el Ghazal

A work field trip to Aweil and Nyamlel (about 80 kms to the NW of Aweil) gave a few brief opportunities to watch birds.  In Aweil, a second look at some glossy starlings with long tails revealed that they were indeed Long-tailed Glossy Starlings.  I saw them at dusk, so only an i.d. photo.

Long-tailed Glossy Starling

An arid floodplain near Nyamlel held a flock of African Quail-Finches and my first Black Crowned Cranes flew past in the distance (no photo).  Six doves that flew by looked very much like European Turtle Doves but again I was not able to photograph them. 

African Quail-Finch

I stayed in a pleasant compound in Nyamlel, where resident species included numerous Speckled Pigeons and Blue-naped Mousebirds.

Speckled Pigeon

Blue-naped Mousebird

Back in Aweil town, a large grove of mango trees held a roost of at least 265 Black-crowned Night-Herons and 150 plus Rose-ringed Parakeets.  In both cases these are by far the largest counts I have made of these species in South Sudan.  The mango trees also held innumerable bats.

Back in Juba, leaving the window open at night to listen for owls (I have an excellent mosquito net by the way) paid dividends when a Spotted Eagle-Owl started calling in the pre-dawn.

Monday, 26 March 2012

African Cuckoo-Hawk

Richard Trewby and I spent a relaxing few hours after dawn on Sunday walking and bird-watching on Gondokoro island, reached by canoe ferry from Juba old town by crossing a narrow channel.  It's a very large island in the White Nile and many people from the local Bari community live there.  A lot more indigenous trees remain than in Juba itself.  We saw a good range of species, including several that are not easy to track down elsewhere in the immediate area of Juba.  These included Northern Brownbul, White-browed Robin-Chat, African Paradise-flycatcher and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Beautiful Sunbirds were everywhere, a few in breeding plumage, whilst Palaearctic migrants included two male Eurasian Golden Orioles, a Willow Warbler, a Spotted Flycatcher and several Eastern Olivaceous Warblers.  However, bird of the day was an adult African Cuckoo-Hawk, possibly only the second for South Sudan after the bird I saw on the rafting trip (see my first blog).  Reference to "Birds of the Horn of Africa" suggests that the bird is of the nominate subspecies.  Here's a photo - poor but shows the main features.

Adult African Cuckoo-Hawk

I had a sundowner by the White Nile in the evening, seeing little evidence of migration apart from Barn Swallows and Sand Martins, though an Osprey did move through diving unsuccessfully for fish.  As dusk fell a Spotted Eagle-Owl called, and using flash I photographed an immature Black Kite, a rare find so far among the hordes of Yellow-billed Kites......though perhaps for the very good reason that I don't spend much time around rubbish dumps.

Immature Black Kite

Saturday, 17 March 2012


Hot on the heels of yesterday's blog...a quick trip 20 kms up the Terekeka road north of Juba revealed some surprises.  In the early dawn, a borrow pit with remnant pools of water held 300 Knob-billed Ducks, 15 Yellow-billed Storks, 4 Pink-backed Pelicans, 6-8 African Spoonbills, at least one Eurasian Spoonbill (only two previous records cited in Nikolaus's "Birds of South Sudan"), as well as Little Egrets, Grey Herons, Hammerkops, Black-winged Stilts, Wood and Common Sandpipers, and 2 Greenshanks.

Knob-billed Ducks, African Spoonbills, Eurasian Spoonbill (second from right) and Pink-backed Pelican

Immature African Spoonbill

Adult Eurasian Spoonbill

Further on I stopped to look at a raptor that seemed slightly different from anything I'd seen before and was pretty amazed to discover that it was a Western Banded Snake-Eagle, a species that I would not have expected out in the harsh, dry acacia savanna - it's more of a riverine forest and woodland species.  It was not at all confiding but I managed to get some i.d. shots.

Western Banded Snake-Eagle

Moving on a bit, I was able to get much better views of two Beaudouin's Snake-Eagles.

Beaudouin's Snake-Eagles

There was a good mix of other raptor species.  A vulture that I photographed thinking it was a Hooded turned out to be an immature White-headed Vulture.  A Steppe Buzzard allowed close views as well, as did an immature Dark Chanting Goshawk.

Immature White-headed Vulture
Steppe Buzzard
Immature Dark Chanting Goshawk

There were rather few Palaearctic migrants.  A few Sand Martins and Barn Swallows hawked over pools, a Eurasian Marsh Harrier flew over, half a dozen Woodchat Shrikes were present, and a single Willow Warbler was good to see - the species seems very scarce in the Juba area. Among the resident species, a Batis called a series of identical notes, lending further evidence that the species in this area is Black-headed Batis, even though the birds have grey heads (and are therefore probably indistingushable in appearance from Grey-headed Batis, which seems to be present east of the Nile). Batises calling by the Nile during my rafting trip were either Grey-headed, or (much less likely) Chin-spot Batis. Something else to work out.

Finally, I was able to photograph the male of a pair of Four-banded Sandgrouse, a species I've only noted once before in the area.

Male Four-banded Sandgrouse

By the way, to see my posts from South Sudan prior to July 2011 go to Tom Jenner's blog

Friday, 16 March 2012

Rafting the White Nile

Well, it's only taken seven months to start this post-independence blog after I had previously co-blogged with Tom Jenner.  Better late than never.  I really had to share a few photos from a rafting trip with African Rivers, downriver from Nimule 90 kms towards Juba.  The birding highlights were the Rock Pratincoles that seemed to be present on almost every suitable rock in the river.

Rock Pratincoles

Other highlights included several African Fish Eagles; Red-throated, Northern Carmine, European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters; Broad-billed Rollers; an amazing male Standard-winged Nightjar; Bat Hawk; White-crested Turacos and several Goliath Herons.

Immature African Fish Eagle

I was not able to take many decent photos of birds, partly because of the risk of giving the camera a soaking - one of us fell in! However I did get some photos of what may be the first African Cuckoo-Hawk for South Sudan - an immature; and some of a beautiful male Semi-collared Flycatcher.

Presumed immature African Cuckoo-Hawk
Semi-collared Flycatcher

Another good bird was a Spot-flanked Barbet, possibly the first record away from the Didinga Mountains, by reference to Nikolaus's "Birds of South Sudan". The previous rafting group apparently saw Pel's Fishing-Owl a couple of weeks ago - definitely one to look out for as the habitat seemed suitable.

Riverine trees

Palaearctic migrants included a few Steppe Buzzards, two male Eurasian Golden Orioles, a Eurasian Marsh Harrier as well as an adult Black-headed Gull (only a few previous records of this species in South Sudan). We saw a hippo and a few crocodiles, whilst the mammalian highlight was the several elephants seen near the park entrance.


And just to prove we were actually rafting (up to grade 4) rapids: