Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Nightjars by day only

On Sunday 29 July Bosco, Richard Trewby, Andrew Harberd and myself went out along the Terekeka road, seeing a good cross-section of the local birds, such as Eastern Grey Plain-eater, Red-billed Hornbill, Red-fronted Barbet, Klaas's Cuckoo and the first Village Indigobirds I've encountered this rainy season.  Oddly, all the related parasitic species we found were in the same area and included Pin-tailed Whydahs and Eastern Paradise-Whydahs as well as Village Indigobird.  We saw the male Pin-tailed Whydah doing its remarkable dancing flight in front of the female.

Red-billed Hornbill
Displaying Pin-tailed Whydah

[Blogging ethics compels me to say the the photo immediately above was taken last rainy season.]

There were also two specials.  The best was a male Pennant-winged Nightjar flushed about three times (but evading my attempts to photograph it).  What an extraordinary bird, with its long extensions to the 2nd primary feathers.  The other was a singing Lesser Swamp Warbler, my first definite record.

The following evening Bosco and I looked for nightjars at dusk along the Nimule road.  It soon started to rain heavily and we gave up, but not before seeing an elegant African wild cat crossing the road in front of us. Again no photo, but so good to find another African mammal species (and the next day I found a roost of bats in trees in the office compound - will try to take some photos).

Saturday, 28 July 2012

A new species for South Sudan

In the damp overcast morning I went across the Nile and down the old Nimule road as far as Rejaf, perhaps 8 kms.  The dense grasses in the open acacia woodland and cultivation were once again full of seed-eating birds.  Amongst a flock of Black-winged and Northern Red Bishops, I noticed a flash of white on a long-tailed, largely black, bird.  This turned out to be a White-winged Widowbird Euplectes albonotatus of the subspecies eques, which Nikolaus (Birds of South Sudan) speculated could occur along the Uganda border, and a first record for South Sudan.

White-winged Widowbird, male in breeding plumage

A non-avian highlight was this mongoose, perhaps an egyptian mongoose.  It was not shy, at least of cars.

Egyptian(?) Mongoose

As last time I came along this route, there were Silverbirds with fledged young. I again found the remarkably non-descript Siffling Cisticola, though it actually rather easy to identify at the moment as it gives its distinctive song of descending notes from the tops of trees.

Siffling Cisticola

I'm at last sorting out the glossy starlings.  Individual species can look so different depending on the light conditions.  Today most were Lesser Blue-eared Starlings: smaller that Bronze-tailed, with shorter tails that never show any bronze hues, often rather dull yellow eyes, and a rather turquoise-blue head.

Lesser Blue-eared Starling

I managed to get very close to a White-browed Sparrow-Weaver and an African Moustached Warbler.

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver

African Moustached Warbler

On the return journey a sub-adult Gabar Goshawk perched in a neem tree over the road and glared down at me.

Gabar Goshawk

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Crake hunting

Today I went back to the site just north of Juba where I'd flushed an African Crake a few weeks ago.  This time I struck lucky, flushing three birds.  This does suggest they are breeding.  The habitat looks fine. The only photos of the birds are blurrs, so not reproduced here.

African Crake habitat north of Juba

Other highlights included lots of Fan-tailed Widowbirds coming into breeding plumage.  This species inhabits marshy grassland.  Northern Red Bishops are still roving in large feeding flocks though some males are holding territory.

Fan-tailed Widowbirds

Eastern Paradise-Whydahs have arrived in numbers, with several flocks seen. The males are in advanced moult or in full breeding plumage. 

Eastern Paradise-Whydah

Whilst looking at them, I found several Chestnut Sparrows and, very surprisingly, what appear to be two female Straw-tailed Whydahs, a species which is described by Nikolaus (Birds of South Sudan) as occuring in semi-arid acacia savanna east of Torit. [EDIT: correction - these are actually Red-billed Queleas, which I've seen here before].

Chestnut Sparrow

Red-billed Queleas

Other birds included a confiding singing male Croaking Cisticola, some Helmeted Guineafowl, an African Spoonbill perched atop a large tree (its favoured marsh was full of people fishing), a Hamerkop feeding on small fish, and a Greater Painted-snipe.

Croaking Cisticola

Helmeted Guineafowl

African Spoonbill


Male Greater Painted-snipe (unusually for birds, the male has a much duller plumage than the female)

There was also a beautiful Dark Chanting-Goshawk with the trademark reddish cere, but also another Chanting-Goshawk with a yellowish cere.  It was tempting to call this an Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, which would be a new species for South Sudan I believe, but it is more likely a sub-adult Dark C-G.

Adult Dark Chanting-Goshawk

Sub-adult Dark Chanting-Goshawk?

Lastly, some coucals.  I saw another problem bird, though it should be easy.  The coucal below looked quite small, so should be Senegal Coucal, but I'm reluctant to rule out Blue-headed Coucal, which Nikolaus considers to be commoner in this area.

Senegal or Blue-headed Coucal

By contrast, Black Coucals, which I'm now seeing in most marshland, are easy to identify.

Black Coucal

Islands in the stream

Yesterday Laura, Martin, Liz (a colleague visiting from Dar es Salaam) and myself went across the narrow channel to Gondokoro island, which is now verdant, with lots of cultivation.  The morning was memorable for some enjoyable encounters with the people who live on the island, from the Bari community.  There was one particularly sprightly grandmother who was hoeing her fields with considerable energy and was great fun to talk to (her grand-daughter translated).

Helping prepare for the sorghum planting

I did not take many decent bird photographs, though these are the first I've managed of Bruce's Green Pigeons in flight.

Bruce's Green Pigeons

Laura found this amazing beetle, which she advises is of the family Cerambicidae, the common name being longhorn beetle.

There was a small island in the main river with a small tented camp.  Looks like a good place to stay but I don't know who runs it.

Tented camp on island in White Nile

We had a bit of a wait on the return crossing as lots of women were taking greens and limes to market.  Note how low the canoe is in the water in the photo below.

Ferry crossing, Gondokoro

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Marshland evening

A short evening trip out to the marshes along the Terekeka road outside Juba produced another surprise: good numbers of Yellow-crowned Bishops had arrived, the males in well-advanced moult into breeding dress.  The birds were feeding in seed-rich tall grasses that cover a huge expanse of marshland.

Yellow-crowned Bishop

Male and female Yellow-crowned Bishops

The open areas of water are now rapidly drying out though some egrets, ducks, geese, jacanas, stilts and Pied Kingfishers remain, as well as one Goliath Heron.  In addition, in the distance were two Saddle-billed Storks.

Saddle-billed Storks

Mysteries remain: there was a bird singing in the grasses that I could not see or identify, and I'm not even sure where to start looking in on-line sound recordings.  Maybe next time I'll see it.

A pleasant evening, though I questioned by both CID and someone from the Wildlife Service (both in plain clothes) about what I was doing.  The Wildlife person said I needed a permit to photograph birds, though this presumably could only apply in protected areas.  I will check however.  As always, having a Press permit is essential for anyone wanting to take photos in South Sudan.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Across the river and into the trees

Not sure how many other Ernest Hemingway books could be used for titles of blog posts on South Sudan birds.....the 'Green Hills of Africa' if I ever get into the Imatongs maybe.

Anyway, leaving that random thought aside, today Lesley, Laura, Martin and me went with my driver and skilled bird finder Bosco across the Juba bridge and down to the White Nile opposite Oasis and Afex camps. We made slow progress along the last stretch of road to the river as there were many different birds. Almost the first one was a new species for me in South Sudan: a Black Coucal. I proclaimed that this was a really rare species here (it is so described in the literature) and we promptly saw about six more. They were occupying lush expanses of grasses and scrub among scattered cultivation of maize and other species.

Black Coucal

We then had the good fortune to find Malachite and African Pygmy Kingfishers perched close to each other and then side by side creating a perfect opportunity to see the differences between them.

Malachite and African Pygmy Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

Later we had close views of Grey-headed Kingfishers.

Grey-headed Kingfisher

There were several Pin-tailed Whydahs, the breeding plumage males with their implausibly long tails.  The male does a wonderful fluttering display in front of the female, though we did not see this today.

Pin-tailed Whydah male in breeding plumage

At last we reached the river and walked under the mango trees, hearing many more birds than we saw, but finding several African Thrushes.  On rocks in the river there was a pair of Senegal Thicknees.  I started to explain that when the water was lower, there would be Rock Pratincoles, when we noticed a pair of these birds on a rock that barely protruded above the fasting moving Nile water.

Rock Pratincoles

It was a good day for seeing that odd member of the crow family, the Piapiac.  We found several flocks and some were remarkably confiding.  I make no excuse for the plastic water bottle in the background of the second picture as these are sadly scattered all over Juba.


The next surprise was a flock of Superb Starlings.  This species is unusual as far west as Juba and I have previously only seen it in the dry season.

Superb Starling

Together with the Superb Starlings there were some glossy starlings, a group that I still struggle to identify.  The reddish eye is supposed to be diagnostic of Bronze-tailed Starling, but I am being very cautious with this confusing genus.  The bird below is in advanced moult from juvenile to adult plumage. [Since the original post, I have concluded that the birds were Bronze-tailed Starlings: the reddish eye, slender bill, shortish tail and uppertail pattern all point to this species].

Bronze-tailed Starling

As we walked and drove towards Rejaf we found one of Juba's most beautiful birds, a Red-throated Bee-eater.

Red-throated Bee-eater

Then we saw (they were too far away to photograph), a Serengeti-like scene of White-headed and Hooded Vultures descending on some carrion. Soon after, there were Rufous-chested and Red-rumped Swallows, only my second record of the latter species.  And finally we had views of a fledged Silverbird being fed by an adult.  This is a flighty species, always hard to get good photos of, and I did not do very well today.  But an attractive bird. It's a type of flycatcher.

Juvenile Silverbird

Adult Silverbird

A supporting cast included displaying and nest-building male Northern Masked Weavers; lots of Village Weavers; Grey-capped Social Weavers; White-browed Sparrow-Weavers; Red-billed Firefinches; Bronze Mannikins; Black-headed Gonoleks; the usual cast of cisticolas (lots of Rattling and Winding); Dark Chanting Goshawks; Long-crested Eagles; Bateleur; Black, Black-winged and Northern Red Bishops; Red-headed Queleas, Open-billed Storks (roosting on trees in central Juba); Mourning Doves..and much, much more.  

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Independence Day

Yesterday was South Sudan's first anniversary of independence and I watched the ceremonies here in Juba. 

Birds were the last thing on my mind but I brought the camera to take some photographs of the events.  A pair of House Sparrows were nesting in the girders of the grandstand roof.  I saw one bird of this species in Juba last year, probably making yesterday's sighting the second record for South Sudan south of Malakal in Upper Nile State.  A quick Google search suggests that the species has colonised Uganda.  My best guess is that the birds were trapped in containers and transported here from Kenya or Uganda.

House Sparrows

A quick visit to a channel of the Nile by the Star hotel this evening revealed an African Harrier-hawk, which is uncommon around Juba, as well as my first definite Greater Blue-eared Starlings - they were giving their characteristic nasal call (no pics).

African Harrier-hawk