Monday, 27 August 2012

Bat Hawk

A last chance to watch by the Nile at dusk: I spent a couple of hours at Afex camp this evening.  There was the usual cast of Striated and Purple Herons commuting along the river, Senegal Thick-knees, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, African Palm Swifts, White-faced Whistling-Ducks, Long-tailed Cormorants, Cattle Egrets and Common Sandpipers.  There was also an African Harrier-Hawk and a single Rock Pratincole. Oddly, there were no Bruce's Green Pigeons, normally guaranteed here. But the best bird was a Bat Hawk seen flying across the river.  There are few previous records for South Sudan, though the species may be widely distributed.  I saw one about 80 kms south of Juba by the Nile during a rafting trip in February this year.

Lastly, flocks of 6,5, and 3 White-winged Terns flew purposefully up river on their southbound migration.

New habitat, new bird

This is almost my last post as I leave Juba permanently on 1 September.  There are still a good number of species that should occur here but that I've not found.  One was Plain-backed Pipit, which  occurs in open shortish grassland.  So this morning I was back up the Terekeka road searching the only apparently suitable piece of habitat: a large area from which all the trees have been removed (probably with future construction in mind) and now covered mainly by grasses.  I not only found the pipit - a single bird - but also several Zitting Cisticolas, a species I'd previously seen just once, in January 2011.  Not having found the cisticola since, I was contemplating removing it from my list.  I was able to get a record shot of the cisticola, but not the pipit.

Zitting Cisticola
I tramped through a marsh hoping to flush a crake, but no luck.  I did find an odd-looking cisticola that turned out to be juvenile Winding.  Note how different it is from adult Winding photographed back in June.

Juvenile Winding Cisticola
Adult Winding Cisticola (June 2012)
There were flocks of Fan-tailed Widowbirds, with males not yet in breeding plumage; a beautiful Yellow-crowned Bishop; a Western Banded Snake-Eagle; two Black-bellied Bustards; and in a fig tree, two Eastern Grey Plaintain-eaters, attracting attention with their crazy laughter.

Scruffy-looking male Fan-tailed Widowbird
Male Yellow-crowned Bishop
Eastern Grey Plantain-eater
The main Terekeka road marsh just outside Juba still seems to have too much water to attract herons and waders, but when the water level falls the habitat should become superb (sadly, I'll not be here).

Terekeka road marshland

Sunday, 26 August 2012

And still they come!

New bird species that is.....

It may seem an odd choice of walk, but this morning Andrew and I walked along a road that leads to a sand quarry about 6 kms along the Terekeka road.  I'd looked on Google Maps, which showed that the road passes through a marsh just before the quarry.  Early on, there were lots of lorries, but once they had all reached the quarry the walk was more peaceful.

The marsh came up trumps with a displaying warbler that I originally took to be a Fan-tailed Warbler Schoenicola brevirostris. However, further research online shows that it is a Little Rush Warbler Bradypterus baboecala. It was too distant to photograph well.

Later, we found Common Waxbill, and then a flock of Zebra Waxbills flew overhead.  These were also new species for me in South Sudan, making three new birds in a day after I've lived here for nearly two years.  Amazing!

Common Waxbill (taken through long grasses with 500mm lens on manual focus)
Palearctic migrants are starting to appear, with an adult White-winged Tern moulting out of breeding plumage feeding over marshland, a Common Sandpiper and several swifts that were probably Eurasian Swifts.

The indigobird mystery did not unravel at all.  There were a number of Red-billed Firefinches, but the indigobirds did not have red legs and so were seemingly not Vidua chalybeata, which parasitises Red-billed Firefinch.  I did not see any of the host species that are parasitised by other indigobird species that might occur here.  The viduas I saw seem to have a blueish purple sheen, as shown in the second photo below (I've used colour saturation to exagerate the sheen).

 Female Red-billed Firefinch
Male indigobird (with female partly in view)
Same indigobird [photo added in response to comment]
There were noisy d'Arnaud's Barbets, which for once I managed to photograph, albeit distantly.

 d'Arnaud's Barbets
At the quarry we saw a Long-crested Eagle, which started mobbing another bird of prey.  This turned out to be an immature Western Banded Snake-Eagle.  In these photos its head looks very large as the feathers are fluffed out, perhaps in annoyance at the Long-crested Eagle's attention.

Immature Western Banded Snake-Eagle
Other noteworthy species included three sightings of Black-bellied Bustard; a Lesser Honeyguide that was chasing a Vitelline Masked Weaver, a species it may parasitise; Little Weaver; Grey-headed Sparrow; and a displaying male Beautiful Sunbird.  There was an unexpected bonus with the sunbird photos as the female was also in the picture and reacting to the male's display.

Lesser Honeyguide
Male Little Weaver
Grey-headed Sparrow
Displaying Beautiful Sunbirds
Again we found some attractive butterflies (i.d. by Andrew).

Probably Colotis protomedia (three butterflies with black markings); Eureme hecabe (yellow butterflies); yellow and brown butterfly: i.d. uncertain
Nearly back in Juba, we noticed that White-rumped Swifts were breeding in an old concrete structure, possibly occupying old nests of Ethiopian Swallows, which I recall also seeing using this structure earlier in the year.

5 star accommodation for White-rumped Swifts

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Walk to the Nile at Rejaf

I went with Lesley and Andrew down the Old Nimule road this morning.  After a rewarding short walk through the acacia scrub a few kms down the road, we stopped just short of Rejaf village and followed a track for about a kilometre down to the Nile.  At first the habitat was mainly short grassland and bushes, giving way to taller grasses and with a few trees and bushes, then to a more wooded area right by the Nile. By the river bank we met two men hoeing land to plant mango and orange trees.

Rejaf village, with tukuls and church in the distance
An early highlight was a Red-necked Falcon feeding on a male Euplectes bishop.  The red in the photo below is the feathering of the deceased bishop, not blood!

Red-necked Falcon with prey
As often happens, having found African Quail-Finches last weekend, there were more today, and in almost identical habitat: mainly short grass in disturbed fairly flat ground with sandy gravel patches, surrounded by denser and taller grasses and bushes. 

We found a flock of about 20 Parasitic Weavers, a species only encountered in singles hitherto. A smart bird and good to find in numbers.  As we walked towards the river, we saw a Black-and-White Cuckoo, as well as several Diederik Cuckoos. 

Male Parasitic Weaver
Black-and White Cuckoo 

There were Ring-necked Parakeets, a Black Bishop, Violet-backed Starlings, African Moustached Warblers, Black Coucal, Croaking and Winding Cisticolas, a male violet-backed Sunbird (either Western or Eastern), a Nubian Woodpecker looking out of place in the open bush- and grassland, a Little Bee-eater, Red-headed and Cardinal Queleas and both Vitelline and Northern Masked Weavers.

Closer to the Nile, we found some beautiful Red-throated Bee-eaters, an African Pygmy Kingfisher, several Red-rumped Swallows and, over the water, two Plain Martins.  Across the Nile we saw distant Eastern Grey Plantain-eaters and heard their call, 'maniacal laughter' as the field guide rightly says.

Red-throated Bee-eaters 
Red-rumped Swallow
Of interest from an i.d. perspective, there were good numbers of Lesser Blue-eared Starlings along the Old Nimule road, whilst by the river I photographed an immature starling that seems to have a much stouter bill.  I wonder if this could be Greater Blue-eared, though the tail does not seem very long.
Lesser Blue-eared Starling
glossy starling, i.d. uncertain
There was plenty of entomological interest today, with these dragonflies and butterflies [I'll add the i.d. for some later, once Andrew has commented].
Odonata, genus/species not known 
Female yellow pansy Junonia hierta
 probable junonia spp
Odonata, genus/species not known
Ringlet, Satyridae
Andrew also found this grass mantis producing an egg case (Ootheca). He notes that the egg case can contain several hundred eggs, which hatch out after about two weeks, the young mantis's looking like tiny black ants.
 Praying Mantis
 Andrew photographing the mantis, with Lesley

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Nimule road birds, insects and a giant mite

This post predates the one below.  On 18 August, Andrew and I went about 15 kms along the Nimule road - which is now tarmac all the way to Uganda.  Now that we are deep into the rainy season, birding is far from easy.  The road is rather busy and there are hardly any tracks off it.  The one we eventually found was quite overgrown.  Nevertheless, we did manage to find a selection of the characteristic birds of this habitat, which has less acacia than the Terekeka road and more combretum. We found Brown Babblers, Brown-rumped Bunting, Sun and Flappet Larks, Foxy Cisticolas and Yellow-billed Shrikes, species that are mostly absent or else less common along the Terekeka road.

Brown-rumped Bunting

Sun Lark

This Sun Lark was giving a quiet, unexceptional song from the ground, whilst overhead we could hear the "brrrrrr" wing-clapping of Flappet Larks.  The Sun Larks were on disturbed open, gravelly ground where we also saw about 10 African Quail-Finches, a species that is to be expected here, though I'd previously seen them only at Nyamlel, Northern Bahr el Ghazal.

There were some attractive butterflies and other noteworthy creatures.  Andrew identified these and took all the photos apart from the first three.

Male African Monarch Danaus chrysippus

Andrew commented about the African Monarch that: 'the fourth large circular spot on the wing is actually a scent gland that releases pheromones. The butterfly is poisonous or distasteful to birds - the larvae feed on Calotropis procera and various of the Asclepidaceae and sequester the poisons.'

Colotis spp.

Long-tailed Pasha or related species

Crimson tip Butterfly Colotis danae

Unidentified Acraea spp butterfly

Pair of unidentified mating skippers (family Hesperidae)

Giant red velvet mite Trombidium grandissimum

Andrew noted that 'the giant red velvet believed in some parts of India to have aphrodisiac properties - from the red oil squeezed from their bodies......Trombidium grandissimum is the largest mite in the world and predates termites'.

Robber fly (family Asilidae) with prey, a pentatomid plant bug

So a fascinating trip.  Many thanks to Andrew for his identifications and other information.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Terekeka road outing

Today Lesley, Laura, Richard, Andrew, Bosco and me went 18 kms along the Terekeka road, revisiting a site that some of us went to last weekend.  It takes you away from the main road and is easy walking (well, apart from some mud, after recent rains).

Among the many birds we found were Rufous Chatterers, Black-billed and Red-fronted Barbets, Buff-bellied Warbler, Speckle-fronted Weavers, Bateleurs, Wahlberg's Eagle, Black-headed Lapwings (near the airport), Superb Starlings, White-rumped Seed-eaters, Beautiful Sunbird, Grey-headed Kingfishers and Black-headed Gonoleks.  The big marsh a couple of kilometres out of town is so deeply flooded that most waterbirds seem to have abandoned it - though there must be vast areas of suitable wetland habitat to choose from, which may also be a factor.

Some of us had reasonable views of a White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, only glimpsed here last weekend.

White-headed Buffalo-Weaver

As last week, there were Namaqua Doves; indeed they seem to have increased in number.

Female Namaqua Dove

Viduas were much in evidence, with Eastern Paradise-Whydah males displaying to females and challenging other males.  There were also Pin-tailed Whydahs, Village Indigobirds and another indigobird species, as yet unidentified. 

Eastern Paradise-Whydah

Pin-tailed Whydah

unidentified indigobird

unidentified indigobird

We were lucky enough to find both the main local woodpeckers, Grey and Nubian, both giving extended views.

Female Grey Woodpecker

Female Nubian Woodpecker

There were several Diederik Cuckoos that showed themselves more than usual.

Male Diederik Cuckoo

Female Diederik Cuckoo

Chestnut Sparrows were much in evidence. The male and female are quite different in appearance.

Male Chestnut Sparrow

Female Chestnut Sparrow

We noticed that Chestnut Sparrow males were interacting with male Vitelline Masked Weavers where the latter were nesting. A quick check online confirms that, although Chestnut Sparrows sometimes build their own nests, they also usurp weaver nests. 

Vitelline Masked Weaver and Chestnut Sparrow disputing nest occupancy

By contrast, there appeared to be a more amicable arrangement at the bulky White-billed Buffalo-Weaver nest found last weekend, where a pair of Grey-headed Sparrows appeared to be nesting, or at least prospecting, in part of the nest.

On the way back, we had good views of a White-browed Coucal, whilst an adult African Fish Eagle rounded off a good morning outing.

White-browed Coucal

I doubt that all of us will manage a trip out together again, so here's a group photo.

Richard, Lesley, Mark, Laura, Andrew