Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mabira stopover

Last week I stopped overnight in Mabira Forest, about two hours' drive west of Mbale toward Kampala. While there I indulged in a late afternoon walk in the forest and another early the next morning. The number of bird species I saw/heard was somewhat less than average for birding in Mabira, but there were some notables, as always.

A few highlights:

*** In the weaver department, black-necked weaver and red-headed malimbe

*** Representing the turacos, the great blue turaco and black-billed turaco (voice only on the black-billed; these guys are fairly elusive in Mabira and I didn't get to lay eyes on one this time)

*** From the barbet and woodpecker families, speckled tinkerbird, grey-throated barbet, yellow-billed barbet (voice only), yellow-spotted barbet, and the diminutive buff-spotted woodpecker

*** Robins, thrushes and their kin -- forest robin and scaly-throated illadopsis

*** Greenbuls and allies -- saw a variety of these, but in most cases they exceeded my amateur forest-bird identification skills; I did run across several red-tailed bristlebills

*** Sunbirds -- would have expected more than I saw, but enjoyed sightings of olive and collared sunbirds

*** And my new species for the outing, Nahan's francolin -- these reclusive forest-dwellers start searching the fallen leaves and ground debris for food around sunset. They are extremely shy and difficult to observe, so I was more than a little pleased to come upon a family group of them on the trail in front of me as twilight was turning into evening darkness. They scattered on seeing me, but I was able to approach to within about 20 feet of them and get a brief look before they noticed.

*** Finally (stepping momentarily out of strictly birding mode), I had good views of red-tailed monkeys and red colobus monkeys.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Mannikins and mannikins

Mannikins are a family of finches so named, I would guess, because their dark heads, upperparts and chests with the rest of their underparts white gives the impression of a clothing-shop white mannequin on display with a dark coat on.

The bronze mannikin, sporting a dash of easily overlooked bronzy-green on its shoulders, is one of the most common and familiar little birds in Mbale, as in many other parts of Africa.

Less often seen (or recognized, at least) is the closely related black and white mannikin. The dark and light coloration patterns are similar in both species, and I can testify that they appear even more alike when you see them out and about. The best field mark for distinguishing them is the bit of white that extends up around the black bib on each side of the chest on the bronze mannikin. The black chest of the black and white mannikin makes a kind of waistcoat line all the way across the bird's breast, from one dark-hatch "sidebar" to the other on each side.

It is rare not to come across small family groups of bronze mannikins whenever you walk in our neighborhood. Seeing a group of black and whites is somewhat unusual here, however, so I was pleased the other day to observe both species on one outing.