Thursday, February 22, 2007

Blue flycatchers

It has been a while since I saw blue flycatchers in Mbale, even though they are reasonably common around here. What a pleasure it was early this morning to come across a pair of them just a few feet away from where I was walking. Almost completely powder blue, crested, never still, frequently fanning their tails and keeping up a lively chittering as they chased each other through the lantana bushes--it was a delight to see them.

I was also treated this morning to stunning views of a male scarlet-chested sunbird and very close-up looks at a male olive-bellied sunbird.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Recently noted

African hobby -- brief look at a pair of them early one evening from the verandah atop our garage; the time of day when bats begin flying and the palm swifts were still out in numbers, either of which would make fine menu items for the hobbies

African paradise flycatcher -- second sighting in a month or so, and still quite unusual for within Mbale town

Bat hawk -- spotted on two early-morning outings; the first one was probably sharing in the general feeding frenzy on a flight of the winged reproductive versions of one of the larger termite varieties

Tropical boubou -- ran across a pair dueting (which is what alerted me to their presence about 30 meters off the road I was on); I've observed these only a few times in this neighborhood during our eleven years in Mbale

This morning there were noticeably fewer than usual yellow-billed kites in flight around the area. In 30 minutes or so I saw two, I think, compared with the 30-40 I would have expected based on what I've been seeing in recent months. Makes me wonder if most of them may be gearing up to move out of these parts for a while.

Also this morning I got close to a mvuli tree from which a giant (Verreaux's) eagle owl was grunting; short on time, I couldn't stay long enough to locate it among the branches.

Near a swampy area along the municipal golf course I came across a winding cisticola, which I've not usually met that close to town (they are common just outside in the wetlands just west of town).

There have been a pair, at least, of red-billed oxpeckers turning up in our part of town the past two or three weeks. We evidently have enough people keeping cows around here to provide a sufficient supply of ticks and other parasites to support them.

Friday, February 16, 2007

More cuckoos

Since hearing the Klaas's cuckoo calling the other day for the first time in a while, I've noticed their signature sound just about every day. A couple of days ago, over on the north side of Mbale along Nabuyonga stream, I was surprised to hear another trademark African voice from the same family: that of the diederick cuckoo. These birds are named for their call, which goes something like "dee-dee-dee-deederick!" -- with the emphasis at the end. Diederick cuckoos tend to inhabit somewhat warmer areas than Klaas's cuckoos, and it's a little unusual in my experience to find them together in the same neighborhood.

Note on pictures

Copyright law does not allow the display on a website of pictures taken by someone else without prior written permission. So I'll limit my occasional posting of bird images to pictures I've taken myself. I do recommend, though, that if you'd like to have a look at a bird that I write about encountering, just use Google or another search engine to do an image search on the bird's name. In most cases, you'll get a number of excellent pictures to view.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Here today, gone tomorrow

The male Klaas's cuckoo is a dapper fellow, metallic forest green above and mainly white below. That green and white pattern camouflages him perfectly when he's high in a full-foliaged tree (which is where he prefers to hang out). Usually the only thing that gives his presence away is his distinctive and oft-repeated whistling call, one of the characteristic sounds of woodland in this part of Africa. The other day I heard this signature sound up in a tree beside the road I was on; didn't see the bird, but was glad to get a call from him, so to speak. It's been a number of months since I've heard one, and in the few days since then I haven't heard one calling again. He may have been just passing through.

Speaking of birds that are sometimes here and sometimes not, the grey-capped warbler is another one. These tend to be much harder to observe than Klaas's cuckoo, not only because of their grey and green coloration but also because they normally stay well within dense thicket or undergrowth. I tried for many months to get a glimpse of this bird that regales the neighborhood with an extraordinarily loud and varied series of call notes before I finally laid eyes on one. For some reason, though, since returning to Uganda in October, I had not heard a grey-capped warbler sing until early in January. For a couple of weeks, then, I heard their calls several times, but not again since then. They have either moved on, perhaps according to some local migration pattern, or they are skulking in the hedges without vocally advertising their presence.
I'll mention one more that fits in the category of "here today, gone tomorrow"--the African black-headed oriole. For the past several weeks, beginning in December I think, I've been hearing one calling in the early part of the mornings of several days. About three times I've been treated to a sighting--most recently yesterday when one flew between trees not far above my head half a mile or so from our house. These encounters have reminded me that I also saw and heard these orioles several times in December 2005 and January 2006. I would guess that they may be in our area seasonally as intra-African migrants; or alternatively that they simply find it convenient to be here at this time because of the temporary availability of some particular type of food that they favor. The African black-headed oriole is extremely similar to the less widespread western black-headed oriole (which also occurs in our area, according to my field guide). One of my challenges is to observe these birds closely enough with binoculars at some point to be sure which of the two I've been seeing. Sometimes one arrives at a firm identification of a species only after months of peering and researching. Which I think makes reaching that conclusion all the more rewarding.