Thursday, April 26, 2007


Yesterday morning around 0700 I was standing in downtown Mbale when I noticed an incoming from the north, looking about crow-size. Turned out to be a lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus), cruising over at only about 50 feet altitude. These are occasional here, and always a particular pleasure to see.

It's been a few days since hearing the liquid contact-calls of Eurasian bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) migrating overhead. The season's rush is more or less over, but we'll probably still have some straggling flocks up into May.

In case anyone's wondered why I have been including scientific/Latin names for bird species, it's because English nomenclature varies so much from book to book and area to area. If you look up a species I mention by its Latin name, your 95% certain to come up with the species that I have referenced, regardless of which English-(or other language)-name it may go by in your fieldguide or website of choice.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Seen on the shoulder

Driving the road from Mbale toward Kampala yesterday we spotted a female Abyssinian ground hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus) in statuesque pose on the paved shoulder of the road. At over 40 inches long (105 cm), these turkey-sized mainly black birds with blue and red facial wattles are an impressive sight. I've seen them in that area a few times before, but it had been a couple of years since the last time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

empty nest

A couple of days ago there were a pair of adult palm-nut vultures (Gypohierax angolensis, also called the vulturine fish eagle) soaring in the neighborhood in company with a brown-plumaged immature. The mature birds, with their startling black-and-white color scheme and reddish bare facial skin, cut quite a contrast with most other raptors that are typically decked out in sombre camouflage. One of the roads bordering this subdivision is lined with towering African mahogany trees where the palm-nut vultures roost and, I suppose, nest.

I've been hearing the calls of a red-chested cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius) daily for quite a while, but haven't yet caught a glimpse of it.

This morning I noticed a kettle of about 70 migrating storks, probably Abdim's (Ciconia abdimii), circling together in preparation for the next leg of their journey.

The leisurely song of the African thrush (Turdus pelios) is an early morning fixture these days. Must be time for nest-building and breeding! It sounds much like that of the American robin and others in this large avian family.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Kenya trip, etc.

We spent the last week or so of March in western Kenya on a farm just outside Eldama Ravine town. It's an area where the highlands in that region end in an escarpment that descends to the Rift Valley. The change in elevation makes for an extraordinarily diverse ecosystem, from highland forest and grassland to dry, hot acacia savannah in the valley floor.

I wrote down a hundred or so bird species that I encountered on the trip, and I'm sure could easily have logged over hundred and fifty if I'd made a foray or two into the lower-lying bush areas. Here's a list of several of the ones I found especially notable:

Wahlberg's honeybird (Prodotiscus regulus), alternatively named sharp-billed honeyguide--a rather drab bird, apart from prominent white outer tail feathers, but a new species for me

Hartlaub's turaco (Tauraco hartlaubi)--an altogether splendid bird in violet, green and scarlet, with with dashing white facial markings; had better than usual views of one this time, a particular pleasure since we do not have this species in our Mbale, Uganda area

African crowned eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus)--Africa's most powerful raptor; son Jonathan's sharp eyes spotted one soaring over the forest as we were starting our return trip to Uganda; we pulled over to the shoulder of the road and enjoyed watching for a little while

Red-fronted parrot (Poicephalus gulielmi)--had flocks flying overhead daily en route to feeding or roosting places

Dusky turtle dove (Streptopelia lugens)--this was a new one for me also; viewed several of the birds while there; they do occur in Uganda, but only in southwestern and far northeastern parts of the country

Common scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus cyanomelas)--it had been years since I'd last seen one of these handsome black birds with white wing and tail spots

Cape robin-chat (Cossypha caffra)--I don't come across these very often, as they tend to be found at higher elevations than where we live, and not in my past experience in the same area as the related white-browed robin-chat (Cossypha heuglini, which we also enjoyed seeing while there)

Cape wagtail (Motacilla capensis)--a pair of them, foraging on the same patch of roadside grass with a couple of the common African pied wagtail (Motacilla aguimp)

Yellow-breasted apalis (Apalis flavida) and chestnut-throated apalis (Apalis porphyrolaema)--both of these were new to me, both observed in acacia trees at or not far from the forest edge

Sulphur-breasted bush-shrike (Malaconotus sulfureopectus)--saw a juvenile of this species that I often enjoyed watching at home in Malawi during growing-up years

Yellow-bellied waxbill (Estrilda quartinia)--I first got acquainted with these lovely, gregarious little birds in the highlands of Malawi, where the field-guides call them East African swees.

Streaky seedeater (Serinus striolatus), thick-billed seedeater (Serinus burtoni) and yellow-rumped seedeater (Serinus reichenowi)--the last of these was a new species for me

African golden-breasted bunting (Emberiza flaviventris)--gorgeous birds that I came across on several walks as they foraged on the ground, then flew up to a branch of a tree or shrub when I got too close

Red-chested cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius)--there were quite a number of these attractive birds drawing attention to themselves by their loud three-note, oft-repeated (even throughout the night!) calls; had some excellent views of a pair of them late one afternoon; sometimes they are called "rain-birds" because of their habit of calling frequently around the time that the rainy season begins

Heard the calls also of the black cuckoo (Cuculus clamosus) and the African emerald cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus); Klaas's cuckoo (Chrysococcyx klaas) both heard and seen while there

Chin-spot batis (Batis molitor)--another bird familiar from our yard in Malawi, but not seen so far in Uganda