Saturday, June 23, 2007

Comings and Goings

We're having the unusual experience of no black / yellow-billed kites (Milvus migrans - some authorities divide them into two full species while others consider them two races within the one species) in our skies these days. The African-resident race/species (yellow-billed) is here almost all the time, but does follow some intra-African migration patterns. I assume that's what has happened to them temporarily, but they'll be back soon, I'm sure. The typical view of this graceful raptor is captured in the photo at

I've glimpsed a couple of that miniature flying jewel, the African pygmy kingfisher (Ispidina picta), in the past week or two. It's been a while since they've been around -- another intra-African migrant. Nice to have them back, with their habit of appearing out of nowhere after launching from an inconspicuous perch and zinging in a straight line to their next stop. Like their larger and more abundant cousin, the woodland kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis), they are not water-dependent but live primarily on insects and any other animal even smaller than they are, wherever they can find them. Check out some amazing pictures of these beauties at

We have also had bronze sunbirds (Nectarinia kilimensis) back in the area lately after not having seen them for a few months. These are the only species common in Mbale in which the males have the elongated central tail feathers sported by several members of this showy family (see the male pictured on the flower-pendant of a banana tree at

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

North of Elgon

Did a bit of exploring with four of the kids Monday, through the area at the base of Mount Elgon on its north side. The farther east one goes, the more thinly distributed are the human inhabitants, and the lightly wooded savanna is quintessentially African. We saw close on 50 bird species, observed mainly from our pickup, since we did not have time to get out and walk around. Here are some of the best birds of the day:

d'Arnaud’s barbet

black-billed barbet

lanner falcon (imm)


crested francolin

white-crested turaco

fork-tailed drongo

superb starling

red-billed hornbill

village indigobird

pin-tailed whydah

fan-tailed widow

blue-headed coucal

northern red bishop

black-winged red bishop

rufous sparrow

olive pigeon

yellow-throated longclaw

striped kingfisher

mountain wagtail

black-and-white mannikin

grey-backed fiscal

marsh tchagra

cardinal quelea

blue-naped mousebird

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Twice recently have had a family group of Ross's turacos (Musophaga rossae -- for image check in or just outside our compound. A little larger than crow-sized and with much longer neck and tail, the glossy dark-purple plumage with crimson primaries and crest and bright yellow face make these one Africa's most impressive avians. We used to see them a little more often in Mbale, which makes it feel all the more of a privilege to have them come around these days.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monday at Sisiyi

Had several pleasant hours at Sisiyi Falls on the first terrace of Mount Elgon today. Even though we were not there for prime birding during early-morning hours, still there were these highlights (in addition to the stunning scenery around the falls - see pictures at

Fan-tailed raven (Corvus rhipidurus)
African blue flycatcher (Elminia longicauda)
Black-and-white mannikin (Lonchura bicolor)
Mountain wagtail (Motacilla clara)

Mocker swallowtail, citrus swallowtail, and green-banded swallowtail butterflies were also much in evidence. We had a glimpse of what was probably a mother-of-pearl butterfly too.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Mabira, bat hawk, etc.

We took a field trip for the older students in our mission school to Mabira May 26, and spent most of the morning in the trails in both the primary and secondary rain forest. Our guide took us on a route long enough that we had to maintain a quick pace and were not able to stop-look-listen the way one needs to do to observe many forest birds. Nevertheless we did see some fine specimens, especially after returning to the forestry office compound and waiting for lunch to get ready. Some of the species highlights on my list of what we saw:

Common (brown-throated) wattle-eye (Platysteira cyanea)
Olive sunbird (Nectarinia oliivacea)
Yellow-throated tinkerbird (Pogoniulus subsulphureus)
Speckled tinkerbird (Pogoniulus scolopaceus)
White-rumped swift (Apus caffer)
Cardinal quelea (Quelea cardinalis)
Great blue turaco (Corythaeola cristata)
Red-bellied paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone rufiventer)
Purple-throated cuckoo-shrike (Campephaga quisqualina)
African blue flycatcher (Elminia longicauda)
Black-necked weaver (Ploceus nigricollis)
Common waxbill (Estrilda astrild)
Black-crowned waxbill (Estrilda nonnula)
Grey-headed negrofinch (Nigrita canicapilla)

We heard almost as many kinds of birds as we actually saw, but did not have leisure to wait around for them to appear, or to make detours to find them. Counting species both seen and heard, I wrote down about 70 for the day.


Bat hawk

"The early bird gets the birder"--I guess that re-wording of the proverb is one way of saying it when one comes across a bat hawk (Macheiramphus alcinus) early of a morning before it goes to roost after its dawn hunting. I was on a pre-breakfast jog a few days ago, somewhere around 6:30 or so, when one of these mysterious raptors flew a semicircle in front of me before alighting in a giant muvule tree.


Baglafecht nest

My boys showed me a Baglafecht weaver (Ploceus baglafect) nest just a couple of meters outside our dining-room window. We watched the adults coming and going into and out of the nest, which they had attached to overhanging bougainvillea branches above a retaining wall. Here's a picture of the nest; if I get one that includes any of the weavers themselves I'll post it later.