Monday, December 24, 2007

Mt Elgon National Park

I have to say I'm a little sheepish about having lived in Mbale, in the shadow of Mount Elgon for almost 12 years, but not having set foot inside Mt Elgon national park until last Saturday (still haven't made it to any of the peaks, or into the caldera, the largest in the world, BTW). Nathanael, Jonathan, their friend Abraham and I loaded ourselves and our binoculars, water, and bug repellent into the pickup and left the house shortly after 7:30 Saturday morning.

It took us a couple of hours to get up the first two terraces of Mt Elgon and to the park gate, partly because we made a couple of stops along the way. One of them, about 20 km from Mbale town, was a rare and memorable occasion. I pulled over to take a closer look at a medium-sized bird of prey sharing the top of a muvuli tree with a hamerkop (Scopus umbretta). To our great delight the raptor turned out to be a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). It stayed put and gave us excellent views from right under the tree from which it was taking in the morning.

Once inside the park, we hooked up with a young guide and did a 5-km circuit that took us through mostly secondary forest. There were, however, quite a number of enormous remnant giant trees from the days before the primary forest was encroached and before the park was gazetted with its current boundaries (formerly quite a number of local villagers living near the forest boundaries had cut down many of the larger trees and done some cultivation inside the park perimeter). On our way we stopped by a lovely little waterfall and a cave with a considerable bat population (the latter especially fascinating to the boys).

Our time was somewhat limited, so we hiked at about double the ideal birding pace. This limited the number of bird species that we were able to observe/identify, but still we came across several notables, including some new ones for me (I'll mark these with a double asterisk).

** montane oriole (Oriolus percivali)

** both banded / brown-throated and black-throated wattle-eyes (Platysteira cyanea and P. peltata)

** black-throated apalis (Apalis jacksoni)

** Luehder's bush-shrike (Laniarius luehderi)

** male white-phase paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone viridis)

** African hill-babbler (Illadopsis abyssinica)

** white-tailed crested flycatcher (Elminia albonotata) -- this is an old friend with which I first became familiar in one of my favorite spots on the planet, Zomba mountain in Malawi; I'd not seen it before in Uganda

** black-faced rufous warbler (Bathmocercus rufus) -- heard these secretive birds but did not get a glimpse of them; they are familiar from many times birding in rainforest near Kakamega, Kenya

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Decked out in black

Leaving for a shopping foray into town yesterday, I came across a group of eight or ten birds foraging on the ground beside our driveway--three different species but all with predominantly black plumage: piapiac (Ptilostomus afer), bronze-tailed starling (Lamprotornis chalcurus), and Rueppell's long-tailed starling (Lamprotornis purpuropterus).
This morning, out with some of the boys for a tour of our neighborhood -- hazy and already getting hot at 9 a.m.! -- we had a fine look at a pair of grey woodpeckers (Dendropicos goertae), a male purple-banded sunbird (Nectarinia bifasciata), and an African goshawk (Accipiter tachiro).

Three sunbirds & a boubou

While out and about early this morning, I had excellent views of three gorgeous sunbird species, as well as a tropical boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus -- a type of bush shrike). The latter I've only rarely seen or heard in Mbale, and this morning it was fun to see one clearly and watch it giving some of its signature calls. The sunbirds were as follows:

* scarlet-chested sunbird (Nectarinia senegalensis), common but unfailingly splendid

* green-throated sunbird (Nectarinia rubescens), less common and always noteworthy

* bronze sunbird (Nectarinia kilimensis); used to see these more often, but they seem less frequent these days

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lately here and there

I haven't done well with blogging birds encountered on several recent trips, so will just report a smattering of the more interesting ones I've come across here and there in the past few weeks.

At a wetland stop just west of Kayunga:

* Pair of yellow-billed ducks (Anas undulata)
* Long-toed plover (Vanellus crassirostris)
* Large numbers of blue-cheeked bee-eaters (Merops persicus) and sand martins (Riparia riparia)

En route through Soroti, Dokolo and Lira districts (mostly fairly dry bush country):

* Several spectacular Abyssinian rollers (Coracias abyssinica); here's a link to a photo of a pair of them:
* Vinaceous doves (Streptopelia vinacea)

Here in Mbale:

* Heard a red-chested cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius) calling, first for several months
* Bronze-tailed starlings (Lamprotornis chalcurus) are here in force again; they are especially noisy in the late afternoons as they get themselves situated in roosting positions for the night
* Have had several pygmy kingfishers (Ispidina picta) in the neighborhood lately

A few km south of town, not far from Manafwa River:

* Male Namaqua dove (Oena capensis)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sunbird nest

Monday morning I came across a typical sunbird nest (usually a pouch suspended from a branch with the opening near the top) in a kei apple thorn hedge. This nest is a bit smaller than average, and the reason appears to be that its builders/users are smaller-than-average members of their family: little purple-banded sunbirds (Nectarinia bifasciata). I had not noticed this diminutive species in our area until recently, so it's pleasant to see that they are not only present, but breeding here.

Here's a link to a photo of a male little purple-banded sunbird:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

oriole identification

I've written previously about the black-headed orioles in our neighborhood, and the difficulty of knowing whether they are "ordinary" black-headed orioles (Oriolus larvatus) or the western black-headed oriole (Oriolus brachyrhynchus). The two differ only slightly in plumage, and have overlapping ranges. Based on a fairly good look at one in an albezia tree outside our gate this morning, and additional reflection on vocal differences, I'm inclined to believe that what I've been seeing and hearing in Mbale town are the western sort. We'll see if future encounters with these dapper birds bears out that conclusion or pushes my thinking in the other direction!