Monday, December 29, 2008

Shades of David & Goliath

A few days ago, toward the end of a morning run that had been fairly sparse in the bird-sighting department, I noticed a flurry of wings in the branches of an albizia tree overhead. A sizable bird, obviously a raptor of some sort, was scarcely avoiding being overtaken by a much smaller pursuer. Both found perches in the tree, having arrived, it seemed, at a temporary stalemate. Once they got settled, I was able to peg the larger of the two as an African goshawk (Accipiter tachiro) and its antagonist as an African little sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus). The dimensional disparity was striking -- I'd never seen individuals of the two species in the same tree -- one crow-sized and the other barely larger than your average thrush. Both of these accipiters are agressive hunters, but I'm not sure what precipitated the harassment of the goshawk by its diminutive cousin. Perhaps the little sparrowhawks have a nest in the neighborhood?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Back home

Back to a degree or so above the equator -- home to Mbale -- where, this time of year, it's generally hot and dry. No exception right now!

Yesterday I encountered a large falcon cruising low across our side of town. Had just a brief look at it, but the impression of some streaking beneath and its impressive dimensions suggest that it may have been an immature female lanner. Otherwise, it's been fun to be back to seeing palm-nut vultures on an almost daily basis, along with our local lizard buzzards and the renewed population of African black kites back from wherever they wander between about September and November/December. The neighborhood sunbirds in their usual splendid variety seem to be celebrating the typical dry-season blossoming of many local tree species.

Friday, November 28, 2008

On the other side of the Pond

On a brief visit to Houston, Texas, so there's a stunning change in the variety of bird life on offer. I probably won't do any very intentional birding while here, but of course always enjoy the birds I see along the way.

I've done pretty well in the dove department so far:

* White-winged dove
* Eurasian collared dove
* Mourning dove
* Inca dove
* and, of course, the ubiquitous rock dove (feral pigeon)

I've also enjoyed an excellent view this morning of a loggerhead shrike and have seen some blue jays. While running in nearby Freeway Manor Park earlier today, I caught sight of a medium-sized falcon in swift and direct flight overhead. From its size, manner of flight, and apparent streaking on the underparts, I conclude that it was most likely a merlin (always a pleasure, and never often enough).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

At the Hairy Lemon

In addition to being the name of a pub in Ireland, The Hairy Lemon is an extraordinary island getaway in the Nile River about 30 km north of the Owen Falls dam near Jinja. We enjoyed most of four days there and spotted several notable bird species along with the delights of the water, sun, trees, and flowers that adorn the place.

* African finfoot
* Water thick-knee
* Open-bill
* Little egret
* Cattle egret
* Black-headed heron
* Striated heron
* Hadada
* Giant kingfisher
* Woodland kingfisher
* Pied kingfisher
* Palm-nut vulture
* African black kite
* African fish eagle (adult & immature)
* Long-crested eagle
* Shikra (little banded goshawk)
* White-throated bee-eater
* Great (white-breasted) cormorant
* Long-tailed cormorant
* African darter
* Sand martin
* White-winged black tern
* Gull-billed tern
* Rock pratincole
* Splendid glossy starling
* Broad-billed roller
* Common bulbul
* Magpie (pied) mannikin
* Bronze mannikin
* Red-billed firefinch
* Orange weaver
* Black-headed weaver

I caught a glimpse of what I suspect was a shining-blue kingfisher, but was not able to see it well enough to be certain.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Touch of paradise

Terpsiphone viridis, the African paradise flycatcher, is my hands-down favorite flycatcher, and not just in Africa but anywhere else I've been. I don't know how any other species can hope to compete with the adornment of a male in his breeding dress, especially when one considers the intra-species variation between rufous and white forms. Check out the image here.

I see these wonderful birds only infrequently in Mbale, though they are common enough in most of their wide range. So it was a special treat a couple of mornings ago to have a pair of them -- the male with his tail streamers almost all the way grown out -- fly across the road in front of me and into a jambolan tree.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Entebbe again

Thursday afternoon, along with my friend and Entebbe resident Stephen, I enjoyed a couple of hours birding along the lakeshore near Bulega Village. Among the excellent birds we encountered, let me mention a few here:

* Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) -- surely one of the most attractive of waders
* African jacana (Actophilornis africanus) -- common, but another visually stunning species
* Long-toed lapwing (Vanellus crassirostris) -- these were out in force
* Gull-billed tern (Sterna nilotica)
* Eurasian hobby (Falco subbuteo)
* African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) -- fine view of one in juvenile plumage
* African pied hornbill (Tockus fasciatus)
* White-throated bee-eater (Merops albicollis)
* Yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava)
* Black-and-white shrike-flycatcher (Bias musicus)
* Grey-backed fiscal (Lanius excubitoroides)
* Black-headed gonolek (Laniarius erythrogaster)
* Splendid starling (Lamprotornis splendidus)
* Vieillot's black weaver (Ploceus nigerrimus)
* Black-crowned waxbill (Estrilda nonnula)
* Black-and-white mannikin (Lonchura bicolor)
* Pin-tailed whydah (Vidua macroura)
* And sunbirds: Olive-bellied (Cinnyris chloropygia), Green-throated (Chalcomitra rubescens), Scarlet-chested (Chalcomitra senegalensis), and Collared (Hedydipna collaris)

A few other sightings of interest in the past several days:

* Common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) -- in the vicinity of multi-storey building in central Kampala city
* Long-crested eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis) -- over our house
* African little sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus) -- a pair crossing between trees just outside our compound
* Double-toothed barbet (Lybius bidentatus) -- in Kampala city
* Ross's turaco (Musophaga rossae) -- in our neighborhood

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More BOPs

A couple of days ago we had a considerably higher volume of avian migrants passing over than is usual (yesterday, by comparison, the flow was down to nearly zero, as far as I could tell). There were a lot of European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster), some barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), and European swifts (Apus apus), among others.

But the feature attraction, for me, was the varied collection of birds of prey that came through. There had been some thunderstorms in the area, and there were also flights of breeding termites ascending, so conditions were especially conducive for any migrants in the neighborhood to steer a course through our neck of the woods.

* A number of common (steppe) buzzards (Buteo buteo)
* Several shikras (little banded goshawk -- Accipiter badius) -- not migrants, but out chasing the winged termites
* Several falcons, including a few European hobbies (F. subbuteo) and some possible lesser kestrels (F. naumanni)
* Two light-colored harriers that looked more like male Montagu's harriers (Circus pygargus) than anything else; they were certainly either Montagu's or pallid harriers (Circus macrourus)

We also had plenty of African black kites (Milvus migrans) around, as well as lizard buzzards (Kaupifalco monogrammicus) and a hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) or two.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


When we were growing up in Malawi and embarking on what has turned into decades of birding all over the planet, my brother and I started using our own shorthand term for birds of prey: "Bops." I've had a couple of interesting sightings in this spectacular avian category in the past couple of days.

A few days back a large falcon passed by, too quickly for positive ID, but odds are that it was a lanner (F. biarmicus).

Yesterday we had a couple of migrating common (steppe) buzzards (Buteo buteo) overhead.

And this morning while we were at breakfast, the distinctive display call of the male African goshawk came in through the window from obviously close quarters. We dashed over to have a look, and sure enough, there he was, perched in bright sunlight only 20 meters or so from us on a branch of one of our musizi trees (Maesops emini). I grabbed binoculars and had an excellent look at him before he departed his post under pressure from some pied crows (Corvus albus) that were harrassing him.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Morning bishops and sunbirds

A short morning walk in the immediate vicinity of our house yielded some superb encounters with the local avifauna, especially in the sunbirds and bishops departments.

Sunbirds I came across included olive-bellied (Nectarinia chloropygia), scarlet-chested (Nectarinia senegalensis), bronze (Nectarinia kilimensis), marico (Nectarinia mariquensis) and little purple-banded (Nectarinia bifasciata). Had particularly fine views of male bronze and marico sunbirds working their way up Leonotis stems as they breakfasted on nectar from the tubular orange flowers. Marico and little purple-banded can be difficult to distinguish from each other, and I have seldom if ever before seen both species on one outing.

Our principal bishop species here in town is the black bishop (Euplectes gierowii), and during breeding season it's not unusual to come across a male decked out in regal red, yellow and black, displaying in an area with long grass and shrubs. This morning I was surprised to see at least four and possibly six different males in full nuptial splendor, all in a fairly small area. I also noticed at female or two and some juveniles, evidence of some reproductive success this season.

Other highlights:

* Wire-tailed swallow (Hirundo smithii) collecting mud from a puddle margin for nest-building
* African green pigeon (Treron calva), a pair in a musasa (Sapium ellipticum) tree, one of them on a nest
* In the canary category, both African citril (Serinus citrinelloides) and yellow-fronted canary (Serinus mozambicus)
* Shrikes: brown-crowned tchagra (Tchagra australis) -- am used to encountering them outside of town, but this was the first instance for me in our neighborhood) -- and northern puffback (Dryoscopus gambensis)
* Red-faced cisticola (Cisticola erythrops)
* African blue flycatcher (Elminia longicauda)
* The African black kites (Milvus migrans) are back in force after their seasonal absence, and I also saw some of the first bronze-tailed starlings (Lamprotornis chalcurus) back in this area from their annual intra-Africa migration. If the bronze-tails return to roosting in the Markhamia and adjoining trees on the north side of our house as they did last year, our evenings and early mornings are about to become noticeably noisier!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wetland outings

The past couple of Monday mornings some of us have visited a wetland area just 30 minutes' drive west from Mbale, on the southern border of Budaka district. There is a good bit of papyrus, other reed/grass species, some rice cultivation, and patches of open water with a couple of varieties of lily pads and other types of vegetation that thrive on the surface of the water. Here are some of the birds that we observed on these outings:
* Storks: Openbill, Yellow-billed
* Herons: Purple, Cattle egret, Great white egret, Yellow-billed egret, Hamerkop, Rufous-bellied, Squacco, Little bittern, Grey, Black-headed
* Hadada ibis
* Grey crowned crane
* Black-shouldered kite
* Waders: Black crake, Long-toed lapwings (plovers), Greenshank, African jacana
* Ducks, geese: Spurwing, White-faced whistling duck
* Kingfishers: African pied, Woodland, Malachite
* Swallows: Barn, Wire-tailed
* Doves: African mourning, Blue-spotted wood, Red-eyed
* Blue-headed coucal
* Warblers: Winding cisticola, Greater swamp warbler
* Swamp flycatcher
* Shrikes: Papyrus gonolek (many great views of these fellows, who are not found away from papyrus), Marsh tchagra
* Sunbirds: Red-chested, Copper
* Bronze-tailed starling
* Weavers: Northern brown-throated, Vieillot's black, Slender-billed, Yellow-backed, Black-headed
* Waxbills, etc.: Zebra waxbill (one of the most gorgeous in the family! -- watched them nest-building in the papyrus), Red-cheeked cordon-bleu, Common waxbill, Bronze mannikin
* Fan-tailed widow

In other news, European and Blue-cheeked bee-eaters are regular overhead these days in their southward migration. And we're beginning to have a few African black kites in the neighborhood again, and the small group of Bronze-tailed starlings that we saw while birding in the swamp today are the first I've seen in the area in a while.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saddle-bill storks, Entebbe

I photographed this pair of saddle-bill storks in the shallows of Lake Victoria at Entebbe last week. They moved slowly away from us as we approached, but were not overly alarmed until someone's pet retriever decided to give chase. At this the enormous birds reluctantly started quick-marching through the water and finally took to flight with the dog in hot pursuit.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Around dawn a few days back I heard a African wood owl (Strix woodfordii) call, the first I've heard in many months. Two days ago I heard but did not see my first European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) of the season coming through on their southward passage from Europe. Yesterday we had grey crowned cranes (Balearica regulorum) calling in the distance (and it's been a couple of months since I have seen or heard these in Mbale). This morning I heard them again and was thrilled to see three of them fly almost directly over our house.

In other news...I came across the spectacular Levaillant's cuckoo (Oxylophus levaillantii) while walking in another part of our neighborhood the other day. We continue to hear, and occasionally see, western black-headed orioles. Still only the occasional African black kite (Milvus migrans) and no bronze-tailed starlings (Lamprotornis chalcurus) for a while; these are two of our intra-Africa or regional migrants and I'm still trying to work out exactly what are the normal limits of their seasonal presence with us.

Jonathan and I did a little birding last Monday morning in a narrow band of mixed-acacia woodland at the edge of a wetland just west of Mbale town. We had the pleasure of seeing, among others, African spoonbill (Platalea alba), white-faced whistling duck (Dendrocygna viduata) quite a number of red-headed lovebirds (Agapornis pullarius), white-throated and little bee-eaters (Merops albicollis and pusillus), marsh tchagra (Tchagra minuta), fan-tailed widowbird (Euplectes axillaris), and pin-tailed whydah (Vidua macroura).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mburo, Mbarara, Entebbe highlights

A couple of weekends ago Nathanael and I made our way west from Mbale to Lake Mburo National Park, and then on to Mbarara town and back to Mbale with an overnight stop in Entebbe. Mburo is less welll-known (and less frequented) than the "major" wildlife sanctuaries in Uganda -- Queen Elizabeth, Murchison, and Kidepo -- but it has a number of distinctions, such as being the only protected area in Uganda that contains one or more lakes in their entirety.

We enjoyed excellent views of most of the park's main animal species, including zebra, impala, buffalo, oribi, defassa waterbuck, bushbuck, eland, topi, warthog, hippo, crocodile, and three species of mongoose.

Of course the birds were a treat, and herewith some highlights:

* Common squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides)
* Rufous-bellied heron (Ardeola rufiventris)
* Black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nyticorax)
* White-backed night-heron (Gorsachius leuconotos) -- These are secretive and seldom seen, even where they are resident, and my first sighting of them (a pair, alongside a couple of black-crowned night-herons).
* Saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) -- a pair in the shallows of Lake Victoria at Entebbe; eventually they were put to flight by someone's retriever that had great fun splashing after them for a hundred meters or so
* Glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) -- Entebbe
* African finfoot (Podica senegalensis) -- In some ways this uncommon bird with bright red beak and feet is the most noteworthy member on our trip list, and especially so for me since I'd not seen them before. They require an aquatic habitat with overhanging vegetation, which makes them hard to see even where they do occur. I had hoped to see even one, and we were blessed to see several on two different days there.
* Long-toed lapwing (Vanellus crassirostris)
* African wattled lapwing (Vanellus senegallus)
* Yellow-billed stork (Mycteria ibis)
* Wooly-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus)
* Glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellis) -- Entebbe
* Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)
* Spur-winged goose (Plectropterus gambensis)
* African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
* African white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus), Ruepell's Griffon Vulture (Gyps rueppellii), Lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) -- We came across a mixed multitude of these scavengers, along with a tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) and a marabou (Leptoptilos crumeniferus), giving ravenous attention to a zebra carcass.
* Brown snake eagle (Circaetus cinereus) -- Saw three of these, one of them on a nest
* African marsh harrier (Circus ranivorus)
* Gabar goshawk (Micronisus gabar) -- an adult and immature at Entebbe
* African harrier hawk (Polyboroides typus) -- Mbarara
* Wahlberg's eagle (Aquila wahlbergi)
* Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus)
* Long-crested eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis)
* Black-shouldered kite (Elanus caeruleus)
* Grey Kestrel (Falco ardosiaceus) -- Entebbe
* Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)
* Crested francolin (Francolinus sephaena)
* Red-necked spurfowl (Francolinus afer)
* Black crake (Amaurornis flavirostris)
* African jacana (Actophilornis africanus)
* Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum)
* Black-bellied bustard (Eupodotis melanogaster)
* Water thick-knee (Burhinus vermiculatus)
* Emerald-spotted wood-dove (Turtur chalcospilos)
* Red-headed lovebird (Agapornis pullarius)
* Ross's turaco (Musophaga rossae)
* Bare-faced go-away-bird (Corythaixoides personata)
* White-rumped swift (Apus caffer)
* Blue-naped mousebird (Urocolius macrourus)
* Giant kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)
* Malachite kingfisher (Alcedo cristata), African pygmy kingfisher (Ispidina picta) -- Unusually, saw both of these species on the same bit of lakeshore. Malachite is always tied closely to water, but the pygmy has no necessary connection to it.
* Little bee-eater (Merops pusillus)
* Madagascar bee-eater (Merops superciliosus) -- Entebbe
* Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudata)
* Green wood-hoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus)
* African grey hornbill (Tockus nasutus)
* Crowned hornbill (Tockus alboterminatus)
* Spot-flanked barbet (Tricholaema lachrymosa)
* Red-faced barbet (Lybius rubrifacies) -- A bird of very limited distribution (one of the "East African endemics"), this attractive barbet is perhaps even more sought-after by birders than the finfoot. We had a splendid view of one bird, another first for me.
* Double-toothed barbet (Lybius bidentatus) -- Mbarara, Entebbe
* Mosque swallow (Hirundo senegalensis)
* Yellow-throated longclaw (Macronyx croceus)
* Sooty chat (Myrmecocichla nigra)
* Trilling cisticola (Cisticola woosnami)
* Grey-capped warbler (Eminia lepida)
* Yellow-breasted apalis (Apalis flavida)
* Chin-spot batis (Batis molitor)
* Brown-throated wattle-eye (Platysteira cyanea)
* African paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone viridis)
* Black-lored babbler (Turdoides sharpei)
* White-winged tit (Parus leucomelas)
* Grey-backed fiscal (Lanius excubitoroides)
* Fork-tailed drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis)
* Yellow-billed oxpecker (Buphagus africanus)
* Holub's golden weaver (Ploceus xanthops)
* Yellow-backed weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus) -- Entebbe
* African golden-breasted bunting (Emberiza flaviventris)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Greycap spotted

The grey-capped warbler (Eminia lepida) is widespread and fairly common through much of its range, but is so secretive in most places that its unusually loud and varied call notes are the only clue to its presence. When one does actually see one in a brief appearance on the edge of its usual bushy habitat (as I did yesterday), its striking grey, black and burnt-orange head-and-throat pattern is worth stopping to stare at. (I just discovered a very short video recording of one of these guys singing, here -- colors are not great, so it's hard to tell that his throat is not just dark; you can also hear a pair of black-headed gonoleks giving a signature combo-call in the background a couple of times.)

I noticed a lone black kite (Milvus migrans) overhead this morning. They've been absent for a while but I expect they'll be back in force soon.

We've continued to have green-headed sunbirds (Nectarinia verticalis) resident in the yard. These have usually been infrequent around here, so this has been pleasant.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Swallows et al.

There was a lone white-headed saw-wing swallow winging over our neighborhood this morning -- not an every-day, or even every-month, sight. I think I also caught a glimpse of a couple of lesser striped swallows in the Namakwekwe area of town today. A few days ago I came across a small flock of what were probably barn (European) swallows, although I saw them so briefly in passing that there's the possibility they were Angolas. It's about the time of year that the first of the Palearctic migrants should be making their appearance, so I'm going to consider these my first encounter with what will become in the next couple of months quite a wave of species coming to here or through here as they flee the cooling temperatures of the temperate zones.

Western black-headed orioles are calling frequently in the area these days, and occasionally one comes into view with its spectacular yellow and black plumage.

We continue to have green-headed sunbirds in our compound, and a pair of scarlet-chested sunbirds has an active nest in our young ficus (Benjamina) tree outside the front door. I've also been seeing what is most likely a little purple-banded sunbird just a city block or two from our house; could be a marico, but the beak seems too short.

A trip planned to western parts of Uganda next week should bring opportunities to see several bird species that I don't normally meet here on the eastern side of the country. Hope I'll have some interesting sightings to report after I get back!

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Several days back we enjoyed a couple of days at the Kingfisher Safaris Resort near Njeru town on the edge of Lake Victoria next to where the White Nile originates from the lake. There wasn't time for much intentional birding, but I enjoyed as always the mix of bird life that is typical of the area. Some of my favorites from this visit:

* Red-chested sunbird (the most common species there and unfailingly gorgeous)
* Paradise flycatcher
* Red-bellied paradise flycatcher (one of the few times I've ever seen these two closely related species virtually alongside each other)
* Northern black flycatcher
* African blue flycatcher
* Wahlberg's eagle
* Long-crested eagle (one being chased by three eastern grey plantain-eaters)
* African fish eagle
* African goshawk
* Palm-nut vulture
* Double-toothed barbet
* Black-crowned waxbill

Today (back in Mbale) I heard a male Klaas' cuckoo calling for the first time in a while. Also yesterday we had a western black-headed oriole in one of the musizi trees outside the house. African blue flycatchers have been frequenting the place too.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


It's that time of year in this part of the world -- the male widows, whydahs and their kin are changing their drab non-breeding plumage for striking fancy-dress of contrasting blacks, yellows, reds, oranges, plus in some cases super-long tail feathers. This morning I saw my first full-breeding-dress male black bishop of this season in the neighborhood. Stunning!

It was also a good morning for falcons. There were a pair of red-necked falcons in the Borassus palm in which I observed them several times a while back. Pleasant to find them still (or back) in residence there. And, twice, I had an African hobby (probably a male, based on smallish size) scythe across in front of me. It'd be hard to get faster and more elegant than these guys.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Flying circus

Yesterday I interrupted a morning run to spend several minutes enjoying a flying circus centered around an emergence of winged termites. A striking variety of birds were hawking the ascending "white ants" -- even strict vegetarians like red-eyed doves. These termites are truly a universal food. The clowns in this circus were represented by several hamerkops and black-and-white-casqued hornbills, both species among the most comedic of birds both in appearance as well as psychology. But my favorites were the acrobatic/aerobatic artistes, the parts ably played by a pair of lanner falcons and at least two European hobbies. All these were so fixated on catching breakfast that they paid me little heed and passed or perched variously quite close to where I was standing on the roadside.

They were amazing, a real treat to behold.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Among the prominent

Last week I had several road trips out from Mbale in different directions. As always, I scanned roadsides for any interesting birds and noticed some that can justly be called "prominent." On the edge of a wetland west of Soroti there were a pair of Abyssinian ground hornbills (Bucorvus abyssinicus). It had been a while since I saw any of these mainly black, turkey-sized birds that spend most of their time stalking around on the ground in bushed grasslands. Then yesterday, coming back from Kaderuna in Pallisa district, we passed a pair of grey crowned cranes (Balearica regulorum), Uganda's spectacular national bird, just outside Mbale town. It also seems like forever since I have seen any of these near Mbale. One comes across them more often around Eldoret in Kenya, and also in western parts of Uganda.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mackinnon's or lesser grey?

Yesterday I caught sight of a shrike of a sort that I'd not seen in Mbale before. It was obviously either a type of fiscal or closely related to these fellows. Having seen Mackinnon's fiscal in Kakamega forest (Kenya), I assumed this was one of those. Checking my field guide, however, revealed that it may more likely have been a lesser grey shrike. I did not have binoculars handy, so was not able to observe the features that would distinguish one from the other. Since Mackinnon's is a resident where it occurs and the lesser grey a migrant, and since I've not come across these in Mbale before, and since it is the height of the season for palearctic migrants to be passing guess is that this was probably a lesser grey. Which would be nice to be able to confirm, as I've never seen that species before at all. Maybe I'll come across another one before the end of migration.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Owls, etc.

Last week we got a pretty good look at a barn owl perched in a flamboyant (Poinciana) tree, across the road from the house where the children go to school. It was being mobbed (a bit half-heartedly) by some bulbuls and some other small birds, and putting up with it all right. When Nathanael spotted it and asked me what it was, we called several of the other kids and teachers to come have a look in the few minutes before school was to begin. The growing knot of observers under its roost eventually proved to much for comfort and it flew across into a nook under the eaves of a neighbor's house.

The other morning I was out jogging a bit earlier than usual (too dark to see potholes on the road, so maybe a bit ill-advised) and I heard a white-faced owl (some books list it as white-faced scops owl) calling across the way. These seem to be regular here in Mbale, at least during some parts of the year, but we don't get to see them all that often since we're seldom out at night and they tend not to move from their secluded roosts during the day.

As far as I've been able to tell from a dozen years in Mbale, our normally resident owls are Verreaux's/giant eagle owls (often noisy even in day time) that inhabit the mature African mahogany trees in this neighborhood; the pint-sized white-faced owls (an adolescent specimen of which we once kept for a while during its recuperation from a close encounter with a car); and barn owls. Other than these, we once in a while hear or much less often catch a glimpse of the medium-sized African wood owl (their duets are one of the especially interesting signature sounds of the night across much of Africa).

In other news, there was a paradise flycatcher in our yard the other day -- first time for me to see/hear one right here, even though they have turned up elsewhere in Mbale once in a great while.

The European bee-eaters are overhead several times a day now, heading for cooler climes. I also saw a flight of 100+ Abdim's storks flying NW early this morning, probably also on migration. And the other day I had a glimpse of a large falcon, either lanner or peregrine over the neighborhood road on which I was driving. Wish I'd had binocs handy and time to stop and gaze and nail down its ID.

Friday, March 21, 2008

First bee-eaters heading north

Yesterday, 21 March, I heard and saw my first flock of European bee-eaters since the southward migration season last year, flying overhead on their way back to more northerly climes. In a part of the world where we do not have the four clearly demarcated seasons of the temperate zones, these and other Palearctic migrants are a pleasant reminder that fall and spring are happening elsewhere.

Entebbe birds

Herewith a list of species that I encountered while in the vicinity of Entebbe town earlier this week (a "v" after a species name indicates hearing the bird's call but not actually seeing it).

This morning we've had a couple of western black-headed orioles around the yard, besides a convocation of black-and-white-casqued hornbills attracted to our fruiting musizi trees. There has been a flock of Ross' turacos in the neighborhood the past couple of weeks. And I heard a greater honeyguide calling a few hours ago, the first for some time.

1. African thrush
2. Marabou
3. Splendid glossy starling
4. Common bulbul
5. Red-chested cuckoo (v)
6. African fish eagle (v)
7. Palm-nut vulture
8. Crowned hornbill
9. Emerald cuckoo (male)
10. Hadada
11. Broad-billed roller
12. Grey-headed sparrow
13. Red-eyed dove
14. Black kite
15. Wahlberg's eagle
16. Pygmy kingfisher
17. Collared sunbird
18. Red-billed firefinch
19. White-rumped swift
20. Scarlet-chested sunbird
21. Yellow white-eye
22. Black-and-white shrike flycatcher
23. Grey woodpecker
24. Ross' turaco
25. Eastern grey plantain eater
26. Klaas' cuckoo (v)
27. Black-headed gonolek
28. Brown-headed tchagra
29. Red-cheeked cordon-bleu
30. Bronze mannikin
31. Black-and-white mannikin
32. Grey kestrel
33. Olive-bellied sunbird
34. Red-chested sunbird
35. Common (grey-backed) camaroptera
36. African mustache warbler
37. Vieillot's black weaver (female)
38. Black-headed weaver
39. Black-billed weaver
40. Speckled mousebird
41. Hooded vulture
42. Double-toothed barbet
43. Blue-spotted wood dove
44. Tambourine dove
45. Snowy-headed robin-chat (v -- mimicry)
46. White-browed robin-chat (v)
47. Yellow-rumped tinkerbird
48. Angola swallow
49. Tawny-flanked prinia
50. Northern black flycatcher
51. Northern puffback
52. Lizard buzzard
53. Black-and-white-casqued hornbill
54. Grey-cap warbler (v)
55. African green pigeon
56. Striped kingfisher (v)
57. Hamerkop
58. White-headed saw-wing
59. Ruepell's long-tailed starling
60. Great blue turaco
61. Harrier hawk
62. Little swift
63. Yellow-throated longclaw
64. Winding cisticola
65. Woodland kingfisher
66. Egyptian goose
67. African / European cuckoo (no binoculars handy, but the pair of cuckoos was one or the other of these)
68. Abdim's stork
69. Pink-backed pelican
70. Piapiac
71. Brown-throated (common) wattle-eye (v)
72. Grey-backed fiscal
73. African pied crow
74. Zitting cisticola
75. Cattle egret
76. Black-headed heron
77. Pied kingfisher
78. Northern brown-throated weaver
79. Little egret
80. Paradise flycatcher (v)
81. Yellow wagtail
82. Helmeted guineafowl
83. Mosque swallow
84. Osprey
85. Openbill
86. Barn swallow
87. Plain-backed pipit
88. African jacana
89. Two or three sandpiper spp.
90. African wattled plover
91. Long-toed lapwing
92. African yellow-billed duck
93. Long-tailed cormorant
94. Lesser striped swallow
95. Yellow-throated greenbul

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mt Elgon National Park

Last week I had the privilege of hiking for two days in Mt Elgon National Park, climbing from about 2050 meters above sea level to about 2,675 meters and back down to where we started. We spent the night at (partly in) Tatum (tah-TOOM) Cave at the 2,675-meter level. Of necessity our pace was faster than ideal for birding, but I did see some good ones along the way, viz.:

* Brown woodland warbler (
Phylloscopus umbrovirens) -- a first for me

* Grey cuckoo-shrike (
Coracina caesia)

* Hartlaub's turaco (
Tauraco hartlaubi) -- first time to meet these in Uganda; have seen them several times in Kenya

* Olive pigeon (
Columba arquatrix)

* White-tailed crested flycatcher (
Elminia albonotata)

* African blue flycatcher (
Elminia longicauda)

* Mountain buzzard (
Buteo oreophilus)

* Ayres' hawk eagle (
Hieraaetus ayresii)

* White-starred robin (
Pogonocichla stellata) -- first time to see this in Uganda; a familiar species from Malawi years

* Olive thrush (
Turdus olivaceus) -- first time to see this in Uganda; common in Kenya highlands

* Black-throated apalis (Apalis jacksoni)

We also saw a few blue monkeys and heard baboons and black-and-white colobus monkeys as we walked through the montane forest.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Recently noted

Several species of interest that I've spotted here and there in the past week or two:

Red-necked falcon (Falco chicquera) -- checked the borassus palm where we have been seeing one of these for the past several weeks and found it perched there again

Abyssinian roller (
Coracias abyssinica) -- saw a few of these in passing while traveling in the vicinity of Soroti town

Namaqua dove (
Oena capensis) -- had one fly by over wet grassland near Awoja on our way to Soroti

Giant (Verreaux's) eagle owl (Bubo lacteus) -- saw one carrying prey early the other morning, and have been hearing them more often lately than we did for a while

Black-and-white-casqued hornbill (
Bycanistes subcylindricus) -- heard one of these large fellows while out running early a couple of mornings ago

African little sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus) -- another one (second in a month) flying over

Tropical boubou (
Laniarius aethiopicus) -- haven't actually seen one recently, but have been hearing them often calling (often duetting) from inside thickets in our neighborhood

Harlequin quail (
Coturnix delegorguei) -- came across a female dead on the road, probably struck by a car while migrating in the night

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

African hoopoe

What a treat this morning, as I was taking the kids to school, to see an African hoopoe (Upupa africana) winging away over an undeveloped lot across from the school house! I remember seeing these handsome fellows only twice before in my twelve years in Mbale, although they are more regular elsewhere in the region (e.g., just across the mountain from us in the western Kenya highlands). Interestingly, all three sightings have been at spots within 500 meters of each other, even though separated by a couple of years, time-wise.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Red-headed lovebird

Jonathan and I went birding early on a recent Monday in an area of moist grassland interlaced with Acacia stands (mostly falcon's claw acacia trees) and bordering a wetland, just outside Mbale town. Saw quite a few interesting species of birds, including broad-billed rollers (Eurystomus glaucurus) and green sandpipers (Tringa ochropus). But we were most pleased (and surprised) to have a close encounter with a couple of red-headed lovebirds (Agapornis pullaria). I've occasionally seen flocks of Lilian's lovebird (Agapornis lilianae), particularly in Liwonde National Park, Malawi. But this was the first time I've come across a member of this family in East Africa. These were quite confiding, and one of the pair we saw allowed us to approach fairly closely and view him at our leisure.

The red-necked falcon (Falco chicquera) that I mentioned in an earlier post has continued to hang out in the borassus palm in which I've seen it three or four times now. This strengthens my belief that a pair may be nesting there.

I have not seen the white-necked ravens (Corvus albicollis), that had been in our vicinity, for over a week now.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Nifty Mbale raptors & a few birds from around Entebbe

The past two or three weeks have been better than average for raptor sightings around Mbale. I also ran across some interesting bird species on a recent trip to Entebbe.
  • European marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus) - one female, just outside Mbale town, over a patch of wetland
  • Red-necked falcon (Falco chicquera) - on two occasions I've seen a single bird on a borassus palm on the south edge of Mbale town; I speculate that there may be a pair breeding there, as I have observed a breeding pair of these attractive falcons in another borassus about three years running in the late 90s, also in Mbale town
  • African little sparrowhawk (Accipiter minullus) - had one over our house engaged in what appeared to be a display flight; I have only rarely seen these particularly secretive little hawks out in the open
  • Palm-nut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis) - these are resident in Mbale town, but I also had excellent views of more than one near Entebbe; the interesting thing there was that I stumbled on a "feeding station," the regular perch used by one individual for its morning meal of palm nuts (Raffia sp., I believe)
  • Wahlberg's eagle (Aquila wahlbergi) - I've come to expect these in the Entebbe area, and have watched them there often enough to begin to recognize the particular soaring posture that distinguishes them from other smaller-than-average eagle species
  • Red-chested cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius) - probably the commonest of the larger cuckoos, but always a striking bird; I had especially fine views of one while in the Entebbe area
  • Red-shouldered cuckoo-shrike (Campephaga phoenicea) - another from my Entebbe trip, this may be the first time (at least first in many years) that I've seen a male of this species; am more accustomed to the standard black cuckoo shrike (Campephaga flava), but this red-shouldered fellow was a truly impressive sight to behold
  • African penduline tit (Anthoscopus caroli) - two or three in an Entebbe garden; these diminutive avians appear thoroughly nondescript but do sport a distinctive short, sharp beak
  • Red-billed oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) - have been seeing these in Mbale the past couple of weeks or so, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups of two or three
  • African spoonbill (Platalea alba) - in a wetland area just west of Mbale town; although I don't see these all that often, I suspect that they are around most of the time in small numbers, tending to roost in mixed groups of herons, egrets, storks and other aquatic birds

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Wanale thermals

An opportunity several days ago to hike Wanale mountain, the lovely backdrop to Mbale town, afforded some nifty sightings of birds taking advantage of the thermals rising at the cliffs' edge.

My favorite was an immature Ayre's hawk eagle (Hieraaetus ayresii) engaging in an impressive series of aerial maneouvres with three adult harrier hawks (Polyboroides typus).

There were also a dozen or so common (rock) kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) in evidence around the rock faces.

An interesting encounter was with a pair of white-necked ravens (Corvus albicollis) -- a common species in Malawi, but one that I have never come across in Uganda before. They were cruising along the edge of the mountain on the same thermal currents already mentioned. Since that day, I have seen this same pair (presumably) down in Mbale town scavenging refuse near a local hotel. I'll keep an eye out for them to figure out whether they're just passing through for a few days or weeks or intend to take up longer-term residence.

Speaking of ravens, one morning last week when I had observed the white-necked ravens near the hotel, I later visited Sipi Falls on Mt. Elgon and saw the fan-tailed ravens (Corvus rhipidurus) that are regular there. This was the first time that I can remember ever seeing two species of ravens in Africa in the same day.

One other raptor of special interest from the Wanale hike was a mountain buzzard (Buteo oreophilus) in flight, of which I had excellent views for ten minutes or more as we waited for others in the group to begin our descent.