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.