Monday, February 13, 2012

A report on the birds I saw in Tanzania

I've had my arm twisted by a couple of people to write up my birding year in Tanzania.

For those interested there is a report available here.  It's a 6 MB download.

That's all for this blog but I've started a new one dealing with pseudo-scientific nonsense I come across in south-western Victoria.  I call it "Too good to be true?"

Thanks for reading and commenting


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dinner with a couple of birders and the final effort

Jenny and I are in Dar now for our last day in Tanzania.  Last night we had dinner with Neil Baker of the Tanzanian Bird Atlas project and Tony Evans, another British birder living in Dar for a while.  Tony had been to Minziro a couple of years ago and showed us some of his mystery bird photos from the forest.  We were able to sort out a few but some will remain mysteries I guess.  Jenny, of course, thought we were all mad.

This morning (0500!) Tony picked me up and we headed for the Pugu Hills to the south east of Dar.  This is a degraded patch of forest that still holds some great birds.  We arrived before dawn and had Fiery-necked Nightjars and Bushbabies calling.  As the light improved the birds woke up and began to call but rarely showed themselves.  A pair of Black Sparrowhawks (tick!) have an active nest and we had several nice views of the birds coming and going.  Not sure what they are up to but probably incubating.  Other new birds for me were Trumpeter Hornbill, Little Yellow Flycatcher and Red-throated Twinspot.  We had good views of male and female Black Cuckooshrikes, Crowned Hornbills, Dark-backed Weavers and Collared Sunbirds.

Black Sparrowhawk

Crowned Hornbills

On the way home we stopped on the coast in Dar and scanned the exposed reefs.  Eight Greater Flamingos were a good find and we saw a Grey Heron and a Dimorphic Egret.

Dar es Salaam, 30 June 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Care for a Swan?

On our last drive through Bukoba yesterday morning I was able to snap a photo of these Swans which have recently migrated to town.  Unfortunately I only managed to capture a small selection of the 50-60 present. 

Jenny was very keen to bring one home but we already had about 30 kg of excess luggage so I had to put my foot down.

We flew to Dar yesterday via a 4 hour wait in lovely Mwanza airport and arrived at our nice hotel at Slipway about 11pm.  Two days now for Jenny at the VSO office then home we come.

Dar es Salaam, 29th June 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Some birds and a couple of insects

I've been trying to squeeze in a few final trips to my favourite birding spots in our last couple of weeks.  Minziro, Karagwe Road and Katoke have all been covered and I hope for one more trip to Minziro before we leave.

Since I last wrote I've seen Common Scimitarbill and Stout Cisticola at my acacia woodland site (Karagwe road) and Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Grey-chinned Sunbird, Afep Pigeon and Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike at Minziro.

Not many photos but I finally have some decent pics of a Lilac-breasted Roller.  These are big and colourful but they are often just silhouettes.


The first insect was a (pair of) caterpillars with the most amazing camouflage I've ever seen.

The second is a Giant Robber Fly (genus Hyperechia) with a captured wasp.  This monster is about 3 cm long.  They mostly feed on Carpenter Bees and apparently their appearance is similar.  I think they take the occasional small child as well.

Bukoba 23rd June 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rainfall distribution in Bukoba

I found some monthly rainfall data covering about 30 years for Bukoba.  Here is a graph of the average monthly totals with those for Hamilton (Victoria, Australia) as a comparison.  You can see the high April and May totals and the sudden drop off to the relatively dry June.  Today we have had high humidity, solid cloud cover, thunder rumbling and some light showers.  Apart from that there has been no rain for nearly two weeks now.

Josiah (Jenny's colleague and owner of a fine, productive shamba) says that there will be two more big wet days in June.  Hopefully this will settle the dust so our stuff will not come home totally orange.

Bukoba, 7th June 2011

Recent birding

As out time here comes to an end I'm conscious of the rapidly disappearing opportunities I have for birding and have to think carefully where I put in the effort.  Minziro Forest, Katoke Teacher Training College and the acacia woodland along the Karagwe road are the main targets.  Several visits to each is the goal.

On 30th May I went to Minziro.  There were few birds in the forest itself (Jameson's Wattle-eye was the highlight) but I managed a couple of new ones on the forest edge.  These were a pair of Grey Penduline Tits (possibly Africa's smallest bird) and a single Brubru.  A pair of Pipits on the road through the forest could have been Woodland Pipits but I need to go back for a better look.  Mammals seen included a Red-legged Sun Squirrel and a rather angry Baboon high in a forest edge tree.

Red-legged Sun Squirrel

Olive Baboon
On 5th June Jenny and I went to the Karagwe road woodland.  This is a new area for me and many of the missing species seem to be here - mainly drier country species not found in the higher rainfall areas I usually visit.  Things like African Grey Hornbills, Fork-tailed Drongos, Red-cheeked Cordonbleus, Bare-faced Go-away Birds are all here.  On this visit we added Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Long-tailed Cisticola - the latter possibly a first for Kagera.  Also here were Golden-breasted Bunting, a Green Wood-Hoopoe and a yet to be identified Lark Croaking Cisticola.

Long-tailed (Tabora) Cisticola

Golden-breasted Bunting
My binoculars are just holding together.  Last week I had them in the garden and lost one of the wind-up lens ends.  About an hour of careful weeding was successful in finding it and it is now securely held on with a length of dental floss.  I'll recommend this modification to Nikon for future models.

Make me an offer, Nikon!
A new garden bird was added on Sunday with a Grey-capped Warbler perching on our power line.  Normally a skulker this was my 149th species for the house area survey.

Bukoba 7th June 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Back in Bukoba - Rain, rain go away

We've been back over a week now and the rain has been amazing.  Yesterday and today have been the wettest days since we've been here.  We've had heavier downpours but nothing as sustained as this current stuff.

Yesterday Jenny wanted to take some of her maths books up to the Missenyi District schools around Kyaka and Bunazi so we planned a visit to Minziro as well.  It rained until nearly noon then we headed off into the gloom and low cloud.  Many of the drivers even had their lights on!!  By the time we got to Kyaka and dropped off the books the weather had cleared and there were a few sunny patches.  We decided to postpone Minziro (the forest floor would be a lake at the moment) and instead went down the Karagwe road to the acacia woodland survey site I found a few months ago. 

Our regular spot was very wet and muddy so we tried a different nearby area with a dry track.  Everywhere we stopped there were birds - active now the rain had finally stopped.  We saw 42 species in an hour or so.  Three were lifers for me - Flappet Lark, Marico Sunbird and Cardinl Quelea.  Other notable species were Meyer's Parrot, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Blue-naped Mousebird, African Grey Hornbill, Greater Honeyguide, Nubian Woodpecker, Fork-tailed Drongo, Moustached Grass Warbler, Variable Sunbird, Thick-billed Weaver and Common Waxbill.

This is potentially a great spot and I really need the rain to stop so I can get in to explore the area properly.  Lots of species on the Kagera list that I've been missing are probably in this drier woodland.  Time is running out here for us however and today's deluge won't help.

On the way home we saw a pair of Common House Martins near Kyaka.  These have rarely been recorded in Kagera and should be back in Europe by now.  The most tantalising sighting of the day was an all dark, long-streamered swallow that whizzed across the highway  in front of the car a few km south of Kyaka.  We both called it as a probable Blue Swallow but couldn't be 100% sure.  These are rare African birds.  In Tanzania they breed in the far south then migrate north into Uganda about now.  There have been a few sightings in grassland in Kagera near Minziro and around Bukoba.

Here are recent pics of a Western Banded Snake-Eagle near Kyaka and a Brown-backed Scrub-Robin from Katoke.

Western Banded Snake-Eagle

Brown-backed Scrub-Robin

Bukoba 21st May 2011