28 Sept 2023

13 Sep 23 - G463 Goes Visiting

Wednesdays are my normal volunteering day on the Dorset Wildlife Trust Brownsea reserve. On this Wednesday, I had taken an early boat in the hope of checking the Waders for something more interesting than the regular species. I was part of the way through checking & counting the Waders, when everything took off. This includes the normally unconcerned Cormorants, Oystercatchers, Great Black-backed Gulls. It clearly was a visit from something larger than a Peregrine, an Osprey or a Buzzard flying by, as the Cormorants, Oystercatchers and especially the Great Black-backed Gulls won't react to one of those Raptors. The culprit was quickly seen flying over the back of the lagoon: a White-tailed Sea-eagle. There was no longer any point in trying to look at the Waders as they were going in every direction, so I picked up the camera to get some photos.
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. The first pass over the summering Brent Goose: who decided against taking to the air
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. Coming in for a second pass
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. It was confirmed as the local male by Paul from the Birds of Poole Harbour team who has access to the GPS tracking data
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. The Black-headed Gull provides a good size comparison
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. Showing why they are called Barn Doors
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. The local male only has one foot. It lost the other foot in an unknown incident after it was released: possibly from landing on a live power cable, which has been documented for other White-tailed Sea-eagles
White-tailed Sea-eagle: It sat on the lagoon for a couple of minutes, before disappearing when I was checking the photos
There has been a resident pair of White-tailed Sea-eagles from the Isle of Wight reintroduction project in the Wareham Channel for over a year now. They mainly spent their time in the Wareham Channel and the surrounding areas, but they sometimes explore elsewhere in Poole Harbour & beyond. It's been a couple of months since the last sighting at Brownsea, but it's always a risk that they will turn up & disturb the whole lagoon. Visitors to the DWT Brownsea reserve often ask if they will see a White-tailed Sea-eagle. I always answer "hopefully not", before explaining how much disturbance they will cause and encouraging them to book onto a Birds of Poole Harbour Bird Boat if they want to see one.

27 Sept 2023

21 Jun 23 - Angola - On The Road Again

The plan to depart the Pousada Calandula Lodge overlooking the Calandula Falls at dawn failed. While we were ready to leave at dawn, it took about twenty minutes to find anybody in the hotel so Niall could sort out our checkout. Hotel payments always were complicated by Angola only accepting a limited number of credit cards in the country. Sometimes hotels wouldn't take credit cards or their machines wouldn't take Niall's South African credit cards. He always had the ultimate option of paying in cash. But that meant finding a larger town afterwards, with a working ATM machine where he could withdraw Angolan currency to top up his cash reserves. On at least one occasion, Phil had to use his credit cards to help Niall, when none of Niall's credit cards would work in an ATM. On a positive, diesel worked out about £1.10 a gallon: it was several years when I last paid that price for just one litre in the UK.
It was a good job we had seen the Calandula Falls on the first evening: The morning mists spoilt the view
Calandula Falls from the Lodge: This is what they looked like on the first afternoon (19 Jun 23)
Giant Kingfisher: The Giant Kingfisher was again sitting well away from the bridge over the River Lucala. This is the nominate maxima subspecies which occurs from the rainforests of Liberia to West Tanzania & North Angola. Another subspecies occurs from Senegal to Ethiopia & down to South Africa
After a short stop at the bridge over the River Lucala, we returned to the Kinjila Forest. Very quickly one of the previous days guides and a different guide came to join us. We spent a frustrating couple of hours in the forest. We managed to get decent views of Cabanis's Greenbuls in the forest, which we hadn't seen properly on the previous day: albeit it wasn't a Tick for me. After a bit of searching, Niall managed to find our first Brown-headed Apalis: which was one of our target species for the Kinjila Forest. We heard a White-spotted Flufftail, but it was in an area where it wasn't going to be possible to get close enough to have a chance of seeing it.
Local adaptability in carrying large objects
The next frustrating species was the nominate subspecies of Four-coloured Bushshrike, known locally as Perrin's Bushshrike. Niall said there were some plumage differences between the Angolan Perrin's individuals and further East in their range, despite all being classified as the nominate subspecies. After a fair bit of searching, Richard and I managed to get views of this individual, but unfortunately, Phil was in the wrong place on both occasions. He had seen the Eastern population of the nominate subspecies, but he never managed to see one in Angola. I was pleased to see a showy African Broadbill again as the Broadbills are always one of my favourite families: albeit the family has now been split into two families.
African Broadbill: This is the albigularis subspecies which occurs from Angola to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, North Zambia, West Tanzania & North Malawi
Narina Trogon: This is the nominate narina subspecies which occurs from the highlands of Ethiopia to Angola & South Africa. Other subspecies occur across much of Sub-Saharan Africa
We decided to head out into the Miombo area on the approach track about a mile or so beyond the village with the guides. We were looking for a Miombo Scrub-robin, but couldn't locate any. Fortunately, we did see one later in the trip. But we got jammy when a Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo flew across the grassland: a bonus Tick for me. Soon after Niall decided to pay the guides and knock the Birding on the head.
Birding in the Miombo woodland
Crowned Hornbill: This monotypic species occurs on the savannas of East & South Africa
We drove back to the main road for the 2.5 hour drive West to the town of N'dalatando. It was an uneventful journey apart from a short stop at a bridge over a river where we saw a few Little Swifts, Angolan Swallows & Lesser Striped Swallows.
Little Swift: This is the aerobates subspecies which occurs from South West Mauritania to Ethiopia, Somalia, Central Angola & South Africa
Little Swift
Angola Swallow: This monotypic species occurs from Angola, Gabon, to Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda & West Kenya
We quickly found the Hotel Terminus in the middle of N'dalatando which was to be our base for the next couple of nights. The hotel knew about Niall's booking & the check in went smoothly.
The remains of the forested valley near N'dalatando
After checking in, we headed out again for the remains of a wooded valley about a forty minute drive beyond N'dalatando. This would have been a great Birding place at some point. But as usual for Angola, the commercial trees were long gone and what remained were a few big trees with little commercial value. A few of the old Portuguese buildings had been occupied by villagers, with others living in the more traditional mudbrick houses. The valley now had areas of cultivation including fruit trees, which confirmed this was a more lush area with a higher rainfall than a number of the dry arid sites we visited. There was a reasonable selection of new species for the trip: none of which I had seen for at least twenty five years. So, I was focusing on enjoying the Birding, rather than photography. The highlight was seeing my first male Ludwig's Double-collared Sunbird. We probably saw a number of others, but they were females or immature males and we hadn't got our eye in on how to separate them from the similar looking Olive-bellied Sunbirds that were also there.
Nothing to see here: Just a Goat on a high wall
Crossing a clearing to the morning's forest patch
We returned to the Hotel Terminus at dusk. It all looked quite posh in the hotel & the rooms, like a modern 2 or 3 star UK hotel. But the appearance lulled us into a false sense of security: as the food service was typically Angolan. On the first evening, I asked that we ordered the food just after the restaurant opened at 19:00. The restaurant started filling up with other guests around 20:00 & their food arrived well within an hour of their arrival. Our food started to appear about 22:00 and then it came in dribs & drabs. Very frustrating given how early we had ordered. Not the ideal scenario when we were planning to be up for about five the following morning. It was better on the second evening, as we only had an hour & a half wait before the first plates arrived. Albeit they still appeared in dribs & drabs again.

26 Sept 2023

23 Aug 23 - A Lime Hawk Moth Caterpillar

As the other Dorset Wildlife Trust volunteers & myself were leaving the reserve, I spotted this Lime Hawk Moth caterpillar on the boardwalk. It was a good end to the day.
Lime Hawk Moth Caterpillar
Lime Hawk Moth: This is what it will look like when it's fully grown. Swanage (30 Jun 10)

25 Sept 2023

6 Sep 23 - Squirrel Nutkin

The Red Squirrels haven't been that showy on the Dorset Wildlife Trust Brownsea reserve in the early part of the Autumn. Perhaps not helped by them getting used to having the reserve to themselves when it was closed due to an Avian Flu outbreak and taking some time to get used to people again. I decided to have a final look at the lagoon and it was quiet on the reserve when I left. There was a Red Squirrel looking for nuts really close to the DWT gazebo, who decided to pose for photos to make up for hiding throughout the time I was manning the gazebo.
Red Squirrel: I can never resist the chance for more Red Squirrel photos
Red Squirrel: That's another Hazel Nut found
Red Squirrel: No time like the present for a Hazel Nut

24 Sept 2023

20 Jun 23 - Angola - Finally Some Forest

My last Blog Post covered the approach track to the Kinjila Forest though several miles of Miombo forest, albeit it was degraded by the inevitable areas of burnt grassland and cultivation. This approach track lead to a village which was next to an area of remnant riverine forest: this was the Kinjila Forest.
Driving into the village by the Kinjila Forest
Niall parked the 4WD at the far end of the village and we walked along the continuation of track we had driven, through some dry scrub to the start of the forest. We started Birding along this raised track through the forest, when two lads from the village quickly caught up with us.
We started Birding along this raised track through the forest
Apparently, there are six local lads who have been trained as bird and forest guides. This was the only site we visited in Angola where we saw evidence of trained local guides and it was a welcome sight. Albeit it is hard to imagine that they get many days employment a year from this guiding. With the help of Niall's basic Portuguese and photos from Merlin, he agreed to take the lads on as guides and indicated that we really wanted to see a White-headed Robinchat.
Our two local guides: Like many locals I've met over the years, they possessed good eyesight and knew the calls of many of the birds. They did well considering they didn't have any binoculars
Initially, the lads took us to this large stand of Bamboo which was close to where we met them. But this proved unsuccessful.
Initially, the lads took us to this large stand of Bamboo
Then they indicated they knew a better site, but it was a bit of a walk. We walked back to the village & headed out on tracks through the dry scrub. By now the mist had burnt off & it was a mile & a half walking in the heat of the late morning. However, the hot days in Angola were only in the high twenties centigrade and I never seem to struggle with the heat and sun when it's a dry heat. After thirty minutes of walking, we arrived at the edge of a forest patch. They said to stop and try to call the White-headed Robinchats in. Almost immediately the first of four really gorgeous Robinchats appeared. I'm a big fan of the Cossypha Robinchats: they are all great to look at and I think this is the best looking of the group.
White-headed Robinchat: A White-headed Robinchat dropped onto a branch
White-headed Robinchat
White-headed Robinchat: Soon there was a group of three White-headed Robinchats
White-headed Robinchat: Then there were four together
White-headed Robinchat: They are not an endemic, but with the range of the savanna & forests of North West Angola & adjacent West Democratic Republic of the Congo, they are an effective endemic as few Birders visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo these days. I've only visited one site in DRC (when it was Zaire) and I won't ever have the priority or money to go back especially with the UK Government advising against non-essential travel in large parts of the country
I don't think we really noticed the walk back to the village where we grabbed a quick drink. Close to the village at the start of the walk, we had briefly seen a couple of Black-backed Barbets in a low bush. The others had been impatient to look for the White-headed Robinchats and raced ahead, while I hung back to get some photos of this Tick. On the way back, we were pleased to see they were still in the same bushes and they showed even better.
Black-backed Barbet: Adult. This is the black-backed macclounii subspecies which occurs in South Central Democratic Republic of the Congo to West Tanzania, Central Angola, North Zambia & Malawi
Black-backed Barbet: Adult. According to Handbook of the Birds of the World and Birds of Africa, the sexes are very similar
Black-backed Barbet: Immature. Immatures are not supposed to show red in the head, so this is perhaps and older immature individual
It was now time to head back into the main forest. It was now the heat of the day and activity in the forest was quietening down. We decided to pay the lads, along with a significant bonus for showing us the White-headed Robinchats and head back to the Miombo parts of the approach track for some lunch & to continue the Birding along the track.
Gambian Sun Squirrel: In the riverine forest
Angolan Praying Mantis sp.
As we were driving out of the village, I was on the right side of the 4WD to see this hut
The highlight of the Miombo forest birding was seeing our first Bates's Sunbird. Sunbirds can be tricky to identify. The adult males are usually straight-forward unless there are two similar-looking species in the area. However, there are lots of immature males and females which are far more similar in appearance to a number of other species. Therefore, it doesn't help when we get species like Bates's Sunbirds where even the males look like drab female Sunbirds of another species. Fortunately, we had one of the top South African Birders leading us and Niall has a good eye for the more subtle species. He was quick to pick out this Bates's Sunbird when it appeared to his trawling. It could easily be overlooked & dismissed as a female of another species or alternatively strung. The sexes are similar and they are a small dull green Sunbird with a yellowish belly & can be separated from the similar looking Little Green Sunbird by their curved bill, darker tail and less obvious or absent supercilium and the lack of the pale eye ring that Little Green Sunbird shows. It also helped that this was a male and was singing back to Niall's recording.
Bates's Sunbird: Perhaps the most underwhelming Tick in Angola
Bates's Sunbird: They have a wide range from Liberia to Nigeria, Gabon, South Democratic Republic of the Congo, North Angola & North West Zambia
Striped Kingfisher: Most people probably think that Kingfishers are closely associated with water. Many are, but there are also a number of dry bush scrub Kingfisher species in Africa, including this widespread Striped Kingfisher. This is the nominate subspecies
Dark-backed Weaver: This is the amaurocephalus subspecies which occurs in North Angola. It is also known as Forest Weavers and there are a number of other subspecies across its range from Cameroon to Kenya which stretches to South Africa
By mid-afternoon we were back on the main road and decided to head back to the Pousada Calandula Lodge. We stopped on the approach track to the Lodge just after a bridge over a river for the final hour or so of Birding light. There was a mass of flowers which were buzzing with Insects. One species looked like a Wasp, but the other commoner species looks like a diurnal Moth that shows some vague similarities to the Clearwings we get in the UK.
Some of the mass of flowers
Angolan Wasp sp.
Angolan Moth sp.
Angolan Moth sp.
The clear Avian highlight on the approach track was my first sighting of this delightful Red-capped Crombec. It is one of the family of African Warblers.
Red-capped Crombec: This is the nominate ruficapilla subspecies which occurs in Central Angola to South West Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Red-capped Crombec: Crombecs tend to have relatively long bills & very short tails and they creep around in tangles like Wrens back in the UK
Violet-backed Starling: The evening light was really bringing out violet colouration in the back & wings. this is the verreauxi subspecies which occurs from South Democratic Republic of the Congo & South Democratic Republic of the Congo to Uganda, Kenya, Angola, Namibia & South Africa