30 Jun 2023

30 Jun 23 - Angola - It's Time For A Chat

It was another day with a long two hundred & fifty mile drive from Huambo to Lubango. We left at dawn and stopped after a couple of hours for an en-route breakfast break. It was a largely uneventful six hours drive that wasn't helped by a long stretch of dirt tracks around many miles of tarmac road that was closed off: presumably for resurfacing although it looked like no work was taking place on the road. The only highlight of the drive was a pair of Lanner Falcons.
Lanner Falcon: This is the nominate biarmicus subspecies which occurs from Angola & the South of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Kenya & South Africa
Finally, we arrived at the decent looking Casper Resort in the middle of Lubango. Despite the decent appearance there were the usual problems with the slow arrival of meals and also a barely functioning wifi, which was a surprise given it looked an upmarket hotel. After a slow late lunch snack, we left the hotel for the stunning escarpment area at Tundavala. This was easily the best looking location we visited in Angola with some cracking rock formations and the vertical escarpment edge, overlooking a much lower plain. There was a fair bit of light woodland a couple of miles before the escarpment edge. We tried a couple of brief stops before continuing on to the top.
Pale Flycatcher: This was a fairly common species in the woodland. This is the murinus subspecies which occurs from Gabon, Republic of the Congo, & Angola to the South East of South Sudan, West & South Kenya, and South to North East Namibia, North Botswana, West & South Zambia & Zimbabwe
The top of the escarpment included areas of large stone boulders. This was surrounded by larger areas of grassland which is undoubtedly, burnt regularly as that is a national past-time.
Some of the boulders were very attractive
Another large boulder
The area was largely open grassland behind the boulder fields and the escarpment
Some areas around the boulders had wild flowers growing, which shows how good the habitat could be if the locals stopped their burning obsession
The road ends by one of the more impressive areas of the escarpment with stunning views over the plains below.
The view from the escarpment over the plain below
The escarpment edge had parties of Bradfield's Swifts and Rock Martins which appeared & as quickly dispersed again
These young girls were chasing each of the tourist groups wanting money for posing for photos
The top endemic that we were looking for this afternoon was the gorgeous Angola Cave-chat. We were glad to quickly see the first of several Angola Cave-chats.
Angola Cave-chat: This monotypic endemic occurs in the rocky caves & gorges of West Angola
Pied Crow: This monotypic species occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, Aldabra & the Comoro Islands
Pied Crow: Pied Crows were an erratic, but regular, species that we saw while driving, but this was the first time we had seen them at a Birding site
Wailing Cisticola: This is the namba subspecies which occurs in the highlands of West Angola
Wailing Cisticola
Violet-eared Waxbill: This monotypic species occurs from Angola to Namibia, Zambia, South Zimbabwe, Botswana & Northern South Africa
Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax: Yellow-spotted Rock Hyraxes seem to enjoy a lazy life: with some stunning views from their territories and probably a safe life providing they can keep out of sight of large Raptors
Namib Rock Agama: Thanks to my mate Steve Morrison for helping to identify a number of the Lizard species from my published photos
We carried on Birding until dusk & it was nice to only have a twenty minute drive back to the Casper Resort.

29 Jun 2023

29 Jun 23 - Angola - The Best Of The Rest

We had enjoyed a good start to the visit to Mount Moco with some open country species. We headed for the nearest patch of remnant forest above the village with a local guide. In reality, We didn't a guide to find our way .However, given there is ongoing work to replant trees spearheaded by South African tour leader & conservationist Michael Mills, this was an added reason to agree to having a guide. This patch of remnant forest was where we had seen the Western Green Tinkerbird that was covered in the previous Blog Post.
The village kids were typically friendly
We had about a half mile walk up through the barren hillside to get to the start of a reason-sized patch of remnant forest
It was good to see the small saplings: Niall said that Michael Mills had been working with the villagers to grow these saplings and replant them in the forest patch. It was one of the few times we saw a positive conservation story in our Angolan trip
Red-throated Wryneck: This is the ruficollis subspecies which occurs from South East Gabon to Uganda, West Kenya & North West Tanzania and South to North & East Angola, North West Zambia & adjacent South of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, North Mozambique & Eastern South Africa
Red-throated Wryneck: This is the only other species of Wryneck & it is restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa
Black-throated Wattle-eye: This is the mentalis subspecies which occurs from Angola & the South of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Zambia, Uganda, Kenya & West Tanzania
Grey Apalis: This is the grandis subspecies which is endemic to West Angola. There are other subspecies in Nigeria, Cameroon & East Africa
Dusky Twinspot: I only saw this immature well, but there was an adult in the same area. This is the nominate cinereovinacea subspecies which occurs in the highlands of West & Central Angola. Another subspecies occurs from East Democratic Republic of the Congo to South West Uganda
A cryptic-looking Praying Mantis sp.
Looking back on the village from the top of the forest patch
We had enjoyed a fairly successful morning at Mount Moco. Some Birders take a long hike to the top of the hill & over to some habitat on the far side of the hill, where there is a chance of seeing Margaret's Batis. We would have needed another three hours or so for that hike. Instead, we decided to return to have another look for Blue Quail.
Sadly, a fairly typical grassland fire: Burning grasslands to promote new grass growing seems to be a national hobby in Angola
We tried some interesting-looking wet fields near to where we had tried looking on the previous afternoon for the Blue Quail. Fairly quickly we found a stunning & showy Fulleborn's Longclaw. Again we struggled with trying to find a Blue Quail. I had finished walking my last field and was about to give up when there was a shout from Phil who was in a different field. He had flushed a Blue Quail. We quickly regrouped in Phil's field and all enjoyed a flight view of the Blue Quail, before leaving it in peace. This is a tricky species to see in Africa and compounded by the risk of disturbed a resting large Mammal in some parts of its range. But as we didn't see many Mammals in Angola ignoring Bats and Squirrels, then it's pretty unlikely that you will disturbed a large Mammal.
Fulleborn's Longclaw: This is the ascensi subspecies which occurs in grasslands & Brachystegia woodlands of Central Africa
It has been a successful day with a couple of bonus Ticks in the late afternoon & time to head back on the long drive to Huambo.

29 Jun 23 - Angola - The Best Bird Seen In Angola

I've not been on many organised tours as I prefer to organise trips on my own or to travel with mates. However, I've had to book on a few tours where that is the only realistic option due to logistics. One of the things these tours over-hype is choosing the Bird of the Tour. It seems the majority of other punters feel this has to be a Tick and also an endemic or a rare species. Personally, I have no interest in this pointless task as the Bird of the Tour is subjective to the punter. When I've been asked to propose my choices, they generally involve totally different criteria to other punters and a number are not Ticks, endemic or rare.
Western Green Tinkerbird: This is the angolensis subspecies which occurs in the West Central Angolan highlands around Mount Moco & the Mombolo highlands
I was pleased we weren't asked to go through this pointless activity in Angola. But had we been asked, then the species that stood out the most for me in Angola, wasn't a Tick, endemic or rare. It was a Western Green Tinkerbird that flew in after Niall played a recording & sat about four metres from us for the next few minutes. Tinkerbirds are one of the African Barbet family and like most members of the family and the two related families in Asia and Neotropical America, they are usually seen at the tops of tall trees. So, it was a joy to see one in a low tree and within a few metres of us.
Western Green Tinkerbird: The previous one I saw was in Nyungwe Forest, Rwanda at the end of Aug 90 & only a few weeks before the first fighting broke out in Rwanda. Fortunately, my mate Keith Turner & had left Rwanda by that time
Western Green Tinkerbird
Western Green Tinkerbird

29 Jun 23 - Angola - Up For A Lark

Today we were off to Mount Moco. This is one of a number of large hills which stand out on the already high Angolan plateau in this part of the country. After over an hour of driving, we reached the turn off to the village. Initially, it was another very rough track for the first couple of miles, but it did improve to a more typical dirt track for the several remaining miles. Right at the start we saw our one & only Angola Lark. The reality is if we hadn't of seen it, we would have spent more time looking for others.
Angola Lark: This is the angolensis subspecies which occurs in North & West Central Angola. There are two other subspecies which occur in parts of East Angola, South Democratic Republic of the Congo & North West Zambia
Angola Lark: It was a good looking Lark
It was a depressing drive through miles of a clearly regularly burnt plateau.
Some of the burnt plateau
Red-capped Lark: This is the spleniata subspecies which occurs in South West Angola & North West Namibia
Buffy Pipit: This is the neumanni subspecies which breeds on the Angolan plateau and disperses to Namibia & Botswana
Capped Wheatear: This is the neseri subspecies which occurs from South Angola & North Namibia to West Botswana
Lesser Striped Swallow: This is the ampliformis subspecies which occurs from South Angola to North Namibia, West Zambia & North West Zimbabwe
Rock-loving Cisticola: This is the bailunduensis subspecies of Rock-loving Cisticola which occurs in Central Angola. It has been proposed as a potential split in the past as Huambo Cisticola
Rock-loving Cisticola
Rock-loving Cisticola
I will continue with the species in the patches of remnant woodland on the hillside in the next Blog Post.
Angolan Flower sp.: This was a common species on Mount Moco foothill

28 Jun 2023

28 Jun 23 - Angola - An Open Country Afternoon

We had started the day Birding on a trail through some dry forest near Londuimbali. This had been productive for regional endemics, albeit there weren't any Angolan endemics. After a late morning break for some food, we headed off to a local area where there were wet fields around a small river.
Brown-throated Sand Martin: This is also known as Plain Martin. This is the nominate paludicola subspecies which occurs from Angola to Zambia, South Tanzania & South Africa
Lucia Widow: This is one of the best looking & most bizarre Dragonflies that I've seen. Thanks to my mate Steve Morrison who was able to correct the identify of this species from the incorrect Portia Widow
The local rivers were used for washing clothes: The amount of detergent etc in the rivers can't help biodiversity. But the rivers can't be in worse condition than many UK rivers, thanks to the tories allowing the water companies to dump sewerage in many of our rivers
The local grasses make for perfect drying spots
We returned to the forest patch at Londuimbali and drove down a different forest track. This wasn't as productive: a Dusky Indigobird and two White-winged Black Tits were the only highlights.
White-winged Black Tit: This is the insignis subspecies which occurs from Gabon to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi & North Mozambique
Dusky Indigobird: Male. This species is also known as Variable Indigobird and I first got to know the species as African Firefinch Indigobird: which reflected its preferred host species in Kenya. This is the nigerrima subspecies which occurs from Kenya to Mozambique, Angola & Zimbabwe
After giving up on the drivable track, we returned to the original trail into the forest that we had tried in the morning. This wasn't as good as it had been in the early morning: however, early afternoon isn't the best time of time of day for tropical Birding. A party of White-crested Helmetshrikes and a couple of distant Schalow's Turacos were the highlights.
White-crested Helmetshrike: I was pleased to see another family party of White-crested Helmetshrikes
White-crested Helmetshrike: This is the poliocephalus subspecies which occurs from Central Kenya to South Uganda, South East Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Namibia & South Africa
We had seen a number of good species during the day, so we decided to start heading back to Huambo and try a Blue Quail site in some wet agricultural fields on the way back to the hotel. Unfortunately, we were not successful on this occasion, but Blue Quail are not an easy species to see. We were successful on the following day in some adjacent fields.
Coppery-tailed Coucal: This monotypic species occurs from Angola to the South of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania & Malawi
Red-faced Cisticola: This is the lepe subspecies and it is endemic to Angola
Stout Cisticola: This is the angolensis subspecies which occurs in Angola, South Democratic Republic of the Congo& North West Zambia
Pin-tailed Whydah: This monotypic species is very widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa from South Mauritania to Eritrea and it occurs as far South as South Africa
After walking through all the nearby fields, we decided to head back to the hotel in Huambo and do the first half of the drive in the failing light.
There was a ready supply of mud bricks for housing: After that, the houses just needed some corrugated iron for the roof and wood for door and the window shutters
Many of the local houses hold the roofs in place with large stones