29 Jul 2023

29 Jul 23 - An Isle Of Purbeck Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpipers are a very hard species to see in the Historic Isle of Purbeck. There are only five records for Studland of this species which prefers freshwater fields, rather than coastal mudflats. With little freshwater in the rest of the Isle of Purbeck, there is little suitable habitat. Around 2008 or 2009, a stream was partially dammed at Sunnyside Farm on the edge of Stoborough Heath and this created a nice freshwater area which has attracted the occasional Wood Sandpiper.
Wood Sandpiper
There are a few records from the pools on the RSPB Arne Moors. However, there is no public access to this area, which will also mean the best area in the Isle of Purbeck is under-recorded given it adjoins Swineham: where they occur just outside of the Isle of Purbeck border. As a result, Wood Sandpipers have remained a scarce & tricky species to see in the Isle of Purbeck. So, it was good to hear that local patch stalwart, Jol Mitchell, had found one at Sunnyside. A few others managed to beat my quick response to get to the viewing screen overlooking the flooded pools. It was a nice local social event, as well as, a chance to see my fourth Isle of Purbeck Wood Sandpiper.
Wood Sandpiper: It was nice that it stretched out its wing while I was taking some photos

2 Jul 2023

2 Jul 23 - Angola - Rapidly Running Out Of Time

We had now reached late morning on our last day of Birding in Angola and we were still struggling to find our last Angolan endemic, Angola Slaty-flycatcher. Even worse, we had to be back at the Casper Resort by 15:00 to collect the bags, pack away the cameras etc, as Phil & I needed to be at Lubango airport for an early evening flight back to the capital Luanda. Richard and Niall were staying at the Casper Resort for that evening, before starting the long drive back to Johannesburg. Niall decided to try another location at the top of the escarpment that we hadn't tried before.
First we tried the far side of the main tourist gorge
There weren't a lot of trees on the far side of the main tourist gorge and it didn't look hopeful for Angola Slaty-flycatcher. But there were several Short-toed Rock Thrushes in this area. Somehow only Richard had managed to see one in the first day and a half. It wasn't a Tick for me, but I'm always happy to see Rock Thrushes.
Short-toed Rock Thrush: This is the nominate brevipes subspecies which occurs in Angola, Namibia, Botswana & the West of South Africa. A second subspecies occurs in South East Botswana, central South Africa & Swaziland
Short-toed Rock Thrush
With only an hour of Birding time left, Richard suggested we should try an area of trees at the escarpment edge that he had seen as we were driving to the first location of the day. It seemed a worthwhile last try, given the only other option was to revisit previous sites.
We had to cross this open grassy area & then there was a deep valley with a lot of trees in it
Initially there didn't seem to be much activity in the woodland below us. But finally one of the guys picked up a Flycatcher moving furtively in the trees. It wasn't close, but I managed to get some photos & I could see it was an Angola Slaty-flycatcher: our last Angolan endemic.
Angola Slaty-flycatcher: This is the nominate brunneus subspecies which occurs in the North end of the West Angolan escarpment. A second subspecies occurs around Mount Moco and the central Angolan highlands
Just for icing on the cake, Neil said he could hear a distant Bocage's Akalat singing. This was a species we had heard, but not seen. With a bit of encouragement, it came a bit closer. With more time, we could have walked about 100 metres down the slope to get closer to the trees and hopefully got some better views & photos. However, time was pressing & we were happy with having seen both species.
Bocage's Akalat: This is the nominate bocagei subspecies which occurs in the Western highlands of Angola. It will be an armchair Tick when I upgrade to IOC as it is split from the subspecies I've seen in Cameroon
None of the reports for the tours that we looked at managed to see all of the endemics. In reality, the tours seem to get higher species totals than we achieved, but they also spent a bit of time chasing common species at the coast and elsewhere, which wasn't a priority for us as we had all spent a lot of time Birding in Africa. Additionally, these tours visited in the Sep to Nov and they are much closer to the rainy season. Undoubtedly, this should be better if it increases the activity and singing. But we weren't complaining with what we had seen.
Namib Rock Agama: Thanks to my mate Steve Morrison for helping to identify a number of the Lizard species from my published photos
It was time to leave. We collected & repacked the bags and said goodbye to Richard: who was going to enjoy an early drink in the hotel. Niall dropped Phil & I at the airport with time to get a meal before the plane went. Typically, the plane was running a couple of hours late and so we had a longer wait than hoped for. Finally, we arrived in Luanda airport about 23:30 and the pre-arranged taxi driver was waiting to take us to the uninspiring & overpriced Golden Park Hotel.
Namib Rock Agama: Another individual. Thanks to my mate Steve Morrison for helping to identify a number of the Lizard species from my published photos
After far too little sleep, the alarm was ringing to wake us for the 06:00 taxi back to the airport. There was time for breakfast in the airport and to say goodbye to Phil as he headed off to his flight back to Sydney. My flight to Lisbon & then Heathrow was mercifully uneventful & I was back into Heathrow about 22:30. After a food shop, I arrived home about 02:00. It had been a really good trip with some good mates and worked out about two-thirds of the price of the main tour groups. I am much happier travelling with a group of mates than on an organised tour & I would look forward to teaming up with Phil, Richard & Niall again if circumstances allow. A final thanks to Phil, Richard & Niall for being such good company.
Niall (left) Phil & Richard (right) at Kinjila Forest (20 Jun 23)

2 Jul 23 - Angola - The Final Morning At The Tundavala Escarpment

We were back at the Tundavala Escarpment for our last morning in Angola. This time we turned off on a track to the North West of the main car park. After two or three miles we parked up & walked down to the escarpment edge. We were hoping to see the endemic subspecies of White-headed Barbet, which is an isolated population from the main East African population, and our last Angolan endemic species, Angola Slaty-flycatcher: but we couldn't find either species. However, there was plenty of other species feeding in the same area.
Walking down to the escarpment edge at first light
Mud blocks for another house
After walking for a couple of miles, we reached the escarpment edge
Richard, Phil & Niall just settling in
There was a bonus stream which was attracting in a few species for a drink
Common Bulbul: This is the tricolor subspecies which occurs from East Cameroon East to South Sudan & central Kenya and South to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, North Namibia, North West Botswana and North & West Zambia
African Yellow White-eye: This is the anderssoni subspecies which occurs from South & East Angola & North Namibia to the South East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, South West Tanzania, the Zimbabwe plateau & North West Mozambique
Fulleborn's Longclaw: This is the ascensi subspecies which occurs in grasslands & Brachystegia woodlands of Central Africa
Holub's Golden Weaver: This monotypic species occurs from Gabon to Angola, Uganda, Kenya, Botswana & Mozambique
Angola Waxbill: This monotypic species occurs in Angola & Namibia
Angola Waxbill: We had seen a few in Lubango area, but this was the first time I had managed to photograph the species
Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax: There is an isolated population in Angola & Botswana. Their main range stretches from South Egypt to South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique & North East South Africa
Having drawn a blank on the Angola Slaty-flycatcher, we headed back to the barbeque area to have another look there, as we knew there were other records from that location. We wandered around for over an hour, but still failed to find one. But the local Congo Rope Squirrels were more obliging.
Congo Rope Squirrel: Finally, one posed close to me
Angolan Ichneumon Wasp sp.: Thanks to my mate Steve Morrison who was able to confirm this was an Ichneumon Wasp sp. from my published photos
We were running out of options for finding an Angola Slaty-flycatcher. Niall decided we should try a couple of other areas at the top of the escarpment that we hadn't visited before. I will cover the results in the final Blog Post.

1 Jul 2023

1 Jul 23 - Angola - Below The Tundavala Escarpment

We had enjoyed a successful morning at the Tundavala Escarpment where we had been lucky to see an endemic Swierstra's Francolin. The plan for the rest of the day was for an hour & a half drive to Bruco to the South West of the Tundavala Escarpment. There were some fantastic views as the road wound down the escarpment.
The view from the Serra da Leba Escarpment
Another view from the Serra da Leba Escarpment
Another view from the Serra da Leba Escarpment: This escarpment was easily the prettiest part of Angola, even beating the views of Calandula Falls: which are Africa's second largest waterfall
We stopped at one viewpoint to walk down a section of the mid escarpment while Niall drove down to a lower viewpoint to wait for us. There was a Grey-headed Bushshrike by the first viewpoint, but just like every Bushshrike we saw, it was really skulking. After a couple of minutes of hiding in one of the trees, I managed to get some photos as it flew out of its last tree.
Grey-headed Bushshrike: This is the interpositus subspecies that occurs from Angola to West Zambia
Grey-headed Bushshrike: It is a widespread species that occurs over much of Sub-Saharan Africa
Grey-headed Bushshrike
Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax: I tried pishing to get the Grey-headed Bushshrike to show, with no success. However, it interested this Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax
There were flocks of Bradfield's Swifts & Rock Martins along the escarpment edge
Bradfield's Swift: This is the nominate bradfieldi subspecies which occurs in the deserts & arid savanna of South West Angola & Namibia. A second subspecies occurs in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa
Bradfield's Swift
Bradfield's Swift
Bradfield's Swift
Rock Martin: This is the anderssoni subspecies which occurs in North & South West Angola and North & Central Namibia
Looking down to the plains below
After about thirty minutes of walking down part of the escarpment, we were back in the 4WD & heading to a dry forest area at the base of the escarpment. The avifauna changed to some lowland species like Grey Go-away-bird, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill and White-tailed Shrike that I had seen back in my 1990 trip to Botswana.
The habitat at Bruco reminded me of some parts of Namibia
Looking back at the escarpment
Namaqua Dove: Female. This is the nominate capensis subspecies that occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa, Socotra & Arabia. A second subspecies occurs in Madagascar
Little Bee-eater: This is the meridionalis subspecies that occurs from the Congo basin to East Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Angola, Uganda & West Kenya South to the Eastern part of South Africa
Red-billed Quelea: This is the lathamii subspecies which occurs from Gabon, the Republic of the Congo & Angola to Malawi, Mozambique & South Africa. They are one of the most abundant avian species in the world
Malbrouck Monkey: Adult
Malbrouck Monkey: Juvenile
Skink (Panaspis wahlbergii): Panaspis wahlbergii is the species of Skink that appears to be the best fit on range. Thanks to my mate Steve Morrison who was able to identify a number of the Lizard species from my published photos
Epaulet Skimmer: This doesn't look too dissimilar to a Black-tailed Skimmer. Thanks to my mate Steve Morrison who was able to identify a number of the Dragonfly species from my published photos
Some of the local cattle
We had been looking for the regional endemic Cinderella Waxbill, which is a scarce & tricky species to find at Bruco. Sadly, we were unlucky. It looks like we had used all of our Birding luck for the day with the views of the Swierstra's Francolin. We stayed as late as we could & had a long drive back to the Casper Resort in the dark. In reality, we couldn't complain about how the day had gone.

1 Jul 23 - Angola - A Bonus Endemic

It was another early start, but at least it was only a twenty minute drive back to a spot on the Tundavala Escarpment that we had scouted the previous afternoon. As we entered the rocky area at the top of the road, we flushed a couple of Freckled Nightjars from the road. Fortunately, they landed again & they provided me with a bonus pre-dawn Tick. This area had long parts of the escarpment that was heading away from us on the left and the right. The key endemic we were looking for was Swierstra's Francolin. They call in the first few hours of light & we were expecting that they would call from a prominent position to allow their call to carry from the escarpment edge.
The Tundavala Escarpment: There are some stunning views from the edge of the escarpment
After about thirty minutes of searching, a Swierstra's Francolin started calling from part of the escarpment that was heading away to our left. It sounded like it was about a half mile from us, but there was a lot of the cliff and at varying elevations to scan and it wasn't possible to figure out exactly where it was calling from. Swierstra's Francolins are the most difficult of the Angolan endemics to see. Most trips only hear them or if they are really lucky, they get a brief flight after flushing one: so I wasn't optimistic. Still there were worse places to sit in Angola & scan for a Tick, whilst supping on an early morning coffee, especially as it was warmer than we were expecting.
Another view from the Tundavala Escarpment
We spent a couple of hours scanning up and down and from near to far along the escarpment cliffs. Finally, after a couple of hours of looking, Niall shouted that he could see a Swierstra's Francolin. We were spread out & looking from various viewpoints. There was a quick scramble to get to where Niall was sitting, but quickly we had all enjoyed prolonged scope views. Niall was happy as it was one of the few Ticks for him: as he hadn't connected on previous trips. It was a calling from a prominent position that was maybe six hundred metres away and lower down the escarpment than our position. The photos aren't brilliant, but given most Birders fail to see Swierstra's Francolin, it was an achievement to get them.
Swierstra's Francolin: This is a West Angolan endemic
I hadn't taken my scope on this trip and I was using the camera to photograph distant objects of interest to zoom into to check they weren't a calling Swierstra's Francolin. When I sorted my photos in the UK, I found a photo I had taken of the rock it was calling from, well before it was found. But it wasn't on there at the time. It appears that some of the time it was calling from rocks that weren't in our view, before finally moving to a rock we could see.
The Swierstra's Francolin was calling from a prominent rock on this escarpment
After twenty minutes of watching it, I saw it walk off its rock & disappear back into the vegetation. This was the sign we could go back to the 4WD & have our field breakfast.
Buffy Pipit: This is the neumanni subspecies which breeds on the Angolan plateau and disperses to Namibia & Botswana
After breakfast, we drove down a couple of miles to an area of forest with barbeque grills set up.
Pied Crow: This monotypic species occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, Aldabra & the Comoro Islands
Part of the forest with the barbeque grills: Initially, the attendants didn't want us to enter. But it was a language problem and we didn't appreciate there was an entrance fee. Once the one US dollar fee per person was paid, we were OK to enter
The barbeque area: This was a mixture of tables, surrounded by areas of flowering plants, dry bush areas, as well as, some bigger fruiting trees around a small stream
Black-collared Barbet: This is the bocagei subspecies which occurs from South Angola to North Namibia, North Botswana, South Zambia & West Zimbabwe
Cape Crombec: This is the flecki subspecies which occurs from South Angola to East Namibia, East Botswana, South West Zambia & West Zimbabwe
Variable Sunbird: This is the falkensteini subspecies which occurs from Gabon to North Angola, the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia & Zimbabwe
Variable Sunbird: This was the commonest Sunbird we saw at Tundavala
Variable Sunbird: The same individual
Variable Sunbird: The same individual
We saw plenty of Variable Sunbirds at Tundavala. But the species we were looking for was an adult Oustalet's Sunbird. Finally, we found one in the barbeque park. We had seen a number of out of plumage immature Sunbirds and seeing the adult Oustalet's Sunbird confirmed my suspicions that the immatures were all Variable Sunbirds.
Oustalet's Sunbird: This is the nominate oustaleti subspecies which occurs in Central & South Angola. A second subspecies occurs from North East Zambia to Malawi & extreme South West Tanzania
Angolan Agama sp.: This appears to be an Agama & is perhaps an immature male Namib Rock Agama which have a brick red head and blue body
Angolan Agama sp.: Another photo of the same individual
Congo Rope Squirrel: They were easily seen in the barbeque area
We had spent a couple of hours of the morning unsuccessfully looking for the last Angolan endemic, Angola Slaty-flycatcher. We decided to try another Birding site below the escarpment in the afternoon & to leave Angola Slaty-flycatcher for a final look on the last day.