Saturday, September 26, 2009

Summer has arrived

Over the last three weekends, Simon Fellingham, Mike Cowley and I have headed over the Lualaba River and into the vast woodlands to the east of Kolwezi. This time of year the woodlands are very active with almost all of the species either attracting mates, preparing to nest or waiting in anticipation for the coming rains. The extra feeding, calling, chasing, building and hunting means that the birding activity in September is nothing short of spectacular.

Almost completely absent as little as three weeks ago, Cuckoos now seem to dominate the woodland. At least one representative of African, Red-chested or Black Cuckoo can be heard at almost any point. Klaas's and Emerald are less obvious, while Thick-billed requires a little bit more luck and a good vantage point. The ‘Coctet’ is completed with the locally uncommon Didric and the somewhat shy and the less than common, Common.

Other particularly vocal species at this time of year include the impressive Grey-hooded Kingfisher and African Golden Oriole. The comical call of the Racket-tailed Roller could easily be confused with something far larger and less avian. Rollers display around a nesting tree with a ‘shot in mid air and drop dead’ fly–by. Less spectacular and less confident in the air, but equally vocal are the hornbills, Pale-billed and Crowned.

The brachystegia woodland is of course characterised by a very distinctive suite of species. Although mixed flocks are less evident now than in other months of the year, many of these species such as White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Miombo Tit, Bar-winged Weaver, Miombo Wren Warbler, Red-capped Crombec, Black-necked Eromomela and Cabanis's Bunting still seem to move in loose assemblages. Canopy species include Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Black-eared and Reichards Seedeaters, Amethyst and Violet-backed Sunbird.

Pairs of Arnot’s Chat, Miombo Scrub Robin and Kurrichane Thrush avoid the crowds but are easily found on the woodland floor, which at this time of year is largely devoid of grass and freshly burnt. Rufous-bellied Tits, also seem to be shyer and disappear quickly into a concealed tree cavity. Higher above, a Bohm's Flycatcher enters and leaves a disused Red-headed Weavers nest. The seldom Spotted Creepers are more mobile and appear to be restricted to smaller and better defined territories, but remain difficult to pin down.

The flamboyant African Paradise Flycatcher is never far away from some action while the less dramatic Fan-tailed Flycatchers call incessantly as they glean their way through the thicker clumps of vegetation and around termite mounds. Ashy and Southern Black Flycatchers, although less obvious than some can be quite active. The sticky call of an African Dusky Flycatcher often gives away the presence of a shy spectator. No Spotted or Collared Flycatchers are around yet.

Apart from the seemingly omnipresent Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, frugivores seem to be poorly represented. Concentrations of fruiting figs do however attract Crested and Black-collared Barbet and the splendid Schalow’s Turaco and Violet-backed Starling. If you are lucky you may chance across a group of Anchieta’s Barbet. A day in the woodland can produce up to five species of Woodpecker including Cardinal, Bearded, Golden-tailed, Bennet’s and Little Spotted.

A number of grassy hills renowned for their high copper content and associated vegetation types produce a slightly different suite of species to the woodland. Sooty Chat replace Arnot's and are normally the first to be seen. They are followed by a variety of hirundines including Pearl-breasted, Grey-rumped Angola, Red-breasted and Lesser Striped Swallows. The former species seem to make use of artisanal miner’s shafts. A waterway whose trees have long been converted into charcoal provides a grassy niche which is host to Red-cheeked Cordonbleau, Black-Sawwing Swallow, Orange-winged Pytilia and Holub’s Golden Weaver.

The area still supports a reasonably healthy population of Bateleur who together with a few pairs of African Hawk Eagle scour the woodland from above. Below African Goshawk and Lizard Buzzard wait while the ubiquitous Yellow-billed Kites are never far from a meal. Trilling, Rattling, Red-faced and Short-winged Cisticolas have, for obvious reasons, have been relegated to the second division. However despite their browns and beiges, their song adds to the general ambience and confirms that summer has arrived.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wattled Crane in Kolwezi

19/09/09: Three Wattled Cranes heard and seen flying over Kolwezi around mid day. The birds were moving in a southerly direction

23/09/09: Ten Wattled Cranes were observed feeding in the Musonoi River in Kolwezi. The Musonoi River, which was dammed many years ago, has filled with tailings material deposited from upstream mining operations. Birds were feeding in a moist grassy area which covers a few hectares.

25 and 26/09/09: Unfortunately no birds could be located.

It is speculated that these birds were moving southwards towards Zambia from the large swamps to the north.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Kolwezi Riverine Forest

Below is an annotated list of species recorded along a stretch of riverine forest to the north of Kolwezi in July 2009:
Little Grebe / Dabchick - pair resident in small dam at lower end of forest

Long-crested Eagle - a fairly common raptor in the area

Lizzard Buzzard - common bird along the forest

African Goshawk - uncommon bird along the forest. Is possibly more numerous where therer are more trees .

Red-necked Spurfowl - common in scrub and farmland. The only Spurfowl in the area.

Common Moorhen - a single bird skulking near the waters edge

Emerald-spotted Wood Dove - common in scrub, forest and farmbush

Red-eyed Dove - common in woodland and forest

Klaas's Cuckoo - calling has started in late June. Mainly along river course associated with larger trees

Speckled Mousebird - common species. Differs from the southern form by having red legs and a whitish cheek

Little Bee-eater - common species

African Hoopoe - seems to have increased in numbers in recent weeks. Possibly as a result of the number of fires which has cleared much of the groundcover

Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird - common in the riparian forest

Brown-backed Honeybird - uncommon. Recorded once along river

Flappet Lark - common species. Its presence is often given away by characteristic flight

Angola Swallow - common species. Almost always associated with water.

African Pied Wagtail - common species often near open water

Black Cucko-Shrike - fairly common species in riparian forest

Little Greenbul - restricted to riparian forest where quite common

Yellow-throated Leaflove - common adjacent to riparian woodland. Difficult to see, although characteristic call can be heard

Common Bulbul - very common species across a range of habitats

Black-collared Bulbul - common species on the edge of riparian forest

Black-collared Bulbul

West African Thrush (Turdos pelios sormsi) - very common, especially at fruiting trees. A lot more orange on this bird than the west African varieties.

West African Thrush

African Yellow Warbler - common bird moving through scrubby woodland and thicket edge

Long-billed Crombec - common in scrub adjacent to forest

Red-faced Cisticola - common in scrubby grass adjacent to forest

Short-winged Cisticola - common in scrubby grass adjacent to forest

Tawny-flaned Prinia - common in any tangles and grassy vegetation

White-chinned Prinia (photograph right) - groups of three to four move up and down the forest calling almost continually

African Dusky Flycatcher - uncommon species sometimes absent

Black-throated Wattle Eye - common species more often heard than seen. Keep to cover of forest

Amethyst Sunbird - very common species

Variable Sunbird - very common species, particularly now when syzygium tree species are flowering

Copper Sunbird - fairly common species. Seems to enjoy the invasive tithonia diversifolia.

Bannerman's Sunbird - a unusual bird suspected to be a juvenile of this species was seen once.

Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike - common species in and adjacent to forest. Its call can be heard most mornings

Black-crowned Tchagra - very common species adjacent to forest

Black-backed Puffback - common species in forest and in thick bush adjacent to forest

Tropical Bouboou - common species in forest and in thick bush adjacent

African Golden Oriole - uncommon species. Mostly associated with large fruiting trees

Pied Crow - common species dominating modified habitat

Spectacled Weaver - uncommon species, only seems to be associated with riparian forest in Kolwezi

Yellow Bishop - very common species in scrub adjacent to forest. This species is more obvious during the rainy season.

Yellow-mantled Widow - common species, also more evident during the rainy season.

Fawn-breasted Waxbill - uncommon species moving in small groups amongst herbaceous vegetation

Common Waxbill - common species in rank grass and moist vegetation

Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah - uncommon. Still in full breeding dress in late July.

Black-faced Canary - uncommon species which seems to move around a bit. Sometimes can be common.

Brimstone Canary - common species. Also seems to enjoy the invasive tithonia diversifolia.

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting - possibly the most common bird in Kolwezi for the winter months. Still very common. Seems to disappear during the rainy season.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Birds of Kolwezi

Kolwezi is situated in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The area would have historically supported vast tracts of rich Miombo woodland. However, Kolwezi happens to host one the worlds greatest Copper deposits and has therefore hosted a large human population for some time. Most of the original habitat surrounding the town of Kolwezi has borne the brunt of mining, seasons of subsistence agriculture and uncontrolled burning resulting in a modified grassland and scrub dominated by generalist species. There are of course small relict patches of woodland, forest and wetland which still offer some excitement to birders.

Most of the remaining vegetation hugs the numerous termite mounds, charactristic of the region. These biological islands support a healthy number of species including White-browed Robin Chat, Speckled Mousebird, Schalow's Turaco, Orange-winged Pytilia, White-winged Black Tit and the striking Black-collared Bulbul. Scrubby grassland inbetween the termite mounds is home to Red-necked Francolin, Short-winged Cisticola, Red-cheeked Cordonbleau, Flappet Lark, Black-faced Canary and the ubiquitous Black-crowned Tchagra.

Dambos (flooded grasslands) are wet throughout the year and often intensively farmed. However even some of the most intensely farmed dambos host Red-chested Flufftail, Fullenborne's Longclaw, Broad-tailed Warbler, Black Coucal, Black-chinned Quail Finch and Marsh Widow. African Marsh Harriers are common. The edges of larger dambos and rivers offer suitable habitat for Yellow-throated Leaflove, Coppery Sunbird and African Yellow Warbler. Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers and Chirping Cisticola call from dense reedbeds adjacent to modified aquatic habitat. Quiet open water with suitable vegetation support both Lesser and African Jacana, Allen's Gallinule and Purple Swamphen while Angola Swallows swoop down through open culverts. The mighty Lualaba River (start of the Congo) passes immediately to the north of Kolwezi. Although a bit overfished it still holds small numbers of hippo and crocodile. All of the regular open water suspects such as Grey-headed Gull and Osprey, and a diverse array of Herons and Egrets are present.

Remnant patches of Mushito (swamp forest) harbour African Thrush, Common Wattle Eye, White-chinned Prinia, Little Greenbul, Olive Woodpecker and Superb Starling. Relict patches of miombo woodland are home to typical mixed flock species such as Rufous-bellied Tit, Violet-backed Sunbird, Green-capped Eromomela, Red-capped Crombec and Yellow-bellied Hyliota.

Despite the degraded nature of the area, large raptors are suprisingly well represented in Marial Eagle, Bateluer, Long-crested Eagle, Western-banded, Brown and Black-breasted Snake Eagle and Gymnogene. The presence of these large raptors gives an indication of what lies beyond the susbistence agriculture and stunted miombo.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kolwezi Migrants - Arrivals and Departures

The following is a list of dates (first and last) that some migratory species were recorded in Kolwezi in 2009. This list will be updated as more dates become available:

Black Kite
Last Date: 15-03-09 - Numerous birds flying over site
First Date: 05-07-09 - Single bird flying over Kolwezi in the evening

African Crake
Last Date: 09-05-09 - Single bird walking across grassy track

Black Coucal
Last Date: 04-04-09 - Bird calling from Dambo

Common Swift
First Date: 20-09-09- Large flocks seen over the Lualaba River. Coincides with the first rain of the season

European Bee Eater
Last Date: 05-04-09 - Small group calling and flying over site
First Date: 30-08-09 - Small group calling and flying over site

Red-throated Cliff Swallow
First Date: 15-05-09 - Small group feeding above dam on site

Barn Swallow
Last Date: 04-04-09 - Birds on wire above Kakifuluwe River
First Date: 22-09-09 - Birds arrive in force at Kakifuluwe River

Sand Martin
First Date: 21-09-09 - Three birds appear with Barn Swallows on the Kakifuluwe River

Hosue Martin
First Date: 21-09-09 - A single bird appears with Barn Swallows on the Kakifuluwe River

Willow Warbler
Last Date: 22-03-09 - Bird feeding on site

Great Reed Warbler
Last Date: 30-03-09 - Bird calling on site

Spotted Flycatcher
Last Date: 04-05-09 - Bird feeding on site

Capped Wheatear
First Date: 14-05-09 - Eight Capped Wheatear appear on site

Red-backed Shrike
Last Date: 05-04-09 – Apart from three birds which spent one day in camp in early April, Red-backed Shrike was not recorded in Kolwezi.

Lesser-Grey Shrike
Last Date: 05-04-09 - Apart from two birds which spent the day in camp in early April, I have not recorded Lesser Grey Shrike in Kolwezi.

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting
First Date: 30-03-2009 - Calling erupts across site

Woodlands North West of Kolwezi

Rebecca and I headed out north west of Kolwezi for a bit of birding, relaxing and exploration. We followed the main road westwards out of Kolwezi and then north past the Kanzenze turnoff. Soon after the 50 km peg, we pulled off into some interesting woodland, parked the car and had a look around. The original flora of this area would have been a rich mosaic of Evergreen Forest and Miombo Woodland. The forest canopy (of perhaps only a few years ago) would have stretched over a much larger area. However, today it is being logged at an alarming rate and has been reduced to a few relict patches. The logging is mostly of a subsistence nature and has left numerous roads which facilitate access for birders too. The difficult part is to find the patches as wherever there is a road, there is no longer a forest. More worrying are the rampant fires started by local farmers which further degrade the forest. Despite the logging and disturbance, the area still supports some interesting birdlife. Typical Zambeizan species dominate the site, but interestingly, there are still elements of the Guinea Congo forests as well.

It was just after 7 a.m. when we arrived and as we turned off the engine, we realised that a large group of Crested Guineafowl were feeding noisily in the scrub right next to the car. After they had moved away (and we still had not managed a great sighting), we ventured out of the car and further along the path on foot. We arrived at a small fragmented patch of forest and were met by a small flock of Cabanis's Greenbul and a pair of Chestnut Wattle-eye. In some of the denser thicket, a Red-tailed Bristlebill and African Broadbill called. Numerous Large False Mopane (Guibourtia coleasperma) were in full seed attracting birds and decorating the pathway. The canopy produced a very shy flash of red in the form of a Shallow's Turaco and a small group of Buff-throated Apalis. Other species in a mixed flock included Dark-backed Weaver, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Brubru, Black-backed Puffback, African Golden Oriole, Olive Sunbird, Honeyguide Greenbul and the ubiquitous Little Greenbul. High above a Western Banded Snake Eagle started to call. An African Goshawk caused quite a bit of stress while a distant Western Bronze-naped Pigeon called.

Leaving the forest patch we walked back into the woodland. This time of year, the woodland can be very quiet unless you chance upon a mixed flock working their way through the canopy. It was not long before we heard the distinctive call and then flyby of a Thick-billed Cuckoo, that was followed by a feeding group of Blue-Grey Flycatcher and a pair of Margaret's Batis.

In the next few hours we encountered a few mixed flocks which were typically dominated by species such as Green-capped and Black-throated Eremomela, Yellow White-Eye, Chin-spot Batis, Rufous-bellied Tit, Cabanis's Bunting, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Red-capped Crombec, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike and Pale-billed and Crowned Hornbills. Other species of interest included Spotted Creeper, Bohm's and Dusky Flycatchers, Pale Wren Warbler, Violet-backed Sunbird, Green-backed Woodpecker, Purple-banded Sunbird and Scimitarbill. By now the 'moisture flies' were finding us quite attractive in their thousands and we had little choice but to head back to the sanctuary of the car.

It was now hot and bird movement was slow. We decided to head back to Kolwezi. Stopping at an attractive bit of grassland we managed to find a small group of Tinkling Cisticola, a Flappet Lark a few flocks of Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (in attractive 'dress code') and an African Marsh Harrier. The route home produced a magnificent Bateleur and a flash of a Shikra.

All in all an excellent day in the woodlands north west of Kolwezi.