Thursday, 6 November 2014

Day 7 Sightings

Day 7

Namibian Owls

Now owls are not something you see often in the UK, or, I imagine, the rest of Europe. When we were staying at Twitchers Retreat in Norfolk earlier in the year (see earlier post), it was a real and unique privilege to see the Barn Owls that nest in the B&B's garden. 

Yet here in Namibia, owls are rather more common, and certainly more diverse. We have three species resident in our garden alone, with a fourth visiting now and again. And another two species are often encountered in Etosha NP. That's six species in this area! 

But that doesn't make it any less special when we do see "our" owls. We hear them every day/night: the diminutive African Scops Owl calls without fail every evening - "Prrrrrrp.... prrrrrrrrp" - usually two of them, sometimes up to four. But it wasn't until this week that we finally got a good look at one of them, when one was perched low down in our bamboo stand.

The pair of Southern White-faced Owls that reside in our garden every winter (reliably so for the past five years at least) roost so high up in the fig-trees that you get a sore neck trying to get a look at them, and need a telescopic lens and plenty of luck to get a decent photo of them through the dense foliage. But you hear them calling regularly during the day and night ("cooroocooroocooloo").

And then the Barn Owls are so shy that we've never yet had more than a fleeting glimpse of them as they fly from the top of one palm tree to another, yet we hear them screeching nearly every night. 

The fourth species, an occasional visitor, is the Pearl-Spotted Owlet. At 19 cm and just 65g, it's the smallest of the owls, and difficult to see, but just as distinctive in its call as any of the others (a dramatic ascending and then descending sequence of whistled notes).

And then in Etosha, we often come across the Spotted Eagle Owl, which usually nests in old Acacia trees out on the plains, often on top of sociable weaver nests.

The last species that can be found (but rarely seen) in Etosha is the Verreaux's ("Giant") Eagle Owl, a bird nearly 50 times heavier than the Pearl-Spotted Owlet! This giant can occasionally be heard in Okaukuejo, and on rare occasions can be spotted near the top of one of the taller trees in the rest-camp.

Sightings from Day 7 (22 July 2014)

Day 7 of our "Big Year" was the last time that we saw more than a dozen new bird species in one day - after this the numbers per day tail off considerably, as expected. All the new species seen on this day were recorded by Danie in Windhoek (WHK) - the majority on a walk around Avis Dam Reservoir. Unfortunately he didn't have the camera with him, so there's no pictures of of them, except for the Grey go-away bird that he managed to snap with his phone, but here's the list anyway:

78.       Grey go-away bird (WHK)

79.       Long tailed paradise wydah (WHK)
80.       White-backed mousebird (WHK)
81.       Common scimitar-bill (WHK)
82.       Great white pelican (WHK)
83.       Little egret (WHK)
84.       Grey Heron (WHK)
85.       Three-banded plover (WHK)
86.      Great egret (WHK)
87.      Cape wagtail (WHK)
88.      Black winged stilt (WHK)

Getting close to 100 after just 7 days!

Til next time...

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Day 6 Sightings

Day 6

Burchell's vs Meve's?

Sitting having lunch with guests in Okaukeujo one day, we saw a lot of starlings, but one stood out: longer legs, longer tail and no red eyes. What on earth was it? Could it be a Meve's starling? We quickly decided it was, and we were quite happy with this sighting... until I met another birder in Okaukeujo. I asked him what interesting birds he had seen. He said he had seen a Burchell's starling. Hmmmm. After a lot of back and forth about the real identity and a few visits to Okaukeujo, I managed to photograph this particular bird  and identify it by its call. Definitely a Burchell's starling. It seems to be the only one in Okaukeujo, right on the edge of it's natural range.

Anyways, herewith our list for day six of our "Big Year". Something else of interest is that we only saw the lappet-faced Vulture on day six. This does seem to correspond with the general consensus that their numbers are dwindling. The photo below was taken by a camera trap that we put up at a carcass of an unfortunate steer that died of rabies. We counted upwards of 40 white-backed vultures there at any one time, but even at the busiest time we only ever counted 6 lappet-faced vultures. There were around 4 or 5 tagged birds of both species, but unfortunately we put the camera too far away and couldn't identify the birds.

Sightings from day 6 (21st July)

67.  African Hoopoe(E)      
68.  Lappet Faced Vulture(E) 

69.  Lanner falcon(E)   
70.  Cinnamon-chested rock-bunting (E)
71.  Chat Flycatcher (E)
72.  Sabota Lark

73.  Little Swift (E)
74.  Burchell's starling (E)

75.  Crimson-breasted Shrike (E)
76.  Spike-heeled Lark (E)

77.  Black-chested Snake-Eagle (E)

We'll try to be a bit more prompt with writing our next post!

Rachel and Danie

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Day 5 Sightings

Day 5

The Day of the Hyphenated Double-Barreled Names

While we were in England in June, we treated ourselves to two nights at the lovely "Twitchers Retreat" - a cosy little B&B in north-west Norfolk, specialising in catering for birders. So they have a beautiful bird-friendly garden with abundant bird-feeders and even an occupied barn-owl nest-box, which offered us sightings of lots of bird species we might not otherwise have seen, such as woodpeckers, jays, and the beautiful barn owls themselves. 

During our stay there, we spent a morning at Titchwell Marsh RSPB reserve on the north coast of Norfolk, and saw plenty of wetland birds, including some adorable little juvenile avocets - like furry little balls on stilt-like legs!

I've tried to put together a list of all the birds we saw during our 4 weeks in England - it's definitely short a few waders (I can't remember exactly which ones we saw and which we didn't!) and maybe a few others I've forgotten, but I'm actually surprised by just how long the list is - I always considered the bird diversity in the UK to be quite poor compared to here! Maybe I just didn't take the time to look before...

1. Avocet
2. Spoonbill
3. Lapwing
4. Oystercatcher
5. Mallard
6. Coot
7. Moorhen
8. Shelduck
9. Goosander
10. Mute Swan
11. Cormorant
12. Egyptian Goose
13. Greylag goose
14. Canada Goose
15. Mute Swan
16. Great Crested Grebe
17. Grey Heron
18. Black-headed Gull
19. Common Tern
20. Kingfisher
21. Pied Wagtail
22. Jay
23. Magpie
24. Jackdaw
25. Starling
26. Reed bunting
27. Wren
28. Greenfinch
29. Chaffinch
30. Dunnock
31. House sparrow
32. Robin
33. Blackbird
34. Goldfinch
35. Bluetit
36. Great tit
37. Song thrush
38. Great spotted woodpecker
39. Barn owl
40. Woodpigeon
41. Collared Dove
42. Rock Dove
43. Pheasant
44. Red-legged Partridge

One thing that stands out for me, though, when I compare this list to our Namibian bird list, is the length of the names. Most of the British birds have simple, one-word names. But not the Namibian ones, oh no. Here, we like double-barreled, hyphenated, tongue-twisting names! The more descriptive, the better!

As an example, here are our sightings from Day 5 (20th July), all seen on our farm, Vreugde:

62.       Yellow-bellied Eromomela

63.       Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler

64.       Violet-eared Waxbill

65.       Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

66.       Swallow-tailed Bee-eater

This apparently lengthy naming is a result of the sheer diversity of bird species and sub-species across the vast and diverse African continent. Short names are simply not sufficient to describe this diversity. And in keeping with a standard international nomenclature (naming system), this means that related, but distinct, (sub-)species all have to be given related but distinct names, with the differences indicated using appropriately descriptive prefixes. The lesser bird diversity in the UK simply doesn't require such complicated and descriptive naming!

More soon!


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Day 4 Sightings

Day 4

So, to take over where Danie left off....

As the more scientific half of the couple, I'm always the more interested in the numbers of any project we pursue. And as with any collection of data on sightings of different species, you would expect our sightings to follow a pretty predictable pattern: specifically, you'd expect the most sightings on the first few days, as you cross off the more common species, with the numbers of species seen per day dwindling pretty steadily after that. 

As a result, if you plot the total numbers of birds seen to date on each day (a cumulative sightings graph), you'd expect to see a nice curved line that increases sharply at first, before gradually slowing down, until it almost become a horizontal line (an asymptote). 

And that's exactly what our numbers do, albeit with a rather sharp bend in the curve as we approached the 100-mark...

But soon it'll be the summer, and the rainy season, and with that comes a swathe of new species to be seen: seasonal migrants from Europe, as well as waders, ducks and geese.

Day 4 sightings were fairly numerous still, and included a couple of shy residents from our garden (the two owls) as well as a real surprise in Etosha (the stork!). 

19 July 2014

   53.      White stork (Etosha)
   54.      Dusky sunbird (Etosha)


   55.     Marico sunbird (f) (Etosha)
   56.     Red-capped lark (Etosha)

57.     Red-crested korhaan (Etosha)
58.     Chestnut-backed sparrow lark (Etosha)
59.     Little Grebe (Etosha)
60.    Southern White-faced Owl (Vreugde)

61.   African Scops Owl (Vreugde)

More tomorrow...


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Day 3 Sightings

Day 3

Can you cheat at birding?

It's a good question. I mean, how do people know I don't just open the Sasol bird book/app, see which birds occur here, in this specific season and this specific habitat, and write them down? Then hope that some sharp-eyed birder doesn't spot a mistake...? Sounds like way too much effort to me. Much more fun to actually spot the birds anyway! I did do a small cheat though, and I hope it's forgivable: number 47: Domestic Fowl. Chickens. Well, it's an additional bird species! 

Anyway, herewith the list for day 3. All fairly common birds here in the Etosha area. The Black-shouldered Kite (no. 42) was a nice road-side sighting on the way into town. The Cattle Egret (43) we saw outside the Ministry of Finance in Otjiwarongo (who says paying your taxes is all bad news?). Surprisingly the Lark-like Bunting took me ages to identify. When we were working in Gondwana Canyon Park in the south of Namibia, a friend of ours, Holger Kolberg, visited us one weekend with his bird ringing equipment. We got loads of nice species, and also about 50-60 Lark-like Buntings! Suppose I just didn't really expect them up here in the Bushveldt.

18 July 2014
    41.       Helmeted Guinea Fowl (Vreugde Guestfarm)
42.       Black-shouldered Kite (Outjo)
43.       Cattle Egret (Otjiwarongo)
44.       Black-chested Prinia (Otjiwarongo)
45.       House Sparrow (Vreugde Guestfarm)
46.       Red-billed Spurfowl (Vreugde Guestfarm)

47.       Domestic Fowl (Vreugde Guestfarm)
48.       Red-billed Quelea (Vreugde Guestfarm)
49.       Golden-breasted Bunting (Vreugde Guestfarm)

50.   Lark-like Bunting (Vreugde Guestfarm)
51.   African palm Swift (Vreugde Guestfarm)
52.   Red-billed Buffalo weaver (Vreugde Guestfarm)
   53.   Black-throated Canary (Vreugde Guestfarm)

So, who has watched the Hollywood movie called the Big Year? Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. Not the three guys you would associate with a 'serious movie'! But I really liked it. That movie is partly what got us started on our own "big year". Watch it when you can! I bet you, you'll feel different about birding afterwards, for better or for worse!

I was in Etosha again the other day, with three guests. They were nice enough to allow me to stop right at the end of the tour, when they were tired and wind swept and sun-burnt, and identify this guy which is a completely new species for me! And then to try and get a photo on my cellphone. This shot is taken through my Swarovski bino's:
Southern White-crowned Shrike ( number 121)

In addition, we saw the mother Cheetah with her three cubs that Rachel had seen a week earlier (see Sightings day 1). It was a good sighting, and is it just me, or is Etosha's cheetah population increasing? I have the feeling there might be more than 80 at the moment!

All for now!


Sunday, 31 August 2014

Day 2 Sightings

We've been busy the last couple of days (peak season at the Guest Farm). No time to breathe, no time to blog.

So I started wondering: which African country has the most bird species? I looked it up today: according to Africapedia, the DRC has 1148 bird species, which puts it top of the list. Namibia is at number 26, with 619 species. Not bad considering it's a desert country (thanks to the Caprivi Strip for adding a couple of non arid species!!).

So here is our second day's list. Of note here (meaning they're more unusual sightings for us) are number 21 and number 25: the Long-billed Crombec and Temmink's courser. We were having lunch in Okaukeujo, Etosha, right next to the waterhole when a bunch of Red-eyed Bulbuls showed up. Shortly after that the Crombec appeared, apparently (I assume) attracted by the noise the Bulbuls were making as they were feeding on insects in an Acacia tree.

(For interest's sake the E behind the species stands for Etosha NP, not endangered! )

17 July
1.       Tawny Eagle (E)
2.       Greater Kestrel (E)
3.       Kori Bustard (E)
4.       Fork-tailed Drongo (E)
5.       Marico flycatcher (E)
6.       Crowned Lapwing (E)
7.       African Grey Hornbill (E)
8.       Northern Black Korhaan (E)
9.       Martial Eagle (E)
10.   Red-headed Finch (E)
11.   White-backed Vulture (E)
12.   Bateleur (E)
13.   Egyptian Goose (E)
14.   Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk (E)
15.   Ground-scraper thrush (E)
16.   Sociable Weaver (E)
17.   Pied Crow (E)
18.   Blacksmith Plover (E)
19.   White-browed Sparrow-weaver (E)
20.   Southern masked weaver (E)
21.   Long-billed crombec (E)
22.   White-bellied sunbird (E)
23.   Rock martin (E)
24.   Double-banded courser (E)
25.   Temminks courser (E)
26.   Scaly-feathered finch (E)
27.   Lilac-breasted roller (E)
28.   Purple roller (E)
29.   Common fiscal (E)

Martial Eagle - Etosha NP
                                                                          Northern Black Korhaan - Etosha NP

Anyway, back to the current day! I was sitting at one of our cattle posts today, looking out for new species and taking some photos. There was one bird that drove me absolutely crazy. It kept calling and I kept looking, but I could not for the life of me see it. I had sort of decided on Green-winged Pytilia, but could not be certain. My Sasol app had the call, but it had some minor differences (could be a local dialect?). It didn't help that the windmill was groaning behind me and that about 200 doves were coming in to drink three meters away. Finally I decided to call it a day. Got down from the blind, clambered over the fence...and right in front of me in a thorn bush was a mother Green-winged Pytilia with three juveniles. So that's number 120 on our list!

 Unfortunately, I couldn't take a good photo, but here is one Rachel took a while back in our garden of a male...

And his female...

In addition, in Etosha I had a nice sighting of a group of 15 lions. 7 Females, 7 cubs and this guy. His two brothers were nowhere to be seen.

Well, that's all for now. Will try and post more regularly.



Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Day 1 Sightings

So I guess we should have started this bloggy thing on the 16th of July 2014. As it stands we started it tonight on the 26th of August.

 isabel. cute puppy (written by my daughter, who is sitting next to me and insisted on getting her chance at writing something!).

The history in short: My wife and I met in Etosha National Park in 2004. She was doing her PhD fieldwork on Giraffe behavioral ecology and I was a Game Ranch Management practical student. We had plenty of time alone in the bush waiting for giraffe to show up, or waiting for giraffe to actually do something other than stand and chew the cud, and that's where it started. We got hooked on birds. Casually at first; a bit more intensively recently.

So this year, for no apparent reason (not quite true, but more about that later), we decided to see how many different bird species we could see in one whole year.

For those of you who are not family or friends (hopefully there are some of you!), we are helping to manage a small guest farm that belongs to our family. We offer daily trips to Etosha and thus have the chance to do a lot of birding AND other more mammalian sightings.

We started on the 16th of July 2014. So even though it is more than a month late, here are our first day's sightings:
1.       Shaft-tailed Wydah (V)
2.       African red-eyed Bul-bul (V)
3.       Cape Turtle dove (V)
4.       Namaqua dove (V)
5.       Namaqua sandgrouse (E)
6.       Black Crow (E)
7.       Yellow-billed hornbill (E)
8.       Secretary bird (E)
9.       Ostrich (E)
10.  Glossy Starling (E)
11.   Acacia-pied Barbet (E)

These are, of course, old familiars. However as I am writing this my wife called ( she was in Etosha today) and told me they had the most amazing sighting of a cheetah mother with two cubs on a kill. What's amazing about it? Etosha=2.1 million hectares. Cheetah population? 80. Like the proverbial needle in a haystack. Jayyy!
In addition to this she had a good sighting of four Lionesses crossing the road in front of her, and a welcome sighting of an old elephant bull-nicknamed Old Wide Tooth- that we met back in 2004. Good to know the old boy is still alive and well. She also saw what she thought was a dark morph of a Wahlberg's eagle which is very possible as they appear in our area during August. We won't write that one down though, cause it was back-lit and thus no positive identification could be made. :(

Well, that's all for now. More from us later.