Birding in Africa: Week 4

More from Mark Wilson’s African Diary:

Read his previous extracts here, here and here.

Bearded Barbet and me: The odd expression on my face is equal parts happiness, fear and pain. Allegedly Bearded Barbets eat figs, but from the power of its bite I judge that this species probably evolved to feed on bones, or rock, or something encased in titanium.

Bearded Barbet and me: The odd expression on my face is equal parts happiness, fear and pain. Allegedly Bearded Barbets eat figs, but from the power of its bite I judge that this species probably evolved to feed on bones, or rock, or something encased in titanium.

Sunday 10th March

The past couple of mornings I have got up early and gone wandering in the reserve, trying to make the most of this place before I leave. As a result, I managed to see several of the birds that I had been hearing a lot, but had not got a good look at.

These included Tropical Boubou, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Common Wattle-eye, and Brown Babbler. The latter bird I saw two of, wild-eyed and dishevelled, ‘duetting’ on a branch (if that word can be applied to a pair of birds making noises like they are being strangled while gargling with Listerine).

In addition, I saw some birds that I had only heard briefly while out on point counts with Manu, or which were entirely new to me. These included African Blue and Paradise Flycatchers, Yellow White-eye, and a very nice Grey-winged Robin Chat.

Stone Partridges. They look like cute little bantam chickens, but they will make your ears bleed!

Stone Partridges. They look like cute little bantam chickens, but they will make your ears bleed!

I also managed to interject myself into a large group of Stone Partridges, which assaulted me from all sides with a barrage of their calls. These sound like escalating outrage being vented by gossiping old women into a microphone attached to stadium-quality speakers.

Mr. and Mrs. Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu. The female looks like a less embarrassed version of the male.

Mr. and Mrs. Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu. The female looks like a less embarrassed version of the male.

This morning, instead of going for another walk, I opened a couple of nets outside the guesthouse, to see if any interesting birds could be convinced to spend a little time with us. I was rewarded with two of the less common sunbirds, (including a stunning male Pygmy Sunbird), a beautiful male Rock Firefinch (one of the this region’s endemic species), a couple of Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds (like tiny, stubby little woodpeckers), a few bitey Village Weavers, a beautiful White-eye and a pair of Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus.

Pygmy Sunbird, complete with improbably long tail streamers. One student last week told me that many Nigerians consider it important to dress modestly, but nobody's told the birds here!

Pygmy Sunbird, complete with improbably long tail streamers. One student last week told me that many Nigerians consider it important to dress modestly, but nobody’s told the birds here!

However, the best bird of the day was the last one. Bearded Barbet is a close relative of the Tinkerbird, but maybe 10 times the size, with a disproportionately large and fearsome bill. I saw one of these shortly after I arrived, and hoped I would get to see one in the hand. My wish came thoroughly true, as while I held it and Emma took photos, I got to see the bird in my hand, and various uncomfortable portions of my hand in the bird’s massive bill.

Bearded Barbet, displaying its awesome mouthparts. The photo is slightly out of focus, partly because Emma isn't used to using my camera, and partly because she was laughing too hard to hold the camera steady.

Bearded Barbet, displaying its awesome mouthparts. The photo is slightly out of focus, partly because Emma isn’t used to using my camera, and partly because she was laughing too hard to hold the camera steady.

The last week of my stay will be a week of presentations for (and from) the students. Tomorrow I will give them a talk on oral presentations, an intentionally self-referential exercise that, if I do it well enough, can serve as both explanation and example. On Tuesday each of the students will be giving 5 minute presentations on their project proposals, which they have already worked up in quite a lot of detail.

A young female Green-headed Sunbird, just coming into adult plumage. I'm sure that iridescent turquoise and olive green would be considered an unwise combination in human colour schemes, but this bird makes them work for her!

A young female Green-headed Sunbird, just coming into adult plumage. I’m sure that iridescent turquoise and olive green would be considered an unwise combination in human colour schemes, but this bird makes them work for her!

On Thursday the students will be presenting the results of the Distance/Multivariate Stats project they’ve been working on for the past few weeks. And I’ve also told them that I’m hoping to teach them all a Scottish dance before I leave. There’s the right number of them for either an Eightsome Reel or a Strip the Willow, but I haven’t decided which of these would suit best!

Yellow White-eye. Does what it says on the tin, but the bird itself is far more elegant than the prosaically descriptive name.

Yellow White-eye. Does what it says on the tin, but the bird itself is far more elegant than the prosaically descriptive name.

To end with, here are some more pics of birds we caught in today’s nets. Enjoy!

Bronze Mannikin

Bronze Mannikin

Male Rock Firefinch

Male Rock Firefinch

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