Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ringing and general bird survey in Tchimpounga Reserve, Republic of Congo
23rd September to 9th October 2012

Carmalite Sunbird
Arriving in a very gloomy and overcast Pointe Noire, I was met by the driver and taken through some of the filthiest streets I have seen in Africa, such is the result of an oil boom.
Walking to the ATM to get a bit of pocket money at the bank, a bird flew across my path, a Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush! Lifer! In this utter pig sty! It was a relief to get to the reserve and the Chimpanzee sanctuary base further up the coast some 50km, where I met everyone, including Debby Cox, whom I have known and worked with on and off for many years in Uganda. I was also greeted enthusiastically by ‘Zorro’ and ‘JJ’ two little orphaned chimps that had lost their mothers and families to poachers supplying the horrific bush meat trade to the big towns in central Africa.
Forested erosion gully
2 lads in a Pirogue, huge forest in background
Before I could get any nets up we did took a day to visit some of the areas in the reserve including a huge forested erosion gully. The cliffs were ideal breeding habitat for many White-fronted Bee-eaters, Banded Martins, Horus Swift and Black Saw-wings. We drove to the Kouilou River mouth and took a boat upto Tchindzoulou Island which will become home to some 150 chimps once the infrastructure is finished. The plan was to survey the birds on the island to see what impact the chimps will have on them. The large bridge over the river was teeming with Little Swifts and Red-throated Cliff Swallows, quite a few Common Terns too.
On the island the first birds I saw were a flock of noisy Swamp Palm Bulbuls feeding on a fig, several African Grey Parrots went over followed by a Rosy Bee-eater! This was one I was looking forward to seeing. Lots of Piping and Pied Hornbills around and zipping up and down the river were a few White-throated Blue Swallows. The forests here are very dense and swampy with lots of Oil Palm and therefore it was no surprise to see so many Palm-nut Vultures.
On the way back we saw more Rosy Bee-eaters up close, feeding over the river and over the forest were flocks of Mottled Spinetails.
Back at the base the first thing was to organise some bamboo poles as I was getting twitchy! In the afternoon, I got 3 nets up and proceeded to catch; Little Bee-eaters, Pygmy Kingfishers, Brown-throated Wattle-eyes, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Green-headed Sunbird and Common Bulbul of the race ‘gabonensis’ with a slight amount of yellow undertail coverts. Thinking about it, this was a new species for me, Pycnonotus barbatus, as opposed to the southern P. tricolor. Then what I was waiting for, two Rufous-tailed Palm Thrushes!
Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush
Opened at 0545hrs and caught steadily all morning, Olive Sunbirds, more RTp Thrushes, a Black Saw-wing of the race ‘petiti’ sometimes treated as Petit’s Saw-wing, Collared Sunbird, Black-necked and Vieillot’s Weaver, Little Greenbul and a real treat, 4 Carmalite Sunbirds!! Went to check on a nearby Rosy Bee-eater breeding site where we found some 40 birds and one or two nests being excavated in the burnt grassland. I set a 2 panel net near the holes and a sound system on, but only got one bird perch nearby in a bush. As I was watching I noticed a large flock of birds high up overhead milling around like Little Swifts do and put them down to something like that. But as they came over and got lower, I suddenly realised what they were, African River Martins!!! Wow! Here was a real target bird and I hastily changed the soundtrack over, but not much happened. Great to see this unusual and huge Martin, there were about 300+ birds. Driving back through the grassland we flushed Black-rumped and Common Button Quail, Black-chinned Quailfinch and a Harlequin Quail.
Opened again in same place at base getting Copper Sunbird, Orange Weaver, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and saw a Collared Flycatcher, a vagrant to this part of the world. I packed up ready to go to the island for 2 nights camping and left instructions for the eco guards to clear a net-ride in a forest site.
The Kouilou River, a big river
We had to take one of the chimps from the sanctuary to be released on the island and so we had a rather upset animal drive with us to the landing site in Bas Kouilou village. The locals of course came out to watch, standing knee deep in the dreadful piles of rubbish and filth, many out of their skulls on local palm wine. Sad.On the way up watched a mix of European and Rosy Bee-eaters swooping over the river and more White-throated Blue Swallows. Got to the Island and set a line of nets whilst the Chimp team released the animal which was overwhelmed by all the natural food!
I caught a few birds in the afternoon, Red-capped Robinchats and mostly Little Greenbuls before closing. New birds seen on the island were Yellow-billed Turaco and Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills. Above us in the campsite I counted a pre-roost flock of 78 African Grey Parrots.
Red-chested Goshawk
During the night I heard African Wood Owl and curiously a group of Great Blue Turacos, strange that I’d not seen them yet, unlike Uganda where you would have seen them on the first day. I also heard Nkulengu Rail not too far off as I was opening at 0530hrs. During the morning I caught; Yellow-lored Bristlebill, White-browed Forest Flycatcher (I love finding a lifer in the net!) Western Bluebill, Tambourine Dove and late afternoon a real prize in the form of a Red-chested Goshawk!! An adult male, right above the speaker which was playing a series of greenbuls, not the first time this trick has worked. I took a blood sample for Michel Louette of the Museum of African Ornithology who is working on these taxa and this bird has now been split from African Goshawk and I could see why!
Manatee River
In the afternoon we took a Pirogue up a tributary to where there is a population of Manatee clinging on to existence from poaching. Birding along this river was spectacular, African Finfoot, Blue-throated Roller, Splendid Glossy Starling, African River Martins, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Cassin’s Spinetail, Cassin’s Grey Flycatcher, Rosy Bee-eater and Blue-headed Coucal.

a few of the thousands of Royal Terns
Rain was a problem on the second morning so didn’t do much, but watched a pair of Blue-billed Malimbe in the camp whilst waiting for the boat. Back at the river mouth we went to the end where I could see a tern roost and there we found around 900+ Royal Terns with 4 African Skimmers.
Set nets in the prepared forest ride in the afternoon and got a few Brown Illadopsis and a Chestnut Wattle-eye before closing. Barn Swallows, Banded Martins, Grey-rumped Swallows and Red-throated Cliff Swallows were hawking all over the savannah. On the way back we were lucky to see a pair of Black-casqued Wattled Hornbills fly over the road from one forest patch to another, what massive birds!

It rained all night so opened late and got a Green Crombec and Western Olive Sunbirds till the rain cam again. Watched a group of some 50 Pied Hornbills fly catching over the forest!
Lake Foni

a convenient picnic table
Went to have a look at this lake and on the way got saw Spotted Flycatcher, Black-bellied Bustard and Black Sparrowhawk. The lake was fairly quiet, but there were dozens of Reichenbach’s Sunbirds feeding out in the reed, so I quickly got a net up and got one! A very curious bird too, the only monotypic genus of the sunbirds, ‘Anabathmis’.
Black-headed Bee-eater, the word 'stonking' comes to mind!
We set a line of nets in the dense thicket bordering secondary forest and furled to give it a rest. Had a drive around and got Red-necked Buzzard next to the road, oh for a Bal-chatri! Opened the nets in the afternoon and got a beautiful Green-throated Sunbird as well as another Carmalite Sunbird. Then on the second round, I was completely gob-smacked, for there in the net was a stonking great Black-headed Bee-eater (so nice to get a lifer in the net!). What a surprise indeed, the bill was almost corvid like and the head feathers all raised to give the head a much bigger appearance. A bit of a come down after was a Village Weaver of the local race ‘collaris’, far more impressive than the southern one! On one net round I was momentarily stunned when I realised there was a Yellow-billed Turaco sitting in a pocket of the net! The bird actually sat there until I was 6 foot from it before waking up and making its escape via a new hole in the net. Cross, naaah!
Reichenbach's Sunbird
We sat watching hundreds of African River Martin and Rosy Bee-eaters washing in the lake and got Osprey and a great record for here, Ayre’s Hawk Eagle. The lake produced some amazing stuff, Hartlaub’s Ducks, we saw 2 pairs of this Near-threatened species, Black Swift which I did get a good look at and would appear to be new to Congo. Sabine’s Spintails too now were joining the impressive numbers of Swifts and Swallows.
We took a walk out to the Kouilou River mouth, some 3 ks of walking through the drizzle and soft sand. But what a sight at the end, there was an enormous roost of Royal Tern, counting as best I could, I managed to block-count between 8 and 10 thousand birds. Along with all these terns I there was a single Kelp Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull, both vagrants to this part of Africa. Also on the beach were a lot of the usual migrant shorebirds, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and a surprise pair of White-crowned Plover.
typical grassland forest mosaic
I set the nets up back at the Base and got a few before closing, Speckled Tinkerbird, Grey-headed Negrofinch, Grey Waxbill, lots more Green-headed Sunbirds and Pygmy Kingfishers. Saw an Icterine and Willow Warbler, but not interested in the tape, but did get a Garden Warbler. 
Next morning caught Yellow-throated Longclaw, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, White-chinned Prinia, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, but not the Long-legged Pipits which were proving hard to get.
Rain became a bit of a problem over the next few days but managed to get into a couple of forests and returned to Lake Foni. The forests produced very little numbers which is normal, but Lake Foni produced some nice birds, Blue Malkoha for one and Little Green Sunbird which caused an identification headache as I caught them with Collared Sunbirds!

All in I ringed 222 birds of 60 species, saw 190 species including 20 lifers and got 13 ringing ticks!

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