Friday, October 17, 2014

Highveld to the Indian Ocean to Kruger and a bit of Cloud Forest just for good measure!

June 2014

I picked the lovely Charlotte up at the airport and we drove south to the small town of Memel in the eastern Free State of South Africa.
Rock Kestrel
On the way we got her a birthday present in the form of a cracking adult male Rock Kestrel and then, on one small pan not far out of Memel, we found two pairs of Grey-crowned and Wattled Cranes, incredible!! It was the first time I had seen the latter in SA!!
In the afternoon we drove up to Mullers Pass, at 2000m and on the way dropped for a juvenile Lanner on a pole and on the next one along was a Juvenile Jackal Buzzard! We got a trap down and the Lanner immediately came in and hit the trap hard. Just then the Jackal Buzzard came in and flushed the Lanner, which was not caught and flew off without trying any further. The Jackal Buzzard also took off, double bummer!
Just before the pass we came across another JB and dropped, the bird came to the trap and was caught, but just as we got to it, the bird got off. Not enough time on the trap.
Birding was nice with several sightings of the endemic Blue Korhaan, Red-winged Francolins and another SA endemic, Buff-streaked Chat. Got to Mullers Pass and walked to the edge of the lovely Podocarpus (Yellow Wood) forest and took in the stunning view.
RT Wryneck
Next morning in the orchard of Memel Organics, a lovely Permaculture garden, we set a single 40’ 2 panel net next to a dripping irrigation pipe and got quite a few good birds; Fiscal Shrike, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, DC Bulbul, Bokmakierie, Red-throated Wryneck and a Speckled Pigeon!
 The Indian Ocean
Setting off the next morning we came across a Secretarybird hunting on a field next to the road, which was a great bird for Charlotte to get, in the old days she would have taken a ‘whole roll’ of film! But being a born natural photographer, she got some very cool shots of the bird.
Charlotte and her first JB
We stuck to the back roads in search of raptors, but there was not much about, a single Lanner flew across the road at one point. Then as we got into the hills round the beautiful wilderness area before Nongoma, we found a Jackal Buzzard. The only access to get a trap down was on a convenient little side track which we did and backed off.
The bird came in at once and onto the trap, where after a while of trying to get the mouse, managed to open the sprung door of the trap and grab the mouse!
There was no point waiting as it now had the mouse, so we went in and luckily the bird was caught. Sadly for the mouse we were not in time. It was an adult and a well-earned tick which Charlotte duly ringed.

Moving on we got to the coast and were driving through the lovely thick sand forest leading to the St Lucia estuary when I spotted a raptor on a pole through a thick stand of trees. Impulsively I swung the car off the road and through a small gap in the thicket, to drop the trap. Bloody hell! A Southern-b
anded Snake-eagle!!!!!!!
The bird came in immediately and crashed onto the trap, the first thing I noticed was the lont tails of the bird, and the way it came in, like a big accipiter. Just then a local appeared along a hidden path and so I had no choice to go in for the bird, which was ca
ught, briefly, but then off…. The language….. Good job Charlotte was so understanding and not the type to take offence!  The bird hadn’t gone far, just across the road, so we set the trap again and waited, no interest. The bird eventually flew off, but only as far as a pole some 300m further down. Hoping this time there were no more Grockles about, we drove off the road and I willed the car through the sand to a clearing where we could see the bird. I crept up and got the trap down again and backed off. Seconds, which felt like hours, passed when the bird suddenly saw the mouse and in it came, heart in mouth I nearly had a moment, when the bird, a metre from the trap, swooped up into the tree above it!! How much more of this could a man take!! Charlotte was being so cool about everything!  So when the bird eventually dropped onto the trap and went for it, we collectively held our breaths whilst edging the car closer through the sand. Then it was caught! It was the longest 30m I have ever driven, Joberg to Captetown would have seemed quicker. Eventually, I got to the bird and dived out of the car onto it, forgetting about handbrakes, the car and Charlotte who all ended up in a thicket.
But we got the bird. What a beautiful eagle, a bird I have wanted to catch for so long.
There are only some 50 individuals of this species in SA, prone to disturbance and the spread of human settlements, loss of its littoral forest habitat, this bird is hanging on in just a small northern part of this province, it was very special moment for me.
Bird weighed 1.090kg, smaller than I would of thought, and an adult.
After releasing the bird we then decided it was an appropriate time to have a beer!

 Cape Vidal
We decided to have a day off and go to the beach and do some sea watching. Driving through the National Park, we saw Buffalo, Hippo, White Rhino and just missed seeing a Leopard! Humpbacks were breaching offshore.
On the way back to St Lucia we saw another (or same?) Southern Banded Snake-eagle!! It was a tough drop, but had to go for it, but the bird flew.
That night we set a net for a pair of Wood Owls who were busy reacting to our sound system, but the wind was too strong and the birds were not leaving cover. All we got for out troubles was a large Epauletted Fruit Bat!!

The Lowveld
We got to my friends Rael and Helen’s house in Hoedspruit fairly late and so got some nets up in the morning.  Not a lot of birds about, but what we did manage to catch more than made up for it. The first morning we got a lovely Grey-headed Bush-shrike and 2 Retz’s helmet-shrikes, what curiously funny eye wattles they have! Also, Bearded Scrub-robin, Black-backed Puffback, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike and a Chin-spot Batis, so we were doing well on the shrikes!
We put some seed out and began to attract a covey of Crested Francolins to a walk in trap and succeeded in getting a feisty adult female!
That night we set a 60’ net and put a selection of Owl calls on (Charlotte loves Owls!). After unsuccessfully trying to tempt Southern White-faced Owl, African Scops Owl and Pearl-spotted Owlet, we decided to put African Barred Owl on as I had heard them here before. After an hour or so we heard some replies from 3 different directions and we began to feel hopeful, however, nothing doing in the nets. Then at around 1100 Charlotte went to check the net and bingo!! We got one!!
For some reason this is such a secretive owl, I have only ever seen 3 and never in the hand so it was a very special bird. Thinking there could be other owls about we gave it another 30 mins and blow me down! Another Barred Owl in the net!! We were two very happy campers and celebrated the evening with a G&T.
The next day we did a raptor run to the North in good ‘big eagle’ country, but there was very little about, we were too late for a Lizard Buzzard which flew. But managed to get one adult Dark-chanting Goshawk and a Lilac-breasted Roller in the spring trap, which made a very good vocal account of itself!
That afternoon we mist-netted a few more garden birds, Kurrichane Thrush, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Red-billed Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, Black-collared Barbet and Yellow-breasted Apalis.
Next day we set off for Woodbush Forest in the Hearnetzberg Mountains, one of SA’s remaining Afro-montane mist-belt forests. We first went via the Kruger National Park to try and find Charlotte some Elephants and we were in luck! There were so many herds about. We also counted 35 Bateleur Eagles, this species is very rare outside National Parks and this is a very good example of how badly this and many other species fare without protecting their environment.
We also saw Martial Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, and a Tawny Eagle feeding its chick, a Secretarybird, and a family of Southern Ground Hornbills! 
Getting closer to the forest, we found an African Goshawk sitting on a pole, unusual in itself, but managed to get a trap down on the busy road and the bird came in immediately, and got caught briefly but got off, not long enough on the trap and too many cars.
In the morning we were greeted with a spectacular view from our room, such an awesome sight of thick mist in the valley bottom with the sun coming up. We set off on a Raptor Run round the plantations and patches of indigenous forests and first off saw a Long-crested Eagle, but inaccessible. After 20 minutes we came across a Forest Buzzard and unlike their European cousins, this endemic ‘African’ Buzzard came in like a shot and we had him! Like all buteos, there is a great amount of confusion with various plumages, but the Forest Buzzard is a very ‘white’ bird, almost two-tone and also a migrant in South Africa.

Charlotte was very chuffed because she had now ringed a raptor her trainer Nigel Shaw, had not!! (Including the Barred Owl) His text from Toronto said it all ‘well paint me fucking green’ which made us laugh so much!  Next up we came across an adult Jackal Buzzard which was an easy catch, a big one at 1.200kgs. Later in the morning on our way back for lunch, we got another Forest Buzzard and then 200m further we got a juvenile Jackal Buzzard! This time a farmer stopped to watch us ring it, who was ever so happy to see what we were doing, it’s good to know there are sympathetic people in the region concerned for the wellbeing of wildlife.
In the late afternoon, we saw the Long-crested Eagle again, this time it had settled on a pole right up above an embankment, it was not being cooperative in its choice of droppable perches! I got the car up a small track towards it, but then it flew!! Over the road it went and onto another pole, backed the car down, drove back over the road and down a tiny logging track where I could just squeeze the trap into its view. We backed off and now were unsighted, so I got out of the car and crept back and managed to see the head feathers of the bird on the trap not 10m from me!
Herat in moth moments in mouth as I knew how much Charlotte wanted this bird and then it was caught! I legged it in and got the bird. The look on Charlottes face was worth every conniption when I walked back with the bird!
Then it was back to Joberg for us the next morning, but not before we got a 3rd Forest Buzzard leaving Woodbush Forest! It was nice to see good numbers of these birds compared to the summer months summer when they move down to the Eastern Cape to breed. Further south we got a Greater Kestrel on the Springbok Flats. 
Rufous-naped Lark

 Abe Bailey Nature Reserve

With a couple of days left, we went out with my friend Michael Parker and Niall Perrins to this reserve an hour outside Johannesburg. It is an upland grassland reserve with a considerable wetland in it.
Capped Wheatear
First off we had to wait for the sun to come up so the mealworms wouldn’t freeze on in the spring traps! In the meantime we set a net and got a few goodies, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Black Crake in the wetland, then set the spring traps and got Crowned Plover, Capped Wheatear, Rufous-naped Lark and Anteating Chat.

Back in Joberg we continued Charlottes run on ringing ticks and got her a Karoo Thrush, Cape Robinchat and the endemic Fiscal Flycatcher.

the well-earned beer!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A weekend Bird Atlasing in the Memel area
11th and 12th October 2014
Normandien Pass
My friends Niall and his wife Debby arrived in Memel on the Saturday morning to do some bird atlasing and road trapping to for birds of prey. After watching a Red-chested Sparrowhawk circling over the field, we set off up to Normandien Pass, some 45 kilometers away and began logging birds in each different pentad, in this case an 8x8 kilometer square.
After a few kilometers we were rewarded with the beautiful site of a pair of Blue Cranes, South Africa’s National Bird! These two looked like they had pared up to breed. Some few k’s later we really lucked out and came across a pair of Grey-crowned Cranes!! What a treat, Cranes in Africa and the world are severely endangered by a multitude of factors, the main one being land use by farmers and settlements, too frequent grassland burning, direct human disturbance, then collision with powerlines and fences, not to mention poisoning where grain is left for wildfowl which is then eaten by cranes.
Mullers Pass

But what followed next was one of those very rare experiences you only read about, when we came across a flock of 9 Blue Cranes with a single Wattled Crane with them!! A 3 Crane day and it was only 10 am!! All 3 of SA’s crane species!!
Buoyed by this we checked on 3 distant Verreaux’s Eagle nests on the cliffs, one looked like there was a young fledged bird sitting, but too far to be sure.
Verreaux’s Eagles have a hard time in the area being persecuted by sheep farmers concerned for their lambs. No eagle will catch live healthy lambs to the extent that it becomes a problem for farmers, if there are hares, dassies, moles, mongoose, guinea fowl, and tortoises in healthy numbers. If preys habitat is modified to suit sheep, then the eagle is forced into preying on lambs in the absence of its natural prey species.
Kranzkop and the vast grasslands
At the higher elevation near the pass we began to see Long-billed Pipits and another endemic, Long-billed Lark. But the best was a Yellow-breasted Pipit on the side of the road, a male, just coming into breeding plumage. This critically endangered endemic was the first time I have really seen it to be certain and it turned out to warrant filling in a regional rarities form!
We carried on getting some nice species for the rest of the morning including the endemic Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Long-claw, Spike-heeled Lark and Cloud Cisticola. We came across a Jackal Buzzard and tried to get a trap down to ring him, but he took off.
White-throated Swallow
In the afternoon, we drove round the local and famous Seekoevlei (Hippo Pan) Nature Reserve. We came across 6 endemic Blue Korhaan in the reserve, the first we had seen, possibly because the grass was in good condition unlike some of the more over grazed and over burnt farmlands.
We stopped at a bridge which annually hosts several hundred migratory breeding South African Cliff Swallows. So we got a net set in place and managed to catch and ring a few, including a cracking adult White-throated Swallow. Very little is known about where these two species migrate to so hopefully one day we may get a ring recovery.
SA Cliff Swallow
The following day we set off to Mullers pass, and over the morning we did it again and found all three Crane species!! On this route we were lucky to find 3 endemic Buff-streaked Chats and a covey of several endemic Grey-winged Francolins. We then drove up onto a vast grassland area to Kranzkop Mountain. Here the grassland swept away to the horizon, truly spectacular scenery. We were rewarded with a pair of Yellow-breasted Pipits this time a
cracking adult male in full breeding plumage with its mate, we have been very lucky to have found 3 individuals of this species over 2 days. Further on near the rocky slopes of the Kranzberg, we found a pair of another endemic, Sentinel Rock Thrush, very nice birds too.

On the way back we were utterly astounded to see an adult Martial Eagle soaring over the valley. What a find! This very persecuted and vulnerable species is Africa’s largest eagle and only really seen in protected areas and national parks, so to see one here in an area where there are a few unsympathetic farmers was exceptional.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A late winter / early spring Raptor Run to the Limpopo
With Richard Charles
October 2014

I arrived at Pilanesberg National Park at 0800 having seen a flock of 6 Yellow-throated Sandgrouse fly across the road, and collected Richard to follow the Crocodile River up as far at the Botswana border.
Our first bird was an adult male Pale-chanting Goshawk which we caught without any trouble. It was to be the first and last PCG we were to see this day. These birds are normally very commonly seen on electrical poles, but move around in times of extreme dry weather into areas which have had slightly better rainfall in the previous summer, that offer better prey availability.
We got into the Crocodile River area, a mosaic of farms and thorn bush, usually a great combination of habitats. We were rewarded with a fine healthy juvenile Black-chested Snake-eagle which weighed 1.650 kg, a good weight for a juvenile which are normally around 1200g to 1300g. the bird had just started its initial primary moult and as such would put the bird at an early 2nd year.
After releasing the bird, it took to a thermal and we watched it go up for a while and then suddenly it was hunting on the wing! This is one of the few eagles which actively hover to hunt often at great height. This was the first time I had seen this and it just goes to show how soon the bird had got over the ordeal of having been caught!
Ten minutes later we were onto another Black-chested Snake Eagle! This time it was a sub adult, a bird coming into its 3rd year. This one weighed 1.430g and had just the last remnants of juvenile body plumage.
A vehicle had stopped to see what we were doing and we were very happy to show 2 farmers the ringing process and to talk about raptor conservation, they were both dedicated conservationists and were very excited to see what we were doing. I asked them to check on any road kill raptors they come across for rings!
So far we had seen a distant Wahlberg’s Eagle on the wing and an adult Bateleur further north. Apart from that there were no raptors around at all. We eventually reached the Botswana border where the Crocodile River meets the Limpopo River and turned back. We eventually found a sub adult Black-shouldered Kite which we caught that had an assortment of young and adult feathers. I think these young birds are moving through as they are usually more associated with farm land and exotic trees to nest in, so it was a good individual to ring.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

South Africa Limpopo March 2014

A Bunch of Raptor Mad Canadian Banders come to South Africa!
March 2014
Picked up an excited Nigel and his 5 trainees, Charlotte, Amanda, Bronwyn, Maya and John at the airport and got out of town!
There was a huge weather system coming all the way down from Angola with big rains predicted, so we very quickly turned the white vehicle brown on the dirt roads.
We got 3 Black Shouldered Kites on the way, 2 on one trap! It’s amazing how many of this species get ringed in this area and I still catch new adults, it’s so tantalizing as to where birds go and come from!
There were loads of migrants about, Lesser-grey and Red-backed Shrikes, A Wahlberg’s Eagle, several Steppe Buzzards, European Bee-eaters roadside bushed noisy with calling European Marsh Warblers and hundreds of Lesser Kestrels and Amur Falcons hunting over the fields. At one point a huge flock of Black-winged Pratincoles flew north over the road, easily a couple of thousand birds.
Netting first thing proved slow, Red-backed Shrike, Willow Warbler, Arrow-marked Babbler and a few weavers. What was quite remarkable were 3 Mynah Birds on the garden lawn, feeding 3 juvenile Greater Spotted Cuckoos!  We set a sneaky 2 panel through a small shrubbery, which the birds were going into cover in and eventually got 2 of the cuckoos! The spring traps did well here catching a few Magpie Shrikes.

Raptoring in the area produced a few birds, 2 Steppe Buzzards (dropped for about 20!) a huge juvenile female Lanner, which came into a Zebra Finch lure, a female Lesser Kestrel and a very long waited for Black Kite!
Amanda was the lucky one to get the Lanner, it had a load of Quelea mush all round its beak, so in good shape at nearly 1kg!
The Steppe Buzzards were playing their usual wary hard-to-catch selves, but the best result was the Black Kite. Not many of them caught on a BC, it took 30 minutes of a stand-off between it, a Pale-chanting Goshawk and a Steppe Buzzard. The PCG must have been ringed as it unusually showed no interest in the mouse and eventually the buzzard took off and the Kite saw its chance! (dopey juv!).
Owling in the night proved frustration to say the least, we had a pair of Spotted Eagle Owls standing guard over a Bal-chatri no more than 3 m away! A Barn Owl flew over the big net a few times and the Pearl-spotted and Southern White-faced Owls, just shouted back at the sound system!
Woodbush Forest
Heading north the next day, we saw an adult male Montague’s Harrier, a ‘fall’ of some 20 Black Kites sitting in the rain. We tried to tempt one of these northward bound migrants but only succeeded in attracting a Black-backed Jackal!
We managed a Steppe Buzzard and a Greater Kestrel on the way up and dropped for a load of Steppe Buzzards and one each of Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles. At Woodbush we saw a couple of uncatchable Long-crested Eagles, and got to the lodge to set up nets.
At dusk we were surprised by a European Hobby feeding over the field in front of the lodge! Later on we had 4 (2 pairs) of Wood Owl calling back at the sound system!
It was very wet and foggy, but we managed a few Lesser Double-collared Sunbirds, Dusky Flycatchers, Chorister Robin, Cape Robin Chat, Bar-throated Apalis and Cape White-eyes (the dark eastern race).
Went out on a raptor run, very hard conditions, rain hampered things and we unsuccessfully dropped for 12 birds, mostly S Buzzards, but also Jackal Buzzard and a 2 Forest Buzzards. We were plagued by showers for the rest of the day so in the evening set up another owl net with the stuffed Spotted Eagle Owl decoy. Which worked very well producing a lovely sub adult Wood Owl! There was no doubting who wanted to band this bird the most and the look on Charlotte’s face said it all!

Heading north still, we got a lovely Long-crested Eagle, almost missed it in the Fog! We also caught a couple of adult (!) Steppe Buzzards and at one point had 5 jackal Buzzards in the air over 2 traps! Eventually we managed to get one down near a trap. The bird behaved most strangely, walking up and down the track, eating a few squashed beetles and grasshoppers, until it eventually wound its way back to the trap and very half-hardheartedly managed to get itself caught.
Well it was ringed! This would explain its behavior, but looking up the number we discovered it was ringed some 50km away by Nigel 2 years ago!! What were the chances?!

Blouberg nature Reserve
Getting into ‘dryer’ thornbush, we picked up 4 PCG’s and dropped for a juv Gabar Goshawk which we would have caught if its sibling had not came in and started a fight about it, both birds disappeared!
Saw a couple of snake eagles and had a Brown get off a trap (so frustrating) and got to camp to set nets. Later that night we got an African Scops Owl.
Netting was very slow, this rain and cold weather making it very difficult to catch good numbers. Caught a pair of Striped Kingfishes, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Southern Black Tit, African Paradise Flycatcher, Golden Breasted Bunting and 3 White-crowned Helmet-shrikes.
Raptoring produced a couple of Steppe Buzzards, lost a Black-chested Snake Eagle off the trap. There are so many Steppe Buzzards in the area, all waiting for the right conditions to head north on a broad front.
Owling that evening made up for the day’s raptoring producing a White-faced Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet and a nice big Spotted Eagle Owl!

Mpangubwe Limpopo River and Zimbabwe Border
Moving off the next morning we struggled to find birds, but eventually came across a preening Black-chested Snake Eagle. It took ages to get the bird to see the trap (stuck right under its beak!) and eventually got the bird! Maya was a very happy camper to have ringed it!).
That evening we watched a great passage of birds moving north out of the weather system. There were Verreaux’s Eagles up in the ‘kettle’ of raptors which included many Steppe Buzzards, Wahlberg’s Eagles, Montague’s and Pallid Harrier, a flock of some 100 Amur Falcons, 2 Peregrines and a Black Stork!
We were restricted by where we could go as so many roads were washed out after torrential rain all night. We did manage to get a Black-chested Snake Eagle and an immature African Hawk Eagle which Amanda was very happy to ring! We also got a pair of Dark-chanting Goshawks and a Shikra. We were now seeing quite a few more snake eagles and had a couple come in and off traps. Saw a pair of huge Kori Bustards in a field.
Tried for owls and nightjars in the evening, but the rain came in and it hammered down all night. So much so a Python got washed off the roof!
Making our way west along the Limpopo Valley, we dropped for a couple of Wahlberg’s Eagles, but too wet and soggy for any serious interest but caught another immature African Hawk Eagle.
The long anticipated Barn Swallow roost which numbered over 1 million 2 years ago, failed to deliver. We set a line of nets along the maize field and managed only 20 birds out of a possible 100. The farmer told us the main bulk of birds had moved out in front of this weather system!
Raptoring in the area is always interesting and leaving the camp we saw an adult Martial Eagle at the gate, managed to get a trap down for it and it came closer to look, we were unsighted and so getting closet to drop another trap, the bird flew!! Agonising! A bit later we came across a pair of Hawk Eagles on a pylon and dropped for them eventually the male came in which we got, and whilst we were processing him, the female came in but too trap shy.
We were seeing plenty of birds now, Wahlberg’s, and Snake Eagles, we managed to catch 2 BC and 3 Brown Snake Eagles, one a big bird of 2.2 kgs. At one point in the morning 2 flocks of 300 and 600 White Storks came over the road all heading north.
Back at the camp the Limpopo River had begun to overflow! I decided to park our vehicle up on higher ground for the night and just as well! In the morning we had to enlist the help of the farm workers to get all our equipment out, and wade across the flooded landscape to the vehicle!
In fact the whole area was put under emergency flood measures. The Lapalala River was over the bridge which we had crossed the day before! Getting to our next camp was out of the question. We decided to head south and get out of the danger area, not before catching another adult BC Snake Eagle in the same tree the Martial had been in!
On the way south we came across another Martial, a huge white juvenile on a pole. We managed to get a trap down for it and eventually the bird came in and hovered (!) over the trap and landed next to it. With hearts in mouths we waited, the bird took one lunge at the trap before a vehicle came along and flushed the bird. That was that, sooo frustrating! Later on that day we were rewarded with my first ever Brown Snake eagle ‘double header’! We dropped for one bird which came in immediately, but then a second unseen bird came in too, and we caught both!

Overall we did ok considering the wet conditions, the rain had flooded most of the province and we did well to avoid serious stranding’s with only a few detours and had to retrace our tracks once or twice.
We ringed 52 birds of prey in total, including 10 Steppe Buzzards, 7 Pale-chanting Goshawks, 3 Shikra, 3 African Hawk Eagles 7 Brown and 6 Black-chested Snake Eagles.
Altogether we got 63 species of 160 individuals.

Congo January 2014

This next trip to RNT and Conkoati NP was with my old chum Dr Stuart Sharp from Lancaster University who was awarded a small grant from the African Bird club to do some surveying by conducting a series of point counts.
Very soon we had a line of nets up at the sanctuary and a nice surprise and a new one for the reserve were Great Reed Warblers! Amazing that they were absent from September to December, makes one think about their route.
We also got a good few Garden Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers and new ones being, Black-faced Canary, Black-bellied Seedcracker, an awesome looking bird, 
and a real bogey bird for me later that morning, a female Black and White Flycatcher!
A Bat Hawk went over in the morning mist which was a great lifer for Stuart. We tried another area below the sanctuary and got a pair of Black Coucals very interested in the sound system as did a couple of African Crakes which had until now not been seen on the reserve. A lifer for both of us was a Black-collared Bulbul.
That night a spot of dazzling with the landing net produced a Square-tailed Nightjar and a Swamp Nightjar.
Went to Mpili putting 14 African Crakes up along the way and ringed in the forest there and were rewarded with a new one for RNT, a Fire-crested Alethe and another Blue-breasted Kingfisher, that’s 3 from the same spot!
Next spot were the 3 islands. We set our usual nets in their rides and got some crackers, Chestnut-breasted Nigrita, Red-chested Goshawk, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird. Nkulengu Rails calling in the night!
Took a canoe up the Ntombo River, tributary of the Kouilou and got Black Bee-eater, Finfoot, Cassin’s Spinetail, White-throated Blue Swallow and Cassins Flycatcher.
At the river mouth we got a real surprise lifer each by finding several Grey Pratincoles on the sand! Amazing little birds, so well camouflaged. As usual there were 10,000 plus Royal Terns and this time a good 60 odd African Skimmers.
Conkoati National Park
After an interesting and serious 4x4 hour drive of 4 hours, we got to camp in a fantastic setting on the banks of the Lanumbe River.
In the night we heard African Wood Owls and a pair of Vermiculated Fishing Owls, close to camp! With Black-casqued Wattled Hornbills and African Grey Parrots flying overhead, we set a line of nets and soon got busy. New birds included Black-capped Illadopsis, Sabine’s Puffback, White-tailed Ant-thrush, Golden Greenbul and the usual Yellow-lored Bristlebills and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls.
I set a cheeky net up over the river stretching from an old sunken tree to the bank and after a while were rewarded with a White-throated Blue Swallow, extracting it from a Pirogue required some dexterity and balance! What a stunner! We also caught a pair of equally smart White-bellied Kingfishers.

In the evening we set a big net across the old rotten road bridge and played the call for Vermiculated Fishing Owl. At one stage we had a bird either side of the net, but no luck in bringing them down out of the trees.
Next morning we did a walk from camp and came across fresh Elephant tracks where our nets had been! Also got a lifer, Joanna’s Sunbird whilst waiting for the Land Cruiser. On the way back we set a few small single panel nets at the Kouilou River mouth and after a few hours of twinkling and gently herding a load of Grey Pratincoles, we got one!
Doing some of the point counts we got a few new birds for the reserve list. Fan-tailed Grassbird, Great Snipe, Thick-billed Cuckoo and a Brown Snake Eagle (new to the country!).
Totals were 163 birds ringed of 60 species!

That’s it for the Congo for now. Will be back in June and July this year, a different season, let’s see what new species turn up then.