Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Republic of Congo - Swamps Rivers Forests Grasslands and Beach!
Visit to Tchimpounga National Nature Reserve.

October 2013
I was accompanied by my friend, Niall Perrins, on this occasion, a passionate birder and accomplished photographer to Tchimpounga national nature Reserve (RNT).

We were quite keen to get out of the grime and noise of Point Noire and get to the reserve and to Mpili, a wonderful mosaic of grassland and tall rain-forest with very little edge, and to see the colony of Rosy Bee-eaters which we had located last time.
When we got to this magical place we were thrilled to find an active colony of around 500 African River Martins!!
So it would seem that either Rosy Bee-eaters or River Martins will use the same site, depending on who gets there in good numbers first!
African River Martins coming into the colony

We set a low key 2 panel net on the edge of the colony, not completely closing it off to allow movement of birds in and out. We then sat back in the Land cruiser to watch some 150m away.
Every now and then a Palm-nut Vulture, or in one case a Red-necked Buzzard, would put the whole colony up in alarm, a huge ball of 3-400 birds clustered together over the forest canopy.
After some 40 minutes, there was to be a ‘change over’ where one partner took over incubation duties from the other. The incoming flock would get lower and lower, bit like a Swallow roost, and eventually birds would drop to the ground and run across to their respective holes as the outgoing birds took flight. In this way after an hour we caught 8 birds, to have done more at this late stage of the day may have caused problems for the colony.

Next morning we ringed in the forest adjacent to the colony as well as sticking another 2 panel up for the Martins. We got 3 more ARM's and a Blue-breasted Bee-eater. There were a few Rosy’s about. In the forest nets we got a pair of Spectacular Blue-breasted Kingfisher as well as an assortment of Sunbirds and Greenbuls.
Went to Lake Foni to have a look round and were very happy to find 21 Hartlaub’s Ducks resting on the banks. This very unique and scarce Duck is a data deficient species and dependent on forests.

On a short drive to Madingo Keys, just north of the reserve, along a forested path of road, something flew across the road and I just saw enough of the bird to get my heart going. We skidded to a stop and immediately and hit the sound system, playing what I thought I saw, and were rewarded after a few seconds with an absolute cracking adult Long-tailed Hawk!! Not only did we get an eyeful of this stunner, but it sat up on a dead branch calling for ages!! What a bird! And not something you see every day!
 We set a line of nets one day near the sanctuary, which is the HQ of the reserve and home to some 300 orphaned and confiscated chimps as a result of the bush meat trade. Catching was slow going, but saw a Black-headed Bee-eater carrying food! Just about the last net round I went to check and saw a raptor in the net right at one end! I legged it and was very fortunate to get hold of a Chestnut-flanked Sparrowhawk, what a stunning bird!

 Next it was off to Ngombe, Tchbebe and Tchinzulu islands in the Kouilou River.
Set nets in nice rides and caught a lovely assortment of birds, best being a Blue-headed Wood Dove, Emerald Cuckoo, Swamp Palm Greenbul and Western Bluebill and the grey blue backed ‘Naumanni’ race of Red-bellied paradise Flycatcher.
 On Ngombe Island we met up with Scott Weidensal, an accomplished ornithologist from The USA. He had a group who were coming to visit the sanctuary and the Chimpanzee holding facility on the island.
On the way back to the Sanctuary, we had a Rufous-thighed Sparrowhawk cross the river and in the Mangrove found a Mangrove Sunbird. Out at the river mouth we guesstimated some 10,000 Royal Terns in the roost with a few African Skimmers.

We did another session at Mpili for the African River Martins and got 13 more birds, two Northern Marsh Harriers and a Honey Buzzard went through. A passage of around 100 Common Swifts went over. Coming back we saw a Red-footed Falcon, a new one for the reserve and a Red-necked Buzzard.
A netting session at Lake Foni produced few birds including Snowy-headed Robin-chat, Western Nicator, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Olive and Purple-banded Sunbirds, Brown Illadopsis and a new on in the form of a Lowland Sooty Boubou. Walking back to the main road we flushed a pair of Bates’s Nightjars!

Netting back at the sanctuary we got a nice mix including Willow, Garden and Icterine Warblers, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Black-necked Weaver, Spotted Flycatcher, Carmalite and Green-headed Sunbirds and Sooty Chat (in spring traps).
Went to explore an old logging road in the forest over towards Lack Foni and whilst wading through mud and pools, flushed a White-crested Tiger Heron!
On the way back, we spotted a termite alates with a hundred or more Rosy Bee-eaters feeding on the emergence! We quickly set a single two panel net and after a wait of about 10 minutes, the birds came back and we managed to catch 13 birds as well as a Banded Martin! What a lovely bird in the hand, some birds were gravid and we observed some carrying food, proof that there was a colony somewhere nearby.

Ringing totals were 277 birds ringed of 66 Species, not a bad return.

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