To be in the business of showing your clients our beautiful world and it’s spectacular birds is such a privilege.
On every journey we take, there are so many moments that we want to capture and share. Our idea with this blog is to share a bit of the wonderful experiences we encounter on every tour. We hope you enjoy the journey with us and join us on a tour sometime.
Birds of prey can’t often be called “cute”, but there is one bird of prey in northern India that is most certainly cute!
The Collared Falconet Microhierax caerulescens was first described by European ornithologist George Edwards in 1750, as “the little black and orange colour’d Indian hawk”.
It is only 14 to 18 cm long, with shortish wings, mid-length tail and powerful legs. It has a thick black eye stripe and glossy black upperparts, and a rufous throat, belly and legs. The white collar is distinctive, and it is this feature together with the black eye stripe that gives it that “cute” appearance; almost as if it were wearing makeup!
It is found in the eastern Himalayas, from Uttarakhand and Nepal to northeastern India. It frequents open deciduous forest, plantations and evergreen forest edges, often near rivers and streams. It occurs from sea level up to 2,000 metres above.
The Collared Falconet hunts from a perch, like a flycatcher or a small shrike rather than a falcon, performing several foraging sallies. Prey include large insects such as butterflies, moths, dragonflies, grasshoppers, beetles and cicadas, but it also takes small birds, lizards and even small mammals.
It roosts and nests in cavities in trees, usually abandoned by barbets or woodpeckers. The breeding season takes place between February and May. The female lays 4-5 dirty white eggs and both adults incubate them. The adults are very aggressive towards intruders, both humans and animals, if they approach the nest site.
To see this incredibly “cute” little raptor, join us on our Nature Travel Birding trip to Northern India in January 2020. There are still very limited space available on this incredible small-group, expert-guided trip.
Did you know there is a hobby called “owling”? It is the fun activity of going out after dark looking for owls and nightjars! And one of the top targets for “owlers” on the African continent is the African Scops Owl (Otus senegalensis).
This small (16 to 19 cm) and beautiful nocturnal owl is extremely well camouflaged (grey-brown and rufous-brown morphs occur) and is difficult to observe unless calling at night or seen at a known day-time roosting spot.
It is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and prefers arid savannah woodland extending along wooded watercourses into desert and grassland areas. In some areas it will also inhabit park-like clearings and large gardens with tall trees.
It used to be considered conspecific with the Eurasian Scops Owl but is now officially split by most authorities. There are three recognised subspecies, based mostly on distribution, and to a lesser extent on different plumage.
The African Scops Owl is a strictly nocturnal hunter and mostly hunts from a low perch. It mainly preys on invertebrates, including millipedes, centipedes, crickets, dragonflies, grasshoppers, beetles, moths, caterpillars, mantids, spiders, cockroaches and scorpions. Sometimes it will also eat geckos, lizards, frogs and more rarely small mammals and birds.
Monogamous pairs of African Scops Owl are territorial and the call is described as a loud, single, high, purring “krrruup” repeated every 5 to 10 seconds, given by both sexes. They nest in a small cavity in a tree, up to 10 metres above the ground. The clutch size is usually 3 eggs, incubation takes about 22 days, and the chicks leave the cavity after about 26 days. The fledglings are fed by the parents until they are 2 months old.
Luckily the African Scops Owl is considered as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2016) with a stable population across its range. It occurs in considerable numbers in protected areas in most countries throughout its extensive distribution.
For a chance to go “owling” with us and see some cool nocturnal species, along with some of the continent’s most sought after species, join us on our Ghana Birding Trip in January 2020.
The Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) is one of the America’s most distinctive waterbirds, and one of three skimmer species found worldwide. Three subspecies are currently recognised, mostly based on distribution and migration patterns. In the past, it has had cool names such as Scissorbill, Shearwater, Seadog, Cutwater and even Razorbill.
This big black and white tern-like bird is noted for its unusual voice, bill, and feeding behaviour. Its bill – brightly coloured, laterally compressed, and knife-like, with the lower mandible extending beyond the maxilla – is uniquely adapted to catch small fish, insects, crustaceans, shrimps and molluscs in shallow water. A feeding skimmer flies low over the water in a distinctive bouncy style with its bill open and its lower mandible slicing the surface. When the mandible touches a fish, the upper bill (maxilla) snaps down instantly to catch it. They can even do this at night with almost no light around! They utter a nasal, hollow, laugh-like bark: “kyuh” or “kwuh”.
The Black Skimmer breeds in loose groups and colonies on sandbanks and sandy beaches in the Americas, with the three to six eggs being incubated by both the male and female. Although the mandibles of the newborns are of equal length at hatching, they rapidly become unequal during fledging.
They are highly social birds and spend much time loafing gregariously in large flocks on sandbars in the rivers, coasts and lagoons they frequent.
Every now and again world birders come across a truly odd species, a weird looking or oddly shaped bird, or one with a strange anatomical feature. But surely few of them are as different as the Cuckoo Roller (Leptosomus discolour) of Madagascar and the Comoros.
This bird is so odd that scientists are still struggling to place it in the correct family. Currently, it is the only bird in the family Leptosomidae, but it might be related to anything from falcons to trogons and even rollers or woodpeckers.
It is indeed an odd-looking but distinctive species, with the male and female showing marked differences. It is medium-large (38 to 50 cm/15 to 20 in), with males having a velvety grey chest and head contrasting with metallic green-purplish back, tail and wings. The females are mostly brown, with dark spots on the chestnut underparts. The stout bill and eyes set far back in the face is what really gives the Cuckoo Roller its strange appearance. It also has very broad wings and flies at a slow pace, bringing to mind a raptor in flight. Furthermore, the feet have an unusual structure, with two toes forwards and two toes backwards.
They inhabit a variety of habitats, including rainforest, deciduous forest, spiny bush-forest, tree plantations and even parklands and agricultural areas. It can be found from near sea level up to 2,000m above sea level.
The Cuckoo Roller is largely carnivorous. Chameleons and insects, particularly locusts and caterpillars, are important food items. Other prey taken include grasshoppers, mantises, cicadas, stick insects, and geckos. The principal foraging technique is by perch-and sally or active aerial foraging. Prey is caught in the large bill and killed by beating it against a branch.
The inhabitants of Madagascar have many legends and myths about the species. It is often considered a good omen, and (because it is often seen in pairs) is associated with couples and love.
For a chance to see this unique and odd, but beautiful bird, join us on our Nature Travel Birding tour of the magical island of Madagascar in September 2020. Get more info about this birding trip at email@example.com
First time birdwatching visitors to southern Africa are often surprised by the mournful call of the Grey-headed Bushshrike (Malaconotus blanchoti). The Afrikaans name for the bird, “Spookvoel”, (literally meaning “ghost bird”) is very descriptive of the sound, a series of drawn out, eerie, ventriloquial uuuuuuuuh or whooooooo whistles.
The bird belongs to the bushshrike family and includes species like helmetshrikes, puffbacks, tchagras and boubous. The distinguishing features of the 25cm long Grey-headed Bushshrike are its grey head, olive-green mantle and back, chestnut eyes and light coloured throat above a brownish-orange breast and yellow belly. It also sports a robust, strongly hooked bill.
It occurs in a band from Senegal to Ethiopia, extending south to large areas of south-central and southern Africa, largely absent from the lowland forests of the DRC and West African coast. It is uncommon in southern Africa, with populations across Zimbabwe, Mozambique, eastern South Africa and small areas of Botswana.
It generally occupies wooded areas, especially miombo, acacia and riverine woodland, where it keeps to tangled growth and dense foliage. It does occasionally move into suburban gardens and alien tree plantations adjacent to indigenous forest.
Grey-headed Bushshrikes live singly or in pairs but never in flocks. They feed mainly on insects (locusts, grasshoppers, bees, wasps, dragonflies, etc), but are also known to catch small snakes, rodents, lizards, geckos and even other bird chicks. They also make larders, impaling prey on thorns and spikes.
The Grey-headed Bushshrike is monogamous, selecting one partner for life. Breeding is in summer when both birds contribute to the construction of the rather untidy nest, usually found in the tree canopy a few metres from the ground. The female lays between 2 to 4 eggs which she alone incubates, while the male undertakes all the hunting and serves her food.
Join us on our famous NBZ Birding tour(Namibia, Botswana & Zambia), to see and hear the Grey-headed Bushshrike and many other fantastic southern African species. For more information, talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luckily the strikingly plumaged Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (Grallaria ruficapilla) is one of the most easily identifiable species, as well as being one of the most easily seen, of an extremely wary and notoriously shy family of birds, the antpittas.
Size wise, it sits in the middle of the antpitta family, averaging 18.5 cm (7.3 in) long. It has an orange-rufous head and nape, giving it a hooded appearance. The back is olive brown and the throat white. The belly is white overlaid with beautiful black-brown streaking, mainly on the sides and the flanks. The legs are blue-grey, an important feature separating it from Watkins’s Antpitta.
The Chestnut-crowned Antpitta occurs in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, and is subdivided into seven subspecies, depending on their head patterns. It has a broad altitudinal range, from 1,200 to 3,600 m (3,900 to 12,000 ft) above sea level, and is found in all manner of forest types, but especially favours moist montane forests, clearings, second growth, patches of bamboo, and other disturbed habitats.
Its diet includes mostly spiders, earthworms, caterpillars and ground-dwelling insects. It frequently forages on the ground for invertebrate prey, but also occasionally climbs to several metres above the ground in search of caterpillars and other foliage-dwelling invertebrates. It sometimes even follows large mammals (bears, tapirs) as a means of searching for prey that have been disturbed by the larger animal.
The Chestnut-crowned Antpitta’s song (a monotonously repeated, three-note, wheee, whooo-whooo) is easily imitated, and these bold, inquisitive birds will readily approach in response to human whistles. In some areas, this species has become habituated to being fed worms, and in exchange can be watched by birdwatchers.
For your chance to see this beautiful and approachable antpitta along with hundreds of other incredible species, join us on an unforgettable birding trip to Ecuador in July 2020. Enquire at email@example.com for more information.
The interestingly named Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) is actually not a snipe, but rather the only member of its genus Lymnocryptes in the larger family of waders and shorebirds.
The exact origin of the name is unclear, but strangely it might have something to do with the game of bowls; the ‘jack’ in the game of bowls being the smallest of the balls used. The Jack Snipe’s secretive nature is reflected in its scientific name. Lymnocryptes is derived from the Greek words limne, meaning marsh, and krupto, meaning to hide. The species name minimus is Latin for smallest.
It is smaller than other snipes or woodcocks (17 to 19 cm), with a shorter bill. Furthermore it differs from all other snipes by having a wedge-shaped tail, which lacks white; it also lacks a central stripe on the crown and has a purple and green gloss on black upperparts.
Jack Snipes are migratory, spending the non-breeding period in various brackish and freshwater habitats in Great Britain, coastal Europe, Africa, and India. Their breeding habitat is open marshes, bogs, floodplains and wet meadows with short vegetation in northern Europe and northern Russia.
When feeding it has a characteristic ‘bouncing’ motion, as if on a spring. They forage in soft mud, probing or picking up food by sight. They mainly eat insects and earthworms, also seeds and other plant material.
The male performs a switchback aerial display during courtship, typically at dawn and dusk, during which it makes a distinctive sound like a galloping horse. They nest in a well-hidden location on the ground, laying 3 or 4 eggs. The chicks hatch after about 24 days and are independent after a further 20 days.
On our Nature Travel Birding safaris to Uganda we often spend a morning in the Mabamba Swamp searching for one of Africa’s most sought after bird species; the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex).
The sheer surprise when this prehistoric-looking bird (also sometimes called the whalehead, whale-headed stork, or shoe-billed stork) flies up is an experience that stays with you forever, irrespective of how many world bird species you have on your list or how well-traveled you might think you are.
With its massive, highly conspicuous, shoe-like bill, and 140 cm (55 in) height this bird looks like something from the age of the dinosaurs and is utterly unmistakable. In fact, the Shoebill is a bird belonging to the group known as the Pelecaniformes and is more closely related to a pelican than a stork.
These birds are found in tropical East Africa in large swamps and marshes from Sudan to Zambia. They are equipped with a large bill which helps them catch their favourite prey: West African Lungfish. Thye will also eat amphibians, very young crocodiles and eater snakes, as well as rodents and small waterfowl.
Shoebills are masters of patience. They will stand in water, large patches of grass, and other hiding places for hours on end. They know that if they wait long enough for the right moment, they will find their next meal. At the right moment, the Shoebill will leap from cover and attack the prey. They lunge forward and with their sharp bill scoop up the creature, devouring it whole. Roughly 60% of their attacks are successful.
The timing of the breeding season is linked to local water levels. Eggs are laid at the end of the rains as the waters start to recede, and chicks fledge in the dry season. Shoebills are solitary nesters, and the nest is a grassy mound, up to 3 m wide, on floating vegetation or a small island, often among dense stands of papyrus. The clutch size is normally two eggs, and incubation takes 30 days. Fledging occurs at about 100 days and usually, only one chick survives. Individuals take three to four years to reach reproductive maturity and may live for up to 50 years.
The Shoebill has been classified as vulnerable, with less than 10,000 birds left in the wild. The bird is threatened by hunters, the destruction of their environments by humans, and cultural taboos that lead to them being captured by tribes. Many cultures believe that the birds are taboo and bring about bad luck.
Africa’s legendary bird, the Shoebill, awaits you in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa!
You know you are in northern India when you hear a fast, liquid, tinkling, chittering trill, immediately followed by a clear, thin, elastic whistle “chittititititchééter-whééeze!”. That is the song of the Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum).
This member of the Leiothrichidae family of Old World laughingthrushes is common in the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent, where it prefers bushes and scrubby vegetation on slopes close to rivers and forest edges, at 1,400 to 3,900 metres above sea level. It also ventures close to cultivated areas and towns and villages.
The Streaked Laughingthrush is, like most of its family, a striking bird. It is a smallish laughingthrush, mostly brown and greyish, with fine streaking all over, and with a rufous tail and a bright rufous ear patch. Five subspecies are recognised, based on geographical differences. The scientific name “lineatus” (Latin) means “of a line”, indicating the linear streaking patterns on the bird.
It feeds on insects, including moths and caterpillars, ants and spiders, but also berries, fruit and seeds. It keeps mostly to the ground and forages with others of its kin in groups of up to 6 individuals. In some western Himalayan towns it is considered a “garden bird”!
The Streaked Laughingthrush breeds from March to October, laying 2 to 4 eggs in a loose and untidy cup-type nest in thick bushes. Incubation is done by both sexes, and they have to keep a lookout, as the nests are parasitized by several local cuckoo species.
Although it is a common bird in its region, it doesn’t deter from the fact that it is still special! Streaked Laughingthrushes are generally not shy and will approach humans, allowing a fascinating insight into their behaviour and making the taking of nice photographs a breeze.
Many of the different species in the endemic-to-Africa turaco family are beautiful and colourful birds, but the one that takes the proverbial cake, must be the Great Blue Turaco of the canopy of the forests of west Africa.
Apart from being a beautiful turquoise-blue colour, it is also huge (up to 75 centimetres high and weighing over a kilogram!). The name really does do it justice! Unlike other species of turacos, the Great Blue Turaco does not have red flight feathers in the wings. It has a large bill that is bright yellow with a red tip and a blue-black raised crest crowning the top of the heads. The tail is long and wide, and has a broad black subterminal band.
The Great Blue Turaco might be stunning, but unfortunately it is not blessed with graceful flying moves. They sort of glide-leap from one tree to the next, climbing up and down branches to reach the fruit they crave, before moving on to the next tree. They often forage in small flocks and several birds often gather at fruiting trees.
The call of the Great Blue Turaco is very unique. There are typically two different types that they use. They are most commonly heard at dawn and dusk and during mating season. Their primary call is a loud, deep, resonant, guttural “kok-kok-kok”. A bubbling softer “prru…prru” trill may sometimes precede this.
The Great Blue Turaco is widespread and appears relatively common throughout its range. However, the species is threatened by deforestation and habitat destruction due to human developments. It is unfortunately also hunted for consumption as food, and is still trapped for trade in some parts of the range.
For a chance to see the Great Blue Turaco and many other west African specials, join us on our small-group expert-guided Ghana birding trip in early 2020.