The beauty of this Old World Vulture

Hooded Vulture

The Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) is an Old World vulture in the order Accipitriformes. It is the only member of the genus Necrosyrtes and is native to sub-Saharan Africa.

Birding in Namibia Botswana and Zambia

It is a scruffy-looking, small vulture with fairly uniform dark brown plumage, a long thin bill, bare crown, face and fore-neck, and a downy nape and hind-neck. It has broad wings for soaring and short tail feathers. It is a small species compared to most vultures.

Their preferred habitat is mainly open woodland and savanna, also forest edges; it is generally absent from desert and dense forest, except where it enters secondary forest, clearings, settlements and urban areas.

Like other vultures it is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals (but unable to compete with larger species, usually taking scraps) and waste which it finds by soaring over savannah and around human habitation, including waste tips and abattoirs. It uses its relatively fine bill to pick meat from between bones after larger species have left, and also uses it to extract insects from soil and dung.  It occasionally even feeds on the fruits of oil palms (Elaeis guineensis).

Unfortunately, the species has been uplisted from its previous IUCN status of endangered to critically endangered, since the species is going through a very steep decline in population, owing to various factors including poisoning, hunting, habitat loss and degradation of habitat. The global population is currently estimated at no more than 200 000 individuals.

To see this critically endangered vulture before it is too late, join us on one of our Nature Travel Birding safaris in South Africa soon!

 

Seeing the Hartlaub’s Spurfowl for the first time

Hartlaub's-Spurfowl with Nature Travel Birding

There are few more evocative sounds in the wilds of Namibia than the kor-rack..keerya..keerya..kew of the elusive, boulder-loving Hartlaub’s Spurfowl. This beautiful, monotypic, near-endemic gamebird is one of Namibia’s top targets for listers from all over the world, and not easy to see! We just had to share one of our client’s experiences with you:

“Seeing the Hartlaub’s Spurfowl for the first time is a magical experience and a privilege not easily described in words. My first sighting of a Hartlaub’s Spurfowl was such an experience and something I will never forget!

We set off for a late afternoon walk at Erongo Wildnerness Lodge and searched the boulders surrounding the lodge for any movement, listening for any telltale calls of the spurfowl. Just before sunset, we spotted some movement on a big boulder on one of the walking trails and then heard the unmistakable call of the Hartlaub’s Spurfowl. What a privilege to see 3 of these birds, one male and two females. They entertained us with loud calling and fighting until it was too dark to see them any more and we had to return to the lodge.”

Hartlaub's-Spurfowl with Nature Travel Birding

Certainly one of the best experiences on our Namibia Endemics tour and a such a special sighting!

Seeing the near-endemic Rockrunner

Rockrunner-(2)

Surely the highlights of any birding tour are to see the true endemic and near=endemic birds in your birding destination.  Well, Namibia has a wonderful bird list of almost 700 species, with one true endemic and 15 near-endemics, along with many other spectacular species.   A lot of the Namibian endemics and other specials can be found quite close to the capital of this vast country.

One of those being the Rockrunner Achaetops pycnopygius.

We have been fortunate to see the striking terrestrial babbler-like Rockrunner on several of our tours and again so on our latest.

And what a beautiful bird it is with the chest peppered black and white, heavily streaked dark back, with tawny flanks and rump, and a rufous belly. The face is similarly richly striped and patterned.

Watching it hopping or flying from boulder to boulder is mesmerizing.  This behaviour aids in identification together with the distinctive Rockrunner’s song, a rich, robin-like warbling song.

You can join us to find the Rockrunner in Namibia on one of our next birding tours.  Read more on the itineraries of our Namibia Endemics Birding tour or the Short Namibia Endemics tour to see what to expect on our personalised birding tours and what other wonderful birds we will find.  Get in touch at info@naturetravelbirding.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namibia Endemics

The dance of the Secretarybirds…

Is this love or hate? Check out this pair of stunning Secretarybirds recently seen by one of our guides and his clients while on a South African birding tour.

These raptors, seemingly a mix between an eagle and a crane, are endemic to Africa and famous for their ability to kill and eat venomous snakes.

To experience once-in-a-lifetime sightings like these, join us on our expert-guided birding tours in Africa.

One of our best trips on which to see the Secretarybird is the 15 day South Africa tour. For more information on this or any of our birding trips get in touch at info@naturetravelbirding.com.

Seeing the national bird of Peru

Andean Cock-of-the-rock (2).jpg

The national bird of Peru is readily identified by its fan-shaped crest and brilliant orange-red plumage, both of which are evident to a lesser degree even in the duller female.

The spectacularly bizarre Andean Cock-of-the-rock Rupicola peruvianus is perhaps the most popularly recognised bird of the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains of South America, and high up on the of “birds you have to see before you die” list.

On our latest trip to Peru we had the chance to see this amazing bird and our guide captured some video footage displaying the full beauty.

To see this incredible bird and many others almost equally fascinating and colourful, join us on our next Nature Travel Birding trip to Peru in August 2020 Not only will you see more than 500 species of birds, along with a chance of spotting a Jaguar, but you will also visit iconic Machu Picchu!

For more information, browse to Peru Birding our our site or talk to us on info@naturetravelbirding.com.

Finding the Shoebill in Uganda

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-travelled you might think you are.

With its massive, highly conspicuous, shoe-like bill, and 140 cm 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.

We are so privileged to have shared the sighting of this wonderful bird with our clients on our last Uganda Birding tour. Believe us when we say, the moment you see the Shoebill through your camera lens it unforgettable and exhilarating.

Our next birding tour to Uganda will depart in August 2020, hope you can join us so we can share this unforgettable experience.  You can get more info on the Uganda Birding tour on our website at Uganda Birding Tour.

Bird of the week: Fox’s Weaver

Fox's Weaver

Despite the east African country of Uganda boasting a bird list of over 1060 species, including some iconic ones like Shoebill, Grey Parrot, African Pitta and Great Blue Turaco, the “Pearl of Africa” only has one endemic species, the little known Fox’s Weaver Ploceus spekeoides.

The first Fox’s Weaver was collected by Harold Munro Fox, an English zoologist, who visited Uganda in the early 1910s. Fox gave these specimens to Stephenson Robert Clarke, who presented his own (and these) African specimens to the British Museum in 1923. The Fox’s Weaver specimens were overlooked until 1947 when Captain Claude Henry Baxter Grant, a British ornithologist and collector, and Cyril Winthrop Mackworth-Praed, a British sport shooter & ornithologist, recognised this as a new species.

The male Fox’s Weaver is 14 cm long with a golden-yellow forehead, crown and nape, contrasting with a black throat, chin, lores and cheek. The eyes are orange-red and the bill black, and the back and mantle are black with the outer feathers having narrow yellow fringes. The female, as almost always in the avian world, is much duller! It looks so much alike some other African weavers that experts reckon most photographs of the Fox’s Weaver have actually been misidentified and are other species! Even part of the scientific name spekoides is Greek for “resembling”, meaning the species resembles another, namely Speke’s Weaver Ploceus spekei of northeast Africa.

Fox’s Weaver occurs only in a 10,000 km2 area of eastern-central Uganda, where it inhabits bushed and wooded grassland in swampy areas, particularly where papyrus grows. Very little is known about its feeding habits, but it is thought that it eats seeds and small insects.

There is equally little known about the breeding habits of the Fox’s Weaver, but it might be a colonial system. It is presumed that it is a resident species, with local movements depending on rain and water levels.

It is currently regarded as Near Threatened (IUCN 3.1) due to habitat loss as a result of human activity in its restricted range. For your chance to see this poorly-studied species, join us on our 14 day, small group, expert-guided birding tour to Uganda in August 2020. Who knows, you may even become a birding celebrity if you manage to get some good photographs or figure out what they eat or how they breed! For more information enquire directly at info@naturetravelbirding.com.

 

Rainforest Scops Owl

It is sometimes fun to sit back and watch all the clever scientists fight over a bird’s name or its place in its genus or family. Few fights recently have been bigger than the one over the Rainforest Scops Owl Otus rutilus of Madagascar.

Birding in Madagascar
The only thing they can agree on, is that is a species of owl in the family Strigidae and in the genus Otus. But that is about it – the rest is not so clear. It used to be lumped together with 3 other scops owls (Mayotte, Pemba and Torotoroka Scops Owls) but those have all since been split by some authorities and have been given full species status. Other experts dispute this, and feel that some of these do not merit having full species status on genetic grounds.

What we do know is that the Rainforest Scops Owl is a small owl (19–24 cm and 85-120 grams) with short, rounded wings and short ear tufts. There are three morphs recorded (grey, brown and rufous) but the colouring is extremely variable. Features which stand out on all morphs are the pale facial disc, pale eyebrows, light spots on the scapulars and the barring on the wings and outer tail feathers. Sometimes the crown and the underparts are streaked blackish. The bill has a black tip and the eyes are always yellow.

Birding in Madagascar

The owl is endemic to Madagascar where it is found in the north and east of the island. It prefers, as its name suggests, humid tropical forest, thickets and humid bush country, from sea level to 2,000 metres above.

The typical song is a series of between five and fifteen short, even-pitched, clear “tu-tu-tu-tu-tu” notes, repeated after a few seconds.
The Rainforest Scops Owl feeds mostly on insects, such as beetles, moths and spiders. It hunts almost exclusively at night, and roosts during the day, hidden in dense foliage, sometimes close to the ground. Little is known of its breeding biology.

On our magical Madagascar Birding Tour, we visit several areas and reserves where you have a very good chance of seeing this beautiful, if genetically controversial, owl . Our next small group, expert-guided, 14 day trip to the world’s fourth-largest island is in September 2020.

For more information enquire directly at info@naturetravelbirding.com about this bucket list birding trip to one of the most fascinating places on earth!

 

Iberian Magpie

Iberian-Magpie.jpg

This week’s Bird of the Week here at Nature Travel Birding is the unmistakeable Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki, a bird in the crow family that occurs in southwestern and central parts of the Iberian Peninsula, in Spain and Portugal.

This bird was previously treated by scientists as the same species as the more east-occurring Azure-winged Mapie C. cyana, but recent genetic analysis has shown that they are distinct at species level.

The Iberian Magpie is about 35 cm (14 in) long and unmistakable within its range, where its combination of black hood, greyish-brown mantle and blue wings and tail are distinctive. It has a glossy black top to the head and a white throat. The underparts and the back are a light grey-fawn in colour with the wings and the feathers of the long tail are an alluring azure blue.

Iberian Magpies prefer open woodland with grassy clearings, including orchards and olive groves, and sometimes even large gardens. Stands of introduced eucalyptus are particularly favoured as communal roost-sites. They have been recorded locally up to 700 m (2,300 ft) above sea level in foothill gorges, but also occurs down to sea-level, with the largest concentrations in coastal wooded dunes of planted stone pines in southwestern Spain.

They find food as a family group or several groups making flocks of up to 70 birds. Their diet consists mainly of acorns and pine nuts, extensively supplemented by invertebrates, including caterpillars, millipedes, snails and leeches, as well as soft fruits and berries (including grapes, olives, mulberries and cherries), and also human-provided scraps in parks and towns. They are generally shy and very wary, but can become confiding where unmolested.

Iberian Magpies are believed to have monogamous pair-bond, pair-members that keep together within flocks. They are social breeders, forming loose colonies, but there are rarely more than one nest in a single tree. There are usually 6 to 8 eggs that are incubated for 15 days. Interestingly, their nests are very rarely, if ever, parasitized by cuckoos, unlike those of its Asian cousin.

Although most abundant in the southern Spain-Portugal border regions of Extremadura, and said to be increasing in Portugal, it seems that the total population of Iberian Magpies could be declining. Destruction of extensive stands of holm oak trees has been blamed for its disappearance over several areas, and competition with increasing numbers of Eurasian Magpie has also been suggested as a possible reason for local decreases.

Join us on a fantastic Spain birding tour coming up in the European spring in 2020 to see these beautiful near-endemic birds, along with many others. All our trips are small group, expert-guided trips. For more information browse to our website or enquire directly at info@naturetravelbirding.com.