One of the sixteen or so of Namibia’s near-endemic bird species, is the striking terrestrial babbler-like Rockrunner Achaetops pycnopygius.

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It has been called the Damara Rockjumper in the past, but is actually a member of the Macrosphenidae family of Crombecs and African warblers. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Achaetops.

It occurs in southwestern Angola and north and central Namibia, preferring sloping rocky areas and outcrops with scattered thorn trees, especially along watercourses, in dry hilly and mountainous areas.

The Rockrunner really is a beautiful bird, 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.

As its name would suggest, it has the habit of hopping or flying short distances from boulder to boulder; this behaviour aids in identification. Another distinctive feature is the Rockrunner’s song, a rich, robin-like warbling song, usually given from a prominent perch: tip tip tootle tootle ti tootle tootle too.

The Rockrunner feeds mainly on invertebrates, almost exclusively on the ground. It moves with its tail frequently held cocked, and has a mouse-like running habit. It also flies in a laboured manner, with the tail held downwards, and then cocked on alighting. It is rarely found in trees, except when singing or when alarmed.

In terms of breeding, it is solitary and territorial. The nest is a large, thick, untidy structure of grass and leaves, lined with fine soft grass. It is normally well hidden close to the ground in the middle of large clumps of grass or in a low, large-leafed shrub. The clutch is usually 3 eggs, the incubation period about 15 days. The young leave the nest at a relatively early age, before they are able to fly, and hide in the grass. They are fed by both adults until they are independent.

The Rockrunner is a fairly common bird, but very localised. Although the total population of the bird is estimated at 50,000, it can be a tricky bird to find in Namibia. Regional population density is quite variable, dependent mostly on elevation and rainfall patterns.

For your chance to see this striking rockhopping bird and many others, join us on a small group, expert guided Nature Travel Birding tour in Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. For more information browse to our Namibia, Botswana & Zambia Birding tour or enquire directly at

Grey Parrot

Although it is one of the most popular “exotic pets” in the world, the Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus is actually a beautiful and majestic wild avian wonder.
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It occurs naturally in lowland moist forest, savannah woodland and cultivations in equatorial Africa, including northern Angola, Cameroon, the Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. It is also known as the Congo grey parrot or African grey parrot.

It is a fairly large parrot, with an overall grey appearance, a bare facial area around the whitish eye and a bright red tail and tail coverts. Its size, notably that of the bill, is individually variable independent of age, as is the intensity of the grey and the amount of red, which sometimes extends onto the belly.

Grey Parrots are highly social creatures, sometimes foraging in noisy flocks of up to 30 individuals and travelling long distances through the forest in search of food. They eat mainly fruits, seeds and nuts, preferring the fruit of the African Oil Palm. They will also occasionally eat insects and snails.

The Grey Parrot is monogamous, only mating with one companion at a time. They also display intricate behaviour such as bi-parental care (both parents look after their little chicks) and show altruistic behaviour such as grooming each other and regurgitating food to feed others.

These parrots are among the world’s most intelligent animals, with research showing that they can identify, request, refuse, categorise and quantify more than 80 different objects! They may live up to 60 years in captivity, but in the wild rarely make it past 25 years.

Unfortunately populations of the Grey Parrot are rapidly decreasing worldwide, and it is currently regarded as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Humans are, as always, the main threat to their survival. The extensive harvesting of wild birds for the pet trade, in addition to habitat loss and use as bush meat, has led to a rapid decline in numbers of Grey Parrots across their range. In order to address the threat from the cage bird trade the species was moved to Appendix I in 2016, thus banning international trade.

For your chance to see this magnificent parrot in the wild, join us on a birding trip to Uganda in 2020. Not only will you see the Grey Parrot, but you are guaranteed a superb birding and general wildlife experience. Get in touch with us on for more info on this amazing tour to Uganda or any other birding tour.

Endemism in Madagascar

Endemism is the name of the game on Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island and home to some truly astonishing creatures. This endemism is as a result of the fact that the island has been isolated for almost 100 million years, when it broke off from India. This isolation has led to an abundance of fauna and flora species that occur nowhere else on the planet.

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Scientist recently discovered that this separation only in part explains Madagascar’s high endemism levels. A very intriguing fact is that many of these endemic plants and animals have very small distributions on the island, something that is called micro-endemism. The theory is that micro-climate changes and specific topographic patterns of rivers and lakes on the island led to specific adaptations in certain plants, birds and animals, in turn leading to brand new species over time.

Something else to ponder is the sad fact that since humans arrived on the island about 2,350 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90 percent of its original forests. We can only imagine what otherworldly creatures and plants existed before that time…
Today, Madagascar is rightly classified by Conservation International as a biodiversity hotspot. An almost unbelievable 80 percent of all the species (over 250,000) found in Madagascar are endemic.

This includes:
• six endemic bird families and a full 120 endemic bird species,
• the cat-like, carnivorous Fossa,
• over 200 endemic reptile species,
• the lemurs, Madagascar’s flagship mammal species,
• more than 100 endemic fish species, and
• an incredible 12,000 endemic plant species!

Some of the top endemic birds on the island include Madagascan Fish Eagle, Malagasy and Banded Kestrel, Malagasy Pond Heron, Madagascan Ibis, Madagascan Grebe, Meller’s Duck, Red Fody, Long-tailed, Short-legged, Pitta-like, Scaly and Rufous-headed Ground Roller, Velvet Asity, Helmet, Van Dam’s, Chabert and Rufous Vanga, Madagascan Buttonquail, Madagascan Sandgrouse, Yellow-bellied Sunbird-Asity and many more!

We still have limited space available on our September 2020 small-group, expert-guided birding trip to magical Madagascar. Enquire at for more info, or browse to our Madagascar Birding Tour on our website.

Sickle-billed Vanga

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The island of Madagascar is one of the most ecologically important places on the planet. It has incredible beauty, but more importantly, some truly unique fauna and fauna species that occur no one else on earth. From an avian perspective, the island has over 100 endemic species, including the Vangidae family of vangas.

The Sickle-billed Vanga (Falculea palliata) is a member of this family and a beauty of a bird! It is the largest of the vangas (32cm/13 in), with a white head, neck, throat and underparts. This is strikingly contrasted with black upperparts with a blue sheen. The strongly decurved bluish-grey bill that the bird is named for can reach up to 77mm (3 in) long, and is tipped ivory white. The inside of the mouth also has a unique, intense black colour.

The Sickle-billed Vanga prefers dry deciduous forest and tropical dry shrubland as well as wooded areas around villages, mostly in western Madagascar, from sea level up to 900 metres (3,000 ft) above.

The bird’s most characteristic call is a loud “wa-aah”, almost like a crying baby, but it can also utter loud screeching and chortling sounds, especially when going to roost.
The diet of the Sickle-billed Vanga consists of invertebrates, including spiders, cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, worms and beetles. It also sometimes eats geckos and chameleons. It uses that long hooked bill to probe into holes and crevices in trunks of trees, levering off the bark and taking the insects off surfaces.

They are gregarious, often forming flocks of up to 30 individuals, and often mixing with other birds in feeding parties. Their breeding behaviour is interesting in that it is a bit reversed from the usual, with the female doing the displaying when looking for a mate. She then copulates with several males. The entire group feeds the young ones and all the makes defend the territory while the female performs the nesting duties.

The Sickle-billed Vanga is not globally threatened and good numbers exist in several protected areas in Madagascar, including Ankarafantsika, Kirindy and Berenty.
For a chance to see this unique endemic bird and some other incredible ones too, join us on a small-group, expert-guided trip to the “eighth continent” of Madagascar!

For more information, browse to our Madagascar Birding Tour on the website or enquire at We still have limited space available on our September 2020 tour; see you in Madagascar!

Collared Falconet

Birds of prey can’t often be called “cute”, but there is one bird of prey in northern India that is most certainly cute!

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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.

Browse to our website and go to Northern India to get more information. Or get in touch with us on


African Scops Owl

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).

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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.

There is very limited space available on this small-group, expert-guided tour, so act quickly! For more information browse to Ghana Birding Tour or enquire directly at


Black Skimmer

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.

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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.

Join us on one of our Nature Travel Birding to Peru to see these amazing birds in action. For more information enquire directly at

Cuckoo Roller

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.
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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

Grey-headed Bushshrike

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.

Nature Travel Birding

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


Chestnut-crowned Antpitta

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.
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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 for more information.