Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cameroon - waterside

Of course, even in the dry far north there were still water holes and birds associated with water. And, like most places, there were some open country species that were widespread and found in various habitats. Here are a few such birds.

A highlight of the trip was seeing the superb Black Crowned-Crane. The two species of crowned-crane are a subfamily with the crane family and they really dazzle the eye! This species has been declining and we only saw 4.

The beautiful African Jacana walking on lilly pads and displaying the enormously long toes that allow them to seemingly walk on water.

Next is another of the major trip highlights – the striking Egyptian Plover. This species is also known as the Crocodile Bird because Herodotus claimed that they would pick the teeth of the Nile crocodile. Well, it turns out Herodotus got it wrong like he did most things but the name has stuck. There is also a bit of a story here. The best site for these birds is at a river between two of the big National Parks. Our plan to check the river out was apparently thwarted when we ran into car problems (it turned out we had hired a bit of a lemon but that is an even longer story) and the driver said that he wanted to get it quickly fixed. We went off to buy provisions to camp in the park but when we returned the so-called quick fix found other problems and the day started to whittle away with us sitting in a garage. Realizing the one of the most sought after species in Africa was only a stone's throw away and that our best chance of seeing it was vanishing before our eyes i insisted that one of the garage employees go find our driver. He brought him over and i negotiated for him to pick us up at dusk at the bridge over the river while we went ahead on motorbikes. Well, the light was already slipping away when we got to the river but that didn't stop us from finding 25 Egyptian Plovers and a bonus in 5 Senegal Thick-knees. We had to sleep in town and continued to the park at 4am the next morning.

Next is a photo i probably shouldn't include because it is not that great but i can't resist. The flufftails are a uniquely African group of TINY super secretive rails (the equivalents of Yellow Rail and Black Rail you might say) that are seldom seen. On this trip i somehow managed to see two species, the first a White-spotted Flufftail, whose call we whistled back to him and who took over half an hour to come in and give a fleeting glimpse, and this one, a Buff-spotted Flufftail that miraculously walked out right in front of me through dense vegetation in an area where they are not even supposed to occur.

And of course, what series of water creatures in Africa would be complete without the hippo… it's an indescribable feeling to wander down to a river and hear those blowing, grunting and snorting noises that makes your every bone vibrate and to watch these enormous heads slowly emerge from a fast-flowing river, standing against the current as though it were as weak as a breath of air, then sinking again to browse along the river bottom for 15 minutes or more before coming up for air. A mind-boggling beast!

Not too far away from the water – a few open country birds. The dashing Black-headed Lapwing, actually less reliant on water holes than the Spur-winged Lapwing

the surprising African Grey Hornbill (i found it weird to find hornbills in such open habitats but i guess there are always isolated tall trees for them to breed in),

the widespread Hooded Vulture

and the VERY widespread Yellow-billed Kite (close relative of the Black Kite).

Here, a Sun Lark, perched in the open obligingly.

A male Pin-tailed Whydah (the inserts show one in flight and displaying to a female) – the whydahs are an elaborately plumed group/family – many with ridiculously long tails and elaborate displays. They are also brood parasites.

And the first bird i saw in Africa – the Yellow-mantled Widowbird – i saw one in long dank grass by a wet area alongside the airport runway just as the plane was taxiing to the terminal. Widowbirds are related to weavers and some are very beautiful indeed.

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