Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Last (Bird-related) Post from Bafia (really!)

OK, I lied Sunday. Today is my near-last post from Bafia. Thie last one that is bird-related. I will post another one about training and the whole experience here in Bafia and with Peace Corps, and then I leave town on Thursday.

But priorities… I need to make a small correction: I saw Red-headed rather than Cardinal Queleas yesterday. I saw another flock near the lycée classique today, and looking them up to confirm, they were indeed Red-headed Queleas. I don’t even know where I came up with Cardinal Quelea (I always think “red-headed finch” when I see these guys, and those are no closer than Angola I think). IAC, here is a (grainy) shot of a male and female at the more suburban location.

We stagiaires had the morning off today, and since my camera is now working again, I took the opportunity to try to photograph a few more birds around Bafia. First, I looked for the African Gray Parrots again. Though I spotted one flying over my road, I was unable to locate any in their usual haunts (the acacia trees by the prefecture and sous-prefecture). I only was able to find an African Green Pigeon in these trees (and the many ubiquitous Red-eyed Doves). The shot is backlit and unfortunately did not turn out.

I then headed toward the lycée classique and found a few more birds along the way. I have been regretting leaving my nice camera home in the States (which I did for security reasons). I am using a lower-end point-and-shoot with digital zoom that does not respond very well. But it does the job decently enough if the bird cooperates. Here is a sample of shots taken today:

          A Pied Crow, an abundant bird here. I thought this was a nice picture of it though. The scenery of Bafia is in the background. The bird is also standing on a banana leaf, and was eyeing the beignet stand just to its right for any leftovers.

          A beautiful male Dark-backed Weaver, spotted in the backyard at my homestay.

          This nice male Pin-tailed Whydah posed nicely for me by the rock quarry next to the lycée classique. This bird often hangs around the buildings that we are using for Peace Corps training and even non-birders get a thrill when the male flies with its long tail trailing behind!

          This Double-spurred Francolin was calling from this rock by the side of the road. I heard many calling this morning, and one time a male was calling from the roof of an abandoned building!

          A very grainy shot of a beautiful bird: a Black-crowned Waxbill at a puddle near a swampy stream by the lycée classique. There are three common waxbill finches here: Orange-cheeked Waxbill are often in the area, and Bronze Mannakins are downright abundant here!

          One of many Village Weavers in Bafia! This was shot at the colony by the lycée classique. They have several trees absolutely covered with these nests woven from long blades of grass. The entrances are actually from the bottom, even though this male is sitting on the top of it. The females and juveniles are paler and lack the black head, though they all retain the red eye (very helpful for ID in the field!)

          A Yellow-shouldered Whydah down the road from the lycée. This one was checking out a field of corn and manioc for anything good to eat.

          A Tawny-flanked Prinia, a very loud and chattery species that usually is hidden in the cissongo grass at the side of the road. This one was kind enough to sing from a banana leaf here.

          A Black-bellied Seedcracker, very grainy shot taken at dusk in the backyard. Gorgeous bird, though normally very shy. One sight of the binoculars or camera, and they take off quickly. This one stayed for almost two minutes!

          An African Pygmy Kingfisher, across the street from the homestay Tuesday morning. Usually I see them flying quickly from one hidden spot to another, but this one was kind enough to land on a wire for me!

          A common Woodland Kingfisher on a wire on my street. These often hang around in the Acacia and Theque (teak) around the residential quarter, though they are just as often hunting lizards from the utility wires.

          No parrots unfortunately, but these birds were a great consolation prize!

          Honorable mention: I was finally able to see (not just hear) an owl last night. Due to our curfew, it’s been difficult to find nocturnal birds. But last night, we had a power outage, and since I had to go outside for (ahem) other reasons… I took the opportunity to stand and listen for things that go bump in the night. Almost immediately, a medium-sized owl flew by. It circled around for a bit, and then landed in the papaya tree next to me! A few minutes later, it took off, this time with my flashlight directly on it and saw it was bigger than I thought, and rather dark brown (not a Barn Owl!). Most likely an African Wood Owl! Very cool. Someone else saw one on a wire some weeks back (picked it out of my field guide). I was very excited since I had only found Barn Owls up to that point, and I had only heard them.

          Now, I was expecting to also see nightjars considering it’s the tropics, it’s Africa and there are just TONS of airborne insects here. But go figure, I have only seen one solitary individual flying at dusk. I decided it was a female and pretty much impossible to identify. But based on probability (from the two field guides I brought), it could have been a Pennant-winged Nightjar. It’s hard to tell since I only saw it that one time, and of course females lack the spectacular pennants. So maybe its wishful thinking.

          Other birds that have surprised me for their abundance or lack thereof:
          • Bee-eaters: These are some of my favorite birds, and African is famous for very colorful species. Yet I have only seen the relatively-unimpressive (though gorgeous) Little Bee-eaters, and only occasionally. Looking at the field guides, most of the species are further north in the savannah.
          • Rollers: Another colorful family, yet I have none so far. Most species are elsewhere, especially north.
          • Woodpeckers: One species only, the Gray Woodpecker. I have seen one female here in Bafia 2-3 times.
          • Shrikes: Ditto: I just checked my list, and I have Fiscal Shrikes in Bandjoun. There are many species here in Cameroon, and some very colorful which I hope to see in the north.
          • Touracos: These are most deep-woods species, and I was not expecting to see them. I was thrilled and surprised to find several Great Blue Turacos in the tops of some dead trees while on a bikeride! They even stayed long enough for me to pull out my binoculars.
          • Parrots: Two species so far, and I was impressed to find them in Bafia itself! African Gray Parrots (up to 11 at once) and Red-faced Lovebirds (up to 4 at once)
          • Starlings: None in Bafia! In Bandjoun, I saw the black and russet Narrow-tailed Starlings, but I was expecting at least one colorful starling species. The field guides seem to indicate shiny iridescent purple, green and/or blue species should be here in relative abundance.
          • Weavers: 8 species so far… amazing! Village, Spectacled, Black-necked, Vieillot’s Black, Compact, Baglafecht, Golden-backed, and Grosbeak Weaver. And 9 if you count Gray-headed Sparrow, similar to a House Sparrow (almost identical call in fact!) and a member of the weaver family. Usually there are several weaver species sharing the same habitat, which is really neat.

          Also, Cisticolas and Sunbirds have not disappointed: 6 species apiece!

          OK, done with birds… for a while.

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