Sunday, August 29, 2010

More on birding in Batie

As mentioned in my previous post, I went birding Sunday morning for a few hours with Cristina, another Peace Corps volunteer in the nearby town of Batie. This was an amazing experience. We did not know where to begin, so we just took a dirt road leading behind Cristina's house. Yet it yielded 10 lifebirds in around 3 hours, and some wonderful looks at scenery and some exotic birdlife. We may have even heard monkeys in the distance at one point!

The beginning was very much like Bandjoun (or what little I've seen of the Western Province so far): Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleus, Common/Orange-cheeked/Black-crowned Waxbills, Village/Spectacled/Dark-backed/Baglafecht Weavers, Narrow-tailed Starlings and the ubiquitous Pied Crow. Cristina's neighbor Billy started to follow and point out these birds, and suddenly said there was a "red bird". This turned out to be a brilliant male Fire-crowned Bishop who scared up some Red-headed Queleas. We had seen those before. Yet following the bishop to the other side of the road, I noticed a pair of striking black and red birds in a treetop, sporting very reptilian-looking bills: Double-toothed Barbets! That was my first lifebird of the day.

The second came moments later when I spotted a few tiny black and white birds, which turned out to be White-bellied Tits.

Billy started trying to call us some perdri, or partridges. We did see a Double-spurred Francolin shortly after that, but I was more interested in a bright green and red bird that darted from tree to tree: I decided it had to be a trogon, but which one? I started to hear the call, and unsuccessfully called back to try to draw it out. But later upon listening to recordings, decided it must have been a Bar-tailed Trogon.

While doing that, we managed to scare up a Gray-green Bush Shrike, a striking bird in the native growth that peppered the cultivation in this area. By now, we were close to the bottom of a small valley in which there was a belt of riverine habitat. So the birds were getting better. This is where I first noticed a Green Turaco, quietly observing us from a treetop! Very exciting, especially when it flew from branch to branch, exposing the brilliant red wings.

The trail became more and more narrow and slippery, but we decided to push on when we found a Black-headed Tchagra, a handsome shrike that responded to my pishing near the stream! A few sunbirds, including the iridescent blue/green/red/purple Splendid Sunbird, even stayed long enough for us to admire them!

We were apprehensive about descending to the river, partially because of the treacherous trail but also out of fear of snakes... but we pushed on, tempted by all the bird songs we were hearing! After crossing, we managed to find a Senegal Coucal (very common), White-chinned Prinias (seen before), more sunbirds and some Black-and-white (or Bicolored) Mannakins... but we were finally rewarded when a brilliant blue bird landed at the top of a tree in the photo above: it was a Splendid Glossy Starling! Later, a few more joined. I was thrilled since as previously noted, I had come up short on colorful starlings to that point!

A bit later, I noticed a Gray-crowned Black Finch in the undergrowth by a small farm. It disappeared quickly, but was very striking by the gray crown and black underparts - most likely a female since it had very few spots on the underparts.

By this point we were hungry, so we turned around. But after crossing the stream again, we found two more Green Turacos, one which flew flashing its brilliant red wings, and a second that posed for us on a branch for a few moments just at eye level. At this point, we heard what we thought might have been monkeys in the distance.

As always, a few birds went unidentified. There was some sort of cuckoo-like call. A different low hooting (which started slow and accelerated a bit like a western screech owl) may have been something interesting, but the bird itself eluded us. There were a few nondescript brownish birds as well which may have been early migrants or juveniles of some sort. Two of the more distinctive ones I identified as a Leaflove and a Little Greenbul.

Many birds were gathering nesting material, and the whydahs (Pin-tailed, Red-collared, Yellow-shouldered) were showing enthusiastic mating behavior. The Pin-tailed Whydah in particular put on a great show, flying around and landing on banana leaves while pursuing a couple of females. Another great day of birding here in Cameroon!!

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