violet-backed starling (Cinnyricinclus leucogaster)

Violet-backed Starling.Maanzoni.

Photo@Jan F. Van Duinen

The Violet-backed Starling  belongs to the family of birds classified as Sturnidae. This species, also known as the Plum-coloured Starling or Amethyst Starling, is the smallest of Kenya starlings, reaching only about 18cm in length. It is a successful breeder, and is fortunately not listed as a threatened species.

The sexes are strongly sexually dimorphic, meaning that there is a distinct difference in the appearance of the male and female. The breeding male is brilliantly coloured, with feathers an iridescent shining plum violet colour along the length of is back, wings, face and throat, contrasting with bright white on the rest of the body. Females (and juveniles) are a streaky brown and buff colour, and can easily be mistaken for a thrush.

Less noisy than other starlings, this bird is a monogamous species, and will remain so unless its mate dies. Under those circumstances it will seek a new mate in replacement. These starlings are normally seen in small flocks in summer, just before the breeding season when they will break off into pairs to nest.

Violet-backed starlings will nest in cavities such as tree holes high off the ground, holes in river banks, even in old hollow fence posts, lining the nests with dung, leaves and other plant material. They have been known to reuse nests in successive breeding seasons

In Kenya, they are found a long riverine vegetation in big dead tree trunks in Machakos, the low areas of Tugen hills, Lake Nakuru and Nairobi national park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taveta Golden Weaver (Ploceus castaneiceps)

Taveta Golden Weaver,Ploceus castaneicepsZiwani-swamp.

Photo@Jan F. Van Duinen

Over the Weekend we went birding to the western side of Tsavo West national park. it is an huge national park covering over 9000 sq.km. The park was made famous by mane less man-eaters  Lions of the Tsavo and the lions there as documented in history books had develop a test for human flesh. This is not the case anymore, so during our entire birding game drives inside the park, we had nothing to worry about at all, other than the worry of missing on our target species.

From the sight of fifty million gallons of crystal clear water gushing out of from the under parched lava rock that is the Mzima Springs  to the Shetani  lava flows, Tsavo West is a beautiful, rugged wilderness.

The savannah ecosystem comprises of open grasslands, scrublands, and Acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation and rocky ridges including the Poacher’s Lookout where visitors can see the teeming herds in the plains below.

Tsavo West offers some of the most magnificent game viewing in the world and attractions include elephant, rhino, Hippos, lions, cheetah, leopards, Buffalos, diverse plant and bird species including the threatened corncrake and near threatened Basra Reed Warbler.

Our specific target species were Taveta Golden Weaver, which we easily picked from the swamp in front of our lodge, Ziwani Voyage Camp and Quail Plover which we missed despite the huge effort that we put in searching for this species.

The Taveta Golden Weaver, or Taveta Weaver, is found in Kenya and Tanzania. The sexes are dimorphic . The male is a mostly a bright golden yellow, the head has a reddish ring of various width around it, the bill is black and the feet and legs are pinkish. Females are more of an olive color with pale streaks.

Taveta Golden Weavers live in large colonies and the male builds an oval nest over water. The nests are woven from stems of reeds and grasses. Their diet includes seeds, some corn and grasses.

The male Taveta Golden Weaver uses his beak to weave intricate ovoid nests, usually over water. Females pick a mate based on the male’s skill at weaving. Have fun and keep birding!!

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Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus)

I recently accompanied a French couple who were birding Kenya for 18 days to Samburu game reserve, it was pretty dry there when we visited but still the birding was stunning and we managed to pick up all the three species of Sandgrouse  which was on their target list. We had impressive looks of both Black-faced and Lichtenstain’s Sandgrouse, though Black-faced was rather common compared to the latter. But it was Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse which made our day. This was the most uncommon species among the tree and we had excellent photographic opportunities. DSCN0284

Photo@Joseph Aengwo

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Red-billed oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus)

Red-billed Oxpecker.Buphagus erythrorhynchus.

Photo taken by Jan Van Duinen

Oxpeckers will sit on certain mammals and target the ticks and other small parasites found on the skin and in the coats of these animals. Oxpeckers’ bills are especially adapted to their lifestyle. The bills are pointed as well as laterally compressed which helps the birds work their way through the coats of the mammals in a comb-like fashion and to pry out well embedded parasites.

The birds are also known to help clean-up open wounds. What they are after around the open sore is the rotting wound tissue. Oxpeckers are quite efficient at cleaning these lesions.

Their legs are also well adapted to a life spent perched on mammals. The legs are shortened to enable them to grip onto their moving hosts. Powerful toes and sharp nails further benefit the Oxpeckers in their quest to feed and as a spin off keep their mammal hosts’ parasite numbers under control.

The birds are also known to help clean-up open wounds. What they are after around the open sore is the rotting wound tissue. Oxpeckers are quite efficient at cleaning these lesions.

Their legs are also well adapted to a life spent perched on mammals. The legs are shortened to enable them to grip onto their moving hosts. Powerful toes and sharp nails further benefit the Oxpeckers in their quest to feed and as a spin off keep their mammal hosts’ parasite numbers under control.

The Redbilled oxpecker Buphagus erythrorhynchus, is one of only two species of birds in the family Buphagidae. It is a fairly common bird, found in the savannah grassland and semi-arid regions Kenya. The only other species in the Buphagidae family, the yellowbilled oxpecker, is far less common.

Redbilled oxpeckers only occur where there are animal hosts for the species of insects – mostly ticks – that the birds eat. The hosting animals are generally antelope like impala or kudu, or larger mammals such as zebra, giraffe, buffalo and rhino. In farmland areas, the hosts can also be domestic stock such as cattle. Elephants and a few species of small antelope will not tolerate the birds at all.

The Red-billed Oxpecker is a starling sized-bird. Although it is a fairly plain olive-brown with creamy under-parts, the bird is very easy to identify. Adults have totally red beaks and distinctive yellow rings around their bright red eyes. They have strong legs and long, particularly sharp claws which enable them to cling onto the sides and backs of their hosts at precarious angles. They also have short, stiff tails which are used as props. Aside from the colour, it is in the shape and action of their beaks that one sees the biggest differences between the two oxpecker species. The yellow billed oxpecker uses its stout beak to pluck parasites off its hosts. The red billed cousin uses its slimmer, flatter beak in a scissor-like motion to remove its meals. This same sharp beak is also used to peck at any sores or scabs on the host.

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African Water Rail (Rallus caerulescens)

African Water Rail 2African Water RailOver the weekend,  I was requested by a friends of mine David to joined him for a birding day trip to Nairobi national park. At 6:00 am,  We meet with David at the base of his apartment in Lavington, Kilimani area of Nairobi and after a quick exchange of pleasantries, we were on the road again and in 20 minutes, we reached the KWS headquarters Lagata gate. Being a Sunday morning, we got lucky with the traffic.

David being an expatriate, we had to prove his residency status by queuing in the line with his passport and after 15 minutes, we were allowed entry. Nairobi national park has four distinct habitats;The park’s predominant environment is open grass plain with scattered Acacia bushes. The western uplands of the park have highland dry forest with stands of Olea Africana, Croton dichogamus, Brachylaenahutchinsii and Calodendrum .The lower slopes of these areas are grassland. Themeda cypress, Dgitaria and croton species are found in these grassland areas. There are also scattered yellow-barked Acacia xanthophloea . There is a riverine forest along the permanent river in the south of the park. There are areas of broken bush and deep rocky valleys and gorges within the park and Swamps.

It is from one of those swamps, that we spotted the African Water Rail, this skulker gave us an incredible 2 minutes show and off it disappear in to the tall reeds along the edge of the swamp. Other than the Water rail, we also recorded Lesser Swamp Warbler, Singing Cisticola, Spectacled  and Holub’s Golden Weaver, Long-toed, Blacksmith and Spur-winged Lapwing, Long-tailed Fiscal, Pin-tailed Whydah, Northern-pied Babbler and Martial Eagle among others.

And by the way, Nairobi national park was the first park to be established in Kenya in the year 1946 and Nairobi’s skyscrapers can be seen from the park. It is the same park where tonnes of  Ivory were burned since 1989 by President Daniel Arap Moi in 1989,  Mwai Kibaki in 2004 and Uhuru Kenyatta in 2016. This events improved Kenya’s conservation and wildlife protection image.

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Grey-Headed Bush-Shrike (Malaconotus blanchoti)

Grey-headed Bush-shrike is the biggest Bush-shrike in our region. It is a very colorful bird to watch and know to be flying low in the vegetation, when hunting. It generally occupies wooded areas, especially Miombo, Acacia and riverine woodland, but it occasionally moves into suburban gardens and alien tree plantations adjacent to indigenous forest. Is presence easily know by is loud call which which normally not mistaken when known.

Grey-headed Bush-shrike.

Photo by Jan Van Duinen

In Kenya, is a widely distributed bird and can be seen in Samburu, Buffalo and Shaba game reserve, Masai Mara, Nairobi national park, Lake Baringo, Nakuru, Bogoria and Magadi road.

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A Rare Encounter with Dwarf Bittern (Ixobrychus sturmii) in Tsavo West.

On a recent birding trip I guided, My clients and I were lucky enough to have encountered a rare Dwarf Bittern (Ixobrychus sturmii). This was an Eastern- Coastal Kenya design trip and took us to Taita Hill, Lake Jipe, Kitobo Forest, Tsavo West and East National Park,  Ndara Ranch and Arabuko Sokoke forest reserve.DSCN9552.JPG

Dwarf Bittern is an Intra-African breeding migrant. It breeds in Southern Africa, but East Africa is its non-breeding ground . So, I guess that the bird we recorded was on its way down south.

This was very exciting for me because this was my second observation of this bird in my entire 8 years of bird guiding experience. I read that the bird is widespread in its distribution region but it really be difficult to spot.

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