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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Yellow-breasted Apalis (Apalis flavida)

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Yellow-Breasted Apalis is the commonly encountered Apalis in the field especially if you are birding arid-semi arid areas of Kenya. Its widespread distribution makes it an easy target if you are also birding mid-altitude elevation and in this context it can be true for areas like Nairobi national park, Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara and Amboseli.

The much sort after Apalis is the Karamoja Apalis Apalis karamojae which is a range-restricted species, is found in Masai Mara national Reserve where acacia drepanolobium dominate the vegetation. Taita Apalis Apalis fuscigularis is a globally threatened species is endemic to Taita Hills in South East Kenya. Grey, Chesnut-throated and Black-throated Apalis are easy to pick species in montane dominated habitat of central Kenya e.g Mt.Kenya, Aberdare, Mau forest. While Buff-throated and Black-collared Apalis is commonly recorded in Kakamega forest, the only remnant tropical rain forest patch in Kenya.

 

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Red-throated Bee-eater (Merops bulocki)

SX50 39112 Red-throated Bee-eater

Red-throated Bee-eater is an incredibly beautiful Bee-eater to watch…in any birding trip to Uganda, with your best bet being in Murchison falls national park in northern Uganda. As soon as you approach the river Nile, their presence there cannot be ignored, where they are frequently seen going in and out of their nest holes.

The above photo was taken during my recent bird trip to Uganda, where we were visited Murchison Falls National Park, Budongo forest reserve where we extensively birded the famous Royal Miles Trail, we easily picked up our much sort after kingfishers( African Pygmy, Blue-breasted and and Chocolate-backed Kingfisher).

Kibale forest reserve, Bigodi swamp and  Samliki  were part of the other areas we visited. Kibale and Bigodi swamp were incredibly productive for us, but the same cannot be said of Samliki forest.  I think our timing was not the best as it had rain heavily the previous night, so we literally had to  walked on the flooded Kirumia trail. We dearly missed our gumboots which we had ignored to bring, next time we will be more clever. Keep birding.

 

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Olive Ibis (Bostrychia olivacea)

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Photo by Chin Tong Tan

African Green Ibis as it is mostly known is one of the most infrequent sighted among other species of Ibises we have in Kenya. Sacred, Hadada and Glossy Ibis are easy target to pocket. In Kenya, African Green Ibis is mostly restricted in Montane habitat of Mt.Kenya and Aberdare ranges. All my sighting of this species was in southern section of Mt.Kenya Forest Reserve mostly referred as Castle Forest, where Castle forest lodge is located.

They are mostly heard calling early in the morning and late in the afternoon where with luck you might be able to have some views of this incredible species. The bird photograph appearing above was taken at Castle Forest in June this year.

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