Ghana

horn
African pied hornbill

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on here, but after a bird watching trip to Ghana I have some nice photos that I’d like to share with you. Also, nesting season has already begun so this post will be shortly followed by many more.

I am very fortunate to share my birding obsession with my Dad. There is always something to do together or talk about, and he is always on hand with answers to my many questions. Another of the many benefits is that every now and again he invites me to join him on an amazing bird watching holiday. The research and planning my father does before one of our trips is incredibly thorough. He read over 100 trip reports written by other birders and made many lists of what birds we could expect to see at different locations. This year we went to Ghana. We were there for 10 days and managed to see 160 species, 130-ish of them being new birds for me!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t photograph all 160 species… And the few photos that I have deemed good enough to share are a bit of a random selection of what we saw. For this reason I will not be giving a very full account of our trip or putting much of a narrative to the photos. But feel free to hit me up for stories whenevs.

We spent the first three days around Accra, mostly in Sakumono for it’s lagoons, but also went for a day trip North to Shai Hills for some savanna habitat. Here is some of what we saw.

plantain
Some of the first birds we saw were these Plantain-eaters. They are quite a common sight, but always seemed bit comical.

These two starlings were also quite common-place, but never got boring.

starling1
The Splendid glossy-starling. Shaded by the tree so not at full splendor.
starling2
The Purple glossy-starling. Mid-day sun made him shine, but also made my photo over-exposed.
colprat
The Collared pratincole looking very smart.

The next bird made a very loud call, like a whip crack, but always from the middle of a very thick bush. We heard it almost everywhere we went but could never see what bird was making the very distinctive call. It was beginning to wind me up a bit. It wasn’t until the last day that we saw the bird calling, the Yellow-crowned gonolek, a bird that we had in fact already seen and photographed on our first day…

gonolek
Yellow-crowned gonolek, I will never forget your call.
manakin
Magpie mannikins.
littlebee
Little bee-eaters.
shrike
Yellow-billed shrike, I would have called him the Long-tailed shrike, but there’s already one of them.
kite
The Yellow-billed kite was the most common bird of prey, we saw many.
20170211_213046
Also made some friends in Accra. They liked our rolled cigarettes.

After Accra we traveled west and stayed at Hans Cottage Botel, just south of Kakum National Park. On our way we had a very nice driver called Ernest, he turned out to be quite interested in birds and a very good spotter. At one point he stopped the car and said there was a bird on the road just ahead of us, we got out but couldn’t see what he was talking about. Turns out we were looking in the wrong place and it wasn’t till he threw a stone near to it that the very well camouflaged Long-tailed nightjar revealed itself to us.

ltnightjar
Was very lucky to catch this whilst there was still some daylight left, as all nightjars are crepuscular or nocturnal.
20170213_150048
I miss Ernest.

The hotel (or botel) itself was very good for birds. It was surrounded by a crocodile infested lake, which had a few small islands on it that were busy with nesting weaver colonies, egrets, cormorants and kingfishers. Here is the view from the bar, where I spent most afternoons whilst Dad rested. There’s a treat for anyone who watches it to the end.

The weavers were very busy throughout most of the day building their nests. They would fly from their island to the tall bamboo trees that surrounded the lake, harvest a long strip of bamboo leaf, and fly back with the long green grass streaming behind them.

weaverstreamer1
The Village weaver collecting the bamboo grass.
weaverstreamer2
These flight pics were very hard to take as my lens only has manual focus.
weavenest
A fine nest! Good weaving!
orngweaver
As well as the Village weaver there was this, the Orange weaver. There was also Viellot’s black weaver but I didn’t get any good pics of them.
woodking
Woodand kingfishers were easily seen around the hotel.
wag
The African pied wagtail looks a bit smarter than ours, in my opinion.
liz
The Red-headed rock agama.
crick
Zonocerus elegans, can’t find a common name.
blackbee
Distant pic of the Black bee-eater, name doesn’t really do it justice.

After Hans Cottage we traveled south to Brenu Beach, Cape Coast. The beach was very picturesque, with white sands and palm trees (no pics soz), but we spent most of our time walking up and down the dusty, pot-holed road that led to it, which was particularly good for birds. The palm trees around the beach did allow for some nice views of the Splendid sunbird though.

splendidsunbird1splendidsunbird2splendidsunbird3

Along the track we added many new species during the final days of our trip. We also got a lift home from a friendly ambulance driver one day, I had to hold the back door shut as we went.

20170217_195642
It was very hot but I didn’t want to get caught without appropriate optics.

The Green turaco is a very pretty bird, we had seen it a couple of times during our holiday, but only fleeting glimpses of it in flight. Dad kept on saying that I really needed to see it perched to appreciate it fully. On our final day of birding I did get to see it perched, and I was so awestruck that I didn’t have enough of my wits about me to take a decent photo. Got a half decent photo of it flying away though.

greentura
Thanks for stopping by!

On the same day, our last full day of birding, we also managed to track down one of the best birds of the trip, the African crake. Like many crakes and rails, the African crake can be difficult to spot as it likes to skulk among tall grasses and reeds. The habitat along the track seemed perfect for the bird, but as it was such a vast area we knew that we to be pretty lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Out of the very many trip reports Dad had read for this area, only one group had been lucky enough to chance upon the crake. But when we wandered off the track a little way into the savanna and happened upon the elusive bird we surely did feel like were in the right place at the right time. And that feeling is one of the regular rewards of bird watching, which brings me great joy and peace.

crake
As with the turaco, I was so taken with the bird that I didn’t spend much time fiddling with my camera.
crake2
But I feel like the haziness and imperfections of the photos add to the elusive character of the bird.

Thank you for an amazing trip Dad! Now get on with your nesting…

 

Progress

The last couple of weeks have felt quite summery. The Swallows are settling in, more and more Swifts are arriving everyday, the warblers are in full song, and a lot of butterflies have sprung into life.

Here’s a Holly Blue that managed to stay still just long enough for me to snap it… didn’t want to open up and show me the brilliant-blue upperside of its wings, but still pretty!

hollyblue

And here’s a Comma catching some rays and displaying its characteristic ragged wing margins…

comma

I’ve been spending a lot of time out and have discovered quite a few new nests and potential sites, but for now I would like to update you on the progress of the Dunnocks and Greenfinches that I’ve been monitoring.

If you remember, my bestie James and I discovered a Dunnock’s nest in the alleyway behind our flat a couple of weeks back – you know, the one with amazingly bright blue
eggs.

dun1

Well they’ve hatched and the chicks are looking strong!

dunchick

As the nest is so close to the flat, and quite exposed, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to test out the remote control for my camera, and try and get a shot of one of the adults at the nest. The nest is quite high so I had to precariously balance my tripod on top of our tallest stool to get the nest in frame. (Excuse the quality, taken hastily with phone.)

13223441_10208887882375271_1429477961_o

I was aware that the presence of the camera might disturb the birds so I kept an ear out for alarming and kept an eye on my watch – if the adult didn’t approach the nest after too long I would abandon my project. Though to my delight the parent came back to feed its young after only about ten minutes of waiting.

dunad

I did get a few pics of the parent actually sticking its beak down the chicks’ necks, but they were either a bit out of focus or had the adult facing away from the camera and obscuring the action. Though I hope to get some more shots like this (using tripod and remote) so stay tuned.

Now, remember those lovely Greenfinch eggs from the last post?

Greeneggs

Well they all hatched into these little fluffballs!

greenchicks

But, I’m sorry to say, they didn’t make it. Got predated about four days after hatching…

Not to worry though! I found another Greenfinch nest just around the corner! It’s at a similar stage to the last and I was able to get this video of the hungry little guys waiting to be fed and trying to avoid the blazing sun. Enjoy!

Lost and Found

Some bad news to start with. I’m sorry to say that my first nest of the year, and first ever Mistle thrush nest, has been predated.

As I approached the nest site last weekend I was concerned by the quietness. There was no sign of the adults and I was able to climb the tree without any alarming or dive-bombing. Perhaps they were both out getting food for their happy and hungry chicks? Unfortunately not.

mistlepred

No doubt they were had by Corvids – maybe the Crow that was hassling them on my last visit.

When you first start nesting, it’s hard not to get downhearted by predation. You spend so much time trying to find a nest, and then re-visit it every week, I certainly get quite attached to the parents and hope for their success. But predation is so common – roughly half of the nests that I find this year will be predated. That may seem like a lot, but you have to bare in mind that the nests that I find are the ones that are findable. I know where there are loads of nests that I just can’t get to, and no doubt they will have a much higher rate of success.

Here’s a beautiful Long-tailed tit nest.

lotti1rescaled

Admittedly it’s a bit messy at this unfinished stage, but they are quite striking once complete. Lichen and moss weaved together with hair and spider’s web (giving it elasticity for when the 7 or so chicks inside it grow) and lined with literally thousands of feathers. They commonly spend up to three weeks building, my father and I once had a pair who appeared to be lining with feathers for two whole weeks!

Here’s the nest now, predated with it’s contents strewn through the bush.

lotti2

But that’s life. The pair of Long-tailed tits have already started building a replacement nest, and it’s in a much better spot. And I’ll be out tomorrow looking for where the Mistle thrush pair have moved on to.

Anyway, since losing the Mistle thrush nest I have found many new and exciting nests!

On my way to work each day I had noticed a pair of Moorhen on this picturesque pond on Blackheath Common.

moorhenpond1

So I took my wellies to work with me and on the way home carefully waded through the reeds until I was startled by the noisy flushing of a Moorhen. I peered into the tussock of reeds from where the bird had shot and was delighted by what I saw.

moorheneggs2

Ten eggs! Count them, ten!

moorhenegg1

Moorhen clutch sizes usually range from 5 – 8 eggs. Less commonly their nests can contain as many as 14 eggs, but larger clutches are likely to be the result of egg dumping from another female. I have not seen another female on this pond, but that’s not to say that one hasn’t been sneaking in and leaving an egg behind. My dad reckons he can see that a few of the eggs have a slightly different patterning and maybe they’ve come from a different parent, though he did add that he may have just been looking at it for too long as it was his desktop background. He could well be right though, and I am putting it to the NRS forum. What do you think?

As well as the Moorhen nest, I’ve found this beautiful Greenfinch nest in a prickly gorse bush.

Greeneggs

And my best friend James and I stumbled across this Dunnock’s nest in the alley behind the back of our flat.

dun1

Very pretty eggs!

dun2

I’ve also found so many Blackbird’s nest that I’m almost losing track!

blabibur

A Harrowing Nesting Adventure…

The time had come to check the infamous Mistle thrush nest, which was covered in my first and second blog posts.

mistlegg2

If my calculations were correct, the eggs should have hatched. With all that I had learnt from nesting literature and the NRS forum, I was anticipating an aggressive display from the adult birds. What I had read had made me somewhat anxious, as the nest was quite high up and I didn’t want to tarnish my never-having-fallen-out-of-a-tree record.

mthrushgreenwich

As I approached the tree, I was greeted with raucous alarming from both parents. Surprisingly, I was not the cause of the alarm. The pair had spotted a menacing-looking Crow nearby and had begun to fearlessly launch themselves at it. I watched closely and imagined I was the Crow, hoping to prepare myself. After a few fierce dive-bombs from one of the Thrushes, the Crow decided to forego it’s predatory meal and flew far across the park. Both parents left the tree to see the Crow off – the perfect time to begin my assent.

Having visited this nest twice before, the path upwards felt quite familiar, so I climbed as quickly as possible to minimise disturbance and any chance of attack from the protective parents. But, as soon as I was a few meters up, the cacophony of two alarming Mistle thrushes surrounded me.

I continued climbing but braced myself every few seconds as I felt the birds swoop by my head. They were getting so close that I could feel the air, being pushed from under their wings, parting my hair. Thankfully, the birds did not make contact and I was able to reach the nest without injury.

mistlechicks1

Two healthy looking chicks and one unhatched egg, most likely not fertilised.

mistlechicks1crop

I hastily clambered down, but as I looked to ground I was greeted by the unnerving sight of another wild force, circling the bottom of the tree.

fox

The fox hadn’t spotted me so I was able to get a quick picture whilst dangling from a low-ish branch.

I wasn’t actually unnerved by the presence of the fox, they are shy creatures and avoid direct contact with people (it could probably just smell the empanada in my backpack that lay at the foot of the tree). The encounter simply added to the wildness of the situation, and made me feel happy to be doing what I was doing   🙂

The Nest Record Scheme gets about 70 records a year for Mistle thrush, which is relatively small when compared to the ~1,300 received for Blackbird and ~500 for Song thrush. I am currently monitoring three Mistle thrush nests, and hope to find more next year.