Friday, 15 November 2013

Ethiopia part 3

My final Ethiopia blog illustrates a few of the songbirds we came across on the recent Ornitholidays tour. This is a Ruppell's Robin-Chat, a common garden bird in the Highlands. Africa has a large number of robin-chat species, which are mostly shy forest dwellers with fine songs heard especially at dawn and dusk. The name commemorates the German Wilhelm Ruppell, who was busy collecting specimens in East Africa from 1822 to 1833: many species bear his name.

The African Paradise Flycatcher is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in light woodland rather than dense forest. The male has a long tail that extends its length from 7 inches to 14. This is a female, which we watched as it caught insects above cattle in an area of recently cleared forest. Some males exhibit an alternative plumage that is pure white, except for black wings and head. There are few more dramatic sights in the bird world than a white male darting through a shady forest with long tail trailing behind. 

The Orange-breasted Bush-shrike is a spectacularly coloured inhabitant of Acacias and other woodland in East, West and South Africa. It is often called Sulphur-breasted. It can sometimes be enticed into view with a simple imitation of its repeated high whistle. Both sexes have the same bright plumage, and share all nesting duties. 

A long journey took us to the south of Ethiopia, and a small area where Stresemann's (or Ethiopian) Bush-crow is common. These sociable crows are most closely related to choughs, and are often found in Acacias close to villages. Research has shown that there is a small climatic bubble limiting their range: they occur only in a basin of 6,000 square kilometres which is (surprisingly) cooler than the surrounding higher areas. The young are unable to survive anywhere else, though adults are more tolerant. With global warming occurring in Ethiopia as in other lands, there is much concern for their future.  

One of the most distinctive Ethiopian endemics is the Thick-billed Raven, a huge crow with a fearsome weapon of a bill. At a carcase, vultures stand aside to let the raven in, since its strong bill can tear hide more efficiently. They are common in the capital Addis Ababa, and can often be seen soaring above the city with kites and Hooded Vultures. It also feeds on small mammals, birds, insects, fish (when catches on the Rift Valley lakes are unloaded), and grain. Not much of a songbird, it utters a variety of throaty rattles and croaks. 

My final choice is one of East Africa's most spectacular birds, the Golden-breasted Starling. Many starling species in East Africa have brilliant plumage, with various shades of iridescent blue or purple that appear differently coloured according to the light. We found them feeding among the huge thorns of the Acacias, and we wondered how they keep their feathers in such great condition in such a spiky habitat. Their diet is insects, caught on or near the ground; and they nest in tree-holes, laying three or four eggs. Male and female are equally brightly coloured, and they share all nesting duties. Thanks again to Howard and Gabor for this group of photos.

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