Bird watching experience at Avis DamBy: WANJA NJUGUNA
ONE of the most exciting things about bird watching in Namibia is the variety one gets to see during any of the regular bird watching events that The Namibia Bird Club has once or twice a month.
The walks, most of which happen on the first Sunday of the month from 07h30 to about midday, take place in various spots in Windhoek, from Avis Dam to the Gammams Sewage Works and to farms near Windhoek such as Monte Christo and others. Sometimes the members go out of town for weekend-long bird watching activities in places such as Walvis Bay. One of the forthcoming trips will be to Farm Omandumba in the Erongo Region among others.
In Namibia, chances of seeing a bird that you have not seen before are quite high but the joy of it all is that there is always an explanation as to why that bird is in that place at that particular time or should not be in that place at that particular time.
During a short three hour walk at Avis Dam last Sunday, slightly over 50 different species were sighted. These included what this writer calls some of the most beautiful little birds one can spot – for example the longish tailed Pearl-spotted Owlet, scientifically known as Glaucidium Perlatum, it is one of the smallest owls that only grows to 19 cm. Though it is common in the woodlands and the savannah, it was the first time this writer had seen it at the dam. This owl is a species that is part of the Strigidae owls known as typical that contain most of the owl species. The other grouping is the Tytonidae, also known as the barn owls.
Owls and Omens
Owls are generally believed to be a sign of bad omen in many African cultures but as Neil Thompson, editor of the club’s newsletter, Lanioturdus told The Namibian, owls have an important role to play in getting rid of rodents such as rats and mice that actually cause plague, something that was originally blamed on the owl but was later discovered to be actually from the rats and mice that they caught.
A common resident in Namibia, unlike other owls, the owlet does not have ‘ears’. It has two dark spots at the back of its head which look like false eyes. It has an interesting call, which is often heard during the day, ‘tee....tee....tee or tu...tu....tu...’ after which there is a pause then a series of descending notes.
An always favourite spotting for this writer due to its bright multi-colours that reminds one of some colourful beach outfits of Hawaii, Copacabana or Fortalezza is the Swallow Tailed Bee Eater (Merops Hirundineus). The little bird which is a common resident in the country, especially in woodlands and the Kalahari sands, has a bright blue collar while its under parts have pale blue, apple green and a tint of black on its tail. Its colour however depends on the age as the younger ones lack some of the vibrant colours the older ones have. Its call sounds like kwit-kwit-kwit. It is known to be very nomadic when it is not breeding. According to the Sasol Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey and Warwick Tarboton, it’s the only bee-eater in the region that has a fork tail. The book also gives a good view of the bird during flight.
Southern Red Bishop
Another first for this writer was the beautiful 14 cm big Southern Red Bishop (Euplectes orix) which is also a common resident. One of its unique characteristics is the male calling sign which is different in summer. The late Kenneth Newman in his book, Birds of Southern Africa describes it best: male calls a wheezy, spluttering ‘zik-zik-zik....zayzayzayzayzay. During summer, the male displays by puffing out its plumage while perched or flying over its territory.
The little Black Chested Prinia never ceases to amaze, with its ball like body and a bird you are almost always bound to see at the dam. Newman says that when disturbed, it makes a noise that sounds like, sbeeeee.....sbeeee but its normal calling sounds like ptzzt-ptzzt-ptzzt or trit-trit-trit-trit.
And there was finally a name to a bird that this writer has always confused with another – the Ashy Tit, which is a common, near-endemic resident identified by its blue, blackish greyish coat and a white outer tail.
Some of the 50 birds seen during this outing were the Rockrunner, Mountain Wheatear, Black faced waxbill, Marico Flycatcher, Golden Brested Bunting, the very common White backed mouse bird, some Egyptian Geese that a Western Great Egret perched on a tree near the northern side of the dam kept moving from and chasing the geese in the water.
There was also the common resident and summer visitor Alpine Swift and many more. And with the use of binoculars, the group could see the helmeted guinea fowls in the neighbouring farm sampling some corn with some ‘Christmas’ geese, that will possibly become a delicious meal in several homes in about three months time.
Namibia has close to 700 of the 950 plus bird species found in the southern Africa region. Of this 161 are entirely or largely confined to southern Africa.
According to a forward by Graca Machel, wife to South African icon, Nelson Mandela in the 1296 page Roberts Birds of South Africa VII edition, the region has almost 10 per cent of the world’s bird species and half of Africa’s birds. “Many of the region’s 900 plus species migrate to the subcontinent from breeding grounds as far away as the high Arctic tundra’s of the Old and New Worlds, the deserts of central Asia and the fringes of Antarctica. “Africa as a whole can proudly claim to be the only inhabited continent that has not lost a single bird species in the last 400 years,” Machel says.
It is not surprising that even on a laid back walk at Avis, these kinds of birds are easily seen. “This is the Common Sandpiper and it is only here because it breeds in Europe and Asia and migrates to Africa in winter – it is not surprising if as summer begins now it will most probably fly off to some other place such as far away as Russia ,” Thompson explained during last Sunday’s walk.
The lonely Hammerkop
And just when you think you have seen them all in the three-hour walk, Gudrun Middendorff, chairperson of the Namibia Bird Club points out the Hamerkop, a 56cm common resident to this area of southern Africa but one that, unlike many other birds, has no close relatives. Known for its on flight nasal singing that Newman says sounds like ‘wek...wek...wek’ while it restful singing sounds like, ‘wek-wek-warrrk’, the Hamerkop is more often than not seen alone.
Besides the insecurity at the dam that might keep many residents away due to muggers, another disheartening thing that one gets to see is the dog poo (that the club members call land mines) which is scattered everywhere, something that many visitor to the dam feel dog owners should deal with. In the US for example, dog owners have to walk with paper bags to collect their dog poo as a rule, so as to ensure hygienic atmosphere for their neighbours. However, it was a sigh of relief to see two police women from City Police arrive as the group left, and hopefully, their increased presence and that of the G4S security guards will keep those who do not want to enjoy the beautiful scenery and tasty fish from the Dam at bay.
Pictures: www.wikipedia.org, www.oiseaux.net