Monday, December 24, 2012

Birding The Gambia Part 5: Diurnal Raptors

If the number of raptors - generally being at or near the top of the food chain - is high then it can be considered a healthy sign as to the state of the eco system within which they fit. If this is the case then the Gambia is pretty healthy at the moment. We saw nearly thirty different species and we missed quite a few that you would hope to see during a dry season visit. We didn't manage to see a Bateleur  Terathopius ecaudatus which was a major disappointment for me as this was my main target species. Still - another reason to go back.
Red-necked Falcon Falco chicquera was fairly frequent although views of perched birds were often distant - such as this:
Red-necked Falcon Falco chicquera
 Whereas Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens was a bit more approachable but not as frequent. We had to travel a fair way east before encountering any species of Snake Eagle but Beaudouin's Circaetus beaudouini, Brown C. cinerus and Western Banded C. cinerascens are all resident species and can be encountered in suitable habitat. Short-toed Snake Eagle C. gallicus is a palearctic visitor so the dry season is the best time to see this.
Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens
We only saw the one Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus, a fly over adult and the camera's auto focus could not latch on quick enough so I just managed this blurry shot:
Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus
 We saw a good number of Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis but again they were all quite distant or flying past a fast moving boat. This one was nesting at Abuko Nature Reserve but was miles away and this is the best I could manage. As well as palm nuts they do feed on small animals, fish, crabs, insects and birds.

Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis
I think that Lizard Buzzard Kaupifalco monogrammicus was the most frequent small raptor. Buzzard is a bit of a misnomer as the bird is clearly a hawk - as is the Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis. If you hear only one raptor calling in The Gambia I would bet on a Lizard Buzzard. We heard one nearly every day - wherever we were.
Lizard Buzzard Kaupifalco monogrammicus
 This is a shot of a Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis that drifted over an area near the Bird Safari Bird Camp. You can just see a little of its distinctive long crest.
Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis
We saw a couple of Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis but I did not manage to get any decent shots. This was about the best:
Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis
 Hooded Vulture  Necrosyrtes monachus everywhere and very common. I expected to wake in the morning and see a couple of these sitting at the end of the bed. Like all vultures they are not a pretty sight. If vultures are your thing Gambia is your place.
Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus
We saw three Dark-chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates and, fortunately, lots and lots of Fork-tailed Drongos  Dicrurus adsimilis  - so not to worry too much about this one:
Dark Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates eying a Fork-tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis for lunch
 Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus - just a couple but what a poser this one was:
Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus
Yellow-billed Kite Milvus migrans parasitus is a subspecies of Black Kite Milvus migrans and is, not surprisingly, distinguished by its all yellow bill and darker head. Both birds can be seen in large numbers, most everywhere and most anytime. After Hooded Vulture this was the most common raptor in the whole of The Gambia. They are really good at cleaning up the beach after a B. B. Q.

Yellow-billed Kite Milvus migrans parasitus
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus is another palearctic visitor and this one was hanging around the hotel on the Atlantic coast. It was the only one we saw in The Gambia but we did see a lot of Grey Kestrel F. ardosiaceus although why I didn't photograph any I don't know.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
We saw a couple of African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer and this one was nesting on the north bank of the river Gambia north of the Bird Safari Camp. Not a particularly decent picture but you can see what it is.
African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
This African Goshawk Accipiter tachiro was in dense foliage in the Abuko Nature Reserve and hand-holding a 400mm lens in poor light is guaranteed to produce fuzzy shots like this:
African Goshawk Accipiter tachiro


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