Birding Ecotours News – May 2015

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Dear Birders

Greetings to you and a special welcome to those we met only recently, at the Biggest Week in American Birding! What a fabulous time our guides had there in Ohio!

Dylan captured this Kirtland’s Warbler which showed very well for most of a day at the Biggest Week!

Our Tanzania trips in April and May were awesome, and a sample trip report from the April one is shown at the end of this newsletter. The May report, which includes Pemba and Zanzibar islands, should be online within a month or so. We’re constantly adding trip reports to our website and for example a Namibia one for March should soon be added, along with Madagascar ones. The blog on our website is also (as usual) full of activity – the latest addition is “what camera to buy for birding photography”. And, please find us on all the social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.


Out of the myriad tours on our website, the following ones specifically need urgent action if you still want to book (all 2015 unless otherwise stated) – this time we’ve actually chosen to focus on Africa, Asia and Australia – but please ask about the Americas (we do have upcoming Brazil and Peru tours, for example), Europe and Antarctica, most but not all of which are too late to book for 2015 though – do look at 2016 on our website for those parts of the world, if you don’t mind:

Cape, South Africa, Oct 9-16 – 1 place left – . We might add another departure though.

The amazingly long-tailed Cape Sugarbird on a Pincushion Protea (photo, John Tinkler)

Subtropical South Africa, Oct 16-31 – 3 places left –

Black Crake (photo, Maans Booysen)

Best of Madagascar – birds and wildlife, Oct 17-31 (plus Masoala pre-trip) – 3 places left –

Australia, Oct 29 – Nov 14 (plus Tasmania pre-trip)  – 4 places left –

Superb Fairy-wren (photo, Andy Walker)

The very best of New Guinea: West Papua, Nov 16-27 – 2 places left –

Feline Owlet-nightjar

Birding the Himalayas of Bhutan, Nov 1-12 (plus extension into Assam, India) – 2 places left –


Namibia, Okavango and Victoria Falls birding safari, Nov 20 – Dec 7 – 1st departure full, 2nd departure has 5 places left –

Cheetah (photo, Martin Benadie)

 Highland Zimbabwe to coastal Mozambique birding spectacular, Nov 21 – Dec 5  – 2 places left –


India – birds, tigers and the Himalayas, Jan 3-17, 2016 – 4 places left –

Black-headed Jay

Ghana, Mar 1-22, 2016 –

The magnificent Long-tailed Hawk (photo, Niall Perrins)

And there are stacks more trips – please see or reply to this e-mail. Brazil and Peru in particular may have places left even for this year. And, now for the promised trip report:

Trip Report Tanzania: 19-day Birding Safari – Savanna Birds, Wildebeest Migration, and Eastern Arc Mountains

 Trip Report April 2015

 By Jason Boyce

  Tanzania is quintessential Africa – a tour that we highly recommend for every type of nature lover and birder. This exciting birding safari, which began in coastal Dar es Salaam and ended in the breathtaking Serengeti National Park, was most certainly enjoyed by our participants. I was fortunate enough to oversee this tour and ensure that birding was to be A-grade! We enjoyed fantastic weather throughout this tour and were spoiled with some outstanding bird and mammal sightings on each and every single day of the tour.

Superb Starling

Day 1, 4 April. Dar es Salaam to Mikumi National Park

A 6:00 a.m. start to the first day of the trip after the tedious flights, connections, and delays was exactly what was needed to get our adrenaline rushing! The beach-side hotel in Dar es Salaam gave us a few excellent sightings before breakfast and before our departure for Mikumi National Park. Both Dimorphic and Little Egrets were on display on the shore as well as Common, Lesser Crested, and the diminutive Saunders’s Tern. The gardens held the gorgeous White-browed Robin-Chat, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Blue Waxbill, and Striped Kingfisher.

So with a couple of species under the belt we met up with our excellent local guide and driver and started the journey. Our first stop was alongside the road at a marshy floodplain area. Here we got our first looks at Zanzibar Red Bishop, Coastal Cisticola, and Eastern Golden Weaver.

After lunch we arrived at Mikumi and managed visuals of Black-bellied Bustard, the stunning Beautiful Sunbird, Eurasian Hobby, and Pale-billed Hornbill. After a fairly long day’s travel we were happy to arrive at our accommodation for the evening and prepare for the next day’s birding.


Day 2, 5 April. Mikumi National Park

Our second day of the tour was spent birding in a Miombo woodland area as well as in the open woodland and plains of Mikumi National Park. The Miombo woodland was the first destination on the itinerary, which meant an early start to get the morning activity in full song! Miombo woodland birding can offer many species at one time, often in large ‘bird parties’ – we weren’t disappointed! Our morning’s birds included Yellow-fronted Canary, Arnot’s Chat, Cinnamon-breasted Tit, Grey Penduline Tit, the ever-active Green-capped Eremomela, White-crested Helmetshrike, Short-winged Cisticola, Common Scimitarbill, Green Wood Hoopoe, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, and Black Cuckoo. Some also managed visuals of Crimson-rumped Waxbill and Cardinal Woodpecker. A very productive morning, with some bird-parties numbering nine species!

On the way back to the hotel for breakfast we managed to see Dark Chanting Goshawk, Broad-tailed Paradise and Pin-tailed Whydahs, and Dusky Indigobird.

Mikumi National Park delivered some fantastic birding for the rest of the day – we got our first looks at the starling of the trip no doubt, Superb Starling! Other species that greeted us at the entrance were White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, another glimpse ay Beautiful Sunbird, and some oxpeckers flying overhead searching out large game. It didn’t take long before we were in the midst of that large game; African elephant, common eland, Masai giraffe, and African buffalo were all in close proximity in the open plains. What was very noticeable were the numbers of larger non-passerine bird species too; these included Marabou Stork, White-backed and Palm-nut Vultures, and the impressive Martial Eagle. The last treat for the day was the terrestrial passerine Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark. As are most sparrow-larks, this bird is sexually dimorphic, with the male showing a black line right down the breast and belly and a rich rufous coloration to the crown and nape.


Day 3, 6 April, Mikumi National Park to Kilombero Floodplain and Udzungwa Mountain National Park

Today we managed to see the Kilombero Floodplain endemics. A long morning’s drive towards the Udzungwa Mountains meant we didn’t have much time for stopping. We did, however, stop at one point after noticing some aerial activity. There was an insect emergence, and this had attracted some of the smaller falcons and hobbies. Species here included Eurasian Hobby, Amur Falcon, and Dickinson’sand Lesser Kestrels. Our “honorary raptor“ was a Crowned Hornbill that also decided to join in on the fun.

We stopped again later in the morning as we were nearing the Kilombero Floodplain to try for Marsh Tchagra as well as Moustached Grass Warbler. We were successful and got excellent views of both species.

We had lunch as we arrived at the floodplain and soon afterwards we had connected with the endemic Kilombero Weaver. The current status of both ‘White-tailed’ and ‘Kilombero’ Cisticolas is that they are not officially good species yet, and therefore are both Cisticola sp. at the moment. Nevertheless, good views of both were had by the whole group. Some other good species seen at the floodplain included African Openbill, Giant Kingfisher, Orange-breasted Waxbill, and African Marsh Harrier.



Our day ended on a high with the first colobus monkey of the trip in the form of the endemic Udzungwa red colobus.


Day 4, 7 April. Udzungwa Mountain National Park

Day four was spent birding the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, our first taste of Eastern Arc Mountains forest birding. Before entering the reserve we managed to notch up a good number of species on a short walk from the hotel to the reserve gate. These included the likes of Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Red-rumped Swallow, Tropical Boubou, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Speckled Mousebird, Black-backed Puffback, Magpie Mannikin, and Little Bee-eater. As we arrived at the gate the heavens opened, but this luckily only delayed our birding for about 45 minutes.

Dark-backed Weaver was the first species to greet us after the rain delay, followed soon afterwards by an amazing sighting of the sought-after Green Malkoha. We worked hard in the afternoon session and managed decent looks at Red-capped Robin-Chat, Collared Sunbird, and Black Sparrowhawk, while Scarce Swift and Mottled Spinetail came cruising by overhead. This national park is definitely worth seeing; it has some beautiful scenery, Udzungwa red colobus and blue monkey are not uncommon, the forest trails are beautiful, and some of them lead towards scenic waterfall spots!

Speckled Mousebird

The reserve also has more than 400 species of butterflies, some of which are absolutely gorgeous. Many an hour can be spent wandering the forests here in the Udzungwa Mountain National Park.

Forest glade nymph, one of many extraordinary butterfly species seen during our two days in the park.

Day 5, 8 April. Udzungwa Mountain National Park to Morogoro

We spent another morning’s birding in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park before we started a long trip to Morogoro. After breakfast, as we were loading the vehicle, we noticed movement in the tree alongside us; a Lizard Buzzard with its breakfast was sitting watching us – a great way to start the day!

In the park the birding was once again fairly slow, but the call of Livingstone’s Turaco in the distance drove us onward. Some of the morning’s top birds included Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird, Thick-billed Seedeater, Olive Sunbird, Retz’s Helmetshrike, and Crested Guineafowl. Some of the group managed decent visuals of the small, beautiful, and hyperactive Livingstone’s Flycatcher. Unfortunately none of the group managed to see the stunning Livingstone’s Turaco, and we had to settle for a heard only.

Our lunch stop en route to Morogoro added a few species, not the least of which were Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and Collared Palm Thrush. Only one stop was made after lunch, which  produced a few species. These were a majestic female Bateleur, Brown Snake Eagle, Bronze Mannikin, and Pin-tailed Whydah.

Both today and tomorrow would largely be travel days; we would cover about 550km in the two days to get from Udzungwa Mountains National Park to Amani Nature Reserve in the East Usambara Mountains.


Day 6, 9 April. Morogoro to Amani Nature Reserve, East Usambara Mountains

This was a travel day from Morogoro to Amani in the East Usambaras that would include a couple stops closer to Amani. The vegetation along the drive changed from lush green woodland to a drier open country with many sisal plantations. It changed once again as we started to gain altitude towards Amani – true forest patches started to become apparent, and soon we were driving in the lower forest of the East Usambaras.

We stopped here to try for a couple of lower forest species and found Black-headed Apalis, Green Barbet, and Green-headed Oriole. We were also successful with two mammal species at this stop, Angola colobus and black and red bush squirrel, which both gave excellent views. The day ended with the call of an African Wood Owl when we were sauntering back to our cabins. Needless to say, the dawn wouldn’t come quickly enough as the excitement of the next morning’s birding was drawing closer!

Angola colobus

Day 7, 10 April. Amani Nature Reserve, East Usambara Mountains

Birding started early with a walk on some of the roads in Amani, both forest and birdsong were all-encompassing! The first few species that made it onto our day list were Cabanis’s Bunting, Kenrick’s Starling, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Speckled Mousebird, Southern Citril, Rock Martin, and Green Barbet. A couple of minutes later and only 100 meters down the path we were in the middle of another large bird party, this time the species included the endemic Banded Green Sunbird, Moustached Tinkerbird, Red-tailed Ant Thrush, Black-and-white Mannikin, a family of Montane White-eyes, Mombasa Woodpecker, and both Shelley’s and Grey-olive Greenbuls. What a treat, and this was all before breakfast!

An hour later we were on the go again with some more greenbul species, this time we managed to get Montane Tiny, Fischer’s, and Mountain Greenbuls. Other species we picked up in the midday session included Mottled Spinetail, Common Waxbill, Black-throated Wattle-eye, and the extraordinary Fischer’s Turaco! This is the only turaco species in the East Usambara Mountains: an all-green turaco with a brilliantly red crest and bill.

The last birding session for the day was largely frustrating – while we did manage to get good sightings of quite a number of birds, such as Baglafecht Weaver, Plain-backed Sunbird, and Stripe-faced Greenbul, our main target, the Amani Sunbird, wasn’t playing along. All we could manage was hearing the call and seeing the bird fly past us into the distance, never to be seen again. At least we knew the bird was around, and we had a hope for it in the morning.

Baglafecht Weaver

The forests surrounding Amani here in the East Usambaras are also home to a number of absolutely fascinating endemic chameleons. A very productive walk into the forest at night, specifically looking for chameleons and Usambara Eagle-Owl, was enjoyed by some. Whilst we did not find the owl, we did manage to find a few fascinating chameleons.

Usambara three-horned chameleon

West Usambara blade-horned chameleon

Usambara spiny pygmy chameleon

Day 8, 11 April. Amani, East Usambara Mountains to Lushoto, West Usambara Mountains

Today we drove from Amani to Lushoto in the West Usambara Mountains. The difference between the two mountain chains is remarkably different, even though the distance between the two – as the turaco flies – is really not too far. Compared to the East Usambaras Lushoto is cold and misty, with a fair amount of drizzle in the mornings. The birding also differs greatly, and both sites have species that the other does not have – spending a couple of nights at both locations is crucial.

We started off the morning with a quick walk into the deep forest, targeting Long-billed Forest Warbler as well as a few other forest species we had missed up until this point. White-chested Alethe calling in the distance kicked things off, while Red-tailed Ant Thrush showed off over the trail in front of us. A fair distance on and after seeing both Square-tailed Drongo and the smart little Forest Batis we could hear Long-billed Forest Warbler call. Unfortunately, just the call up the hillside and a possible glimpse of movement were all we could muster. The drive down the mountain was productive, with both Mountain Wagtail as well as the beautiful forest stream species, Half-collared Kingfisher, showing very well. The road leading up to Lushoto was built by the German colonialists in about 1913 and makes the steep drive very comfortable. The roadside birding here also offered us Augur as well as Mountain Buzzards, Red-throated Twinspot, and Mocking Cliff Chat.

In the afternoon the rain came down and left us to settle into our rooms at the fantastic Mullers Mountain Lodge.


Day 9, 12 April. Lushoto, West Usambara Mountains

The morning started off with some Red-winged Starlings and Baglafecht Weavers around the cabins, as well as a family of Silvery-cheeked Hornbills muttering among themselves as they flew overhead. We took a short drive to a nearby forest patch called Magamba Forest, and as we stepped out of the car we could hear birdsong all around us. We knew we were in for an excellent morning. The first few species at this spot included White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Red-capped Forest Warbler, Black-headed Apalis, and Fülleborn’s Boubou, as well as six Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons perched on the top of a dead tree. We ambled along the quiet track to another productive area; this time we were pleased to see Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, the usambarae subspecies of Mountain Greenbul, Montane White-eye, and a glimpse of Cinnamon Bracken Warbler clambering through the undergrowth.

After lunch we headed to a different forest patch and had great views of the endemic Usambara Thrush. Other highlights here included Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Terrestrial Brownbul, Stripe-faced Greenbul, and a Flash of Hartlaub’s Turaco. Unfortunately, both White-chested Alethe and Spot-throat were happy staying hidden and calling away in the thickets – our luck had run out for the day, no visuals were had.

Fülleborn’s Boubou

Red-capped Forest Warbler

Day 10, 13 April. Lushoto, West Usambara Mountains to Same

Before we packed up and headed onward to the Elephant Motel in Same, we snuck in about an hour’s forest birding near the lodge. Once again there was a lot going on in terms of activity, and, in addition to White-tailed Crested Flycatcher and Black Saw-wing nipping by, we had good visuals of Black SparrowhawkYellow-bellied Waxbill, and the ever-elusive African Hill Babbler. Some of us also had a quick look at a fairly rare forest Mammal, a mall elephant shrew – black and rufous sengi – as it clambered across the path.

After a good breakfast at Mullers Mountain Lodge we transferred to the properly dry area of Same town.

The first few dry-country indicator species for us were D’Arnaud’s and Spot-flanked Barbets as well as the fantastic Rosy-patched Bushshrike. A little further on, just before we arrived at the Elephant Motel in Same, we managed very good visuals of Slate-colored Boubou and an Eastern Chanting Goshawk perched nicely on a telephone pole.

The bombardment of new trip birds didn’t stop there for the day, though, as directly after lunch we headed out to the north of town to find a few more. The vegetation here is dominated by low acacia scrub about head-high, mixed in with some larger trees, and the soil is reddish brown and quite rocky. A quick passing shower delayed progress slightly, but it also meant that everything became very active in the last two hours of the day. Highlights included the sexually dimorphic Purple Grenadier male and female, Nubian Woodpecker, the prinia-like Red-fronted Warbler, Black-necked Weaver, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Eastern Black-headed Batis, and the absolutely stunning Red-and-yellow Barbet.

A day worth celebrating with a good meal and a local beverage!

Rosy-patched Bushshrike

Day 11, 14 April. Same to Arusha

We had a couple of stops planned for the morning before heading on to our destination for the evening, the bustling town of Arusha.

The first stop certainly didn’t disappoint us, and at one stage we were in such a horde of activity it left us wondering where we should look first. This spot really produced; the species we saw included White-headed Mousebird, Hunter’s Sunbird, Somali Bunting, Pygmy Batis, our first looks at Red-bellied Parrot, and a lovely Grey Wren-Warbler display. The calls of Pink-breasted Lark were ringing in the background – we managed excellent views of it. A short walk slightly further into the bush yielded an interesting surprise, a family of Fiery-necked Nightjars blending in really nicely with the soil color. Other highlights for the morning included Blue-naped Mousebird, Blue-capped Cordon-bleu, Chestnut Weaver, Pale Prinia, Vitelline Masked Weaver, White-bellied Canary, Southern Grosbeak-Canary, and a flock of Fischer’s Starlings – which were a fantastic surprise!

Our second stop of the morning was at the Nyumba ya Mungu Reservoir, where we were able to add some waterfowl and shorebirds to our species list. The dam was extensive, and we were only able to bird one productive area due to our time constraints. This site produced African Skimmer, African Darter, Reed and White-breasted Cormorants, Grey-headed Gull, White-winged and Gull-billed Terns, and a distant Western Osprey that was enjoyed through scope views, as well as a couple of shorebirds such as Spur-winged Lapwing,  Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, and Water Thick-knee.

Our day had one more surprise in store for us; the incredible Straw-tailed Whydah perched up on the side of the dirt track as we were making our way back to the main road. With our tails up we headed on to Arusha and settled into our guest house.

Blue-capped Cordon-bleu

Day 12, 15 April. Arusha to Tarangire National Park

Today included a quick search for Brown-breasted Barbet before heading on to Tarangire National Park, a much anticipated park for the whole group! We seemed to have run out of Brown-breasted Barbet luck, however, as the morning’s search in the northern parts of Arusha only yielded Red-fronted Barbet.

On the outskirts of town we managed a ‘hit-and-run’ sighting of Pangani Longclaw just after the airport area to the west of Arusha.

The scenery started to change as we approached the park; the trees were bigger, the bush was incredibly green and lush, and the birding was hoped to be wonderful.

We found out as soon as we stepped out of the vehicle that the birding was to be great, as we were greeted by Northern White-crowned ShrikeAshy Starling, Yellow-collared Lovebird, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Swahili and Chestnut Sparrows, and Bearded Woodpecker clambering up and down some of the acacia trees at the entrance gate. A few hundred meters into the park, and we had already had awesome visuals of White-bellied Go-away-bird, the near-endemic Rufous-tailed Weaver, African Cuckoo, Silverbird, and many, many, many Superb Starlings – an amazing treat!

Yellow-collared Lovebird

Ashy Starling

Day 13, 16 April. Tarangire National Park

A full day’s birding and game viewing in Tarangire National Park was just what we needed. One of the day’s highlights came really early on, a gorgeous male Pygmy Falcon that was perched at eye level alongside the track. The falcon sat in the open and wasn’t too perturbed by our presence, allowing us to get saturation looks at him. Some of the other species that we found today included a couple of families of Southern Ground Hornbill, Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Grey Kestrel – one of my personal favorites, Northern Pied Babbler, Foxy Lark, and the cute Pearl-spotted Owlet.

Today we also found one of the biggest African elephant herds that the whole group had ever experienced, well over one hundred elephants, from really young calves all the way up to big, old, male tuskers. While enjoying the elephants we also noticed both Red-necked and Yellow-necked Spurfowls running around among the herd. Freckled Nightjar was heard calling at the lodge, and a quick burst of playback allowed us to see this fantastic little creature as it came in, perched on a nearby rock, and sang for us – a special way to end the day!

There is surely incredible avian diversity in Tarangire National Park, but it also offers incredible scenery! One of my personal favorite scenes was experiencing the magical baobab trees. These trees are literally littered all over the park – some of them truly gigantic!

Von der Decken’s Hornbill

Day 14, 17 April. Tarangire National Park to Ngorongoro Crater

Today was to be a truly fantastic day with too many highlights to even recall – an early start in Tarangire National Park and then traveling through to the must-see Ngorongoro Crater.

The game drive in the park started off with finally getting a visual of Coqui Francolin; a small francolin that had been calling non-stop for the past two days. After catching up with this species we just knew it was going to be a good day! It was a beautiful morning after some rain the night before, and the birds were out in force. We found the likes of Hildebrandt’s Starling, Jacobin Cuckoo, Gabar Goshawk, breeding-plumaged flocks of Wattled Starling, a perched juvenile Martial Eagle that was clearly soaked to the bone after the rain, Double-banded Courser, and a pair of Knob-billed Ducks flying by.

Some of the mammal highlights during our time at Tarangire National Park were olive baboon, Kirk’s dik-dik, banded and common dwarf mongooses, and Coke’s hartebeest.

Hildebrandt’s Starling

At the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area we managed to get a Brown-headed Apalis into the open and then started our drive up to the lookout point – what an extraordinary view!

The drive down into the crater after lunch offered us a few decent birds, including White-eyed Slaty-flycatcher, Purple Grenadier, Hildebrandt’s Francolin, the east-African endemic Mourning Wheatear, Augur Buzzard, Kenya Sparrow, and Wailing Cisticola.

The spectacle inside the crater is one of those things that just needs to be experienced, no words or even photographs can do it justice. The amount of animals including large game, large birds, small game, small birds, waterfowl, and of course thousands of Flamingos, both Lesser and Greater, that span the shallow water body in the center is just magnificent.

The mammals that we encountered while in the crater were Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, plains zebra, black rhinoceros, common warthog, blue wildebeest, hippopotamus, common eland, lion, and both black-backed and golden jackals.

Mourning Wheatear

Plains zebra

Some of the bird species we encountered were Common Ostrich, Grey Crowned Crane, Kori and Black-bellied Bustards, Lappet-faced Vulture, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Red-capped Lark, Rosy-throated Longclaw, and African Pipit. The waterbirds were also in full swing around the pan; these included African Sacred and Glossy Ibis, three Teal species, Cape, Hottentot, and Red-billedPied Avocet, Ruff, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese, and a large flock of Great White Pelicansoverhead.

The day ended sooner that we wanted it to, but we still managed to sneak in some amazing sightings of Golden-winged and Tacazze Sunbirds as well as a Montane Nightjar around the lodge just after dark – almost the perfect day!


Grey Crowned Crane

Black-bellied Bustard

Day 15, 18 April. Ngorongoro Crater to Serengeti National Park

We left the Ngorongoro Crater this morning for the Serengeti National Park, with the hope and an anticipation of seeing the spectacle of the great wildebeest migration. We had heard some news that the rains were late, but the migration was on the go in the area we were passing through – the best news we could have hoped for.

We made sure to quickly pick up one or two species for the day before we left the lodge. Hunter’s Cisticola, Speckled Pigeon, and Golden-winged Sunbird made it onto the list, and before we knew it we were on the road again. Before getting to the migration area we made sure to add a few more plains species to our lists, which included Temminck’s Courser, Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, and Taita Fiscal.

As we moved on towards the start of the Serengeti National Park the numbers of plains game started to increase slowly but surely, and before we could say ‘brindled gnu’ five times we could see tens of thousands of blue wildebeest in the distance. We made our way towards them and witnessed parts of the migration – how incredible! Some of them grazing, some of them running in single-file lines with dust all around, many young were in this area, and we were told that these are the calving plains. Two things were for sure, though, they were all moving in the same direction, and estimating their numbers was nearly impossible.

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

After spending some time with the wildebeest and taking as many photos as possible to somehow try and capture the spectacle, we headed on to the main Serengeti National Park entrance for lunch. The lunch stop was very birdy and produced Black-lored Babbler, Buff-bellied Warbler, Rufous-tailed Weaver, Black-faxed Waxbill, Banded Parisoma, both Rüppell’s Vulture and Marabou Storkcruising overhead, and some great looks at Speckle-fronted Weaver. The east-African endemic Fischer’s Lovebird and the two Tanzanian endemics, Grey-breasted Spurfowl and Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill, followed soon after driving into the park; we also were to have excellent sightings of all three of these species in the days to follow.

Grey-breasted Spurfowl

Day 16, 19 April. Serengeti National Park

A very relaxed day with some local Serengeti game viewing and birding was enjoyed by everyone today. We did have one main target for the day, though, the sought-after Grey-crested Helmetshrike. We spent a good part of the morning birding suitable habitat for the helmetshrike, but we did not have any luck finding it during the morning birding session. We did see Red-throated Tit, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Chinspot Batis, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Grey Kestrel, Grey Wren-Warbler, Rufous-tailed Weaver, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, and a few waders at one of the close-by pans.

Two of the best birds for the day came much later in the afternoon. Having spent much of the day trying for the helmetshrike, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that this species wasn’t around and we might just have to try again tomorrow, but we were so pleasantly surprised when our vehicle hit the brakes and cries of “There they are” rung throughout the Serengeti. Three Grey-crested Helmetshrikes, clambering low down in a small tree, gave decent views for about a minute before heading off deeper into the bush – a real cracker of a species for us.

We arrived back at the lodge and spent a few moments outside looking over the plains as a couple of localized storms approached. These storms also sent the swifts, swallows, and martins into a frenzy, and some of the group were able to pick out a Nyanza Swift cruising by among the usual suspects.

Rufous-tailed Weaver

Day 17, 20 April. Central Serengeti National Park

An early start allowed us to travel to the central parts of the Serengeti in search of a couple of trip species and with the hope of coming home with a few more big cats in the bag. The morning got underway with a few Fischer’s Lovebirds as well as a smart little Silverbird perched a couple of meters from our vehicle. Soon after that in the taller grassland plains we picked up the likes of Black-bellied and White-bellied BustardsQuailfinch, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, and White-tailed Lark in full display song above us.

The whole group was hoping to get either a leopard or a cheetah today and, boy oh boy, were we spoiled! Not only did we get a leopard lazing about with a full stomach in a nearby tree, but we were also treated to a pair of cheetah, which walked right by the leopard and further up past one of the joining roads. We rushed around in order to get the best looks possible – what an incredible sighting!

And so after that amazing experience of both leopard and cheetah our birding venture to the central Serengeti continued. A couple-hours drive through some very scenic areas led us to an area in which we picked out the sought-after Karamoja Apalis as well as Grey-capped Social Weaver, the usambirosubspecies of D’Arnaud’s BarbetThree-banded and Temminck’s Coursers, Kenya Sparrow, and Blue-capped Cordon-bleu. A leisurely drive back to our lodge was just what we needed to process the last two days spent in the Serengeti paradise.

Cheetah in the Serengeti’s “endless plains”

Grey-capped Social Weaver

Day 18, 21 April. Serengeti National Park to Arusha/Kilimanjaro International Airport

A slow drive from the lodge allowed us to take in the beauty of Serengeti National Park one more time, as we headed back to Arusha and, for some, a flight from Kilimanjaro International Airport to start their journey home from there.

The travel day was interrupted, very pleasantly I might add, by a wonderful lunch stop at the famous Gibbs Farm, which offered us some fantastic birds both before and after lunch, such as White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Grey-capped Warbler, Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, which we only heard and caught glimpses of, Bronzy Sunbird, Thick-billed and Streaky Seedeaters, Usambara Thrush, and Mottled Swift.

Bronzy Sunbird

We arrived safely in Arusha and after a few goodbyes’ here and there we made our way to the airport for an evening departure. A big thanks to everyone who was on the tour, and I trust it was one of the best tours you have experienced.




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By Jason Boyce – Birding Ecotours


By now the Champions of the Flyway (COTF) bird race is well known across birding circles worldwide and is fast becoming one of the most prestigious 24-hour bird races in the world. Majestic mountainous landscapes, the vast desert plains of the Negev, passionate and enthusiastic birders from across the globe, and a movement of birds like no other all culminate into a thing of beauty that is the Champions of the Flyway!

We, the South African/Birding Ecotours team, were to be the only southern hemisphere team to take part in this incredible bird race, for the second year running – a great honor! This year our team consisted of Jason Boyce, Trevor Hardaker, Dylan Vasapolli and Andy Walker. Trevor and Jason participated in the 2015 race and could offer some advice on how not to do things in 2016. The race, like many other birding races, involves scouting in the days prior to the race day and then a 24-hour race day, midnight to midnight. Teams will set out to record as many species as possible (birds can be recorded on call as well as on sight) during this 24-hour period. The Negev desert and everything south to Eilat is considered the ‘playing field’.


March 26         Team arrival and scouting                   Eilat, Israel

March 27         Scouting                                              Eilat, Israel

March 28         Scouting                                              Eilat, Israel

March 29         Race day                                             Eilat, Israel

March 30         Closing ceremony                               Eilat, Israel

Buildup and Scouting

Migration is an incredible natural phenomenon, and even after years and years of studying aspects of migration and witnessing bird migration over and over there will always be a sense of unpredictability about it! This is largely what brings about the excitement to birding in Israel – “Expect the unexpected”, as the catch phrase goes. Every year the teams make sure to arrive a little early so that they can begin preparations by visiting as many sites as they can within the playing field. Things can be very different from year to year – this was definitely evident to Trevor and Jason. We started off by checking out some of the sites in the North Negev, these included the famous Nitzana (best Macqueen’s Bustard site), Ezuz, Yeroham Lake, and Sde Boker. The northern region has some 30-35 species that you just can’t connect with in the south, and so it is recommended – by the Israeli “hotshots” – that doing both the north and the south on race day is a must!

Over the course of the next few days we visited almost every site that we knew about as well as a few new ones; the most noteworthy new site being the Se’ifim plains. These open plains situated to the north-west of Eilat in the mountains produced some excellent birds for us, including one of our most wanted, our logo species, Temminck’s Lark! Temminck’s Lark was hard to come by during the scouting days, and it was one of the species we ended up missing on race day.

Some of the other species that we recorded during the scouting days included the likes of Brown Booby, White-eyed Gull, Sandwich Tern, and Baltic Gull (L. f. fuscus, nominate Lesser Black-backed Gull, which are all treated as separate species for the COTF) all at North Beach. It was also incredible to see “migration in action” even among passerines, such as a Yellow Wagtail coming in off the Red Sea while we were sea watching!

Waders at K20 salt pans included Kentish Plover, Little and Common Ringed Plovers, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Common Redshank, Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, and Ruff. Other interesting finds during scouting were Red-necked Phalarope, Red-throated Pipit, many different subspecies of Yellow Wagtail, and Wheatear species ranging from the migratory species, like Northern, Isabelline and Black-eared, to some of the resident species, such as Hooded, White-crowned, and Mourning. One of our team’s best finds during the scouting period was that of a female Cyprus Wheatear – a lifer for most of the Bandits.

Race day!

Before we knew it race day was upon us – we were ready … sort of. Just after midnight on Tuesday morning, the 29th of March, we set off to see how many species we could get. We fiddled around Eilat for a while, trying to pick up some water birds and gulls – we managed to scope White-eyed Gull in the ambient light of Eilat city as well as pick up species like Little Ringed Plover and Western Reef Heron! By the time it got light enough to really get going, we were hovering around 30 species. We decided this year to do things from South to North and therefore only get to some of the northern hot-spots by 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. The Se’ífim plains produced a few good birds for us in the morning, such as Cream-colored Courser, Bar-tailed, Greater, Lesser Short-toed, and Bimaculated Larks, Hen Harrier, and Common (Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush. A quick stop here and there to pick up some soaring birds, and we were back down to bird the Eilat surrounds and the k20 salt pans.

Birding was good, and between the salt pans, the date plantations at K20, and some other waterbird spots we added most occurring shorebirds, including Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlin, Water Pipit, various waterfowl, Collared Flycatcher, Tree Pipit, our 4th Eurasian Wryneck of the Day (!), Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Gull-billed Tern, Western Osprey, and Ferruginous Duck. Jason was in charge of making sure that we ran according to schedule, and, for the most part, we were pretty good at sticking to that plan. “C’mon lads, keep it up!” – these were the chants as we begun the long drive into the Negev!

We eventually made our way to the northern parts of the Negev – Sde Boker was particularly kind to us and produced almost all of our targets, and then some. The lookout area at the tomb of David Ben-Gurion held Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Lanner Falcon, Tristram’s Starling, Alpine Swift – and Nubian Ibex distractions! The surrounds produced some European species: European Greenfinch, European Robin, Common Blackbird, and then also Common and Thrush Nightingales, Common and Pallid Swifts, Eurasian Stone Curlew, Chukar Partridge, and European Turtle Dove. We were hoping to get to 150 Species before getting to Yeroham Lake (Which would be our northernmost site). Southern Grey Shrike and Eurasian Hoopoe were our 148th and 149th species, respectively, and that about 200 meters before the entrance to the lake. Yeroham Lake was great, and even though we only added another 10 to 15 odd species here it was certainly one of the highlights for us! Syrian Woodpecker played ball, as too did Sedge and Great Reed Warblers. Highlights at the lake were Cetti’s Warbler, two Spotted Crakes, and a female Little Crake. Of course we didn’t leave before notching up a ‘LEO’ (not Panthera leo, but rather a Long-eared Owl) calling away in some of the larger trees at around 8:00 p.m. On the long drive back news had filtered through of a Jack Snipe at Neot Smadar Sewage Ponds, and so the diminutive wader became the last bird that we added to our list for the day. What an incredible day, needless to say, we slept well!

Who won?

The winning total this year (in the international race) was a seriously impressive 174 species, and the honors of the 2016 race go to the Arctic Redpolls from Finland, a huge congratulations to them! Second place managed 171 and third managed 164. The Bandits managed to squeeze out 163 species this year, and we were rather proud of that achievement. It placed us 4th overall in the international race (missing out on 3rd place and a podium finish by just one species!). It’s a ‘young’ race, and teams are still in the process of figuring out the best way to tackle it. Trevor Hardaker put it this way: “Doing well in this competition is not just about knowing the birds – we have some reasonable experience with these, so that is not really a problem at all. It’s not even about knowing the various birding sites – we have now gained valuable experience over last year and this year as to which sites produce which species, etc. It really comes down to strategy (as with any big day), and we are slowly, but surely, getting our strategy fine-tuned for this race. Even after this year’s race, our team had some discussions about what we would change for the next one that could give us just a little bit more of an edge in the competition.”

At the risk of being a little cliché, the real winners are undoubtedly the migrant birds! We received 13 Donations on race day itself, with a total of 188 donations during the course of the fund raising efforts. Our initial target set was to raise £3 000, and with your incredible generosity we managed to more than double that and raise £6 763.53 (roughly US$ 9 600 and more than R142 000 for our South African friends!). Over US$70 000 has now been raised in total this year – which is a COTF record! This money goes to the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOC), which now has a lot of work to do but some amazing backing to do it with. Congratulations, guys!!

One of the differences between the COTF and many other bird races across the world is the sharing of information. Information is shared freely and relentlessly throughout the race day, and this of course brings a whole new dynamic to the race! The team that is the most helpful, shares the most information, creates the most awareness, and makes the most noise about COTF are crowned the Knights of the Flyway. This year’s Knights went to the Way-off Coursers from the United States! The Way-off Coursers weren’t done there when it comes to awards; they were also the team that managed to raise the most money of all teams and so were crowned the Guardians of the Flyway as well.

On behalf of the Bandits, Birding Ecotours, South Africa, and, of course, the Hellenic Ornithological Society an extremely huge THANK YOU to all who have contributed in any way to this cause! There is still a massive amount of work to be done, so let us not stop here – onward and upward, as they say!

To our sponsors: “While we may not have been crowned with the award for the most money raised, you are ALL Guardians of the Flyway in our eyes! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” – Trevor

Full Species list for Race day (29 March 2016)


Ducks, Geese and Swans (Anatidae)  
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca Yotvata, HaDarom
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Eilat, HaDarom
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata Eilat, HaDarom
Northern Pintail Anas acuta Eilat, HaDarom
Garganey Anas querquedula Eilat, HaDarom
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca Eilat, HaDarom
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca Eilat, HaDarom
Pheasants and allies (Phasianidae)  
Chukar Partridge Alectoris chukar Sde Boker, HaDarom
Sand Partridge Ammoperdix heyi Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Common Quail Coturnix coturnix Yotvata, HaDarom
Grebes (Podicipedidae)  
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Eilat, HaDarom
Flamingos (Phoenicopteridae)  
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus Eilat, HaDarom
Storks (Ciconiidae)  
Black Stork Ciconia nigra Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
White Stork Ciconia ciconia Eilat, HaDarom
Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)  
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus Eilat, HaDarom
Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)  
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax Eilat, HaDarom
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides Yotvata, HaDarom
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Eilat, HaDarom
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Eilat, HaDarom
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea Eilat, HaDarom
Great Egret Ardea alba Eilat, HaDarom
Little Egret Egretta garzetta Eilat, HaDarom
Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis Eilat, HaDarom
Gannets, Boobies (Sulidae)  
Brown Booby Sula leucogaster Eilat, HaDarom
Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)  
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Eilat, HaDarom
Ospreys (Pandionidae)  
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus Eilat, HaDarom
Kites, Hawks and Eagles (Accipitridae)  
Egyptian Vulture – EN Neophron percnopterus Yotvata, HaDarom
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Sde Boker, HaDarom
Short-toed Snake Eagle Circaetus gallicus Eilat, HaDarom
Lesser Spotted Eagle Clanga pomarina Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus Eilat, HaDarom
Steppe Eagle – EN Aquila nipalensis Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus Eilat, HaDarom
Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Black Kite Milvus migrans Eilat, HaDarom
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Rails, Crakes and Coots (Rallidae)  
Little Crake Porzana parva Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Eilat, HaDarom
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra Eilat, HaDarom
Stone-curlews, Thick-knees (Burhinidae)  
Eurasian Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus Sde Boker, HaDarom
Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)  
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus Eilat, HaDarom
Plovers (Charadriidae)  
Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus Eilat, HaDarom
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula Eilat, HaDarom
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius Yotvata, HaDarom
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus Eilat, HaDarom
Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)  
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus Neot Smadar, HaDarom
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago Neot Smadar, HaDarom
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Eilat, HaDarom
Common Redshank Tringa totanus Eilat, HaDarom
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis Eilat, HaDarom
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia Eilat, HaDarom
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus Yotvata, HaDarom
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola Yotvata, HaDarom
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos Yotvata, HaDarom
Little Stint Calidris minuta Eilat, HaDarom
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea Eilat, HaDarom
Dunlin Calidris alpina Eilat, HaDarom
Ruff Philomachus pugnax Eilat, HaDarom
Coursers, Pratincoles (Glareolidae)  
Cream-colored Courser Cursorius cursor Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola Eilat, HaDarom
Gulls, Terns and Skimmers (Laridae)  
Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei Eilat, HaDarom
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus Eilat, HaDarom
White-eyed Gull Ichthyaetus leucophthalmus Eilat, HaDarom
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans Eilat, HaDarom
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica Eilat, HaDarom
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia Eilat, HaDarom
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis Eilat, HaDarom
Common Tern Sterna hirundo Eilat, HaDarom
Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)  
Rock Dove Columba livia Eilat, HaDarom
European Turtle Dove – VU Streptopelia turtur Sde Boker, HaDarom
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Yotvata, HaDarom
Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis Eilat, HaDarom
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis Yotvata, HaDarom
Barn Owls (Tytonidae)  
Western Barn Owl Tyto alba Yotvata, HaDarom
Owls (Strigidae)  
Eurasian Scops Owl Otus scops Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Long-eared Owl Asio otus Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Nightjars (Caprimulgidae)  
Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius Yotvata, HaDarom
Swifts (Apodidae)  
Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba Sde Boker, HaDarom
Common Swift Apus apus Eilat, HaDarom
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus Sde Boker, HaDarom
Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)  
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis Eilat, HaDarom
Bee-eaters (Meropidae)  
Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis Eilat, HaDarom
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster Eilat, HaDarom
Hoopoes (Upupidae)  
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Woodpeckers (Picidae)  
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla Eilat, HaDarom
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)  
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni Yotvata, HaDarom
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Eilat, HaDarom
Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus Sde Boker, HaDarom
Old World Parrots (Psittaculidae)  
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri Eilat, HaDarom
Shrikes (Laniidae)  
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator Eilat, HaDarom
Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus Eilat, HaDarom
Crows, Jays (Corvidae)  
House Crow Corvus splendens Eilat, HaDarom
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix Sde Boker, HaDarom
Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis Neot Smadar, HaDarom
Northern Raven Corvus corax Mitzpe Ramon, HaDarom
Tits, Chickadees (Paridae)  
Great Tit Parus major Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Penduline Tits (Remizidae)  
Eurasian Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus Eilat, HaDarom
Larks (Alaudidae)  
Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cinctura Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Crested Lark Galerida cristata Eilat, HaDarom
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculata Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae)  
White-spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthopygos Eilat, HaDarom
Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)  
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Eilat, HaDarom
Pale Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne obsoleta Eilat, HaDarom
Common House Martin Delichon urbicum Eilat, HaDarom
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica Eilat, HaDarom
Cettia Bush Warblers and allies (Cettiidae)  
Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Streaked Scrub Warbler (Scotocercidae)  
Streaked Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Leaf Warblers and allies (Phylloscopidae)  
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Yotvata, HaDarom
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus orientalis Eilat, HaDarom
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix Eilat, HaDarom
Reed Warblers and allies (Acrocephalidae)  
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus Eilat, HaDarom
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler Iduna pallida Eilat, HaDarom
Cisticolas and allies (Cisticolidae)  
Graceful Prinia Prinia gracilis Eilat, HaDarom
Laughingthrushes (Leiothrichidae)  
Arabian Babbler Turdoides squamiceps Eilat, HaDarom
Sylviid Babblers (Sylviidae)  
Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla Eilat, HaDarom
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca Eilat, HaDarom
Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia crassirostris Eilat, HaDarom
Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata Neot Smadar, HaDarom
Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)  
Tristram’s Starling Onychognathus tristramii Sde Boker, HaDarom
Thrushes (Turdidae)  
Common Blackbird Turdus merula Sde Boker, HaDarom
Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)  
European Robin Erithacus rubecula Sde Boker, HaDarom
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia Sde Boker, HaDarom
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos Eilat, HaDarom
Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis Eilat, HaDarom
Semicollared Flycatcher Ficedula semitorquata Neot Smadar, HaDarom
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus Eilat, HaDarom
Common Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Blackstart Oenanthe melanura Eilat, HaDarom
White-crowned Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)  
Palestine Sunbird Cinnyris osea Eilat, HaDarom
Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)  
House Sparrow Passer domesticus Yotvata, HaDarom
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis Eilat, HaDarom
Waxbills, Munias and allies (Estrildidae)  
Indian Silverbill Euodice malabarica Eilat, HaDarom
Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)  
Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea Neot Smadar, HaDarom
White Wagtail Motacilla alba Eilat, HaDarom
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis Eilat, HaDarom
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus Eilat, HaDarom
Finches (Fringillidae)  
Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus Se’ifim Plain, HaDarom
European Greenfinch Chloris chloris Sde Boker, HaDarom
Desert Finch Rhodospiza obsoleta Mitzpe Ramon, HaDarom
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Yeroham Lake, HaDarom
Buntings, New World Sparrows and allies (Emberizidae)  
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana Yotvata, HaDarom
Cretzschmar’s Bunting Emberiza caesia Neot Smadar, HaDarom
Species: 163
IOC World Bird List 6.1 (January 2016)


Austria and Hungary: Scouting Trip Report

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Austria and Hungary: Scouting Trip Report – August 2014

By Jason Boyce

Unfortunately, this trip had to be conducted in one of the worst birding months, because it was a scouting trip for us. On our actual future tours, which will take place in the spring, the birding will be much better.

Day 1. Lower Austria, Rotheau, Ochsattel pass, and surrounds
Our scouting venture to Austria and Hungary began on the 20th of August in a small town called Rotheau, not far from Vienna. We were fortunate enough to have in our local guide one of the foremost experts on European birds and other wildlife.
During the first morning’s birding it was fairly cold, and a soft rain was starting to interfere with our birding. Even so we managed to make a couple of productive stops and got a few good views of Eurasian Treecreeper, Wood Warbler, Eurasian Bullfinch, and a whole host of Tits, made up of European Crested, Willow, Coal, Great, Eurasian Blue, and Marsh. The call of the mighty Black Woodpecker was heard a couple of times, but no visuals were to be had, yet.
The highlight of the day for us were the dozen Common Mergansers that we found later that afternoon on a river on the outskirts of town.

Day 2. Travel to Hungary
The morning started off with a mammal, a red deer, while we were getting our necessary supplies. Golden Eagles frequent this area, but we were not fortunate enough to get any views. A couple of other raptors were around, though, including European Honey and Common Buzzards and a Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Finally at the Ochsattel pass we managed to get great visuals of the magnificent Black Woodpecker. What an outstandingly amazing bird!
We crossed into Hungary that afternoon in beautiful, sunny weather. Some of the first birds we encountered were Eurasian Hobby, Western Marsh Harrier, Common Kestrel, and a single Lesser Whitethroat calling from the roadside. Birds were more plentiful today, and we also managed to add two more Woodpeckers, Great Spotted and Grey-headed, to our woodpecker tally.
The landscape had now changed drastically; we saw a drier open landscape dominating the area, as well as large water bodies and reed beds. During one particular stop we made alongside one of the reed beds we managed to get great visuals of Bearded Reedling. White Stork nests lined the entrances to many small villages, and many waterfowl were traveling overhead to roosting sites and different bodies of water.
Before it got too late in the day we made a stop at Fertő-Hanság National Park. Here we added good numbers of shorebirds as well as White-tailed Eagle. We ended the day with good looks at Syrian Woodpecker.

Day 3. Neusiedler See – Seewinkel National Park
Staying just south of Fertő-Hanság National Park in the town of Fertőd, it was a very short drive back into Austria to Neusiedler See – Seewinkel National Park. One of our main targets for the day would be Great Bustard, and Neusiedler See – Seewinkel delivered. A group of four Great Bustards were spotted early in the morning – what a fantastic sight! A number of other species that we encountered in the open fields were Common Cuckoo, Yellowhammer, White Wagtail, and a two species of warbler – Garden Warbler and Eurasian Blackcap – enjoying the elderberries.
Later that morning we enjoyed large numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds, including Dunlin, Red Knot, Spotted Redshank, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Great Crested Grebe, Red-crested Pochard, and Yellow-legged Gull. Other species of interest today were Purple Heron, Collared Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Ferruginous Duck, Black Tern, and Common Ringed Plover.
Back on the Hungarian Side of the national park we had an incredible sighting of Eastern Imperial Eagle flying directly overhead. This caused chaos among all the waterfowl – quite a spectacle.
We ended off the day in a small park in town, where Short-toed Treecreeper and Middle Spotted Woodpecker were obliging, while Hawfinch made us work hard for brief views.

Day 4. Ferencmajor ponds ringing station
One of the trip highlights was joining the ringing station at Ferencmajor for a morning. They would run this station for about a month, ringing/banding every day. This way they could obtain valuable data over a prolonged period of time.
In addition to the attractions at the ringing station itself, the surrounding area had some nice settling ponds, which produced a number of great birds. These included Common Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Bearded Reedling, Eurasian Spoonbill, Little Gull, Common Kingfisher, Common Crane, and Black Stork. Savi’s Warbler was the star bird at the ponds that morning for us – getting good looks at any skulker like this takes some doing. Upon leaving we bumped into a European Pied Flycatcher – a good way to end the morning’s birding.
With a fair amount of travel time still ahead for the day, we grabbed some lunch and headed out to the Kiskunság area. Fantastic birds along the way included White-tailed Eagle, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Whinchat, and a magnificent Saker Falcon.
The landscape opened up into agricultural fields and some rolling hills, where Northern Wheatear, Western Yellow Wagtail, and Crested Lark became more prominent.
Before the day turned to darkness we still managed to sneak in great views of European Roller, Montagu’s Harrier, and a stunning Little Owl.

Day 5. Kunsági Major
On our fifth morning, near the town of Kerekegyháza, we targeted a few species that we hadn’t managed to locate so far on the trip. We were successful in finding Woodlark, Common Skylark, and Eurasian Stone-curlew. European Greenfinch and Green Woodpecker were nice additions late in the trip, while on the raptor front we found two more Common Buzzards, another Common Kestrel, another Saker Falcon, and a beautiful female Western Marsh Harrier.
The best of the day was still to come, however, with our third sighting of Great Bustard for the trip. What a fabulous place this is to come to if you are after this magnificent bird. Although the species, listed as Vulnerable, has suffered rapid population reductions across its wide range, Central Europe, including sites visited on this tour, remains a good stronghold for these sought-after giants.

Day 6. Kiskunság to Budapest
Our last full birding day of what was a leisurely and very enjoyable birding trip had arrived too soon. We made our way into the hills of the Budapest area from the flatlands of Kiskunság – with one detour, though.
On the way our local guide said he would take us past a spot known for a species of owl. With our love for owls, of course, we had no choice but to go with the flow. A roosting site of Long-eared Owl! This was a wonderful way to start the morning. A good five individuals, sitting quietly, were looking back at us with piercing eyes.
En route we stopped off to get some supplies at a filling station and had the most amazing sighting of Eastern Imperial Eagle not more than thirty meters above our heads. What a sight!
The hills and forests of Hor were our last site, where we were hoping for both White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers. Unfortunately we could not locate the latter, but we did find a cracking adult White-backed Woodpecker. Other highlights were Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Northern Raven, Hawfinch, Common Linnet, and yet another sighting of Black Woodpecker.

Day 7 – Departure
The tour had come to an end as on the next morning our guide dropped us off at the airport in Budapest for our long flight back to Johannesburg, South Africa.
We were lucky enough to get a good feel for the area during this scouting trip, and we enjoyed very good hospitality through both Austria and Hungary. We are grateful for all the laughs, and of course for many a great Central European bird.



English Name (IOC 5.1)

Scientific Name (IOC 5.1)





Graylag Goose Anser anser


Mute Swan Cygnus olor


Gadwall Anas strepera


Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope


Mallard Anas platyrhynchos


Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata


Garganey Anas querquedula


Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina


Common Pochard Aythya ferina


Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula


Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca


Common Merganser Mergus merganser




Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis


Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus




Black Stork Ciconia nigra


White Stork Ciconia ciconia




Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo


Pygmy Cormorant Microcarbo pygmaeus




Gray Heron Ardea cinerea


Purple Heron Ardea purpurea


Great Egret Ardea alba


Little Egret Egretta garzetta


Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax




Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia




European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus


Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca


Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus


Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus


Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus


White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla


Common Buzzard Buteo buteo




Great Bustard Otis tarda




Eurasian Coot Fulica atra




Common Crane Grus grus




Eurasian Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus




Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus


Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta




Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus


Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula


Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius




Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos


Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus


Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus


Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata


Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola


Common Redshank Tringa totanus


Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus


Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa


Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres


Red Knot Calidris canutus


Ruff Philomachus pugnax


Dunlin Calidris alpina




Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus


Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus


Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis


Black Tern Chlidonias niger


Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida


Common Tern Sterna hirundo




Rock Dove Columba livia


Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus


European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur


Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto




Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus




Little Owl Athene noctua


Long-eared Owl Asio otus




Common Swift Apus apus




Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis




European Bee-eater Merops apiaster




European Roller Coracias garrulus




Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops




Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla


Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor


Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius


White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos


Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major


Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus


Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius


European Green Woodpecker Picus viridis


Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus




Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus


Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus


Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo


Saker Falcon Falco cherrug


Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus




Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio




Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus




Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius


Eurasian Magpie Pica pica


Eurasian Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes


Western Jackdaw Coloeus monedula


Rook Corvus frugilegus


Carrion Crow Corvus corone


Hooded Crow Corvus cornix


Northern Raven Corvus corax




Bearded Reedling Panurus biarmicus




Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla


Crested Lark Galerida cristata


Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis


Woodlark Lullula arborea




Sand Martin Riparia riparia


Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica


Common House Martin Delichon urbicum




Marsh Tit Poecile palustris


Willow Tit Poecile montanus


Coal Tit Periparus ater


European Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus


Great Tit Parus major


Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus




Eurasian Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus




Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus




Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea




Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris


Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla




White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus




Goldcrest Regulus regulus




Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus


Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita


Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix




Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris


Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus




Savi’s Warbler Locustella luscinioides




Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla


Garden Warbler Sylvia borin


Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca


Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis




Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata


European Robin Erithacus rubecula


European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca


Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis


Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros


Whinchat Saxicola rubetra


European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola


Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe




Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus


Common Blackbird Turdus merula


Song Thrush Turdus philomelos


Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus




European Starling Sturnus vulgaris




Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava


Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea


White Wagtail Motacilla alba


Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis




Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs


Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula


European Greenfinch Chloris chloris


European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis


Common Linnet Linaria cannabina


Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes




House Sparrow Passer domesticus


Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus


Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella