Monday, November 15, 2010

Laptop Dead

My old laptop finally died. The operating system apparently has a fatal error so posting may be slow (again) for a bit.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Here and Now Interlude

I will return to the recollections of Tanzania soon, but I felt I needed a quick post about Montana. Yesterday I got to tour a mine reclamation site for work. It was cold and snowy. And full of Bighorn Sheep.

The snow on the opposite slope created an interesting pattern on the new vegetation growing in what appeared to be an old burn area.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

More Dar in in the Afternoon

In the afternoon I managed to head north from the hotel after looping through a small road just to the west. There was a notice at the end of the road warning me not to go any farther and to not take any photos. So I headed east to the coast and then wandered into what appeared to be native coastal scrub to the north. No sign so I figured I was ok. I didn't see too much for new birds that afternoon but there were a few I could see and many more I could only hear or catch a quick glimpse of.
It was nice to be away from all the people and into some decent looking native vegetation for a bit to struggle with the identification of birds I had only rehearsed identifying from the field guide. I wound up using the camera as an identification aid much more than I anticipated. It was nice to have even rather crappy photos to use as an ID aid latter when I had time to use the field guide when there weren't new birds all around me.
There were a few Zanzibar Sombre Greenbuls around.

And a couple small groups of Speckled Mousebirds.

But the best bird by far was a member of the sunbird family, the Nectariniidae. This was one group of birds I was really looking forward to seeing and my first introduction was a stunning Purple-banded Sunbird foraging in a bare tree just around the corner from the hotel.

Later that afternoon, Steve Windels, a biologist from Minnesota and a member of our technical assistance team, and I headed south from the hotel along the coast into some severely modified habitats. We found quite a few birds in the open fields and remaining scrub. There was the seemingly mandatory House Sparrows, but also a number of wonderful new birds too. They included Blue-capped Cordon-bleu

African Red-billed Firefinches

A Grassland Pipit

and Black and White Manakins.

Later that afternoon we went to the Mwenge carvers market to look for goodies for family back home. I was introduced to a wonderful little shop with a great selection of masks and other assorted carvings.

Later that evening we had a few moments to sample some local brews and do a bit of birding looking over the tidal flats again.

And as the sun dropped quickly into the hazy horizon to the west (no sliding slowly at an angle into darkness here at the equator) the Palm Swifts emerged into the twilight.

The next day was a series of meetings and prep work but there were more birds to be found and even better, I had Steve, the mammal guy from Minnesota, hooked on looking for birds with me.

House Crow City - Dar es Salaam

My first introduction to Tanzania was via the large, sprawling city of Dar es Salaam. We arrived at the international airport late at night and headed to our hotel along the coast near the tip of the Msasani Peninsula. The next morning I woke up and opened up the window on my room to see what I could see.

I was looking east over the Indian Ocean and down on to a rather lush hotel garden area. My expectations were high and so was the humidity. Maybe something other than a Rock Pigeon, House Sparrow, or European Starling would be the first bird I found on this new continent? Turns out it was something different - but not really. The first bird I found was a House Crow. A species introduced into Dar from southeast Asia which has multiplied prodigiously in the area to the detriment of any of the native species they encounter. Sound familiar?

There were many House Crows. Lots and lots of House Crows. And nothing else. I made my way down to the hotel grounds and looked out over the exposed tidal flats and slowly started to find new birds.

Well, kind of new birds. First there was a Whimbrel slowly foraging in the tidal pools. Hadn't seen one of those for a while but still not new. There was also a Grey Plover strolling along the pool edges. A new name for a bird I have observed quite a few time in Montana. We just call them Black-bellied Plovers.

Then there was a Common Sandpiper. New bird for sure, but it certainly looked almost exactly like the Spotted Sandpipers from home.

Then the really new birds started showing up.

A Little Egret

a Dimorphic Egret

And an immature Striated Heron.

I was surprised by the lack of the gulls on the coast. Every other coastal habitat I have visited has had a large number, if not large variety, of gulls. Not Dar es Salaam though. I only saw two individual gulls during my time in Dar and both appeared to be Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

There were also a number of young men that roamed the tidal flats with large jugs and small hand nets. I was never able to determine exactly what fish they were catching but I assume that they were for the tropical fish trade.

Any comments on my identification of the birds of Tanzania are welcome.