Thursday, 31 July 2014

Bird Population Monitoring (BPM) & Waterfowl counts in South-Western Uganda, July 2014

A total of eight BPM’s, two Waterfowl counts and a breeding survey of a Pink-backed Pelican colony were

completed during July 24th-26th. The brief highlights and lowlights as follows:

Mpanga Cultivation; This site, a mixture of farm bush with scattered trees on the edge of Mpanga forest has been counted for several years and regularly gives good totals of species. This trend continued with 58 species recorded. Highlights included 5 Chestnut-winged Starling, Cassin’s Honeybird, Yellow-spotted Barbet 6 Weyn’s Weaver and a Golden-breasted Bunting.

Lukaya Flats; Situated in the extensive, seasonally flooded grassland to the north east of Lukaya town, the small islands of shrubby habitat helping to increase the species diversity. This BPM is a traditional two Km transect, i.e. two kilometers out then walk back to the start! The main highlights this visit being a flock of 5 Wattled Starling, Lead coloured Flycatcher and good numbers of Black-headed Gonolek. Unfortunately a worrying aspect is the increased amount of barbed wire fencing which has sprung up since the last visit.

Kayanja; Another long standing BPM which is a mixture of grass and low shrubby bush islands, a problem here is charcoal burning which is removing some of the islands, although it does appear that in places they are now only cutting branches and leaving the main trunk to re-grow. Bird highlights here are good numbers of Sooty Chat and Rufous-naped Lark while 3 Madagascar Bee-eater and 3 Orange Weaver were a bonus.

Nabugabo Grasslands; as the name suggests this BPM is purely grassland and rarely does the species list reach 20. Good numbers of Grassland and Plain-backed Pipits are always present along with Zitting Cisticola while good birds this visit was a single Saddle-billed Stork and 4 African Quailfinch. Occasionally we have recorded specialties including Great Snipe and Forbes Plover while traditionally the Blue Swallow can be found just to the north of the site.

Kyotera South; some two miles south of Kyotera town is an area of quite dense bush with small patches of grassland, these grassy areas get heavily rutted by cows crossing when wet. A hazardous habitat for walking, which involves your eyes being concentrated downwards rather than looking for birds. Fortunately the bird calls are frequent and a good number of species are logged. Birds seen included Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, while heard only were Moustached Warbler and Mourning Dove.

Kyegegwa; another area of grassland with islands of shrubby bush, with a large section of taller Acacia present. Traditionally cattle country this site suffers from the same furrowed ground. While areas close by are being planted up with Eucalyptus and Pines. Mainly grassland bird species are recorded, predominantly weavers and babblers. Of interest this visit was 5 African Stonechat and Sulphur-breasted Bush-Shrike.

Marabigambo Grassland; Situated on the edge of the Marabigambo Forest these seasonally flooded grasslands often have high numbers of Fan-tailed Widowbird and Grassland Pipit. This visit the flooded area held 2 Rufous-bellied Heron and African Jacana, while the drier grass had some very accommodating Black-chinned Quailfinch. Although we often hear forest species, we do not count them to keep the counts predominantly grassland species.

Airstrip Ponds; This transect is combined with the waterfowl count. Counting the seven ponds first and then
returning back through the scrub and grass area back to the start. This count has suffered recently due to the arrival of some 20,000 refugees from Tanzania. These people have nowhere left to go and are surviving in a makeshift camp on the edge of the old airstrip. First noted during the January count the numbers of people have increased to saturation point and it was thought that the birdlife would diminish, but fortunately this has not been the case and bird numbers and species remain relatively stable. Highlights include a Brown-chested Lapwing with Senegal and Crowned Lapwings, 6 Wattled Starling and good numbers of Banded Martin.

Airstrip Ponds Waterfowl Count; After the January count I was expecting the numbers to be low, but they were quite productive and did not appear to have very much disturbance. These seven ponds were created during the General Amin era when he wanted an airstrip created. The seven artificial ponds have varying degrees of water present, with accompanying vegetation, mainly typha and water lilies. Two of the ponds are usually quite dry but water levels have remained high and all seven had water. Interesting birds noted include 3 Lesser Jacana, 2 Rufous-bellied Heron and a Little Bittern, also present where three pairs of White-backed Duck with one of the pairs having three ducklings in tow, the first breeding record since 1941.

Musambwa Islands Waterfowl Count; these three Islands have been counted for over 15 years and we have a good account of number of birds and species. The January count revealed a reduction of Grey-headed Gull to approximately 60,000 down from the previous 90,000 and well below the peak of 120,000. Also noted in January was a reduction in breeding birds on the main Island. This July the count of Grey-headed Gull has reduced even further to just over 30,000 and more disturbing was the amount of juvenile birds, estimated to be about 1% of birds present. On landing on the main Island a small area behind the fishing community was found to contain the bodies of over twenty dead gulls, they were almost fledged. Whether this is due to a food shortage or something more sinister I could not ascertain. Of interest were the colony of Northern Brown-throated Weaver which were utilising discarded fishing line to weave their nests!

Diimo Pelican Colony; Situated along the road to Diimo fishing village this colony has just recently taken up
residence. Located in tall roadside trees 73 occupied nests were counted with a good percentage having large young. Unfortunately also counted were the 'bodies' of four Pelicans hanging from branches with mono-filament fishing line, a cruel and unnecessary death as surely the fisherman can dispose of their unwanted line by burning or burying? Perhaps a sensitisation project should be evolved?

Roger Q Skeen, NatureUganda

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