Comment on sightings of new bird species for the Namibian list!

With reference to an article written to SABIRDNET distribution list by Ian Sinclair last month, kindly pointed out to me by a Namibian twitcher.  I’ve tried to post a comment to the article in question, without joy, so I guess the moderation process has not yet taken its course.  I’ve taken the liberty of posting a reaction in my blog, just in case my original comment to the SABIRDNET list fails to see the light of day.

Hi Ian

Thank you for this remarkable set of additions to the Namibian bird list! Contrary to Mark Paxton calling this a boring country, I think Namibia’s always been at forefront of exceptional discoveries of new birds for the region – Paxton’s resident Souza’s Shrikes, our very own American Black Skimmer, the first *accurate* records of Eurasian Reed Warbler, and loads of other cool stuff! Since the discovery and *excellent* photographs of the Angola Cave Chat on the screes of the Zebra Mountains by Namibia’s Wessel Swanepoel, I’m obviously obligated to go up there soon to collect tissue for the National Museum of Namibia.

I’ll be pleased to corroborate your recent findings for the Bird 10K genome project – a very important *scientific* project of the Smithsonian – which really does deserve greater attention in the more remote parts of Africa – hence our collaboration with them on collecting tissue from indigenous bird species in sub-saharan Africa.

Also, as our friend Clancey once said, “what’s hit is history, what’s missed is mystery” and while you’ve obviously spent an enormous amount of time, energy and resources (an Atos on *our* roads? I even advise people with *Landrovers* to avoid them:-)!) trying to photograph these new species, I think my technician will do a good job with the voucher specimens. At least this material will not be “fuzzy”. And, unlike the Royal Terns of some years ago, I’ve elected to not use a formaldehyde / alcohol mix anymore – nasty stuff that, and what a nuisance blow-drying them to get to do any hands-on work with them – as you’ll probably remember from your days at the Durban Museum.

So while I do know the area around Swartbooisdrift quite well, will you be able to tell me where this riverine forest is – some coordinates would be very useful; I simply don’t recall seeing anything as copious as a ‘forest‘ along the southern river bank there? I’ll be going up there in a Landcruiser – would you like to join me on this expedition ? I could do with your amazing eyesight and phenomenal knowledge of birds (you know that I’m as blind as a bat and do most of my collecting by echo-location), and I promise not to try shoot you in the foot ! ( like I nearly did to Peter Ryan when we spotted that American Golden Plover in a mahangu field on the way to Rundu yonks ago! )

It would also be nice to catch up with you once again – since you have so much quality time on your hands to belabour Korean technology on our horrific roads – I’m sure you’ll find a bit of time to come hang out, sample my irish whiskey and shoot the breeze!

Best regards, Joris —

In, Ian Sinclair wrote: Hi SABirdnet, 

Sorry for this late posting but the birds I want to tell you about are not vagrants and might be in the area permanently.  The true status of these birds in Nth. Namibia is unclear /unknown  and they might be seasonal/nomadic or whatever?  I travelled to northern Namibia in early July on a photo gig for the new book I’m working on and an excuse to see the Angola Cave Robin in the Subregion. 

I also went to this area to see my penultimate francolin in Africa, the Swiestra’s Spurfowl. Found it on an overnight trip into Angola on the road/track to Lubango. That’s another story.  The Cave Robin wasn’t difficult although the road was a challenge to my tiny Atos. At Hippos Pools the Palm Thrush and Cinderella Waxbill were easily located but on the drive from Ruacana had lots of Sth. Ant-eating Chats lining the phone wires.  I drove this sector many times and saw a chat, not on the wires but perched on a small bush. I drove up to the bird and flushed it and then my heart stopped….no white in the wings. It was very flighty but eventually managed a few very crappy images which Trevor Hardaker posted one on his Rare Bird site. 

I left this area and proceeded down river towards Swarbonisdrif. and entered a fabulous stretch of Riverine Forest which was heaving with birds. I worked this area for a while and saw many Red-faced Mousebirds but on the northern bank of the Kunene River I saw a small flock of what looked like Speckled Mousebirds. Knowing this spp. didn’t occur in this region I suspected them to be Red-backed Mousebirds but they were too far off and my scope was back in the car.  Running back to my car for the scope I flushed a small group of five  mousebirds and bang, right in front of me were Red-backed Mousebirds,  in Namibia. I sprinted back to the car and grabbed my photo gear and went on the hunt for the mousebirds. They were gone and had distant views of them in a tree far off. A few shots don’t show anything but fuzzy silhouettes. 

I also had fleeting and distant views of a small woodhoopoe which might have well been a Black Wood hoopoe, a common bird in Angola but maybe next time. What was just a photo gig for a book turned up x2 new birds for the  subregion. I know where I’ll be in Feb/March 2014. Scouring this stretch of riverine forest on Namibia’s border with Angola and who knows what next, especially with all the Pally migrants around? Anyone wanting more detailed info please contact me direct. 

Anyone want to buy a wrecked Atos?  Ian 


Read my blog

Posted in #namibia, Angola Cave Chat, birding, birds, Black Scimitarbill, Cunene, Ian sinclair, Red-backed Mousebird, Ruacana, SABAP, SABirdnet, Sooty Chat, Swartbooisdrift, twitching
2 comments on “Comment on sightings of new bird species for the Namibian list!
  1. tatejoris says:

    Extracted from SABIRDNET – Thanks John –

    Hi Joris,

    Nice Blog.
    As layman could you explain what ” collecting tissue” means and implies in practice.

    Kind Regards

    John van Zyl

    Hi John,

    Thanks – collecting tissue (and hence molecular material) would *traditionally* mean me going to the area with a shotgun, traps and mist-nets to *destructively* collect a couple of specimens of each species in question, remove appropriate bits of muscle, blood, heart, etc.. for at least 2-5 grams per specimen, macerate this tissue, and put some of material in liquid nitrogen and some in a preservative liquid. Coupled with a voucher specimen- one part study skin and one part skeleton. All stomach and gizzard/crop contents as well as any internal and external parasites would also be preserved. The stuff in liquid nitrogen, along with the study skin would go to the Smithsonian 10K genome project in Washington DC, and the balance of tissue +skeleton +other material would be accessioned by the National Museum of Namibia's Bird department, in an officially approved research collaboration (I'm the honorary curator of birds…I used to be the full-time curator of birds there from 1983 – 2000) and I now help the museum mostly for well-meaning usefulness…without they're struggling to maintain the very high standards set by my mentors Philip Clancey, Carl Vernon, Alan Kemp and Peter Colston for national bird collections; collections which will continue to play a pivotal role in splitting and/or lumping bird species in southern Africa and beyond. Indeed, to further challenge twitchers (and evolutionary scientists) to greater effort, globally :-)!

    The Smithsonian 10K genome project is almost anal retentive in its obsessive detail for high quality molecular material (AND voucher specimens). I've had the misfortune of schlepping cylinders of liquid nitrogen around the country in the past – for other ambitious molecular studies – francolins and endemic avifauna come to mind. Nowadays I'm more inclined to look at ways of collecting blood or growing quills, *non-destructively*. Photographing the captured birds in the hand, and releasing them with a metal SAFRING ring… thus confirming precise locality and identity – as you well know, bird ringers are obligated to ensure that these birds are *accurately* identified before ringing them.

    SO here's the thing. My gentle rejoinder to Ian's report on new birds for Namibia should come as a warning to a surprising and sudden increase in the number of (apparently) previously overlooked species in Namibia. Admittedly all species which have their range of distribution in Angola and Zambia likely to spill over into Namibia at one or other stage – times of especially high rainfall, food abundance, eruptive breeding events and expansion of range? Time and greater effort in this region will tell. And the efforts of people like Wessel Swanepoel to get out there and really thrash the habitat – on foot, frequently, with sturdy technology and confident fitness. Certainly not in little Atos cars for a day, every year or so.

    However, if Ian's new sightings encourage brazillions of twitchers to thrash the area for birds, there's a very good chance that more of such exciting new records may surface. And such foreign visitors will likely financially support the eco-tourism efforts of good folks like Peter Morgan of Kunene River Lodge who are encouraging such exploratory efforts by locals and foreigners alike!


  2. tatejoris says:

    Hi Joris,

    Trust you are well?

    If it is not posted to SA Birdnet, I would love to see a copy of the reply you get with all the details…

    Kind regards

    Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom – let your email find you!

    Hi Trevor

    There's a good chance that Ian will ignore my (gentle) rejoinder completely. He's always been Irish, and has a walrus-like skin:-).

    However, I do hope that this set of new species for Namibia – especially the scimitarbill – get some more attention from twitchers in the area. Local twitchers, as well as diverse foreigners who continue to believe that Namibia is still a fifth province under Cape provincial administration… it would be so nice if, as a matter of common courtesy, folks report their birding trips to Neil Thompson, who edits Lanioturdus, or Holger Kolberg, who edits the Newsletter of the Namibia Bird Club:

    Kind regards Joris

    PS – I'm posting all comments to my little note on the blog (I do remove email addresses to protect folks from spam)

    Subject: Re: [sabirdnet] Comment on sightings of new bird species for the Namibian list


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: