2008.03.10 - Today I had a great ornithological meeting with one of the most secretive water birds I have so far had the luck to come across.
For the fist time in a couple of weeks, I had taken my camera and gone for a walk among the rice fields in Saga, just south of Niamey, Niger. I had hoped to spot some Ibises, and perhaps even get some photos of them. So far I havent managed to get good pictures of any of the Ibis species found here, i.e. Glossy Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis.
As usual, there was plenty of Little and Intermediate Egrets, Grey and Purple Herons, Spur-winged Lapwings, Ruffs and Wood Sandpipers in the rice fields. There were also still plenty of Yellow Wagtails skipping around. The occasional Abyssinian Roller or Western Grey Plantain Eater (strange name in my opinion, why not simply call it Grey Turaco?) flew by. But no Ibises as far as the eye could reach.
The first more interesting thing I saw was a Red-necked Falcon, with a small bird, probably a Weaver or something similar, dangling in its claws. The Falcon landed in a large Eucalyptus tree, and started ripping the feathers from its already dead prey. I stopped, and took some photos out of the distance as the small raptor chugged down portions of bird flesh.
Red-neckad Falcon with prey
After a while, the Falcon took off, perhaps to find a more secure feeding place. I continued down to the river Niger. On this spot, there are some huts standing, with some families living just beside a side arm of the river. Under a tree an unshy Red-billed Hornbill was searching for food, and I got a couple of close up shots. A women greeted me loudly in Djerma, waving her hand. It was obvious that she wanted a cadeau, a gift from the rich anasara arriving with his large camera. I gave her only my smile and a courteous Matenigo? (How are you?) before continuining down to the water side.
There were very many Squacco Herons around, unusually many. I tried to focus on them flying around, but my Canon EOS 5D is slow aquiring focus on flying subjects, especially if there is a landscape in the background, not the open sky. Once stuck to the background, it refuses to focus on the bird, even if the focussing point is held on the bird a considerable time. You must refocus, meaning that you have to let go of the AF-button (I use the *-button on the back of the camera) and press it again, while the fosussing point have to rest on the bird. Not an easy task. Here my usual birding camera, the EOS 30D, is better, it refocusses automatically after a sorter time than the 5D (or that's at least my impression). Unfortunately, the shutter of my hardly two year old 30D has a problem, so it rests at home in the cupboard, and will have to be repaired on my next trip to Europe.
Anyway, I managed to get some photos sharp.
Inbound Squacco Heron
While observing the Herons, a metallic blue bird emerged out of the thickets, flying over the open water. I didn't manage to take in all the details of it, but I suppose it was an Allen's Gallinule, it was too small (I think) for a Purple Swamphen. The bird disappeared in high waterside vegetation. Shortly afterwards, I saw a Great Bittern flying in the distance, and i thought "Wow, this day turns out great after all!". This was only the second time I saw the Great Bittern in Niger, and first time this year. But the day wasn't finished with that.
Suddenly a bird flew over the water, it had the size of a small dove. I had never seen it before, but realized immediately that it was a Little Bittern. I turned the camera on its tripod, and managed to get one snapshot of the bird, as it disappeared in the thickets (again struggling to find focus with the 5D).
Little Bittern, landing in water side vegetation
Thrilled, I realized that I had just seen a new bird species, and one that is difficult to spot, too.
Before I left the spot, I again saw something I hadn't seen before: a swimming African Jacana. Normally these bird walk placidly around in the water side vegetation, but they do not hesitate to take to the wing. But this bird had chicks, and perhaps they could not yet fly. Anyway, it was a cute sight, reminding me of the Mallards and ducks in the ponds at home in Europe, as they swim with their chicks at their tails.
An African Jacana swimming in the river Niger, followed by her chicks
So, the day didn't give any Ibises, in fact I didn't see any at all, perhaps they have all left for their breeding grounds. But the sighting of the two Bitterns, especially the little one, was a great experience.
© Ulf Liedén