Unusual sightings near Boni National Reserve

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Boni and Dodori National Reserves in the far east of Kenya, and Boni and Lunghi forests between them, are little-explored but biodiversity-rich. A team from National Museums of Kenya and Nature Kenya carried out a brief bird survey in the area last month. Exciting sightings included mammals such as the endangered Aders’s Duiker and newly found Sengi (Elephant-shrew). Several birds were range extensions, and one bush shrike could not be identified from the guide books.

The team comprised Timothy Mwinami, Martha Ngala, Sandy Oduor, David Ngala, Fleur Ng’weno and three guides/guards from the Awer community. Simon Musila of NMK is advisor to this Conservation Leadership Program project.

On 6 November 2013 at about 7 am, the team reached Banahalisi, an area of low Acacia woodland interspersed with patches of dense scrub on white sand, on the road between Mangai village and Kiunga town.

A loud crackling call that we did not recognize exploded like a firecracker from the bushes. We found the bird making the call, observed and photographed it.  Several birds were observed throughout the day. The next day we tried to catch the bird in a mist net, but the bird avoided the net by flying over it – three times.

The bird was a bush shrike, the size and stance of a Tropical Boubou or a Tchagra: fairly big, with a relatively large head and medium-long tail. It was basically black above and white below, with a prominent white stripe above the eye and a prominent long white patch along the wing. The crown was edged in black, but grey in the centre, with the grey extending to the nape and upper part of the mantle. One bird had a dull rufous area on the grey nape; the others did not.

These bush shrikes foraged in bushes, on the ground with Rufous Chatterers, and in mid-canopy of acacias. They made several sounds, including the loud crackling, a tac-tac-tac similar to a boubou, and a few musical notes usually answered by a crackling call.

The team was unable to find this bird in Birds of Africa, Birds of Africa South of the Sahara, or Birds of the Horn of Africa. However, Don Turner kindly read my notes and replied: “Your bird is an aberrant form of the Red-naped Bush Shrike, race kismayensis, which is common there. Normally it just has a grey back, but clearly the grey has extended on to the nape in place of red.”

A quick check of National Museums of Kenya collections revealed only two specimens of Red-naped Bush Shrike, an adult from Somalia and an immature from Kiunga. They looked smaller, with rufous napes, and with more white spots than the birds we saw.

The team therefore plans to catch the bush shrike and take detailed photos and measurements. A report on the survey will be published.

Note: On 2 November 2013 the team made its way through dense thickets on red sand along Sankuri Ridge. There we had brief views of another bird, also a bush shrike, but brown above and white below, with a prominent long white patch along the wing. It foraged on the ground, in bushes and in trees. Our observations were too scanty for a detailed report.

BY FLEUR NG’WENO

 

Photos by Timothy Mwinami; field sketch by Fleur Ng’weno