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Archive for the tag “african birds”

A Year of Birding

A Year of Birding

H. Bradford

dscn0360

One of my many New Year’s resolutions last year was to try a few new hobbies.  One of the hobbies that I tested out this year was birding.  Birding, or the act of observing or listening for birds, is pretty interesting.  The average age of a birder is 53 years old.  According to a report from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (2013), 30% of birders are over the age of 55.  23% are between ages 45 and 54.  Thus, this is a hobby where I am actually on the young side!  About 50% of birders make over $50,000 a year, so it seems to be a hobby for people with more money than the average American, myself included.  About 56% of birders are women, though perhaps this is because there are more older women than men.  88% of birders are backyard observers of birds, whereas 38% are birders who travel at least a mile to view birds (there is overlap between these groups).  As a whole, the average birder is probably an older, white female, with above average income and education, who lives in the urban south.  This is a hobby that is not known for its appeal to people of color, youth, working class people, the LGBTQ community, etc.  Despite the lack of diversity, there are several reasons why I was attracted to birding.  1.) It is an easy going, outdoor hobby.  2.) I like to make lists.  3.) It is an example of citizen science, since birders can play a role in collecting scientific data about birds. 4.) Birds are basically feathered dinosaurs…so, birding is modern day dinosaur tracking.  Finally, despite the fact that it is a hobby for those with more income, I was able to do birding just my eyes and a guidebook.  I did most of my birding on trips that I was already taking (so I did not take the trips with the purpose of birding, but chose to look out for birds while travelling), with some birding done locally.  Next year, I would like to take advantage of more local birding opportunities.


My year of birding began with a birding hike at Jay Cooke State Park.  The hike did not yield many birds, though we did see many chickadees, crows, nuthatches, and woodpeckers.  The next boon for birding was when an ivory billed gull appeared in Duluth.  The bird was usually found in the Arctic, but found itself outside of its range.  When I heard that it had been spotted in Canal Park, I awoke early one morning to see if I could catch it.  Sure enough, I spotted it on the Lakewalk near Grandma’s Restaurant.  I visited it several more times over the next few days.  Getting up early to see the wayward gull made me feel like a “real” birder, since I was joined by people with binoculars and fancy cameras.  After seeking out the gull, my birding mostly consisted of trying to record the birds that I saw in my backyard.  I think that this is one of the most appealing things about birding.  For most of my life, I have been pretty indifferent to birds.  But, once I started paying attention, I noticed that the world was abundant with bird life.  There is a secret world of birds all around us.

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Bird watching enhanced my trip to Africa.  I kept my eyes peeled for birds, which I recorded in a journal throughout the trip.  I would sketch them out or photograph them so that I could compare them to the birds in my guide.  There were so many wonderful birds!  I remember seeing my first flocks of flamingos as well as the large flocks at Walvis Bay, Namibia.  It is strange to see wild birds that you would normally only get to see in zoos.  Other highlights included spotting African spoonbills and Marabou Storks.  Maribou Storks are bald headed storks which scavenge dead flesh.  There were colorful Malachite kingfishers and bright Lilac breasted roller birds.  I saw several species of hornbills, which was very iconically African.   There were herons, ibises, egrets, and a variety of other waterbirds.  In all, I spotted 63 species of birds in Africa.

While Africa was probably the best birding experience I will ever have, I had another fun experience while visiting my brother in Texas.  I went to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.  My family spent about two hours here, but it was not enough time for me, so I stayed for several hours longer while they enjoyed lunch and a waterpark.  During my trek along the boardwalk, I spotted Great Blue herons, Roseate spoonbills,  Brown Pelicans, osprey, Tricolor herons, Snowy egrets, etc.  It was amazing how similar the birdlife was to the birds that I spotted in Africa.  While the species were different, many of the birds in Texas either filled similar ecological niches or were local species of the same birds.  For instance, South Padre Island had Roseate spoonbills rather than African spoonbills.  I spotted Anhinga in Texas and African Darters in Namibia and Botswana.  Both are similar looking darters with long, snake like necks and jagged dark feathers that they dry in the sun.  Although unrelated, the caracara that I saw alongside the road reminded me of a Secretary bird in its coloration and eating habits.  Of course, I saw a variety of egrets in Texas as well.  The cattle egrets that I saw in Africa are the very same species that I saw in Texas.  The bird spread with the spread of humans and domesticated animals.  Though, the cattle egret is a relative newcomer to Texas, having only arrived in the 1960s.  The Great egret spotted at the park is almost identical to the Great egret spotted in Africa, though they are different subspecies.  The Caspian tern is also found in both Africa and Texas.

I am still at the very beginning stages of learning about birds.  However, perhaps by the time I am 53, the average age of a birder, I will be well-versed in the world of birds.  One appeal of birding is that it is basically an endless scavenger hunt.  Some birders compete to see how many birds they can identify in the world or in a country in a single year (this is called a Big Year).  I think that this year may be my own “Big Year” as I doubt I will see as many species in a year as I saw this year!  This year also helped to give me a start on my Life List, or the list of birds that a birder has seen in their lifetime.  In all, I probably saw over 130 species of birds this year.  To me this seems like a lot, but it is small compared to the 10,000 species of birds in the world!

With that said, here is the list of birds that I have seen this year.   I will eventually go back and organize the list using scientific names.  Otherwise, the count may go up, as I plan on participating in the Christmas bird count:

 

Texan Birds:

  1. Willet
  2. White Winged dove
  3. Mockingbird
  4. Forester’s tern
  5. Redhead duck
  6. Crested caracra
  7. Great tailed grackle
  8. Common grackle
  9. House sparrow
  10. Harris’ Hawk
  11. Sanderling
  12. Black-bellied Plover
  13. Brown Pelican
  14. American coot
  15. Great Blue heron
  16. Roseate spoonbill
  17. Little blue heron
  18. Northern pintail
  19. White ibis
  20. Great egret
  21. Laughing gull
  22. Common gallinule
  23. Blue wing teal
  24. Osprey
  25. Least tern
  26. Long billed curlew
  27. Black necked stilt
  28. Snowy egret
  29. Tricolor heron
  30. American wigeon
  31. Mottled duck
  32. Spotted sandpiper
  33. Clapper rail
  34. Turkey vulture
  35. Belted kingfisher
  36. Anhinga
  37. American white pelican
  38. Carolina Wren

African birds

  1. Blue waxbill
  2. Southern ground hornbill
  3. Black collared barbet
  4. Hammerkop
  5. Gray lorie (Goaway bird)
  6. Egyptian goose
  7. Secretary bird
  8. Red billed hornbill
  9. Black Winged lapwing
  10. Crimson breasted shrike
  11. Cardinal woodpecker
  12. Pied kingfisher
  13. Bank cormorant
  14. Spur winged goose
  15. Little bee eater
  16. Fish eagle
  17. African jacana
  18. Malachite kingfisher
  19. Red Collared widowbird
  20. Ostrich
  21. Greater flamingo
  22. Cape gannet
  23. Reed cormorant
  24. African darter
  25. Sacred ibis
  26. Helmeted guineafowl
  27. Cape sparrow
  28. Sociable weaver
  29. Cape white eye
  30. Karoo korhaan
  31. Great white pelican
  32. Great white egret
  33. Yellow billed hornbill
  34. African pied wagtail
  35. Red eyed bulbul
  36. Dark canting goshawk
  37. Cape glossy starling
  38. Pied crow
  39. Kori Bustard
  40. Green wood hoopoe
  41. Dark capped bulbul
  42. African Spoonbill
  43. Lilac Breasted roller
  44. Marabou stork
  45. Red billed oxpecker
  46. Squacco heron
  47. Gray heron
  48. Cattle egret
  49. Purple heron
  50. White faced duck
  51. Gray headed gull
  52. African Skimmer
  53. Yellow billed stork
  54. Caspian tern
  55. Laughing dove
  56. Magpie shrike
  57. African crowned eagle
  58. Trumpeter hornbill
  59. Black kite
  60. Hooded vulture
  61. Fork tailed drongo
  62. Black crake
  63. Red winged starling

Local Birds:

1.Black capped chickadee

2.White breasted Nuthatch

  1. American Crow
  2. Northern Flicker
  3. Blue Jay
  4. Dark eyed junco
  5. Downy Woodpecker
  6. Hairy Woodpecker
  7. Ivory Gull
  8. Common loon
  9. Canadian goose
  10. Snow goose
  11. Mallard Duck
  12. Killdeer
  13. Cedar Waxwing
  14. Pileated woodpecker
  15. Ruffed grouse
  16. Ruby throated hummingbird
  17. Red winged blackbird
  18. Ring billed gull
  19. Barred owl

22.American goldfinch

  1. Double crested cormorant

24.Mourning dove

  1. American robin
  2. Northern Cardinal

27.Scarlet Tanager

  1. Common redpoll

29.Tundra swan

  1. Wild turkey
  2. Common merganser

 

 

My African List

My African List

H. Bradford

This past summer I went on an overland tour of Southern Africa.  This involved traveling on bumpy, dusty roads for hours on end and camping.  It also involved travel with two dozen strangers from around the world.  The social part of travel is always very challenging.  I don’t make friends very easily.  If everyone is an ice cream flavor, perhaps I am avocado, cardamom, or red bean ice cream.  SOME people may like these ice cream flavors, but few crave them.  Time and time again, I have been stuck with groups of strangers.  I have watched from the sidelines as strangers become friends.  I have seen people who hardly knew each other, part in tears.  There are hugs and sorrowful farewells.  All the while, I am empty and alone off to the side.  The My Little Ponies were right: friendship is magic.  I have seen the magic do its mysterious work all around me, but so rarely on me.  That is how I feel when I travel with groups.  I feel that everyone will become friends and that I will leave alone, just as I arrived.  Ireland, Russia, Korea, Eastern Europe, the Baltics…for the most part, this is the most common outcome.  I certainly have friendships that I cherish, but struggle to make friends when I am plopped together with strangers.  Most of my friends are fellow socialists, atheists, feminists and activists.  However, I don’t find too many of these folks when I travel (unless traveling for a specifically political purpose).  So, like many times before, I found myself with a group of strangers.


The strangers around me were certainly interesting.  They were nice people.  I could converse from time to time.  However, I didn’t really connect, as it often happens.  While the others began to have more fun with each other, becoming more comfortable…I could feel myself drift further away.  So, I began reading and just looking out the window of Ottis, the behemoth of an overland vehicle.  Everything outside of the window was fascinating and unfamiliar.  There were scrubby deserts of giant aloes, mountainous orange dunes, cruel spiked plants, and brightly colored birds.  Everything was strange to me.  As strange as a Dr. Seuss book.  All of the trees.  Every bird.  All of the stars in the sky.  I decided that I wanted to know everything.  I craved knowledge.  I hungered to know the names of all the unknown things that surrounded me.  Thankfully, I brought a guidebook of southern African animals, plants, and birds with me.  I began to make a list.


It wasn’t long before the list became an obsession.  By the time we arrived in Etosha National Park, I used our lunch breaks to wander around the campsite trying to painstakingly identify all of the trees and birds I could find.  I walked alone, baked in the midday heat, looking at leaves and bark, trying to compare what I saw to the guidebook.  Of course, this made everything very exciting.  While the others became excited when they saw lions or zebras, I started to become elated each time I could add anything to the list.  Even a new mouse or weasel was exciting.  I actually was more enamored by the ensemble of three species of vultures I saw in a tree, than the lionesses eating a giraffe below them.  Three more birds to add to the list!  Some animals, reptiles, or birds moved too quickly to be identified, which was met with immediate disappointment at the lost opportunity.  In the Okavango delta, I found almost a dozen species of butterflies in one area.  I spent a few hours chasing butterflies, waiting for them to land and spread their wings so I could quickly eye their markings.  As a result of all of this classification work, I quickly became more competent in the natural world around me.  I could identify birds or trees that I had seen earlier in the trip.


Socially, the list didn’t win me any friends.  However, it made me stand out.  It suddenly became a trope in the group.  Each time a new species was seen, it was pointed out to me so I could add it to the list.  Or, from time to time, I pointed out species to others.  I was the weird girl with the list and a “junior naturalist.”  The list opened up some conversations and questions.  Did the list connect me to them?  More likely it set me more apart, as I was in my own little African scavenger hunt.  I am sure the list was an emblem of my supreme nerdiness.  At the same time, the list made each moment more meaningful.  It gave me a goal.  I obsessively searched for more creatures to add to it.  I decided that I wanted to document 200 species.


The list was also a ritual and distraction.  Sometimes things were a little challenging.  We often awoke early each day.  I was usually the first person awake, as I wanted first dibs on the shower or bathroom.  This meant that most days began in the wintery darkness of 5:30 am.  Sometimes it was earlier.  Each day involved setting up and taking down a tent.  Again, this was usually in chilly darkness, as the winter sun rose late and set early.  The day’s weak heat disappeared very quickly in the dry, cloudless sky.  There was also some cleaning and food preparation that needed to be done.  Rolling up sleeping bags.  Packing and unpacking.  Jostling for long hours on extremely bumpy roads, sometimes through choking clouds of dust.  There was no heat or air conditioning.  Everyone had a pretty good attitude.  But, I think that the other group members obsession with wine and daily drinking was a way to cope with some of these hardships.  Because I don’t drink, I had no similar comfort.  My list was my best distraction.


With that said, here is the list, with a few notes on some of the species.

Birds:

  1. Blue waxbill
  2. Southern ground hornbill
  3. Black collared barbet
  4. Hammerkop
  5. Gray lorie (Goaway bird)
  6. Egyptian goose
  7. Secretary bird
  8. Red billed hornbill
  9. Black Winged lapwing
  10. Crimson breasted shrike
  11. Cardinal woodpecker
  12. Pied kingfisherfscn0934
  13. Bank cormorant
  14. Spur winged goose: This goose is not actually a goose, but in its own family.  It is also poisonous to humans because of its diet of blister beetles.
  15. Little bee eater
  16. Fish eagle: An iconic bird of the Okavango Delta.
  17. African jacana
  18. Malachite kingfisher: One of several kingfishers seen in the Okavango Delta.fscn0867
  19. Red Collared widowbird
  20. Ostrich
  21. Greater flamingo: I saw a flock of flamingos by Walvis Bay.
  22. Cape gannet
  23. Reed cormorant
  24. African darter: This bird has a neck that is slender and crooked like a snake.
  25. Sacred ibis
  26. Helmeted guinea fowl fscn1064
  27. Cape sparrow
  28. Sociable weaver
  29. Cape white eye
  30. Karoo korhaan
  31. Great white pelicandscn0360
  32. Great white egret
  33. Yellow billed hornbillfscn0514
  34. African pied wagtail
  35. Red eyed bulbul
  36. Dark canting goshawk
  37. Cape glossy starling
  38. Pied crow
  39. Kori Bustard:  Everyone called this a Kori “Bastard”  I corrected them on the spelling for popularity points.
  40. Green wood hoopoe
  41. Dark capped bulbul
  42. Spoonbillfscn0993
  43. Lilac Breasted roller: Probably the prettiest bird that I saw!
  44. Marabou stork: This was on my must see list.  It is bald headed, scavenger stork.fscn1055
  45. Red billed oxpecker
  46. Squacco heron: One of several herons spotted in the Hwange National Park area.
  47. Gray heron
  48. Cattle egret
  49. Purple heron
  50. White faced duck
  51. Gray headed gull: I was excited by this one, though everyone else had negative opinions of gulls.
  52. African Skimmer
  53. Yellow billed stork
  54. Caspian tern
  55. Laughing dove
  56. Magpie shrike
  57. African crowned eagle
  58. Trumpeter hornbill: A magnificent large hornbill spotted near Victoria fallsdscn1202
  59. Black kite
  60. Hooded vulture
  61. Fork tailed drongo
  62. Black crake
  63. Red winged starling

Mammals:

  1. Hyrax: It’s closest relative in the elephant!dscn0188
  2. Gemsbok: Survives on water from their food, thus surviving extreme dry conditions.fscn0491
  3. Springbok
  4. Kudufscn1348
  5. Cape fur seal: I saw hundreds of seals in a colony!
  6. Hippopotamus: These were first viewed from a canoe!fscn1283
  7. Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra
  8. Southern Right Whale
  9. Bottlenose dolphin
  10. Impala
  11. Elephantfscn0584
  12. Giraffe
  13. Plains Zebra
  14. Cape ground squirrelfscn0513
  15. Meercat
  16. Chacma baboon
  17. Red hartebeest
  18. Blue wildebeestfscn1322
  19. Black backed jackal
  20. Steenbok
  21. Black rhinofscn0600
  22. Honey badger:  There was a honey badger or ratel at the watering hole with a rhino.  Proof that the honey badger don’t care.
  23. Leopardfscn0712
  24. Slender mongoosefscn0774
  25. White tailed mongoose
  26. Banded mongoosedscf4007
  27. Aardwolf
  28. Spotted hyena
  29. Warthog
  30. Striped mouse: not the most exciting find.
  31. Vervet monkey
  32. Cape buffalo: The last of the big five that I saw. fscn1114
  33. Waterbuck
  34. Sable antelope: the largest of the antelopes fscn1019
  35. Lechwe
  36. Tree squirrel
  37. Elephant shrew
  38. White rhinoceros
  39. Cape hare
  40. Vesper bat

Invertebrates:

1.White lady spider: A large, terrifying white spider that lives in a tunnel.fscn0308

2.Broad banded yellow butterfly

  1. African monarch

4.Green veined chiraxes butterfly

  1. Painted lady butterfly

6.Orange tip butterfly

  1. Purple tip butterfly
  2. Red tip butterfly
  3. Scarlet tip butterfly (so, I basically saw several species of “tipped” butterflies in one area)
  4. Autumn leaf vagrant butterfly

11.Meadow white butterfly

  1. Gaudy commodore butterfly
  2. Guineafowl butterfly (a great name for a great butterfly spotted near Victoria Falls)
  3. Lion ant (one of the small five!)
  4. Common garden snail

Reptiles/Amphibians:

1.Painted reed frog

2.Tinker reed frog

3.Nile crocodile: It was pretty exhilarating seeing my first crocodile sluggishly flop into the cold, early morning water of the Okavango delta.fscn1343

4.Web footed gecko

5.Bushveldt lizard

  1. Bouton’s skink
  2. Common flat lizard
  3. Water monitordscn1106

Fish:

  1. Catfish (not sure what kind)

Plants:

  1. Wild sage
  2. Large fever berry
  3. Marula
  4. Night lily
  5. Day water lily
  6. Quivertree
  7. Camelthorn
  8. King protea
  9. Peach protea
  10. Tree aloe
  11. “Ostrich Lettuce”
  12. Mopane tree
  13. Bread leaf camphor
  14. Pencil Bush Euphorbia
  15. Paper tree
  16. Red thorn acacia
  17. Namaqua fig
  18. Broom karee
  19. Shepherd’s tree
  20. Strangler fig
  21. Crane flower
  22. Red grass aloe
  23. Red ivory
  24. Natal bottlebrush tree
  25. Papyrus
  26. Sausage tree:  (This was one of my must see trees!)
  27. Poison apple
  28. Lowveld clusterleaf
  29. Jackalberry tree
  30. Cape reed
  31. Rush- juncus krausii
  32. Sedge- cyperus dives
  33. Sedge- cyperus obtusi florus  (I was trying REEEEAL hard to get to 200)
  34. Wild hibiscus
  35. Tree fuchsia
  36. Boabab (Another iconic African tree)
  37. Leadwood
  38. Wild basil
  39. Khaki plant
  40. Khat
  41. Tree Euphorbia
  42. Candelabra tree
  43. Red milkwood tree
  44. Natal wild banana
  45. Tree wistaria
  46. Broad leaf ficus
  47. Zimbabwe teak
  48. Lavender tree
  49. Coral tree
  50. Ana tree
  51. Umbrella thorn
  52. Boer bean
  53. Transvaal Sesame
  54. Buffalo thorn
  55. Bead bean
  56. Nyala tree
  57. Small green thorn
  58. Giant raisin
  59. Greenstem corkwood
  60. Knob thorn
  61. Paperback thorn
  62. Morning glory (of some kind)
  63. River bushwillow
  64. Wild date palm

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