Wild Birds are busy chaps, waking up early not just to catch the worm, but to hunt to catch the worm. The worm is in essence a real worm or grain or fish or frog or snail or termite or ant, just to mention but a few. This food gives the birds the energy to go about their lives which other than the feeding, hence growth, also includes breeding, territorial protection/contests and enemy or predator escape. The birds therefore try to budget where they can on their energy use, using it as sparingly as possible where necessary.
Breeding is one of the processes in birds’ lives that demands a lot of energy. Usually it involves displaying at courting, nest-bulding, mating, egg-laying, incubating the eggs, hatching and taking care of the young or hatchlings till they are able to fend for themselves. Birds wil therefore start breeding only when they are at their best in health of which being well-fleshed is a measure. This is only attained during and after a rainy season. The breeding process wil only be succesful if there is food to nourish the breeders and their young. This again is most probable after rains.
At the close of March, Bunyala had experienced modest heavy showers literally characterizing the nights that I was there during my March-April survey. As I continued with my counting of furadan-poisoned dead birds, I realized progressive increase in numbers of birds that were getting ready to breed. In birds, change of plumage is typical at breeding. The birds’ photos below, some already used in other posts illustrate this well. but let’s just take a closer look:
The Wood Sandpiper above was luckily not poisoned by the time I spotted him (or her). He is most likely heading back to northern Europe in the hope of succesful parenting season. he looks good! The indication that he is ready for breeding is the intense spotting on the back graduating to prominent barring on the flanks. A non-breeding bird would be less mottled and lacking the grading to bars on the flanks. I hope he has not been poisoned as I write!
The poisoned Cattle Egret above is likewise in its breeding plumage, ready to breed when the rains rescind. Usually the Cattle Egrets are white plumaged and dark-legged when they are not breeding. This casualty has in addition to the white plumage a wash of orange colour on the head and upper back or mantle(the photo with many poisoned birds). Its upper legs have acquired the orange colour and the lower legs, if not already orange but just scoured by the water and the egret knee-high stalks of the cut rice plants, then they are gradually acquiring it as well (photo with egret only).
These furadan-poisoned Ringed Plovers have the bright colour traits typical at breeding. Check the rich yellow-orange on their legs and bill base. This rich yellow-orange colour is lway duller in non-breeding birds. No doubt they are ready to breed. but they just got killed!
And so I am left sad not so certain of what this means. It is disturbing that the poachers are killing birds that have survived aginst the tough conditions of nature, through the taxing drought and when they are just about to bring forth another generation, they are murdered!
Clearly, food conditions seem to be favouring the birds but the poachers are the ones ruining this good fortune.The eagle above is an immature Black-chested Snake Eagle gradually moulting into adult plumage. Conditions must favour its moulting, more so availability of food because the process is energy demanding. Well, the grasslands of Bunyala especially around the rice scheme are sustained by the irrigation, overflow spillage waters . Snakes must thrive about the irrigation scheme in proximity to the frogs, one of the snakes’ favourite meals. And so the young eagle is moulting into an adult with the high-energy requiring moulting process fueled by the snakes and birds. The moulting is evidenced by shorter central tail feathers. These are new growth feathers with richer colour definition. Progressively, the rest of the outer tail feathers will also drop off and be replaced. Likewise, the flight feathers slightly on the outside from mid wing, on the trailing wing edges look shorter with richer colour definition. These are the innermost of the so called Primary flight feathers. These are very important for a bird’s flight.The moulting will progress outwardly and give the bird a grown look. In time, he should be able to breed. Good luck Eagle!
Many of you might have just brushed aside the birds above as a cosy couple of African Open-billed Storks. Please take a look again at the seemingly shorter bird. The tall, standing bird is no doubt an Open-billed Stork, but theo ther bird is a Hadada Ibis! It is a shock the two hung about each other for so long, foraging together and pacing about together. I could not help thinking this was a case of coupling misfiring! By this I just mean mismatched pairing by mambers of different species. But taking a closer look at the Open-bill, he is quite spotted on the neck with the bill colour not a nice horn colour that would be typical of a full-grown bird. He is therefore a young bird, may be traumatized following the loss of parents most likely to furadan poisoning before he was of age to care for himself. Probably, he is deriving solace from a berieved mother Hadada, left childless, possibly after also losing her young to Furadan poisoning. The Hadada Ibis is shorter and has a bill that is more curved and narrows towards the end. You see this now?
So many of the African Open-billed Storks have been poisoned using Furadan that I am afraid how long the local population will stand. I intend to establish trends of the local population of White-faced Whistling Ducks, otherwise Tree Ducks which at the moment are not directly targeted for poisoning because of their greatly reduced numbers. It is said the ducks local population has been pushed to numbers in single digits in the area by Furadan poisoning. With the reduced numbers, the poachers turned to African Open-billed Storks. It is true, what used to be at least 20 strong flocks as the locals say, during my recent surveys I only see 5 individuals on the average, in a span of more than 10 days!
The pair above look cosy and normal in the sense that both are Open-billed Storks. I can only wish them luck this breeding season.
Please keep reading.