Friday, June 11, 2010

Birds of Lake Xau - 1964

Reading Smithers (1964) Checklist of birds of the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Caprivi Strip gives one an insight into conditions in the country during the middle of the last century. Particularly fascinating is his account of birds at Lake Dow (Xau) – the frontispiece of the book depicts a Gull-billed Tern foraging over Lake Xau, a Category A rarity (seen less than 10 times in recent years). Here are some of the waterbirds seen at the lake during the late fifties and early sixties, and which may be seen there again when the lake floods in future:

Pink-backed Pelican – January 1959 many were seen in immature plumage
African Darter
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Squacco Heron
Black Heron
Great Egret
Yellow-billed Egret
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Goliath Heron – individuals in immature plumage seen in January
Saddle-billed Stork
Marabou Stork – seen in flocks of 50 at a time
African Sacred Ibis
Glossy Ibis
African Spoonbill
Lesser Flamingo – no nests of this species found at the Lake
Fulvous Duck – occurs in large numbers, January 1959, flocks of 200 at a time
Egyptian Goose
Spur-winged Goose
Comb Duck
Cape Teal – a few seen on Inkokwane Pan near Lake Dow
Red-billed Teal – in huge flocks
Hottentot Teal – common, occurring in flocks of upwards of 50
Southern Pochard
African Fish-Eagle
Purple Swamphen
Red-knobbed Coot
Wattled Crane
Grey Crowned Crane
African Jacana
Water Thick-knee
Kittlitz’s Plover
White-fronted Plover
Chestnut-banded Plover – an immature, hardly able to fly, taken on 18 January
Caspian Plover
Greater Painted-snipe
Black-winged Pratincole
Grey-headed Gull
African Skimmer
Gull-billed Tern – recorded in January 1959
Whiskered Tern – in breeding plumage December 1962 and January 1963
Kurrichane Buttonquail – breeding 15 January 1959, c/4 fresh
Yellow Wagtail – particularly common at cattle kraals
Sedge Warbler
Lesser Swamp-Warbler
Southern Red Bishop – in breeding plumage
Yellow-crowned Bishop – in full breeding plumage in January
African Quailfinch

This variety of birds needs a diversity of habitats, including open water, reeds and sedges, aquatic waterweeds, and short grasslands near water, all of which would have been found around the lake fifty years ago. Difficult to imagine, isn’t it?

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