Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Botswana's National Bird List

The recent addition of the Angola Cave-Chat to the Southern African bird list, and the ‘rediscovery’ of the Green Tinkerbird after a hiatus of 55 years, brings home clearly the dynamic nature of bird movements and distribution. Even in well-studied areas, bird checklists are always changing with the addition of new species and, regrettably, the removal of those which no longer occur. This recently-past Christmas and New Year has been an exciting time for birders in Botswana too. Just prior to this period, the BirdLife Botswana Records Subcommittee announced the acceptance of four additional records to the Botswana National Bird List: they are Lesser Yellowlegs, Rosy Starling, Shelley’s Sunbird and Long-tailed Pipit. This brings the current total for Botswana up to 591 species. However, this total is likely to be increased soon once the Christmas/New Year observations have been scrutinized by the Records Subcommittee. Andy Solomon couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw an African Pitta in his back garden in Maun, and had the good sense to call Mark Muller and Richard Randall to corroborate his sighting. The nearest regular locality for this elusive forest species is western Zimbabwe, but it is known as a migrant which sometimes overshoots its range and ends up in unexpected places. Photographic evidence of the bird’s presence was obtained, and this means that confirmation by the Records Subcommittee is something of a formality. On New Year’s day, an Isabelline Wheatear was seen at Lesoma, another exciting record! This presence of this species in Botswana has been somewhat controversial to date, with a claim by Hockey (1988) being subsequently rejected by the Botswana Bird Club Records Subcommittee (as it was then known - see Herremans, 1997). However, like the pitta, this is also a migrant, and so can pitch up in central and southern Africa irregularly. This is in fact a new record not just for Botswana, but for southern Africa, since previous records are in doubt. An Eastern Nicator from Kasane during December 2012 completed the trio. This is normally a tropical, coastal species which in this case, has probably moved up the hot, humid Zambezi Valley where suitable riverine woodland and thickets exist. It has previously been recorded regularly in extreme western Zimbabwe not far from the Botswana border i.e. it is extralimital, but its presence in Botswana is not entirely unexpected. It is important to emphasise that the jury is not yet out on these observations; nevertheless the point remains that birders who spend their Christmas birding are likely to be rewarded by very exciting sightings!

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