Readers’ wildlife photos

October 19, 2014 • 11:51 pm

Reader John sends us oodles of photos from The Gambia, and I’ve stuck a lizard (my own photo) in at the bottom:

Having recently returned from NYC, the reported US cases of Ebola has prompted me to try and highlight the indirect impact of the virus on the West Africa country of The Gambia via your Readers’ Photo slot.

Gambia is the smallest country in Africa and despite being surrounded by countries affected by the ravages of the virus, it has remained free from the disease. However, it is now suffering adverse economic impacts because many who normally travel there during its relatively short tourist season, are staying away. This very poor country will find it very difficult with one of its main economic drivers so badly affected. I am in regular contact with friends in Gambia who are confirming their plight.

The Gambia has a terrible history associated with slavery – your older readers will remember Arthur Haley’s Roots story which begins in 1767 when his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, is kidnapped from the banks of the River Gambia at Juffura – and I have met some African Americans visiting to retrace their own ‘roots’.

On a brighter note, it is also known for its fabulous birdlife which makes it a popular destination for many European ‘twitchers’ because of the varied mix of resident African and Euro-Asian migratory species.

The most spectacularly colourful are the iridescent, and aptly named, beautiful sunbirds (Cinnyris pulchella) which appear to occupy the same nectar-eating niche as hummingbirds. The first three photos are of the brighter male with one of the drab female.

1 Beautiful Sunbird

2 Beautiful Sunbird

3 Beautiful Sunbird

4 Beautiful Sunbird

Sticking with colourful species, the yellow-crowned gonolek (Laniarius barbarous), red billed fire finch (Lagonosticta senegala) and two species of flycatcher, African paradise (Terpsiphone viridis) and black-headed paradise (Terpsiphone rufiventer), lurk in the rainforests adding bight flashes when they appear.

5 Yellow Crowned Golonec

6 Red Billed Firefinch

7 African Redbellied Flycather

8 Paradise Flycatcher

I have included two owls, Firstly the diminutive (only 6 inches) pearl- spotted owlet (Glaucidium perlatum) and the catlike African Scops Owl (Otus senegalensis)

9 Pearl Owlet

10 African Scops Owl

There are many species of Roller; I have picked the ubiquitous Abyssinian Roller (Coracias abyssinica) and this one hunted the beach outside our hotel.

11 Abysynian roller

And of the many Kingfisher species, I include the spectacular Giant (Megaceryle maxima) and the agile hovering Pied (Ceryle rudis)

13 Pied kingfisher

12 Giant Kingfisher

 The last bird is a wader, the Senegal thick-knee (Burhinus senegalensis)

14 Senegal Thick Knee

And Professor Ceiling Cat snapped this lizard yesterday at the castle at Vileka Tarnovo, Bulgaria. I have no idea what it is, but ten to one someone will tell me soon.



37 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. The lizard is (almost certainly) a male of Podarcis muralis, the common wall lizard.
    An most of these Gambian birds are beautifully colored – but the one I prefer is the Scops owl. Looks diabolic.

        1. There are a number of Scops Owls that occur in Africa but most have very restricted ranges centred far away from the Gambia. As far as I am aware, two species are likely to be found in the Gambia, Otus scops senegalensis (Scops Owl/African Scops Owl) and Otus leucotis (White-faced Scops Owl). The latter has a very distinctive thick black margin to the face mask which is missing in this individual. The owl in the photograph is assuming the very characteristic alarm posture of the Scops Owl.
          So, I think the ID is correct.

  2. Lovely photso all. By the way, at present the links are off – they lead to a UC log in page…

    I would have guessed that the Terpsiphone rufiventer was a fly catcher from the curious cat-like whiskers, similar to a …(wait for it…) – nightjar!

    1. Those whiskers are known as rictal bristles, and speaking from experience, that’s a term you want to be very careful of using any place that has autocorrect.

      From Cornell’s All About Birds website:

      Rictal bristles project from the beak of many insect-eating birds, including flycatchers, nightjars and even the American Robin. They are believed to provide protection for the bird’s eyes as it consumes its wriggly prey. The bristles may also provide tactile feedback, like the whiskers on a dog or cat.

        1. 😀

          Thanks again for the wonderful bird photos. As an avid birder, The Gambia has now zoomed to the top of the list of places I’d love to go to.

          BTW, I’d not known that there was a “the” in the country’s name.

          1. I hesitated to send Jerry more photos but it truly is a birders paradise, the list of species is amazing. We’d planned to go again this Xmas but Ebola has prevented that. We also have lots of friends there and give direct support for food and education so being unable to see them is disappointing. The latest messages we are getting are quite desperate as it becomes clear to them that the tourist season is unlikely to happen this year.

  3. Yup, Podarcis muralis, that’s the chappie found in the wild area of our garden and hunted by our quartier’s cats especially a huge, long-haired, black and white beauty by the name of Tiggie who apparently is ‘trop gros’ to hunt birds. 🙂

    Though I wouldn’t call the scops owl diabolic, I wouldn’t call it angelic either, more inscrutable than anything else, just like a cat. Beautiful raptor!

  4. Bird feast! What a wonderful trip if one can shoot all these erotic fellows… And the spooky lizard, how’s professor ceiling cat treating you? :)))

  5. The second owl is not Otus senegalensis, but the Northern White-faced Owl (Ptilopsis leucotis). Formerly there was a single White-faced Owl placed in the genus Otus, but it has now been splitted in two species (Northern and Southern) and the genus name has been changed to Ptilopsis…

    And Podarcis muralis (Common Wall Lizard) for the lizard.

  6. Beautiful birds!! I love those sunbirds – so similar to hummingbirds in their bright colours.

    The red billed fire finch looks remarkably like a fancier house finch (which are also red).

    I wish we had lizards here where I live. We do have salamanders, some rare ones too, but they are difficult to locate.

  7. I love being introduced to new species. All these are new to me. Beautiful colors and shapes. My favorite too is the Scops owl. The reason it looks sort of diabolical is it reminds me of Nazgul, the Ringwraith from Lord of the Rings. Random, I know.
    I also love the “whiskers” on the black-headed paradise.
    Cool lizard!

    1. I am sorry to have to disagree on this one, but the owl is definitely not an African Scops Owl. It can look quite pale, but not as ghostly white as the individual pictured here. And looking closely, you can see the black frame around the face, it is mostly hidden by the feathers, because of the somewhat erect and slender position adopted by the bird. Also, the shade of black in the tufts is a feature only shown by White-faced Owl, not by African Scops Owl. Finally rhe abundant feathering around the bill also pleads in favour of Northern White-faced, instead of African Scops Owl.
      Anyway, really cool photos…

      1. I’ve gone back to my other owl photos and I see what you mean. There is one of the African white faced owl in which the black frame is partially obscured by the white face feathers. I’ll go back and change my catalogue and next time I see my guide, David Bird, (yes that’s his real name) I’ll let him know.

  8. European wall lizards occur in the U.S. around Cincinnati and neighboring areas from an introduction years ago from the release of 10 pets. They also occur in Vancouver, B.C. from introductions.

  9. Gambia is the smallest country in Africa and despite being

    One of my university friends and later colleagues (he’s been working in northern Iraq for the last few years, but seems to have got out while the getting was good) took a road trip to Gambia some years ago under the title of the “Plymouth to not-Dakar Rally.” The principle difference with it’s better known Parisian antecedent is that the vehicles were required to carry all crew, tools and spare parts on board, and the equipment budgets were capped at £150.
    It sounded quite entertaining. If getting out of the Saharan sun by climbing under the vehicle to replace the prop shaft is your idea of a good time.

    1. I have only been to the airport in Gambia ( Banjul?) eons ago and IIRC the runway was one of those metal fold-out numbers…Could I be imagining this?

      Typo ergo sum Merilee


      1. It’s now a proper airport, though small. The country’s infrastructure is lacking and appears mostly concentrated on tourism. In Banjul accommodation isn’t quite shanty town, but it’s basic. Despite all the challenges, people still smile .. That’s why it’s nicknamed ‘smiling coast’

      2. Banjul is right, but my friends drove into the country, and drove out in a bus to Guinea before leaving from Conakry. I believe the bus was intended to go to Cape town, but I don’t know if it (or that party) got there. They could be still on the way – 10-year detours happen all the time in Africa.

        1. I was in theory flying NYC- Dakar – Freetown when over the blower they say we will shortly be landing in Banjul. Banjul??? Never heard of it. This was in the days of hijackings ( early 70s) so it was a little scary. The airplane seatback pouch map had Bathurst as the capital of Gambia. I guess the name had recently changed, but there was NO stop on my itinerary between NYC and Dakar. Anyhoo, it was nonetheless apparently a planned stop, and relatively uneventful. A fire engine came screaming out to the plane. Apparently the engine had just been donated and they were taking it for a spin. No fire. A few years later, friends told me, the same fire engine burned to the ground. Travels in Africa tend to have unplanned adventures.

          1. My last but one trip out of Cotonou (Benin) started badly with me commenting to the colleagues waiting in the lounge on the bolts of horizontal lightning stretching the length of the visible horizon.
            Our (3 or 4 of us, in different parts of the plane) flight got struck by lightning about a half-hour after take off, and we diverted for an emergency landing to Abidjan. Bit of a nightmare of getting the revised flight schedules sorted out.
            It came as little surprise that Air Algérie Flight 5017 had tried dodging a storm – they can obviously be nasty. Whether that was the cause of the crash is yet to be determined.

  10. The Senegal thick-knee is quite the magician what with that stem appearing to go through its throat !
    Or this one…
    The Senegal thick-knee is pretty nonchalant looking for having a pierced throat !

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