Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chatting with Robins

White-browed Robin-chat (Cossypha heuglini). Vegetation by Lake Kivu,
Rwanda. This is also a common bird at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

One of the tricky aspects of bird lingo is that some common names do not carry over from location to location. In addition, some birds have names because of similar looking birds, but are not even classified in the same family. For example, one might assume that the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) and the European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) are closely related. Not so! They are actually classified in different families, with the American Robin in Turdidae (which contains Thrushes and other similar birds) and the European Robin in Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers). 

East Africa contains examples from both families, and they are delights!

African Thrush (Turdus pelios). Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda.
Turdidae

White-browed Scrub-robin (also called Red-backed Scrub-robin) 
(Cercotrichas leucophrys). Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Spotted Palm-thrush (also called Spotted Mourning-thrush)
(Cichladusa guttata). Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Familiar Chat (Cercomela familiaris).
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Capped Wheatear (Oenanthe pileata). Short-grass plains outside Lake
Manyara National Park, Tanzania.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Some Old World Flycatchers are very difficult to see as they live in the under story of dense forests. For example, Michele and I saw the White-bellied Robin-chat and Archer's Robin-chat in Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda only because our guide heard their songs and had us wait for them in small openings into the forest. In Tanzania, in the West Usambara Mountains, we heard several thrushes and eventually found a spot deep in the woods where two species were feeding on a mob of ants. Despite being maybe 5 meters away (approximately 15 feet), we saw a White-chested Alethe while missing out on seeing the endemic Usambara Akalat that was also right there! In Uganda, while we saw some very nice species, it was frustrating to hear the Blue-shouldered Robin-chat several times, but never pick it out in the leaves and shadows. Not surprisingly, I have no pictures to represent this group except for the picture of the White-starred Robin (below).

White-starred Robin (Pogonocichla stellata). Nyungwe Forest, Rwanda
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Males and females of some thrushes, like the species above, look exactly the same. Others are sexually dimorphic, which means that males and females look different from each other. The species pictured below this paragraph are all sexually dimorphic and when possible, I have included a picture of both sexes.

Arnott's (White-headed Black) Chat (Myrmecocichla arnotti). Near
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda. This male has a white cap
but the female has a black cap and instead a white throat.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) (male). Agahozo-Shalom Youth
Village, Rwanda. There is wide variation in this species, and there may
be more than one species involved (European stonechat, African stonechat).
While stonechats do migrate to Africa during the European winter, we
also have observed them at Agahozo year-round.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Common Stonechat female at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Sooty Chat (Myrmecocichla nigra) (male). Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village,
Rwanda. I am told that this is a rather uncommon bird in Rwanda. We have
at least two pair that breed at ASYV. I see them almost everyday, birding
or not.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)
Sooty Chat female at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda. She is
less dark than the male and has no white wing patch.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Mocking Cliff-chat (Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris). Lake Manyara
National Park, Tanzania. The female is dark grey (not black) and does
not have white on the wing or breast.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

Schalow's Mourning Wheatear (Oenanthe lugens schalowi ) (male).
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania. The female is lighter brown with
streaks on the breast and does not have the contrasting body/head color.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

And if you really want to confuse things, the Yellow-breasted Chat of North America is classified as a warbler... but that's another story!!!

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