08 April 2024

The spirit of the night

02 December 2023 - Murara Pitta Camp; Day 7

Our group were still euphoric when we met for coffee at 4:30 in the dark and we stayed a little later at the camp to try and get the Orange-winged Pytilia that are sometimes seen around sunrise. The other group departed earlier with Siraj for the hour drive back to the valley for the last try for the Pitta and we wished them all the best, but the pressure/anxiety was palpable. 

Shortly after they departed, a pair of Pytilia put in a brief appearance and came in to the bird bath for a quick drink before disappearing - it was still gloomy, so the light was a little flat, but we were all more than happy

Orange-winged Pytilia (Pytilia afra)

Shortly after, a Grey-backed Camaroptera put in an appearance

Grey-backed Camaroptera (Camaroptera brevicaudata)

For the morning drive, we were with Derek and Thalane - we stopped again at the Lala Palm outside camp and got better images (especially with the camera on the right settings) of the Collared Palm Thrush

Collared Palm Thrush (Cichladusa arquata)

Next stop was a low level bridge where we tried again for Thick-billed Cuckoo - no luck with this Cuckoo, but plenty of other good birds whilst we waited, including African Golden Oriole

African Golden Oriole (Oriolus auratus)

African Goshawk

African Goshawk (Accipiter tachiro)

a fly over African Cuckoo

African Cuckoo (Cuculus gularis)

A few White-fronted Bee-eaters

White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides)

and a single Böhm's Spinetail, at last in half decent light

Böhm's Spinetail (Neafrapus boehmi)

We then headed to another site on the river for Red-throated Twinspot, but had no luck. A bonus was stunning views of African Cuckoo-Hawk that passed by close overhead. Lots of birds with 'African' in their names this morning.....

African Cuckoo-Hawk (Aviceda cuculoides)

We then crossed the dry river bed to try another spot and this time had some luck with the Twinspot's, although they were far from obliging staying hidden in a dense thicket

Red-throated Twinspot (Hypargos niveoguttatus)

At the same spot, we had a Livingstone's Flycatcher - a real charismatic little species

Livingstone's Flycatcher (Erythrocercus livingstonei)

and Southern Carmine Bee-eater

Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides)

We tried again for the Snake Eagle and Dickinson's Kestrel on the drive back to camp without success, but did have a lone Shikra. 

Shikra (Accipiter badius)

Once back at camp, we could now really celebrate as a group as Siraj had found a Pitta for Richard, Shirley, Billy and Gayleen - so that was really fantastic news. Most had a siesta at lunchtime, but I did some birding around the camp, finding a much more obliging pair of Livingstone's

Livingstone's Flycatcher (Erythrocercus livingstonei)

As well as a juvenile Eurasian Golden Oriole

Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)

Red-billed Firefinch at the bird bath

Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala)

and these African Migrant's enjoying some moisture in the parking area, spot the Yellow Pansy imposter

African Migrant (Catopsilia florella)

African Yellow Pansy (Junonia h. cebrene)

Richard, Glynn and I had an afternoon drive with Derek finding a single Grey-headed Parrot, the only one for the trip 

Grey-headed Parrot (Poicephalus fuscicollis)

and later a Chestnut-backed Finch Lark in Mosoka Village

Male Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix leucotis)

Another drive down the dry river bed looking for the Snake Eagle, but finding only a small herd of Ele's which was also great to see

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

We headed back to the small waterhole to wait for sunset. There were a few Green Pigeons in a big fruiting tree, but pretty well camouflaged 

African Green Pigeon (Treron calvus)

Along with Trumpeter Hornbill

Trumpeter Hornbill (Bycanistes bucinator)

We picked up a single White-headed Vulture drifting by overhead

White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis)

We setup our chairs on the perimeter of the waterhole before sunset enjoying the birds coming down to drink; Purple Indigobird - both male and female. I was trying to turn the female into a Zambezi - but I think I have the ID right as Purple.

Female Purple Indigobird (Vidua purpurascens)

Male Purple Indigobird (Vidua purpurascens)

Female Long-tailed Whydah, more straight forward to ID

Female Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (Vidua paradisaea) 

Red-billed Firefinch

Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala)

Woodland Kingfisher

Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)

and of course the masses of Quelea's were still present

Red-billed Quelea (Quelea quelea)

As the sun was setting, the G+T's came out and we agreed on our new plan (2 spotlights, but still at 12800 ISO) to see and photograph another magical and mystical species that appears like a ghost out of the darkness and glides and flies silently around us while also drinking from the pool on the wing. 

This is probably one of the most challenging photographic challenges and experiences that you could wish for. We scratch our heads on how we can get better results in these conditions (probably fill flash) but are still thrilled with the results we do get of another iconic species. Meet the stunning Pennant-winged Nightjar....no excuses for the barrage of images

Male Pennant-winged Nightjar (Caprimulgus vexillarius)

Female Pennant-winged Nightjar (Caprimulgus vexillarius) drinking on the wing


There were a few Square-tailed Nightjar's in the mix

Square-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus fossii)

And a few Bats - not sure of the species

Bat sp.

This really was a truly special experience to end off our fantastic and rewarding stay at the Murara Pitta Camp that gave us many epic species and so many memories. On the drive back to camp, a Hare on the airstrip

Hare sp.

and then into camp for our final night over dinner, although our celebration was a little subdued, as adrenaline had now been replaced by fatigue.

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