Learning all over again: Paris to Yaounde
YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — Africa, Africa, I am in Africa. I arrived just a day ago; things haven’t really begun sinking in. Today was awful for birding. I saw and heard so many things, but I couldn’t stop and look. Pied Crows, with their deep croaks and bold markings, are the only things I have identified with total certainty so far. I’m pretty sure that the little mannikins are Bronze Mannikins, and I think I may have discovered two or three species new to science. (Alternatively … well, you can probably figure out the alternative for yourself.)
I have very little context or framework for interpreting the birds I see here. Nearly 10 percent of the world’s birds have been recorded in Cameroon, and that much information is extremely difficult for the human brain to process all at once. I can only trust that the picture will become clearer day by day, as it did in North America, and as it did in the South Pacific.
Before we arrived, Fjord and I stopped off in Paris for two days. I was surprised by the paucity of information (at least, information in English) about birding in Paris, so I’d decided just to see what I could find on my own. We stayed in the heart of the city, a few blocks from the Seine, and I soon gathered that this is not ideal location for observing birds. I didn’t get to spend much time birding (after all, there’s so much else to see!), but in the end I found 12 life birds, most of them passerines related to familiar North American taxa. It was good to see birds I’d heard about for so long, like Common Blackbirds and Blue Tits. I had my first accentor (a Dunnock) and wagtail (a female Grey), and I saw pigeons at Notre Dame.
Downtown Paris is such a busy, crowded, noisy place that finding birds is very difficult. One of the better spots I found was the eastern side of Jardin du Luxembourg, where there is a small Statue of Liberty replica. There, the trees are tall and the undergrowth is allowed to flourish, and it is quieter. There are some nice trees adjacent to the Eiffel Tower, but I didn’t see much activity during the few minutes we were there. We didn’t have long in the Jardin des Tuilleries, but it looked like it might be decent. That is where I saw my life Dunnock. Walking along the Seine is not terribly productive, but it is definitely better than the city streets. We saw a few Eurasian Magpies, a Blue Tit, and the Grey Wagtail (a rather confusingly plumaged female) in this way. Water birds were quite scarce, consisting of a few Mallards and Herring Gulls with one young Common Black-headed Gull.
Partway up the Eiffel Tower, I noticed this bird lying dead. Apparently, it collided with the tower and died. As far as I can tell, it is a Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix), but the bright orange legs trouble me a bit. Does anyone have any feedback on this?
A Rock Pigeon takes its place among the ancient gargoyles high atop Notre Dame. Even here, Rock Pigeons are considered an introduced species. They are abundant and fearless.
These were the pigeons that interested me more, however. Wood Pigeons (Columba palumbus) are huge — noticeably larger and heavier than Rock Pigeons. Their long tails and habit of flapping then gliding in flight can make them look almost raptor-like.
And here’s a video clip of a Wood Pigeon near Notre Dame: