The African rhythm

2007 June 26
by David J. Ringer

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — There are signs of new life everywhere. Fledgling bulbuls beg from the shrubbery, and a rusty African Paradise Flycatcher follows its mother around. The male flycatcher, spectacular in white and glossy blue-black, has all he can do to look after his ribbon-like tail streamers. Young sunbirds are beginning to show patches of color, and they are learning to sing. They are fiesty too, as if trying to establish themselves in the world.

Once, I saw a young African Pygmy Kingfisher, given away by its black, white-tipped bill. Mostly, I see the red-billed adults — kingfishers indeed, but no bigger than a warbler. From their perches in the trees, they bob with a rhythm that seems endemic to Africa. It lives in the bones of the people too, waiting to come out as soon as someone starts to sing.

But there are signs, too, that new life is not always allowed to flourish and thrive. I saw a Pied Crow kill an unidentified nestling last week, and it was with something akin to grief that I discovered the rape of the Blue-spotted Wood Dove’s nest yesterday. The young doves that I’d watched nestling into their mother’s breast are gone, taken, no doubt, by the Pied Crows.

Meanwhile, the Yellow-fronted Canaries sing from the treetops, as if attempting to drive away the early morning clouds. Grey-backed Camaropteras skulk low in the vegetation, looking after their fledglings. Life goes on.

Early this morning, on my usual pre-workday bird walk, I took a slightly different route. A small, streaky seedeater on the ground looked suspiciously like a female Pin-tailed Whydah, a species I’d been hoping to see for weeks. But there are many small brown birds in Africa, and I did not feel sure. But then — a distant silhouette through the branches. And then something black, white, fluttering, chasing the brown bird I was watching. A few more passes and there he was, settling down to feed on weed seeds just a few yards away.

A pied bird with black tail streamers at least half again the length of his finch-sized body. Orange-pink bill munching small seeds. Ah, there are indeed many things to love about Africa.


I managed to get a brief video clip of the whydah (Vidua macroura) when it flew up to a fence.


And here’s a brief video clip showing Bronze Mannikins (Lonchura cucullata). The light isn’t great but you can just make out the green iridescence on their shoulders and heads.


This is a portrait of a young Splendid Sunbird (Cinnyris coccinigastrus). The adult males really are splendid — jet black with blue, green, red, and purple iridescence. This youngster is well on his way, but he looks a little scruffy yet.


Speckled Mousebirds (Colius striatus) never cease to entertain me. In the second part of this clip, you can see a mousebird hanging vertically from a palm frond as it preens. This is a fairly common posture for the species. Sometimes, they will hang together in tightly packed little groups, as if they were leftover Christmas ornaments.

Related posts:

  1. African Paradise Flycatcher
One Response
  1. June 30, 2007

    Lovely! I envy you.

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