Col Roberts to launch an exciting new coffee table book on Australian Finches.

8 Apr
Gouldian Finches

Gouldian Finches. For some finch enthusiasts these birds are considered to be the most beautiful finches in the world. These finches can be seen in northern Australia

Blue headed parrot finch

A Blue faced parrotfinch. This species can be seen in the Cape York Peninsula in north Queensland. They can also be seen in New Guinea and on many of the small islands to the north of Australia

Masked Finches

Masked Grassfinches can be seen across northern Australia and the top end of Western Australia

Bloods

The Crimson Finch, or as some refer to it as the Blood Finch,can also be seen in northern Australia plus also the south-eastern corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria which is in Queensland

Owl Finch

The Double-barred finch , or sometimes it’s referred to as a Bicheno or Owl finch, can be seen across a broad band from north Western Australia all the way across to north Eastern Australia.

Masked and Grass finches

A group of Long-tailed grassfinches with a masked finch and a Double-barred finch

A01T5072

A Red-eared Firetail. This species can be seen in a very small part of south western Western Australia

 

Painted finches are quite often seen on rocky outcrops in western and central Australia. Photo Col Roberts

Painted finches are quite often seen on rocky outcrops in western and central Australia.

World class finch photographer Col Roberts, from Western Australia, is currently working on producing an exciting new coffee table book on all 24 Australian grassfinches and mannikin species and subspecies. Col has already captured 15 of the species and is busy criss-crossing Australia in search of the remaining birds

The Master at Work. Col Roberts from Western Australia. Photo taken by Eelco Meyjes in the Kruger National Park on an RFCG EcoTour in 2013

This is what Col had to say about his plans for his exciting new book. ” The aim is to produce the best finch photography book primarily with anecdotes of my observations in the wild. It is not a scientific book or one containing a huge amount of text. I want to let the photos do the talking.It will be a high quality book with over 300 pages of stunning images. A lot of the photographs will show behavioral scenes such as feeding on seed heads, young etc. The book is about two years away and is scheduled for publication late 2017 / 2018.” The good news is that Col will be donating a percentage of sales to the Rare Finch Conservation Group. If you are possibly interested in putting your name down for a book please contact him at 1roberts@tpg.com.au and let him know that you read about the exciting news on our RFCG blog. At this stage it is still too early for him to give any idea on what the final cost will be. This book will undoubtedly be the definitive photographic book on all the Australian Grassfinches and Mannikins.

Col Roberts by profession is a magistrate and a full member of the Rare Finch Conservation Group. We thank him for supporting the group with his brilliant photographic work.

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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Australian Black-throated Finch Recovery Team position statement

4 Apr
Black-throated finches are monomorphic. Sexually they look the same, but a very well trained eye will be able to see the difference. Photo courtesy Geoff Jones

Black-throated finches are monomorphic. Sexually they look the same, but only a well trained eye will be able to see the difference. Photo courtesy Geoff Jones

Position statement regarding the threat to the Black-throated Finch by mining, infrastructure development and associated changes to land management in the Galilee Basin.

 

The range of the Black-throated Finch ( southern sub-species ) ( Peophila cinta cinta ) has contracted substantially from its historical extent and the total population of the species is greatly reduced. As a consequence it is listed as Endangered under Queensland, New South Wales and Commonwealth legislation.There has been an observed decline in extent of occurance of upto 59% over the last decade. The largest populations known to persist are on the Townsville coastal plain and in the Galilee Basin. The former is at risk from land use and is declining at an alarming rate. The latter is at high risk from mining development.

The largest known populations of Black-throated Finches occurs on Moray Downs and surrounding properties, north-west of Claremont in central Queensland. It consists of several hundred individual birds. A core part of the habitat utilised by this population is within the 28,000 ha footprint of the Carmichael mine. The Carmichael mine is proposed as a combined open-cut/underground operation. It has long been known that Black-throated Finches are persistently present in this area and at densities higher than elsewhere. The site provides a large area of habitat of exceptional quality- intact woodlands, historically light livestock grazing, woodlands and high grass diversity. A total of 87 square kilometers of Black-throated Finch habitat will be cleared and destroyed through the creation of the open pits, and a further 61 square kilometers of habitat may be degraded beyond repair due to ground water draw down caused by the underground mining.

Since 2004 the Black-throated Finch Recovery Team has been responsible for developing and co-ordinating the implementation of the BTF Recovery Plan by encouraging efforts to protect important habitat, and retain populations of the Black-throated Finch. The Recovery Team consists of people of a wide variety of backgrounds , affiliations and expertise, including research scientists, land managers, state and Australian government agency staff, environmental consultants and non-government organisations . It is the informed view of the Black-throated Finch Recovery Team that the Black-throated Finch is under very serious threat from planned mining developments in the Galilee Basin and , in particular, the Carmichael mine project. Assessment processes conducted to date have not accurately reflected the national significance of the population or the substantial threats now posed to this population. The measures proposed to manage the mitigate against the threats are inadequate.

A key element of proposed mitigation measures is the establishment of offset areas. Offset measures will not compensate for loss of habitat. This is because any prospective offset that consists of suitable habitat will already be supporting Black-throated Finches and so cannot provide habitat for displaced birds. If it is not currently occupied by Black-throated Finches.

The above is a Black-throated Finch Recovery Team position statement issued to the media. Black-throated Finch Recovery Team. PO Box 1168. Aitkenvalle, QLD 4814. email: admin@blackthroatedfinch.com. http://www.blackthroatedfinch.com 

The above article was reproduced from FINCH NEWS 2016 March issue, the official publication of the Queensland Finch Society Inc, PO Box 1600, Coorpaco DC 4151, Queensland Australia


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Great new sponsorship announcement

2 Mar
Dr. Hanneline Smit-Robinson from BirdLife South Africa and Eelco Meyjes from the RFCG seen next to the small is BIG FIAT 500

Dr. Hanneline Smit-Robinson from BirdLife South Africa and Eelco Meyjes from the RFCG seen next to the small is BIG FIAT 500

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is extremely proud to announce that Arnold Chatz Cars , from Hyde Park Johannesburg, have sponsored a FIAT 500 , the world’s most exciting small car, for the SAVE AFRICA’S SMALLEST FINCH, the orange-breasted Waxbill conservation project. This project is a proud collaboration with BirdLife South Africa. The small is BIG car will be used to help raise the public awareness of this important new conservation project primarily in the Sandton and Johannesburg areas.This exciting little small is BIG car will also be seen in the Cape Town and Kruger National Park areas in the next two weeks.

Why small is BIG ? Africa’s smallest finch is a small bird with a big responsibility that is destined to make it a BIG HERO.

Photo Chris Krog

Photo Chris Krog

Recent unexpected declines in the Orange-breasted Waxbill (Amandava subflava) has resulted in the urgent need for the species to be researched. Research has already commenced to find out why the bird has become so scarce in certain parts of its natural habitat. The species has now also been selected by BirdLife South Africa as a key sentinel (watchdog) bird for South African wetland bird species’ including eight threatened and 84 common bird species. The eight Red-listed species, ranging from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered, plus all 84 common species will all benefit from our research collaboration.

The 8 threatened species as listed in the updated 2015 Eskom Red Data book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland are as follows :OBW news-12-2014f 8 THREATENED SPECIES

 

 The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. All donations will be publicly acknowledged , unless otherwise requested, on the RFCG website. Donations can be made to the following account. Rare Finch Conservation Group, Nedbank. Account number 1933 198885 Branch : Sandown 193 305 South Africa ( For international donors please add ) SWIFT NEDSZAJJ.
For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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Only a few places left on the expedition to help search for Africa’s most elusive finch

22 Dec
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Uganda. Photo. Simon Espley

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. Photo Simon Espley

What is Africa’s most elusive bird species ? By Dr.Chris Lotz

When asked the question “what is Africa’s most elusive bird species”, most birders would answer that it must be any of the flufftails, which are, of course, notorious. Or, perhaps they might answer that it could be one of the two pitta species lurking on this continent. But, given a systematic approach, it is actually quite possible to find and even photograph every single flufftail species given a few weeks of travel across Africa and Madagascar. Even the Critically Endangered Slender-billed Flufftail can be reliably seen with a bit of effort – As for the pittas, they certainly aren’t in any way easy, but we usually do find both species annually – our success rate for African Pitta in Mozambique and Green-breasted Pitta in Uganda must be about four in five attempts. At the start of the breeding season, we have exact stakeouts for these jewel-like species and so we’ve kind of “mastered” them and they no longer escape us.

Fewer birders would guess that the bird that we simply can’t find is a splendidly-colored finch occurring at extremely low densities in a tiny part of central Africa.

Shelley's crimsonwing. Photo courtesy www.gorilla.org

Shelley’s crimsonwing. Photo courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

While local birding guides in Uganda report the species every couple of years, there are only three known photos of the bird in the world. ( All are held in the hands of a field researcher and all are cock birds. There are currently no known photo references of a hen bird ) And we have never found one on any of our tours yet (despite the fact that we do marvelously well on all the other rare and localized species in the region). The finch we are talking about is the Shelley’s Crimsonwing (Cryptospiza shelleyi), an Albertine Rift Valley endemic with a total world population estimated at anything between 2500 and 10000 individuals.

The Albertine Rift is a westward branch of the famous Great Rift Valley, and it boasts a large number of endemic bird species occurring only in a tiny part of Africa where four countries meet: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The forested mountains of the Great Albertine rift valley

The forested mountains of the Albertine Rift . Photo Eelco Meyjes

The beautiful and spectacularly bio-diverse, forested mountains of the Albertine Rift straddle the border regions of these four countries. Shelley’s Crimsonwing is one of these Albertine Rift endemics skulking in the undergrowth of the mountain forests here. The DRC is a dangerous place to visit, and most birders focus on either Rwanda or Uganda when they want to find this rare finch. (But find the bird they don’t…!)

Classified as Vulnerable by Birdlife International, Shelley’s Crimsonwing is so poorly-known that scientists do not even have much of an understanding why it is so rare, and why it is apparently declining (also with very fluctuating numbers from year to year). The guess is that habitat destruction by humans is the main culprit, but it has also often been said that the species might be declining due to natural causes, albeit mysterious and puzzling ones!

Where to look for it:

  • We wish we knew!
  • However, it is known (among other places) from the following legendary birding forests (all of which are also famous for mountain gorilla trekking
    • Threatened Mountain Gorilla ( Gorilla beringei.beringei ) photo taken by Cheryl Mares and kindly donated to the RFCG

      Threatened Mountain Gorilla ( Gorilla beringei.beringei ) photo taken by Cheryl Mares and kindly donated to the RFCG

      Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda

    • The Mgahinga Gorilla Reserve straddling the border between Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC – this is often considered a top site within Uganda for the crimsonwing, but the reserve is often inexplicably ignored by many birding tour operators. But, we do visit this site annually, partly because it is one of the most accessible sites for the incomparable Rwenzori Turaco (which we reliably DO find, unlike the crimsonwing!). With the spectacular Virunga Volcanos as a backdrop, Mgahinga is certainly not an unpleasant place to spend a couple of days…!
  • Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda – this is where several sightings over the last few years have been, including a nesting pair that gave a good number of birders a look (practically “twitchable”) – but one also has to understand the story might have been exaggerated like a fishing tale (no photos were taken!). The long walk down to Mubwindi Swamp at the Ruhizha section of Bwindi – compulsory for seeing another of Africa’s most desirable birds, African Green Broadbill – is probably best. The good news about Bwindi is there are no less than 43 finch species that can be seen in this tropical rain forest.

Why not join us in August 2016 to help look for Africa’s most elusive finch ? Only a few places left.

Day 1: Aug 22. Arrival at Kigali in Rwanda and drive to Kisoro in Uganda stay at Travelers Rest X4 nights.

Day 2: Aug 23 Birding Mgahinga.

Mgahinga Gorge. Photo John Groom

Mgahinga Gorge. Photo John Groom

Birding Mgahinga Gorilla Reserve. This is one of the classic sites for Shelley’s Crimsonwing but even though we’re spending three full days here and two full days at its other classic site, we guess that the chances of actually finding Shelley’s is perhaps one in four. Hopefully the spectacular Rwenzori Turaco and the great scenery (ancient volcanos) will entertain us regardless. And, with lots of luck, who knows we might even encounter gorillas which freely cross the nearby borders into the DRC and Rwanda as this reserve straddles three countries! Please note that the main aim of this expedition is to try and find and photograph Shelley’s Crimsonwing so we’ll very much spend the bulk of our time looking for this mega-elusive species – this means driving to the reserve each morning and walking a lot, sometimes uphill quite a lot (at both sites, Mgahinga and also Bwindi).

Day 3: Aug 24 Birding Mgahinga

Day 4: Aug 25 Birding Mgahinga

Day 5: Aug 26 Birding to Ruhija.

Ruhija area. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Ruhija area. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Ruhija in the famed Bwindi Impenetrable Forest boasts over 20 Albertine Rift endemics including African Green Broadbill – and of course good old Shelley’s. If we don’t find Shelley’s, there are three other crimsonwings in this forest. It’s also one of the world’s best-known sites for Mountain Gorilla, but if you want to see that then we suggest you join the Aug 1-19 birding and primate trip – as the current trip is a “hardcore” Shelley’s trip.

Overnight at Trekkers Tavern. Ruhija. Bwindi

Day 6: Aug 27 Birding in Ruhija. Overnight at Trekkers Tavern

Day 7: Aug 28 Birding in Ruhija.Overnight at Trekkers Tavern

Day 8: Aug 29 Transfer to Kigali and departure.

The cost is based on basic clean accommodation and meals, land cruiser vehicle with driver and fuel, guide fees, park entrance fees and drinking water in the car.

The land cruiser upon which the prices are based is the typical East African one with a popup roof, but not the newest one – and without air conditioning. This is the norm in Uganda. A surcharge would be payable for a truly good vehicle.

US$3738 per person sharing for a group of 4-5 paying participants, or $3230 for 6. There will be a small single supplement for those preferring a single room or if we can’t find someone to share a room with you. A separate price can be quoted if a Gorilla trek needs to be included.

This price includes a 10 % conservation donation to the Rare Finch Conservation Group which is a registered non-profit organisation.

We would like to try and get photos and sound recordings of the Shelley’s finch, one of Africa’s rarest finches. We plan to be as close as possible to the sites we feel are best for the species. We’d like to try and get publicity for this rare species (which will hopefully help its conservation). The trip will naturally also look at other bird and finch species in the area, but our main focus will be to try and find and see the threatened and elusive Shelley’s.

Take advantage of one of two great Africa EcoTour options linked to the Shelley’s Expedition

Join a birding and primate tour of Uganda from 1 -19 August before the Shelley’s Expedition starts, and / or  join a Namibia, Botswana, Vic Falls tour after it. ( Maximum 8 per group ) Details of both trips are at ihttp://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-uganda-gorillas-and-chimpanzees-in-12-days-2015-2?type=country&where=Uganda  and / or http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-namibia-okavango-and-victoria-falls-18-day-2016please note that while the latter trip is usually run later in the year, if we get at least four participants, we will add another departure of this trip from Sep 1-18, 2016.

Please e-mail info@birdingecotours.co.za for more details on the Shelley’s Expedition and the exciting two Birding Ecotour options to experience and enjoy Africa at its very bestBE logo artwork

Founded in 2005 The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation. It is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches. All donations will be publicly acknowledged , unless otherwise requested, on the RFCG website. Donations can be made to the following account. Rare Finch Conservation Group, Nedbank. Account number 1933 198885 Branch : Sandown 193 305 South Africa ( For international donors please add ) SWIFT NEDSZAJJ.
For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za


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A great new photo of a Shelley’s crimsonwing

30 Oct
The world's third known photograph of a Shelley's crimsonwing.Photo Chicago Field Museum. Co-workers David Willard and Tom Gnoske

The world’s third known photograph of a Shelley’s crimsonwing.Photo Chicago Field Museum. Co-workers David Willard and Tom Gnoske

A new photo of a male Shelley’s crimsonwing

A so far unknown photo of a male Shelley’s crimsonwing was recently found. It was taken in 1990 by coworkers of Chicago’s Field Museum, an institution with a long-standing interest in African birds. Although the photo is 25 years old, it adds to our sparse knowledge of the most elusive of the four Cryptospiza species, but it also reminds us of what we do not know.

The (probably mist-netted) bird was hand-held and the photo was taken from an angle giving a dorso-lateral view of the male.

Shelley's crimsonwing. Photo courtesy www.gorilla.org

Shelley’s crimsonwing. Photo courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

This is a different perspective compared to the other two known photos, providing a lateral or ventral-frontal view. Why is this exciting? Because we get an impression of the back plumage. Interestingly, there is a slight yet significant difference compared to the back plumage that I know from museum skins of male Shelley’s crimsonwings.

The extent of the red colour seems lesser than on the skins that I know and possibly also lesser than on the other two photographed males.Apart from that, the red of the nape and hindneck is patchy, interspersed with patches of olive green feathers. It is tempting to speculate that the photo shows a relatively young bird in its first year, and that the red plumage parts of the males become more extent and intense as the birds get older.

The world's second known photograph of a Shelley's crimsonwing cockbird. Photo Colin Jackson

The world’s second known photograph of a Shelley’s crimsonwing cockbird. Photo Colin Jackson

Another aspect that caught my attention is the relatively broad white base of the beak. Its extent seems significantly broader than in the other two photos, and it may also be a feature associated with the age of the bird.

Another thing that is starting to puzzle me is the fact that the photo again shows a male bird. While this may still be pure chance, it may also be the result of differences in behaviour or spatial occurrence of the sexes that may make males more likely to being caught in a mist-net than females. And why were always single birds netted? The other crimsonwing species mostly appear to travel in pairs or small flocks. Does Shelley’s behave differently? Or were the females incubating eggs at the time when the three known males were caught? An alternative explanation may also be that the female population is in fact smaller than the male population.

It would be great to make contact with people at The Field Museum (Chicago) and find out more about their observations during expeditions to the Rwenzori mountains in the 1990s. Published expedition reports indicate that a larger number of birds (up to 20) were netted during an expedition in 1990/1991, and it would be a very valuable source of information to learn more about the circumstances under which this occurred. Where did the birds occur in such large numbers? This would be extremely valuable information for the RFCG in our quest for one of Africa’s rarest and most mysterious birds that has been ongoing for 10 years now.

Prof. Sven Cichon, PhD

Basel, Switzerland

Professor Sven Cichon

 Founded in 2005 The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. All donations will be publicly acknowledged , unless otherwise requested, on the RFCG website. Donations can be made to the following account. Rare Finch Conservation Group, Nedbank. Account number 1933 198885 Branch : Sandown 193 305 South Africa ( For international donors please add ) SWIFT NEDSZAJJ.
For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za


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