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Danish researcher shares two new important Shelley’s Crimsonwing photos with the RFCG!

4 Aug
 

Photo 1: Side view of a male Shelley’s Crimsonwing photographed in 1996 (courtesy Morten Dehn).

Photo 1: Side view of a male Shelley’s Crimsonwing photographed in 1996 (courtesy Morten Dehn).

Photo 2: Ventral view of the same bird (courtesy Morten Dehn)

Photo 2: Ventral view of the same bird (courtesy Morten Dehn)

Eureka! The Rare Finch Conservation group (RFCG) has received two new photos of a Shelley’s Crimsonwing!  The photographs taken in 1996 by Morten Dehn from Denmark represent a valuable addition to the sparse visual evidence of Africa’s rarest finch.

Shelley’s Crimsonwing (Cryptospiza shelleyi) is a colourful and elusive bird. Only a few people have ever seen a Shelley’s Crimsonwing in the montane forests of the Albertine Rift Valley, where it is endemic and categorized as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, checked on July 2016.

Although scientifically described more than 100 years ago (Sharpe, 1902), what we know about this bird is minimal, to say the least. Almost nothing is known about its natural behaviour, diet and breeding ecology. While it probably never was a very common bird, there is some evidence that the population has dramatically decreased since the 1970s; possibly because of on-going habitat destruction, but the reasons are unclear and require further investigation.

In 2005, the RFCG adopted the Shelley’s Crimsonwing as the rarest African finch to champion conservation actions and raise awareness  for the Shelley’s Crimsonwing. At that time, not a single photo of a live Shelley’s Crimsonwing was known to the RFCG.

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

Shelley’s crimsonwing. Photo courtesy http://www.gorilla.org 2008

Simon Espley, one of the founding members, found the first known photograph of a Shelley’s Crimsonwing on the homepage of The Gorilla Foundation (www.gorilla.org). The Foundation reported that they had mist-netted and photographed a male bird in the Virunga National Park (DRC) in 2008. Subsequently during 2009 and 2010 the RFCG, with funding kindly received from the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, started to do extensive fieldwork in search of Shelley’s Crimsonwing in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (Uganda). Unfortunately, no Shelley’s were found.

However, the attention of the first known photo and the report the RFCG published and shared with various important conservation organisations helped to raise public awareness for this species, which had been flying under the radar of many ornithologists, birders and twitchers for a number of years.

As a result of this exposure, the RFCG was contacted in 2014 by Colin Jackson, from Kenya, who reported that he had mist-netted and photographed a male Shelley’s Crimsonwing in 1997 whilst on a museum field expedition primarily surveying gorillas in the Virunga National Park, DRC.Colin very kindly donated his photo of the Shelley’s to the RFCG

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

Photo Colin Jackson taken in 1997

(http://africageographic.com/blog/the-only-two-known-photos-of-a-live-shelleys-crimsonwing/). Later, another photo of a Shelley’s Crimsonwing was uncovered by the RFCG at the renowned natural history museum, The Field Museum (Chicago, USA). Co-workers David Willard and Tom Gnoske of The Field Museum took the photo whilst on an expedition in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park in 1990 and 1991

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

Photo Chicago Field Museum. Co-workers David Willard and Tom Gnoske. 1990/1991

(https://rarefinch.com/2015/10/30/a-great-new-photo-of-a-shelleys-crimsonwing/).

The two latest photographs received , as seen above, were taken by Morten Dehn, together with his colleague Lars Christiansen, whilst doing their MSc work at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark performing a survey of the altitudinal distributions of montane forest birds in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda. During surveys between July and the beginning of December 1996, Dehn and Christiansen mist-netted birds in the Mubuku/Mahoma/Bujuku River valleys at altitudes between 2100 and 3000 m. ( These overlapped  the regions surveyed by researchers of The Field Museum in 1990 and 1991.). A total of five male Shelley’s Crimsonwing were captured. One of them was photographed from two different angles ( photos 1 and 2 above). The two researchers stated that Shelley’s was by far the rarest of the four Crimsonwing species captured during their survey, which yielded only 5 out of the 76 Crimsonwing captured.( The four crimsonwing species are ; Red -Faced Crimsonwing cryptospiza reichenovii , Abyssinian Crimsonwing Cryptospiza salvadorii, Dusky Crimsonwing Cryptospiza jacksoni and the Shelley’s crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi )

Like the other known photos, the bird was again hand-held when photographed. Photo 1 shows a side view, photo 2 a more unusual angle, allowing a ventral view that shows the under parts relatively well. This might be one perspective of the bird to be seen when encountered in the wild. Despite the colourful nature of the plumage, there is no doubt that the green, yellow ochre and black under parts provide good camouflage in the dense understory where the birds seem to linger most of the time. The red of the head and nape on this bird appears to be more even and continuous than what could be seen on the bird photographed by The Field Museum co-workers Willard and Gnoske in 1990 / 1991, suggesting that this may represent an older male. In particular on photo 2, the red of the head/nape really stands out and contrasts well with the greenish colour of the background. Therefore, if we were lucky enough to see a male  it would probably be the red colour that would catch our attention.

Although 20 years old, the photos kindly donated by Morten Dehn are a great find and confirm that awareness for this little-known species has grown and is reaching previously unknown people who have worked on Shelley’s Crimsonwing. They are able to add valuable data to our sparse knowledge.

Interestingly, all the known photographs were taken in the 1990’s, with the exception of the male Shelley’s Crimsonwing photo taken in 2008

During 1990, a total of 25 birds were mist-netted,  a number based on extensive research and publication consultation. Despite continuous efforts, the last 20 years have yielded only one male bird. Many experienced bird guides the RFCG talked to, who for many years have entered Shelley’s habitat every day, have never seen the species or say it’s extremely rare to see.

The estimated population size as stated in the IUCN Red List fact sheet for Shelley’s Crimsonwing is still 2,500 to 10,000. Conservatively, one may assume a population decline since the 1990s, based on the RFCG’s findings and conclusion after years of research and awareness campaigns.We urgently need more insights into the actual population size and distribution of Shelley’s Crimsonwing, its diet and its natural behavior to inform further conservation recommendations before this elusive and almost unknown species vanishes in silence.

Now that awareness is increasing, more people may try to take photos of a female bird, immature birds or perhaps even a nest. I cannot wait to see this.

For the RFCG: Prof. Sven Cichon, PhD (Basel, Switzerland)

Morten Dehn of Denmark, who together with Lars Christiansen did field work to survey the altitudinal distributions of montane forest birds in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda, back in 1996 (courtesy Morten Dehn).

Morten Dehn of Denmark, who together with Lars Christiansen did field work to survey the altitudinal distributions of montane forest birds in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda, back in 1996 (courtesy Morten Dehn).

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. 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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New Shelley’s sightings in Uganda

16 Aug
Public awarness poster at Ruhija Gorilla Mountain Lodge which is next to the Bwindi Impentrable Forest in Uganda. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Public awarness poster at Ruhija Gorilla Mountain Lodge which is next to the Bwindi Impentrable Forest in Uganda. Photo Eelco Meyjes

On the eve of the Rare Finch Conservation Groups 8 th anniversary it conducted a survey amongst all of its conservation partners to establish the exact status of the Shelley’s crimsonwing finch. BirdLife International , Uganda Wildlife Authority, Nature Uganda, Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Prof. Derek Pomeroy etc. all contributed and the great news is that in the past 18 months an additional sighting had been recorded at Ruhija. And 2 new sighting areas, in January a sighting in Buhoma , where the UWA Bwindi Impentrable Forest head office is, as well as in October 2012 a sighting up in the very Northern part of Uganda at the Rwenzori Mountain National Park. Conservation work is not about lofty ideals coming from an ivory tower or simply being an arm-chair critic. It’s all about working with and understanding why a particular species maybe threatened in a certain area and then very importantly engaging with the local community and its culture.

A map of Uganda. The Bwindi Impentrable Forest is in the bottom south western part of the country just above Rwanda and next to the DRC. The Rwenzori Mountain National Park is in the far northern part of the country next to the DRC and below the Sudan

Picture7In August last year public awareness posters were put up at Buhoma and it is our intention, funds permitting,  to soon put up public awareness posters in key areas surrounding the Rwenzori Mountain National Park. The more the local population and authorities in Uganda can be made aware of the rarity of the elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing the sooner one can expect greater local participation from relevant organisations to help find the threatened Shelley’s.  UWA Warden of Tourism at Buhoma, Godfrey Balyesima and RFCG birdguide and field manager Benson Bumatura in front of a Shelley’s public awareness poster Photo Eelco Meyjes

 

 

Photo Eelco Meyjes

A 1500 km fund raising ride was done from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Photo Eelco Meyjes 

Meanwhile in South Africa awareness of the Rare Finch Conservation Group, and its work , is steadily growing. Talks at birder clubs are taking place and events such as ultra long distance cycle rides and participation in one day cycle events such as the 94.7 in November are all helping to generate some much needed additional funds for the RFCG

If you would like to become a donor, sponsor or participate in one of our exciting fund-raising EcoTours then please contact Russell Kingston at indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes at editor@avitalk.co.za. The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation

Still after 8 years the World’s only known modern day photograph of the Shelley’s crimsonwing. Visual courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

Shelley now needs our help

2 Nov

Drawings of Mountain Gorillas done by young orphaned children at Buhoma village in Uganda which is where the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Head office is based. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Conservation work is not about lofty ideals coming from an ivory tower or simply being an arm-chair critic. It’s all about working with and understanding why a particular species maybe threatened in a certain area and then very importantly engaging with the local community and its culture. Life for those communities living on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable forest ( which as we know is home to the threatened and elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing ) is not easy. Many children have sadly been orphaned from parents dying of HIV/ Aids.

Orphaned children in Buhoma entertaining tourists to help raise some much-needed money. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Fortunately the orphaned children living at Buhoma village have been taught not to beg, but to rather have some self-pride and raise money by using their talents in the world of art, music and dance to entertain eco tourists that now visit Bwindi to do Gorilla trekking and birding activities. Most of the locals living around the forest are subsistence farmers. For many witchcraft is still very much a way of life. Living next to the tropical rain forest means that virtually anything they may wish to plant will grow. So the conflict of interests between man and wildlife over land usage is a reality that cannot be ignored. Locals for centuries have used the forest as a valuable source for building materials, food and traditional medicines etc. All this activity has led to an ever shrinking forest and a dramatic loss of habitat for the worlds last remaining Mountain Gorillas, not to mention other living species such as the Shelley’s crimsonwing that may have been affected by it.

The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest on the left. And a crop of tea planted on the outside of the forest. Mountain Gorilla’s don’t enjoy tea as part of their diet.

The locals often viewed Mountain Gorillas as a threat to their livelihood  On many occasions the gorillas would come out of the forest and raid the valuable life-sustaining crops. Needless to say retribution was  a reality. Today thanks to the outstanding educational work done by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority ( UWA ) and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP ) local village people now realise the value of mountain Gorillas as a sustainable eco tourist resource. The locals were taught that Mountain Gorillas don’t enjoy tea leaves as part of their diet and so today one can see more and more tea crops planted on the edge of the forest. Social upliftment is beginning to happen. A percentage of all Gorilla trekking permits sold is used to build much-needed clinics and schools in the area. Literacy levels are improving and slowly jobs are being created to support the growing influx of gorilla trekkers and birders. Bwindi which is only 332 sq kilometres in size has more than 350 bird species ( 43 are finch species )

UWA Warden of Tourism Godfrey Balyesiima and RFCG birdguide and field manager Benson Bumatura in front of a Shelley’s finch educational poster. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The Rare Finch Conservation Group, with the in valuable support of its ground partner the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC ), has now completed two field studies ( the second study was  a 12 month study period ) in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and sadly no Shelley’s crimsonwings were netted or seen during that period. The good news however is that the bird has now been sighted on 3 separate occasions in the Ruhija area and local awareness, on the rarity of the species, has grown significantly. Educational posters have been put up at park offices, tourist lodges and at the ITFC in Ruhija. Benson Bamutura, the RFCG field manager and bird guide has been upskilled and today is  highly qualified. The RFCG recently completed its first successful fund raising EcoTour to the area and the UWA have introduced a 4 hour Shelley’s finch birding hike. The UWA charge 50 US$ per person for a permit to do the hike, which includes a bird guide and an armed ranger. The trail is well supported by international birders and now provides a valuable fund raiser and employment opportunity for locals.

The RFCG is currently raising funds to support a third field study, which will  include field work in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park as well as the Rwenzori Mountain Park. All 3 parks are high altitude parks in Uganda. If you would like to become a donor, sponsor or participate in one of our exciting planned fund-raising EcoTours then please contact Russell Kingston at indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes at editor@avitalk.co.za. The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered as a non-profit organisation

Hopefully one day we will see young children in the area drawing the threatened Shelley’s finch, which has now become one of Africa’s rarest finches

World’s only known photograph of the Shelley’s crimsonwing. Visual courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

See our new Finding Shelley YouTube video

20 Sep

The Rare Finch Conservation Group was founded on 10 August 2005. It was at a time when Google, facebook, YouTube, Blogs, twitter and smartphones were either not yet in existence or still very much in their infancy. Birdlife International and the IUCN Red List on birds listed the Shelley’s crimsonwing as Vulnerable with a population estimate of 2,500 to 10,000. The species was known to be a high altitude finch normally seen at 1,550 – 3,500 m above sea level . The bird had been seen in the DRC , Rwanda and in Uganda in the Rwenzori Mountains and in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Even with this reportedly large population estimate the RFCG was sadly unable to source a single photographic reference of a live specimen for the world to see.

William van Rijn sketching the Shelley’s crimsonwing finch in his lounge back in 2005. Photo Eelco Meyjes

And so it was that William van Rijn , who is a founder member of the RFCG and also has artistic talent, did a drawing of the bird to accompany our very first press release. The RFCG embarked on an aggressive international and local awareness campaign to help bring attention to one of Africa’s rarest finches . The group also raised  funding to conduct two field research studies in the world famous Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The spectacular forest, with its reported 43 finch species, is also home to half of the worlds threatened Mountain Gorillas.

None of us in our wildest dreams would have thought that seven years later , literally to the day , the RFCG would be hosting its first EcoTour to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to help raise some much needed funding. Not to mention bringing some valuable ecotourism to people living in the local community

Standing in the main road in Buhoma where the Uganda Wildlife Authority ( UWA ) head office for the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is based. l to r Joe Kitching, Indra and Russell Kingston, Ralph Kunkel, Geoff and Sue Russell, kneeling Benson Bamutura RFCG bird guide and field manager, Chris Leeper and Peter James . Photo taken by Eelco Meyjes

In addition to the news above, again none of us in our wildest dreams would have predicted that the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA ) would be informing the RFCG, on its 7th anniversary, of the introduction of a Shelley’s finch birding hike up at Ruhija. Nor would we have speculated that we would be sharing all this exciting news direct with our supporters on YouTube, Google, Twitter as well as on our very own RFCG Blog

The Rare Finch Conservation Group would sincerely like to thank all its followers, donors and sponsors for their invaluable support over the past seven years and let’s hope that our vision and ideals will continue to inspire finch enthusiasts all over the world.

If you enjoyed our Finding Shelley YouTube video please share it with a friend.

Our next blog will show some interesting visuals of the village of Buhoma which is where the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest HQ is based

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