Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Common birds: Rattling cisticola and why birds hold territories?

Rattling Cisticola, near Arusha, March 2011. Something of a birder's bird?
Returning to my recent theme of common birds, what could be more suitable as the rains begin than a look a Cisticola chiniana? Whilst small, streaked and brown might make this something of a 'birder's bird', I'm happy to think there's plenty to interest everyone in this species too.

First the identification. Let's be honest, Cisticolas can be something of a challenge to identify! It doesn't help that there are seven pages of nearly identical looking small, streaky brown birds in the fieldguide! Happily, there are better ways to identify Cisticolas than their looks - the key is always to listen. Most Cisticolas, and rattling is no exception, have fairly distinctive calls and once you know it their 'tee, tee, churrurrurr' call is a constant sound in the bush (click the link to find a recording on xeno-canto), especially during the rains when they breed. In the unlucky event that none are making any noises, you can usually be fairly confident in your identification of any moderately sized, streaky cisticola present in the drier bush regions as rattling simply because they're so common! They are surprisingly variable in size (sometimes appearing really rather small) and colour (from very grey to warmer brown - but never with bright chestnut on the wing or head) though, so don't be too taken in my any one feature if they're not calling.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

How to protect lions?

Lions: just big kitties really!
There have been a couple of lion stories in the news in the last week or two, and enough interest in them that I felt compelled to write something. First there was a paper by Craig Packer and many coauthors about lion populations in Africa, their current declines, and the possible role of fencing in protecting them. Then, shortly after, there was a letter in the New York Times by Tanzania's own Director of Wildlife, asking the US government not to list the lion as endangered, as lion hunting is crucial to their conservation in Tanzania.