Working for birds in Africa

A preliminary natural history survey of Mambilla plateau and some lowland forests of eastern Nigeria

Sat, 29/12/2012 - 13:28 -- abc_admin
R. J. Dowsett (ed) 1989. Tauraco Research Reports Nos. 1,2. R. J. Dowsett and F. Dowsett-Lemaire (eds) 1991. Tauraco Research Report No. 4. All published by and available from Tauraco Press, rue de Bois de Breux 194, B-4020 Jupille-Liège, Belgium.
page 136

Enquête faunistique dans la forêt du Mayombe et check-liste des oiseaux et des mammifères du Congo

R. J. Dowsett (ed) 1989. Tauraco Research Report No. 2. 51 pp. Pbk

Flore et faune du bassin du Kouilou (Congo) et leur exploitation

R. J. Dowsett and F. Dowett-Lemaire (eds) 1991. Tauraco Research Report No. 4. 340pp. 7 colour plates. Pbk

The contribution to African ornithology made by the editors of these reports has been and continues to be enormous. The two most recent publications from their own Tauraco Press have already been reviewed in the pages of this Bulletin (Vol 2, pp 56-57) and both (the Checklist of birds of the Afrotropical and Malagasy Regions Vol. 1 and A contribution to the distribution and taxonomy of Afrotropical and Malagasy birds) have become, since their appearance in 1994, to the writer of this review at least, indispensable to the point of not being able to remember how one coped before they existed. These earlier productions of the Tauraco Press make clear two other things about their editors - that their interests and expertise in the Afrotropics are not confined to birds and they are great ones for getting their hands dirty in the field.

Research Reports (RR) 1 & 2 are modestly produced affairs - plain covers, word-processed pages - while RR4 is more lavish with a colour cover and plates of photographs and better quality printing. All three document the results of field surveys undertaken, in places hitherto poorly known faunistically, in the light of planned or possible impending changes in land use - either to become a game reserve or national park (Mambilla and forests in the Oban-Ikpan lowlands of extreme eastern Nigeria), as part of a development project (Mayombe, western Congo) or that would result from exploitation of an oil concession (Kouilou, coastal Congo, to the west of the Mayombe). The reports comprise a number of chapters, many authored by the Dowsetts, either by themselves or jointly with others, dealing the geographical context, vegetation, butterfly, amphibian and mammal faunas and recommendations based upon their findings. RR 1 & 4 also contain sections or chapters written by others with specialist expertise in groups such as reptiles.

The content then of all three reports is not confined to birds, of which you need to be aware. The following remarks concentrate mostly on the their avifaunal content, RR1 records at least ten additions to the avifauna of Nigeria, the finding of a similar number of species only known from one or two prior records and many range extensions. The results of the expedition have since been incorporated into the second edition of the Birds of Nigeria (BOU Check-list No. 4). Of perhaps wider interest will be the brief discussion of the taxonomic relationships of some of the Cameroon montane bird species encountered. In particular, vocal and morphometric evidence is presented to argue persuasively that the bird hitherto regarded as a subspecies of Bradypterus cinnamomeus is better treated as specifically distinct as B. bangwaensis, the affinities of which lie rather with B. lopezi.

Prior to the Dowsetts work in Congo, very little was known or had been published on the birds of the country. RR2 performs the valuable but complicated task of pulling together the then state of knowledge of the avifauna of the country from all available sources, and arrived at a total of 424 species. That this is way below what the actual figure should be is demonstrated by their addition of more than 70 species during the course of a visit of less than a month. This total is further improved upon results presented in RR4 - by a further 50! There is a short section on the status of seabirds off the coast of Congo but the meat of the avifaunal section comes in the fifty page chapter on the forest birds of Kouilou which provides detailed observations on many of the choicer forest species. Only a few snippets can be singled out but of particular interest are the first published descriptions and sonagram of the mysterious Grey-throated Rail, details of the nesting habits of the Black-headed Bee-eater and, freely admitting to personal prejudices, resolving some confusion in Phyllastrephus greenbul vocalization!

Now, does the average rabid birder need to possess these reports? Clearly, those with a particular interest in the avifaunas of Nigeria and Congo do. For others, however, much of the more important information contained herein has since appeared elsewhere, in papers in Bull. B.O.C. for example and, in particular, the two other Tauraco Press publications mentioned in the first paragraph of this review. However, I think there still remains enough information in these reports that cannot be found elsewhere, to make those with an abiding interest in forest birds seriously consider obtaining them - if they have not already done so.

Lincoln Fishpool

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