Working for birds in Africa



Wed, 02/06/2013 - 15:54 -- abc_admin

The following largely unconfirmed records have been published in recent Bulletins of the African Bird Club for information only.

from ABC Bulletin 19.1

A vagrant Franklin’s Gull Larus pipixcan in breeding plumage was observed on 14 April 2011.


In 2009, on Tristan, up to four Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis were noted: one on 3 April, 2–3 from 10 May, 3–4 from 3 June, with one still present on 27 June. One was also on Nightingale from 6 April to 10 June at least. An immature Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea was on Tristan from 16 April, with a second there from 24 April; one was still present on 22 May. Possibly the first Little Egret E. garzetta for Tristan da Cunha stayed on the island on 3–27 April. A Snowy Egret E. thula was present from 16 April to 3 June. Thus, on 16 April, there were four white herons on the pool by the volcano: a Cattle Egret, a Little Blue Heron, a Little Egret and a Snowy Egret. Other vagrants included an immature American Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica on 18–22 April at least, with another on 1 June, a Hudsonian Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus at the Patches on 2–4 January at least, and a Franklin’s Gull Larus pipixcan on 19 April. An adult Purple Heron Ardea purpurea flew past a ship west of Gough Island, in the South Atlantic, at 40°25’91”S 09°59’53”W, heading towards South America on 8 April 2009; this constitutes the first record for the Tristan da Cunha group.


Tue, 02/05/2013 - 11:59 -- abc_admin


Tue, 02/05/2013 - 11:57 -- abc_admin

BirdLife International (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

COHEN, C., SPOTTISWOODE, C. & ROSSOUW, J. Southern African Birdfinder: where to find 1,500 birds in the southern third of Africa and Madagascar.

HARRISON, P. (2000) Seabirds an identification guide. Published by Helm.

NYDEGGER, M.A. & BELL, C.W. (2013) Macaroni Penguin Eudyptes chrysolophus moulting on Gough Island, South Atlantic. ABC Bulletin 21(2) pp 220-221.

RYAN P.G. (2015) First record of Lesser Yellowlegs for Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic. ABC Bulletin 22(1) pp 84-85.

RYAN, P. G., (2010) First record of Chilean Skua Catharacta chilensis for the African region. ABC Bulletin 17(2) pp 217-219.

RYAN, P. ed. (2007) Field Guide to the Animals and Plants of Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island. Pisces Publications, Newbury for the Tristan Island Government.

SHIRIHAI, H. (2002) A complete guide to Antarctic Wildlife: The birds and marine mammals of the Antarctic continent and Southern ocean. Alula Press.

VISSER, P., LOUW, H., CUTHBERT, R., & RYAN, P. (2009) Salvin's Albatross Thalassarche salvini on Gough Island, South Atlantic. ABC Bulletin 16(2) pp 215-216.


Tue, 02/05/2013 - 11:56 -- abc_admin

African Bird Club representative

The African Bird Club is seeking to appoint a representative in this region. If you are interested in supporting and promoting the Club, have any queries or require further information relating to the ABC representatives scheme, please contact the Membership Secretary at

Clubs / contacts

We have no contact information.


Tue, 02/05/2013 - 11:55 -- abc_admin

Typical of islands, Tristan and Gough have had their fair share of unwelcome guests in the form of mice, rats, pigs, goats, cats and most detrimentally marauding sailors! These alien species have had noticeable impacts on the bird populations, especially breeding seabirds which were targeted for meat and eggs. Most alien species have largely been eradicated; House Mouse Mus musculus is the only remaining alien mammal on Gough. Gough was declared a Wildlife Reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage Site in 1995. In 1997 44% of Tristan’s land area was officially protected (Shirihai, 2002).

Conservation News

19th May 2008: Giant carnivorous mice threaten world's greatest seabird colony

Whalers who visited remote Gough Island in the South Atlantic 150 years ago described a prelapsarian world where millions of birds lived without predators and where a man could barely walk because he would trip over their nests. Today the British-owned island, described as the most important seabird colony in the world, still hosts 22 breeding bird species and is a world heritage site. But Gough is the stage for one of nature's greatest horror shows. One of those whaling boats, probably from Britain, carried a few house mice stowaways who jumped ship on Gough. Now there are 700,000 or more of them on the island, which is the size of Guernsey.

What is horrifying ornithgologists is that the humble house mouse which landed on Gough has somehow evolved to two or even three times the size of an ordinary British house mice, and instead of being a vegetarian, eating insects and seeds, has adapted itself to become a carnivore, eating albatross, petrel and shearwater chicks alive in their nests. They are now believed to be the largest mice found anywhere in the world.

Yesterday, Birdlife International, a global alliance of conservation groups, recognised that the mutant mice, who are without predators themselves, are now completely out of control and are threatening to make extinct several of the world's rarest bird species.

The organisation, which runs the Red List of endangered bird species, raised both the Tristan Albatross, of which only a few remain in the world, and the Gough Bunting, a small finch found nowhere else in the world, on to the list of the world's most critically endangered species, the highest category of threat. Five other bird species on the island are also said to be threatened.

"Things are getting worse on Gough. In the presence of house mice, the albatross and bunting have no chance of survival. The only hope for these threatened birds is the complete eradication of mice", said Dr Geoff Hilton, an RSPB scientist who has been researching conservation problems in UK overseas territories.

"The world's greatest seabird island is being eaten alive, as the mice are likely to be affecting the fortunes of many seabirds on the island. Without help, Gough Island will be likely to lose the majority of seabirds," said Hilton. Studies suggest that about 60% of all Gough's bird chicks die in their nests, probably because of predation by the mice. "It is a catastrophe. The albatross chicks weigh up to 10kgs. Ironically, they evolved on Gough because it had no mammal predators - that is why they are so vulnerable. The mice weigh just 35g; it is like a tabby cat attacking a hippopotamus", said Hilton.

Source: Guardian

Books & Sounds

Tue, 02/05/2013 - 11:54 -- abc_admin

The islands of Ascension, Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha are amongst the most remote in the world but they have books which will help bird watchers identify the species seen.

You can purchase these and other books from WildSounds, one of the largest specialist UK mail-order companies, via our book and media sales page. Many birdwatchers are not only interested in birds, so we have added the most useful books for other taxa on this page.

*** Wildsounds donates 5% of each order generated via these links to the ABC Conservation Fund. Please order here, get a good price and support ABC! ***

Book image: 
Book info: 
Guide to the Birds of St Helena & Ascension Island, Neil McCulloch, RSPB, Softback.
Book description: 

The varied origins of the birds on these two Atlantic islands make this guide invaluable for visitors to these excellent birdwatching locations. Contains background on the islands' history and biogeography, and illustrated species accounts. 92 pages.

Media type: 
Book image: 
Book info: 
Birds of St Helena, Beau Rowlands et al, British Ornithologists Union, Hardback.
Book description: 

BOU Checklist 16. 1998. This title for the first time brings together all the known data on the birds, past and present, of St Helena, an intriguing Atlantic Ocean island. Contains a wealth of information on fossil remains unearthed from the island. 16 pages of colour photographs and maps. 292 pages.

Media type: 
Book image: 
Book info: 
Field Guide to the Animals and Plants of Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island, Edited by Peter Ryan, Pisces Publications, Softback.
Book description: 

These remote islands in the South Atlantic Ocean lie roughly midway between the southern tip of Africa and South America. As is typical of isolated, oceanic islands, the fauna and flora are not especially rich, but they are characterised by large numbers of species found nowhere else on earth. Among these are seven species of land birds, including the smallest flightless bird in the world, and four species of seabird. The islands also are home to more than 40 endemic plants and 100 invertebrates. The shallow-water marine life around the islands exhibits high levels of endemism in at least some groups, such as bivalves and seaweeds.

The Tristan and Gough group include some of the least disturbed temperate island ecosystems in the world, but they are under threat, mainly from introduced species of both animals and plants. The small community on Tristan is committed to conserve its precious natural heritage, and has already set aside more than 40% of the islands' limited land area as nature reserves. Proceeds from the sale of this guide will go directly to fund conservation management at the islands. 162 pages.

Media type: 


Tue, 02/05/2013 - 11:48 -- abc_admin

Birding tours

An occasional Atlantic tour visits Tristan and associated islands.


We do not know of any bird guides on these islands.

Trip reports

We have not found any trip reports to Tristan da Cunha.


There is no air link. The islands are usually reached from Cape Town (4-6 days at sea each way), but most cruise ships and the RMS St Helena call while crossing the Atlantic. Natural history tours typically take place in spring and autumn, using ships commuting between summer seasons in the Arctic and Antarctic. Visitors wanting to spend time on Tristan must arrange their visit in advance with the island.


See UK Foreign and Commonwealth office for details.


Tue, 02/05/2013 - 11:46 -- abc_admin

The following extracts are taken from Southern African Birdfinder: where to find 1,500 birds in the southern third of Africa and Madagascar by Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswoode and Jonathan Rossouw, released by Struik Publishers in 2006. 


Tristan is the only inhabited island in the group with a population of some 300 people. As a result, it is the easiest island to visit, but many birds have disappeared from the island following almost two centuries of exploitation by humans and predation by introduced rats. Of the endemic landbirds, only theTristan Thrush Nesocichla eremita or Starchy remains, although the island also supports a growing population of flightless Gough Moorhen Gallinula nesiotis that were introduced from Gough Island in the 1950s. Tristan’s flightless moorhen apparently became extinct in the 19th century, as did its population of Tristan Bunting Nesospiza acunhae.

Visitors landing at the village of Edinburgh will see few birds; the entire settlement plain has been almost entirely transformed by grazing and other forms of agriculture. For birders with limited time ashore (most ships only put passengers ashore for a few hours), the best thing to do is to find a guide who can take you to the ‘Christmas Trees’, a group of pines in a gulch at the base of the cliffs en route to the island’s famous potato patches. Birding around these trees you should find a pair of Tristan Thrush Nesocichla eremita. The best birding is on the Base, the plateau above the 800 m cliffs that rise behind the village. Birders with sufficient time can arrange for a guide and climb these cliffs either above the village (via Hottentot Gulch or Green Hill) or walk out beyond the potato patches and take the route up Burntwood, where the cliffs are lower. On the Base there are extensive tracts of bogfern, the cycad-like endemic treefern Blechnum palmiforme. Gough Moorhen Gallinula nesiotis skulk among these ferns, and are best located by their loud ‘chuck-ick-uck’ call. Yellow-nosed Albatross Diomedea chlororhynchos chlororhynchos breed in sheltered sites, and small numbers of Dark-mantled Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria fusca breed on the cliff faces. Tristan Thrush Nesocichla eremita are uncommon, but are quite inquisitive and will often come to inspect you. They are best located by their high-pitched, whispy calls. Pairs generally live along the large gulches that dissect the Base, and become increasingly common as you climb above the bogfern level towards the Peak. Remote areas of the Base still support small numbers of burrowing petrels, including a few pairs of Atlantic Petrel Pterodroma incerta, but these are unlikely to be encountered by the casual birder, and are easily seen at sea off the islands.

The closest Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes chrysocome moseleyi colony to the village is at Jew’s Point, about three hours walk along the rugged coast south-east towards Sandy Point. For most people, it will be easier to visit the colonies by boat, landing at Sandy Point, where there are colonies both north and south of the beach. Tristan Thrush Nesocichla eremita also occur above the hut at Sandy Point. Penguins are in their colonies from September to February.

Nightingale Island

Nightingale is the smallest island in the Tristan archipelago, and has remained remarkably untouched by humans. There are no introduced mammals, and only a few introduced plants. It offers a remarkable wildlife experience, with huge numbers of very tame seabirds and landbirds. Since the mid-1990s it has been visited by tour ships, and can also be visited from Tristan using the island’s fishery patrol vessel. Landing is by permit only.

There are two landing sites, both on the more sheltered north-east side of the island. Both are rocky, and require extreme caution and relatively flat seas. Many tour groups fail to land because sea conditions are unsuitable. The main landing site is used by a large colony of Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes chrysocome moseleyi, which breed in the dense tussock grass above the landing site. Almost immediately on stepping ashore you will be inspected by Tristan Thrush Nesocichla eremita which are abundant.Tristan Bunting Nesospiza acunhae are common above the landing site and throughout the island. The cave above the landing site also supports breeding Brown Noddies Anous stolidus and Antarctic Terns Sterna vittata.

The island is clothed in a dense blanket of tussock grass, which reaches over 2 m high. From the landing site, a broad path (cut by the islanders) leads up to the picturesque Ponds, a series of depressions with boggy vegetation and pools. The Ponds support about 1,000 pairs of Yellow-nosed Albatross Diomedea chlororhynchos chlororhynchos as well as numerous pairs of Subantarctic Skuas Catharacta Antarctica. Surrounding these ponds are patches of Phylica arboreawoodland, which are home to the scarce Grosbeak or Wilkins’ Bunting Nesospiza wilkinsi. It’s roughly 1.5 km from the landing site to The Ponds, and the last section before the plateau is quite steep and can be slippery. However, all the species found at The Ponds also occur in smaller numbers lower down along the path.

The island also supports large numbers of other birds, including an estimated 2 million pairs of Great Shearwaters Puffinus gravis. They occur in such great density that many pairs breed on the surface under the dense tussock. Once they have chicks (December-April), they come and go during the day, and can be seen crashing into the tussock or clambering up boulders to take off. Over the years, generations of shearwater claws have dug deep grooves in these rocks. Several other species of burrowing petrels, storm petrels and diving petrels breed on the island, but they are more strictly nocturnal and are better seen at sea around the islands. Dark-mantled Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria fusca breed on the cliffs, but there are no nests close to the path.

Inaccessible Island

Inaccessible is the third main island in the Tristan archipelago, and is intermediate in size and age between Nightingale and Tristan. It is a Nature Reserve, and access is strictly controlled. To date there have been no tourist landings, but long-term visitors to Tristan might be able to arrange a visit on the island’s fishery patrol vessel. Landing is usually made at the Waterfall on the sheltered east coast of the island. However, the only access to the island’s plateau is from Blenden Hall on the island’s west coast, where landing is more difficult.

Inaccessible Island is most famous for being home to the Inaccessible Island Rail Atlantisia rogersi, the smallest flightless bird. Like Nightingale, Inaccessible is free of introduced mammals, which explains why this diminutive (30 g) rail has managed to persist when so many other flightless island rails have gone extinct. It is extremely abundant throughout the island, but can be hard to see, especially if you’re frantically looking for it! The easiest way to see it is to call it up, or to wait patiently at a likely spot, as they are often quite inquisitive, although they tend to remain in dense cover to avoid the threat of skuas. 

Inaccessible also is the sole breeding site for White-chinned (Spectacled) Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis conspicillata, which dig their large burrows on the island plateau. Gony Ridge, near the highest point of the island, supports the last few pairs of Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans dabbenena that breed away from Gough Island. However, access to the plateau is quite arduous, and is not permitted for casual visitors to the island. Fortunately both these species can be observed readily at sea around the islands. Tristan Thrush Nesocichla eremita and Tristan Bunting Nesospiza acunhae are common at both landing sites, but Grosbeak Bunting Nesospiza wilkinsi are scarce. The populations of both bunting species are quite different from those on Nightingale, and hybridise extensively on the island plateau.

Gough Island

Gough Island is a spectacular volcanic island that lies 350 km south-south-east of Tristan on the edge of the roaring forties. It is a Nature Reserve and World Heritage Site, and at present no tourist visits are allowed. However, cruise ships visit the island’s waters, and some take tourists close inshore in inflatable boats. This is the only chance of seeing the two endemic land birds: Gough Moorhen Gallinula nesiotis and Gough Buntings Rowettia goughensis. Both feed along the beaches of the east coast, although the moorhen tends to remain in amongst vegetation. The island also supports vast numbers of breeding seabirds, including virtually the entire population of Wandering (Tristan) Albatross Diomedea exulans dabbenena and Atlantic Petrel Pterodroma incerta, and is the single most important site for Dark-mantled Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria fusca. Most of the  20 breeding seabirds are easily observed at sea off the island.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS Subantarctic Fur Seals breed on all the islands, with Gough Island home to the largest population in the world. Small numbers of Southern Elephant Seals also haul out on the islands’ sheltered beaches, with most breeding on the east coast of Gough Island. Offshore, there is a variety of cetaceans, including regular sightings of the extremely rare Tasman’s Beaked Whale.


Tue, 02/05/2013 - 11:43 -- abc_admin

Country checklist and status

You can download and print separate checklists for the Tristan da Cunha group and the individual islands.

Endemic species

*Atlantic Petrel Pterodroma incerta
Inaccessible Island Rail Atlantisia rogersi
Gough Moorhen Gallinula nesiotis
Tristan Thrush Nesocichla eremita
Gough Bunting Rowettia goughensis
Tristan Bunting Nesospiza acunhae
Grosbeak Bunting Nesospiza wilkinsi

*Breeding endemic

Tristan Albatross Diomedea (exulans) dabbenena (endangered), Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Diomedea (chlororhynchos) chlororhynchos (endangered) and Spectacled Petrel Procellaria (aequinoctialis) conspicillata (critical) are considered to be full species by some authorities and as such would be endemic to Tristan da Cunha.

The ABC checklist treats them as subspecies of Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, Yellow-nosed Albatross Diomedea chlororhynchos and White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis respectively.

Near endemic species (found in 3 countries at most)

There are no near endemic species.

Threatened species

Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes chrysocome Vulnerable
Dark-mantled Sooty Albatross Phoebetria fusca Endangered
Atlantic Petrel Pterodroma incerta Vulnerable
Inaccessible Island Rail Atlantisia rogersi Vulnerable
Gough Moorhen Gallinula nesiotis Vulnerable
Gough Bunting Rowettia goughensis Vulnerable
Tristan Bunting Nesospiza acunhae Vulnerable
Grosbeak Bunting Nesospiza wilkinsi Vulnerable

Important Bird Areas

Tue, 02/05/2013 - 11:42 -- abc_admin

Nine species of global conservation concern occur. The Tristan Islands Endemic Bird Area (EBA) holds 4 of these species, the Gough Island EBA holds 2 and the remaining 3 species are breeding seabirds.

Tristan da Cunha is exceptional in having several endemic genera - Atlantisia, Rowettia, Nesocichla and Nesospiza. The Nesospiza buntings are of particular interest because as with the famous Darwin’s finches of the Galapagos Islands, they have undergone remarkable speciation.

Several seabird taxa are largely confined to the islands when breeding and in total, the islands are internationally important for their breeding populations of some 20 species.

The four Important Bird Areas (IBAs) cover the total land area of 179 km2. All IBAs include their offshore islets, stacks and rocks, and the marine habitat.

Tristan Island
Inaccessible Island
Nightingale Island group
Gough Island

For further details, download the country IBAs from BirdLife International.


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