Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Coursing your way through Africa!

Family: Glareolidae  Coursers, pratincoles
English: Coursers, pratincoles
Spanish: Corredores, canasteras
I am writing here just a short note on one of the most attractive of bird families I see on various travels throughout continental Africa. Coursers are wonderfully elegant species and also the variety of plummage adds to their appeal, at least for me! They are also very photogenic as witnessed here in this notation....

Everyone’s favourite? Judging by comments I get on various tours, coursers are certainly extremely popular and appreciated by all. Their habit of running, rather than flying, away makes them easy to observe, more so as most of them tend to live in open and arid areas. Many have cryptic plumage (see photo left Hueglin's Courser) and rely on this for concealment, those with a plain colour, like Cream-coloured Courser (see photo below right), also blend with their desert surroundings. All prefer open ground and feed much like plovers by using short runs and a peck to find insects, although members of the genus Cursorius will also use their curved bill to dig for larvae and sometimes take seeds using this technique.

It is rare for us to miss Cream-coloured Courser (photo right) on any of our main tours to Morocco, where it is most often found in desert areas. The bird’s reluctance to fly and habit of running in short bursts allows close views from our safari 4x4s and can be the day’s birding highlight. During our March safari tours pairs can have very young birds and tend to stay even closer guarding their charges, sometimes finding a small bush to crouch behind and relying on their perfectly coloured plumage to camouflage their whereabouts. On occasions when these birds fly, then their typical wader profile and long pointed wings give a spectacular display of the black wing bar and elegant shape.

In Gambia, we deliberately spend time looking for the elusive and sought after Egyptian Plover (photo left). It is allied and placed together with coursers, although it has been placed in its own family at times i.e. Pluvianidae and even subfamily Plivianinae. It is spectacularly marked and the colours and patterns make it an attractive bird, although the name can be misleading as it no longer occurs in Egypt, causing some concerns that it may be declining in some parts of its range. It is a species found in lowland river deltas with sand and gravel bars. Our own observations tend to suggest it prefers sandbars and small sandy islets on river systems where it can probe and dig soft areas for food. It is exceptional among the coursers as it prefers large tropical river systems with sandbars, whilst the remaining 8 species of this family prefer dry habitats ranging from open dry forest to extreme desert.

On our journeys further south in Africa, we can observe other species in this wonderful family, none more cryptically patterned than Hueglin’s Courser, also known as Three-banded Courser. Although it is not easy to spot, we normally can find Hueglin’s Courser on our tour to Kenya and usually in the Masai Mara reserve. It is a striking bird with large eyes that capture the hearts of fellow travellers and although elusive, once found we often spend time just revelling in their discovery! Together with our tour into Botswana, we will find other and equally appealing members of the courser family including Burchell’s and Temminck’s Courser (photo right), all so attractive in their own right and all adding to the reasons why you should join me on one or all of our tours to Africa!

Why not join Peter on one of his many tours undertaken in Africa?





Or why not join Peter on one of his famous day tours in Spain?

Serrania de Ronda - Birding in the high Sierras

Wetlands - From mountains to Lagoons

Steppe - A journey into Steppe country

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