White-backed Mousebirds

I have just been working on a blog called Shemimages Photo-blog for a friend of mine.  I'll get back to that in a minute.

Having worked as a guide for years I think that I have become a little 'tuned in' to nature, and especially birds.  When I sit here at my computer I am always listening to the birds outside.  One of the most common, and often most noisy, is the White-backed Mousebird Colius colius.

Now...Mousebirds are strange and a little different for more than just their name.  Mousebirds belong to the family Coliidae, a family of only 6 species.  It is one of the few bird families endemic to sub-Saharan Africa.  the Coliidae are the only family in the Coliiforms, making them unique to order level.  There are two genuses, Colius and Urucolius.  White-backed Mousebirds, are, of course, Colius.
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One aspect of Mousebird behavior that has been of interest to scientists is sunning.  I don't want to do to much of a review of scientific literature here, but they sun themselves quiet often.  The birds will go up to a sunny part of a bush, hold onto the branch and hang back so that their belly is exposed to the sun. They display a degree of Torpor (not much) and so there is an interest in a connection between the sunning and the Torpor.   There probably isn't much connection in that regard, but it is interesting to consider. Here is a link to some work that was done on the Tierberg farm, near Prince Albert on these birds.
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White-backed Mousebirds are different, and that makes them interesting and special. They are common, though. Very. If I listen hard enough sitting here at my desk, I can usually hear a few of them.

Despite being common, I never saw one as a lifer until my first year of birding was done. I just wasn't speding time in the dry areas, and the White-backed Mousebird is a bird of the South-west arid zone of southern Africa.  I was working in the Karoo with Shem Compion, on the farm Teirberg, a little way outside of Prince Albert. We worked for a couple called Richard and Sue Dean, well known arid area specialists. Richard, of course, was mainly interested in birds (If you have a look at the fat Roberts Birds of Southern Africa, Vol VII...you will see "WRJ DEAN" on the cover.

Now, we were actually there as research technicians, not doing our own research. We helped out and did all sorts of things, including measuring small details on vegetation plots and some bird observations. One thing we were asked to do was to spend some time timing the intervals of sunning by the White-backed Mousebirds. I soon saw my lifer on the 6th of February, 1997 in the nearby drainage line.

Shem and I would stay out there a week at a time, and go into town just for supplies and then be back out there. It was real immersion in the environment and had a big influence on me...big enough that I decided these arid areas are so interesting that I would spend some time in Namibia, getting to know arid areas even more (11 or so years later...I am still here).   We were only there a little over a month, but it had a big impact on me.

I was always amazed at how hard working Shem was. Despite being students, with total freedom out in the bush, we set out to work each morning early, and worked really hard. And usually it was Shem who was out first.

After a long time of loosing contact, it was a real honor to help him last year with a tour. He let me fiddle a little with his blog over the last few days...check it out. Shem has become one of the up and coming guys in the pro wildlife photography scene. It isn't an easy field, there are so many guides who carry a camera and dream of one day being a wildlife photographer. But Shem has not only made it, but had started to become rather well known. He has had an image on the cover of the well known wildlife/nature magazine, Africa Geographic.

Shemimages Photo-blog

I had a bit of fun over the last week or so fiddling with his blog, Shemimages. Go check it out...you may be interested in buying some of his amazing wildlife images, his insect book, taking a photography course with him or even going on tour with him. I look forward to collaborating with him in the future again.
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2 comments:

Meiring Borcherds said...

Hmm interesting Vern, so do they sun their bellies for the same reason as comrents? I did not get a reason in your Blog? Let me know...

Take care

Namib Naturalist said...

Actually, it was unresolved and I couldn't find a direct reference while I was preparing this post. I had been meaning to write about the mousebirds for a while (because they are always outside my window) but couldn't find a good reference. So, while I was thinking of Shem, and remembering my life list (which I am writing up) it was just time to write it without answers.

Anyone who has better info...fill in the blanks for us!