A Bit of Birding in Nigeria

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Lagos is a busy port on the coast of one of the worlds fastest growing economies. Nigeria has been coined a “MINT” country, and its former capital and largest city is said to be the second fastest growing city on the African continent. But does this buzzing metropolis leave room for any birds to live among the chaos?! Absolutely.

I’ve spent this last 10 days with my family, visiting my father who lives on Ikoyi, one of the island areas on the coastal side of Lagos lagoon. When you think about living in the middle of a big city, you don’t usually think of there being a great deal of birdlife, but sitting out in the garden of my father’s house is actually really fantastic for catching a glimpse of some West African avifauna…

The first thing you notice as you look up is the sight of several birds of prey spiralling on warm vents across various heights in the surrounding sky. At any one time you can usually spot about five silhouettes of Black Kite, although the most that we’ve seen at one time is fourteen, which I find incredible considering the pollution and business of the city. What my father and I suspect, from looking at certain places where the Kites tend to fly around, is that they are using the warm air rising from generators behind people’s houses (in Nigeria the mains electricity isn’t 100% reliable) to glide from, and it means that the skies above areas with a lot of houses are filled with the distant seagull-like calls of the Kites from high above.

Every so often the relative peace and quiet of the garden is interrupted by the typically tropical, “gobbling” call of the Western Plantain-Eater, usually as a pair flies across to perch in one of the higher trees of the garden. Feeding on fruits and seeds, this member of the turaco family can be identified by its bright yellow, curved and long tail when perched, or by the white band across its tail when in flight. Quite a common bird across West Africa, I really enjoyed hearing the occasional “gobble” as they flew past while I was sitting by the pool – if I closed my eyes I could almost have been deep in the rainforest!

The most common of the birds in my Dad’s garden is what I think is a Red-Eyed Dove. While there were quite a few that visited the garden throughout the day, I have to say that as a result of my not being as interested in pigeon species as other birds, and that there are a lot of quite similar-looking pigeons and doves, I can’t be entirely sure of the species. What interested me more was a bird that my father said he had heard but never really seen that lived in a particularly large and thickly foliated tree, which sufficiently aroused my curiosity to the point where after it was mentioned I didn’t really sit still until I know what it was. After about an hour of taking blurred photos on a borrowed camera without much zoom, I finally managed to get a clear enough shot to identify the African Thrush. Quite a dull-coloured bird apart from its bright orange beak, what made the African Thrush stand out for me was the range of different songs it had, which helped me to confirm its identity by matching the sounds to the ones on a nifty little app I found called Bird Calls (by XLabz Technologies). The app was really helpful – you can search by country and then there are usually a few different calls or photos from a few different locations for each species, and I would highly recommend for anyone like me who is new to birdwatching.

Last of the identifiable avian visitors whose time coincided with mine in my father’s garden was a single Little Egret that checked us (or more likely the pool) out briefly before flying away, a nice little treat on my last day before flying back to the UK. We did see an owl one night while out for a midnight swim, but a combination of the darkness, my poor eyesight without my glasses and few glasses of wine meant that any attempt to identify it was shortlived…

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