Msasani Peninsula, Dar es Salaam: August 26, 2010

With keys to the roof of the building where I work, I now have good visual access to the neighboring tree tops of this suburban area of Dar. Each day before I head home from work on my bike, I relax for a while on the windy rooftop and watch as an unidentified bird species streams overhead in impressively large numbers, returning to several trees in the neighborhood where huge colonies of them roost at night (a bird guide recently told me they're just House Sparrows). Over the course of a half hour during dusk, literally over a thousand birds flow by in groups of about fifty, moving together neatly like a swarm of fish. I usually pass them at dawn on the way to work as well, as they prepare noisily to leave the colony and disperse all over the area to forage during the day.

While this particular species of weaver isn’t much to look at, I have had some nice observations of several other common, but more colorful, birds, including the Blue-Capped Cordon-Bleu, Red-Fronted Tinkerbird, Red-Billed Firefinch, and the Spectacled Weaver, most of which I’ve now seen and photographed from the roof. My favorite moment each day, though, is when the sunbirds come by the flowering shrubs outside my office window, chirping loudly to announce their presence as they probe about for nectar. On a few occasions, I have also seen a group of Speckled Mousebirds flipping around in the trees above, but I've yet to take any decent photographs of this unique African family of birds.

As Aimee and I continue to adjust to the challenges of living here, it's a great pleasure to be regularly surprised by seeing new birds in our backyard. The avifauna is so distinct in this region that every new call I hear is most likely an exotic bird, from my novice perspective. Even the kingfishers in this region are spectacular and considerably different from the neotropics: the other day Aimee and I were dazzled by a brilliant turquoise Mangrove Kingfisher displaying from a telephone wire in front of a Striped Kingfisher. Both species are generally found away from water, being classified as woodland kingfishers and eating insects instead of fish. Indeed, being new to a place is a great time for a birder; if only everything else felt so fresh and easy.

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