Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Vincent's Bunting: first pictures on the internet?

I photographed this skulking Vincent's Bunting at about 1700m on Mount Mulanje, Malawi, earlier this month. The location was between Chambe and Likhubula and the bird was foraging in miombo type vegetation scorched by fire (presumably deliberately set by poachers).

At the time of the sighting I realised that the bird appeared darker toned than the Cape Buntings that I had seen in South Africa a few years ago, but thought little more of it. Only once I was down the mountain did I refer to Sinclair and Ryan's Birds of Africa south of the Sahara that I had picked up in Nairobi Airport and notice the Vincent's Bunting illustration. In the photo above the lack of rufous on the coverts seems to be quite different from typical Emberiza capensis. Vincent's Bunting had not been on my radar as the excellent Birds of Malawi by Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett lumps these two species together as Cape Bunting.

I have now read that most authorities split the Vincent's Bunting as a separate more northerly mountain-dwelling species. Unusually for the internet there appear to be no searchable photographs of Vincent's Bunting available and I have even drawn a blank when searching for this form labelled as Cape Bunting. So, it is possible that these shot are an internet first!...

From the limited information that is available it seems that Emberiza vincenti is an uncommon endemic living in granite outcrops in a restricted part of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Presumably, given its subtle plumage and (possibly) shy nature (this individual flew once it was aware that it was under observation), along with its restricted range and former subspecies status, the Vincent's Bunting has not been a high-profile target in Malawi for most camera-toting visiting ornithologists.

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