Finding The Fox’s Weaver – Uganda’s only endemic bird

Finding The Fox’s Weaver – Uganda’s only endemic bird

March 28, 2022
News Journeys Uganda

Uganda is the ‘Eden of Birding boasting of over 1,070 species of birds including the fox’s weaver and is arguably one of the top bird watching endpoints in Africa and perhaps the whole World. Among the special birds for Uganda is the Fox’s Weaver which can only be sighted in Uganda and nowhere else in the world.  The Fox’s Weaver was last sighted in the mid-1990s with more than 50 individuals which were breeding on the peripheries of Lake Bisina near Opeta, there came a lull of sightings for the Fox’s Weaver, it got listed as a globally near threatened species. The Fox’s weaver, scientifically known as Ploceus spekeoides, belongs to the ploceidae family and inhabits the moist savannahs, sub-tropical, tropical and seasonally wet swamps around Lira and Soroti districts mostly in the vicinity of Lake Bisina and Opeta and possibly extending to the main Lake Kyoga system and the Awoja river basin as per the past records by Nature Uganda and a few lead birding guides in the country. The papyrus fringed lakes together with the wooded acacia grasslands that are spread throughout the Eastern region of Uganda are a very good breeding and foraging place for the Fox’s weaver.

The Fox’s weaver is in close resemblance with the Speke’s weaver only that it has darker upper parts, due to its narrower yellow feather edges; shorter wing tail while you look out for it, amateur guides mistake it with the Common Northern-brown Throated Weaver which is the commonest in the eastern Uganda mashes but with a distinctive white eye rather than pale yellow of the Fox’s Weaver, if you went without an experienced birding safari guide, the local boat men and the so called self-proclaimed ‘bird guides’ around the wetlands will have unending confusion as some even lack the best viewing gadgets to differentiate the two species of Weavers

However in the past years many of these eco systems where the Fox’s Weaver finds safety have been tampered with due to the nature of lives of the people living around its habitat as they are farmers and pastoralists who need land for settlement due to population growth, Grazing their animals and rice farming which in turn has led to the decline in its numbers due to habitat loss and thus change of breeding behaviors.

In early 2015 senior birding guide from Journeys Uganda Paul Tamwenya set out for a birding expedition in hope to catch a glance of the Fox’s Weaver but in vain after being lucky on his July trip when he found a male with its full plumage in 2014 but another colleague of his affirms that he has sighted it on a trip around the Awoja Bridge between Soroti and Kumi in 2017. However the worry about The Fox’s Weaver getting extinct was ended in May 2018 when Paul Tamwenya was on a 27 days super or combing Uganda birding safari with Bruce Wedderburn a solo birder from Australia, where a local Ugandan photographer for fun took the shot and shared it on the Uganda Bird Guides forum un knowingly and wanting to find out the species taken, only for the birders to zero on the Fox’s Weaver, lucky enough Paul was on his way, spent a night at Soroti hotel and instead of going to the usual Lake Basina, this morning he was headed to the Amagoro swamps in Katakwi district where the photograph had been taken. It was the end of a rainy season and the Amagoro access road had been cut off by the seasonal rivers, we braved and had to cross the waters on foot and there about a meter from the grown in some parts, once we got to the other side, we started by sighting the Foxy and Wailing Cisticola, then is a short time the Karamoja Apalis which we had missed in Kidepo Valley National Park, yet a very wanted bird species, after a short walk Robert our local guide showed us the previous whistling acacias where the last sighting had been registered. As we looked on, a yellow Weaver with nesting material flew by and into the next acacia where it perched, we confirmed a Fox’s which took us all into ululation as I many thought that Uganda was losing hope in still having this endemic bird species. We counted several pairs close to 8 then we returned to the hustle of crossing the flooded plains where the Fox’s Weaver lives in company of the Lesser Jacana, Lesser Moorhen and Allen’s Gallinule which we flushed as we walked through the flooded stretch of about 1-2 kilometers.

Aside from its status of globally near threatened the Uganda bird atlas states it as regionally near threatened and data deficiency. This can be attributed to the fact that the specie is very poorly known and its numbers are very low with no population estimates even available. Very little research has been done about them, and their numbers are assumed to be dropping due to the limited sightings in the expected areas, therefore, more studies are very much required sooner than later to comprehend the Fox’s Weaver distribution and ecology in order to alleviate whatever threatens the bird’s habitat and develop species conservation measures to safeguard its population in Uganda.

Good news is Nature Uganda has secured a grant from the African birding club to  survey the species preferred habitat to gauge population, breeding density and success, threats and distribution which will change everything hopefully. They are further seeking more grants to ensure the survival of the Fox’s Weaver a bird that Uganda prides in as it’s only endemic. So far not much has been yielded from Nature Uganda‘s efforts but we are still hopeful. The Weyns’s Weaver Ploceus weynsi and Clarke’s Weaver Ploceus golandi provide a slight ray of hope due to its similarity with the Fox’s weaver and exhibits totally different habitats outside of the breeding season. Hopefully Nature Uganda along with other related bodies like the Uganda Bird Guides Club, African Birding Club can quickly find a solution to the declining number of Uganda’s only endemic bird.

More good news recently came in just before the whole world went into limbo before covid 19,on one of my discovery trips with my German friend Konrad Enderlein whom we have been birding with in Uganda for over 5 times on repeated visits of over 10 days since 2014 as we drove from Mount Elgon National Park headed to Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, we found a pair of the Fox’s Weaver which I keenly told Konrad to observe and take several non-stop photos nesting near Bulambuli newly constructed camp where the Bagisu tribe of Bududa are being settled due to the landslides up high in the mountains a few kilometers from the main road off Mbale Kapchorwa from the Muyembe junction.

While driving, we did come across several pairs of individuals and numerous nests within Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, this came to my conscious that since the Reserve is one of the least visited protected areas in Uganda, the Fox’s Weaver has always been sighted and mistaken for another species of Weaver by non-keen visiting birders, armature birding guides and Uganda Wildlife Authority Rangers for probably the Heuglin’s Masked Weaver which is smaller and with a lightly mottled greenish-olive mantle if observed very well in good light as compared to the Fox’s Weaver. Other members of the Uganda bird guides club have seen it in this area with other reports from the whistling thorny acacia grasslands of Magoro and Ngorium in Katakwi, Chepskunyu in Kween District,  Usuk, Palam and Apapi areas, Okudud village near Moru’Ajore, other sightings have been further north of here in Iriiri, Napak, and to the best of my knowledge it is a nomad breeding in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve mostly in the months of January, February and Match, important to note it that the Fox’s Weaver is very similar to the central Northern Tanzania, South western Kenya and northern Kenya inhabitant, the  Speke’s Weaver.

Stand a chance to finding the Fox’s Weaver in its unique beauty before he completely vanishes on a birding trip with one of Journeys top birding guides in Uganda, do not hesitate to contact info@journeysuganda.com for your dream bird watching safari to Uganda and search for birds endemic to Uganda in the Great Albertine Rift Valley and the Guinea Congo biome species.

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