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Lolldaiga Hills Ranch provides the third record for Kenya and East Africa of the Palearctic race of Red-rumped Swallow

By Brian W. Finch

At about 09:00 h on 6 November 2017, I was birding at Valley Dam (ca. 1,850 m asl), central south Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, in the company of Per Aronsson, Paul Benson, Tom Butynski, Yvonne de Jong, and Nigel and Julia Hunter. On spotting a small pale-rumped swallow flying along the margin of the dam, it was suspected to be the Palearctic race of Red-rumped Swallow Cercropis daurica rufula. Attention was immediately drawn to all present. We spent about an hour with the bird, when it disappeared together with all the Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica that were present. This is only the third record of rufula for Kenya and East Africa. The two previous records were in Ngulia (southeast Kenya) and Ngong (south Kenya). I presented the record to the East African Rarities Committee.

Immature Red-rumped Swallow Cercropis daurica rufula, Valley Dam, Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Per Aronsson.

The beginning of November 2017 was a wet period. Valley Dam contained a fair amount of water and the margins were inundated creating a grassy edge. In the water were many sedges and a few other course woody-stemmed weeds drowned by the rising water. There were a number of other swallow species present, including Common House Martin Delichon urbicum, Sand Martin Riparia riparia, Plain Martin Riparia paludicola, Mosque Swallow Cecropis senegalensis, and Black Saw-wing Psalidoprocne pristoptera though not settling. No Red-rumped Swallows of the resident race emini were present.

Immature Red-rumped Swallow Cercropis daurica rufula, Valley Dam, Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Amazingly, our interesting swallow, an immature, spent a considerable time flying around us, sitting on bare patches of ground, and resting on woody stems with Barn Swallows. Its relationship with the other swallows was passive—it was not chased by any of the other swallows. I managed some video of the bird, and Per, Paul, and Yvonne skillfully managed excellent photographs of the bird in flight and at rest.

Whilst literally flying around our heads the bird appeared small, with even the Barn Swallows seeming longer and bulkier. We were fortunate to have the bird perch with Barn Swallows, and it was clear that it was smaller and slighter.

Valley Dam, southern Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Photograph by Per Aronsson.

With the naked eye, the flying bird closely resembled a Common House Martin with the rump so pale, but at closer quarters and not flying, the rump could be seen to have a buffy wash, as did the flanks. The most arresting feature that made this swallow stand out immediately from the Common House Martins was the whitish collar that entirely encircled the neck. The cheeks were the most rufous part of the bird. This rufous hooked back over the upper rear of the eye in a distinctive manner, and continued as a very narrow pale line that isolated the cap, but so fine that this is only visible on some images where the bird was at eye-level.

Overlooking the southern valley and Valley Dam from Kanyambu viewpoint.

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