Jackpot Birding
African Birdlife|May/June 2021
Observing Striped Crakes
Dylan Vasapolli

Aenigmatolimnas marginalis – this long and nearly impossible to pronounce phrase is the scientific name of the Striped Crake. It is one of the most difficult birds to find and observe and one of the most nomadic of the tropical migrants. Birders utter its name in hushed tones, such is its reputation for eluding them.

Despite this crake’s wide distribution throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the combination of its skulking habits, small size and preference for dense, wetland habitat make detecting it all the more difficult. Little is known about where it resides when it’s not breeding, although scattered records from East, central and West Africa (from Tanzania to Uganda to Ghana) point to this wider area being its wintering zone. However, little other information is available.

Striped Crakes can only readily be seen during their breeding period (roughly from December to April). They follow the tropical storms in the austral summer southwards and rapidly move into suitable seasonally flooded pans and depressions from Zambia to South Africa, where they breed. Apart from in a few places in southern Zambia, northern Namibia and Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland Plateau, where this species is present almost every season, it is otherwise highly nomadic and sites vary each year, depending on the rainfall and conditions in the area. Despite these ‘known sites’, few birders can attest to having had good sightings of the bird.

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