Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Brief Update

Sorry for the lack of posts over recent months. I've been totally flat out at work. Big news is the following:

1. Australia is fast approaching - a little over 3 weeks (and counting). I've got most of the trip locked and loaded and really looking forward to it. Got a pelagic sorted off South Australia, and a cruise on the Daintree. Looking forward to some great birds...

2. Got some extra time to kill over Christmas so have decided to shoot back to Thailand for a few weeks birding. I'll have a couple of days in Malaysia on the way to hopefully target a couple of key species such as Mangrove Pitta and Mountain Peacock-Pheasant, then head to North Thailand for 2 weeks before having a week in Khao Yai - targeting a range of species such as Mrs Hume's Pheasant, Silver Pheasant and Siamese Fireback...

So, a couple of interesting trips on the horizon, and that's before even thinking about 2015...

Hoping for one big autumn tick on the East Coast before I go, thinking Yellow-browed Bunting...

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Is it Autumn Already?

I had a really productive June and after last weekends twitch (details here and here) thought that would be that until September/October time. Well, turns out I was wrong!

Got back home after walking the dogs to hear that there was a Black-winged Pratincole in County Durham - a potential lifer for me. A quick check on the map revealed it was fairly close to home so I decided to brave the Tour de France traffic and take a punt on it.

The roads were practically clear and a short while later I was on site looking at a distant Lapwing flock. The Pratincole still being present, just out of view. After not too long something flushed the Lapwings and the Black-winged Pratincole was picked up briefly in flight a couple of times before the flock settled back down. It was always pretty distant but could be seen preening, stretching its wings out, showing all dark wings with white rump.

I decided to re-position myself a bit closer to the birds chosen field where I got much better views of it on the ground. It was still generally keeping fairly low but would occasionally would stick its head up and look up though didn't look too bothered when some of the Lapwings were flushed by various large birds flying overhead and never really looked like doing anything. I grabbed one record shot on my phone as it was keeping low, but it is pretty poor, even by my standards! I think you can almost tell that it's not a Lapwing!

Black-winged Pratincole (iPhone-scoped record shot)

I think this was a first for County Durham and about the 42nd UK record; it was also a UK tick and lifer for me (#2550) but more importantly it was a grip-back on Dave after he got the Norfolk bird in 2009 that I couldn't get to.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Farne Island Photos

My last post was a bit of a long wordy one due to the big weekend Short-toed Eagle and Bridled Tern twitch (click here to be taken to it). One of the highlights on Inner Farnes was getting up close to a number of sea birds, so less words this time, just lots of photos! All taken on my Panasonic Lumix FZ200.

Puffin © Andy Walker 2014
Puffin © Andy Walker 2014

Puffin © Andy Walker 2014

Razorbill © Andy Walker 2014

Guillemot © Andy Walker 2014

Arctic Tern © Andy Walker 2014

Arctic Tern © Andy Walker 2014

Arctic Tern © Andy Walker 2014

Arctic Tern © Andy Walker 2014

Common Tern © Andy Walker 2014

Common Tern © Andy Walker 2014

Sandwich Tern © Andy Walker 2014

Bridled Tern © Andy Walker 2014

Juvenile Black-headed Gull © Andy Walker 2014

Herring Gull © Andy Walker 2014

Kittiwake © Andy Walker 2014

Kittiwake © Andy Walker 2014

Red-breasted Merganser © Andy Walker 2014

Shag © Andy Walker 2014

Luis Suarez the Puffin not biting another Puffin © Andy Walker 2014

Monday, 30 June 2014

Eagley awaiting my Tern

This weekend was pretty manic! It's a long blog post but worth it!

I finished work on Friday and picked up Dave, Rodney and Albert and we drove through the night down to Ashdown Forest, East Sussex in hope of connecting with the Short-toed Eagle which has been around for a couple of weeks. We arrived at 3 am after going through the night. Got to the Gills Lap car park and were greeted by the sound of churring Nightjars! We grabbed a couple of hours sleep in the car and awoke at 5.30 to see what we could find.

Turtle Doves were the highlight for the next few hours with at least 6 birds being seen and heard. Lots of other nice birds around the car park but no sign of the Eagle by 8 am (not necessarily a surprise given the time of the day - but we wanted to try early having seen the weather forecast for later in the day!). As the number of birders increased it started to rain, I think between 8-10 am (I slept so not sure!). After it cleared up a bit things looked a bit more promising.

Shortly later someone got a call that the Short-toed Eagle was in the Long car park area near Wych Cross so everyone raced (at a suitably legal speed..) over there. A quick walk got us to the spot but there was no sign of the bird at first. After an anxious 20 minutes or so someone on a track higher up found the Eagle, a quick run and I had got my scope onto it.

Had excellent views for the next hour or so of it perched busily preening at about 400 m range. I got a rubbish record shot on my phone (below). After really enjoying seeing this bird we decided to commence our drive north, as we were almost back to the car park we noticed that the Eagle was flying off, presumably back to the Gills Lap car park area so we got some brief flight views.

At this point we need to sound the fanfare, set off some fireworks etc as Short-toed Eagle was Rodneys 200th UK species. Congratulations Rodders old boy.

Pretty rubbish record shot of the UKs 5th (if you include Jersey and Guernsey), but first twitchable mainland record, of Short-toed Eagle (iPhone-scoped at about 400 m range)

We got back home fairly late on Saturaday night, grabbed a takeaway, watched the world cup, had some celebratory wine then headed up early Sunday morning to Seahouses, Northumberland to get the first boat across to the Inner Farnes on Sunday morning....

It looked a bit rough on the sea between Seahouses and the Farne Islands but that didn't put me or the old sea dog off and we enjoyed a full English (at Trotters cafe!) in preparation for a rough ride. There was a lot of salty water splashed about but luckily we positioned ourselves to avoid the most of it. After a few hours of bobbing around on the water in the cold wind, and occasional rain shower we finally saw the target bird - an impressive adult Bridled Tern. However after a few minutes it flew off and out of sight!

We decided to head back to the island and spend a couple of hours on dry land during the afternoon hoping for better views of the Bridled Tern (and better weather), and to also enjoy the many other seagulls on the island - pictures of those in a separate blog post later in the week... they were quite impressive for seagulls.

On landing on Inner Farne we immediately found the Bridled Tern again, where it showed for about 5 minutes before flying off (again). It then didn't reappear until 5 minutes before our boat was leaving! But it did show much better on this third sighting so I managed a couple of record shots on my phone below, still too far for my camera unfortunately, but at least you can tell what it is this time.

I think there's somewhere in the region of 30 UK records of Bridled Tern, this is likely to be the same bird that was on the Farnes in 2013 and possibly even the same bird that was in Northumberland in 2010?

Bridled Tern wing stretching (iPhone-scoped)

Bridled Tern (iPhone-scoped)

Bridled Tern (iPhone-scoped)

Bridled Tern  (iPhone-scoped)

And so a  mammoth weekend concluded with over 950 miles driven, several thousand calories consumed, lots of good birds seen and the mighty Ticos winning on penalties.

Thanks to Dave and Rodney for sharing the driving.

Looks like we got a dose of luck too - today the Eagle has flown 100 km further south back to the New Forest, and the Bridled Tern has disappeared for the day!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Costa Rica Birding Trip Report 2

Another re-edited birding trip report.

This report was just over two-weeks long and recorded over 500 species. It was a really enjoyable trip with some major avian highlights. Loads of resident birds and a number of Nearctic over-wintering migrants too.

Birding sites visited included Savegre, Golfito, Carara, Tarcol, Palo Verde, Monteverde, La Selva, Braulio Carillo, Rancho Naturalista.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Costa Rica Birding Trip Report 1

Another re-edited birding trip report.

I've spent about 2 years living in Costa Rica where I worked as a bird guide. I've also guided several bird tours around the country and this trip report was from a tour I guided back in 2004. It was a fairly gentle introduction to Costa Rica (very different from the next report I'll post) and included time on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts as well as in the central mountains.

The tour recorded over 400 species including mainly highly sought national and regional endemics as well as a number of high quality birds such as Resplendent Quetzal and Scarlet Macaw. In addition to the birds some great animals were recorded including Howler Monkey and White-faced Capuchin Monkey in addition to some beautiful moths and butterflies.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Virginia Birding Trip Report

This is the second of my re-edited Birding trip reports.

This was a birding trip made for a couple of days either side of a three week Costa Rica birding trip that I was guiding back in 2006 (two Costa Rica trip reports coming soon).

This was a really good introduction to American birding with a nice range of familiar and some new species. The highlight was (for me at the time) my lifer Snowy Owl. A really huge bonus bird! Virginia was a really beautiful state scenically and a very nice spot for birding.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Hawk Owl - Sweden Trip Report

Here is the first of my re-edited old trip reports. Think of it as something similar to when your favourite boy band re-release an album 10 years down the line which is essentially the same as the last one issued, but slightly different in some tiny way and it costs you loads more to get the 'new' version. This is just like that, but probably not as good. However at least this is free.

This was a weekend trip to Sweden for Northern Hawk-Owl in early 2006. Hawk-Owl was one of my most-wanted species the days before I knew about Pittas...! I wasn't disappointed.

Doing some Housework

To make the most of sitting on my backside for a month while the world cup is on (and when the games are particularly dull like tonights) I've decided to sort out a few old trip reports, stick them into my new 'AWBirder format' and add them to Scribd along with my more recent trip reports.

So in the next few weeks I'll hopefully add trip reports from Sweden, Virginia and Costa Rica. I may even get round to jotting up some notes from the other places I've been relatively recently such as Borneo, India, Lanzarote, Canada, Trinidad & Tobago, Panama, Cyprus etc etc... will see. But certainly the first three locations as trip reports are already written so it's a bit quicker and easier to do...

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Spectacled Warbler Twitch

Dave made me drive him down to Norfolk today as he needed Spectacled Warbler. As I didn't have anything better to do and partly because I also needed it for the UK I begrudgingly agreed to it. The bird had been present for a fair few days (and was reportedly busy nest-building) so we thought there would be a good chance of it still being there so we headed down early morning.

We found the bird with no trouble at all and enjoyed brilliant views, firstly singing and moving through the vegetation, then a bit later, further along the dunes where it was busy building its cock nest. After watching the warbler for a bit we headed back home very satisfied.

I managed the following record shots:

Spectacled Warbler © Andy Walker 2014

Spectacled Warbler © Andy Walker 2014

Spectacled Warbler © Andy Walker 2014

Spectacled Warbler © Andy Walker 2014

Spectacled Warbler © Andy Walker 2014

Spectacled Warbler © Andy Walker 2014

Spectacled Warbler © Andy Walker 2014

Spectacled Warbler © Andy Walker 2014

Spectacled Warbler © Andy Walker 2014

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Taiwan Trip Report

I've put together my Taiwan Trip Report (below).

This was a really successful, short birding trip to Taiwan and Lanyu Island in May 2014 (14th-24th). The main target was Fairy Pitta. Once seen the focus was on seeing as many of the endemic species and endemic sub-species possible in the time allowed.

We saw all of the endemics, and pretty much all of the endemic sub-species that may one day get raised to full species status. In addition there was a high number of other endemic races seen. Birding highlights included Fairy Pitta, Swinhoe's Pheasant, Mikado Pheasant, Lanyu Scops Owl, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and many more!

I've put a few photos in the report and there are some also in the post below.

If you have any questions/comments please feel free to drop me an email.

Plumbeous Redstart, Andy Walker

Monday, 26 May 2014

Taiwan Bird Photos

Here are a few photos from my recent 10 day birding trip round Taiwan (and Lanyu Island - part of Taiwan). Will put together a proper trip report but for now this should give an idea of what was recorded.

Fairy Pitta
The main reason for the trip and it didn't disappoint with this bird found on the first morning, it showed very well for a Pitta. Nice to hear it singing too. This was at Huben where we stayed at the very nice Pitta Cafe B&B.

Endemic species. Think Firecrest but funkier! Bright yellow rump with a huge white eye-ring and white lores gives it a spectacled look. Had several birds showing very well in Yushan NP.

Lanyu Scops-Owl
An Endemic owl found only on Lanyu Island off Taiwan. We were amazed by how easily we found this bird and it showed very well. It was getting mobbed by Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and Brown-eared Bulbul, both of which had young nearby within the forest.

Malaysian Night Heron
This species can be tricky to connect with but in Taiwan was fairly easy. We had great views on the way to look for the Pitta at Huben. A really smart bird.

Oriental Pratincole
Found this one sat on the deck as we were driving around looking for the endemic sub-species of Common (Ring-necked) Pheasant - which we also saw. Saw several other pratincoles at the same location on the east coast and also on the west coast.

Owston's Bullfinch
A potential split from Grey-headed (Beavan's) Bullfinch. Had this one at Yushan NP. Another really smart bird. Sounded like our Bullfinch so picked up on call then tracked down in the early morning near the Tataka Visitor Centre! We had great views of Chinese/Himalayan (Taiwan) Tawny Owl at this location too.

Spotted Nutcracker
A fairly distinct endemic sub-species. Fairly numerous in Yushan NP and not shy either!

Swinhoe's Pheasant
One of the birds of the trip for me. Really getting into my Pheasants. This was an absolutely stunning bird. The photo was taken at 3200 ISO f2.8 and 1/8th second as it was practically dark when it walked in! The females are incredibly well camouflaged. We also saw at least 2 male and 1 female Mikado Pheasants and although we got good views didn't manage any photos of them (we avoided going to the photo stake out at Anmashan as wanted to try and find out own).

Taiwan 'Island' Thrush
Had great views of about 8 birds in the Wushe Area - would have probably got more birds and better pics if it wasn't for the weather here which was terrible. A very distinct sub-species and potential split for the future...

Taiwan Barbet
A very common endemic more often heard than seen. Didn't spend any time trying to photograph as not enough time on this trip really. 

Taiwan Blue Magpie
I was really worried we were going to dip this bird as we just couldn't find it at our prime site, however just when it looked like we were doomed we found a family group, including a couple of ugly fledglings. This one was busy ripping up a caterpillar!

Taiwan Hill Partridge
Like other Arborophila partridges we had to work hard for this tick! We'd heard them at several locations but thwarted by a range of things, mainly the rain and the inaccessible nature of many of the areas they occur but we got wind of a site where they were coming to grain early in the am near Alishan. We rode our luck and got this covey on our final full days birding! Worth the wait and like the Pheasant picture above this was taken in near darkness!

Taiwan Scimitar Babbler
Really showy birds (by Scimitar Babbler standards) seen at several locations, this endemic was photographed at Huben.

Taiwan 'Violaceous' Rosefinch
This male was busy eating grass seed at Yushan NP. We saw several family groups when at the higher elevations. Many now consider this to be a valid endemic species.

Taiwan Yuhina
An abundant endemic at the higher elevations, often in mixed-species flocks and responds incredibly well to Collared Owlet calls and often pulls in other birds too.  

White-whiskered Laughingthrush
Another common endemic of the higher elevations. Incredibly approachable where often fed by tourists in the parking lots around the tourist attractions.

Eurasian/Winter Wren
A distinctive endemic sub-species that will presumably get split someday??? This was at Yushan NP but others were heard in the higher elevation areas.

Yellow Tit
Another cool-looking endemic. Essentially a yellow Crested Tit! A couple of birds were seen at Wushe. Good to get this species as not always easy judging by the past trip reports I read before going.

Steere's Liocichla
Another common endemic of the higher elevation areas. It has a wide range of calls but generally was shy.