Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Shetland days

 My little Shetland Pony
Life can be a beach 

Views of Shetland

Saturday, 26 May 2012

In transit....

A male Northern Wheatear (Russell F Spencer)
I'm sitting here in an airport lounge at Aberdeen Airport on my way to Shetland - a mythical destination that I have never been to before but have always lusted after since my monstrous Dixon's 10 x 50  wielding days. The sky is a glorious blue. Thank good that Aberdeen is also experiencing the recent  tropical weather that the rest of Britain has been basking in.

A couple of days ago I spent an interesting afternoon at Wormwood Scrubs, my patch. The sun was beating down and seeing as I was to have a radio interview on site later in the afternoon I decided to spend an hour sitting on an anthill in the grassland scanning for passing raptors. Well, despite my best efforts I managed one Sparrowhawk, a couple of Cormorants and a host of Herring & Lesser Black-back Gulls. Scanning the grassland I noticed that a topless man was reclining in the grass around 200 yards away. This would have been fine had it not been that he had chosen to sunbath in the protected area for ground nesting birds. Riled I got up and started to approach the guy. But instead of making a direct beeline across the grassland and potentially disturbing the very birds that I was about to berate him about, I decided to take the long way round to him by using the path.

I must have walked 10 yards when I noticed a handsome male Northern Wheatear strolling away from me on the same path. What an absolutely gorgeous bird it was. My statistical mind started to whirr. Was this the latest bird ever at The Scrubs? I suddenly realised that it was. The previous latest was recorded on the 20th May 2008. I marvelled at its finery as it flew on top of a nearby Blackthorn. Time ran away with me. I suddenly remembered the reason for my ramble and simultaniously also realised that it was time to meet the reporter. The topless man got away with being topless in the wrong place.

But I'll get him next time!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Avistar 2012

I've recently had a fabulous few days in Sao Paulo, Brazil. My mission was to be keynote speaker at the Avistar 2012 - an annual Brazilian birdfair organised by Brazilian ornithologist, Guto Carvalho. I met a host of fantastic conservationists including the wonderful Martha Argel and Betty Petersen who took me under her wing.

Seeing as winter was rapidly approaching the birding wasn't as great as it could have been. so for those who like lists I have compiled all the species that I saw or heard during my four day flying visit.

I shall return!

A view of Sao Paulo & below TUB with American Bird Association's Betty Petersen

TUB with Anelisa Magalhaes
TUB with Martha Argel
TUB with AVISTAR organisor Guto Carvalho
A view from an urban park
Urban birding in Sao Paulo
Checking for a Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Those pink things are actually Scarlet Ibises!
I need a proper camera!

Magnificent Frigatebird

Neotropic Cormorant
White-necked Heron
Great Egret
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Striated Heron
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
White-faced Whistling Duck
White-cheeked Pintail
Scarlet Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture
Roadside Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Southern Caracara
Yellow-headed Caracara
American Kestrel
Common Moorhen
Southern Lapwing
Semipamated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Kelp Gull
Royal Tern
‘Cayenne’ Tern
Black Skimmer
Feral Pigeon
Picazuro Pigeon
Ruddy Ground Dove
Blue-winged Parrotlet
Plain Parakeet
Squirrel Cuckoo
Smooth-billed Ani
Burrowing Owl
White-collared Swift
Sapphire-spangled Emerald
Ringed Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
White-spotted Woodpecker
Narrow-billed Woodcreeper
Rufous Hornero
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Masked Water Tyrant
Short-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
White-rumped Swallow
Blue-and white Swallow
Southern House Wren
Chalk-browed Mockingbird
Rufous-bellied Thrush
Pale-breasted Thrush
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Saffron Finch
Brazilian Tanager
Sayaca Tanagar
Bicoloured Conebil
Golden-crowned Warbler
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Epaulet Oriole
Shiny Cowbird

Friday, 18 May 2012

A quiet day in Sao Paulo

 Pale-breasted Thrush (Rick & Elis Simpson)
Rufous Hornero (Rick & Elis Simpson)
My keynote speech that I wrote whilst delivering it went down a storm at Avistar 2012. My translater and I worked in complete harmony.

Quiet day otherwise. Did very little birding apart from looking around the park where the birdfair was based. I was rewarded with a view of my first ever Southern Caracara as it flapped overhead. I saw just one Pale-breasted Thrush yesterday but the Rufous Hornero were pleasingly common. They were a mix between a Starling and Nightingale (the rufous tail) when walking about on the grass but flew like a woodpecker. Curious.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Avistar 2012

Burrowing Owl (D. Fettes)
Just got back to my hotel room after attending the opening of the Avistar 2012 Brazil Bird Fair. Held in a classy auditorium close to the fair venue I must say that I was taken by the professionalism displayed by organisor Guto Carvalho and his team. It wasn't just straight presentations illustrated by images of birds, oh, no. There was a blind man who came on stage with his guide dog to present a superb soundscape that he had recorded. A woman came on and proceeded to get the audience to imitate bird calls. Plus, another fella came on an presented his film on the scenery around the Atlantic forests accompanied by a live seven piece orchestra. Impressive. The only downer for me was that the entire night was conducted in Portuguese.

I arrived in Sao Paulo, a tired migrant, at 7.30am after a knackering 11.5 hour flight. Any birding was restricted to the park in which the fair was being held. Had a few new species including Rufous-bellied Thrush, a species that looked like a bulky female Blackbird but with a delightful ruddy wash on its undercarriage. Later, before going to the opening, I took a short walk around the corner from my hotel to explore Sao Paulo University Campus. There were a few good urban birds here including plentiful Southern Lapwings that littered the mown grass. I also discovered a lone Burrowing Owl as it tried act cool standing on a rock with an eye trained on a bunch of students that unwittingly sat very close nearby.

Time to write my speech for the start of the fair tomorrow. Goodbye. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Prolonged winter

I read the depressing news yesterday that Britain is going to be variously shivering and soaking until mid-June. What a brilliant summer we're having!

I mooched around The Scrubs this morning at 6am in the vain hope that the ominous dark clouds that were swiftly moving in from the west were not going to envelope the relatively clear sky that was above my head. I had hoped that they would have retreated to whence they came. But instead they advanced. I watched a Spotted Flycatcher that I had just discovered sitting in a bush. It seemed to shudder as the first spots of icey rain fell.

Welcome to Britain Mr Flycatcher!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Oh SH1T!!!

All images courtesy of Susan Sammons
We've had a fantastic couple of weeks at The Scrubs that has involved the discovery of great birds like Northern Wheatear, Common Redstart, Ring Ouzel, a Whimbrel feeding on the football pitches and a wayward Common Sandpiper. We had high hopes for the discovery of another great bird yesterday during the London Natural History Society bird walk that I was leading.

Nearly 50 people showed up on one of the nicest days of the year. The sun was absolutely beaming down. I instructed the group from the outset to be on big bird alert as conditions seemed favourable for a passing raptor. We were walking across the football pitches as I waxed lyrical about the importance of looking up when birding when I looked up and immediately saw a white-winged gull soaring high overhead with an accompanying Herring Gull. My heart raced as I shouted out 'Iceland Gull!' It looked like one to me apart from a slight niggle. For a second I thought that its head and beak looked too rugged for an Iceland. It just didn't feel gentle enough. I dismissed that doubt in a heartbeat  and instead asked for anyone one in the group with a camera to start popping off some shots.

I was still celebrating the first Iceland Gull for the patch a few hours later when I recieved a text from my mate James Lowen. He asked me to consider the possibility of it being a leucistic Herring Gull. Alarm bells started to ring at full volume. Apparently, there is a leucistic bird that bears the ring SH1T that was originally controlled by the North London Ringing Group and has been doing the rounds at various sites both inside and outside London like Rainham Marshes and Beddington Farm. It has been leaving many confused folk in its wake and now it looks as though I have been added to the 'Fake Iceland Gull Club'. Looking at the photographs you can see that the bird has a very typical Herring Gull structure and my Larid loving peers tell me that the wear on the primaries were not befitting those of a genuine Iceland Gull.

Ah well, we're on 85 species for the year at The Scrubs thus far. Number 86 will have to come from elsewhere.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

West by southeast

Asian Glossy Starling (D. Fettes)
I've been back in the UK for four days since coming back from Taiwan. I hit the ground running with wall to wall writing deadlines, talk designing and meetings. I managed to spend some quality time at The Scrubs, but more about that tomorrow, especially seeing that I am leading a London Natural History Society walk there tomorrow morning.

Anyway, I have had a few requests for a species list of the birds I saw whilst in Taiwan. For those of a less listy disposition please look away now:

[denotes an escaped species]
((denotes heard))

[Sacred Ibis]
Black-faced Spoonbill
Yellow Bittern
Cinnamon Bittern
Malayan Night Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Chinese Pond Heron
Eastern Cattle Egret
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Pacific Reef Heron
Grey Heron
 ((Taiwan Hill Partridge))
 ((Chinese Bamboo Partridge))
Swinhoe’s Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant
Eastern Spot-billed Duck
Oriental Honey Buzzard
Black-shouldered Kite
Black-eared Kite
Crested Serpent Eagle
Crested Goshawk
Poss. Chinese Sparrowhawk
Poss. Eastern Buzzard
White-breasted Waterhen
Common Moorhen
Black-winged Stilt
Pacific Golden Plover
Kentish Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Pheasant-tailed Jacana
Marsh Sandpiper
Terek Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Grey-tailed Tattler
Great Knot
Red-necked Stint
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Oriental Pratincole
Black-tailed Gull
Little Tern
Whiskered Term
White-winged Black Tern
Feral Pigeon
Oriental Turtle Dove
Red Turtle Dove
Spotted Dove
Emerald Dove
Oriental Cuckoo
Lesser Coucal
 ((Savanna Nightjar))
Silver-backed Needletail
House Swift
Common Kingfisher
Taiwan Barbet
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Fairy Pitta
Grey-chinned Minivet
Brown Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
Black Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
 ((Black-naped Monarch))
Taiwan Blue Magpie
Grey Treepie
Black-billed Magpie
Large-billed Crow
Yellow Tit
Grey-throated Martin
Sand Martin
Barn Swallow
Pacific Swallow
Asian House Martin
Striated Swallow
Oriental Skylark
Zitting Cisticola
Yellow-bellied Prinia
Plain Prinia
Collared Finchbill
Chinese Bulbul
Himalayan Black Bulbul
Rufous-faced Warbler
Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler
Taiwan Scimitar Babbler
Rufous-capped Babbler
White-whiskered Laughing Thrush
Steere’s Liocichla
Dusky Fulvetta
Grey-cheeked Fulvetta
Taiwan Sibia
Taiwan Yuhina
Japanese White-eye
Asian Glossy Starling
 [Great Myna]
Crested Myna
 [Jungle Myna]
 [Common Myna]
 [Black-collared Starling]
 [Asian Pied Starling]
Taiwan Whistling Thrush
Johnstone’s Robin
 [Oriental Magpie Robin]
[White-rumped Shama]
Plumbeous Redstart
White-tailed Robin
Blue Rock Thrush
Brown Dipper
Tree Sparrow
White-rumped Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Eastern Yellow Wagtail
White Wagtail
Vinaceous Rosefinch

117 species (excluding exotics)

61 lifers                                                                     

Monday, 7 May 2012

This is the end

Taiwan Blue Magpie (D. Fettes) 
 Taiwan Barbet at nest hole (D. Fettes)
 Oriental Honey Buzzard (D. Fettes)
 Oriental Honey Buzzard (D. Fettes)
A male Plumbeous Redstart (D. Fettes) 
Kuen-Dar Chiang (guide) with TUB looking up! (D. Fettes)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The lifers keep coming!

 Oriental Skylark on a brownfield site (D. Fettes)

A gorgeous White-winged Black Tern (D. Fettes)
The past few days in Taiwan have been heavenly as we traverse the west coast of the island. I had loads of lifers like the Grey-tailed Tattlers (a Redshank-like wader with plain grey wings) and Oriental Skylark. The lark was quite interesting because its song was a squeakier version of our familiar Skylark. It seemed smaller with a buffy trailing edge to its wings. I've also seen a couple do 'seconders' this week including Oriental Pratincole - a bird that I originally twitched in Gimingham, Norfolk back in the early 90's!

A full version of the birding events will appear in forthcoming issues of Bird Watching Magazine as I must admit that there is just too much to say and I'm too knackered. However, for those interested I will publish a list of the birds that I saw - possibly tomorrow.

Anyway, one more day left. More pictures tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Slowly heading north back to Taipei

 Straited Swallows (D. Fettes)
 Brown Shrike (D. Fettes)
 Black-shouldered Kite (D. Fettes)
 Crested Goshawk (D. Fettes)
Pheasant-tailed Jacana with a Common Moorhen (D. Fettes)

Friday, 4 May 2012

The ticks keep coming!

A male Swinhoe's Pheasant (D. Fettes)
 Pacific Swallow (D. Fettes)
 Taiwan Barbet (D. Fettes)
Formosan Macaque (D. Fettes)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

More from Taipei and environs

 Chinese Bulbul
 Oriental Turtle Dove
 Yellow-bellied Prinia
Rain over Taipei