Tuesday, 29 January 2013

LA school day!

Fresh after a 10 hour long haul flight from London and after a disturbed night's sleep, I was whisked to Viewpoint School (www.viewpoint.org) early in the morning to speak to a group of 120 6th graders (11 year olds) about the joys of urban birding.

The whole event was put together by Tracy Wymer, an inspirational teacher at this school who has been encouraging the kids to study birds
 The kids learning about how Peregrines hunt pigeons
 TUB being introduced
 TUB and the kids
 A White-breasted Nuthatch in the school yard
 Another view
 An Oak Tit
 Junior birders
 Female Lesser Goldfinch at the birdfeeder
Tracy Wymer with TUB

Monday, 28 January 2013

Fieldfare fest on The Scrubs

Last week saw a fantastic influx of Fieldfares down at The Scrubs. Normally, we are lucky to see perhaps one or two head over at this time of year. But due to the severe weather there was influx that saw at least 200 birds on site variously feeding on the ground, hanging out in the trees and flighting between the both.

All the action was presided over by a Kestrel!
 A Fieldare views the scenery
Fieldfare looking for morsels

My Portuguese list

Life has raced on and I'm now sitting in an apartment in Los Angeles as I write this blog entry about my short time spent hanging out in the Alentejo Region in Portugal just a few days ago. I certainly consider myself lucky to be able to have such a seemingly jetset lifestyle. 

Of course, it couldn't be further from the truth as there is never any time for just simply lounging in the sun. Anyway, ahead of the piece that I will write about my experiences in the Alentejo in a future issue of Bird Watching Magazine, I thought that I would supply you with the list of species that I encountered whilst I was there.

Incidently, I was in Portugal primarily to discuss the distinct possibility of me presenting a film on birding in the region potentially to be funded by the region's tourist boards. Watch this space.
 Yellow-legged Gull - looking sideways
 TUB - looking up!
A Little Owl - just looking

Some of the birds that I saw:

Great Crested Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
Little Grebe
Great Cormorant
Little Great
Great Egret
Squacco Heron
Grey Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Glossy Ibis
White Stork
Greater Flamingo
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Black-shouldered Kite
Black-winged Stilt
Ringed Plover
Grey Plover
Common Sandpiper
Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-headed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Little Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Lesser Black-back
Sandwich Tern
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Little Owl
Great Spotted Woodpecker (heard)
Barn Swallow
Meadow Pipit
White Wagtail
Wren (heard)
Black Redstart
Song Thrush
Zitting Cisticola
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Iberian Grey Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie
Carrion Crow
Spotless Starling
House Sparrow
Rock Bunting
Corn Bunting

81 species

Thursday, 24 January 2013

My views on the Alentejo region, Portugal

I snuck off for a quick for day trip to the Alentejo region of Portugal. It is the area sandwiched between Lisbon in the north and the Algarve in the south. Most people who visit Portugal tend to make a beeline for the latter area missing out on this amazing area.

 Male Chaffinch
 Greenfinches with a solitary Serin on the right
Common Sandpiper 
 Female Black Redstart
Little Owl 
Iberian Grey Shrike
I'll break down my trip a bit more tomorrow.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Ruff day at The Scrubs

The last couple of days at The Scrubs have been pretty good when it comes to adding to our newly started 2013 year list.

Yesterday, after watching my personal first Bullfinches fly over (however, not the first for The Scrubs this year) I glimpsed a Med Gull flying past and managed to grab a rather rubbish record shot.
 Mediterranean Gull spiriting away
 Common Gull
The Med Gull was flying in loose association with a bunch of Common and Black-headed Gulls and was the first for the year on the patch. They are seen annually but usually have to be searched for. A little later, I was walking through the grassland when a Ruff flew low over my head, twice, as it circuited the area looking as though it was going to land. It eventually disappeared heading northwest.

Interestingly, a Ruff turned up at the nearby London Wetland Centre. Was it my bird?
 A party of Ruff in the Hula Valley, Israel
A Mediterranean Gull - photographed in Hartlepool.

Today, a Woodcock was flushed by an intrepid Scrubber - another year tick!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

New bird for the 2013 Scrubs List

Great Black-back Gull (Russell F Spencer)
Whilst I was having a meeting within a warm, posh cafe in Notting Hill things were stirring at The Scrubs. I was chatting with the main marketing woman at Hurtigruten regarding my leading a cruise for them and the RSPB along the Norwegian coast in April. It will be a 10 day affair - but more about that another day.

Anyway, whilst I was supping hot chocolate an intrepid Scrubber was bracing the cold at The Scrubs and was rewarded with the sight of a passing Great Black-back - a newby on our year list. We get between one and five a year so they are not that common. Our year list is probably around the 40 species mark. It's a good start especially given that we can easily expect to see 80 by September.

Big things often have small beginnings.

Friday, 11 January 2013

A pair of false tits in Kensington Gardens

It is getting decidedly colder as we approach the weekend. The weather people are predicting snow and freezing temperatures next week. Great. This morning's stroll around The Scrubs although pleasant was fairly unproductive with just 1 Fieldfare, 2 Redwings and maybe 3 Lesser Redpolls to show for my efforts.

Later in the afternoon I allowed myself to be diverted by emails whilst writing. It was there that I learnt of inner London's first ever Bearded Tits that were rummaging in a tiny tract of reedbed by the Serpentine in Kensington Gardens of all places. Apparently, they were first discovered in December. I'm usually not one for twitches but seeing as they were five minutes drive away it would have been rude not to have seen them.

 The female Bearded Tits
It was incredible to watch these birds at a distance of around six feet feeding unconcerned by passing parkgoers and a small battery of birders camera lenses. At one point they hopped onto the ground under the reeds in full view belying their relationship to their tit namesakes. They are currently lumped in with Parrotbills and indeed, their formal international name is Bearded Parrotbill.

The current thinking may change though because Bearded Tits seem to have no real close relatives so scientists may place them into a family of their own. Either way, it was an amazing sight to witness in central London.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

New species of flycatcher for Thailand?

You may remember from one of my recent Bangkok entries the reference to a species of flycatcher found by my good friend and Bangkok resident, Dave Gandy, in Suan Rot Fai, also known as Wachirabenchathat Park or Railway Park, his local patch in the northwest of the city. 

When Dave took me to see the bird on Boxing Day it had already been in the area (a thicket area of low shrubs) for at least a week. This bird is thought to belong to the 'Cyornis' clan of flycatchers. The distiguishing feature of this largely Asian genus of flycatchers is that the males tend to blue headed with blue wings whilst the females are brown with varying degrees of orange on their throats and chests. The female we saw (depicted) clearly displayed an orange throat and upper chest.

There are several species that are either found in Thailand or have been recorded as vagrants. Last year a rare Chinese Blue Flycatcher wintered in the very same area. It was a male so was a little easier to identify.

Our particular bird was later identified as another Chinese Blue Flycatcher. But when the images were sent to Phil Round, one of Thailand's top birders, he doubted the original prognosis. His thoughts swung towards the possibility of it being a Large Blue Flycatcher - a first for Thailand.

I haven't even heard of that species before so couldn't initially proffer an opinion. But I will do some research. What do you guys think? If you are interested in trying to solve this identification mystery then here are some notes on Cyornis flycatchers http://www.bcst.or.th/?p=1

Plus here are some of Dave's pictures and blog on the mystery flycatcher  http://bangkokcitybirding.blogspot.com/2012/12/another-visitor-from-london-innit.html

Back to the grindstone

After two weeks of lounging in the sun I've returned to sombre grey Britain and an to equally sombre and grey local patch. Sadly, we didn't make 100 species for 2012 but ended up on 97 with the last addition to the list being the Woodcock that I flushed from the grassland in early December.

I missed the deluge of rain over the Christmas period but the evidence was clear to see all around my patch. There were puddles and mud everywhere. Our chances of hitting the magical 100 this year are fading already. One of our regular experienced Scrubbers is about to have a baby - well, his wife is - which means that his activity will be curtailed. Another keen Scrubber, whose visits had admittedly been far and few between in 2012 sent me a text saying that he has moved out of the area and will not be covering the patch. Plus, it looks like I will be away a lot during the crucial spring and autumn periods so unless we get some new blood it looks like it's going to be a struggle in 2013.
 Lesser Redpoll
 Black-headed Gull
A wretched female Rose-ringed Parakeet
On a lighter note, we are probably already on 40 species for the year and should comfortably get another 40 by September. The rest will be in the laps of the birding gods!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Thailand - the final instalment

 White-fronted Plover??
 White-fronted Plover??
 Male (below) and female Red Collared Dove
 Common Sandpiper
 Pied Asian Starling
 Collared Kingfisher
 Asian Openbill Stork
Paddyfield Pipit
A great holiday with some great birds. Read the full account of my birding in Chiang Mai in a forthcoming issue of Birdwatching Magazine.

In the meantime, I'm back in grey and chilly Blighty. As a little reminder of my time in Thailand I've included the complete list of birds that I identified. As you may imagine, there were a ton of birds that I just couldn't work out!

Little Cormorant
Little Egret
Pacific Reef Egret
Great Egret
Eastern Cattle Egret
Grey Heron
Chinese Pond Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Grey Heron
Brahminy Kite
Crested Serpant Eagle
Asian Openbill
White-breasted Waterhen
Common Moorhen
Mountain Bamboo Partridge
Mrs Hume’s Pheasant
Red-wattled Lapwing
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Malaysian Plover
Lesser Sandplover
Greater Sandplover
Pacific Golden Plover
Pied Avocet
Black-winged Stilt
Spotted Redshank
Common Greenshank
Marsh Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Red-necked Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Broad-billed Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Eurasian Curlew (heard)
Heuglin’s Gull
Brown-headed Gull
Caspian Tern
Greater Crested Tern
Common Tern
Roseate Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Little Tern
Whiskered Tern
Feral Pigeon
Mountain Imperial Pigeon
Oriental Turtle Dove
Spotted Dove
Red-collared Dove
Little Cuckoo Dove
Peaceful Dove
Pink-necked Green Pigeon
Greater Coucal
Asian Emerald Cuckoo
Asian Koel
Green-billed Malkoha
Asian Barred Owlet
Large-tailed Nightjar
Himalayan Swiftlet
Asian Palm Swift
Pacific Swift
Cook’s Swift
House Swift
Common Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Black-capped Kingfisher
Collared Kingfisher
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Indian Roller
Lesser Yellownape
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Stripe-breasted Woodpecker
Coppersmith Barbet
Asian House Martin
Sand Martin
Bank Swallow
Wire-tailed Swallow
Paddyfield Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit
White Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Grey Bushchat
Siberian Stonechat
Blue Whistling Thrush
Rufescent Prinia
Plain Prinia
Common Tailorbird
Thick-billed Warbler
Dusky Warbler
((Raddes Warbler))
Two-barred Greenish Warbler
Pallas’ Leaf Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
Hume’s Yellow-browed Warbler
Chestnut-flanked White-eye
Oriental White-eye
Japanese White-eye
Grey-crowned Warbler
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Taiga Flycatcher
((Little Pied Flycatcher))
Hill Blue Flycatcher
Chinese Blue Flycatcher
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
Great Tit
Yellow-cheeked Tit
Chestnut-vented Nuthatch
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Giant Nuthatch
Brown Shrike
Grey-backed Shrike
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
Spangled Drongo
Black-naped Oriole
Slender-billed Oriole
Maroon Oriole
Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike
Large Cuckoo-shrike
Grey-chinned Minivet
Long-tailed Minivet
Scarlet Minivet
Pied Fantail
Common Iora
Oriental Magpie Robin
Ashy Woodswallow
Black-headed Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Flavescent Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Mountain Bulbul
Black Bulbul
White-browed Scimitar Babbler
White-browed Shrike Babbler
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Olive-backed Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Mrs Gould’s Sunbird
Eurasian Jay
Grey Treepie
Large-billed Crow
Asian Pied Starling
Black-collared Starling
Chestnut-tailed Starling
Common Myna
White-vented Myna
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Baya Weaver
Red Avadavat
Scaly-breasted Munia

161 species
50 lifers

Sunday, 6 January 2013

More from Pak Thale, Thailand

 Black-winged Stilt
 Whiskered Tern
 Marsh Sandpipers
 Black-tailed Godwit
 Little Egret
Spoon-billed Sandpiper - fuzzy shot, I know!
Red Collared Dove
 Broad-billed Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper