Emperor Bird-of-Paradise - Huon Peninsular, Papua New Guinea (July 2019)

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Friday, 10 January 2020

Henfield Levels 10/1/20

After visiting both coastal sites to the east and west this year, today I thought it would be best to venture north. Near Balcombe I was surprised to find a huge congregation of Redwings and Chaffinches feeding in a field. I thought a Brambling could be among the Finches, though judging by the poor winter thus far I wasn't overly confident. However, it didn't take long to find a Brambling, and judging by the number of birds present no doubt more could be within this flock.

Elsewhere a walk around some wooded areas produced the likely species, and with plenty of cloud cover the thoughts of any small woodpeckers emerging somewhat dwindled. When the clouds finally did drift off south, a total of three Goshawks were seen within a two hour time period. A total of 20 Siskins and a single Redpoll also flew through between the periods of little activity. The Goshawks weren't displaying, but as I was getting back to the car, a third Goshawk (a huge female) flew around me for a few minutes resulting in me wanting little else from this epic encounter.

Afterwards I visited Henfield Levels and after much searching and boredom, the assistance of West Sussex compatriots Mike and Karen & Nick and Claire found the Glossy Ibis for me. It flew down the valley and landed at some distance where it became very elusive only showing on the odd occasion in a distant ditch.

Brambling near Balcombe

2nd cal. year male Goshawk

2nd cal. year fem Goshawk

Glossy Ibis at Henfield

Monday, 6 January 2020

West Sussex birdrace 5/1/20

Jasper was being annoying during the night, and being unable to get back to sleep, I decided to leave him with Paula and start my big day. At this point it wasn't my plan to try for a big day list as a Bittern on Drayton certainly warranted time and effort, that therefore meant a big list wouldn't be possible. However, upon starting at Arundel WWT (in pure bird race fashion) and scoring some good birds, I was soon in the mood to smash the totals already made thus far by the other groups. Sadly as I was acting solo my totals wouldn't count, though it wasn't clear at this early stage in the day whether or not my total would surpass others.

On my way to Arundel I stopped for some Long-eared Owl action with little success, and therefore I was soon parked at the Black Rabbit awaiting some form of daylight. I stood approx. 300m down the Arun and during the first 45-minutes of 'light' I saw a nice array of species; these included a ringtail Hen Harrier at 07.40, 2 Barnacle Geese, 7 Mandarins (meaning no stop needed at Swanbourne Lake) and a Cetti's Warbler. I had somehow missed a Woodcock that others had seen at the pub and even more so two Barn Owls. The former is a species I see with regularity at this location.

I wasn't too disheartened with the above omissions and carried on my day hurtling towards the Selsey Peninsular. My first quick stop was Sidlesham Ferry adding the expected birds, but more importantly over the ridge and down the channel was a 'Phalaroping' Spotted Redshank. Down to Selsey I swayed clear of the crowd of birders and quickly found three Slavonian Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and passing Red-throated Divers, Razorbills and Gannets. Little else needed here so I then made a brief stop at Church Norton, and with having already seen the grebes I neglected the beach that saved me lots of time. Just the expected waders were found but pleasing enough were a flock of Avocets and a normally hard 'day-list' bird - a Bar-tailed Godwit. Next up I parked along Rookery Lane and took a footpath to where I could distantly view Marsh Farm. The Cattle Egrets were seen and here I saw my only Reed Buntings and Skylarks of the day, though a pack of Yellowhammers were stunning in the morning sunshine. It wasn't even 10am and I had already seen 70+ species...game on!!

A quick jaunt over to Dell Quay had me lucking into a Kingfisher and several Goldeneye, though there was no sign of the Long-tailed Duck. Again I didn't hang around long and ventured just north to Fishbourne where I had better success. Two Water Pipits showed brilliantly for this species and yet more Spotted Redshanks were seen. I always find this site good for Lesser Black-backed Gull and thankfully a pair were present. A clean sweep of easy waders was had with a single Knot and Black-tailed Godwit present, but despite trying I couldn't find a Greenshank, nor could I flush a Jack Snipe. Still, I had added many 'last attempt' birds here before heading inland.

I whizzed through Chichester and was soon on my way to West Dean where a Raven flew over the car. I stopped in the usual spot and quickly found a Hawfinch, with two others seen not so long later. A passing flock was very helpful as it contained a Marsh Tit and a variety of Thrushes. As I was about to leave one of the trickiest birds on a day list sailed through - a Sparrowhawk. Despite being in good Firecrest territory I still hadn't seen one, so I was relieved when I briefly stopped at Droke car park (east of Charlton) and found one there. A passing flock of Bullfinches and a Treecreeper were even more helpful.

Lavington common was rubbish and still needing Grey Wagtail I visited the weir at Burton Mill Pond and one was walking about and showing very well indeed. If I had bothered getting my camera out today it would've made a lovely photo. It was still early afternoon and I was now into three figures, but this of course means you have to now pick your birds. Chiffchaff was easy at Coldwaltham, and yet to see a Snipe I briskly dodged the cows and flushed two Snipe in an area near Greatham Bridge. Viewed from this bridge I finally saw my first Canada Geese of the day as well.

A brief stop at the Rackham viewpoint in case there was any early owl activity (there wasn't) only had me hearing a Nuthatch (I try and see all my birds on a day list), but with time getting on there was still a couple of targets at The Burgh. Despite recent break-ins I risked leaving my car alone and walked to the valley quickly finding a pair of Grey Partridge, and finally my first and only Fieldfare of the day. Yet more Bullfinches were found upon my return to the car. I had tried viewing the valley south of the approach road but low cloud distorted all features. Thankfully it had now cleared and holding my breath (make or break time) I spotted the three distant Bewick's Swans. This now meant I could relax and take in the views and wonderful raptor display over Amberley, once again viewed from the Rackham viewpoint. The commonest bird I had missed was Nuthatch, and so it was with some embarrassment that I had to tape-lure this species into view, but this only took ten seconds. This along with a patrolling Barn Owl over the brooks, I was on a nice round 110 species seen for the day (112 included two heard-only species), and for once ended at a respectable time, despite leaving my home at 04.15.

It was a brilliant day, although missing the likes of Mediterranean Gull, Dartford Warbler, Siskin, Greenshank and Jack Snipe meant it easily could have been more. Still, it's reassuring to think that the winter bird race record made by Bob, Derek and myself in 2018 will be untouched for hopefully some time to come.

Hawfinch at West Dean

Amberley Wildbrooks

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Whipsnade Zoo 2/1/20

A nice day out with Ian where the long-staying Black-throated Thrush (British & world tick) performed superbly at the zoo. Mammalian highlights consisted of Amur Tigers, a Sloth Bear, two Cheetahs, a Brown Bear and two Lynx. The Cheetah was particularly gripping as despite many visits to Africa between us, this is one cat we've failed to see.

Patagonian Mara

Black-throated Thrush

Amur Tiger

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

New Years Day in East Sussex 1/1/20

A thoroughly enjoyable day out in the east of the county. I started at 4am with my torch, but failed to find any targets before it got light. At daybreak I found myself along Penshurst Lane for the first time where I luckily had two Hawfinches fly east over me, these quickly followed by a Red Kite emerging from its roost. As I headed east, a brief stop at Brede High Woods gave me the expected woodland species and yet more Hawfinches, with one of the two showing nicely in the gloom feeding on beech mast.

Scotney GP was my most easterly site (though as usual I stopped along the way and found a Tree Sparrow at their favoured location) and soon found the superb trio of Long-tailed Ducks. Being low tide I wasn't in a rush to get to Pett and therefore walked inland from near Jury's Gap and found two Green Sandpipers on some excavations. Also of note were four Barnacle Geese with Mute Swans feeding in a kale field.

Pett Level was good as always with a family group of White-fronted Geese (adult and two juvs) being the highlight. A flock of 28 Avocets flew east offshore and a Great White Egret and a Ruff were also found with ease.

Rye Harbour was up next and I walked a long circuit from Winchelsea to Flat Beach taking in Long Pit and the beach road. On Long Pit the Black-necked Grebe was present, and a total of three Goldeneye were found across the various pits, though I failed to locate the Long-tailed Duck. From Denny's hide the Smew was thankfully still present and was a swift reminder that this is my favourite species of duck to see in Sussex. Sadly the flocks I saw at Northpoint GP when I first started birding will no longer exist. A small flock of gulls beyond the Smew consisted of five Greater Black-backed Gulls, and just off to the right sat a very smart second-winter Caspian Gull that soon flew out to sea.

I had intended to finish off at Castle Water for the roost, but with light drizzle I decided to head back home via West Rise Marsh. A quick jaunt provided flight views of two Water Pipits, and probably my best ever views of four Bearded Tits. On my way back to the car I flushed two Water Rails. My final stop was a return to Tide Mills, and armed with my torch I finally found a Purple Sandpiper on the last bit of concrete I checked.

two of three Long-tailed Ducks at Scotney

three White-fronted Geese at Pett Level


2w Caspian Gull at Flat Beach

Monday, 30 December 2019

End of a decade

The past ten years can only be described as 'action-packed'. It was back in 2011 when my foreign birding got underway, and since then a convenient job with lots of time off has allowed me to venture to all seven continents in the hope of setting my eyes on some of the most iconic birds and mammals on Earth.

Although birds have been the top priority when arranging the trips, on several occasions the land mammals have proved to be the top highlights. Such standouts include the following:
  • Ethiopian wolf in Ethiopia that circled our vehicle in the Bale Mountains NP.
  • A female Leopard in Yala NP (Sri Lanka) that caused mayhem when vehicles manoeuvred for the best positions as she laid in a tree very close to the road.
  • Photographing Brown Bears inside a remote hide in Finland.
  • The delightful Island Fox found on Santa Cruz Island, just off the Californian coastline.
  • Tracking the Eastern Chimpanzees and Mountain Gorillas in Uganda.
  • Several excellent Lion encounters in southern Africa.
  • Fin and Humpback Whales circling our ship in the southern oceans.
As difficult as it is to pick my favourite birds from the decade, below is the best I could come up with from the many fantastic trips I've been on. 
  •  The Rockjumpers of Southern Africa are staggering birds, and if the Cape Rockjumpers had shown better then they may have been top. However, the Drakensberg Rockjumpers just inside the Lesotho border were superb, and although almost out of breath due to the high altitude, to watch them bouncing around the rocky terrain in front of us proved to be the highlight of our South African trip.
Drakensberg Rockjumper in Lesotho - 2011
  •  Having seen two species of Turaco prior to my trip to Ethiopia, I was desperate to see this exquisite bird in its restricted range. Having left my group to wander off, little did I know that they were watching a Turaco. Thankfully whilst on my own, a Turaco flew into view and showed well and stayed put so the others in the group could also enjoy it. 
Ruspoli's Turaco in Ethiopia - 2012
  •  Surely one of the most striking waders in the world......no more words needed other than when I went in January, these were the only known plovers along the route we were taking, so very fortunate.
Egyptian Plovers in The Gambia - 2013
  •  Again at high-altitude, this Mikado Pheasant was so tame that members of our group were hand-feeding it. The Pheasants of Asia are renowned for being secretive and shy, so the birds we encountered clearly hadn't read the script.
Mikado Pheasant in Taiwan - 2014
  •  I had been wanting to see a Great Grey Owl for years. The year we visited Finland was a good 'owl year'. Although we had seen a Great Grey before the bird below, it was on a nest and not as dramatic as this bird, that was perched not too far away from the Russian border.
Great Grey Owl in Finland - 2015
  •  Although a roadrunnner was expected during our trip to California, setting eyes on the first one was very memorable. It went about exactly as it was meant to be doing....running across a road. We later saw many more of these around the Salton Sea.
Greater Roadrunner in California - 2016
  •  Once again, a truly iconic bird and views could not have been better. This beast stood motionless for twenty minutes before it started fishing among the vast swamp. 
Shoebill in Uganda - 2016
  •  I won't go into this one as hopefully most know the story behind the finding of the rare and endangered Hooded Grebes, found in a remote Patagonian plateau.
Hooded Grebes in Argentina - 2016
  •  No doubt my top wildlife moment to date. St. Andrew's Bay on South Georgia holds onto a population of a few hundred thousand pairs of King Penguins. As we landed on the beach, many penguins walked up and investigated us as we advanced onto their patch. The noise of this colony is truly embedded into my brain.
King Penguins on South Georgia - 2016
  •  The tropics are home to many brightly coloured species, though from what I've seen so far nothing compares to a male Cock-of-the-rock perched within the dark understorey.
Guianan Cock-of-the-rock in Guyana - 2017
  •  Another species I had long been wanting to see. The new world warblers are sensational in their spring plumage, and watching the likes of Blackburnian and Magnolia Warblers fresh in from their north bound migration and showing down to a few feet was brilliant.
Blackburnian Warbler in Ohio - 2017
  •  Having first seen the spoonies back in 2013, a return visit provided much better views and is a firm favourite of mine.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Thailand - 2018
  •  As a seabird enthusiast I had been wanting to visit Madeira for years, especially when my trip back in the previous decade had been cancelled. I finally got round to visiting this island with a great group of friends, and enjoyed a few pelagics where we had a good success rate with a handful of Zino's Petrels.
Zino's Petrel off Madeira - 2018
  • Certainly one of the rarest birds I've seen in the world. This day we may have seen perhaps 5% of the species population within the remote dry grasslands of Rajasthan. The future is bleak for this Bustard, and is why it was a top priority for our trip to India, and the trip highlight.
Great Indian Bustard in India - 2019
  •  In all honesty the majority of the Birds-of-Paradise seen this year in PNG could be a firm highlight, but the Emperors on the Huon were not only the most striking in plumage, but very characterful as the males did their best to entice a female in. 
Emperor Bird-of-Paradise in
Papua New Guinea - 2019

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Cuckmere 19-21/12/19

On Saturday I visited Newhaven Harbour and was delighted to see the Great Northern Diver showing fairly close inshore. I then went straight to the Cuckmere and this time went to avoid the gull flocks to endure some proper birding. Even with this revelation I still couldn't get away from the Caspian Gulls as a first-winter was having a wash in the river. There was little about and so I cracked and checked the gull flocks on the west side finding three Caspian Gulls, with two first-winters again different from birds seen in the last few days. A third-winter was also present and of course the one along the river.

Friday 20th December - an afternoon visit to the Cuckmere produced a large gull flock and within were a minimum of eight Caspian Gulls, seven of which were different from the six seen yesterday.

Thursday 19th December - an afternoon visit to the Cuckmere produced six Caspian Gulls, viewing in what were appalling conditions. It was interesting to note my first second-winters of the period. There were some dodgy gulls within the flock, most of which I presume had some form of Caspian parentage, whilst one looked like it had some Glaucous parentage.

The head of a Great Northern Diver

1w Caspian Gull (21/12)

1w Caspian Gull (21/12)
1w Caspian Gull (20/12)

1w Caspian Gull (20/12)

2w Caspian Gull (20/12)

This 3w Caspian Gull was spotted flying
 in from the north where it circled twice and
carried on south.

1w Caspian Gull (20/12)
A huge 2w Caspian Gull (19/12)

1w Caspian Gull (19/12)

2w Caspian Gull in flight (19/12)

Monday, 16 December 2019

Lower Cuckmere 16/12/19

This weekend I was in Malaga with Paula where I ran the marathon there. Whilst on the run I saw a couple of Booted Eagles, many Crag Martins and heard many Serins and fewer Sardinian Warblers.

Back home today and it was all back to normal. A quick walk down to the Lower Cuckmere to check the gulls produced three Caspian Gulls in with the small flock perhaps containing as little as 500 birds. Six Yellow-legged Gulls and many argentatus were also present. A Little Grebe was also present on the small pool in the SW corner. A visit to the parents beforehand produced a male Blackcap on the feeders.

1w Caspian Gull