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

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Sunday, 5 April 2020

Farewell April

Last night down Splash Point having spent a day on the patch, I was ready to sleep in my car ready for an onslaught of birds passing this very morning. However, despite my committed approach to this, it soon dawned on me how selfish I was being. Radio stations bellowing out increasingly alarming firm warnings to stay at home and continuous government warnings was finally starting to get to me. For those that know me well, my seawatching enthusiasm knows no bounds, and the thought of missing an early April south-easterly feels me with pure dread. However, with much criticism towards those who are strolling along the beaches and enjoying the fine weather, it was clear to me that I was one of those, and who am I to continue my normal life while others are suffering around me? So it was time to start the engine and drive back to Alton.

Now living in Hampshire for work, my normal commute onto the patch has increased somewhat, to an extant where I'll be breaking governmental guidelines by an extortionate amount. It's with this in mind, that for the foreseeable future I'll be abandoning any general birding within Sussex! It's sadly unprecedented times, but there'll be plenty more Aprils and plenty more times to capture what I'll be missing this time round.

Close by to my new address here in Alton, only twenty minutes away are several badger sets where I've already had two successful evenings, so my daily exercise will be heading out and enjoying these, and I hope to deliver the results on this blog.

But for the time being, I'll be recollecting my finest birding moments from the foreign trips I've been lucky to go on over the years, and I hope these provide some distraction to those who, like me, will now being staying in during this phase.

My last day on the patch, for what I fear,
some time.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Pokhara - Nepal (March 2020)

What had been one of most favourite, and varied trips to date was slowly coming to an end. Pokhara was my last of many destinations within Nepal, and it ended in style. I stayed at Tiger Mountain Resort, yet another first rate premises. Despite the number of activities I could've got involved in (neither really got be enthused), I instead remained on the premises and enjoyed the avian life, that was for once, coming to find me and not the other way around. A full afternoon and a full morning provided many highlights within the grounds before I had to make my way back down to the bustling city and to the airport.

Friday 6th & Saturday 7th March

Badri (the owner of Nature Safaris - our Nepalese ground agents) had efficiently put me on an earlier flight to Pokhara, immediately after I had landed from Suklaphanta. This gave me a couple more hours at the Tiger Mountain Resort, that is situated on top of a hill on the outskirts of Pokhara. The views from the premises overlook the superb Annapurna Range of the Himalayas, meaning this is a very productive site for birds-of-prey.

From here on in, there wasn't a great deal else to write about, other than the fact the birdlife was particularly good. On the morning of the 7th, I walked the road up the hill from outside the premises and found some great birds among the many cultivations. A male Grey-winged Blackbird was a particular highlight, whilst Hume's Leaf Warblers were absolutely everywhere.

Within my last hour of leaving the premises for the airport, I found an extremely elusive Snowy-browed Flycatcher, but a Little Pied Flycatcher showed much better. Sadly, my camera was packed when a White-rumped Vulture flew within metres of me - but wow, what a bird!

I departed Pokhara in the afternoon, landing in Kathmandu a short while later. That evening I met Badri and had pre-dinner snacks and a drink with, and then had dinner with my trekking guide. The next morning, Anil, who had driven goodness knows how long over the past ten days, drove me to the airport to round off an amazing trip.

Due to thick fog, my flight was delayed for three hours, and this meant I missed my connection in Dubai. Emirates were of course brilliant and arranged an in-terminal hotel room, and it was so good I could've stayed there for a few days. I eventually arrived home the following morning back to the chaos, that is/was coronavirus.

Highlights for the afternoon (6th) and morning 7th):

Black Stork - 1
Egyptian Vulture - 5
White-rumped Vulture - 10
Cinereous Vulture - 2
Himalayan Vulture - 50
Crested Serpent Eagle - 3
Himalayan Buzzard - 2
Steppe Eagle - 20
Oriental Turtle Dove - 4
Barred Cuckoo-dove - 1
Blossom-headed Parakeet - 5
Asian Barred Owlet - 1
Alpine Swift - 2
Great Barbet - 15
Blue-throated Barbet - 1
Red-billed Blue-magpie - 2
Grey Treepie - 2
Maroon Oriole - 2
Large Cuckooshrike - 2
Yellow-bellied Fantail - 1
Himalayan Black-lored Tit - 4
Himalayan Bulbul - 5
Buff-barred Warbler - 20
Whistler's Warbler - 1
Puff-throated Babbler - 2
Blue-winged Minla - 5
Whiskered Yuhina - 1
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch - 2
Grey-winged Blackbird - 1
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher - 1
Snowy-browed Flycatcher - 1
Little Pied Flycatcher - 1
Rufous-bellied Niltava - 1
Orange-bellied Leafbird - 3
Crimson Sunbird - 2
Dark-breasted Rosefinch - 1
Common Rosefinch - 1
Olive-backed Pipit - 50

So once again, that is it for another trip. It's hard to tell when my next trip will be. Brazil in June will surely have to wait for another year, and Madagascar in October could also be problematic in current circumstances, so Sussex at weekends it shall be for the foreseeable future. Stay safe everyone!!

Himalayan Black-lored Tit

Oriental Turtle Dove

Black Stork

Approaching Kathmandu

View from Tiger Mountain

departing Pokhara

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Bardia NP & Suklaphanta NP - Nepal (March 2020)

I only had one morning within Bardia National Park to find whatever I could. My local guide (Sitaram Chaudhary) for the morning was great, and over the next few days we became good friends. After Bardia, we drove a couple of hours to Suklaphanta for a two night stay, allowing a full day within Suklaphanta National Park.

Wednesday 4th March

I didn't get much sleep last night, but I was up and ready for a mornings safari drive. To get to the entrance from the Babai Resort it was only a two minutes drive. Passing the formalities of signing in (much more straightforward than in India), we were soon driving the many tracks that criss-cross their way around the park. The understorey was more sparse than it was at Chitwan, and so hopes were high of another tiger sighting, and at one point we came close. After jumping out the vehicle and walking through the jungle for an hour, we saw many incredibly fresh tracks and scent markings. At the river though we managed to get within maybe 20 metres of a One-horned Rhinoceros taking a bath, and just downriver was a delightful party of Smooth-coated Otters - a top highlight.

We continued the drive and found ourselves on the edge of the jungle, and once again hopped out of the vehicle to scan from a nearby ridge. As we approached, the monkeys started to bellow out their alarm calls, possibly indicating the presence of a nearby predator. Despite running to the location, we fear we had just missed a sighting of a tiger as we could see all the deer and monkeys focused on an area that frustratingly we couldn't see. Service resumed to normal and therefore we checked an area that is supposedly good for Indian Rock Python. Being a snake fan, I was delighted to see three pythons tucked away in the grasses below us.

Time was pushing on and all too soon there was only time for one last trek out of the jeep. Once again no tigers about, but a Blue-bearded Bee-eater and a small bird flock containing Small Minivets, Greenish Warblers and Oriental White-eyes was some form of compensation.

Once at Babai Resort, I was given a hefty lunch and having felt like I'd only just arrived, it was time to leave (this being the theme of my tour of southern Nepal). Sitaram was thankfully joining me for my time at Suklaphanta National Park. It was only a two hour journey (it felt like seconds after the previous journeys I had undertaken) and by the time we reached the camp, there was still plenty of light to explore the relatively confined grounds. Being adjacent to Suklaphanta, bird life was good with some Indian Grey Hornbills, a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher and many parakeets forming the highlights.

Highlights are as follows:

Black Stork - 1
Woolly-necked Stork - 7
Crested Serpent Eagle - 1
Shikra - 2
Alexandrine Parakeet - 2
Jungle Owlet - 3
Indian Grey Hornbill - 2
Blue-bearded Bee-eater - 1
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater - 5
Lineated Barbet - 1
Large Cuckooshrike - 2
Small Minivet - 4
Whistler's Warbler - 1
Oriental White-eye - 5
Verditer Flycatcher - 1
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher - 1
White-rumped Shama - 1
Thick-billed Flowerpecker - 1
White-browed Wagtail - 5
Citrine Wagtail - 5
Grey Wagtail - 1
Olive-backed Pipit - 50
Red Avadavat - 3

Rhesus Macaque
Terai Grey Langur
Smooth-coated Otter - 4
One-horned Rhinoceros - 1
Indian Rock Python - 3

One-horned Rhinoceros

Crested Serpent Eagle
Mugger Crocodile

Bardia National Park

Babai Resort

Thursday 5th March

Today, I only had one objective, and that was to see a Bengal Florican. Despite Suklaphanta being an exceptional park for many other rare species, having not seen a florican at Koshi was starting to get to me. We left the camp early, and in the vehicle was myself, Sitarama, the son of the camp's owner, a little lad, and of course the driver. Together we made a formidable team, and not just from a birding prospective, but more on that story later. As we made our way through the pristine jungle, we came across some good birds with a pair of Great Slaty Woodpeckers being the best. It took nearly 90 minutes to reach the recently cut grasslands. Among these grasslands were three viewing towers, and they helpfully had roofs as there was persistent rain all morning. This certainly didn't help our quest of finding a florican, and after a couple of hours and much scanning, there was no sign. There were however many Black Francolins around (somehow a new bird for me) and a couple of Bluethroats scuttling around below the towers.

Interest was soon aimed towards the Swamp Deer that started running out of a marshy area. Once they had stopped, they were all staring into one area, and yet again it was highly likely we were in the presence of a tiger. Despite much scanning we just couldn't make anything out in the long grass, but what an exciting experience nonetheless.

Soon the rain started to ease and eventually stopping, allowing many birds to finally appear. A pair of Swamp Francolins emerged, as did a few White-tailed Stonechats. We had completed a circuit of the towers and were now considering moving on, but we thought we'd give it one last go. Reaching the top of the tower, a Changeable Hawk-eagle flew in very close, and as I was captivated by this, the others started shouting at me as not more than 200 metres away a Bengal Florican was flying straight towards us. It landed for a short time allowing brilliant views before flying off again. We descended the tower and its very steep steps and jumped into the vehicle. Although obscured, the florican showed well from the vehicle before flying off and this time, out of sight...…a brilliant result!! With this finally in the bag, I could enjoy the rest of the afternoon. Another close encounter of a Changeable Hawk-eagle that plummeted down onto a helpless Black Francolin was a superb sight (the Francolin somehow escaped), as was a brief view of an Indian Spotted Civet that crossed the track in front of us. Another river stop produced some River Lapwings and a few more species of deer.

We were now on our way back to the entrance, though this involved a different route back through the park. It was noticeably more damp than the other tracks, not helped by the continuous rain from earlier today. The first section of mud we just about cruised through, but the same couldn't be said for the next section. With steep rutted tracks, we soon became stuck - so stuck we were trying to get out for a couple of hours. Eventually after many tactics, and many muddy clothes later, we won the battle.

A final scout around the camp produced a superb Ultramarine Flycatcher (a new bird for Sitaram).

It had been a brilliant day in Suklaphanta, but once again it was time to move on. The next morning I caught a flight to Kathmandu, and then half-hour later a flight to Pokhara, where I was whisked up to Tiger Mountain Resort. This will be the last and final blog post for my time in Nepal.

Highlights are as follows:

Swamp Francolin - 2
Ferruginous Duck - 3
Black-necked Stork - 1
Oriental Darter - 1
Long-legged Buzzard - 1
Changeable Hawk-eagle - 1
Indian Thick-knee - 2
Bronze-winged Jacana - 5
Wood Sandpiper - 2
Himalayan Swiftlet - 10
Hoopoe - 2
Stork-billed Kingfisher - 1
Great Slaty Woopecker - 2
Long-tailed Shrike - 10
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo - 2
Oriental Skylark - 2
Striated Babbler - 5
Ultramarine Flycatcher - 1
Red-spotted Bluethroat - 3
White-tailed Stonechat - 3
Pied Bushchat - 6
Citrine Wagtail - 3
Scaly-breasted Munia - 10

Golden Jackal - 2
Indian Grey Mongoose - 1
Swamp Deer - 300
Water Buffalo - 10
Indian Spotted Civet - 1

White-tailed Stonechat

Bengal Florican

Common Kingfisher

Florican success (Sitaram on the left)

Suklaphanta National Park

Suklaphanta Rest Camp

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Chitwan NP - Nepal (March 2020)

My time in the lowlands was now advancing westwards to Chitwan NP. This park is not only famous for its prolific birdlife, but also the frequency of Tiger sightings, and I was extremely hopeful on joining on one of these sightings.

Sunday 1st March

Anil met me at the entrance gates to Koshi Camp at 8am, and we departed west soon after. Today was a gruelling drive all the way to Chitwan NP, a journey of nine hours. Unfortunately there wasn't a great deal to see along the way, and with few stops we made good progress. A quick stop at the Jungle Villa Resort to meet Suchit Basnet whilst taking in the spectacular grounds was very much worth it. After a tour of the grounds, we shared a couple of beers overlooking the East Rapti River, with several Mugger Crocodiles and Gharials just below us. A couple of Stork-billed Kingfishers and River Lapwings were also showing well. 

I could've easily stayed here (mainly as Suchit was a brilliant host and spoke superb English), but my accommodation (Tigerland Safari Resort) was ten minutes away. This resort  was equally impressive, but despite the very long day, a local tribe of dancing ladies had me out of my seat to 'dance' with them - I did my best to hide at the end of the continental onlookers but as usual I got selected to make a fool out of myself.

Highlights are as follows:

Indian Peafowl - 10
River Lapwing - 5
Indian Scops Owl - 2
Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker - 2
Stork-billed Kingfisher - 2
Common Woodshrike - 2
Plain Flowerpecker - 1

Mugger Crocodile - 3
Gharial - 1

View from Jungle Villa Resort

My ride for the following morning -
I can confirm that the elephants 
in Nepal are very well looked after.

One-horned Rhinoceros

Monday 2nd March

In the morning I had been offered a Elephant-back ride. I wasn't particular enthused by this, but I would've felt rude declining this kind offer, and therefore soon after dawn I was on top of nelly rocking side to side through the elephant grass. My enthusiasm soon became aroused with some lovely views of a Lesser Coucal and a rubythroat species that I just couldn't get good views of. As we neared the river every stonechat was being scrutinised, and eventually a stonking male White-tailed Stonechat appeared. Plenty of Olive-backed Pipits, Common Rosefinches and Striated Babblers were also present. The highlight however was my first sighting of a One-horned Rhinoceros. The elephant I was on had apparently been in trouble with a rhino in the past, and therefore manoeuvring the elephant to get the best view wasn't easy, but eventually we got there. 

Back at the lodge after an enjoyable morning, I walked the lodge grounds for a short while and got good views of a Thick-billed Warbler, Grey-headed Fish-eagle and several Black-hooded Orioles.

So far the day had been very enjoyable, though I must admit it the morning was soon forgotten about by the time the evening had come around. My next accommodation (I was slowly losing track) was the immaculate Tiger Tops (Tharu village) Resort. I had lunch with the owner (Jack); some English-speaking volunteers; the owner's brother and his fiancée who own a lodge in Sri Lanka; and the chef who had prepared some incredible pizzas for us - all stone-baked from an oven that had been built only a few weeks previous. It turned out the chef owned a restaurant in Kathmandu that the trekking group and myself had gone into whilst staying in Kathmandu. As normal as this sounds, in six days time whilst having dinner on my own above Pokhara, I got invited to dine with others on another table, and one of the ladies on the table happened to be Jack's and the fiancés mother, who had flown out to be at the wedding.

Anyway, back to Tiger Tops. This afternoon I was given the chance to go on a game drive within Chitwan NP. Despite the guides knowing I was a birder, I soon told them I had seen everything (I hadn't) and to concentrate all efforts on finding me a Tiger. One of the volunteers joined me for this exciting drive through the thick jungle. We had to cross the river where we found several species of wader, including a Temminck's Stint. Soon we were in the vehicle and on our way. Birdlife was generally quiet, but a stop at a large lake produced a couple of One-horned Rhinos and a flyover Egyptian Vulture. In the thicker part of the jungle we disturbed a pair of Red-headed Trogons, with one showing nicely in the end. After a few hours we had reached the river, and so we climbed out of the vehicle and chilled on the bank praying a Tiger would emerge. Other than a Hog Deer and several paratroopers doing their thing, highlights were few and far between. A passing flock of Great Hornbills were spectacular as always, but this is when things started to turn.....for the better. Now back in the jeeps ready to leave the park, we drove a short distance downriver, again stopping and turning the engine off by the river. It was a good job we turned the engine off, as although there wasn't anything to see, in the depths of the jungle a female Tiger started bellowing out its penetrating call. Instant excitement; instant adrenaline; it was well and truly game on. In true safari mode, we ploughed it towards a dry river bed that the guide knew very well. In a matter of seconds after grinding to a halt, our guide spotted a young Tiger maybe 150 metres away laying down. In pure panic, it took me a few seconds to set my eyes on one of my most wanted, but finally I could see y prize - a Tiger!! After a brief view through the bins, I went about capturing some images. But, being a young tiger, we knew there had to be an adult around somewhere. What none of us never predicted was a further three Tigers to emerge from the forest - an adult female and three cubs in total.....wow!! We jumped out of the vehicles and approached as quickly and cautiously as we could, enabling even better views. Tigers in Nepal are not habituated to humans like they are in India, and are therefore more wary. After a prolonged view of this delightful family, the female spotted us and marched her cubs off and out of sight. We all stood still and in silence, but after a few seconds of recollecting what had just happened, it all went a bit crazy. The short journey back to the river was a happy one, even more so when a Savannah Nightjar was heard calling and soon spotted. The boat ride across the millpond-like river made the day complete - Small Pratincoles were darting around the boat as the sun set over the hills of Chitwan National Park. 

During this period of visiting the lowlands, I had only three opportunities to see a Tiger, and somehow I had succeeded on my first attempt...quite incredible. What was even more incredible was knowing that my guide who had worked here since 2006, had never seen four tigers together!

Highlights are as follows:

Red Junglefowl - 2
Black-crowned Night Heron - 2
Oriental Darter - 1
Grey-headed Fish-eagle - 1
Oriental Honey Buzzard - 1
Egyptian Vulture - 1
River Lapwing - 3
Temminck's Stint - 1
Small Pratincole - 50
Emerald Dove - 2
Alexandrine Parakeet - 5
Blossom-headed Parakeet - 2
Green-billed Malkoha - 1
Greater Coucal - 3
Lesser Coucal - 1
Jungle Owlet - 1
Red-headed Trogon - 2
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater - 2
Oriental Pied Hornbill - 4
Great Hornbill - 8
Common Iora - 1
Yellow-bellied Prinia - 2
Ashy Prinia - 1
Thick-billed Warbler - 1
Tickell's Leaf Warbler - 1
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush - 1
Puff-throated Babbler - 2
Chestnut-capped Babbler - 2
Hill Myna - 2
Bluethroat - 2
Red Avadavat - 1
Common Rosefinch - 5

Royal Bengal Tiger - 4
One-horned Rhinoceros - 5
Wild Boar - 5

White-tailed Stonechat

Red-headed Trogon

Hog Deer


Bengal Tigers

Savannah Nightjar

Thought to be the
footprints of our tigers.

Tuesday 3rd March

Before embarking on a monstrous 13-hour drive to Bardia NP, I was invited to take part in an elephant walking safari. This was a new concept for me, and in all honesty I wasn't too sure as to how this would be achieved. Anyway, it soon dawned upon me after a tour of the wonderful grounds that the elephants are graced with. My elephants were ready, and together with my guide we walked in-between the elephants into an area of Chitwan NP that is home to only two Tigers. No tigers today, but a nice array of birds - there is something quite surreal when stopping in front of an elephant and hoping it stops instead of trampling over you. Thankfully, they were very well behaved. At the river there was a lovely group of Bar-headed Geese bathing, soon to be crossing the Himalayas on their epic migration north. All too soon though  my time was up and we walked back to the lodge. Anil then had the arduous task of driving me all the way to Bardia NP, and with a national strike ongoing, progress was particularly slow. There were many police escorts through the more dangerous areas where we posed a risk of being thrown stones at etc. Of course we didn't encounter anything like that, deeming the whole process slightly pointless.

We finally arrived at the most western-style hotel yet - The Babai Resort, and it was everything you could want. I was in fact the first person to stay here, and I hope not the last as the owner was particularly welcoming. Once again, I was treated like a king and being handed as much food as one could manage, free beers and so on and so on. Having had a mainly chilled out day in the car, I didn't get to bed until the early hours of the morning, catching up on blogging and contacting people back home. From my balcony though I could see a couple of Large-tailed Nightjars, and an unidentified owl species. Unhelpfully the owl landed on my driver's balcony, and as he was getting up soon due to driving back to Kathmandu (20 hours!!), I couldn't really shine my torch on the immediate area.

Bar-headed Geese - 20
Himalayan Vulture - 20
Crested Goshawk - 1
Orange-breasted Green Pigeon - 3
Yellow-footed Green Pigeon - 20
Red-breasted Parakeet - 5
House Swift - 2
Coppersmith Barbet - 1
Lesser Yellownape - 2
Scarlet Minivet - 5
Grey-backed Shrike - 1
Pin-striped Tit-babbler - 4
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch - 4
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - 1
Paddyfield Pipit - 10
White-rumped Munia - 20