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

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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

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Cuckmere 8/12/19

An afternoon visit firstly to the north of Exceat produced a superb Goosander along the river, that initially was perched on the exposed bank. The Pink-footed Goose was located in the fields here among the many Canadas, and a large gull flock contained a few Yellow-legged Gulls but little else of note. Moving down to the Lower Cuckmere produced more gulls, this time with more variety within the flock.

Goosander

A grim first-winter Caspian Gull
that presumably has mixed parentage. The
adult present was far from having this issue.



Saturday, 7 December 2019

Lower Cuckmere 7/12/19

Having been occupied all week from visiting the patch due to work and other commitments, I was very pleased to see the Pink-footed Goose had remained in situ from Wednesday. The goose kept in with the Canada Geese on the fields to the west of the most western path in the Cuckmere, this being where it was found on Wednesday by Mark and Simon.

It's potentially as long as 24 years since a Pink-footed Goose was in the Cuckmere, with a single record from 1995 being the only one recorded in 'recent' times, and is therefore a welcome patch tick.

Due to the light winds and unhelpful tide times I could only find a single Caspian Gull in the flock, with four to five Yellow-legged Gulls also present. An adult Mediterranean Gull was seen by Brian before I arrived.


Pink-footed Goose

third-winter Caspian Gull


Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Rye & Pett 2/12/19 : Fishbourne & Amberley 3/12/19

A dawn until dusk birding excursion to the east with Richard was a fairly quiet affair on the 2nd. We started off at Rye Harbour where no Bitterns were seen from the (non) Bittern viewpoint, though eight Great White Egrets were seen leaving. We walked around to Castle Water, Long Pit and finished off at Oyster Creek where a Goldeneye on Long Pit and a great view of a Cetti's Warbler at Castle Water were the highlights. A walk out to Flat Beach didn't produce any Twite.

Scotney GP produced two Avocets but again little else was around so we headed off west (a Tree Sparrow being the highlight on route) to Pett Levels where fortunately there were many birds to see. Our 8th Marsh Harrier cruised by spooking the many Lapwings on the fields, where two Ruff were found mixed in. Offshore was more productive with two flocks of Velvet Scoter totalling 11 birds. Many Red-throated Divers and Common Scoter were also present. A Great White Egret and a couple of Bearded Tits meant the day had been saved slightly.

A return visit to the viewpoint at Rye saw three Great White Egrets return to the reedbed.



Starlings at Castle Water

On the 3rd, an afternoon jaunt over to Dell Quay (Chichester harbour) produced superb views of the Long-tailed Duck. I didn't bother searching for the Water Pipit or small Grebes, but five Greenshank were nice. I wanted to see the Harrier action at Amberley and decided the lower path at Rackham would be a good viewing area. After walking into an invisible ditch and submerging my left leg, I had fine views of the ringtail Hen Harrier, three Marsh Harriers, several Red Kites and a vocal Tawny Owl.


Long-tailed Duck at Dell Quay

Fallow Deer at Amberley


Saturday, 30 November 2019

Cuckmere 30/11/19

After work I visited the Cuckmere as the lure of yet another day of easterly winds was too much to ignore. Driving down I noticed a large gull flock to the north of the road. It soon became clear there had been a good arrival of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and it didn't take many seconds to find a few Caspian Gulls. Overall in this flock (containing maybe 300 birds) produced nine superb Caspian Gulls. The majority were adults but there was a striking first-winter present to. Mixed in were plenty of  Yellow-legged Gulls of varying ages as well as several argentatus Herring Gulls. The views of all the Casps were brilliant and I enjoyed an hour scanning this flock.

I was keen to then hit the Lower Cuckmere as this normally holds more birds. Just prior to my arrival a large number of gulls took flight and headed out to sea. Much to my relief though was the presence of an enormous gull flock but frustratingly the flock I had just been watching had just joined them. I noticed at least one more different Caspian Gull, though I couldn't help but think I had arrived a few minutes too late to potentially find many more. The same first-winter showed well as did a couple of adults.

Totals as follows:

Caspian Gull - 10 (5 adults, 3 third-winters & 1 first-winter)
Yellow-legged Gull - ca. 15 (among many adults were 3 second-winters & 2 first-winters)
argentatus Herring Gull - ca. 30
Greater Black-backed Gull - ca. 2000
Lesser-black-backed Gull - ca. 750


first-winter Caspian Gull

three Caspian Gulls in this shot

third-winter Caspian Gull

adult Caspian Gull in flight;
1w Caspian & 1w Yellow-legged Gull
in the backround.

adult Caspian Gull


Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Lower Cuckmere 27/11/19

A repeat of this time last year when I spent the majority of my time looking at the gulls in the Cuckmere. Today was no different with little else to get me motivated other than the large gull flock in the Lower Cuckmere. I had Jasper with me but he was very good and allowed me the time I needed to find a single adult Caspian Gull (different to the adult seen at the weekend and Monday) and a minimum of ten Yellow-legged Gulls that were spread from Exceat downwards.

The high tide was very exciting today as the water was passing over the riverbank, something that Jasper was not quite prepared for.

Adult Caspian Gull & 
adult Yellow-legged Gull

The small size and spread-wing shot 
indicates this as a different bird from previous days.




Saturday, 23 November 2019

Splash Point & Cuckmere Haven 23/11/19

I started the day down Splash Point where there wasn't a great deal moving. The following were seen between 07.45-08.30:

Shag - 2 offshore then flew west
Gannet - 66 E
Red-throated Diver - 2 E
Auk sp. - 20 E

I then moved into the Cuckmere and came across a whole host of good birds. The Gull flock wasn't particularly huge today, but did include good numbers of both Caspian Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls. I spent some time watching these before heading off along the river where I came across a Spotted Redshank feeding in one of the ditches; this being a mega bird for the area as it's only my second record. I wanted to continue my luck for the day and headed off for the meanders as Neil had kindly let me know of a Goldeneye there. I happily saw the Goldeneye which was my last 'sawbill' to see in the Cuckmere. On the saturated fields were many Rock Pipits with a minority looking good for littoralis, whilst another surprise came in the form of a Water Pipit feeding with them.

A total of five Caspian Gulls were found today, although it was more than likely six, but a brief adult just didn't get seen well before the entire flock took flight. At one time I could see three adults altogether with one of them performing very well for the duration. A total of eight Yellow-legged Gulls were present with all but one being adults.

spot the Caspian Gull


all of the same adult Caspian Gull

3w & ad Caspian Gull

Yellow-legged Gull (open-wing shot)
and ad Caspian Gull (far right)

3w Caspian Gull
ad Yellow-legged Gull

Spotted Redshank at Lower Cuckmere


Water Pipit at Cuckmere Haven

1w Goldeneye at Cuckmere Haven