Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Saturday 29 July 2023

Western Pacific Odyssey (Part 4) - The Solomon Islands (Part 1)

27th - 29th March 2023

As we left New Caledonia, we were informed we would be passing its eastern side, much closer to Vanuatu than what had been planned, which is never a bad thing! As we exited the southern channel, it wasn't just birds which were showcasing, as a few Sea Snakes and turtles surfaced. 

During the next few days, we were heading north for one of The Solomon's most western island, this being Nendo. This small island not surprisingly holds a few endemic species and was an unexpected visit too. Along the way, seabirds were the theme and we came across some decent species. Probably the highlight was encountering the seabird yet to be described to science and is tentatively named 'Lava Petrel', which resembles a combination of a skua, shearwater and petrel, but in looks, is close to a Kermadec Petrel, but there is certainly something not quite right about it. Also along this stretch of open water were many of the beautiful Magnificent Petrels (still officially Collared Petrel), two Polynesian Storm-petrels, Tropical Shearwaters, a few Band-rumped Storm-petrels and on one occasion what was most likely a Figi Petrel... the one that got away, but its shape and posture led me to firmly believe this is what it was. Cetaceans weren't too bad, comprising a Sperm Whale, likely Pygmy Killer Whales and a Grey's Beaked Whale.

White-tailed Tropicbird

'Magnificent' Petrel

'Lava' Petrel

30th March 2023

We arrived into Nendo's territory in the early hours and my first sight of the legendary Solomons was in view as I arose onto the outer deck. Of course, the nature of this trip would mean only a handful of the many endemic species would be seen on the few islands we would land at, but just being in paradise was good enough for me. 

We eventually set foot and straight away the landing site was alive with fly-through MacKinlay's Ground Doves, Pacific Imperial Pigeons and Cardinal Myzomelas. We had all gathered (all 45 of us) and in a rather long line, we walked a logging track through some rank forest either side, but despite the chaos, we did see along this track the following: Temotu Whistlers, Red-bellied Fruit Doves and Santa Cruz White-eyes.White-rumped Swiftlets were flying at tree-top height, but it wasn't until we gained some altitude that the proper birding began. After a tense wait of scanning through several Santa Cruz White-eyes, the remarkable looking Sanford's White-eye was located, and what a beauty it was, being more reminiscent of a babbler than a white-eye. A short while later a Polynesian Triller joined the show, which pretty much completed the set. Therefore, I set back to the landing site to spend some time in the sea, visiting the local tribe and spending time in the shade.

As we set sail heading west towards the main Solomon archipelago, cetaceans got interesting with the highlight encounter being a mother and calf Deraniyagala's Beaked Whale - a mega in every sense! A few Long-tailed Skuas, Bridled and Sooty Terns, and thankfully, a few Grey-backed Terns were also spotted. Another odd experience was watching a presumed passenger ferry emerging from a bank of fog, which in honesty, could have been a ghost ship as it was truly battered and it's absurd to think it's still operating, but that's the developing world for you!

Sanford's White-eye

Polynesian Triller

Temotu Whistler

Red-bellied Fruit Dove

Long-tailed Skua

Deraniyagala's Beaked Whale

31st March 2023

Overnight we had sailed west and arrived close to the island of Makira. There was an option for both birding and snorkeling today, both of which I was very keen to do. Our planned landing had gone belly up, so we had to make to with some random village, although there was decent primary/secondary forest on its periphery. Once again, we had to wait for the battalion of birders to arrive before we could go birding, but due to the restricted area of access, it didn't take too long to find all we could. Straight away, Makira Honeyeater, Mottled Flowerpecker, Sooty Myzomela, Brown-winged Starling and many Chestnut-bellied Imperial Pigeons and Island Imperial Pigeons were found. As we encroached the good forest, I caught a glimpse of a Fruit Dove, which soon transpired to be the stunning Yellow-billed Fruit Dove. Two Eclectus Parrots flew over and some superb Pacific Bazas were also located. However, after a few hours it felt as if we had seen everything, therefore, along with a few others, I headed back to the ship and went snorkeling at a nearby reef, which turned out to be an excellent move... no birds, but some quite excellent fish and a completely new experience for me. Seeing a Clownfish was particularly impressive.

Sunday 23 July 2023

Black-winged Kite, a Cornwall seawatch... and recent bits

A fairly busy late spring and early summer has seen me neglecting my blog, however, I'm keen to catch up as speedily as possible, especially on my recent trips and I'm fully aware I'm only a third of the way through my WPO adventure. 

Anyhow, away from going abroad, in late May I moved into my house, situated on the very edge of Alton. It's lovely, and I was thrilled during the week just gone to find a male Brown Hairstreak a mere 50 yards from my back garden (trumped by a Purple Emperor today!!), along with many other butterfly species. Recent moth traps have also been excellent. Birding has been on the slow side, but with autumn migration now upon us, I'm looking forward to some coastal visits.

Brown Hairstreak

On Friday morning, Emily and I left at 1.30am and drove via a short diversion in Dartford, to Felixstowe Ferry, arriving just before first light, We met Jake and together we joined the 10 or so other birders, who had miraculously already located the Black-winged Kite at its roost. It was constantly preening and just before it was nearly time to head off to work, the kite took flight and showed off its typical flight and hovering before disappearing out of view. A relief to connect with this first/second for Britain and it was even better not having to go to Norfolk for it. Having seen so many abroad I didn't think I'd be that impressed, but they are such excellent birds and one can't fail to be impressed. Also present were two Little Owls, three Hobbies and a Whimbrel also flew over. I was back at work at 8.45am... phew!

A distant video freeze frame of the Black-winged Kite

The bird's roost on the left; the Little Owl home on the right

Roll on to the Saturday morning and after only six hours sleep in two nights, I was driving down to Cornwall for my annual spout of seawatching. I had been eyeing up the conditions since Monday and they looked very favourable, albeit very wet. This didn't put me off and after only a 4.5 hour journey to Porthgwarra, I was joining eight others on the cliff at 7am. The afternoon was very wet and so I re-positioned down to the cove which worked wonders, especially with several Cory's Shearwaters passing very close - absolutely superb!! No megas this time around but all of the hoped for species were seen, totals below:

Cory's Shearwater - 25
Great Shearwater - 2
Sooty Shearwater - 8
Balearic Shearwater - 2
Manx Shearwater - ca. 40,000 (at times passing 10,000 an hour)
Storm-petrel - 20
Arctic Skua - 1
Whimbrel - 1
Common Scoter - 4

freeze frame shots of a Cory's Shearwater
passing Porthgwarra