Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cycling 250 miles in one day (and noting some birds)

The 2.75 miles Outer Circle of Regent’s Park is probably the safest place for road cycling in London. Being keen to break my previous maximum mileage of 175 miles in one day I attempted 250 miles (400 Km) or roughly 90 laps of the park on the August bank holiday. The cycling wasn't really the difficult part – it was the boredom of the same route after 180 miles, then the willpower to carry on to 250. After fifteen hours of cycling I was glad to arrive home and even though I felt that I could do more, I could barely walk after dismounting. Fortunately lots of birds enlivened the day from the Grey Herons cranking at dawn and dusk to the Egyptian Geese with sore throats calling loudly from dead trees. Subtler sounds included a calling migrant Willow Warbler, a family brood of Long-tailed Tits, and high-pitched passerine alarm calls in response to passing Sparrowhawks.

Bird list for the day (including rest stops at the lake): Green Woodpecker, Jay, Kestrel, Ring-necked Parakeet, Dunnock, Blue Tit, Robin, Grey Heron, Chaffinch, Wren,  Mallard, Feral Pigeon, Carrion Crow, Sparrowhawk, Great Tit, Chiffchaff, Goldfinch, Little Grebe, House Martin, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Egyptian Goose, Starling, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Crested Grebe, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Cormorant, and Greenfinch.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Key West Chickens

Last weekend we had a day off from fieldwork so headed down to Key West for the day. We didn't go to see chickens (or any other birds - but did add Purple Martin to the trip list) but you can't help noticing some of the estimated 2-3000 feral, free-roaming cocks and hens. They are a bit like Ring-necked Parakeets in London (though marginally less noisy) - nobody knows for sure how they originated on the island. Or maybe like Feral Pigeons (though more aesthetically pleasing) - cleaning up the streets for free and occasionally making less healthy choices, such investigating cigarettes. Below we see François trying to look cool with a rooster, another chicken waiting to cross the road, François with a chick, and another posing outside the Monroe County Court House. We ate fish.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Green Heron, Summerland Key, Florida

Observed from the kayak, this juvenile Green Heron (Butorides virescens) was resting on a boat. Carefully inching closer, I managed to get some images using my compact Canon G12 before it flew into a tree to join its sibling. These small herons have loads of character and I've logged over 30 sightings so far this week. Reminds me of a previous post when an adult turned up on the wrong side of the pond in 2008: Green Heron, West Hythe, Kent

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kayaking through pelicans, herons, egrets and ibises

Great White Heron - white morph of the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias occidentalis) occurring in the Caribbean and southern Florida.

On Saturday (22-Sep) our fieldwork also produced many close views of birds as we kayaked from Mote Marine Lab to the southern tip of Summerland Key, them out to the round mangrove island approximately 700 metres offshore. I had decided not to bring any SLR gear this time, so relied on my compact Canon G12 to take this image (in 16:9 aspect ratio) of the Great White Heron from the kayak. Bird highlights of the day included 20 Brown Pelicans, 4 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, 2 Little Blue Herons, 4 Ospreys, 7 Belted Kingfishers, 2 Royal Terns, 7 Tricoloured Herons, 13 Laughing Gulls, 1 Magnificent Frigatebird, 3 Black-crowned Night-Herons, 36 Double-crested Cormorants, 4 Great White Herons, 2 Great Blue Herons, 6 Green Herons, 5 Snowy Egrets, 6 Cattle Egrets, 3 American Redstarts, 1 Yellow-throated Warbler, 6 Prairie Warblers, 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers, 2 White-crowned Pigeons, 12 Cliff Swallows & 7 Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Melbourne, Australia

A few days later (Tuesday 3 July) we touched down in Australia, pausing for a few days before heading to our ultimate destination of New Caledonia. After the heat and humidity of Thailand it was pleasant to arrive in the cool of a southern winter, though it felt more like autumn or spring. Shortly after boarding the SkyBus from the airport into the city centre, we were soon picking up some exciting new species: Australian Magpie, Little Raven, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (on a lamppost!), Spotted Dove, Silver Gull, Brown Flacon, Black-shouldered Kite, oh and Eurasian Starling and Little Egret. 

 After checking in to the Southbank Travelodge we explored the area around Federation Square and the Yarra river before heading through Alexandra Gardens to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Even though most local birders would probably take the following species for granted (as we would with our own local birds), I was fascinated to observe Magpie-Larks, Willie Wagtails, and the abundant Silver Gulls. The botanic gardens provided many good birds including Bell Miner, Red Wattlebird, Little Wattlebird, Australian Wood Duck, Little Black Cormorant, 22 roosting Nankeen Night-Herons, 80+ Dusky Moorhens, Chestnut Teal, 50+ Pacific Black Ducks, Black Swan, Australasian Grebe, Little Pied Cormorant, Purple Swamphen… and some familiar introductions such as Eurasian Blackbird. At dusk we left to the outrageous cacophonic sounds of a Laughing Kookabuura.

Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)

Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata) - female

Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata) - male

Silver Gulls (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

Birding on Summerland Key

Electrical storm from Mote Marine Lab, Summerland Key
Before field work each day, I've been getting up to go birding on Summerland Key at dawn, checking out the mangrove-fringed lagoon on East Shore Drive then along to the small freshwater pond and trees on Katherine Street. Birdlife changes everyday on the lagoon with some migrant waders stopping off including Short-billed Dowitcher, Solitary Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper. Large wading birds have included Reddish Egret, Tricoloured Heron, Green Heron, Great White Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, White Ibis while Magnificent Frigatebird, Osprey, Cooper's Hawk, Cliff Swallow and Northern Rough-winged Swallow have appeared overhead. Up to four Belted Kingfishers have been present. With the exception of Blue-winged Teal, not much has been present on the small pond on Katherine Street but the surrounding trees and scrub have produced many interesting small passerines (for a European birder at least) including White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson's Thrush, Gray Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Prairie Warbler, Palm Warbler, American Redstart and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Species in abundance on Summerland include White-crowned Pigeon, Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle and Mourning Dove

Friday, September 21, 2012

Koh Phi Phi Leh

Lisa was a bit more than keen to visit Maya Bay (aka ‘The Beach’) on Koh Phi Phi Leh. Admittedly the island is stunningly beautiful and the rear access though a small hole in the rock is quite exciting, but there were just a bit too many other tourists on the beach itself.  The boat stopped at Viking Cave where the nests of the Black-nest Swiftlets are harvested for the Chinese soup market. As the boat continued to circle the island we observed Greater Coucal, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-naped Tern, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Bridled Tern, Brahminy Kite and Pacific Reef Egret.Towards dusk small groups of up to five Lesser and Christmas Island Frigatebirds passed over.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Florida Keys fieldwork - first day on Summerland

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

I'm interrupting the current backlog/relay of honeymoon birding posts with some up-to-date news. Currently on Summerland Key in Florida again with work I arrived late last night during an impressive electrical storm. This morning there appeared to be quite a few migrant warblers around (including Yellow, Yellow-throated, Prothonotary, Blackburnian and Prairie) and a light stream of Cliff and Barn Swallows moving southwest. Magnificent Frigatebird and Laughing Gull drifted over the field station with a Double-crested Cormorant in the quay. A Gray Kingbird appeared to squaring up to a Red-bellied Woodpecker on a nearby palm. After getting some food and supplies (and necessary extras such as Monster No Carb and chilli hot sauce) we kayaked along the mangroves on the south-west corner of Summerland Key checking all the roots for the orange sea squirt Ecteinascidia turbinate (food source for the flatworm). Several good birds were seen and quietly paddling in a kayak seems to allow a close approach to many species. Two specialities of the Keys were seen – Black-whiskered Vireo and White-crowned Pigeon – as well as Osprey, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Spotted Sandpiper, Royal Tern, and Cardinal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Koh Phi Phi, Andaman Sea

On Friday 29 June following a crazy rush-hour drive from Kata to Phuket town (with thanks to the helpful man on a moped who freely suggested we follow him to the port) we sailed to the Phi Phi islands for some beachside honeymoon relaxation. Passing Koh Phi Phi Leh (made famous in the film ‘The Beach’) produced the first of several magnificent White-bellied Sea Eagles, several dainty Black-naped Terns and more robust Bridled Terns, along with several Brahminy Kites. On arrival we transferred on to a small water taxi and we soon arrived at the pristine Long Beach with our accommodation for the next few days at the Paradise Pearl resort. Easy birding ensued while swimming in the tropical sea and observing passing Pacific Reef Egret, Imperial Pied Pigeon, Black-naped Tern, and White-bellied Sea-Eagle in the brilliant light. Around our bungalow we found Scarlet-backed Sunbird, Black-nest Swiftlet and yet more Common Mynas.

Views of Koh Phi Phi Leh from Paradise Pearl Bungalows 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Our Jungle Lodge, Thailand

Exploring the trails around Our Jungle House over the next couple of morning produced two exciting g raptors with a Crested Serpent Eagle, and two Crested Goshawks. Other species found included: Asian Fairy Bluebird, Blue-eared Leafbird, Black-headed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Ochraceous Bulbul, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, White-rumped Munia, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Common Myna, Spotted Dove, Oriental Magpie Robin, Puff-throated Babbler, Common Iora, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Purple-naped Sunbird, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Buff-breasted Babbler, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Red Junglefowl, White-rumped Shama, and Large-billed Crow.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Baillon’s Crake, Rainham Marshes

As the Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla) had remained at Rainham Marshes RPSB reserve in East London/Essex all week, we headed there on Saturday 15th hoping for at least a glimpse. We missed the first sighting of the day around 06:25 but after a long wait in the busy Shooting Butts Hide, good views were obtained for around 20 seconds at 13:55 as it hurriedly swam and clambered along the edge of the small channel. The encounter with this elusive species reminded me of the picture in Mark Cocker’s Bird Britannica showing, in complete contrast, a bird on a cobbled steam bank at Mowbray Park in Sunderland in 1989. It was completely oblivious to a surrounding group of observers and apparently so tame that on occasion, it would walk over the feet of the spectators!

Shooting Butts Hide

Rather than hang around for an unknown period of hours in the hope of longer views, after 30 minutes we left and enjoyed the sun and birds around the rest of the reserve. Around 65 species were seen including six species of raptor Hobby (3+ catching Migrant Hawkers), Marsh Harrier (m), Buzzard (2), Peregrine (2), Kestrel (4+), and a Sparrowhawk. Other birds included 12 Little Egret, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 5 Greenshank, 12 Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Dunlin, juv Garganey, over-flying Yellow Wagtail and Redpoll, Yellow-legged Gull and Water Rail.

London skyline and River Thames from Rainham Marshes

Khao Sok National Park - a tale of many bulbuls

We stayed at Our Jungle Lodge, absorbing the sounds of the rainforest and enjoying some hot and spicy cuisine. From our riverside tree house we watched Blue-eared Kingfishers zipping past and distant gibbons calling. We took one day out to do a proper day’s birding and ventured into Khao Sok National Park. A large fruiting tree at the visitor centre was alive with feeding Scaly-breasted Bulbuls, Yellow-bellied Bulbuls and a Thick-billed Spiderhunter. Taking the main trail (other trails appeared to be closed for the wet season) started off with a Great Iora in the mid-canopy and an Oriental Magpie Robin in open understory. Venturing further revealed plenty of bamboo and an associated speciality – an adult Bamboo Woodpecker with two juveniles and a White-browed Piculet. 

Typically, bird activity came in waves with small mixed flocks moving through followed by quieter periods with apparently deserted areas of forest.  Every bird was new to me but particular highlights were the Orange-breasted Trogon, a pair of Chestnut-breasted Malkohas, and a distant calling Great Argus. Sadly no pittas or hornbills were seen though a Helmeted Hornbill was heard calling. Species observed included: Little Spiderhunter, Olive-backed Sunbird, Crimson Sunbird, Red-eyed Bulbul, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Rufous-winged Philentoma, White-bellied Yuhina, Blue-winged Leafbird, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker,  White-rumped Shama, White-bellied Munia, Purple-naped Sunbird, Grey-bellied Bulbul, Brown-breasted Fulvetta, Abbot’s Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, Rufescent Prinia, Maroon Woodpecker, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Coppersmith Barbet, Raffles’s Malkoha, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Rufous-fronted Babbler.