Oriental Pied Hornbill
Malaysian Blue Flycatcher
Asian Glossy Starling
White-bellied Sea Eagle
Grey-headed Fish Eagle
Crested Serpent Eagle
Malaysian Blue & White Flycatcher
Bold-striped Tit Babbler
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Blythe's Hawk Eagle
Lesser Green Leafbird
Asian Fairy Bluebird
Black-winged Flycatcher Shrike
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Buffy Fish Owl
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Asian Fairy Bluebird
Edible Nest Swiftlet
Black Nest Swiftlet
White Nest Swiftlet
Asian Palm Swift
Green Imperial Pigeon
Here is a list I have compiled of the birds I saw in Borneo (73). Many I photographed but not all. Those in bold are "Lifers", birders will know what I mean. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of every ID, particularly of the swifts which can be devilishly hard to distinguish in flight and for this I relied upon what I was told by those who are more familiar locally, and from consulting the Field Guide about which are the most commonly seen in the places we visited.
Later I will compile a list of all the animal species I remember seeing, which is quite extensive. I will also add a few photos that I have overlooked while writing this report.
As we returned to Kuching from Sabah Bob's friends Ron and Eileen had also returned from their cruise. Ron is an eminent naturalist and keen birder while his wife Eileen was a prominent government official who set up and established Sarawak Biodiversity Centre. The Centre carries out intensive biotech based research and development on the State’s biological resources – particularly those that have been utilized by indigenous communities. Very importantly it documents the fast disappearing traditional knowledge of indigenous communities on the utilization of biological resources. Who knows what potential benefits to humanity are being lost with the destruction of the forests? SBC is trying to rescue this knowledge before it is gone forever.
Ron very kindly took us to some of the best birding spots around Kuching. The first outing was to Borneo Highlands, an elevated resort set in beautiful rainforest with associated leisure resources such as Golf Course, Country Club and forest trails etc. We went to the highest point where the views were remarkable and the forest held a number of interesting birds. perhaps the best of which were the ones above, a nesting pair of Gaudy, otherwise known as Red Throated Barbets. Ron was used to seeing Gold Whiskered Barbets here which is very similar, but careful comparison with plates in the field guide reveals that these were in fact Red Throated.
As we walked down from the highest point we spotted this magnificent Blythe's Hawk Eagle high up in some tall trees. The photo is therefore quite heavily croppped but I was very pleased to get a shot of such a super bird. That was another lifer for me, as was the Barbet. The Ashy Drongo below I have seen before in Thailand, but I was pleased to get such a good quality image as the bird sat on an open branch in clear view quite close to the clubhouse/restaurant. Quite an attractive drongo as you can see.
The Tufted-eared Ground Squirrel
As we walked down the hill a large and very distinctive squirrel ventured out onto the path right in front of us. It gave us excellent views but turned and ran back into the undergrowth before any of us could get a photograph. This was a shame as Ron recognised it as a very rare species called the Tufted-eared Ground Squirrel. He said that there had been reports of sightings of this rare species here before, but not for some time and not confirmed with a photograph. Well I had extremely good views. It is very distintive in appearance and there was absolutely no doubt that it was in fact this Ground Squirrel as described in reference scources. The highly tufted ears, striped side and incredibly large bushy grey tail could not be mistaken for anything else.
Very little is known about this animal which is endemic to Borneo and is listed as vulnerable. In fact I could not find a single decent photograph on the internet. There is just the illustration below and one short video clip from a fixed camera trap. A fascinating animal and a great sighting.
Our next excursion was an overnight stay at Bako National Park. Although not an Island Bako can only be accessed by boat. Our boatman dropped us on the beach, so we waded ashore and checked into our cabins. The photo below gives an idea of the beach and the generally beautiful tropical landscape.
Bako is well known for being a stronghold of the Proboscis Monkey in Sarawak. There are plenty of Pig-tailed Macaques around and one has to be careful they don't steal your food or raid your belongings. The one below by our cabin for example was very interested in my rucksack and he hissed and showed his teeth when I faced him down.
At first I found birding to be extremely slow, in fact I began to wonder if there were any. However in time we gradually started to pick a few up along the trails, particularly one trail that led us through the mangroves fringing the beach. The Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds below being a notable example.
After dark we were taken on a guided night walk on the forest trails around the Headquartes. The Fireflies were nice, as was the Bornean Pit Viper.
The absolute highlight for me however was the Colugo, otherwise known as the Sunda Flying Lemur. This amazing animal is actually not a lemur and does not fly. Instead, it glides as it leaps among trees. It is strictly arboreal, is active at night, and feeds on soft plant parts such as young leaves, shoots, flowers, and fruits. It is a truly incredible sight to watch as it stretches out its legs connected by "wings" of thin membraneous skin, to glide long distances between the trees.
Other wildlife spotted were nesting Asian Palm Swifts on the roof of a shallow cave, a Tarantula lurking in its lair, rare Catfish in small freshwater pools and a large Monitor Lizard which we also saw in daylight.
Our second day at Bako proved to be quite fruitful. Early birds included a few stunning Bold-striped Tit Babblers moving through the mangroves and trees along the shoreline. This is a very attractive Babbler and another lifer for me.
Another new species for my list was this Black-winged Flycatcher Shrike which we spotted in the trees along the edge of the beach. I had to chase it as it made its way from tree to tree but with some persistance managed to get a reasonable shot of yet another new one for my list.
I post a shot of a Common Iora purely because it is a slight improvement on other photos I have taken of this very common species.
The last bird photographed at bako was this little Malaysian Plover. Very similar in appearance to the Kentish Plover but the Malaysian Plover is more sandy in appearance, and more mottled on the upperpart. They also have paler legs and more extensive breast band than the Kentish.
At three pm we were picked up on the beach by our boatman and the twenty minute or so ride back to the embarcation dock was very productive. The eastern or Far Eastern Curlew is a new species for me. It is becoming quite rare and is officially listed as Endangered, so we were lucky to see it. It is larger and heavier than our Eurasian Curlew and has a longer bill. We also identified it from its dark/black rump. It was very nice to have Ron's expertise in these matters as we would never have known exactly which species we were looking at.
The Egret below looks similar to our little Egret but it is in fact a quite rare Chinese Egret. Chinese Egret’s bill is dagger-shaped. The lower mandible is yellow for more than half its length, and the base of the cutting edge of the upper mandible is yellow. The upper line of the loral skin (the skin between the eye and the bill base) kinks downward in front of the eye which one can see here when expanded to close-up view. This creates a distinctive expression even at a distance. The loral skin is grey-blue, becoming brighter blue in breeding plumage. What’s left of the head-plumes are ragged and shaggy. The legs are greenish in non breeding plumage, but in the early months of Northern Spring they become dark, as in this case. This is a rare bird which is listed as Vulnerable to extinction but Malaysia, and Boreo in particular is where they are most easily seen.
As well as the rare birds along the river we also saw a family group of Smooth-coated Otters. These are quite large otters which are also officially listed as "Vulnerable" to extinction, due to loss of habitat and water pollution with agricultural chemicals.
All-in-all it had been a very interesting couple of days at Bako NP with some extremely good sightings, including some rare and elusive birds plus the unusual mammals, in particular the Colugo/Flying Lemur and the Otters. I will also post a couple more mammal photos.....
...the first of which is of a Bornean Bearded Pig. This species is wide ranging in Borneo and in fact we had previously observed a large one swimming across the Kalimantang River right in front of our boat, it was interesting to see it using its long snout upturned like a snorkel. The pig family here at Bako seemed oblivious to the presence of humans and apparently is not considered any threat to people.
...and finally a last look at the incredible Proboscis Monkey which had been very visible amongst the mangroves here. One of my favourite animals.
After Bako we made just one more birding trip to Kubah national park which lies very close to Kuching. Although we spent some hours in this forest park, walking up to the highest point, birds were very few and far between. I did manage to photograph this Black-naped Monarch, a very attractive bird that I had captured before in Thailand. We also spotted a large Kingfisher which flew past us along the road at below head height. Unfortunately it went so fast I did not get a photograph or even a very close look. Ron thought it might have been a Ruddy Kingfisher but we will never know.
When our friend Bob Wright suggested he was contemplating a trip to Borneo I asked if we could come along. Borneo conjures up images of dense jungle inhabited by headhunting tribes, orangutans and a wide variety of wildlife. In the event it turned out somewhat different of course, progress does not let ecology stand in the way of making money and supporting an ever expanding human population.
I flew separately from Elena and Bob as my son arranged standby flights for me with BA. I had a one night stopover in Kuala Lumpur on the Malay Peninsular so I took the opportunity to visit the Petronas Towers, the World's tallest buildings until 2004 and still the highest twin-tower structure in the World. Overall my impression of Kuala Lumpur was of a very modern city with a fast and highly efficient transport system. Much of the wealth for this comes from the natural resources of the Malaysian section of the Island of Borneo, as we were to discover. We flew onward and met each other at our hired apartment in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak.
I will start the wildlife section of this blog with a couple of the abiding images that I will remember from Borneo. Primates are a major feature here, not least the Proboscis Monkey and of course the Orangutan, one of the last of our common ancestors. I think the proboscis Monkey is just beautiful.
This is however primarily a birding blog and I will go through the bird photos as well as the other wildlife in the order that I took them. After exploring our immediate surroundings in Kuching we started our nature quest at a small forest park within the City limits. This was shown to us by Hans, a contact given to Bob by his cruising friend Ron, who would arrive in Kuching later. Hans is a large German who lives here with his Chinese wife and children. He took us to this park which is in a fairly affluent ethnically Chinese area and which is frequented by many joggers. The best bird we saw was the Long-tailed Shrike, a species that has fairly recently moved in to inhabit urban parks and gardens. Quite a handsome member of the shrike family.
The other bird of note observed was the Collared Kingfisher, a fairly common resident that we saw in a variety of habitats. I was surprised to hear the unmistakable call of a Black and Yellow Broadbill, one of the great sounds of the forest. I was also quite interested to see that the most frequently seen Mynah species here is the Javan Mynah, not the expected Common Mynah that I was very familiar with.
Next day we took a trip out to a forest reserve ostensibly to see the World's largest flower, the Rafflesia. This is a speciality of Gunung Gadang N.P. about two hours drive to the West of Kuching. The rare Rafflesia plant flowers irregularly and apparently there was an opportunity to see one in bloom, which only lasts for four or five days. So off we went to Gunung Gadang. Unfortunately the flower was past its best and had shrunk from it's original diameter of sixty centimetres. Now I am not a flora man and coming all this way to see an ugly stinky plant was not top of my list of priorities, but all was not lost. This place turned out to be about the only primary forest we saw in Sarawak and I'm sure it harbors a multitude of exotic birds. In just the twenty minutes or so we spent in there I picked up this stunning female Scarlet Rumped Trogon. perhaps my bird of the trip, I love Trogons.
I also spotted this Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. A familiar but always wecome bird.
After a few days exploring Kuching and sampling the local food, which is excellent. We flew up to Sabah in North Borneo for some real wildlife experiences. Our first stop was at Sepilok Jungle Lodge which was a picturesque jungle resort complete with boardwalks across lakes and some forest trails to explore. We were greeted upon arrival with a flypast by the resident Stork-billed Kingfisher which I later photographed with a fish that he seemed to want to show off to everyone. A handsome bird.
The Stork-bill is a very large tree kingfisher being about 35 or even 40 cms in length. Sparsly distributed throughout its range from India through to Indonesia it is highly conspicuous with that huge painted red bill.
Birds were not prolific around the grounds but with patience and careful scrutiny they could be found amongst the shrubs and flowering plants, often from the restaurant veranda. I spotted this female Brown-throated Sunbird while wandering through the gardens, it was in company with a male which gave me the ID.
Here is the male Brown-throated Sunbird, a little stunner this time on a white flower, nothing like a bit of variety........
......so here he is again on a red flower.
I also picked up a nice shot of this little Ashy Tailorbird which was unexpected. This species is usually seen around the coast in mangroves or similat habitats. However there is no doubting the colouration of this species which was a lifer for me.
Another locally common but nice bird is the Chestnut Munia, this one perched in a tree overhanging the lake.
Just twenty minutes walk from the Jungle Lodge was the Rainforest Discovery Centre, which includes a hanging canopy walkway and tower. I would like to have spent more time there as it is probably the best site for birding we had come across, but we only had two days and there was plenty more things to see and do. I very much enjoyed watching these Baya Weavers busy building and inhabiting their elaborate nests. Very clever structures they are too, entered from below.
Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Centre is an environmental education centre mainly for school visits and teacher training courses on environmental education. It was opened to general visitors in 2007 to sustain the environmental education programme for the future. It is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. but visitors are allowed to stay until 7 pm to view the flying squirrels at the 347-m long Canopy Walkway, the only such structure in Southeast Asia. Bob was the only one of us to actuall return to view the flying squirrels, which he successfully did. Elena and I chose to lounge around the swimming pool at the Jungle Lodge, lazy toe-rags.
The only birds of note that I managed to photograph at the RDC were the Scarlet Minivet and a little Green Iora. The male Minivet is a fiery red colour as suggested by the name but surprisingly the female is mostly bright yellow, very striking sexual dimorphism. The Green Iora is fairly common I understand but I include it here as it is actually a lifer for me. We did see other species but they were generally too distant for photography. Perhaps the most notable was a large White-bellied Sea Eagle flying high overhead.
While walking back from the RDC I picked up this nice male Copper-throated Sunbird. It was getting dark by this time and I had to increase the camera exposure by three stops to pick out the colours on this dark little beauty.
Less of a problem was the Barred Ground Dove, otherwise known a Peaceful or even Zebra Dove. This was out in the open on an overhead wire so no exposure difficulty here.
Our Jungle Resort was virtually next door to an Orangutan Rescue Centre where visitors can see these wonderful primates in something like their natural habitat. For me it is not really exciting to see animals in this way as they are not wild, but it was interesting to see the efforts being made to conserve the species which like almost all other wildlife has been decimated by habitat loss. Deforestation in Borneo has taken place on an industrial scale since the 1960s. Borneo is the third largest island in the world, it was once covered by dense tropical and subtropical rainforests. In the 1980s and 1990s these forests were leveled at a rate unprecedented in human history, burned, logged and cleared, and commonly replaced with agriculture. The deforestation continued through the 2000s at a slower pace, alongside the expansion of palm oil plantations. Half of the World's annual global tropical timber procurement is from Borneo. Palm oil plantations are rapidly encroaching on the last remnants of primary rainforest. Much of the forest clearance is illegal but it goes on apace. In plain terms, Borneo has been raped.
In the event we did see some Wild Orangutans later along the Kinabatangan River and so I post a photo of a wild one here. The reason we were able to see genuine wild animals is because their jungle habitat has been squeezed along the banks of this river by the encroaching palm oil plantations, and so all manner of wildlife is crowded into this narrow strip of land, clinging to a tenuous existance where their long-term survival is probably doomed. I was very happy to see some of these wonderful creatures before they are all gone, it won't be long. Sun Bears are the World's smallest species of bear, their numbers have declined 30% in the last three bear generations. Their only hope of survival is as a spectacle for paying tourists, like us.
While walking back along the trail from the Sun Bear enclosures I came across a couple of young tourists looking intently through a gap in the trees. There in front of us was a rare spectacle, wild Asian Pygmy Elephants. At first I thought they must be part of the Rescue Centre but this was not the case. These were genuinly wild animals and it was a delight to see them. It was gratifying to know that amongst all the tourists gawping at the captive animals, just three of us had the privelage of seeing some genuine wildlife.
Back at our Jungle Lodge I continued to seek out more birds to photograph. A group of three Chinese photographers had been extremely lucky the day before we arrived, capturing superb images of a very special bird, the Bornean Bristlehead. I had been particularly keen to see this special bird but knew my chances were slim, it is nomadic, unpredictable and scarce, and to have missed a flock of eight by one day was really galling. Oh well, that's birding. I contented myself with some images of a few very nice species that showed up on our last morning here. First was this exotic looking Little Spiderhunter. This is a very long billed relative of the Sunbirds and is a nectar feeder. They are known to be excellent pollinators of banana and ginger plants.
Next was a small group of Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers. This is a bird I had seen before in Thailand but never managed to photograph properly, so I was pleased with these shots of a very nice looking species.
The male obviously gives the species its name. The female below is less flambuoyant but I like this shot as she brandishes a large and juicy termite. I notice that birds very often savour and display their catch before eating it, which probably prolonges the pleasure as they enjoy their moment of triumph.
Finally the last bird from the Jungle Lodge is the Orange-bellied Flowerpecker. Another very handsome member of the species I was happy to get decent images it..
One final note from the Jungle Lodge. This handsome green lizard literally jumped up onto the boardwalk rail right in front of me. He sat glaring at me as if daring me to come closer. I took a photograph but he was so close that my available depth of field was too narrow to get everything in focus, but anyway here it is. Yes a fine looking chap but they were very noisy animals, croaking away like frogs all night.
We were picked up at the Jungle Lodge and driven to a backpackers lodge in the small town of Sukau, about two hours drive south of Sepilok. This would be our base for a couple of days and from wher we would make numerous boat trips on the Kinabatangan River, looking at the fairly abundant wildlife that had been squeezed into this narrow strip by the encroaching palm oil plantations. We started that afternoon and I post a shot of a riverboat with Elena and Bob enjoying the view of wildlife along the banks.
In all I think we made five trips on the river, including one night viewing excursion which was very exciting. here are some of the highlights of these boat rides.
The Crested Serpent Eagle below remained nicely in the tree as our boatman slowed down and approached, allowing me to get a great shot.
The Black Hornbills were fairly distant and high up in the tops of the tallest trees so this is the best I could do in the circumstances. It was a thrill for me to see them, another spectacular species for my life list.
As we came in from our first excursion the light was fading and I snapped this shot across the river as we disembarked just in time for dinner.
As we walked the short distance from the dock back to our lodge a group of Pied Oriental Hornbills settled in a tree right next to our path. Although the light was low I managed to get a fairly reasonable shot of a super bird, perhaps the most common Hornbill in SE Asia but always spectacular and a pleasure to see..
I should say that the primary focus of most of the guests on the river was on the animals rather than the birds, particularly the primates. There were lots of them. Troops of Long-tailed Macaques crossed the narrow tributaries at strategic points, sometimes above our boat.
Silver-leaf Monkeys, actually a form of Langur were also numerous. About one in five of these were morphs in a completely different colour, being orange rather than silver-grey.
Above and below, Pig-tailed Macaques, known locally as Short=tailed, were equally as numerous as their long-tailed cousins.
My favourite of them all, the Proboscis Monkey. He has very gentle eyes, a beautiful glowing coat in shades of burnt orange and grey, and that amazing long nose of the male. A lesser known fact is that the proboscis Monkey is an expert swimmer and is adapted to a slightly aquatic lifestyle by having partially webbed feet.
and here is another shot of a wild Orangutan. This is a solitary male, they tend to leave the females at puberty and become solitary until they can find a female to mate with & form their own family group.
On one boat trip we were taken quickly to see this adult female Pygmy Elephant. The guides were concerned that she was in fact sick and had possibly separated herself from the herd as a result. However they had noticed a marked improvement in her appearance over a few days so perhaps she was recovering and will rejoin the herd.
So, lots of animals to see, but my interest is more with the birds, and here's a good one, the Grey-headed Fish Eagle. Another lifer for me and I was thrilled to see it perched in a tree overlooking the River.
We were lucky to see this bird again later and in slightly better light, so I post another shot, the Grey-headed Fish Eagle is after all a new bird for me.
There were of course other birds to be seen, often quite distant but sometimes distant shots can be worthwhile. Consider this silhouette type images of a Purple Heron (above), and an Oriental Darter (below) on top of a stark bare tree, I quite like the geometry of it.
...and heres another Pied Hornbill but this time in the same tree as a Green Imperial Pigeon. Two for the price of one!
Speaking of Hornbills, this one below is a Wrinkled Hornbill. I was delighted to get this as it was another lifer for me and a very spectacular one at that.
.....and to round-off our Hornbill sightings heres a record shot of the fourth one, a Rhinocerous Hornbill. This is the larget and perhaps most impressive of the Bornean Hornbills so it was a little disappointing to only get a poor record shot, but it was exciting to see this magnificent species at all and I was well pleased,
The Brahminy Kite (above) is a familiar raptor, perhaps the most common in SE Asia but it's worth putting on record here. Of much more interest to me was the Buffy Fish Owl which we picked up with a flashlight during our night tour on the river. This was another lifer for me and I even managed a quick snap of it in flight as it took off on our approach. It's a fairly large, short-tailed owl which hunts at night, relying on its very keen eyesight to spot prey in or out of the water. Unlike many owls it does not have soft feathers, lacking the comb and hair-like fringes to the primaries, which allows other owls to fly silently in order to ambush their prey. The Buffy Fish owl does make flapping noises in flight as I can attest.
This Blue-eared Kingfisher must have been fast asleep with its eyes wide open as it made no movement at all as we approached and highlighted it with a flashlight. We could easily have touched it but it showed no signs of realising our presence.
Our time in Sukau with five trips exploring the River had been great fun and we had seen a lot of wildlife, both animals and birds. I finish this section with a shot of a Pied Fantail that we watched from the dining terrace of our Lodge. It was fun watching the pair coming and going and I can assure readers that this photo was taken from a safe distance and no disturbance was caused.
Actually this blog starts with an ABS November field trip to the Sierra Magina in Jaen province. Elena and I set off very early in the morning & arrived at the meeting point in the town of Ubeda in good time. I was surprised at the number of members who had travelled so far for this one, perhaps because it is a new and interesting location, but a convoy of ten or more cars is not conducive to good bird watching. In fact birds were few and far between but the scenery was spectacular and worth the trip for that in itself.
There were admitedly long range sightings of Golden Eagles soaring over the sierras, but the only photograph I took on the entire trip was of a Crossbill that sat nicely on a bare branch giving the whole group good views.
A quick walk around the Charca de Suarez yielded very little. The only birds of note were a pair of nice Pintails, that most elegant of ducks, and an over-flying Booted Eagle. There was a Marsh Harrier also outside on the marshes.
I took a keen birding friend Gerry Bennet along to Zapata and the Guadalhorce. He had recently invested in a superb micro 4/3rds camera with a quality Leica 100 - 400mm lens. The advantage of this type of mirrorless camera is the very compact size and reduced weight, of the lens in particular because the smaller sensor requires a much shorter focal length for the equivalent magnification and reach of a full frame, or APSC type DSLR like my Canon 7D.
I was very impressed with the quality of his images, particularly the long range shots which gave better detail than my big 500mm lens. The downside however is thay my larger sensor, extra glass and longer focal length gives better quality images at short range. The soft bokeh/background created by a larger aperture is just not possible with the smaller kit. Here are a couple of short range shots that I think were better than Gerry's equivalent, a White Wagtail and a Common Sandpiper.
These two long range shots below however, of a roosting Buzzard and a Booted Eagle, both taken from the main hide at the Guadalhorce, are not as clear and detailed as Gerry's. Swings and roundabouts I suppose but his kit is less than half the size and weight of mine, and less than half the price too.
There were quite a few other species seen this day including a group of Avocets, a pair of Flamingos, several Greenshank, Green Sandpipers, eight Shelduck, a lot of Black-necked Grebes, an Osprey, a Great Egret and much more. The Great-crested Grebe below was one of a pair seen off the beach, the sea was very calm at the time.
Finally I thought I would post this image of a magnificent rainbow taken from our terrace during a pause between showers recently. Some pots of gold out there somewhere.
The Summer months in Spain are not great for birding, particularly since bird numbers have declined at an alarming rate. I have therefore not been very active lately. A quick trip down to Tarifa and Bonanza in October yielded very little of interest, virtually no signs of any migration and a general lack of birds everywhere except for this handsome Cirl Bunting, one of a number seen taking a drink down near the beach to the east of Tarifa.
After Tarifa and an equally empty La Janda we ventured down to Bonanza. The salt pans were again almost devoid of birds, but since there had been very little rain in this area the marshes beyond, along the south bank of the Rio Guadalquivir, were dry enough to traverse by 4x4 and here there were lots of waders present.
Waders though do not excite me, they offer very little of interest photographically, just another image of a bird standing in the mud is quite boring so I satisfied my urge to click with a shot of this coaster looking like it was actually in the field with us. It caused me to reminisce about my days at sea and the excitement of setting off to visit new and interesting destinations around the World. I will however post a rather poor shot of a Northern Wheatear only because it seems to have remarkably long legs, a very tall wheatear indeed.
Back at home we enjoyed the sight and sound of a young Blue Rock Thrush that frequently visits our terrace and serenades us with its delightful song. One of my favourite local birds.
An evening walk around the Charca de Suarez was again not terribly interesting birdwise, but I quite like this shot of a Little Egret on a carefully placed perch in front of one of the hides.
After leaving the Charca we observed all the usual Avadavats in the long grasses along Turtle Dove Alley. By this time there were very few showing the bright red male breeding plumage, but still worth a look anyway.
As usual not much to report in July/August. Our House Martins have pretty much abandoned any attempts to raise a second brood this year, we found a few tiny dead chicks underneath the nests. There are not enough flying insects so the adult birds have to travel too far to find food when the tiny chicks need a constant and steady supply. In previous years our ten nests have been fully occupied and have raised two, or even three broods. This year the birds arrived much later and one nest was not used at all and only one brood was successful. There are fewer Swallows and Swifts around too, in fact all insectivorous birds are in steep decline, what a disaster. We can almost certainly attribute this to chemical crop sprays.
We have not been bird watching at all but on a trip to Alhama de Granada we spotted this Short-toed Eagle on a pylon at Zafarraya, I took a few photos of it, one of which is not bad as it was taking off. You can see from the perched shot below it had definitely spotted me but didn't seem unduly perturbed.
It is also worth recording our resident Booted Eagle which flies over the house every day. Shots of the underside of birds in flight are very boring as a rule, but it's just here for the record. I suppose I should record the numerous Greenfinches, House Sparrows and Sardinian Warblers that come to Elena's bird restaurant in considerable numbers, perhaps I'll get the camera out & have a go soon. She is doing her bit for the survival of these species at least. It's a shame we have not found a way to help the insectivores.
As I was visiting my sister in Florida I decided to take an excursion over to Trinidad to spend a couple of days at the famous Asa Wright Nature Lodge. The Lodge is on an old cocoa plantation in the mountains but it is now a nature reserve set in 1500 acres of secondary forest surrounded by some pristine primary rainforest. It is birding in comfort here with full board including afternoon tea and rum punch on the veranda while watching the hummingbirds and others on the feeders below.
I had some target species to go for in my short stay and I was pleased to get most of them. I did not bother with the famous Oilbird colony at Dunston Cave as I have seen them before in Ecuador and I know that the minimum of disturbance is best. Also I was fully occupied with plenty of other species around the house and on the forest trails.
My first target was the famous Tufted Coquette. A stunning hummingbird, widespread but uncommon and this is probably the best place to see it. The male has a rufous crest and black-spotted rufous plumes projecting from the neck sides which make it extremely distinctive and attractive.
This extremely tiny bird flits constantly around the hvervine bushes and does not use feeders as a rule. This makes it hard to pick up and then very difficult to photograph. Getting an unobstructed view and a clear shot in focus is a challenge. I was reasonably happy with these which took some patience and perseverance.
The female (below) is a lot less flamboyant than the male.
After the Tufted Coquette I headed down the Discovery Trail hoping to see some of the other target species, one of which was the White-bearded Manakin. Now I had picked up this species once before in Costa Rica, albeit just brief and obstructed views, whereas here there is a lek, ie a communal breeding location where the males try to display and impress the females, which is what I hoped to see.
So I stood all alone in the forest lek waiting and watching in hope of something special. At first there was nothing, no sign of them, but after a few patient minutes I started to hear popping and crackling noises much like a bowl of rice crispies with cold fresh milk poured on. Then I picked them out in the dim light by following the popping sounds. Like little diamonds shining brightly in the gloom their startling white-on-black plumage made them quite easy to spot as the males hopped from branch to branch, making those weird crackling sounds with their wings trying to impress the females. That was a magical ten or fifteen minutes, alone and surrounded by these fantastic little birds oblivious to my presence and performing their mating rituals. Superb.
Pleased with my progress so far I moved on down the Discovery Trail towards the Bellbird Trail. Then I started to hear noises like a large steel hammer striking an anvil. At first they were quite distant but as I moved further on they got closer until quite frankly it became almost deafening. The males make this sound to establish their territory, it's a warning to other males not to stray into his area, and there were several males competing right around me. Now although I could hear the incredible noises almost on top of me, seeing them was another matter. They were extremely hard to pick out high up in the canopy, well camouflaged amongst the background. Finally I picked one out, poorly lit against backlight streaming through the foilage I managed a few shots of which this is probably the best one. It was an amazing sight watching those wattles, or beard, trembling as the bird emitted the great clanging sounds that give it its name, the Bearded Bellbird.
After this I headed back to the Lodge, picking up along the way a nice Purple Honeycreeper, a very exotic looking but not uncommon bird which I had seen before in Ecuador.
I missed out on the Golden Crowned Manakins even though I did hang around their lek for a while until the mosquitoes drove me away. I would try again in the morning.
After a restful night I was up at first light wandering around the gardens where I did photograph this lovely Plain Brown Woodcreeper amongst all the more common species that I will come to later. However I missed out again on the Golden-headed Manakins, so I joined the guided walk after breakfast and sure enough the young guide eventually picked some out at the lek. This is another species I had seen before but was keen to get a better view. They were not as obliging as their White-bearded cousins however, preferring to remain further away and quite still in the gloom. nevertheless I did manage a few reasonable shots with my ISO set very high.
Another cracking bird, although not literally in this case. The Golden Headed Manakin is a little beauty.
At lunch we met Martyn Kenefick, professional bird guide and author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. He told us about the quite rare Amethyst Woodstar Hummingbird which had been spotted recently, and sure enough we found it where he suggested, on the hvervine bushes along the entrance driveway.
I was pleased later to pick up a new Tanager. Not rare, in fact locally quite common, but the Turquoise Tanager was a lifer for me.
I am not sure if I had recorded the Violaceous Euphonia before, I will look it up later but we did get excellent views of both the male and female of the species around the bushes in the garden.
Below is another bird I have seen before but one which is so distinctive it is great to see at any time. The Barred Antshrike has very striking black-and-white striped plumage with a jaunty crest, quite a looker.
The female Barred Antshrike is quite different, being mostly chestnut brown with black & white stripes only on the face. An attractive bird all the same.
Here's another familiar species, the Green Honeycreeper is a common neotropical species but always worth a photograph as it is quite handsome.
The tiny Ruby Topaz Hummingbird however is not one I had seen before. It is not a common species and being so small is quite hard to spot as it does not frequent the hummingbird feeders where the jacobins and other bigger species are very aggressive. So once again I managed only a couple of very poor, partially obstructed shots of this tiny but very beautiful hummingbird, again on the hvervine bushes in the gardens.
Below is a more mundane species, the Spectacled Thrush, or bare-eyed Thrush as it is sometimes known.
Here's another hummingbird which I had not recorded before. The Black-throated Mango is quite easy to identify as it is the only one with a vertical black stripe down its breast, at least the female, the male is much darker overall.
In the afternoon I went for quite a long walk into the primary forest. The Crested Oropendolas were very noisy as they peered down at me from high up in the tallest trees.
Palm Tanagers moved stealthily through the sparse undergrowth. These are very common and unwary birds and in fact there was a nesting pair in the rafters of the veranda at the Lodge.
The Tropical Mockingbird is another quite common species, a familiar sight around the gardens and parks of this Island. This is a different species to the Northern Mockingbird which is common throughout much of North America. I heard a tropical mockingbird singing outside my bungalow during the night, a great serenade.
I was pleased to get a reasonable shot of a Grayish Saltator, a bird I have seen before but not well enough for a good image.
Finally back at the Lodge after a long trek I relaxed on the veranda for a while checking out the feeders. There are a number of hummingbirds that frequent these sugar-water feeders and the White-chested Emerald (below) was a new one for me.
.....as was the Copper-rumped Hummingbird.
The most numerous of all the Hummers is the White-necked Jacobin. This is a very aggressive species, They squabble amongst themselves and I have seen a pair actually fall to the ground while fighting, it's their territorial instinct coming to the fore in the artificial environment set up by humans. They are a major reason why much smaller species such as Tufted Coquette, Amethyst Woodstar and Ruby Topaz stay away from the feeders.
Some species are prepared to hold their own against aggressive behaviour. This superb Long-billed Starthroat for example which I photographed on a feeder proves the point. This was another lifer for me, and a very elegant one it is too.
Perhaps the most numerous bird around the Lodge is the ubiquitous Bananaquit. It's an attractive little bird of uncertain classification, being tentatively placed with the tanagers but many experts refute this and perhaps it should have its own family, it is apparently more closely related to the Wood Warblers except that unlike them it builds a domed nest. Oh well, it's a nice little bird which is fortunately very common in Trinidad.
Here are a couple of birds I photographed as they perched on a garden sign advising guests to watch their step and use the handrails. Clearly the majority of guests at this place are not young and nimble. Birding seems to be a pastime for the elderly and retired, like me ha ha.
The House Wren is the most widely distributed bird in the Americas. It occurs from Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. I always enjoy seeing it. The brown White-lined Tanager female (below right) is strikingly different from her male counterpart who is completely black except for some white inside primaries visible in flight.
My last afternoon in Trinidad involved taking an organised tour down to the coast where we would have a boat trip on the Caroni Swamp to see the Scarlet Ibis's coming in to roost. We also stopped at a couple of birding hotspots on the way to see what we could pick up.
Our first stop was at a series of ponds which looked as if they might be settling ponds in a water purification system. Anyway it was well frequented by a number of bird species including this Southern Rough-winged Swallow which perched conveniently for me to take a photo, Unfortunately the other Swallow species present, the more attractive White-winged Swallows never sat down and were just too quick for me to catch a shot in flight.
The Pied Water Tyrant above was another bird that sat nicely for me. I had photographed its cousin the Masked Water Tyrant before in Ecuador, but this was another lifer for me so I was well pleased.
While the other members of our group were focussing on the water birds I managed to grab a shot of this little Flycatcher in the surrounding vegetation. I think it is a Least Flycatcher and if so is yet another lifer. We were doing well today.
Back to the ponds though and there were a number of species, most of which I had seen many times before including Striated Heron, Purple Gallinule, Smooth-billed Ani, Snowy and Great Egrets. The Wattled Jacana above however is a different species to all the other jacanas that I had previously photographed and in fact represented yet another lifer, excellent, and there was more to come.
The most conspicuous birds at the ponds were the striking Yellow-hooded Blackbirds. large and imposing looking they were very numerous and provided great photo opportunities, one of which can be seen above. This species is interesting because it is only the male that builds a nest, quite unusual in the avian world.
After the ponds we paused at a couple of spots that the driver knew to pick up two more species. The Saffron Finch, an attractive yellow finch which apparently always frequents the same trees in the grounds of a large official building, and so it was. Also a distant view of a single Red Breasted Meadowlark in some grassy fields along the roadside. Both species were lifers again so I was well pleased even though the photos are not great.
Finally on to the Caroni Swamp. This is a large area of brackish mangrove swamp on the eastern coast just South of the capital Port of Spain. It is a popular outing amongst the locals who bring picnics and enjoy the boat ride, mainly to admire the spectacle of thousands of Scarlet Ibis's coming in to roost at dusk, and it is a magnificent sight.
From our boat ride through the channels in the mangroves we could see groups of Scarlet Ibis's deep in the mangrove forest, their scarlet plumage seemed to glow in the dim light which unfortunately was just too poor for photography. We also picked up a few other birds such as Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Great Blue Heron, Semi-palmated Plover and Willet. Also a couple animals called Silky Anteaters, curled up asleep around narrow tree trunks, somewhat like sloths.
Of great interest to the local tourists were the considerable numbers of American Flamingo. They are quite a new arrival and were previously considered rare and accidental. Well now ther are quite a number and so are of great interest locally. They are very similat to our Greater Flamingo (phoenicopterus roseus) but are in fact a separate species, (phoenicopterus ruber).
I only spent three full days in Trinidad but it was a great birding experience. The Asa Wright Centre is a very welcoming and comfortable Centre for anyone with an interest in Nature, and in particular neo-tropical birds. Considering the excellent food and clean, spacious and well equipped accomodation it is great value for money and all proceeds are used to support their environmental activities. I complete this blog with a couple more photos from the Centre, and a little Bran Coloured Flycatcher that I took a long time to identify and am still not 100% on it, but it's the best fit from all I have looked at so far..
Checked the Dippers this week & happy to report breeding is well under way with frequent visits to the nest, usually with healthy looking beakfulls. Much more water in the river this year and so I saw them swimming for the first time as it is too deep for them to walk into the water from a stony perch.
I did notice something odd about one of the pair however and this cropped image shows that it has lost all of the crown feathers. I doubt this is natural moulting, looks like the result og some serious abrasion, or a disease perhaps. Anyway it appears to be otherwise ok.
We popped into the Charca for a quick look. Not a great deal of activity there. One resident White Stork, a few Common Sandpipers, a Redshank, lots of Little Egrets roosting on the island and two Little Bitterns on Laguna del Tarage.Lots of Red-knobbed Coot chicks already, they have already had a successful breeding season.
Not a lot to shout about lately after three weeks in England visiting family over Easter, where it rained almost every day. However I was pleased with these shots of a beautiful Jay when we returned, taken in the woods at El Robledal in the north of the Axarquia region. Elena and I went specifically to get a shot of this bird which has always eluded me. Jays are very wary and they do not normally allow you to get within about 100 meters, however I put the car in 4wd and drove off the beaten track into the woods where I knew they forage. Sure enough after sitting quietly for ten or fifteen minutes with the engine off, a pair settled in a nearby tree allowing me to get a good photo. This was taken with my 500mm lens with a 1.4 extender fitted, giving a focal length of 700 mm. It worked well.
Prior to leaving for England I picked up a long range shot of this Spotted Crake which had been seen regularly in the new scrape at the Guadalhorce. Not a great photo but a decent record shot of a smart bird.
I had previously tried unsuccessfully to capture the Spotted Crake that had been seen recently at the Charca de Suarez. No luck there with the Crake but this rather handsome Pintail made up for it. One of the most elegant of ducks, they are not common here in Andalucia.
As I was in the area I decided to check the picnic site on the Rio Guadalfeo near Velez de Benedaulla to see if the Dippers were active around their traditional nest site. Sure enough I was fortunate to capture this one perched at the side of the water cascade behind which the nest lies. It's a bit early to expect them to have eggs but it was encouraging to see at least one bird in situ. Hopefully there is a mate and breeding will take place.
Elena I would soon spend three weeks in England so I hoped it would not be too early for a birding trip to Extremadura. In the event it was (too early), the exceptionally cold and wet weather had delayed the arrival of all the migratory birds, I was scraping ice off the windscreen in the mornings, and one whole day was wiped out in the rain. Anyway we picked Bob Wright up at 7:15 and rendezvoued with Derek & Barbara Etherton at 9 in a service station cafe on the way to Cordoba. From there we headed for the Plains of La Serena.
I had several target birds for this trip, one of which was the Great Bustard, I would really like to have better photographs of this iconic species. As it happens we had several sightings but as usual they were quite distant and the birds beat a hasty retreat at the presence of people, so the best I could do was a few shots of them in flight as they left. One day perhaps. We also spotted another target species, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a covey of them flew across the road ahead, no chance for a photograph. Not so this Little Owl that posed conveniently on a rock for us, very nice.
We were of course seeing all the usual birds one would expect in this landscape. The ubiquitous White Stork was everywhere..
Larks were in every field, Calandra, Thekla, Crested, Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks were all quite common.
Meadow Pipits were also abundant but not perhaps as numerous as Corn Buntings.
I was quite surprised by the number of Hoopoes sighted. Given the very cold recent weather I would have expected them to have stayed further south at this time.
As an indication of how much rain had fallen we had to turn back at one point, unable to cross a river which in normal times would have been dry or just a trickle. However it was around here we saw the first Subalpine Warbler of the year.
An Iberian Grey Shrike stayed on the barbed wire fence long enough for us to pull up and take a shot through the car window.
At the end of the day we arrived in Trujillo and enjoyed a decent meal in a restaurant in the main square of this delightful town and retired to the hotel for a decent night's sleep, quite content with the variety of birds we had seen during the day.
Unfortunately, next day was a washout. It rained steadily all day and although we travelled one of the best birding routes in all of Spain between Trujillo and Caceres, following the small road to Santa Marta de Magasca it was hopeless. We saw a few wet and bedraggled Lesser Kestrels but I really fear for them, this weather means no large insects have been emerging so there will be very little food to keep them alive. This on top of the steady elimination of insects through the increasing use of insecticides on a massive scale will probably decimate their numbers. There were none yet nesting on the roof of the bullring in Trujillo which is a fine sight when they are.
Next morning we headed off to Monfrague. It was extremely cold, I had to start off by scraping the ice off my windscreen. When we arrived at the famous Salto del Gitano there was virtually nothing to see, a few Griffon Vultures, a high flying Peregrine but very little else. The biting wind drove us further along to seek some shelter and I contented myself by photographing a few of the small birds in the trees by the river. here. Long-tailed Tits were foraging, along with Chaffinches, Tits, Robins and a few other small species.
Close to the dam Barbara spotted a nice Cirl Bunting which conveniently did not fly away before I managed to fire off a shot.
I quite like this shot of a Chaffinch. Common as much but it looks good on a royal blue background.
The Black Kite below sat on the overhead cable even when I got out of the car to take his picture. They are not usually that obliging.
From Monfrague we headed off to the Embalse de Arrocampo. Nothing spectacular to report from here but there were plenty of Spanish Sparrows in the hedgerows.
Well I say nothing spectacular but Derek said he spotted a couple of Tree Pipits foraging on the grass with the Meadow Pipits. Now I have never identified a Tree Pipit, they are incredibly difficult to distinguish from their much more common cousins, so I went back to where Derek had indicated and sure enough there were a couple that looked slightly different from the rest. It's hard to be sure but these two had bolder head stripes and broader white supercilliums plus they looked a bit heavier than the rest, so hopefully I have a photographic record here of a Tree Pipit.