Sunday, 23 March 2014

New Garden - New List! Birds of The Cottage.

Elis and I have moved back to Newport Pagnell in Bucks. Our brief sojourn to Northants didn't work out too well with regard to garden birds although we did try to attract as many as we could. The really cold snap in early 2013 helped a great deal adding some new species. In the end the list was a mere 41 (not nearly as impressive as our Brazilian fourth-floor apartment which ended on 101). Highlights were a long staying Fieldfare and a small group of Siskins that brought with them a Lesser Redpoll one day.
Lesser Redpoll Carduelis cabaret, Siskin Carduelis spinus and Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis A lone Lesser Redpoll visited our feeder arriving with a group of Siskins.
Our new abode is slightly more rural in the sense that it backs onto fields. in Northants we had regular Buzzards overflying the house but here we have Red Kites as well as Buzzards, in fact they are much more regularly seen. We have also seen a Sparrowhawk just the once.

The feeders already attract a small number of birds including Great and Blue Tit, both of which were very occasional visitors to the feeders further north. Finches are represented by Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch so far, thrushes by Blackbird, Song Thrush (heard only singing his heart out in the early morning, but we have yet to find him) and Robins.
Great Tits Parus major; This pair inspected the nest box, but seem to have lost interest.
There are Dunnocks and Wrens making up the compliment of small birds. In addition there is a large Wood Pigeon that visits every day, we'll draw a veil over the Feral Pigeon that flew over and in the field we have seen Magpies, Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws.
Dunnock Prunella modularis; among the spring primroses.
At the bottom of the field there are some ponds and down there we sometimes get Mute Swans and Cormorants and surprisingly so far we have only seen Starling once when a pair sat on the barn roof, the male singing for all it was worth. Recently we heard a Green Woodpecker yaffling, but we couldn't get a look at it however today a female came to visit our lawn in search of something to eat.
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis; this female perched on the apple tree before going to the lawn.
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis; feeding on the lawn.
As if this wasn't exciting enough we also got a Cottage tick when  Marsh Tit came briefly to the feeders, lets hope it'll be back soon.
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris; a brief visit. 
Signs of spring are in the air too, the Great Tits inspected the nest box and are singing away, the as yet unseen Song Thrush gives forth every morning and the Blackbirds are warming up. Today we saw the first evidence of Dunnocks nesting when a bird was seen carrying nesting material and headed for a bush in the neighbour's garden. The other day a Goldfinch spent some time tearing moss from the lawn to construct its nest, but it flew away over the barn so we don't know where it is nesting exactly.
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis; this individual was collecting nesting material. It landed on the mossy lawn and although it already had a beak full of white downy material it attempted to collect moss from the lawn often dropping the downy material and hastening after it.
The other night we gave a talk to the Chorleywood RSPB group about our charity Wader Quest, when we returned there was a pair of toads in a passionate clinch on our doorstep.
Common Toad Bufo bufo; caught in the act on our doorstep!
All of this means that The Cottage list is at 24 after just four days, and we can expect much more to come I think!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Good looking gulls.

I don't know about you, but I'm not one of those that finds gulls fascinating, unlike with waders I can't sit and sift through a flock and study the minutiae of plumage details. Don't misunderstand me though, I find them really attractive and on our travels around the world we have seen some real corkers.
Hartlaub's Gull Croicocephalus hartlaubii; Simonstown, Western Cape, South Africa.
Red-billed Gull Croicocephalus scopulinus; Christchurch, Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand. 

Dolphin Gull Leucophaeus scoresbii; Porvenir, Tierra del Fuego, Chile.
Grey Gull Leucophaeus modestus; Antofagasta, Antofagasta, Chile. 
Heermann's Gull Larus heermanni; San Diego, California, USA.
Belcher's Gull Larus belcheri; Villa Marshes, Lima, Peru.

Franklin's Gull Leucophaeus pipixcan; Villa Marshes, Lime Peru.

Andean Gull Croicocephalus serranus; Marcapomacocha, Junín, Peru.

Ivory Gull Pagophila eburnea; Patrington, Humberside, England.
Brown-headed Gull Croicocephalus brunnicephalus; Bang Poo, Samut Prakan, Thailand.
Kep Gull Larus dominicanus; Punta Arenas, Magellanes y Antárctica Chilena, Chile

Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla; Everglades National Park, Florida, USA. 
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis; Bolsa Chica, California, USA.
Western Gull Larus occidentalis; San Diego, California, USA.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Finally the Sao Paulo Marsh Antwren has a proper name!

There has been a great deal of waiting for a decision to be made about the taxonomic status of the marsh antwren that was found in São Paulo State many years ago. Not least as there was some confusion about who actually discovered the thing; but we will not get into that now.

The Paraná Marsh Antwren Formicivora acutirostris, from which the new species has been distinguished, was originally given its own genus Stymphalornis when it was first discovered, but back in the time when we were in Brazil this was given up and the bird was placed in the genus Formicivora along with the new form that had recently been found in São Paulo.

Male São Paulo Marsh Antwren Formicivora paludicola; Biritiba Mirim, São Paulo, Brazil.
This didn't help our new species much, it remained for the entire five years that we were showing it to visiting birders (with a few exceptions, two of whom are now good friends of ours, incredibly, sorry guys!), to be called Formicivora sp. nov. Of course we always referred to it as São Paulo Antwren and always harboured the hope that it'd be accepted as a full species.

Female São Paulo Marsh Antwren Formicivora paludicola; Biritiba Mirim, São Paulo, Brazil.
Well finally that day has come and the bird has been described as a species given the English name of São Paulo Marsh Antwren and the scientific name of Formicivora paludicola. The specific name means marsh dweller. So for those of you who have waited for this day, you now have an armchair tick. We on the other hand jumped the gun somewhat and have already included it on our lists!

Thanks to Tommy Pedersen from bringing this to our attention. Here's the link to the information:

Friday, 27 December 2013

Good things come to he who waits!

In my case 24 years!

In 1989 a Brünnich's Guillemot was spotted among the Common Guillemot colony on Shetland. It spent its days hopelessly casting around for a mate somewhere in the vicinity of a house brick incongruously and carelessly left on the rock face. It was there for ages leaving the rock occassionally to feed and then return.

It was too much to bear and eventually I, with a crew from Hertfordshire, drove to Aberdeen, a journey of some 10 hours. We then boarded the St. Claire ferry to Lerwick for the 14hour overnight crossing. In the morning, upon arrival in Shetland, we hired a car to tour the islands in search of birds after seeing the Brünnich's.

Alas it wasn't to be. 11 hours that day and 11 the next we stood on the clifftop ever more despondently watching the colony oppostite, yet the bird did not return it had clearly gone, fed up with waiting for a spouse, added to which the weather was frightful with wind and rain coming into our faces.

We left the cliffs at 5 o'clock in order to catch the return ferry. When we arrived the next morning in Aberdeen some bright spark rang the birdline and it announced that the Brünnich's had returned at quarter past 5!!!!!!!

A return trip was arranged for the following week, but, on the day before we were due to leave my son Martin was born 8 weeks prematurely! The rest of the crew returned to see the bird while I sat anxiously watching my boy fight for life in an incubator.

Happily Martin has grown to be a strapping young man, but he was damn lucky I didn't name him Brünnich to teach him a thing or two about timing!

This weekend dip was on the 24th and 25th of June 1989.

24 years six months and 2 days later I finally see a Brünnich's Guillemot in the UK!! (Or anywhere for that matter!)

A gentle drive down from Hertfordshire where we met Tony Clark and Derek Turner saw us arrive just as it was getting light. Whilst we three men discussed tactics for the day still in the car Elis jumped out and disappeared off around the corner. Two minutes later she was back and waving her arms, the bird had been seen! We were out of that car faster than you could say Uria lomvia and I pursued Elis along the harbour promenade to where the bird had been seen.

When we arrived there was no sign. One person had seen the bird, it then dived and was not seen again. This seemed like a likely story to me and I guessed the guy had thought better of his identification and covered his tracks. The adrenalin rush was now followed by a bit of a low. The bird, if it was there had drowned it had been under so long.

Then, some minutes later I saw a guillemot out by the sea wall, all dark headed; it dived. I alerted everyone and someone else picked it up moments later some 100m closer. I got onto it, it was the same bird; it again dived. Then it appeared about 50m from us. This time I got a good, albeit brief, look at the bird. It had an all dark head, looking good! It once again dived. This time it did not reappear and I began to think more generously towards that first sighting of the day.

Some time later it was relocated outside the small harbour and every man and his dog went rushing up towards the car park. Some of us who had seen the bird were more relaxed and walked, stopping half way. Doing so proved a bonus as the bird appeared right in front of us and then again slightly into the harbour where Elis got the first photo of it and indeed the only photo of it for some time.
Brunnich's Guillemot Uria lomvia; Portland Harbour, Dorset UK. The first shot of the day.
The view most people got of the bird initially!
As people arrived some were sceptical about the brief sightings and a series of such doubters were disatched to look at "That young lady's" photograph to settle their mind, much pleasing Elis enjoying the limelight and being referred to as 'young lady' in equal measure.
Part of the admiring crowd.
Elis, TC and I had now seen it, Derek had not. So began the long and agonising wait for it to reappear. I didn't take note of the time exactly, but it was not seen again until gone 10 o'clock! This time everyone got splendid views and many more photos were taken, Elis, although losing her exclusivity gained some more record shots in the dismal grey conditions.
The bird finally settled down to shelter from the wind behind a boat, sadly not very close to us or Elis' camera.

Back in 1989 I fancied myself as a bit of a poetic pensmith and I wrote this limerick about our weekend dip.
The title was the quote from birdline on the Saturday evening;

Not seen up to six o'clock, but presumably will return.

This here is a tale of woe.
An epic as some stories go.
To Shetland we went,
Huge portions we spent;
What to see? I think you all know!

We sailed by the light of the moon,
Some time getting on for late June.
When we got there,
We sat to prepare,
To tick it and hoped it'd be soon.

We heard all the cliff birds acry,
As Rock Doves and Bonxies flew by,
The atmosphere grand
As puffins would stand
Beside us and give us the eye.

But as the day wore on by,
Not a soul did this creature espy,
The wind got quite strong
And before very long,
The rain tumbled out of the sky.

The damp misted up bins and scope,
But none of us ever lost hope.
The cliffs we did scour
For hour after hour,
Not daring to twitch phalarope.

At last at the end of the day,
We went off to where we would stay.
A nice B&B
With loads of hot tea;
And a Bible to help you to pray!

Not that it did any good,
Well I never thought that it would.
Sunday was the same,
The bird never came
We'd dipped! For nothing we'd stood.

We went back and got on the ship.
All trying to laugh off the dip.
The cabin was great,
The breakfast first rate,
As into the harbour we'd slip.

To birdline we anxiously turned
And from it we bitterly learned.
Just as we set sail
In the teeth of a gale 
The flippin' thing went and returned!!

So take heed all birders out there
Who twitch Shetland etc. beware!
There's no guarantee
What you rush off to see
Is going to be bloomin' well there!

© R. Simpson 1989.

Post script;

If you wait long enough so it seems.
At the end of the tunnel, hope gleams!
Though wind and rain lashed.
To Portland we dashed,
At last fulfilling our dreams!

© R. Simpson 2013
Brunnich's Guillemot finally on my list 27th December 2013.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ivory Gull in East Yorkshire.

It felt just like the old days, heading up the M1 in torrential rain wondering if I'd lost my senses, car full of folk anxious to see our target bird of the day, Ivory Gull. It was a real twitch. I'll admit we would be considered rather slack in the old days waiting until the bird's umpteenth day to go for it, but life just seems to get in the way sometimes.

Arriving at Patrington at about 10:30 (yes I know we should have been there for dawn!) we encountered a large collection of cars and a very muddy road. We parked the car and then learned the bird had flown off a short while before our arrival. Not encouraging, but we trudged out along the mile long tack to where the bird would hopefully return.

We, that is myself, Elis and Gyorgy 'Szimi' Szimuly (Szimi's wife Andi and daughter Kea remained in the car; sensible girls!) were happy to find that the bird hadn't in fact flown off, merely flown out into the estuary a little. It was at least visible.

The wind was blowing strongly and it was bitter. A number of photographers were sheltering behind a small pumping station-like building waiting for the bird to return to feed on the fish that had been provided, we joined them (the photographers not the fish).

As we waited my journey to the past resurfaced as I listened to the twitcher's chat. "Did you go for this", or "I heard you dipped on that". All very amusing, it was just that the numbers on the lists concerned were 500 and something now and not 400 and something like they were in my day. (I'm not sure but I think I am still around the 450 mark having spent 5 years out of the UK and having had little inclination - or time - to twitch since being back.)

Eventually, after I had been tortured by watching birders scoff sarnies and chocolate bars, the bird deigned to return and with much aplomb!

It circled around a few times giving us excellent views

and eventually settled back down,

fed on the fish provided for it

and had a drink at the rainwater puddles.

We spent a bit of time watching the bird, my third for the UK; the first being in Saltburn, 01 February 1986 my 296th British tick registered in my notebook.
Underneath the photo of the bird we saw, which was cut from a magazine, is a description of the bird.
The second was in Aldeburgh, 27 December 1999 appearing in my notebook thus (I had become much neater it seems);
Again photos cut from a birding magazine of the actual bird.
We all returned home with a warm glow inside, especially the two tickers Szimi and Elis who closed the year on a high! (Assuming nothing happens between now and 31st December!)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

This blog is suffering neglect.

It is not because of a lack of affection for my old blog, I love it dearly, it's just that while we are travelling we barely have the time or opportunity to do what we want to on the Wader Quest blog, never mind having a bit of fun on this one. Isn't it funny how work always seems to come first! So, what shall we talk about? We've done a bit about Africa, but hardly scratched the surface, a brief mention of a day in New Zealand but nothing about Australia, and now we have Brazil and Chile to cover. Something tells me I'm going to be busy for a while.

Here are some striking birds from Australia to start us off. (You'll see no waders here, they're all on the Wader Quest blog.) Starting with a pair of trillers, these are Varied Trillers and we think we have a male (behind) and female in the shot. These birds were whizzing about the trees in some sort of frenzy and were hard to keep up with until suddenly the female stopped, trembled her wings and... well, no prizes for guessing what happened next!
Coitus anticipatus! Varied Trillers Lalage leucomela, Cairns, Australia.

After the event she carried on as though nothing had happened, and to be honest it was so quick it probably seemed that way!
One morning on the Cairns Esplanade we came across this little ray of sunshine. Assuming this to be a honeyeater, and being yellow, we assumed that this was a Yellow Honeyeater, easy this bird identification lark.
Yellow Honeyeater Lichenostomus flavus.
Shortly after we were treated to a huge flock of birds which, although not shown in the field guide in this plumage and not being with adults, we later confirmed that our immediate thoughts that they were immature Metallic Starlings were correct.
Immature Metallic Starlin Aplonis metallica. Cairns Esplanade, Australia.

Those eyes are amazing.
These guys look like they're up to mischief to me.
Within minutes of these birds moving on a small parrotlet-like bird landed at the top of the same tree, this turned out to be the very pretty Double-eyed Fig-Parrot.
Double-eyed Fig-Parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma.
Then came the Figbirds. We assumed these were immature males for the most part having the colouration of that gender but being heavily streaked. Then a female arrived, but no males.
Immature male Figbird Sphecotheres viridus.

Female Figbird Sphecotheres viridus
These were a surprise, somehow I'd managed to not notice the Pied Imperial Pigeon as a potential tick from the book, so coming across a tree full of white pigeons stopped me in my tracks somewhat.
Pied Imperial Piceon Ducula bicolor.
Common enough for sure, but the Crested Pigeon is another stunning pigeon. That crazy top knot is a bit special.
Crested Pigeon Ochyphaps lophotes.
Here's another interesting pigeon, the Brown Cuckoo-Dove. This bird we found in the forests near to Cairns.
Brown Cuckoo-Dove Macropygia amboinensis.
Emus are curious birds, both in the sense that they are curious to look at and they are curious about us too. If you stop your car near to them they willl come and check you out, this is one of a small group that circled us before wandering off bored.
This curious Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae would have been rather intimidating if it hadn't been the other side of a car window.
A beautiful trio of Major Mitchell's Cockatoos, we almost overlooked these as the ultra common Galahs at first, that would have been a tragedy.
Major Mitchell's (or Pink) Cockatoos Cacatua leadbeateri.
A rather better known cockatoo, the Suphur-crested is no less impressive for being common.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita.
This has to be one of the most attractive birds we came across in Australia, the Red-capped Robin. We came across this in rather dry Mallee habitat where it stood out like a beacon.
Red-capped Robin Petrioca goodenovii.
Another little stunner is the Mistletoe bird. This bird reminded us very much of the Buff-throated Purpletufts back in Brazil the way that it sat upright in the top branches of trees and bushes. A little more flashy than the purpletuft admittedly.
Mistletoebird Dicaeum hirundinaceum.
Sorry this is such a brief run down of the birds we saw in Australia, but there is more to come and hopefully in a bit more depth, but for now just enjoy these images and we will dream of being back in Australia.