Monday 26 November 2012

Garden birds

Something happened today, the ornithological desert that is our garden was suddenly alive with birds. Day after day I have sat here and looked up from time to time to see empty feeders and a vacant garden devoid of anything more exciting than the occasional Woodpigeon or Collared Dove, or fly by corvids.

Today however we had two new birds for the list Blue Tit and Coal Tit.

1st Blue Tit

1st Coal Tit

We also had a visit from a Great Tit which we haven't seen since the 3rd (admittedly we have been away, but it hasn't appeared since we got back).

Great Tit
Within the space of a few minutes a Dunnock appeared on the fence, a 1st winter Blackbird dropped onto the grass and a Robin perched on the bird table along with one of the more regular Starlings on the fat balls. Just maybe the garden will be more exciting from now on, or maybe these were in a roving flock that has now moved on, we'll see.

Collared Doves and Woodpigeons are daily visitors to the bird table and House Sparrows put in occasional appearances, happily the Goldfinches are more regular.

Collared Dove

All these photographs were taken through old and murky double glazing.
Garden list now 21

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Taking a break from the waders.

Upon hearing that some Waxwings were as close as Aylesbury, Elis and I dropped everything we were doing and headed in their direction. It was a cold, grey, wet, blustery day but we set off undaunted by this, the thought of seeing Waxwings can make the most miserable of days a tad brighter. Of course when we arrived they were nowhere to be seen, however we didn't have to wait long for them to return, 20 of them in all.

50% of the flock, well nearly anyway.

For the next half an hour or so we watched these birds feed on berries and rest at the top of a nearby leafless tree.

Feeding on the Rowan berries

We treated ourselves to a rather delicious bacon and cheese hamburger from a burger van run by a charming pair of young ladies who I assumed to be mother and daughter, when we wandered off upon arrival finding the birds where not there it was the 'daughter' that went out of her way to let us know the birds had returned, bless her, she, and her mother, were rewarded with Spoon-billed Sandpiper pin badges for their kindness.


At one point a couple of Waxwings dropped to the road to drink from a puddle in the gutter and Elis got this sequence of shots.

After a while, the cold and wet got to us and even the charming Waxwings could hold us no longer, with a fond farewell to both the birds and the ladies we departed, very satisfied.

Sunday 18 November 2012


The next destination for Wader Quest after Thailand was the UAE, again for the WQ news follow the link on the page bar above. Here's a photo to whet your appetite...
Red-wattled Lapwing, Dubai pivot fields, UAE.
Again I will just put some of Elis's non wader photos here for now and do a full report on the Our Trips page when I get a chance.

We flew into Abu Dhabi but stayed in Dubai about 1.5 hours drive north-east along the gulf coast. As you approach Dubai it seems to rise from the desert like a mirage.
Dubai's distinctive skyline rising from the desert.
But there are reminders that this really is a desert location.
Dromedary camel.
The Grey Francolin is a common bird and a classic desert bird. They were seen at most sites in small numbers particularly early in the day before it got hot and they had to hide from the scorching sun.
Grey Francolin.
Larks pipits and wagtails were a constant feature on the landscape wherever we went. All the larks that we saw were Crested Larks.
Crested Lark.
The pipits were predominantly Tawny, with a few Water Pipits for good measure and once we saw a Red-throated when we were with Tommy Pedersen, our friend who lives in Dubai.

The only wheatears we saw were several Isabelline and a single Pied.
Isabelline Wheatear.

Pied Wheatear.
Flashy birds were not thin on the ground either, we saw a few Indian Rollers and these two European Rollers...
European Roller

European Roller with deformed bill. a few Hoopoes and the common White-cheeked Bulbul, a cracking little bird.
In addition there were the Bee-eaters, a few Little Green Bee-eaters and a single stunning Blue-cheeked Bee-eater.
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater.
This Steppe Grey Shrike out in an appearance on the last day as we were leaving a wetland wildlife sanctuary.
Steppe Grey Shrike.

The wetlands held a few birds that were not waders such as these Slender-billed Gulls, a Marsh Harrier and among the more familiar herons and egrets this Western Reef Egret.
Slender-billed Gulls.

Western Marsh Harrier

Western Reef Egret


Other animals and Thai life.

An interesting form of decoration that we came across in our hotel in Bangkok was this rear end of an elephant having a dump. I'm sure there must be some deep religious, meaningful, significance to this but it is lost on me.
In homage of the crapping elephant
Other wildlife was thin on the ground, I guess a certain amount of eating anything that moves may be the case, certainly we were told that we'd see very few creatures other than birds. But this monitor that crossed the road in front of us was truly impressive, you can judge the size of it from the road.
Water monitor
We did come across this dog with a hot water bottle in its mouth.
He'll never swallow that!
Question: When is a fish not a fish (apart from when it's a hot water bottle that is)? 
Answer: When it's a mud skipper, that's when; fascinating creatures, lolloping around on the mud well clear of the water.

Mudskipper; neither fish nor frog.
So to Thai life. We didn't see a bus the whole time we were there, maybe there are some in the cities, but in rural areas this is the chosen form of public transport.
Any fares please?

Or the executive version.
Luxury travel.
The Thai population is very feminine, the ladies most definitely are, and quite a lot of the men, even the Thai boxers don't look particularly butch, not that I'd tell them to their face of course! Even the taxis are pink!
Penelope Pitstop's personal taxi company.
Roadside distractions are numerous. One of the most obvious features of the street furniture is the fact that the royal family's faces appear everywhere. I'm not sure if this is a display of abject obedience and enforced loyalty or whether it comes from a genuine love for the royals. Long live the king is written everywhere, but whether it is a heartfelt sentiment or there by his instruction I don't know. I do know it isn't safe to insult the king, so I won't. I'm sure it is because they all love their royal family and have a great deal of respect for them, just like our dear old Queen, we should have more pictures of her everywhere too. Long live the Queen!
Not sure who this lady is, I'm guessing a princess.
Not sure of the significance of this giant crab at Bang Poo (How old are you? Stop that childish giggling!) but being by the sea, I'd imagine good numbers of them get eaten thereabouts.
Giant crab, at least it's not defecating!
There too seemed to be a number of collections of beast statues along one of the roads, we came across goats, cattle, horses and even reindeer, plus of course the obligatory elephants (also not defecating as far as we could make out).
Elephant road furniture, not recommended to crash into these.
Down by the coast we stayed in a rather lovely location, here is the view from our window...
Sigh, wish I was looking out on this vista right now :-(

... here is the breakfast we were served, you see, very feminine...
... and here is an early morning scene from our window. Luxury or what?

But not everyone lives in luxury in Thailand that is for sure. Of course we saw some rather opulent buildings, especially around Bangkok, but out in the sticks life looks pretty hard for your average Joe, housing can be very makeshift.
A bijou residence with a vista over the river.
Local people tend not to read newspapers it seems, so, in order that they should not miss out on the local news and gossip, it is broadcast every morning over loudspeakers, unlike Jeremy Paxman, you can't simply turn it off.
Enforced up to date information.
This monkey was about the only creature I came across that looked as if it was listening, not that it or any of us had any choice, but at least I had the luxury of understanding nothing, a bit like the other monkey in the area I guess!
"Uh huh! ... Uh huh... and then what happened... noooooo!
Funny that's exactly what happened to my tail too!"
So, of course everyone wants to know... what about the girls and the red-light district? Well curiosity got the better of us too and we couldn't resist taking a peek, just to see what all the fuss was about, reminded me a bit of Newport Pagnell on a Friday night actually. 
Took us ages to get a shot with nobody's husband in it!


Saturday 17 November 2012

More Thai birds.

Thailand has so much more to offer from a birders point of view than waders of course, but on this occasion we would have to content ourselves with whatever we bumped into on our quest for the shorebirds. Fortunately stunning birds are easily found like these first three...

Indian Roller.

Green Bee-eater

Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Early morning setting off for the salt pans it was always worth keeping your eyes peeled, these Greater Coucals were sunning themselves as though they were trying to rid themselves of the night's chill, the strange thing is the night's chill was probably about 25°C!

Greater Coucal.
A rather common and very vocal bird is the Asian Koel, every day and for most of the day it was possible to hear these birds calling somewhere, their voice is not difficult to identify, they simply cal " Ko-el!"

Asian Koel.

Naturally searching for waders in wetland habitats it is inevitable that we came across some other water birds. At the site for the Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas we found this Cotton Pygmy Goose or Teal or whatever it is called these days!

Cotton Pygmy Goose.
Crakes and rails are notoriously skulking birds, so to come across this White-browed Crake preening itself in the open was a bit of a bonus.

White-browed Rail.
Gulls were thin on the ground as far as variety of species were concerned, we only came across Brown-headed Gull, but then again we didn't make a huge effort to pick anything out among them to be honest. I just love those angry looking eyes.

Brown-headed Gull.

Now those of you who know me well will know I am not much of a fan of nocturnal birding, night time is reserved for eating drinking and other interesting activities but as we ended the day at a place where these birds were supposedly easy to see I made the effort, and we were rewarded by this Indian Nightjar that allowed us to approach really closely. I think we could have got even closer if the security guard had not nearly run it over in his zeal to tell us to push off!

Indian Nighjar.
Common it may be, but it is still stunning. The Asian Pied Starling never became boring for me during our stay, I would happily stop and look at any we came across, and we came across many that's for sure, stunning bird and probably under-appreciated like our Eurasian Starling due to being very common.

Asian Pied Starling
Another common bird in Thailand, the Common Myna which, along with its congener the White-vented Myna is also easy to see and pretty stunning to look at.

Common Myna.
White-vented Myna.

I am very drawn to black-and-white birds, don't really know why (note Asian Pied Satrling above), maybe they just look neat and tidy, who knows? The Asian Magpie Robin is perhaps one of the neatest of these pied birds and the Pied Fantail one of the most amusing to watch as it flits about the forest flicking its tail.

Asian Magpie Robin
Pied Fantail.

Check out those eyes! Amazing colour. Couldn't believe it when this Racquet-tailed Magpie came skulking out of the mangrove responding to playback.

Racquet-tailed Magpie.

 Another all black bird but far less skulking is the Black Drongo, these were very common and most distracting when looking for other birds as there always seemed to be one flying across your field of view.

Black Drongo.

Streak-eared Bulbul, a nondescript bird and fairly common, took us some time to get a decent photo though showing those streaked ear coverts.

Streak-eared Bulbul.
What can you say about Plain Prinia, the bird that always appears when you are looking for something else. You may be waiting for the Oriental Reed Warbler to show itself, you see a movement and swing the bins into action, and what do you find, another b***** Plain Prinia... bless them.

Plain Prinia.
This trio were a treat, we stopped to get a record shot of them and noticed that they seemed to be joined as one, they turned their heads in unison, even watching a fly tumble around in front of them at one time, most amusing to watch their little heads rotating in unison.

Ash-throated Wood-Swallows
Sunbirds are always a favourite; by the temple that was featured in the last blog we came across some sweet smelling trees in flower, and in among them were a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds lovely!

Male Olive-backed Sunbird.

Female Olive-backed Sunbird.
Perhaps not truly inspiring but nevertheless an interesting bird is the Oriental Skylark, interesting I suppose, except for lark buffs that is, purely in the fact that it is called rather exotically Oriental and not, less excitingly, Eurasian.

Oriental Skylark.
Don't get me started on chats. I imagined that they were all stonechats, but this one looked slightly different and just could be a Grey Bushchat although it doesn't seen very rufous, but then again the photo was taken in bright sun and the bird looks rather washed out. Can anyone shed any light?

Shrikes are great birds, no matter what or where they are, there is no such thing as a boring shrike. They look great and have such interesting habits (unless you happen to be a large insect or small rodent of course).

Brown Shrike.
Small passerines like this Scaly breasted Munia can easily be overlooked when wader watching, the Zitting Cisticola can also be hard to catch up with if it is not in display flight and all the time you are looking for them, what do you find? You guessed it another Plain Prinia! I told you they get everywhere.

Scaly-breasted Munia.

Zitting Cisticola.

Plain Prinia.
I still don't really understand why Tree Sparrows are so rare and hard to find in the UK, confining themselves as they do, to rural locations and yet abroad they are common city dwellers... beats me. Pretty bird though.

Tree Sparrow.
Here's an interesting thing. This building I am reliably informed is a swiflet nest farm, the Germain Swiflets (formerly Edible nest Swiftlet) are encouraged to nest in this building, and their nests are then harvested. Not sure I really understand the desire to eat bird spit, but seems to be a lucrative business,who'd have thought?

Bird's nest soup sir?