Our trips

New England May 2012

Fourteen days in New England in spring, the stuff of dreams. However this was not a pure birding trip, there was a certain amount of family obligations thrown in for good measure. The trip was affordable due to the generosity of my brother Andy and his wife Catarina. They allowed us to stay in their lovely home in Westport and use it as a base for our excursions. Many of these excursions were locally around Westport, others a little along the coast in Connecticut such as Milford and West Haven, and also a trip into New York City to visit the American Natural History Museum skin collection and to bird Central Park. We also did a ‘five states in two days’ trip around New England.

Many birds were seen just in and around the garden where feeders are put up. The most regular visitors are the Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch and American Goldfinch.

Chipping Sparrow
Male Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle

Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch

Male House Finch
Female House Finch feeding fledgling

Male American Goldfinch
Female American Goldfinch
Other birds seen in the garden include Mourning Dove, Baltimore Oriole, American Robin, Swainson’s Thrush (not photographed), Grey Catbird, Northern Mockingbird and the incredible Wild Turkey, a male which, on one occasion, was displaying to a female. Introduced European Starling and House Sparrow were occasion visitors.
Mourning Dove
Baltimore Oriole
American Robin
Grey Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Displaying male Wild Turkey
Locally there were three areas we visited regularly, the beach area, a CT Audubon sanctuary and a state park. The beach area is restricted to residents and so was not particularly overcrowded especially as the weather was not brilliant in the early stages of our visit.

Westport Beach
Looking the other way

Wouldn't mind living in one of those!
Herons were represented by the familiar Snowy and Great Egrets, although a number of Black-crowned Night Herons were seen both loafing on the mud and flying to roost and once a Green Heron was disturbed from where it was feeding in a concealed creek.
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night Heron
Introduced Mute Swans graced the river outlet along with small numbers of the expected Canada Geese and also, on the sea, rather larger numbers of Pale-bellied Brent Geese. These had gone by the last day of our trip. Ducks were all Mallard except for one American Black Duck.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese
Distant American Black Duck
There were a number of Ospreys loafing around on moored boats and in the harbour area fishing Double-crested Cormorants.
Double-crested Cormorant
We were disappointed that there were not more waders. We saw American Oystercatcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Spotted, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers and had a brief fly-over Killdeer, but that was all.
Greater Yellowlegs
Least Sandpiper
I was surprised to find that there were only American Herring and Ring-billed Gulls at that time of year with a smattering of Great Black-backed Gulls, New York isn’t that far away and Laughing Gulls are abundant there; I also thought there may be some Bonaparte’s Gulls around, but sadly not. The only tern we identified for sure was Common although Cabot’s were probable feeding in small groups often in poor viewing conditions off the beach.
American herring Gull
American Herring Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Common Tern
Crows were numerous, and after identifying one of each of Fish and American by voice, they were largely ignored. We think the bird feeding on an unfortunate passerine (which we believe to be a Starling, so no great loss to American avifauna) is American and the other on the beach road a Fish Crow, but we are not absolutely sure.

American Crow

Fish Crow
Other than that not a huge amount was seen at the beach areas except plenty of Song Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds and a single Seaside Sparrow for good measure.

Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbirds
The CT Audubon sanctuary was called the H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Preserve. It doubled as a Christmas tree farm but the pine trees were surrounded by wooded gardens.
Wandering around its edges we came across some new species including, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Blue Jay, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Carolina Wren, Prairie Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Northern Parula, Pine Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Brown-headed Cowbird, Savannah Sparrow and Orchard Oriole.
Red-tailed Hawk
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker

Least Flycatcher

Eastern kingbird

Warbling Vireo

Prairie Warbler ₢ Elis Simpson

Yellow Warbler

Northern Parula

Pine Warbler
Female Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Brown-headed Cowbird
Savannah Sparrow
Orchard Oriole
The last local hotspot was the Sherwood State Park, and excellent little coastal park with a good variety of habitat, from saltmarsh and beach, to open grass and woodland.
Part of the Sherwood State Park
It was here that Elis caught up with, and photographed, a bird she had been eager to see, the Killdeer. We only saw a single bird in the car park (typical habitat), despite much searching.

Killdeer landing
 The only other wader added here was Willet which perched conveniently on top of a bare branch.
'Eastern' Willet
Willow Flycatcher was good find here, its ‘fitsbew’ call being heard almost constantly but by far the best bird was a Saltmarsh Sparrow that we saw on our last morning thanks to the advice from an old friend from the UK now living in CT, Julian Hough.
Willow Flycatcher
We went and met Julian and a friend of his Gina Nichol, whom we had coincidentally met in Brazil in Ubatuba, one evening for a spot of birding at West Haven up the coast and a meal to thank them both for all the invaluable local gen they had furnished us with. The birding wasn’t exactly intense as Julian and I had a lot of catching up to do, but we did manage some new birds; Peregrine Falcon, Clapper Rail, Grey Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher, Least Tern and Marsh Wren.
Clapper Rail

Grey Plover

Marsh Wren
Earlier that day we had visited a place called River Road in a town called Kent away from the coast, this was our third visit to the area. The first was actually a family visit to see my niece, Victoria, at her school but still produced two new birds with Bald Eagle seen at a distance and Great Crested Flycatcher.
Great Crested Flycatcher
Canada Goose family along the river
The second and third visits were for purely birding purposes along the River Road and added some excellent birds.
River Road
On the second visit we saw, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Goosander, Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Vireo, Cliff Swallow, Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler (our target bird for the day), Yellow-rumped Warbler, heard a Worm-eating Warbler but didn’t connect with it, Louisiana Waterthrush and Scarlet Tanager.
Black-billed Cuckoo
Wood Thrush
Cerulean Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
After leaving River Road we went to a site nearby looking for, and happily, finding (thanks to Julian) Alder Flycatcher, my only tick of the trip, Eastern Bluebird and Wood Duck.

Alder Flycatcher, my one and only tick
Eastern Bluebird
We also came across a family of Killdeer. 
Adult Killdeer

Two fledgling juveniles
The trail at the end of River Road

That evening we returned to Westport via Milford Point CT Audubon Centre. It was here that we finally caught up with Purple Martin. Elis also got some good shots of Mourning Dove, Least Sandpiper and Northern Mockingbird.
Purple Martin house with squatting House parrows.

Mourning Dove
Least Sandpiper

Northern Mockingbird
The third visit to River Road was no less exciting, although new birds were thin on the ground, and it occurred at the end of our two day trip around Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont ending back in Connecticut. Although we didn’t see the Cerulean Warblers again very well we did this time catch up with the Worm-eating Warbler, an almost mythical bird with its strange name.
Worm-eating Warbler
 We had a return visit to Milford point some days later when the weather was a bit better to get some more shots of the Purple Martins. On this occasion we ventured out along the stony spit and encountered the rare and beautiful Piping Plover. This wasn’t the only bird we added to the list, there was a magnificent summer plumage Great Northern Diver in the bay, some distance off but still impressive, we came across our first Semipalmated Plovers, a single White-rumped Sandpiper and a Sanderling in summer plumage and some lovely summer plumaged Dunlins in with largely Least and some Semipalmated Sandpipers.
Male Purple Martin
Pair of Purple Martins inspecting gourd type nestboxes
Piping Plover, if it didn't move you wouldn't see it

Piping Plover
Great northern Diver in the evening sun

Photographing the Great northern Diver
Waders arriving now the fun starts...
... sifting through them...

...and photographing them for the blog/Wader Quest pages

White-rumped Sandpiper


Least Sandpiper
Semipalmated sandpiper
Near to Westport there was one other site we visited, also run by the CT Audubon Society at Fairfield. It was a lovely walk through some fine woodland, and it gave us our first Northern House Wren, a very obliging Veery and an Ovenbird that seemed to stick to the canopy much against what I had expected, having only seen them on or near the ground before. In the air was the incessant song of the Red-eyed Vireo reminding us of the Chivi Vireos back in Brazil.

Having a rest along the trail


Eastern Chipmunk
Red-eyed Vireo
On the grand New England states tour we spent most of our time driving and admiring the Harley Davidsons and Mack trucks, we did however stop at one place called Esther Currier Wildlife Management area. A great spot where a pond has been created by a beaver dam.

The beaver pond at Esther Currier WMA

Standing in the stream bed, the pond level is at head height
We didn’t get to see any beavers but we did see a Muskrat and unexpectedly a North American River Otter that we saw from one of the unusually constructed hides.

North American River Otter
In one of the unusual and cosy hides

New birds were Belted Kingfisher, Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Swamp Sparrow and along the raod from the refuge a pair of Bobolinks.  The scenery around New England is terrific, the forest just seems to go on for ever. We passed through many typical small towns with their spired churches, came across the local Fire Department in one town clearing up after a motorcycle accident and stopped at a small Natural History Museum in Vermont.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

Swamp Sparrow

Male Boboink

Seemingly endless forest
Typical New England small town

Mopping-up after an accident (no-one was seriously injured)

Southern Vermont Natural History Museum
Stuffed Prawn in conversation with four-eyed stuffed Puma

Elis and the Black Bear exhibit
We did an overnight to New York City. We met and stayed with an ex client of RSBS in Brazil and now a good friend.
New York City skyline, a little changed since I last saw it
We travelled everywhere by the Subway system which was a little daunting at first.
Riding the famous NYC Subway

The museum has its own station
 We went straight to the Museum at the American Natural History Museum to look at skins of Brown-backed Parrotlets. They had precious few so we didn’t tarry long there, our business concluded swiftly. From there we went to our friend Don Hill’s house where we were to stay the night, enjoying an excellent home prepared meal and great company.

Museum entrance with the statue of Roosevelt and two guides,
one Native American, the other African
Working on the parrotlet skins

Don, in kharki shirt next to Elis, with his friends
The following morning we went birding with Don as our local guide to Central Park. It had potential for a good morning with light rain overnight, it was very good for us, but by local standards a bit of a wash out I understand.

In central park

Getting to know the locals (and there was me thinking Elis wasn't looking!

View of Central Park

That didn’t stop us adding some good birds to the list though, Grey-cheeked Thrush and a glut of New World Warblers; Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Yellow, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Blackpoll, Black-and-white, Wilson’s and  Northern Waterthrush. There were sightings of Black-throated Green and Canada Warbler too, but we didn’t catch up with these unfortunately.
Grey-cheeked thrush
Chestnut-sided Warbler

Magnolia Warbler
Yellow Warbler

Male Black-throated Blue Warbler

Female Black-throated Blue Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

Wilson's Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
 We also saw more of some of the birds we had previously seen.

Male Northern Cardinal

Tufted Titmouse

Common Grackle

Black-crowned Night-Heron
After leaving Central Park and Don, we left NYC for Westport again.

In the park the city is never far away

On our final day, after our visit to some local sights we headed back to NYC and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge before heading for the airport. Some last minute ticks were found as hoped. Glossy Ibis, Ruddy Duck, Laughing Gull, White-eyed Vireo, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee and Boat-tailed Grackle.
Pair of Ruddy Ducks. Good to see them where they should be

Laughing Gull

White-eyed Vireo

Brown Thrasher

Eastern Towhee

Boat-tailed Grackle
Tree Swallow
A total of 131 species were recorded, Elis had 95 ticks and I, just 1.

North-east Brazil October 2011
October saw us heading for the north-east of Brazil with friends from the UK, Mick and Jayne Watts. The plan was to more or less follow Ciro Albano’s route from Neotropical Birding magazine. We flew to Salvador and hired a car there, heading the first day to Estância in Sergipe. En route we stopped for a few birds, the most interesting among them being Pearl Kite, Spot-backed Puffbird, Campo Troupial, Ruby Topaz Hummingbird, and Blue-chinned Sapphire plus Crimson-crested Woodpecker.

Pearl Kite © Elis Simpson

Spot-backed Puffbird © Elis Simpson

Campo Troupial © Elis Simpson

Pair of Crimson-crested Woodpeckers © Elis Simpson
The site at Estância is mainly for the Fringe-backed Fire-eye which only Elis managed to see, but even she didn’t get a photo. We did however pick up some interesting birds. On the way in to the site we came across a Paint-billed Crake on the road which fled to a nearby bush and climbed around within it several feet off the ground! Actually at the Crasto road site we had Golden-spangled Piculet, Blue-crowned Trogon and a fabulous Blue-backed Manakin.
Paint-billed Crake skulking in a bush! © Elis Simpson
Blue-crowned Trogon © Elis Simpson
From there we travelled to Alagoas and the town of Palmares, arriving late in the evening at the hotel where they were not expecting us despite having a booking. The hotel was however empty so no problem except there was no staff to serve us dinner or breakfast. We had arranged to meet a chap called Kedson, as suggested by Ciro, the next morning. He duly arrived, along with a downpour of unseasonal rain. This rain prevented us from reaching one of the sites at Murici, despite using a 4×4. We had White-shouldered Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren, White-flanked Antwren, Seven-coloured Tanager and Jandaya Parakeet. On the way out in the afternoon we saw Ash-throated Crake and heard both Spotted and White-bellied Nothura at the same place.

White-fringed Antwren © Elis Simpson
White-flanked Antwren with prey item © Elis Simpson

Seven Coloured Tanager © Elis Simpson
The next day was at Jequeira. On the way in we had Blue Ground-Dove amongst the sugar cane fields. Highlights here were Orange-bellied Antwren, Grey-headed Spinetail, Alagoas Tyrannulat, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Long-tailed Woodnymph and Red-stained Woodpecker.
Straight-billed Woodcreeper © Elis Simpson

Red-stained Woodcreeper © Elis Simpson
On the last morning we were joined by a most unusual bird after breakfast, an Ostrich. It was a rather scary beast as it was rather in-your-face so to speak as this sequence of photos shows.

“There’s something flitting about up there…” © Elis Simpson

“… up near the top of the tree…” © Elis Simpson

“… have you got it? It’s some sort of Elaenia…” © Elis Simpson

“… what d’ya thi… eh? What the…?” © Elis Simpson

“Oo’er!” © Elis Simpson

“Is it still coming?” © Elis Simpson
We then drove to Tamadaré. We found a good pousada there and settled in for the night, only to become the main attraction for the night. We had a group of teenagers gather around and try out their English. When they discovered it was Jayne’s birthday they insisted on singing the Brazilian version of ‘happy birthday’, followed by the English version.

Happy birthday Jayne! © Elis Simpson
In the morning we headed for the Forbes Blackbird site. We saw a few black birds but the only really likely looking ones kept their distance and sat in trees in the valley and on the hills. We photographed what we thought was one closer to, but under scrutiny, I think it was probably a Shiny Cowbird. We moved on to the gates of the local reserve and got distant views of the Yellow-faced Siskins in the pines.
Then came the long haul over two days up to Ceará. En route We picked up some Plain-breasted Ground-Doves among other roadside birds.
Our evening arrival in Baturité, Ceará, allowed for us to check out the site for the Grey-breasted Parakeets mentioned in Ciro’s account. Sadly he only gave a (albeit precise) grid reference for the turning to reach the site, which was about as much use as a chocolate fire-guard if you have no GPS. We tried several tracks but none matched his description. Needless to say we didn’t see the birds. We did however see a Pectoral Sparrow.

Pectoral Sparrow taken in the fog next morning © Elis Simpson
Next day dawn saw us at the Remanso hotel, in thick fog. We saw more Pectoral Sparrows but little else of interest in the terrible weather. We gave up and returned to the hotel for breakfast after which we found a Slender-footed Tyrannulet right above our chalet. We returned to the Remanso hotel road and stopped in a likely looking spot, as we alighted from the car in flew a small group of… wait for it… Grey-breasted Parakeets!

Slender-footed Tyrannulet © Elis Simpson
We moved on to Quixada, the Pygmy Nightjar site. On arrival we found that none of the staff at the hotel had the slightest idea what we were on about when we asked about the nightjars, so as dusk fell we plumped for a likely looking spot with good all round vision and waited. Five birds whizzed by at about 100 MPH with a following wind, never to be seen again.

Dusk at Quixada © Elis Simpson
Next morning had us up at dawn, in the hope of a returning group. Nothing was seen by anyone except Elis who saw one on the sandy track which then flew across the pond and away.

Dawn at Quixada © Elis Simpson
Despondently we packed our bags to leave. As we were paying the bill the owner of the hotel arrived. Elis asked him about the nightjars and he promised, promised mind you, to show us some. We followed him dutifully to the spot where they always are, guess what? Nothing! Then on to a second place, again, nothing. Through the woods we came across a Black-bellied Antwren, Caatinga Antshrike, Great Antshrike, Blue-crowned Trogon and Sooty-fronted Spinetail.

Female Black-bellied Antwren © Elis Simpson
Caatinga Antshrike © Elis Simpson

Sooty-fronted Spinetail © Elis Simpson
At the third and final spot again our host turned up nothing, just about to give up, a familiar excited jabbering came from behind me, Elis had found three sitting on a rock under the bushes behind us. Whew!

There are three birds in this shot, easy to see how one could miss them © Elis Simpson

Two of the threesome © Elis Simpson

Elis caught one of the birds doing a curious little jump © Elis Simpson
On then to Crato and the Chapada do Araripe. Arriving at the hotel we had booked, brandishing our e-mail confirming same we were told that they had no record of us, but that they could put us up for one might as the hotel was fully booked with a company booking the next day. Not hard to see what happened there then! Disgruntled we left and found another hotel that was suggested by a motor taxi driver, who took us there. It was called the Hotel Pasárgada. It turned out to be a boon. Very close to the forest and handy for the chapada. In transit we came across Caatinga Cachalote and another off Mick’s top 5 ( a bogey bird missed on numerous other trip to South America) Zone-tailed Hawk.

Zone-tailed Hawk © Elis Simpson
Next morning priorities were to be satisfied first, and we headed for the water park where we were greeted with the news that the park was shut. On spotting our attire and bins the girl quickly realised why we were there, and said she’d call someone. This someone duly arrived and escorted us to the trail where the Araripe Manakins are. We saw at first some females mindful of Jeremy Minns’ notes about how he only saw females here, I was pleased, but not yet satisfied. Next a young male, all green with the red ‘helmet’. Then a male sang, some distance off, but we approached and finally, bam! Stunning views of a stunning bird. Also at this site we had Moustached Wren, and Tawny Piculet.

Araripe Manakin, what a bird! © Elis Simpson
From here we  headed over the chapada. Our first stop at the top of the hill presented us with some good looking forest and some trails. We took one and quickly added Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Ash-throated Cassiornis and Flavescent Warbler. Further along in the drier caatinga we stopped when we heard the loud song of the Stripe-backed Antbird. It was elusive to say the least, but we did get some reasonable views in the end. At the same spot we had another bird that was high on my wish-list Red-shouldered Spinetail. Bigger and darker than the typical spinetails with a fetching yellow eye. A stunning bird.

Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin © Elis Simpson

Ash-throated Cassiornis © Elis Simpson

Red-shouldered Spinetail © Elis Simpson
We returned to the hotel via the chapada once we had found our way. Mick and Jayne had a rest and Elis and I returned to the chapada. Along the track we found a trail and took it. It all seemed pretty quiet until a Rufous-breasted Leaftosser started to sing, followed shortly by an Ochre-cheeked Spintetail, another on my wanted list. We got good views of both. Returning to the hotel after dark we added Rufous Nightjar to the list.

Ochre-cheeked Spinetail taken in very poor light © Elis Simpson
Next morning finds us back on the chapada showing the others our birds from the night before (except the nightjar of course). We heard but didn’t get a look at White-browed Antpitta, but we did see a magnificent pair of Great Xenops, another of my top 5 and we had our only White-naped Xenopsaris of the trip.

Great Xenops © Elis Simpson

White-naped Xenopsaris © Elis Simpson
So onwards, down into Bahia and Canudos. Incredibly the hotelier was expecting us and had our booking correct! In the evening we went for a drive with a local minibus owner to a site where he said the Lear’s Macaws always fly past, we were told our car would not be suitable for the track, but we discovered this was not the case. The van had seen better days and we were all covered in dust that came up through the numerous holes in the floor. We had some interesting birds here as we waited, among them was a bird that looked like a Masked Gnatcatcher, which according to all the books I have is out of range, so it was no surprise when Bret Whitney told me that this was in fact a Tropical Gnatcatcher that had the most extraordinary plumage resembling a Masked. We also had Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant, a very pretty and pleasing little bird. As dusk fell we had Least Nighthawks flying around, and then, about a mile away, a flock of Lear’s Macaws flying to their roost site. Most unsatisfactory.

Tropical Gantcatcher looking like a Masked Gnatcatcher © Elis Simpson

Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant © Elis Simpson

Man with the (clapped-out) van © Elis Simpson
When we returned to the hotel, a group of birders from the US arrived and among them were two ex RSBS clients Derb and Kent. They had booked with the NGO that looks after the roosting cliffs the next morning. Derb wanted to speak to the person in charge, one Tania, but neither spoke the other’s language, so I stepped in, made the arrangements and the silver-tongued devil in me wangled for us to join the trip, and boy what a trip it was. Met at 04:00 drove to the NGO HQ then into a rickety old Toyota for a white knuckle drive to the site. As dawn broke we were surrounded by squawking macaws, by the hundred, a great experience. There were several Blue-crowned Parakeets here too and an Ultramarine Grosbeak that only I saw.

At first we saw noisy groups in flight, all around us… © Elis Simpson

… but soon got views of them perched © Elis Simpson

A relieved Elis: ‘On my list!’ © Rick Simpson

Part of the admiring crowd: Derb, Mick, Jayne, a bod from Derb’s group, Kent and me © Elis Simpson

The rocky valley where the birds roost/breed © Rick Simpson

Our luxury transport © Elis Simpson

Blue-crowned Parakeet © Elis Simpson
One of the birds Mick most wanted to see was the Silvery-cheeked Antshrike. I had imagined we would bump into many of them on our travels, but the nearest we got was to hear one at the Lear’s site. So we set off on our last evening with this target in mind. We found a Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, a Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, larger and more yellow than its congener, and some White-naped Jays, but despite trawling for the antshrike it didn’t respond. As dusk began to fall I stopped the car. As I opened the door I said “This is where we will see the antshrike.’ more in desperation than hope to be honest. I played the tape and waited, not a sausage. Five minutes passed and we were thinking of packing up, when a Silvery-cheeked Antshrike called nearby. It responded to the playback I played, and in it came, talk about by the skin of our teeth, then it got dark and we returned to the hotel.
Narrow-billed Woodcreeper © Elis Simpson
Cactus Parakeet © Elis Simpson

Tropical Gnatcatcher © Elis Simpson
Greater Wagtail-Tyrant © Elis Simpson

Finally!; Silvery-cheeked Antshrike © Elis Simpson

Typical caatinga habitat where we found the Silvery-cheeked Antshrike at dusk on the last day
© Elis Simpson
Next day we drove to Salvador and then in the morning we took our flight back to São Paulo.
View from our balcony in Salvador © Elis Simpson
Some additional photos:

Black-capped Antwren © Elis Simpson

Red-necked Tanager, local race cearensis, note black spot on throat © Elis Simpson

Red-necked Tanager, local race cearensis, note turquoise rump © Elis Simpson

White-naped Jay © Elis Simpson

Scaled Dove © Elis Simpson

Pale-legged Hornero © Elis Simpson

Rufous-tailed Jacamar © Elis Simpson

Golden-spangled Piculet © Elis Simpson

Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant © Elis Simpson

Red-headed Manakin © Elis Simpson

Female Hooded Tanager © Elis Simpson

White-lined Tanager © Elis Simpson

Crane Hawk © Elis Simpson 

United Kingdom (visiting from Brazil) August 2011.

Here are some more shots by Elis of some of the lovely birds that the UK has to offer. OK there are not great flocks of tanagers and the like, but the birds of old Blighty have a charm that is hard to ignore.
Long-tailed Tit © Elis Simpson
It’s not just the birds that Elis turns her artistic eye to. Thanks to Mick Watts of the UK who identified the bee and plant.
Vestal Cuckoo Bee Bombus vestalis at Common sea lavender Limonium vulgare
© Elis Simpson
We spent some time at Titchwell with Milena and Arthur, we saw some good stuff and it was interesting to note their comments about the differences between UK and Brazilian birding. What became evident to them was the long tradition of not just birding, but of bird conservation in the UK, the setting up of reserves that were clearly designed to protect the wildlife, but at the same time provide enjoyment for birders and the like, who would, by their presence, be paying for the conservation. A trick that the Brazilians have yet to catch on to. In Brazil the scientist types see us birders and irrelevant, in the UK we are the main providers of both money and also information. In Brazil few birders are just observers, they are, for the most part, photographers, it is rare to see a pair of bins in action.
Titchwell Marsh © Elis Simpson
What a motley crew. Elis, me Milena and Arthur in the new state-of-the-art hide at Titchwell. It wasn’t cold at all! © Elis Simpson
Interesting plumage moult on this juvenile/first winter Robin © Elis Simpson
This dead Guillemot was found on the beach at Titchwell © Elis Simpson
A pack of Knot flying along Titchwell beach. Note the visual pollution of the horizon with that revolting, inefficient eyesore they call a wind-farm © Elis Simpson
Lovely portrait of a Woodpigeon © Elis Simpson
Red-legged Partridge in fields near Docking © Elis Simpson
Pied Wagtail on the freshmarsh at Titchwell © Elis Simpson
Little Egret at Titchwell © Elis Simpson
Male Bullfinch at Titchwell near the car park © Elis Simpson
Arthur and Milena enjoying birding on a new continent, Titchwell beach © Elis Simpson
Me? Not so much! © Elis Simpson
As well as stopping at Titchwell we ventured further along the coast to Cley. This of course was not short of birds either. There was a small group of Eurasian Spoonbills on Arnold’s Marsh and we stopped to enjoy brief views of a Bearded Tit, sadly neither of these were photograph-able, but Reed Bunting and Marsh Harrier were more obliging.
Cley © Elis Simpson
Marsh Harrier © Elis Simpson
Reed Bunting at Cley © Elis Simpson
We came across this tiny Common Toad on the east bank.
Common Toad © Elis Simpson
We also stopped off to ‘feed the ducks’ at Salthouse. I wrote this in inverted commas because actually we ended feeding more than just ducks, including Black-headed Gulls and Mute Swans.
Feeding the ducks © Rick Simpson
Immature Black-headed Gull © Elis Simpson
Adult Black-headed Gull © Elis Simpson
Mute Swan © Elis Simpson
Elis photographing the Black-headed Gulls © Rick Simpson
Tufted Duck © Elis Simpson
There were a number of swallows gathering on the cables along the roadside at Salthouse, among them were a couple of Sand Martins.
Swallows © Elis Simpson
Sand Martin © Elis Simpson
After Norfolk we stopped off at Sandy on the way back to London.
Dunnock © Elis Simpson
Pheasant © Elis Simpson
Magpie © Elis Simpson
Common Whitethroat © Elis Simpson
Elis and I later visited Sandy again, this time with my mother and father. The highlight being Great Spotted Woodpecker.
The folks and me at Sandy © Elis Simpson
Great Spotted Woodpecker © Elis Simpson
I have grown very fond of shorebirds, or waders as we Brits call them, enjoying the challenge of their identification. Whilst in the UK Elis and I visited Titchwell RSPB reserve and spent some time with our friends Arthur and Milena, studying these fascinating birds. Titchwell is a great place to look at waders as they are often very close to the hides there making them easy to study and photograph.
Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper and Ringed Plover at Titchwell.
Elis rose to the challenge and produced some great shots of the birds, both on the pools and on the beach. In no particular order…
Spotted Redshank:
© Elis Simpson
Taking off © Elis Simpson
Red Knot:
Juveniles on the beach © Elis Simpson
Flock in flight © Elis Simpson
Eurasian Curlew:
Feeding on seaweed strewn beach © Elis Simpson
In flight © Elis Simpson
Adult © Elis Simpson
Juvenile © Elis Simpson
Ringed Plover:
Adult with Dunlin © Elis Simpson
Non-breeding © Elis Simpson
Juvenile © Elis Simpson
Juveniles in flight and wading © Elis Simpson
Non-breeding male © Elis simpson
Juvenile © Elis Simpson
Curlew Sandpiper:
Juvenile © Elis Simpson
Wood Sandpiper:
Juvenile © Elis Simpson
Northern Lapwing:
Adult © Elis Simpson
Juvenile © Elis Simpson
Ruddy Turnstone:
Adult © Elis Simpson
Juvenile/1st non-breeding © Elis Simpson
Grey Plover:
Adult © Elis Simpson
Little Stint:
Juvenile © Elis Simpson

Ilha Comprida sourh coast São Paulo July 2011

Elis, Oliver (UBWC volunteer) and I have just spent a couple of days in the south of São Paulo state around the Iguape / Ilha Comprida area. Oliver was most interested in seeing Scarlet Ibis which I didn’t think we had much hope for as I was under the impression they only bred there and then moved away. I was keen to see the Restinga Tyrannulet again and hoped we might bump into a Red-tailed Parrot.
Ilha Comprida © Elis Simpson
At Ilha Comprida on the first afternoon we didn’t have much luck with any of the birds we were after, but we didn’t have much time before it got dark. The next morning we had time to go looking for the tyrannulet before heading for Iguape. We drove south along the island and a movement of a bird caught my eye. I don’t know what made me stop for this bird and reverse 100m up the road, but something was telling me to do so. When I got back to the spot the bird concerned was still sitting atop the roots of a fallen tree, and its identity was immediately obvious even if its name didn’t come readily to my excited lips. “Its a #*@$%# White-winged, I mean White-barred… no White-banded?… yes! White-banded Mockingbird! And so it was. A lifer not just for Oliver but for Elis and me too.
White-banded Mockingbird © Elis Simpson
This bird was well north of its normal winter range and despite my optimism that I had found perhaps another first for SP I discovered that it is probably the 5th documented record. Indeed, this or another had already been photographed on Ilha Comprida this month.
White-banded Mockingbird © Elis Simpson
Moving on we came to some likely looking restinga, and after a few failed attempts we finally located and saw a Restinga Tyrannulet. After this we set off for Iguape stopping briefly to look again at the mockingbird.
Restinga Tyrannulet © Elis Simpson
White-banded Mockingbird © Elis Simpson
As we came off the bridge into Iguape we drove along noting both Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned night Herons in the mangroves.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron © Elis Simpson
Black-crowned Night-Heron © Elis Simpson
Suddenly Oliver shouted, scaring the living daylights out of me… “Its a Guará!” Now why he shouted the Brazilian name neither he nor I will ever know, but the fact is there was an adult Scarlet Ibis sitting in the mangrove trees. As we stopped to get a better look at the bird another group flew up and they all landed just 50m from us across the river. There were 23 in total, just 2 of which were juveniles, the rest were adults in non-breeding plumage, that is to say with pink and not black bills.
Scarlet Ibises © Elis Simpson
From there we drove down along the SP222 to KM 75 where we turned off along a track. As we entered the track we came across a small group of birds, the first was a Restinga Tyrannulet, the second was a stunning Sharpbill, in a tree just 5m in height.
Sharpbill © Elis Simpson
We continued down to the Sítio Cauiá where we were to stay. The sítio is run by a charming couple called Milan and Dora who made us most welcome. The accommodation is basic but comfortable and surrounded by forest. Birds were in evidence everywhere. In front of the sítio there was a muddy bank exposed by the low tide, on it were more Scarlet Ibises and a Little Blue Heron. I could imagine it covered with shorebirds in the Summer.
Scarlet Ibis © Elis Simpson
Walking along a trail in the forest behind the sítio we found another Restinga Tyrannulet, Squamate Antbird, Black-backed Tanager, Unicoloured Antwren, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Long-billed Wren, Blond-crested Woodpecker and Black-cheeked Gnateater.
Black-backed Tanager © Elis Simpson
We drove back along the road to collect some provisions (beer) and spotted a group of Azure Jays, a Black-tailed Tityra and a White-necked Hawk.
White-necked Hawk © Elis Simpson
The next morning we walked the trail again adding a few common Atlantic forest species  including Greenish Schiffornis, Robust Woodpecker, Dusky-legged Guan, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner, Variable Antshrike and best of all for us Ochre-collared Piculet.
Variable Antshrike © Elis Simpson
We didn’t get to see out Red-tailed Parrots, but we did hear them and Milan said they often fly over the sítio, so maybe next time.
The trail at Sitio Cauiá © Elis Simpson
After this we drove home stopping at São Sebastião to get South American Tern on Oliver’s list.

Rio Grande do Sul and Uruguay June 2011

Elis and I just spent a week in Rio Grande do Sul, the aim of our visit was to see and photograph southern migrants.
We flew to Porto Alegre and hired a car, from there we drove south to Tavares. En route we saw a number of common birds of the region such as Maguary Stork, Southern Screamer, White Monjita and Long-winged Harrier among others. However, the star bird of our first day for us was the Giant Wood-Rail that was a lifer for us both.
Giant Wood-Rail © Elis Simpson
Guira Cuckoo. A common enough bird but I really liked the soft southern light that enhanced this picture © Elis Simpson
 White Monjita © Elis simpson

Red-crested Cardinal © Elis Simpson
Maguary Stork © Elis Simpson
We spent the night at the Hotel Parque da Lagoa in Tavares.
The next morning, we had some urgent banking to do and then we couldn’t find the track we were looking for, so we headed for Mostardas. Here the only tick for the day was Yellow-winged Blackbird, sadly we didn’t get a shot of it. We headed to the beach where there were many American Oystercatchers and Brown-hooded Gulls and an obliging Chimango Caracara.
American Oystercatchers © Elis Simpson
Brown-hooded Gull © Elis Simpson
Chimango Caracara © Elis Simpson
A day out with Batista in his Landrover is always worthwhile. Our target for the day was to find Andian Flamingo, which sadly we were to fail to do, but it wasn’t for the want of trying, if I had a pound for every Chilean Flamingo I checked out that day…!
A mob of Chilean Flamingos, Kelp Gulls, Trudeau’s and Caspian Terns plus a Black Skimmer © Elis Simpson
The famous Lagoa Expedições Landrover with me in action © Elis Simpson
The day had a very Chilean theme to it. What with the thousands of Chilean Flamingos and our only tick of the day, Chilean Swallow
Chilean Swallow © Elis Simpson
… and to round off the piece there was the dramtic, constant cloud in the sky to the west which we assume to be volcanic ash emanating from the Chilean vulcano, Puyehue.
Volcanic ash cloud hanging ominously on the horizon © Elis Simpson
Elis at work photographing the birds © Rick Simpson
Here’s why you need a 4×4 © Elis Simspon
Other good birds that day included Rufous-chested Dotterel, Common Miner, Spectacled Tyrant and an American Kestrel, which although not rare was rather obliging and posed to have its photo taken.
Rufous-chested Dotterel © Elis Simpson
Common Miner © Elis Simpson
Spectacled Tyrant © Elis Simpson
Posing American Kestrel © Elis Simpson
I asked Batista if he had ever seen any albatrosses from the beach and he replied that he had not; however as we were driving along said beach later on, Elis spotted a bird out to sea. We stopped and scoped it, it turned out to be Batista’s first albatross. From the small amount of white on the underside of the forewing, I’d say this was a Yellow-nosed Albatross.
Probable Yellow-nosed Albatross © Elis Simpson
The next morning we took advantage of the decent weather and headed back to Mostardas and then for the track we hadn’t found the first morning.
The day started with this beautiful hazy sunrise over the marsh © Elis Simpson
At Mostardas we stayed in the marsh area this time and didn’t venture into the dunes or to the beach. As dawn broke we heard, and then saw, a Great Horned Owl, this bird sat for some time, calling occasionally, very close to the car, it didn’t seem at all perturbed even when we alighted.
Great Horned Owl © Elis Simpson
The morning continued in this exciting vein, we added two lifers, Black-and-Rufous Warbling-Finch and Warbling Doradito then we got cracking views of the incredible Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant.
Black-and-Rufous Warbling-Finch © Elis Simpson
Warbling Doradito © Elis Simpson
The stunning Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant © Elis Simpson
After this we headed for the track, and to my immense surprise and delight came across a small trip of Tawny-throated Dotterel. This was a bird that I had really wanted to see, but had been advised that it was not common and not often seen. I saw a bird fly in and land behind a cactus, I had thought that it looked somewhat unfamiliar, so I checked the locality with my bins, the bird had moved slightly and was now obscured by a hillock, suddenly the bird stretched its neck and its head appeared above the mound, clearly showing a tawny throat and a stunningly striped head pattern, my pulse raced and I was elated. I seem to remember punching the air or something equally vulgar!
There it was, my first Tawny-throated Dotterel, a moment I will not soon forget
© Elis Simpson
After all this excitement we set off for the south, unsure of how far we’d get. We stopped at a place near São José do Norte to look at some magnificent South American Sea Lions. They were loafing and swimming around a man-made barrier at the mouth of the Lagoa dos Patos where it reaches the sea.
A loafing male South American Sea Lion © Elis Simpson
Two males and a female check us out © Rick Simpson
After this we hot-footed it to São José to catch the last ferry to Rio Grande.
The day ended as beautifully as it had started with a majestic sunset over the Lagoa dos Patos © Elis Simpson
From there we made the decision to continue our journey south, we drove into the night narrowly missing several Crab-eating Foxes and a Molinas Hog-nosed Skunk, whilst occasionally having our nostrils invaded by the those that had not been so lucky! We ended up in the border town of Chuí which straddles the border between Brazil and Uruguay. An incredible piece of coincidence was that we bumped into Batista and his family who were staying in the same hotel!
Chuí is a most interesting place in one respect, the main high street straddles the border; to one side Brazil, to the other Uruguay. If you enter the shops on the Brazilian side everyone speaks in Portuguese, and the Uruguayan side in Spanish, I know that sounds obvious, but it was most peculiar to be charged in Reais on one side of the street and in Uruguayan Pesos for our dinner on the other. The two roads on either side were both two way.
Here is Elis holding the travelling cat with her left foot in Brazil and her right in Uruguay. I’m not sure why the small blocks to either side show the colours of the other country © Rick Simpson
We then headed off into Uruguay and were delighted to get a lifer there in the form of Spot-winged Pigeon. Their range seems to almost coincide with the political boundary. We did see one, just inside Brazil, but after that, when we were heading back north, we saw no more.
Spot-winged Pigeons in Uruguay © Elis Simpson
Monk Parakeet on the Uruguayan side of the border © Elis Simpson
At the extreme tip of Brazil before entering Uruguay (behind me across the river) © Elis Simpson
After our brief sojourn into a new country we headed north again stopping frequently to look at birds, especially around the Taim area where we got fantastic views of Great Black Hawk and a lifer, Ringed Teal a natty little duck.
Great Black Hawk © Elis Simpson
Five Ringed Teal with two of the larger Brazilian Teal in front © Elis Simpson
We also saw many more Southern Screamers, Long-winged Harriers and Ibises, both White-faced and Bare-faced.
Southern Screamers © Elis Simpson
Long-winged Harrier © Elis Simpson
White-faced Ibis © Elis Simpson
Bare-faced Ibises © Elis Simpson
We ended up in Rio Grande to spend the night.
We hired a local guide for the day, one Rafael Dias. What a great decision, he knows the bird’s habits and localities like the back of his hand and he is eager to please; on top of that he is a thoroughly likeable bloke! So, as you will have guessed by now, we had a really productive and enjoyable day.
Rafael and me at the marsh © Elis Simpson
It started on a marsh near to town (Rio Grande). Here we picked up a three ticks in the form of Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail, Bar-winged Cinclodes and Freckle-breasted Thornbird. The first was very elusive but eventually gave itself up unphotographed and the second was flight views only (albeit very good ones), while the third showed well and sang in the open for us.
Freckle-breasted Thornbird © Elis Simpson
While at the marsh we had a couple of Willets fly in and land some distance away from us. Rafael was most excited by them and as Elis managed to photograph them, he thought that this may be the first documented record of the species in the state. (Turns out it wasn't, but it was the second.)
Willets in RS © Elis Simpson
We then moved to an area with open fields, the target here was Small-billed Pipit, but there were none of the four species of pipit to be see anywhere. However the site was saved by the appearance of two Black and White Monjitas, another tick. Across the road from the grassy area where we were searching there was some saw grass marsh. Here we tried for Sulphur-throated Spinetail, but, although we heard one, due to the strong winds that had suddenly developed, the birds stayed well hidden low in the saw grass and thus out of sight.
Black-and-white Monjita clearly showing its diagnostic all black tail © Elis Simpson
We then headed for the beach, operation Olrog’s Gull. We drove for several km along the beach and saw many terns and gulls, closely inspecting all likely candidates for the latter, but to no avail, we did get some really good views of a Common Miner on the beach and then we returned for lunch.
Common Miner © Elis Simpson
After lunch we headed again for the beach, stopping to check all the gulls and for seabirds, thus finding a Yellow-nosed Albatross not far offshore.
Underwing clearly shown on this Yellow-nosed Albatross © Elis Simpson
Yellow-nosed Albatross © Elis Simpson
We drove a little further along the beach this time. until time and tide dictated that we should stop. We got out of the car and walked a little, and while Elis and I watched and photographed a rather more obliging Bar-winged Cinclodes, Rafael went on ahead to check the gulls. An excited shout alerted us to the fact that he had been successful, we rushed to join him, almost losing Elis in quick-sand in the process!
Bar-winged Cinclodes © Elis Simpson
The bird in question was a first winter individual, very easy to pick out from the young Kelp Gulls at this age. We watched it for a while until it flew off and the tide came in to a degree that forced us to leave rather urgently. Returning along the beach we came upon the gull again, it had now become obvious among the Kelp Gulls, all the scrutinisation of the minutiae of the young Kelps was all pretty much a waste of time. Near adult birds are I understand, a different kettle of fish, however that was not our problem on this day.
First winter Olrog’s Gull already showing some red at the bill-tip © Elis Simpson
In flight © Elis Simpson
In dispute with a Kelp Gull © Elis Simpson
Returning to land side of the beach shortly before the sea cut off our return route, we decided to check the Sulphur-bearded Spinetails again as the wind had abated. This time we had no time to wait until one showed briefly and then shortly after another was much more accommodating.
Sulphur-bearded Spinetail © Elis Simpson
A pleasant meal with Rafael and his wife rounded of a great day most pleasantly.
The last morning before returning to Porto Alegre, we spent some time looking for birds along the road to Pelotas. We had a tick, Red Shoveler, but they, like most of the waterbirds that morning were too far away to photograph. We birded along one track that allowed Elis to take these photos.
Scarlet-headed Blackbird © Elis Simpson
Sooty Tyrannulet © Elis Simpson
Spix’s Spinetail © Elis Simpson
After this we drove back to Porto Alegre to spend the night, the next morning we flew back to São Paulo and drove home to Ubatuba. All-in-all a very pleasant trip, made all the better by the pleasant company and expertise of both Batista in Tavares and Rafael in Rio Grande… thanks chaps!
My kind of birding! © Elis Simpson

UK (visiting from Brazil) March 2011.

We just spent two weeks in sunny England, and it was sunny too, it only rained on the day we left. The problem was I felt rough with a bad cough and cold for most of the trip and had to cancel some of the things I had planned, not least among which was a weekend in Kent with our friends Janet and Byron Morgan. Still we did see some good birds during our stay.
The ubiquitous Robin © Elis Simpson
The ubiquitous Robin © Elis Simpson
Eye-popping male Bullfinch © Elis Simpson
Eye-popping male Bullfinch © Elis Simpson
1st winter Black-headed Gull © Elis Simpson
1st winter Black-headed Gull © Elis Simpson
Male Blacknird © Elis Simpson
Male Blackbird © Elis Simpson
Male Starling © Elis Simpson
Male Starling © Elis Simpson
Dodgy Red-crested Pochard with Mallards © Elis Simpson
Dodgy Red-crested Pochard with Mallards © Elis Simpson
The glorious Magpie © Elis Simpson
The glorious Magpie © Elis Simpson
We also got to spend a warm afternoon at Sandy RSPB HQ and saw some smashing birds from the hide there.
Female Brambling © Elis Simpson
Female Brambling © Elis Simpson
Redpoll © Elis Simpson
Mealy Redpoll © Elis Simpson
Siskins having a drink © Elis Simpson
Siskins having a drink © Elis Simpson
One of my favourites, Long-tailed Tit © Elis Simpson
One of my favourites, Long-tailed Tit © Elis Simpson
Great Tit © Elis Simpson
Great Tit © Elis Simpson
Coal Tit © Elis Simpson
Coal Tit © Elis Simpson
Blue Tit © Elis Simpson
Blue Tit © Elis Simpson
Treecreeper creeping © Elis Simpson
Treecreeper creeping © Elis Simpson

No comments:

Post a Comment