Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Hello from Brazil

We are now four days into a trip in the Pantanal.  This has to be one of the best wildlife experiences in the World and we are certainly enjoying every minute.  We have seen nearly 200 species of birds so far including the threatened Hyacinth Macaw.  This species has been near to extinction but eco tourism has helped to raise its numbers by local people seeing value in the bird.  Their efforts are improving the lot of the World's biggest parrot.

Hyacinth Macaw 
The Pantanal is also home to the World's largest stork the Jabiru and pairs of these somewhat grotesque birds are seen standing on enormous nests.

A pair of Jabiru
Our quest for mammals is proving a bit more difficult.  A boat trip today failed to turn up any Giant River Otters but some of our group did catch a glimpse of a Brazilian Tapir.  There were also dozens of the giant rodent Capybara lining the river banks,

There are so many beautiful birds here but my favourite of the day has been the Toco Toucans.  These extraordinary birds creep around in the canopy uttering belching sounds.  Today they have been particularly co-operative revealing their astonishing beaks.

Toco Toucan
More news as internet connections allow.

Friday, 24 August 2012

This and that!

I received an email from another of the companies advertising Turtle Dove shoots.  Olive Branch Tours tell me they have stopped running these tours altogether.  Well that's good news.

Jabiru Storks at the nest - a numerous species in the Pantanal
Well tomorrow evening I fly out from Heathrow to Brazil.  With a few friends we will enjoy a couple of weeks mostly in the Pantanal with Jaguar and Hyacinth Macaw as two of our targets.  Watch this space.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Postscript for Turtle Doves.

Turtle Dove

I have just been told that David Bowring have removed the page from their website which advertised Turtle Dove shooting in Morocco.  On the assumption that this means they will now not press on with this I congratulate them.

British Companies arrange the Slaughter of Turtle Doves in Morocco

I was horrified today to discover that at least three British Companies are organising tours to Morocco to shoot Turtle Doves.  This species is one of the most threatened in the UK and thousands of pounds of tax payers money is being spent encouraging farmers and other land owners to manage their land to try and arrest the serious declines.

Turtle Dove

Sadly there is nothing illegal about this practise but it is piece of crass insensitivity that shows how out of touch some people are.  The language in the websites is pretty sickening and some of the images and the claim that bags are restricted so that a viable population remains is rubbish.  The Turtle Dove probably does not have a viable population anywhere in the World.

Turtle Dove
Wouldn't it be bizarre if some of the land owners receiving agri-environment payments in the UK were the same individuals taking up places on these trips to shoot the birds as they migrate through Morocco?  Now that would make my blood boil.  The websites of the companies involved are:

Why not have a look and if you feel like me email them with your thoughts.  I have done so but received no reply yet.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Yank on the Beach in Pembrokeshire

The weather finally enticed me to get up early and head of for West Angle Bay in Pembrokeshire.  Thanks to Clive Hurford all were aware of a juvenile Baird's sandpiper on the beach there.  When I first arrived my heart sank.  the beach was full of people but worst of all a series of dog walkers.  I searched to the left of the car park as told but could find nothing.  I almost gave up but decided to retrace my steps.  Suddenly this delightful little wader appeared at my feet.

Juvenile Baird's Sandpiper
 This little stray from North America was extremely confiding.  Despite very irresponsible dog owners allowing their dogs to put up the bird when it was obvious I was photographing it thank goodness the waif always returned.  I did have some very strong words with a couple of dog walkers but they seemed completely ignorant at what was going on.

Juvenile Baird's Sandpiper
I have not seen this species for some time so it was great to be reaquainted.  Note the primary feathers of the wings extending way beyond the tail and the very "biscuity" colour on the head and back.  These features are key to identifying this bird.  Whilst I was there Barry & Sandra Stewart appeared and could not believe how tame this little bird was.  Thanks to Clive and all in Pembrokeshire for putting out the news of this bird and allowing us all to enjoy it.

Barry Stewart getting close
I had a quick look round east Angle Bay where I noted a Bar-tailed Godwit, a Whimbrel and a Mediterranean Gull.

Dunlin still showing some summer plumage
I finished up at Kilpaison and walked out amongst the waders.  There were at least 60 Dunlin and the same number of Ringed Plovers.  Two Turnstone and 3 Knot with about a dozen Sanderling were also in attendance.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Afternoon with Waders

The weather was pleasant after lunch so I set off for the WWT reserve at Penclacwydd as there had been a Curlew Sandpiper there yesterday and I had not caught up with this species this year.  Settling down in the British Steel Hide I started scanning through the birds.  The most obvious was a young Spoonbill standing out on the saltmarsh. It was soon joined by a Little Egret.

Little Egret

A large group of about 70 Black-tailed Godwits were roosting close to the hide with c30 Redshanks, 7 Greenshanks, 2 Ruff and a Whimbrel.  There was no sign of the Curlew Sandpiper.


I moved on to Kidwelly Quay again looking for waders.  A single Turnstone beyond the railway bridge was a bit unusual for this site.  A flock of about 40 Redshanks was much more expected.  Two Greenshanks and a Green Sandpiper flew over calling and 4 Common Sandpipers fed on the muddy edge of the channel.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

What a Great Time we all had!

So the 24th British Birdwatching Fair has drawn to a close.  Many congratulations to organisers Tim Appleton, Martin Davies and all their staff and volunteers for making it possible after dreadful weather building up to the event and some rain on the first day.  In a year when many other major events were cancelled BirdFair pulled through.

The Grand Opening of the 2012 BirdFair
 The event was as exciting as usual with a number of large marquees stacked with exhibitors selling everything necessary for following our pursuit of watching wildlife.  I was particularly impressed with a stand for Incognito which was selling a mosquito repellant made of natural constituents and containing no deet.  I bought a supply and cannot wait to try it out.  I caught with many old friends over my two days and no doubt missed a few others in the crowds.

Sunshine at BirdFair 2012
On Saturday I did my bit on stage appearing in a Question of Stork.  This was a quiz based of course on Question of Sport and our team of Dr Rod Lambert, TV presenter Nick Baker and myself saw off the opposition of David Attenborough cameraman Rod Smith, Urban Birder David Lindo and One-show naturalist Mike Dilger.  An amusing part of that event was that there was a whole round on identifying bird's eggs and both teams were completely flummoxed.  Either this was because quite rightly nobody looks at eggs anymore or everyone was terrified of being arrested by the RSPB if they got them all correct.

Andy Clements of the BTO stops for a chat with Bill Oddie
It really is a great weekend and you can almost everyone involved in nature conservation and birding.  Delegates and exhibitors come from wide and far.  I met people from Trinidad & Tobago, Ecuador, Costa Rica, India, Poland, France, Spain, South Africa and Malaysia.  A great event which will raise thousands of pounds for conservation of the migration flyways of Asia. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

It's BirdFair Time Again

Tomorrow afternoon I will be heading for Rutland Water to enjoy the 24th British Birdwatching Fair.  It is an annual event not be missed and is often described as the Birder's Glastonbury.  It is a great opportunity to meet up with old friends as well as making new ones.  It is a truly International event with stands and delegates from all corners of the Globe. It all starts on Friday through to Sunday evening.

The BirdFair

There is much to do:  try out the latest optics and cameras, attend lectures on many subjects, be entertained by events in the tented theatre, find a birding holiday and much, much more.  If you look carefully you might get to see one of England's nesting Ospreys.

If you have never been to BirdFair it is not too late.  Come and join 20,000 birders having a good time and help raise money for conservation projects on the Asian Flyway.

Friday, 10 August 2012

A Balmy Half Hour

River Tywi from Cilsan Bridge

I had a moment spare so parked up by Cilsan Bridge on The River Tywi.  The sun was warm and the day balmy.  I stood looking on the river where a Cormorant perched motionless on a rock, 2 Mute Swans fed by the river's edge and a family of Goosanders fed in the distance.

Female Goosander

My attention was then attracted to a number of Brown Trout below me in the river all facing into a strong current.  It was rare opportunity to look through binoculars at a beautiful fish.  In the rotten weather the UK has experienced in recent years this was a perfect moment in a glorious setting.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Back to Wales

The World is such a small place thanks to people like Ryanair.

Woodchat Shrike

Yesterday morning we were sitting in the garden in superb weather watching Woodchat Shrikes hunting from overhead wires, a Hoopoe probing our grassy areas and a family of Golden Orioles making their way across the hill.  The male Oriole was constantly calling whilst the rest responded with their raucous cat-calls. Hoardes of juvenile Sardinian Warblers were feeding in our shrubs too.  After a quick lunch we were off to Beziers and then home via Bristol.

Young Sardinian Warbler

Luckily we woke this morning to wonderful sunshine and a lush garden thanks to all the rain.  Back to reality.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Black Day for Birders in France

I checked out the wet meadows at Le Petit Tournebelle this lunch time.  Not much had changed - there were now about 120 Black-winged Stilts, still 40 Wood Sandpipers, 8 Lapwings, Curlew and 3 Glossy Ibis.  Also a White Stork flew over.

Black-winged Stilt

Wood Sandpiper

At home a little activity in the garden this evening.  Twenty Rock Sparrows paused on overhead wires before moving off to roost, 13 Crossbills flew over calling and a Pied Flycatcher fed from the pines near our terrace.

Pied Flycatcher

All of this was overshadowed by the news that three of my friends went to La Viala near Capestang to see the Black-shouldered Kite this morning and returned back to their cars to eventually find their tyres had been tampered with.  One had a tyre burst whilst in motion.  One had to replace all four tyres and the other two.  Only one other person was in the area and suspicion points to him.  Whatever having been on the end of an aggressive confrontation with a local hunter three years ago it seems this could be yet another cynical and frankly dangerous act to discourage birders visiting this wonderful site.  It is amazing because most people visit the marsh to see the amazing bird life not to interfere with hunters legitimate activities.  Sadly, many of the hunters see us in a category of "greens" which they fear will stop their pastime.  What stupidity!  We probably want at least 90% of what they want.  Clean air, clean water and a countryside of rich habitat.   Resorting to vandalism, threatening behaviour and endangering life itself will not stop birdwatchers looking for birds everywhere.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

French Twitch

I cannot remember ever going to see a rare bird that somebody else has found in France.  When my good friend Serge Nicolle French birder and superb Wildlife Artist left a message to say he had seen a Black-shouldered Kite at the marsh at Capestang one of my regular haunts yesterday I was so tempted.  This species which is very common in places like India and Africa was originally restricted to Spain and Portugal in Europe.  In recent decades it has increased its range and up to 50 pairs have colonised that part of coastal France just south of Bordeaux. These birds are much rarer elsewhere and this would be my first for France.

Black-shouldered Kite - photographed in India
So this afternoon at 4.30pm I drove down to the marsh on the east side and started looking.  Nothing at first so I strolled a little way down the path.  Almost immediately this superb bird was hunting the hay meadow to my right quartering with a bouncy buoyant flight.  Before I could raise my camera the bird flew over my head and headed off high to the south-west into the sun.  After that I lost the bird for half an hour.  Eventually I found it again way across the marsh sitting at the top of a dead tree.  The bird was preening and being mobbed by a Magpie and observed by a Roller all in the same tree.  I hoped the bird might return but I left it in peace.  Also on this trip I noted a Southern Grey Shrike, c40 Bee-eaters and a Short-toed Eagle.  Another splendid experience. By the way unlike UK I was the only person on the twitch.

Friday, 3 August 2012

High Up Away From The Heat

Ron, Jonathan and Paul ready for action

The current hot weather prompted Ron Bennett, Jonathan Kemp, Paul Williams and myself decided to take the drive down to Prats de Mollo Reserve Naturelle in the French Pyrenees.  Our main quarry was to see Lammergeier a iconic bird of this region and one which is seen here on a regular basis.  We began by driving up a very bumpy road to just over 1700 metres.  Here the ground is open and ideal for watching raptors.

Prats de Mollo
It was obviously cooler here with little sunshine but soon we were watching raptors.  A Golden Eagle made a brief flight along a cliff face and then Griffon Vultures began to appear.  We watched them carefully checking carefully their identity.  A passing Peregrine and a Kestrel harried the great scavengers who seemed to ignore their attention.  The Griffons were congregating around a large rock and were very approachable.

Griffon Vulture
Griffon Vultures on their rock
We spent a few moments admiring an Alpine Marmot sitting on top of a lofty crag and then Wow! an adult Lammergeier appeared and put on a wonderful show quartering the ground just underneath us.  An enormous but beautifully designed and specialist vulture thankfully now slowly increasing its numbers in Europe.  Ron had not seen one for years, for Paul it was his first one - Jonathan and I are more familiar with this bird but we all gasped at its spectacular show.

A splendid Lammergeier
There was more to come.  First a superb Short-toed Eagle flew over and this was followed by an amazing Honey Buzzard.  The latter was in full display first lunging upwards whilst clapping its wings at least three times above its head. This is followed by a shallow stoop and then the whole process starts again.  I had only seen this behaviour a couple of times before and was so mesmerised by the whole process I forgot to try a photograph.

Rock Bunting
After a picnic lunch we started our descent looking for passerines. Crossbills regularly flew over chipping and we also managed Water Pipit, a couple of Rock Buntings and a few Mistle Thrushes. We tried a walk in mixed pine and beech forest.  Jonathan heard a brief call of a Black Woodpecker but to Ron's dismay we could not find it.  Plenty of Jays and a Crested Tit were all we could find.  A cup of coffee followed and we headed for home well satisfied with our days work.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Wetland Joy

Shopping requirements lead to us leaving home at 8am but first we decided to check out the rice fields and wet meadows at Le Petite Tournebelle near Le Roc at Gruissan.  This superb habitat has been a bit dry recently but it seems to take overflow water from the rice fields and today it was in great condition.

Wet meadows at Le Petit Tournebelle
Amongst the herd of Black Cattle were the usual flocks of Cattle and Little Egrets together with c40 Black-winged Stilts and at least the same number of Wood Sandpipers.  There were also 2 Green Sandpipers, 5 Common Sandpipers and a single Snipe.

Wood Sandpiper
A little more obvious was 5 Purple Herons and 5 Glossy Ibis.  Two of the latter carried white plastic rings which suggest they originate from the colony in Coto Donana, Spain.

Juvenile Purple Heron
Glossy Ibis
Our splendid hour ended with a couple of Black Kites and a Marsh Harrier.