Archive for the ‘Foreign Birding & Travel’ Category

Thanksgiving – Puerto Rico Style!

December 2, 2016
Great looks at Puerto Rican Screech Owl

Great looks at Puerto Rican Screech Owl

“$150? That’s not right”,  I said indignantly. “It should be $105.”

“Yes, but with the taxes and insurance, it comes to $150”, said the clerk.

“But I don’t need insurance, it’s covered by my license and credit card…what insurance are you talking about?”, I asked, obviously confused.

“Ok, if that is the case, then you can choose to not add it for $105, or add it for $150 –there’s not much difference in price- the choice is up to you”.

“Apparently, the choice isn’t up to me if you already added it without giving me the option first. And you didn’t disclose the fact to me just now that you added on extra stuff. I spoke to your associate Carlos yesterday who confirmed the breakdown of what I would be paying upon arrival and it doesn’t match”.

”Oh..that’s because he wouldn’t have been able to see the contract – I can see that now the reservation is being processed.”

“Well, that makes no sense. Regardless, I didn’t ask you to add insurance, so take it off please.”

Such fuckery by car rental agencies always irritates me. However, once that was rectified, Alex and I piled in and we were on our way to Fajardo, waved off by Greater Antillean Grackles and Gray Kingbirds.

Ubiquitous Gray Kingbird

Ubiquitous Gray Kingbird

A quick 50 minutes later, buzzed by Caribbean race Cave Swallows (much darker rumped than the Texas birds) we pulled into our resort for the week – the El Conquistador at Fajardo, perched expansively on the steep cliffs of Puerto Rico’s north-east coast.

Alex was keen to hit the pool, and it seemed like the thing to do. Ingrid and Indra arrived later that evening and we all chilled out.

The week consisted mainly of chilling by the pool, hot tub and beach-bumming it on nearby Palominas Island. The kids had a blast.

Alex and Indra enjoying the infinity pool

Alex and Indra enjoying the infinity pool (Ingrid Ducmanis)


Although not a birding trip, there was some endemics to be had in the nearby areas surrounding El Yunque rainforest.  Dull weather and a general low density of birds made it difficult place to bird in the short periods of time I had.

Time to nail some rainforest endemics...

Time to nail some rainforest endemics…(Ingrid Ducmanis)


El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque Rainforest (Ingrid Ducmanis)


Big tree Trail, El Yunque

Big tree Trail, El Yunque (Ingrid Ducmanis)

Two visits, one pre-dawn (to try for Puerto Rican Screech) and an afternoon visit were brief, bur fortuitous in locating a good number of the expected species, but given that I only spent a total of 2 ½ hours actually birding (rather than driving up and down trying to find suitable areas or flocks) I was happy with the bounty. A drive around the Fajardo environs brought home the fact that there was no decent areas to bird, the main highlight was scoring good looks at Green-throated Carib on the grounds of the Fajardo Inn. My other possible “get” – Antillean Crested Hummingbird – proved difficult, although I really didn’t spend time looking for it.

The large and stunning Green-throated Carib

The large and stunning Green-throated Carib

Birding around the private Palominas Island consisted of feeding French fries to Pearly-eyed Thrashers, fly-by Zenaida Doves and small numbers of Brown Boobies offshore . The marshy, tidal area that flooded behind the miniature golf course hosted Black-bellied Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, a distant, brief Sora (difficult in PR) and a nice, surprise tick in the form of 7 White-cheeked Pintails.

Pearly-eyed Thrasher

Pearly-eyed Thrasher


Goin' Fishin"

Goin’ Fishin”


Ingrid relaxing at dusk on Palominas Island.

Ingrid relaxing at dusk on Palominas Island.

Frustrating to find four calling screech owls at El Yunque at dawn on 22nd and not be able to see them in the huge clumps of bamboo close to the entrance to El Portal Visitor center. A late evening trip to Ceiba Country Inn was more successful. Within minutes of arriving, a calling bird was seen well, at close range and spotlighted..awesome bird!

eBird checklists can be found here:

22nd November –El Yunque

Palominas Island

23rd November – El Yunque

PR Oriole
PR Tody
PR Screech Owl
PR Bullfinch
PR Spindalis
Green Mango
PR Vireo (heard, seen briefly in flight)
PR Lizard Cuckoo
PR Tanager
PR Woodpecker
PR Flycatcher

Other New Birds:
Zenaida Dove
Green-throated Carib
White-cheeked Pintail
Scaly-naped Pigeon


Planned It! Booked It! DID IT! California September 2013

October 17, 2013

Alvaro Jaramillo (centre) holds court on the “New Captain Pete” as we hit the continental shelf off of Half Moon Bay.

After a nice early breakfast courtesy of the Fairfield Inn, Phil Rusch, Nick Bonomo, Simon Harvey and myself found ourselves at dawn in Pillar Point Harbor, all prepped for a pelagic out of Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County run by an old acquaintance, Alvaro Jaramillo. I had done several trips out of Monterey in the late 80s and mid-90s with Debi Shearwater but had never ventured out of Half Moon Bay, conveniently only 35 minutes drive from SFO airport! This particular tour of duty involved a couple of Debi’s trips but while birding was OK, for seasoned veterans it was lacklustre. It seemed all the most interesting birds were being seen in Half Moon Bay this fall! So Saturday 14th September so us ready to rock and roll…and roll we was a bit bumpy on the way out!

It was great to see Alvaro and catch up a bit – we had first met when I was a research assistant at Long Point, Ontario in 1991 and he was living in the area. A great, incredibly knowledgeable guy, well-respected in the field community for his field skills he had recently left Fieldguides Inc. to go solo with his travel company Alvaro’s Adventures,  and part of his operation includes running several CA pelagic trips throughout the year that have produced a burgeoning list of seabirds that have included such vagrants as Hawaiian Petrel, Short-tailed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Great-winged Petrel and MANY Laysan Albatrosses.

One of the first notable differences from the other pelagics, was complimentary coffee and croissants on the boat as we waited to get underway..nice touch! Alvaro ran a nice trip, engaged with all the participants and gave an educational running commentary about the birds and marine life of Half Moon Bay. A nice trip with a great selection of birds, and I would thoroughly recommend anyone taking a trip out west to take advantage of the convenience of Half Moon Bay trips with Alvaro.

To book e-mail :;  or call 650-504-7779.

Click Images for original size


Several dapper, pterodroma-patterned Buller’s Shearwaters were seen in good numbers


Great looks at this Pomarine Jaeger with “spooners”. Being a rather northerly wintering jaeger, Pomarines, unlike Parasitic and Long-tailed, begin primary moult in the early fall – this bird is moulting its inner primaries. Dark underwings lacking any barred feathers suggest it is an adult and the breast band and barred flanks suggest it is a female.


An adult Parasitic Jaeger attempting to kleptoparasitize a worried adult Sabine’s Gull!

Killer looks at many Black-footed Albatrosses

Killer looks at many Black-footed Albatrosses

South Polar of two birds seen that unfortunately did not come into the boat and did a hit and run!

South Polar Skua…one of two birds seen that unfortunately did not come into the boat and did a hit and run!

Pillar Point, near Half Moon Bay.

Pillar Point, near Half Moon Bay.

Species List:
Black-footed Albatross
Pink-footed Shearwater
Buller’s Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
Brandt’s Cormorant
Red-necked Phalarope
South Polar Skua
Pomarine Jaeger
Pomarine/Parasitic Jaeger
Common Murre
Rhinoceros Auklet
Western Gull
California Gull
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
Ashy Storm-Petrel
Black Storm-Petrel
Red Phalarope
Pomarine Jaeger
Common Murre
Cassin’s Auklet
Rhinoceros Auklet
Sabine’s Gull
Western Gull
California Gull
Arctic Tern
Pacific Loon
Common Loon

Pacific White-sided Dolphin
Northern Right Whale Dolphin
Humpback Whale
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola


July 3, 2013
Buller's Shearwater

Buller’s Shearwater

CALIFORNIA FALL 2013 – A Plethora of Pelagics – West Coast-style!

Phil Rusch, Nick Bonomo, Simon Harvey and myself are planning an assault on the wilds of north-central California in September, centered around some pelagics out of Monterey and Half Moon Bay.

I have never been out of Half Moon Bay, a place I have visited before but never from a pelagic perspective. We are taking to the seas from here courtesy of an old friend Alvaro Jaramillo, known to many as a well-respected field birder and all-around top-man!

He recently set up his own tour business, Alvaro’s Adventures, and part of his operation includes running several CA pelagic trips throughout the year that have produced a burgeoning list of seabirds that have included such vagrants as Hawaiian Petrel, Short-tailed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Great-winged Petrel and MANY Laysan Albatrosses.

Albatrosses HMB AJ1

Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses – the latter is my nemesis bird!

To book e-mail :;  or call 650-504-7779

Check out a pelagic slide show here:


Scripp’s Murrelet

Pink-foot AJ

Pink-footed Shearwater

Similar birds can be seen out of Monterey, 2 hours to the south, but the proximity (30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic) to San Francisco airport is a huge plus for out-of-towners like us that need to do a pelagic then catch a red-eye back to the east coast.

Death of a Needletail

June 27, 2013


Back in the mid-80s, in my teens, a group of us were birding in Norfolk, UK on 27th May 1985 when news was phoned into the grapevine of a White-throated Needletail Swift – a huge, Asian swift only recorded a handful of times in the UK – at Fairburn Ings, Yorkshire. Usually only an hours drive away if we had been home, we left a trail of burning rubber as we exited Norfolk on a nail-biting, 4 hour drive to Yorkshire.

The bird had been forced down by an advancing storm, which had cleared before we got there and to our dismay, the bird was never seen again! To make matters worse, it later transpired that an old friend of mine known to many, Mr. Steve Dudley, had been volunteering there at the time and was one of the lucky few to see it!

Although I have seen them in Australia and China, It remained one of my most sought after birds that I wanted to see in the UK but never have. Now living in the states, I had to live vicariously through birders when news broke this week of one of these stunning birds hurtling around cliffs on Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

This startling news propelled birders north and some great photos by Josh Jones can be seen here:

Unfortunately, today sad news dominated the headlines of the birding world, when this bird, capable of speeds up to 112 kph, and being watched by a group of birders, collided with a wind-turbine and died..a truly sad end to an amazing species. See here for pictures:

Several birders were able to make it to the far north in time to be amazed at how close and well this bird showed before its untimely demise.


16th-26th November – Thanksgiving – Espagna Style

December 29, 2012

So, deciding that I was tired of seeing the sun, I flew Alex and myself to Manchester, UK (yes, there are other places in the UK beside London!) to see my folks and also planned a nice four-day trip to Southern Spain for some birding, family vacation!

Arrived in Bolton on Saturday morning to cold, but clear skies..wot no rain? Was I in the right country? Off to mum’s for a cuppa PG Tips and a stellar bacon and grilled tomato butty on thick, well-buttered warburton’s toastie bread..yeahhhhh baby!!! UK rocks! Aside from a pair of nice tits in the yard (Coal) and a few Collared Doves cooing on the roof, birds were not evident.

Anyway, Monday morning saw us jet off to Malaga on the south coast of Spain. Warm and blue skies, it was a nice change from the monochrome skies of the UK. Arrived at the hotel and immediately helped a guy break into his own car to retrieve his keys. This act of kindness from yours truly resulted in a thank you beer that evening from the guy, whose girlfriend it turned out was from Bolton..small world!

Hotel was great, nice indoor pool for Alex to mess around in and a few spots close by for me to indulge in some birding.

Alex = quite happy he is not in the UK!

Alex -quite happy he is not in the UK!

The fam..sister Sharon, me mum, yours truly and Alex

The fam..sister Sharon, me mum, yours truly and Alex

A few quick, pre-breakfast trips to Guadalorce river mouth and pools yielded some birds including Booted Eagle and Marsh Harrier, Greater Flamingo, 3 White-headed Ducks and a few other typical European birds.

Booted Eagle -a few wintering birds at Guadalorce.

Booted Eagle -a few wintering birds at Guadalorce.



Female Marsh Harrier

Female Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier

One interesting thing was the huge numbers of Crag Martins roosting on the beachfront hotels – these birds obviously forming winter congregations.

One of over 100 Crag Martins roosting on the adjacent hotel.

One of over 100 Crag Martins roosting on the adjacent hotel.

Took a ride north to the plains of Antequerra to see a few more birds and to look for wintering cranes. A great place with lots of birds.

Over 200 common Cranes wre found in the fileds surrounding the lake

Over 200 Common Cranes where found in the fields surrounding the lake


Alex getting his Grus groove on at Antequerra!

In flight..

In flight..

White Wagtail..apparently to some CT birders their call sound like Budgerigars

White Wagtail..apparently to some CT birders their call sound like Budgerigars

After some touristy jaunts to to Marbella to see expensive boats and restaurants that were mostly closed, we headed back to the UK to see even fewer birds, but some great company and chips, mushy peas and gravy..yummy!


Hasta la vista old people!

Bins there, done that!

October 7, 2012

So, I was tidying up my office and came across some of these pix from days gone by. Have a laugh on me!

Mum and me, Groudle Glen, Isle of Man, age 8 c.1976

Are those really bell-bottoms???? I am sporting my first pair of binoculars, a whopping, neck-breaking pair of Helios 7×50 Binoculars..the best gift ever given to me by my parents. The other “best gift” they gave me was in 1985 when my mum told me they wouldn’t let me go to Scilly since I had my “A” levels coming up (the following June!!!). Of course, that was one of the most memorable years on Scilly. Thanks Mum!!

They opened up a world of free entertainment for me. I used them for more than 11 years, whereby the sheer physical daily abuse they were given rendered them battered and beaten.

Chris Fogg, Barry Worsick and yours truly, Santa Ana, Texas, April 1987

Eleven years on, many rare british birds later and the bins are now worn, but have gone transatlantic! They are held up by a guitar strap to replace the razor-blade like strap that was forming a groove in my neck!. First trip to the US, we had just lucked into the first Crane Hawk for the US and had just found a Clay-colored Robin in the tree above where this shot was taken!

The same fall, I headed out for my first sojourn to Cape May, New Jersey with Paul Holt and Richard Crossley, the first year of nine spectacular summers and falls here.

Me, Cape May Hawkwatch, Cape May, NJ, September 1987, age 19.

What’s with the Kim Kardashian sunglasses!!!?? How the hell did we identify warblers in flight with bins like that??

And finally, a moment of silence for a pair of bins that have served me well. Faced with owning a pair of Zeiss Dialyt’s as reward for participating in what was one of the first surveys to document the “morning flight” spectacle at Higbee’s Beach, I had no option but to retire my trusted bins.

My trusted 7×50 Helios..beaten by time, c.2009, age 33!

I had worn out the metal slots to which the guitar strap attached and resorted for somereason, to using a hankerchief as a strap..don’t ask me why!  I couldn’t bear to part with them, so I kept them like some dead lover, hidden away in the glove compartment of my car. At this point, I was getting headaches trying to look through them and eventually gave them a viking burial and despatched them on their way. Farewell my beloved!

Only Suitable for 4-wheel Drive or Rental Vehicles!

January 31, 2012

Eastern Turkey May 1989

One of the best and funniest birding trips I’ve been on. I had scanned these old prints of a  twentysomethings clean-up, mega-trip to Turkey with some of my birding pals, Simon “shag” Smethurst, Guy “shocker” Shorrock, Bernard “chin” Lee and yours truly! Time waits for no man! A little bit of nostalgia from days gone by.

Somewhere in the Eastern Caucasus Mountains. One of the many times our Fiat Miriafuri did us proud! This car got stuck in marshes, served as a platform for seeing over tall reedbeds, as well as providing a place for us  to eat and sleep.  Picture taken shortly after ‘shocker’, cheered on by a convoy of stalled Turkish truck drivers, drove the car deftly through a muddy, washed out area of road on the side of a cliff after a mudslide rendered it impassable. En route to Caucasian Blackcock lek, the alternative was a 3 1/2 hour detour. From left to right: Guy, Bernard and moi!

Where are the F!!%%$$$  Greater Sandplovers???  “Shag”, after showing off his James Hunt skills and showing that ‘doughnuts” can be done on a dry lake bed, suddenly found us a wetter spot than we’d have liked. No town for many miles. We sent our ‘driver’ in the direction of those far hills to look for help. After many hours had passed, a bunch of villagers appeared complete with tractor. After seeing women pulling yokes by hand to till the fields, this was possibly the only tractor in Eastern Turkey! After several hours of trying to dig out by ourselves, all it took was giving away an alarm clock, two pens and $10 and we were on our way. And we still never saw a Greater Sandplover!

The car never let us down. We drove it over mountains, through rivers, got it stuck in an old well, drove it down wadis, across flood plains, river estuaries and down a track of acacia trees that we found was a little too narrow for the car. It was brand new when we picked it up. When we took it back two weeks later, it had a cracked headlight, a busted windshield wiper (that we tied back on with a shoelace) and we’d put 4000km on it. When we brought it back, all ‘cleaned’, we were all quite proud of the restoration until the woman from the rental desk came out and on seeing the car and the mileage,  just burst into tears!

Having just bagged White-breasted Kingfisher on the way to the airport, we found a suitable river to drive the car into to give her a ‘clean’. Bernard, myself (with the only clean clothes I had left) and Guy complete with signature, banana-hammock speedos!

30th May – The Posse hits Spurn!

June 11, 2011

A full day out at one of my favourite migrant traps in the UK – Spurn point, home to many a mega! A car-full of the lads descended on Spurn, which was having one of its best springs ever for rares and passage birds.

The Magnificent Seven (minus three)..or is it the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Ugly?? Si, John, Richard and myself, Spurn. Same enthusiasm, just less hair and larger pant sizes than the old days! Click to enlarge (if you really need to!)

The point was rather quiet since the wind was brisk, though it remained thankfully dry for the most part. Spurn can be feast or famine, and doing some ‘vis-mig’ (visible migration) at the Warren made it evident little was moving..a few small ‘pods’ of Common Swifts heading south, but ‘nowt else. Ian, one of the regulars, kindly brewed up for our group while I caught up with an old pal, Martin Garner. Martin and I birded decades ago in the UK and he writes an enjoyable and educational blog that you should check out:

 Today we begged a few morsels in the shape of a stunning female Red-necked Phalarope that flew into beacon Ponds while we watched the Little Stints and Ringed Plovers. John Hewitt, an old Yorkshire  birding acquaintance and i were catching up when he picked it up flying!

A fly-by Little Egret and two Whimbrels were the other birds of note. Last day today, off back to the States tomorrow.

24th May – Rummie Revelation

June 10, 2011

Taking a ride to an old local patch in Bolton, Rumworth Lodge, a nice surprise was a flock of 8 Sanderling (very scarce inland), several Ringed Plover and 3 Dunlin. Walking back, I bumped into an old birding pal, Andy Machin, who nonchalantly asked “Ave thi seen the Avocet, then?”.

“Wh,Wh, what!??” came my incredulous reply. And yet there, tucked up on one of the islands, for all the world to see (apart from me it seems) was an Avocet- a huge rarity and my first-ever in Greater Manchester.

And the kicker…it was sitting on a nest! My teenage self, having spent many a day birding here was having a hard time reconciling with my adult self looking at a breeding Avocet in my hometown!!

Avocet, Rumworth Lodge, Bolton, UK

These birds have expanded their range in the UK in recent years, and have set up colonies much further north and west than in the early 80s but still a surprise!

21st-30th May – UK Fam Trip

June 10, 2011

A week long trip to the UK with Alex gave me a chance to see my family, old friends and get some birding in!  A trip to the Farnes was planned to photograph Arctic Terns and Puffins. Unfortunately, the only Arctic I got was in the shape of the weather….it was !!!!###@@@ freezing, and raining, and raining! With 60mph winds and talk of structural damage, the boat trip was cancelled. So, basically any photography was out. Great to see the folks and my sister and nosh on some pasties and chips, peas and gravy!