Archive for the ‘Foreign Birding & Travel’ Category

Mexico-November 2017

January 6, 2018

This won’t be a great piece of  literary birding prose, but just a few notes and pix of a recent trip to Mexico for a Thanksgiving break. Ingrid and I wanted to escape the northeastern cold and so we headed for the Yucatan, Mexico for some much-needed rest and relaxation. Oh…and birding…definitely some of that!

We planned to head for Cozumel for a few days, before heading down to Tulum. The island of Cozumel has a few endemics and some local races that may be future splits (e.g., Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Western Spindalis, Bananaquit, etc.) and also offered a chance to partake in some snorkeling.

18th -21st November –Cozumel
We landed in Cancun, headed outside the terminal and took the ADCO bus to Playa Del Carmen. The bus departed from right outside the arrival terminal. It took about 45 minutes, dropping us off a block from the ferry. We found our way to the ferry, and found that there were a couple of ferry operators. Arriving in the afternoon, there were no ferries between 1pm and 5pm which was a surprise to us, and something to be aware of, if arriving at the ferry in the mid-afternoon. The other, slightly more expensive operators offered a 3pm ferry, so we took that. Return tickets cost two of us 180 pesos total and took an hour or so. Don’t expect to see many birds on the crossing.

We were staying on the west side of the island which is the tourist strip. We were at the Iberostar, an all-inclusive hotel Ingrid had booked, which, as it happened, was right next to the road to the village of El Cedral, about 20 miles south of the ferry port. This was, by pure coincidence, a spot Chris Benesh had given me as a good spot to grab some endemics. Score one for the awesome girlfriend! The hotel was great, right on the beach and for a birder used to living on Twinkies and chips on a birding trip, this was top-shelf stuff!

Our cool digs at the Hotel Iberostar, Cozumel.

The grounds were well-wooded and held a good assortment of wintering warblers, the most abundant being American Redstart, Magnolia, Yellow-throated, ‘Golden” Yellow and the odd Cape May Warbler. Black Catbird was a shoe-in and Tropical Kingbirds sallied from almost every exposed perch.

Magnolia Warbler -one of the commoner neotropical migrants

An easy, slam dunk tick…Black Catbird

After a long day of travel we relaxed in our room, took in the sunset and indulged in the dinner buffet.

The sun sets on Cozumel (Ingrid Ducmanis)

19th November – Cozumel
The following day, I was excited to bird and was up at first light. Walking out along the main road, Northern Waterthrushes skulked around the parking lot, white-crowned Pigeons swooshed overhead and Summer Tanagers called from the dense trees lining the Hotel driveway.  It was birdy, with Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yellow-faced Grassquits and Black Catbirds in the roadside trees.

Yucatan Woodpecker – smaller billed than the similar Golden-fronted Woodpecker

The track down to the beach, through low dense jungle, offered looks at both Yucatan and the endemic Cozumel Vireo, Yucatan Woodpecker, Caribbean Eleania, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Tropical Mockingbird. I bumped into Chris Benesh and Cory Gregory leading their FieldGuides group. After exchanging pleasantries, I left them to it and carried onwards.

I made it back to join Ingrid for breakfast. We then made our way to the hotel dock and were picked up for our afternoon snorkeling excursion. We booked with Cozumel Cruise Excursions and for $50 per person, we can recommend them for a great couple of hours snorkeling – we visited three spots and saw Sting ray, barracuda, nurse shark and a variety of fish. The water was crystal clear and the snorkelling was fantastic and freshly-prepared guacomole and a beer made it even better.

Downtown San Miguel, Cozumel

Instead of dropping me at the dock, I had the boat drop me off in San Miguel where I picked up a rental car from rentadoraisis@prodigy.net.mx  The car was an old VW bug…no A/C, hand-crank windows, etc. I was unsure it would ever start back up every time I turned it off! That night, after Ingrid and I had dinner, I set off on an outing to try for some night birds. Cozumel was the only spot that seemed to have spots for Yucatan Nightjar in November, but I was unable to pinpoint any reliable spots. And, given the somewhat sketchy nature of the rental car, I was hesitant to go further afield. I headed for the nearby sleepy town of El Cedral. The road out to El Cedral started right across from the hotel. As I got into town, there was nobody around, no lights, and it was kind of eerie…like a ghost town. As I turned down each lane, dull amber light from the street lights barely penetrated the unpaved edges. The second road I turned down, I noticed the unmistakable shape of a caprimulgid silhouetted on the road. Common Pauraque. It seemed everywhere I drove in this town they danced in and out of the streetlights, giving phenomenal views!

Common Pauraques performed well in El Cedral

20th November – Cozumel
Dawn saw me heading north in the VW Bug, destined for the sewage plant area in the NW part of the island. This area was known as the best spot to see Ruddy Crake and a selection of the island endemics. The track at the north end of the island was notoriously pot-holed and in bad shape. It took me a while to navigate the road before arriving, finally, at the Water Treatment plant. Unfortunately my journey was halted by a huge flooded area that spanned the road. As I pondered what to do, the FieldGuides crew passed me by in their high-clearance vehicles, waved at me, crossed the pool  and vanished into the distance, bound for certain crake success.  As I stood looking at the pool, wondering how I was going to see Ruddy Crake now, I was more than surprised when one walked out of the roadside vegetation, looked at me, and continued walking across the road. Ree-sult!! A few other birds were seen: White-collared seedeater, a brief Green-breasted Mango, Caribbean Dove, Palm, Yellow-throated Warbler and American Redstart. Melodious Blackbirds perchedup in the distance and despite searching, no Western Spindalis (of the Cozumel race) were seen.

Sewage Plant
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40631877

As I headed back, I found a few Hooded Warblers in the bushes, and a few pewee sp. I was unsure what species were likely here, and given the difficulties of their id, my brief views were inconclusive. A brief stop at the El Presidente Grid – an area of overgrown roads and housing development, produced few birds.

My ISIS-sponsored VW bug birding in the El Presidente grid

Good views of Cozumel Vireo, several Hooded and Parula Warblers were had, but few birds of note were seen. I returned the car, took a taxi back to the hotel and chilled out on the beach with Ingrid.

21st November – Cozumel and Tulum
My last morning was spent birding the road down to the beach adjacent to the hotel. A confiding Yucatan Vireo fed out in the open, several Summer Tanagers flitted around with some Caribbean Eleanias, and the ubiquitous Tropical Mockingbirds and Black Catbirds foraged out on the forest edge. Yucatan Woodpeckers, a Northern Waterthrush and a vocal Northern Beardless Tyrannulet showed well, but not so the only Mangrove Cuckoo of the trip that only called once from deep within the jungle. A Tennessee Warbler was seen briefly but the highlight was walking back and seeing the familiar shape of a hummingbird perched up ahead of me – Cozumel Emerald, my last endemic and at the last hour!!

At the last hour, managed the endemic Cozumel Emerald..a female, beggars can’t be choosers!

Iberostar
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40607976

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40640063

The Watcher

We left Cozumel and picked up our car rental in Carmen Del Playa. We rented from reservas@america-carrental.com for $190 (including all the insurance necessary in Mexico) for 6 days. As many had noted when picking up a car here in Carmen Del Playa, the company is not organized, and despite repeated confirmation from them that someone would meet us at the designated spot, they never showed up and we had to call them. It all worked out, but I would recommend taking a taxi directly to the office to save aggravation. Aside from the pick-up, the car was great.The best part was that we were able to drop this off when we were leaving at Cancun airport, which was convenient.

We headed off south for the hour drive to Tulum, our base for the next 6 days. After a drive through a built up part of town, ticking off Collared Aricaris flying across the main road, we drove down a narrow coastal swathe of road and ended up at Kira’s Beach House.

Kira’s Beach House, Tulum. Incredibly chill and charming

Tulum was idyllic, quirky, charming and absolutely beautiful. The beach house accommodations were awesome and our room was surprisingly modern and spacious. The sand was like powder and the sea was warm, aquamarine and clear.

Ingrid – beautifully rocking the hat

This was just what the doctor ordered and Ingrid was more than happy – this was definitely her kind of place. She had scored two out of two on the accommodation front!

22nd November – Tulum
Spent the day relaxing with Ingrid.

Obligatory vacation selfie. Enjoying the tranquil beauty of Tulum

Doing her thang!

23rd November – Muyil
I headed off at the crack of dawn to Muyil ruins. The ruins were not open until 8 (despite other reports stating that entry was possible prior to the official opening). Heading south on Rt 307, as you enter Muyil, the ruins are on the left. Shortly after, on the left is a bus stop, and right next to that, on the left is a narrow unpaved road that runs down the western side of the ruins and ends at a boat launch. I turned down this road and parked in a gravel parking lot on the right. It was evident that this road was very birdy, with Northern Barred, Ivory-billed  and Tawny-winged Woodcreepers, two calling, and well-seen Mexican (Mayan) Anthrushes, Eye-ringed Flatbill, my first cool Yucatan Jays and a great view of a Stub-tailed Spadebill. Despite many calling, they were incredibly difficult to see. A mixed flock of warblers included Black and White and Louisiana Waterthrush, while other species included a female Rose-throated Tanager and a striking Grey-headed Tanager,

At the boat ramp, two Russet-naped Wood Rails paraded around in the open giving great looks.

Russet-naped Wood Rail showing really well at the boat launch at Muyil

Muyil
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40711921

After relaxing back at the beach house, we got dressed and walked down the beach for a cocktail before taking a Thanksgiving dinner reservation at the beach restaurant La Zebra. Amazing ambience, great food and beautiful company made for a memorable evening.

A fantastic Thanksgiving meal at La Zebra restaurant with my beautiful lady.

24th November – Punta Laguna and Coba
An early morning 5am start today. Ingrid agreed to get up at zerodarkthirty and take a trip out with me. The Spider Monkey reserve at Punta Laguna seemed to be a good destination to do some birding and for her to see some native wildlife. We planned to stop at Coba afterwards to check out the Mayan ruins and again, hopefully add a few good species to the list. After a brief pre-sunrise, yet unsuccessful, stop to check for Yucatan Poorwill, we continued on and found the reserve quickly. I had high expectations based on previous reports but it was rather quite in the trees surrounding the parking lot. Ruddy Ground Doves and our first Green Jays were seen. Paying our entrance fees, I declined to take a guide to show us the monkeys. After 50 yds down the path, a spotted a troupe of Spider Monkeys overhead, moving quickly through the trees.

Spider Monkeys performed really well for us at Punta Laguna!

Urging Ingrid to follow me, we kept pace with them until they stopped and fed above our heads for 20 minutes giving great looks. Ingrid was thrilled. On the way back I pointed out a few birds, but I was keen to find the cave that had hosted roosting Mottled Owls in the past – although one of the commonest Neotropical owls, it has eluded me, a real nemesis bird. After some trial and error, we had just found the cave when Ingrid suddenly shouted, “What’s that…something just flew out of the cave”. Figuring it was likely a Mottled Owl, her final directions got me on a life bird…but not the one I expected. A Lesson’s Motmot, not a Mottled Owl, sat motionless on the branch, showing well, and right out in the open. I’ll take it! It would be the only one of the trip!

Ingrid made it quite clear where she was not going, but I descended into the cave and despite looking, no Mottled owls fell into the beam of my flashlight. Dang!!

“Come out, come out wherever you are!”. My descent into a cave looking for roosting Mottled Owls. (Ingrid Ducmanis)

On the way back, several skulking Green-backed Sparrows, a smart Pale-billed Woodpecker and an Eye-ringed Flatbill were seen, and then a couple of low “chup-chup” calls alerted me to my only Kentucky Warbler of the trip, seen really well, but briefly.

It was getting warm, so we headed back to the car, and made a beeline for Coba. As we left, about a mile down the road, flashes of black and orange halted our progress. Several adult male Orange Orioles, a Yucatan endemic, crossed the road but didn’t give great views. But a splendid male Black-cowled oriole did! While parked up, a small passerine flit up briefly and although I could see just the head, it belonged to a female Grey-breasted Chat! Another Yucatan endemic but hardly satisfying views.

Coba
It was unavoidable that we would arrive at the ruins later in the morning, and as expected, the place was packed with tourists. We paid our entrance fee and checked off the requisite ruins. Impressive though they are, the event was mired by the busloads of tourists.

Too many people and not enough ruins!

However, several birds made their presence known: Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Lesser Greenlet, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Couch’s Kingbird, Brown Jay, White-breasted Wood Wren and Red-throated Ant Tanager and my only Yellow-throated Euphonias.

Watching several hundred people scale the top of the highest ruin, did nothing to instill excitement, so we left and headed for the nearby lake to try for the secretive Spotted Rails.

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40733665

We drove to the end of the road on the west side and parked the car. Scanning the reed bed fringes produced nothing! A pair of Orchard Orioles, a few Groove-billed Anis and a lone Limpkin were present, while out on the lake Pied-billed grebe and Anhingas were seen.

Snail Kite showed really well by the lake edge, even taking a Snail just to show Ingrid why they are called what they are called!

Since it was midday, several vultures began to appear and scanning the distant trees, I was shocked to see the distinctive black and white form of a King Vulture. Despite trying to get Ingrid on the bird, it disappeared and never reappeared. A close vulture swooping over the water right in front of us was not typical Turkey Vulture behavior and it was quickly identified as a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture and gave great views and photo opps, as did a young Snail Kite, showing off with a Snail just to prove to Ingrid how they get their name!

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture

Adult Zone-tailed Hawk providing awesome views!

Just then, appearing right over our heads, doing its best Turkey Vulture impression was that old mimic, Zone-tailed Hawk. It gave great views before disappearing behind some houses.

Spotted Rail was apparently not going to show, so I gave up and we headed off into town for some lunch. We made our way back to Tulum, glimpsing several Brown Jays crossing the road as well as the distinctive shape of several Keel-billed Toucans.

Keel-billed Toucan

After a long, but successful trip, we chilled out on the beach, soaking up the beautiful weather, swimming and relaxing with a refreshing Mojito from the beachside bar. Tremendous.

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40733783

25th November – Muyil
Suffering from a head cold, I only made a brief stop at Muyil this morning, which did not provide as much excitement as before and was rather quiet. Birds of note included Brown-crested and Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, several flocks of chaetura swifts, which based on range were Vaux’s. A Gray-headed Dove, White-bellied Emerald, Yellow-backed Oriole, Red-throated Ant Tanagers and Clay-colored Thrush were easy to see, but a highlight was finally seeing a trogon – two Black-headed Trogons chased each other around the treetops giving good views. A search of the scrub and village across the road from the entrance to the ruins produced a Zone-tailed Hawk, a Swainson’s Thrush and several Hooded Orioles.

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40762418

26th November – Camino Vigo Chigia Road, Felippe Carillo Puerto
This was to be my big birding day out. Feeling much better after a good night’s sleep, I left at 4:45am to drive the hour to the area of Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve. The road that leaves the town of FCP and travels through prime jungle habitat, is well-known and probably THE best single spot for birding on the Yucatan. I left early to try for night birds. I decided to try the track that leads south into the reserve from Hwy 307, some 35 km from Tulum. I found the turn off and despite being great habitat I was bummed not to flush any poorwills off the road. After four km, I reached the unguarded entrance to the reserve and turned around figuring it wasn’t worth going any further. On the way out, just before I reached the main highway, I played the tape of poorwill and nightjar and all I heard was a distant, brief call of a Mottled owl. It neither responded nor came in! Grrr.

Boat-billed Flycatcher was only seen at Viga Chigo road.

I hurried to FCP and arrived at first light and began my exploration of the road. Despite high hopes of a birding avalanche, the area was generally quiet. I stopped at various spots and all was quiet…a Kiskadee here and a Least Fly there, but the trees were silent-ish! I stopped and walked, drove and walked, and gradually began to pick off a few birds one by one. An unseen, calling Mayan Anthrush, hinted at unseen hidden treasures deep within the forest. Two myiarchus-type flycatchers raised hopes they were Yucatan Flycatcher, a difficult identification given the similarities with the local subspecies of Dusky-capped. I had started to get my eye in and figured these were not meeting the grade for Yucatan and the id as Dusky-capped was confirmed by their mournful “weeuu” calls.

Pressing on, birds included Rose-throated Tanager, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila and great looks at a Canivet’s Emerald and a Wedge-tailed Sabrewing. Birds were starting to add up including Ruddy and Ivory-billed Woodcreepers, White-bellied Emerald and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. At one spot, I thought the habitat looked good for Gray-breasted Chat, so I played the call and BOOM! In flies a male..awesome views and much more satisfying than the head of a female!

The heat was increasing, and as I stood quietly on the road looking at a rather barren group of trees, I noticed the silent flicking flight of a trogon – another Black-headed! I happened to turn around, just in time to see a Great Currasow walk quietly across the path, some distance away, and disappear into the forest. Further hard work finally turned up a Yucatan Flycatcher, or at least a bird I was happy fit the mold! Stopping one last time on the way out provided views of some skulking wrens, and in a matter of feet had nailed Long-billed Gnatwren, White-bellied and Spot-breasted Wrens.

I couldn’t help but stop-in at Muyil again on the way back. It was getting later in the day, but still it delivered a few birds. This was probably my favorite birding site. Small parties of chaetura swifts passed overhead, again likely Vaux’s but despite thinking they would appear different to Chimney Swifts, and knowing their size and subtle wing shape differences, I still couldn’t confidently put a name to them on sight, only on range. I’ll post some pix later.

Birding the village area across from the ruins entrance produced Brown Jay, Masked Tityra, Grayish and Black-headed Saltator and a small flock of Northern Rough-wingeds that didn’t show characters of Ridgway’s Northern Rough-winged.

Muyil
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40779768

Back at Tulum, I was happy to chill out and relax on the beach and enjoy some r&r, a highlight being my only Cave Swallow of the trip flitting over the rooftop. That evening we ate at the nearby La Onda restaurant for another fine Tulum meal.

27th November – Tulum to Cancun
The last morning Ingrid and I rose early to watch our final Tulum sunrise and what a spectacular send off we had.

Enjoying a pre-coffee sunrise outside our room (Ingrid Ducmanis)

We drove back to Cancun, dropped off the car and headed home, An amazing trip, an amazing place and great birding. Even though I was only birding for a few hours a day, some good planning and hard work managed to produce 90% of the birds a full-on trip might record, so I was happy with over 130+ species, despite missing some wanted birds such as Mottled owl, Yucatan Poorwill and Yucatan Nightjar.

Probably one of the nicest beaches we’ve been on..powder-soft sand and warm, crystal clear water made for a chill time!

I can’t recommend the Yucatan enough as an affordable destination for a birder/non-birding couple. Ingrid had a fantastic vacation and we both got to do the things we both enjoyed. We will be back! Thanks to Megan Crewe, Chris Benesh, Abby Darrah, Larry Sweetland and Niels Larsen for pre-trip help!

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Back to Blighty – July 2017

July 30, 2017

South Stack Lighthouse, Anglesey, North Wales

As always, click images For Higher-Res versions

It had been a while since I had revisited the homeland. So, a summer trip to England to see my family was overdue.  Mid-July is not an ideal time to bird the best of Britain, but going in summer meant I had a chance to catch up on some birds I hadn’t seen in a while. My good friend Nick Bonomo planned to fly-out to join me. So, some meticulous planning with old friends Paul Derbyshire, Si Smethurst, Chris Mills, and Andy Culshaw ensured Nick would bag as many UK ticks as was possible.

The week leading up to departure had been rather chaotic and stressful, so I was looking forward to getting away and seeing my mum and sister. I arrived jet-lagged in Manchester on 1st July and enjoyed some r&r for a few days. Nick arrived a couple of days later and we left Bolton in the early hours of 4th July, heading for the Welsh valley at World’s End, hoping to bag some lingering “chickens”.

4th July – World’s End, North Wales
Heading through the sleepy and mist-enshrouded town of Minera at dawn, we climbed up onto the moor and within minutes found 11 Black Grouse loafing at a lek site by the road. We had great looks at these molting males before they suddenly dispersed into the surrounding area.

Black Grouse, World’s End, May 2014

Skylark and Meadow Pipits and a brief Mistle Thrush surely enlivened Nick’s morning, but the second target “chicken” aka  Red Grouse, was seen distantly as we exited the valley. We drove through the scenic Conwy valley, adding several common or garden birds to the list – Grey Wagtail, Bullfinch, Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, etc.

We arrived in Penmaeanmawr to meet up with longtime friend Paul Derbyshire. After some coffee, we all headed off to Anglesey. We stopped off en route at Aber Ogwen’s estuary and pools. A good spot that produced a number of Little Egrets – a strange sight considering this was a real rarity during my childhood birding days. Redshanks, Oystercatchers and two unexpected Greenshanks were good shorebirds for my Yankee companion. After a productive stop here, we continued on to Anglesey. With the Cemlyn Bay terns deserting the breeding grounds due to predation, we skipped that spot and headed for South Stack, Holyhead. The weather was overcast and damp, but it didn’t hamper birding. The seabird cliffs at South Stack are picturesque and buzzed with the to-ings and fro-ings of Guillemots and Razorbills and a few Fulmars. The specialty of the spot, Chough, obliged with great views. A few Puffins or “sea clowns”,  as they are known locally,  were loafing in the cove below the cliffs, while careful scanning offshore produced several Manx Shearwaters.

Heading back, a lunch stop in Holyhead for some Fish and Chips was welcomed. A stop at the Inland Sea produced several dapper Mediterranean Gulls, a top target bird for Nick and were surely breeding birds dispersing from nearby Cemlyn?

Aber Valley Falls, N Wales

Back on the “mainland”, the sun had come out and we headed for the delightful Aber Valley Falls to try for some woodland birds. Being mid-July, nothing was really singing, and birding was tough and we failed on Redstart and Wood Warbler. A nice Sparrowhawk and several Common Buzzards appeared overhead as well as a fly over Siskin. Continuing up to the falls, careful scanning of the hilltops revealed a distant raptor that both Nick and I noticed independently. It was an Osprey, carrying a fish, a good bird for this part of Wales and the first Paul had seen here.
Back to Conwy to meet up with another longtime friend Fred Fearn for dinner. We all enjoyed a nice evening at a pub by the harbor, catching up and drinking some beer!

5th July Conwy, North Wales

A flock of juvenile Little Egrets, Burton Mere, Cheshire

A nice day dawned, and we headed off to Conwy RSPB reserve which appeared dead, so we bid adieu to Paul and Fred and continued on to Burton Mere RSPB….a  nice reserve, built on the opposite side of the mere to the famous, and rarity-delivering spot of Inner Marsh Farm. Little Egrets were breeding here and recently it transpired that Cattle Egrets had also nested here…the first breeding occurrence of that species in the UK.

Juv Little Egret…long overdue back home in CT!

We did not see the Cattle Egrets, but highlights included a distant flying Spoonbill and the worst ever view of a Great White Egret, in flight heading away – only my 2nd in the UK. Little Ringed Plover and a Ruff were nice for Nick, but nothing else of note.

We headed back to Bolton, dropped off the rental vehicle and grabbed a brew before Si came by and we headed off straight for the Norfolk coast. We stopped off in East Leake, Notts in the early evening, to twitch a small group of Bee-eaters that had taken up residence at a working quarry and were showing signs of breeding – a rare occurrence in the UK.

A splash of color…this is what Bee-Eaters look like when you get close views, not like when you see them in Nottingamshire. This was one of several at Po Marshes in Italy in 2006.

Nick and Si wondering when we might get good views..

Strangely enough, they showed only briefly, so views were in flight and far from exceptional, and they showed only briefly and distantly by the time we had to leave. They are currently raising two broods! Confiding Yellow Wagtails and a juvenile Green Woodpecker were our only good views of the trip.

Pressing onwards, we had a rendezvous in north Norfolk with some heathland species, European Nightjar being a much-wanted bird for Nick. We made a quick pit-stop to pick up a sandwich, and made it onsite at dusk. Unfortunately, since it was late in the breeding season, there wasn’t much activity. As the light waned, we finally were serenaded by a churring male. It was too dark for decent views and, although it came close and wing-clapped, views in the spotlight were poor. We had other sites, but this first try was a tad disappointing.

We arrived late at our digs, driving by a Barn owl on a sign that only Si saw. Our digs for the next few nights were Deepdale Backpacker’s – a great little set-up. As Nick and I unpacked the car, Si had heard a Tawny Owl calling in the churchyard across the street. Grabbing the flashlight we headed off into an archetypal English graveyard, only to be shouted at by a local busybody from a window “’ere, what are you lot doing over there?” A quick retort of “Just go back to bed” was offered, and the night again fell silent, except for the squeaking of a juvenile Tawny Owl that we saw quickly but briefly. BOOM!

6th July, The Brecks

My longtime friend and top guy Chris Mills had arranged to meet us and give us the benefit of his local knowledge. Chris runs Norfolk Birding and I recommend anyone that wants to bird Norfolk, to seek out his birding skills and guiding expertise  (www.norfolkbirding.com).

The famous four do the Brecks. Nick Bonomo, Simon Smethurst, myself and Chris Mills scouting for Goshawks… (Ssshhhh…we can’t tell you where…)

The weather was great and we hunted down some Breck’s specialties that included: Tree Pipit, Goshawk, Red Kite, Marsh Tit, but struggled with Woodlark at a couple of spots. We had a great laugh and headed off for an afternoon at Lakenheath, our only good spot for some fenland specialties and our best shot at Bittern, Hobby, Crane and Bearded Tit. The weather at this point, suddenly took a turn for the worse and we took shelter in a blind. Si managed a brief flight view of a Bittern and we had great views of Marsh Harrier, Reed Warbler and Kingfisher. Several untickable views for Nick of Bearded Tit and  a heard-only Cetti’s Warbler were frustrating. To be honest, having lived in the US now for many years, I can’t defend how atrociously shite Old World warblers are, and it was no surprise to see Nick less than enthralled by worn Chiffchaffs and Reed Warblers!

My best-ever view of Bittern in the UK, Lakenheath, Suffolk

The rain abated and we headed back, and as the sun came out again, we were treated to a first-summer Hobby that gave good views and also superb flight views of a Bittern that crossed over the path in front of us. No cranes were around, having failed at breeding.

We left enough time in the evening to hit a spot in north Norfolk that held a pair of Montagu’s Harriers. A rare breeding bird, this site was actively monitored and we found ourselves taking position overlooking some beautiful rolling hills and fields. It wasn’t long before I spotted the female in flight. She flew around and landed in a field. Shortly afterwards, the male, tiny by comparison to the female, flew in and made a food pass. We enjoyed distant, but prolonged views of the male sat perched and in flight.

Female Montagu’s Harrier, soaring over the Norfolk countryside at dusk…a rare sight in the UK.

Male Montagu’s Harrier, Extramedura, Spain….this is what the Norfolk bird looked like through a scope instead of a camera!

We headed back to Deepdale and treated Si and Chris to some ale and dinner at the White Horse for their hard work and organization.

7th July – North Norfolk Coast

Up early doors and out to Kelling Heath, picking up Andy en route. On the heath, a calling Turtle Dove refused to give itself up. Continuing on, looking for Woodlarks, we were surprised to bump into a Dartford Warbler without much effort.

Then, as I turned around, two small, stubby looking birds were flying past, “WOODLARKS!!”. The birds flew by, exhibiting their short tail, but against the overcast sky, looks were just silhouettes. They appeared to go down in a patchy area of heathland, so we headed over. As I skirted around a bush, I kicked up a roosting Nightjar from under my feet and shouted out in surprise. The bird, a male, flew past in broad daylight and gave good, if brief, views before disappearing into cover..awesome! Good views of Garden Warbler and Lesser ‘throat eluded Nick, still not bothered, since old world warblers really lack kerb appeal compared to our bright American wood-warblers.

Off to Cley for some tea and bacon sandwiches and a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the boys, regaling Nick of twitches here to see Greater Sandplover, Little Whimbrel and Pacific Swift. There were a couple of roosting Spoonbills out on Arnold’s marsh, but we decided to press on to Titchwell, stopping to look on the sea at the coastguards.

We had high hopes for Titchwell, one of the premier reserves on the east  coast.

Waders abound! “Twitchwell” delivers.

Even in July, it was packed with Avocets and a host of ‘common’ waders that Nick was happy to grill. Several amazing-looking Ruffs, some molting Spotted Redshanks, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Curlew, Lapwing and Little Ringed Plover.

Avocet doing it’s thang!

Donald Trump Ruff..one of many killer-looking birds!

On the beach, two Ringed Plovers were good to see, especially since Nick and I had been looking for this long overdue vagrant back home in CT! That they looked like Ringed Plovers to us was refreshing and encouraging!

Scoping godwits and gulls, Titchwell

Simon “vis-migging”…it is hard getting old…

Mr Andrew Culshaw pondering if there is any upside to texting the wife from the field…

A Eurasian Whimbrel hung about on the beach, but was distant. A breeding plumage Common Gull on the beach was the best view of one that we had on the whole trip. Back on the reserve, a few non-breeding Little Gulls were mixed in with the breeding Black and Med Gulls, but little else was seen, though Bearded Tits finally gave themselves up.

Adult Med Gull..always dapper!

Bagging Turtle Dove at last in the parking lot we headed west to Hunstanton where we spent some time photographing swifts and the cliff-nesting Fulmars!

Fulmars cliff-nest at Hunstanton, Norfolk

Common Swift, Hunstanton

We then headed off to look for owls.  At a spot Andy knew of, we managed…finally..decent looks at a Barn Owl quartering the countryside, but no photo opps. As light was waning, a quick stop at a local Abbey, turned up Little Owl..squeaking it onto the list in the last rays of the day!

As usual, off to the pub for some much needed nosebag and some, as Nick put it,  “nice, but weak as piss” ale!

8th July- North Norfolk Coast

Our last morning. We opted for another bash at Titchwell, since that’s were the birds were!

Burnham Norton Abbey…there was a Barn Owl here before Andy scared it off 🙂

A brief, pre-dawn look for Barn Owl came up negative, but good views of a Red Kite overhead and some juv Marsh Harriers were nice.

Red Kite

During the previous afternoon, we had been looking amongst the ducks trying to pick out a Garganey that had been present. It was with a bit of a surprise when Si said, “How close do you want to see a Garganey?”. Confused and intrigued, we looked in his direction and that direction was down. Right outside the hide..literally in the grass was the eclipse male Garganey. Now, I’ve seen birds in Spring, and I know it was a lifer for Nick, but what a pile of shite this bird was!

Eclipse make Garganey

As noon approached it was time to bid adieu to Andy and we made our way back to Bolton, thankfully encountering no traffic.

A brief trip, it was great to spend time with family and great friends and see some birds. Thanks to Andy, Si and Chris for not just scoping out the birds, but to Si and Chris for driving us around and helping with logistics, and also for being great company!

View from Choseley..a spot were Corn Buntings often can be found…but not this morning!

 

 

Canada 2017- Part Deux

March 10, 2017

Positioning myself well, I grabbed one of the few flight opportunities of the morning as this docile bird made a short flight.

Montreal
The plan was to try and work the Great Grays again this morning. I was beginning to feel better as the days progressed, but still had little appetite due to the lingering malaise. The adrenalin of seeing Chouette Lapone’s at eyeball level was helping though! We had great views of two birds at close range this morning. One bird was roosting and quite docile. None afforded the opportunities that we had yesterday. Just as we were leaving, the one bird began to get active and I managed to grab a quick series of shots as it sailed silently past.

We headed north on the two hour drive to Quebec, hoping to try for the Hawk Owl before dark. There were few birds to see on the trip, but we managed to car-tick several Northern Shrikes, a distant Snowy Owl atop a silo and a lone Rough-legged Hawk (surprisingly scarce) as we sped through open flatlands of farmland.

Quebec
We quickly found the area the bird had been seen in. We bumped into a couple of NJ birders who had been there for a couple of hours and had failed to see the bird. We knew it had been seen the day before, but as the light waned and the clouds closed in we had to reluctantly give in to defeat. On the way to our hotel, we found a distant Snowy Owl (seen earlier by the NJ guys) in a tree far from the road.

The following morning we returned to beautiful blue, cloudless skies. Standing on the railroad tracks, it was only a matter of minutes before Mr. Mantlik noticed the bird perched on a tall spruce, right next to the car. BOOM! Northern Hawk Owl in the bag.

Frank is happy! After a dismal non-event yesterday, all was well this morning – Hawk Owl -crippling views! (Frank Mantlik)

Thankfully the bird flew towards us and perched in the hedgerow and allowed us to grab some shots for 20 minutes before flying back across the road –  a veritable bullet with wings.

Northern Hawk Owl, doing what Northern Hawk Owls do best this morning – be conspicuous and confiding!

Frank Gallo getting to grips. ( Frank Mantlik)

Truly charismatic birds, seeing a Hawk Owl is always a top shelf experience. We watched the bird hunting in a suburban yard, hunting in a ravine, drinking snow from the crook of a tree, and generally being inconspicuous. If this is where it was the previous afternoon, it was no wonder we didn’t find it.

Since further photo opps were not forthcoming, we bucked out of there and headed south of the river and north towards La Pocatiere, to try and spend time looking for two Gyrfalcons that had been seen in that area recently – a white bird, and a stunning, dark chocolate bird.

Nick takes up the narrative and writes, Very pleased with our morning hawk owl experience, we crossed to the east side of the St. Lawrence River and drove north another 90 minutes for our third and final leg of the trip. Two Gyrfalcons, one white and one dark, had been frequenting the agricultural fields between La Pocatiere and Kamouraska. We drove a loop through prime Gyr habitat, focusing on those areas where the birds had been seen, but came up empty. Night in La Pocatiere.

Nick scoping a birdless horizon silhouetted by a stunning sunset over the St. Lawrence

We had one last shot for the Gyrs on Tuesday morning, again greeted by beautiful light with which to work. It was very cold, down to 1 degree Fahrenheit, but the temps warmed quickly thanks to the abundant sunshine. A thick frost had coated the vegetation overnight, making for some stunning scenery.

We drove the Gyr loop again without sign of a raptor of any kind. The only bird of prey we saw on two tours through fine habitat was a single SNOWY OWL on our way out-of-town.

Distant Snowy Owl surveying its wintry home.

We were actually quite struck by the absence of bird life in general. This was not surprising given the barren Arctic-like landscape of the agricultural fields. What did surprise us was the dearth of life on the St. Lawrence River itself. Though we did not set aside much time for river viewing, we were treated to sprawling views of the mostly frozen waterway from several locations. Literally the only birds noted were a few Common Mergansers. Not even a single gull fly by!

We also thought we would stumble across flocks of finches or waxwings at some point, but we would have been completely skunked on those if Julian hadn’t spotted a group of PINE GROSBEAKS while driving through Kamouraska along the river.”

Male Pine Grosbeak!

We checked a lot of silos, but came up blank – my recent shite luck with Gyrfalcons seems to continue, this is the 8th try for 6 different birds in the last three years..what the flock!!!

Despite this, it was a truly wonderful four days, with some great birds, amazing photo opps and the experience of having one land on your tripod was out of this world! The French birders we met were so friendly and eager to share news of the local birds.

I need to give a big shout out to local Montreal birder (and ace photographer) Simon Bolyn, who was so gracious to my request for help, that it helped make the trip logistics a bit more reassuring. Brian Kulvete from CT and Justin Lawson from VT were both equally helpful in providing “boots-on-the-ground” info that helped make the trip great. Thanks guys!

Canada 2017 – Part 1

March 5, 2017
After (presumably) mistaking one of the photographer's neck warmer for some juicy, furry rodent, when she ducked, it had to re-orient and chose to do it from Nick's tripod, landing at point blank range between both of us. Bold and fearless this bird had been actively hunting, and had not been baited at all. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for all present, this moment subsequently went viral.

After (presumably) mistaking a photographer’s neck warmer for some juicy, furry rodent, this Great Gray had to reorient itself when her ‘victim’ ducked. It chose to do it from Nick’s tripod, landing at point blank range between both of us. Bold and fearless this bird had been actively hunting, and had not been baited at all. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for all present, this moment subsequently went viral. (Photos by Julian Hough. CLICK ON IMAGES FOR HI-RES VERSIONS)

Arranged with military precision, birds had been researched, their locations marked on maps with gps co-ordinates and bags were packed. However, finding myself holed up in the bathroom, less than 24 hours prior to a 4-day birding assault on Quebec, wasn’t in my plans. My son Alex had been sick with a virulent stomach bug and he had kindly shared it with me. Confined to bed and subsisting just on Pedialyte I crashed out all day. When I awoke just after midnight, I felt a tad bit better. I downed some imodium, grabbed a pillow and blanket and collapsed into the back of Frank’s car for the long drive to Montreal.

The main intent was a simple one; find and photograph Great Gray Owls near Montreal  and drive north to Quebec for Northern Hawk Owl and Gyrfalcon. In the last month, there had been a small and localized incursion of Great Gray Owls into the Montreal area

From l to r: Nick Bonomo, Frank Mantlik, Frank Gallo and myself, La Pocatiere, Quebec.

From l to r: Nick Bonomo, Frank Mantlik, Frank Gallo and myself, La Pocatiere, Quebec.

The group de force were Frank Mantlik, Frank Gallo, Nick Bonomo and myself. Nick takes up the story on his blog (www.shorbirder.com):
“We B-lined to Montreal, specifically to Refuge Faunique Marguerite-D’Youville south of the city itself. We were met by another birder in the parking lot as we arrived who was there the day before and informed us how slow it was on Friday – only one bird seen, and not terribly active. It had been windy and cold then. Saturday was a different story; we were greeted by sunny skies, warming temps, and zero wind. As we would soon find out, the birds would cooperate today.

We encountered three GREAT GRAY OWLS on this day at the refuge. What was supposed to be a few-hour visit turned into most of the day. We could not pull ourselves away, and who would want to? The birds (one in particular) performed above and beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations.

Crippling views! A superb Great Gray Owl. The prominent, buffy fringes to the primaries and browner secondaries, age this as a first-year.

Crippling views! A superb Great Gray Owl. The prominent, buffy fringes to the primaries and browner secondaries, age this as a first-year.

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ggow

Great Gray Owl – incoming! An active bird, it allowed us to position ourselves for some potential flight shots as it hunted along a treeline- and we were not disappointed.

One particularly actively hunting individual put on quite a show for the crowd. It spent several hours searching for prey rather close to the trail and made several short flights, from perch to perch, in its pursuit of a meal. After a couple hours of watching this owl and enjoying every second, it decided to fly back across the trail, something it had done a couple times already this morning. After a couple hours of watching this owl and enjoying every second, it decided to fly back across the trail, something it had done a couple times already this morning. Rather than passing over the group to the other side, it nearly landed on a woman’s head before touching down on my tripod directly in front of me. I stood there stunned for a few moments, unsure of what exactly to do.”

Nick and I were stunned to be literally face to face with this amazing beast!

GGOW up close and personal (Frank Mantlik)

GGOW up close and personal (Frank Mantlik)

“Before you go on assuming that this bird was lured in with pet store mice, you would be mistaken. That sort of behavior is highly frowned upon at this refuge, and we chose to come here largely based on this. Through a day and a half there with three owls we didn’t see any sign of anyone doing anything like that. A local birding couple that walks here once or twice per week has never seen anything of the kind here either. The refuge staff patrols the trails here, and everyone’s behavior was top notch. Nobody even ventured more than a couple feet off the trail, as per park rules. It was impressive. We had been following this bird for 2+ hours at close range before this happened, and it only approached us this once…the bird was in heavy hunting mode and seemed to use the tripod as just another survey post for a few minutes before moving onto the next treetop. Even after it landed on my tripod it spent most of its time looking away from the humans onto the ground for prey as it was doing from the trees, with only the occasional head turn towards me or the crowd. Certainly didn’t feel like it was looking to us for food at all. These are notoriously tame birds to begin with, so I don’t entirely understand why some photographers feel the need to bait them. You obviously don’t need to feed GGOWs to get killer photos!

Before we knew it, it was 2pm and we were dehydrated and sunburned. We left the refuge on a major high from our experience there. After some regrouping and refocusing, the last couple hours of daylight were spent unsuccessfully searching fields to the west of the city for Snowy Owls and other open country birds like Gray Partridge, etc. We did stumble across this Barred Owl in a farmhouse backyard. Night near Montreal after celebratory beer & food!”

A nice backlit Barred owl at dusk posed for some photos by the road.

A nice backlit Barred owl at dusk posed for some photos by the road.

 

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)

us

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
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32758898

Palominas Island
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32759485

23rd November – El Yunque
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32759596

Endemics:
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
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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 did..it 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,  http://alvarosadventures.com  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 : alvaro@alvarosadventures.com;  or call 650-504-7779.

Click Images for original size

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

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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.

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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 Skua...one 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

PLANNED IT, BOOKED IT…DOING IT!

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, http://alvarosadventures.com/ 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 : alvaro@alvarosadventures.com;  or call 650-504-7779

Check out a pelagic slide show here: http://alvarosadventures.com/2012/09/half-moon-bay-pelagic-slide-show-sept-2-2012/

Scripp's-Murrelete

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

220px-White-throated_Needletail_09a

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: http://blog.birdguides.com/2013/06/white-throated-needletail.html

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: http://londonbirder-birdman.blogspot.co.uk/

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.

RIP!

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.

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Topside

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

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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!

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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!