March 2020 to May 2021 – what’s been going on during the pandemic?   Leave a comment

My most recent post was about my trip to Suriname in March 2020. I returned home on 13th and the first lockdown was imposed within a week. That was in force until early June when some restrictions were lifted, but not all. For the rest of the year there was (or at least seems to have been) a never ending re-imposing and then lifting of restrictions until just after Christmas when major restrictions were once again in force. Most of these are now eased but we are still not free to travel abroad.

I’m not criticising the restrictions, indeed I feel they should have been imposed earlier, but clearly they have had a major effect on my life, just like everyone else in the country (and the world).

We’ve been very lucky, relatives and friends have caught this awful disease but no-one we know has died from it, although one friend is unable to work due to the affects of ‘long Covid’.

Being retired our income has not been affected and although foreign travel has been out of the question, we have been able to go for walks locally, go birding and see other aspects of the natural world close to home, which is one of the great advantages of having an interest in wildlife – it can be found anywhere.

I’ve now slept in my own bed every night for 15 months, the longest such period in my entire life. I’m itching to go somewhere where I can see some life birds. I’ve had a never-ending series (possibly up to ten) booked foreign trips that have either had to be cancelled or rebooked for a future year. We will be going to Scotland in the near-future but but my real joy, birding in some far-flung part of the world, remains unfulfilled.

Here are a few photos from the last fifteen months. I’ve largely given up carrying a ‘proper’ camera at home, I damaged my shoulder last year and can’t manage both a camera and a scope + tripod and as a result quite a few of these photos have been taken by others.

 

So from mid March to the start of June we were restricted to a daily exercise walk (ie bit of birding) close to home. Fortunately I have three good areas within walking distance of home, Lytchett Bay, Holes Bay/Upton Park and Upton Heath. In addition I watched a lot of birds in the garden such as this male Common Starling.

 

Initially the Ringing Office of the BTO said we could not ring birds away from our own property, they later rescinded this providing we gathered in suitably small numbers, socially distanced and checked that landowners did not object. However we were requested to ring birds in our gardens wherever possible to allow the flow of data about our common birds to continue. Some people consider that ringing is all about studying migration routes and now that data loggers can gather so much information from a very few birds captured, large scale ringing is redundant. However by recording the fat and muscle state, weight, size, moult condition and age much is discovered about the birds by continuing to ring on a large scale. Trackers/data loggers are expensive and can only give data on a tiny percent of the population. Here my mist net is set up in the garden. You can clearly see the pole that holds the net on the left but to all intents and purposes on a still day, the net is invisible if viewed again a dark background. In spring 2020 I ringed over 150 Starlings in the garden and was able to study the progress of the complete post-juvenile moult (a moult strategy which only occurs in a handful of species in the UK). Quite a number have been retrapped this spring whilst others have been recovered elsewhere in Dorset.

 

With the very cold spring and lack of invertebrates, the number of Starlings are far smaller this year. However I did get a major surprise (and a nasty nip) when I found this juvenile Carrion Crow in my net recently. Like many crows it shows evidence of partial albinism which may be caused by a lack of the correct nutrients at a critical stage of development.

 

At the start of June 2020 some restrictions were lifted and we were able to ring outside our property again.

 

My favourite site, Durlston isn’t very good at this time of year so I made quite a few attempts at Lytchett Heath, a part of Lytchett Bay.

 

At this time of year we were able to ring a number of breeding Reed and Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings and Stonechats.

 

We caught a Jay here this spring, quite a stunner but also quite a noisy and aggressive bird in the hand.

 

One aspect of ringing that I particularly enjoy is training new ringers. This is Joe who works for the charity Bird of Poole Harbour holding a Kestrel we trapped at Durlston. During the summer of 2020 he was always up for ringing at Lytchett and although numbers ringed were small (at least early in the summer before return migration started) it aided his training and provide information on local breeding birds. Joe has since obtained his ringing licence and is fitting in as much ringing as he possibly can.

 

One of the best birds we regularly catch at Lytchett Bay are Bearded Reedlings (or Bearded Tits) which breed in the wet and very muddy reedbeds. This is an adult male.

 

The bird we are most interested in ringing at Lytchett Bay is the Aquatic Warbler. I once wrote a blog post just about this species see see here . We have now ringed 99 Aquatic Warblers over the years (not just at Lytchett Bay) and ringing often reveals the presence of this species in areas where birders just can’t reach such as dense reed and sedge beds, In 2020 we were lucky to catch this bird on 12th August. Unlike the vast majority of the Aquatics we’ve ringed, it was an adult and could be sexed as a female due to the remnants of a brood patch. Even more amazingly the same bird was retrapped in Palencia, central Spain 16 days and 983km later. In truth I wasn’t there when it was trapped (I was having a much needed rest from ringing due to multiple early starts) but I received a phone call as soon as it was found and as the site is less than a mile from my house, I was there before they had finished processing it.

 

For much of the autumn I spent as much time as I could at the beautiful Durlston Country Park, just south of Swanage. It takes me less than 30 minutes to drive the 18 miles from home pre-dawn but once the ‘grockles’ are about in the summer it can take an hour to get back.

 

Our ringing site is in a fenced off area at the highest point of the park. Migrants tend to move towards this area during the first few hours but unfortunately being the highest point its not that sheltered and wind can disrupt our ringing. From July to November I was able to visit 50 times and we ringed over 3800 birds of 47 species. I have written up all the data, with multiple charts and graphs and presented it to the park managers and county bird recorder.

 

Of course the main reason to ring birds at Durlston is to study common birds, which at this site during peak migration is Willow Warbler in August and Chiffchaff and Blackcap in September and October. These three species make up the bulk of the birds processed. This Willow Warbler is unusually grey and might be of the Scandinavian race acredula.

 

In August lots of Tree Pipits fly overhead and we manage to ring quite a few but after the first week of September they are replaced by Meadow Pipits (shown above), there is surprisingly little overlap between these two similar species. Surprisingly we have had more recoveries of Tree Pipit (one in Wales and one in Scotland) than we have had the commoner Meadow Pipits.

 

By mid October most warblers have moved through but its a good time to ring finches and Goldcrests and if you’re lucky a few Firecrests (shown above) as well.

 

Scarcer birds, particularly in August include Pied Flycatcher …

 

… and Spotted Flycatcher, both seem to have declined in recent years, particularly Spotted of which are annual totals have varied from one to eight over the last ten years.

 

Sparrowhawks are such magnificent birds in the hand that the occasional capture of one delights the newer ringers. Before you ring one you have to determine the sex and males take a smaller ring size than females. The grey head and mantle indicates a male but wing length is the deciding factor.

 

We were lucky enough to catch a female Sparrowhawk this spring, the brown mantle and larger size made it easy to sex.

 

There is one aspect of ringing that isn’t appreciated by most (who think its all about studying migration) and that is recording moult. This male Stonechat was ringed at the end of May. It can be aged as a 1st year ie hatched in 2020 by the very worn flight feathers. Adults will have undergone a complete moult a month or so after the juveniles grow their feathers and the feathers are usually of a better quality, so are less worn by the following spring. In addition it can be seen that this bird has moulted the greater covers, tertials and some tail feathers as well as the body feathers. The primaries, primary coverts, secondaries and the central and outer pair of tail feathers have not been moulted. Studies of moult not only identifies what the bird is doing at each stage of its lifecycle but also may indicate its level of fitness, the hypothesis being that those juveniles that have a more extensive post-juvenile moult than average are the fittest individuals and are so more likely to survive the winter.

 

This spring we caught a lovely adult male Whinchat, the migratory cousin of the Stonechat. This is only the 4th Whinchat to be ringed at Durlston and the first in spring.

 

I was hoping we might catch a Whinchat this spring, but this bird was not on my radar at all. I had wondered if we would ever catch one of the dull-brown and quite unremarkable 1st year Common Rosefinches in autumn, as they are rare but regular especially in the Northern Isles and on Scilly, but a stonking adult male was beyond my expectations. There was just myself and new trainee present when we found it on the 28th May although two members of park staff were nearby and able to pop in. In the UK I’ve seen twelve Common Rosefinches; nine juveniles on Shetland or Scilly, an adult female on Shetland in the autumn, a male on Portland in spring years ago and this one. I have to say this was the most richly coloured one I’ve even seen (probably including the 150+ I’ve seen all across Eurasia).

 

With a range from Eastern Europe right across Siberia, this isn’t a rare bird within its range but it migrates south-east to India to winter and so the regular migration route avoids western Europe. For a while it expanded its range into western Europe and a few pairs even bred in the UK but they have since retreated. The presence of reddish tips to the greater and median coverts confirms that this is an age code 6 ie hatched in 2019 or before.

 

As well as ringing on Canford Heath in the winter our group also has a major study of Nightjars there and on other heathlands in East Dorset. It is magical being out there a the light fades and Nightjar’s rhythmical churring starts. Due to Covid I didn’t join the Nightjar researchers this year …

 

… but I was able to catch and ring eleven migrants pre-dawn as they passed through Durlston in later summer. This does require a very early start though!

 

A feeding station in a remote area of Canford Heath has proven to attract many birds and in late autumn and through the winter this site has been covered at least once a week. It does however sit in a frost pocket and can be very cold especially on misty mornings like this one.

 

One of the species we have caught there regularly is Greenfinch. The population of this species has dropped recently due to Trichomoniosis, a parasitic disease, however numbers may have started to recover, there are still plenty on Canford Heath.

 

During the spring and summer we also started ringing at a site in Wareham Forest. This is close to admin buildings, so we are only allowed access at weekends when the staff are absent. We caught a good number of Siskins, there and are amassing some interesting retrap data.

 

In 2020 I restarted mothing, something I tried in the ‘naughties’ but had let slip. This is my moth trap outside the conservatory door. I have already written a post about this in 2020 see here for the link.

 

In 2021 I started mothing again in late February. I wasn’t expecting much but thought it would pick up by late March. It didn’t, and April and nearly all of May went by with virtually no moths. Some nights the trap was empty, sometimes there were just one or two. I wasn’t alone, the dreadful weather of April and May has had a huge effect on invertebrate population and this is turn has affected the brood size and success of early nesting birds. A very few tit boxes that I’ve examined have either been empty or contain just three or four chicks. This is a Pale Tussock caught in early June.

 

There are 880 species illustrated in the ‘macro moth’ field guide but this is only one third of the total. The remainder are considered ‘micro moths’ (although there is some overlap in size between members of both groups). I find these far harder to identify, photograph and in some cases even see than the ‘macros’. Adding to the confusion is the fact that almost all micros in the field guide lack an English name. Recently English names have been introduced but as they’re not in the book, no-one uses them. I’m finding it very hard to remember all the names and since the weather and hence catches have improved I’m finding that its taking me all day to identify photograph and record all the species. This is a Epinotia bilunana which has recently acquired the name of ‘Crescent Bell’.

 

Although I wasn’t able to see as many birds as I usually do in 2020, especially in spring when we were advised to stay within walking distance of home, but during the summer and autumn and into 2021 I did get to see a few goodies. Each summer a number of the critically endangered Balearic Shearwaters arrive off Portland Bill from the western Mediterranean. This photo was taken off Mallorca in 2016.

 

In 2020 they were joined by a single Yelkouan (or Levantine) Shearwater from the eastern Mediterranean. Superficially similar, separating it from the commoner Balearics as they ‘sheared’ past the Bill was a bit of a challenge, but I eventually got good views. This was only the second record for the UK. This photo was taken off Tunisia in 2019.

 

We had a few days grace in early January 2021 before lockdown three came into place. During that time I visited the Avon valley on the Dorset/Hants border. One of the many birds I saw that day included a flock of five Ruddy Shelduck. This species is currently officially categorised as an escape from captivity in the UK which is ludicrous. I accept that most probably don’t come all the way from their breeding grounds in Central Asia (but probably did in 1994 when there was a Europewide influx) but there is now a substantial feral population in Europe involving many hundreds of birds which is surely the origin of most of our records. It’s doubtful that any wildfowl collection would allow five of their Ruddy Shelducks to escape simultaneously. Photo © Chris Minvalla taken at Radipole, Weymouth. Although the Weymouth bird could have been an escape (as it was quite tame) I consider the Avon valley flock to be of European origin if not genuinely wild..

 

Great Egrets were once very rare in the UK, now several pairs breed most notably on the Somerset Levels. Near us three or four can be seen at Longham Lakes. This is my photo, but I haven’t recorded where I took it, and as the species is almost cosmopolitan, it could be anywhere.

 

This Whiskered Tern, initially seen at Abbotsbury in west Dorset this spring conveniently moved to Longham Lakes a mere 15 minute drive away. Photo © Chris Minvalla.

 

A big surprise was the occurrence of a Red-billed Chough at Portland Bill in spring 2021. I have seen this species previously in Cornwall, Wales, western Scotland and Eire but only once before once before in Dorset at St Aldheim’s Head in 2003. Photo © Roger Howell.

 

Up to the end of May I had only left Dorset or West Hampshire once since mid March 2020 and that was just before Easter this year. A Northern Mockingbird (3rd record for the UK) had been in Exmouth, Devon for about a month but it wasn’t until  Eastertime that travel restrictions were lifted. Viewing conditions weren’t great, you had to scope across a busy road, over a number of gardens and wait until it flew up into a tree or a telegraph pole. Many birders ignored lockdown restrictions to twitch it but we remained ‘legal’ and waited until they were eased. This is only the third Northern Mockingbird record in the UK and the first twitchable one. The bird left Exmouth just a few days after we saw it but remarkably was then re-found in gardens in Sussex and then after a short gap again in Northumberland. Photo © Chris Minvalla.

 

Vagrants come and vagrants go but hopefully these birds are here to stay, well at least during the summer months. The biggest ornithological event of the year wasn’t any vagrant but the pairing up of two Ospreys in Poole Harbour. They are part of a reintroduction program started in 2017 and organised by the Birds of Poole Harbour and the Roy Dennis Foundation. The female CJ7 returned in 2019 and paired up with a male from the reintroduction program in early summer, but it was too late for them to breed. Hopes were high for 2020, however the male didn’t return but the female stayed around the nest and laid infertile eggs. The same happened this year but eventually another male O22 turned up, but again it looks like he arrived too late to breed. The reintroductions had to be halted last year because of Covid but will resume this summer. This was the first nesting attempt in southern England for 200 years! It will be a few years before we have a viable Osprey population in Poole Harbour but I’m sure it will happen.  Although I saw the female several times last year, I’ve yet to catch up with either of them this year. This nest camera from which this shot was taken can be seen on the Birds of Poole Harbour website by clicking this link

 

Of course the hardest thing about lockdown has being not seeing your friends and family. I haven’t seen my brother and his family since Christmas 2019 but have managed to see some of Margaret’s side of the family. We see her daughter Janis fairly regularly and a few months ago her granddaughter Kara moved from London to Bournemouth because she could do almost of all of her work online. This was taken on the Bournemouth seafront. Kara had shaved off all her hair for charity a few days earlier and had raised £1100 for Action Aid. In addition to the Osprey reintroductions, White-tailed Eagles are being reintroduced to the Isle of Wight and several of them have strayed to Dorset. I was sitting here having lunch with Margaret and Kara when a friend called to say a White-tailed Eagle had just gone over his house and was heading for mine!

 

I’ve been able to meet up with my friends from the ringing group as we are allowed to meet in small numbers for the purpose of volunteer research, but social meetings with other birders has been restricted to the weekly online ‘virtual pub’. Towards the end of May as restrictions eased a group of us were invited to my friend’s lovely old property just outside Wareham, our first face-to-face social event since Christmas 2019.

 

he and his wife are MDs of a major international cosmetic company, well known for its environmental credentials.

 

Within the grounds is this lovely walled garden, where various plants are being trialled for use in their products …

 

… along with methods for sustainable environmentally friendly production.

 

Much of the rest of the site is being managed as a nature reserve and includes a river floodplain, woodland and grassland. It has not been intensively managed in the past and the biodiversity is already high. The future looks bright for nature in this part of Dorset.

 

Our activities from June 2021 onwards will be the subject of our next post.

Suriname: 7th – 12th March 2020   Leave a comment

A major hitch occurred in our otherwise successful Guyana and Suriname tour when tour leader Eustace Barnes was denied boarding to the flight from Georgetown in Guyana to Paramaribo in Suriname due to the fact that his Yellow Fever certificate wasn’t in order (for further details see part 3 of my Guyana blog posts). Fortunately for the group local tour leader Sean (pronounced ‘seen’ not ‘shorn’) Dilrosun was there to meet us at the airport.

The role of a second bird tour leader can vary, sometimes they are excellent birders on a par with the advertised leaders but with the advantage of up-to-date local knowledge, but sometimes they have a more administrative role ensuring that complex local arrangements run smoothly. Fortunately Sean was in the former category. That’s not to say the tour wouldn’t be better with Eustace along, two expert birders leading a tour is bound to be better than one, but the trip extension was a great success thanks to Sean’s local knowledge and skill in finding the local birds.

One area that did cause minor difficulties was that Sean didn’t have a copy of the BirdQuest Guyana/Suriname checklist and the birds on list that he used were in a different sequence to ours. In the end I supervised the checklist sessions (not that easy when one of the participants was very hard of hearing) and I wrote an account of the extension for Eustace (which unfortunately had to be severely edited due to space considerations) before the final report was published.

The flight didn’t arrive until 2300 but in true Birdquest style we stopped to see if we could spotlight a Striped Owl near the airport. No luck there, but Little Tinamou, Common Potoo and Paraque were heard, not the usual species that you record on the run between the airport and the first hotel!

Paramaribo is a fair way from the international airport so it was well after 0100 when we got to bed, indeed our ‘goodnights’ and ‘good mornings’ almost overlapped. We set off early, but not bright, to a forested area near the city where we soon scored with Suriname’s only endemic bird, Arrowhead Piculet, which we saw without difficulty.

 

 

Suriname’s only endemic, Arrowhead Piculet, is a diminutive woodpecker. As it was high above me I failed to get a decent shot and so have used one taken by my friend Martin Reid see www.martinreid.com

 

Even more impressive was the ‘drop dead-gorgeous’ male Crimson-hooded Manakin seen nearby and the Mangos (hummingbirds) in the tall trees were examined until we were sure that the males had green throats rather than black ones. Photo by Nich Athanas from GrrlScientist hosted by the Guardian

 

Our Suriname tour guide – Sean Dilrosun

 

Moving on, we stopped briefly to admire a roadside Slender-billed Kite, thanking a local family for letting use their garden to get the best photo angle …

 

Our next stop was an area of white sand forest, a low woodland growing on nutrient poor soil. On route we passed the perimeter of the airfield where we saw a White-tailed Hawk drop onto prey …

 

as well as the widespread (southern USA to Argentina) Burrowing Owl …

 

This one was probably keeping its eye on the White-tailed Hawk.

 

As well as some passerine targets we found a roosting Lesser Nighthawk …

 

… and the lovely Tropical Screech-owl in both the grey …

 

… and rufous phases.

 

We continued on to the town of Brownsweg where we swopped buses to this rugged four-wheel drive variety complete with reinforced roll bars.

 

We were heading for the Brownsberg reserve where because of a recent drought had completely run out of water so we had to bring enough for cooking, washing and loo flushing!

 

We slowly climbed up the the reserve birding on route.

 

We had driven down from Paramaribo to Brownsweg and then taken the dirt road south-east to the elevated reserve of Brownsberg at the north-west corner of Brokopondo Reservoir, the largest area of fresh water in the country. After two nights here we descended back down to Brownsweg and drove south on the highway and then west to a location in the lowland rainforest known as Fred’s Place where we stayed for a further two nights.

 

The accommodation at Brownsberg was pretty basic especially as we had to take turns to ‘shower’ using a bucket and a ladle but the views over the reservoir at dawn were spectacular.

 

Around the lodge where a number of Red Howler Monkeys …

 

… the adult males in particular were impressive.

 

Less impressive but far rarer and far more elusive where the White-faced Saki Monkeys. However as they were so retiring, keeping to the shadows, it was hard to get a decent photo.

 

In part three of the Guyana write up I posted a poor photo of the elusive Grey-winged Trumpeter …

 

… here in Brownsberg a group have been habituated at a feeding station allowing for excellent views …

 

… they even bring their chicks along with them. Note how the light catches the iridescent feathers on their breasts.

 

Among the many other ‘golden’ goodies at the site were – Golden-headed Manakin …

 

… and Golden-green Woodpecker.

 

Although only seen in deep cover we had a great listen to the song of the Musician Wren, one of the best songsters in the world. Click on the link below to hear recordings on Xeno-canto.

Song of Musician Wren from Xeno-canto

 

Another mega was the beautiful Collared Puffbird, a lifer for me and I think all of the group (photo by ‘thibaudaronson’ via Wiki Commons).

 

Another treat was seeing Lined Forest-falcon. Forest-falcons are a group of seven elusive falcons of dense neotropical forests that seldom show well and seldom if ever appear above the canopy. I had previously seen this species in Venezuela but it was a particular target for one participant who had repeatedly dipped on it in the past. It took some time but we eventually got great views. (Photo by Tony Castro via Wiki Commons).

 

But one of the best of all was the beautiful Crested Owl, found at its daytime roost. I have seen this bird before in Colombia but only at night so it was great to study every nuance of the plumage.

 

There are 256 species of owls in the world. Many are small lookalike scops or pygmy owls that are best separated by voice, some are medium-sized Strix and Ninox owls and then of course there’s the big eagle-owls and ‘megas’ like Great Grey and Snowy of the far north. But I challenge anyone to find a more impressive owl than Crested.

 

This snake shot across our path but as yet I’ve been unable to find anyone who can identify it for me. Can any ‘herpers’ out there help?

 

After a final morning’s birding at Brownsberg we descended to the main road and headed south …

 

… turning off westwards onto this dirt road for the long drive to ‘Fred’s Place’.

 

Fred, an indigenous Suramimese, once saw a remote inselberg from a plane. He was able to locate the site on the ground after days of trekking through virgin forest. He obtained permission to build a lodge beside the river which now caters for naturalists and trekkers. The accommodation consists of a series of huts along the bank with a central cooking and dining area. It was a lovely place to stay and much comfortable than Brownsberg.

 

We could watch Long-tailed Hermits and other hummers whilst eating our meals.

 

Among the many birds we saw was this White Hawk …

 

… White-throated Toucan …

 

… Channel-billed Toucan …

 

… and this Paradise Jacama swallowing its prey.

 

Two other Jacama species posed for photos, Yellow-billed …

 

… and Brown.

 

Another of those Neotropical ‘near-passerine’ Families are the Puffbirds. Some members of the puffbird Family like the Collared Puffbird above can be hard to see but these Black Nunbirds certainly weren’t.

 

Another conspicuous bird (in its choice of perch – if not in its numbers) is Long-tailed Tyrant which was seen occasionally on dead snags along the roads.

 

There weren’t as many cotinga species in Suriname as in Guyana but we did get good views of Purple-throated Cotingas but unfortunately not the elusive Dusky Purpletuft.

 

We came across this stand in the forest, was it a strangely located beverage stand? Apparently drinks are left by locals as a gift to the spirits of the forest.

 

There was good birding to be had along the river as well.

 

Sean took us to a spot near the lodge where the tiny and very elusive Zig-zag Heron occurs, we got some reasonable views but no photos.

 

Damp areas where good for the delightful (yet poisonous) poison-arrow frogs.

 

On one part of the river we found a colony of White-banded Swallows …

 

… here are two adults and a juvenile.

 

But the most exciting moment occurred on our last morning, setting off on yet another failed Dusky Purpletuft search we came across this Harpy Eagle sat in a tree. This is (well at at least the females are) the largest of all the eagles, adapted to snatch monkeys and sloths out of the trees. The legs are so powerful that the tarsus is as thick as a man’s wrist.

 

It was only there for a few seconds but I managed to get this flight shot. Most encounters are of birds at known nests and just coming across a one randomly by a trail is a rare event indeed.

 

So that was it, we left Joe’s place and returned to Paramaribo for the overnight flight to Amsterdam and then onto Heathrow. I had been away for nearly a month and the world had changed in that time.

What had been a problem in just one city in China when I left had become an epidemic in Europe and now we were flying back to it. I was quite shocked that we had (quite rightly) our temperatures checked before we left Paramaribo but not on arrival at Amsterdam or Heathrow.

Of course from mid March 2020 until now I’ve not been able to go anywhere and indeed I’ve spent the last 450+ nights sleeping at home. During periods of relaxation of lockdown rules I’ve been able to do some birding outside the immediate area, but there’s been no UK holidays, let alone foreign ones and of course there have been no additions to my life list.

I can’t complain, Coronavirus has affected me far less than many people who have had to endure real tragedy and hardship but I’m really looking forward birding in some remote location once again.

So my blog is now up to date apart from perhaps posting photos of a few of things I’ve seen in the last year. In addition there are a few foreign trip over the last decade where I’ve either only posted a summary or not posted anything at all. I’ll probably start sorting out some photos from those.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guyana part three: the northern rainforest and the coastal region. 1st – 7th March 2020   Leave a comment

In this post I cover the final part of our visit to Guyana where we stopped at three lodges in the northern rainforest zone and then in the capital Georgetown.

 

This had been a great tour for raptors and as we left the savannah behind of course we encountered a new set of species. The familiar Black and Turkey Vultures were replaced with the much rarer and seldom seen Greater Yellow-headed Vulture …

 

… and the impressive King Vulture, both rainforest species.

 

We stayed overnight at Sumara lodge which was undergoing some reconstruction.

 

There was a Yellow-rumped Cacique colony in the clearing …

 

… and Ruddy Pigeons on the forest floor but the Harpy Eagles weren’t breeding this year so no amount of hiking in the forest could turn up one of the most sought after raptors in the world. We did however see a good range of cotingas, tyrannulets, tanagers and other forest species.

 

Then it was on to Atta Lodge, one of the best locations on the trip and definitely the best rainforest location of the trip. In the clearing around the lodge there were a group of Black Currasows wandering about like domestic turkeys and when I got to my chalet I found the shutters on both sides open and hummingbirds zipping through the room and over my bed to reach a hummingbird feeders just outside the window.

 

This Red-fan Parrot was extraordinarily tame and was presumably a rehabilitated bird.

 

… but there was no doubting the credentials of this Red-and-green Macaw.

 

Admittedly not the best of photos, but it was pleasing to see this pair of Paradise Jacamas …

 

… and the extraordinary antics of Spider Monkeys.

 

In a river bed we came across a pair of Sunbitterns …

 

… but the best sightings was this rare Black-faced hawk, a life bird for me …

 

… and the extraordinary Rufous Potoo, seen at a day time roost. There are seven species of Potoos, a nightbird related to the nightjars, all in the Neotropics. I have now seen six of the seven; the seventh Andean Potoo was a heard only in Ecuador. Rufous Potoo is probably the hardest of all to find. Common and White-winged Potoo were also seen on the trip, three species in one trip is almost an overdose of luck.

 

We also visited the canopy walkway …

 

… it was a a bit of squeeze getting everybody onto the platform.

 

Eustace wrote in his trip report: We then made a quick late afternoon visit to the afternoon visit to the canopy walkway where we worked through Todd’s and Spot-tailed Antwrens, Buff-cheeked and Lemon-chested Greenlets, Red-legged, Purple and Green Honeycreepers and a number of Flame-crested, Paradise, Bay-headed and Spotted Tanagers etc etc. We also found Green Aracari, our first Waved Woodpeckers and a pair of Golden-sided Euphonias. I should also report that we encountered no sweat bees. (The latter being an unwelcome visitor at many such canopy platforms).

 

But a lot of our time was spent in the clearing by the chalets. Here Denzel, Mike Karin and Eustace scan the treetops for cotingas. Purple-breasted Cotinga, Purple-throated Fruitcrow were regular, but the main targets, Dusky Purpletuft and Crimson Fruitcrow proved elusive. Some got a glimpse of the latter but it always disappeared before I could get anyone on to it.

 

Finally on the last morning the Crimson Fruitcrow stayed long enough for everyone to get views. I didn’t get a photo so I have used one by © Alan Lewis (no relation!) taken from the Surfbirds website.

 

For most of our time in the clearing we were accompanied by Black Curassows …

 

… certainly a lot tamer than their ‘crestless cousins’ that we saw earlier in the tour.

 

We travelled on to our next lodge at Iwokrama and stopped on route to admire some Blue-and-yellow Macaws.

 

These are some of the most beautiful of all macaws, indeed of all parrots …

 

… perhaps our familiarity of them at home from bird parks and zoos means they don’t get quite the recognition they deserve.

 

Iwokrama River Lodge is located by the Essequibo River. Our time here was divided between birding on the tracks and taking boat trips on the river.

 

One such boat trip took us to trail that led to Turtle Mountain (named after it’s resemblance to an upside down turtle shell, not because it had a surfeit of turtles on the summit).

 

On route we saw a flock of seven Capped Herons (together with a Cocoi Heron on the left), four on the bank …

 

… and three in the trees.

 

I’ve posted a number of photos of Great Black Hawk, which seemed unusually abundant on this tour, but this is the first photo I’ve posted of one in juvenile plumage.

 

The hike up to Turtle Mountain was a little arduous, but we saw some great birds like Spotted Antpitta, but the much sought after Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo was a heard only.

 

Eustace at the lookout at Turtle Mountain. The main target was the rare Orange-breasted Falcon which we failed to see (but I have seen in in Peru with Eustace on a previous trip), we did see a White Hawk which was some compensation.

 

We also took a late afternoon boat trip in the opposite direction …

 

… arriving at some rapids where we found a feeding Large-billed Tern …

 

… a species with a wing pattern like a Sabine’s Gull.

 

A few minutes at the rapids …

 

… gave us views of common species like Great Egret …

 

… as well as the range restricted Black-collared Swallow. These two seem to be ignoring each other …

 

… but that was soon to change. Guess it was a case of making hay whilst the sun shines …

 

… which wasn’t going to be for long as there was a big storm approaching from down stream.

 

Fortunately the storm largely missed us and it was dry by the time we got back to the dock- where the biggest Black Caiman I’ve ever seen was hanging around in the hope of scraps.

 

The next day we crossed the Iwokrama River on a very dodgy ferry and started the long drive north to Georgetown.

 

Just over the other side we stopped at a site where we found some Grey-winged Trumpeters. There are three species of Trumpeter in the world, but this is the only one I’ve seen (although I did hear Dark-winged Trumpeter in Brazil).

 

The road north was unpaved and potholed and progress was slow. There have been plans to create a modern highway, which sounds great, but would open up the interior of Guyana to mining, logging and habitat destruction. I was worried that this guy had been in an accident until I saw his bike was parked on its stand. He was just having a kip on the roadside. Earlier in the trip there was a major dip on this same road when Eustace and one of the clients saw a large Jaguar on the side of the road. It might have stayed until the other two vehicles arrived but for the arrival of a motorbike coming in the opposite direction. So near yet so far. I’ve been to the best site in the world for Jaguars, the Pantanal in Brazil, but before Jaguar tourism was really sorted out and hence we dipped. I’ve always hoped since then that I would just chance on one – well maybe one day.

 

Eventually we entered the industrial heart of Guyana just to the south of Georgetown and returned to the hotel we stopped at for the first night.

 

Our time in Georgetown was divided between areas along the coast and Georgetown Botanical gardens (above). I like that the car on the right is parked on the lawn right under the ‘do not park on the lawn’ sign.

 

Our main target was the range-restricted Festive Amazon …

 

… and wild Red-fan Parrots (unlike the tame one at Atta) …

 

… and the little Blood-coloured Woodpecker, confined to coastal regions of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

 

Open areas held Tropical Mockingbirds …

 

… and the widespread Great Kiskadee.

 

Whilst an overgrown ditch gave good views of juvenile Wattled Jacanas …

 

… and adults too …

 

… some showing off their vivid yellow underwings.

 

Other species included the strange Greater Ani …

 

… and the pretty Bat Flacon.

 

Along the coast we passed the small settlement of Glazier’s Lust, surprisingly the next settlement was called Rebecca’s Lust. I guess there is some sort of romantic story involved there!

 

Recent storms had piled the debris up along the shoreline …

 

… but in the few remaining coastal forest patches we found Common Tody-flycatcher …

 

… Black-crested Antshrike …

 

… and Pied Water Tyrant …

 

… and just like I did in Florida, Yellow-crowned Night Heron …

 

… and Limpkin.

 

Two New World waders that occasionally occur in the UK were seen side by side Solitary Sandpiper …

 

… and a summer plumaged Spotted Sandpiper (these are the ecological replacements of Green and Common Sandpiper respectively).

 

There were a few raptors as well, Grey-lined Hawk (a split from Grey Hawk of the southern USA and Mexico) …

 

… Black-collared Hawk …

 

… and most notably the rare, declining Rufous Crab Hawk which is only found along the coast from eastern Venezuela to northern Brazil.

 

 

Our final stop was a creek where Scarlet Ibis come into roost but we had to leave before dusk when the majority would arrive because we had to head to the airport and our flight to Suriname.

 

 

So then it was the hour-long journey back to the international airport and our short flight to Suriname, but this was not without it’s problems. I have carried a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate with me on trips for years but have never been asked to show it. Yellow Fever isn’t the problem it once was, indeed the closely related Dengue Fever is far more widespread worldwide. We were warned to bring Yellow Fever vaccination certificates with us but Eustace’s was out of date and they wouldn’t let him board the plane.

To try and convince them that his old certificate was OK (after three injections ten years apart, you are considered immune for life) he borrowed mine. I was caught between one official saying ‘get on the plane now its about to depart’ and another stopping me getting to the room ‘out back’ where they were quizzing Eustace. Eventually I got my certificate back, ran for the plane which took off the moment I was seated.

So we were heading to Suriname without our designated leader – what happened will be the subject of the next post.

Eustace did get a repeat vaccination and certificate in Georgetown and over the next few days made his way overland to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. He wrote the following in the trip report about his overland journey.

The entire trip, but perhaps especially the journey from the border to Paramaribo, could have been the subject of a Tarantino movie. It involved a minibus packed with fifteen or so Haitians, Venezuelans, an assortment of illegal Guyanans and me. Off we set, crammed in to a tiny van together with a Chestnut-bellied Seedeater in a cage lodged on the console between myself and the driver. Along the narrow uneven surface called Highway 1, the speed crept up to about 140km per hour, while the driver, using a couple of mobiles was arranging the next run. I got the impression business was good with Venezuelans and Haitians fleeing to Brazil. The Guyanans started kicking off, smoking joints and drinking a few beers adding to my discomfort. On arrival at the city limits, the various passengers were dropped off at their pre-arranged safe houses on the outskirts of the city. The stuff of novels!

This was one journey I was glad I didn’t have to make.

Guyana part two: central Guyanan gallery forests and savannahs: 26th February to 1st March 2020   Leave a comment

In the last post I detailed our journey around the Rupununi savanna and the gallery forest near the Brazilian border. In this second instalment I’m posting photos taken in the central part of Guyana especially around the Karanambu ranch and Rock View Lodge.

 

 

In this, the second post on my visit to Guyana we concentrate on the gallery forest and savannahs on the central part of the country.

 

We arrived at Karanambu ranch late in the day, the next morning our first target was a wonderful cotinga known as Capuchinbird (as the bald head reminded it’s discoverers of Capuchin monks). Two or three birds were present at a lek. They would puff themselves up and emit a bovine-like lowing to attract the ladies, hence an alternative English name is ‘calf-bird’. See below for recording on xeno-canto. I have seen this rare species once before in eastern Venezuela but it was as big a treat the second time as it was the first.

Recordings of Capuchinbird from xeno-canto

 

The ranch sits on the Rupununi River and quite a lot of our time here was spent on the river looking for specialities, especially the Crestless Currasow which is seldom seen anywhere else than here these days.

 

… Lesser Kiskadee, just one of a number of lookalike kiskadee species, but one that favours riverine habitats …

 

… Cocoi Heron, the South American equivalent of Great Blue Heron …

 

… and the powerful Black Caiman.

 

There were a number of raptors along the river, the impressive Great Black Hawk …

 

… the beautiful and elegant Swallow-tailed Kite (one of which has recently turned up in the Azores) …

 

… and a wintering bird from North America, an Osprey with lunch.

 

There are three species of stork in the Americas, Wood Stork which occurs in South & Central America plus the southernmost parts of the USA (see my account on my short visit to Florida prior to arriving in Guyana), Maguari Stork (see below) and perhaps the most impressive of all the enormous Jabiru (above).

 

Standing up to 1.5m tall, in South America it has a wingspan second only to the Andean Condor and some of the albatrosses seen offshore. It is the tallest and heaviest of the world’s 19 species of stork.

 

Drier areas held Green-tailed Jacamas.

 

Related to jacamas are the kingfishers. The New World has been rather short-changed when it comes to kingfishers with a mere six species over the two continents. I saw four species in Guyana, plus had a ‘heard only’ American Pygmy Kingfisher in Suriname and saw the more northerly Belted Kingfisher in Florida. This is a female Ringed Kingfisher, a super-sized version of Belted, and one of the world’s largest kingfishers.

 

The commonest kingfisher was Amazon. This, without the red band on the breast, is a female …

 

… whilst this stonker is the male

 

The size sequence of the six species (large to small) is Ringed, Belted, Amazon, Green-and-rufous, Green and American Pygmy. This is a female Green-and-rufous. Green Kingfishers were seen here but not photographed and one Pygmy was only seen, but only by a select few.

 

But our main target was the shy, rarely seen and elusive Crestless Curassow. This huge cracid has a wide range and has a IUCN status of ‘Near Threatened’ but Eustace said that it is seldom recorded away from Karanambu these days. Whether the IUCN threat level is now inaccurate or whether it has just become super-elusive elsewhere, I don’t know.

 

I have seen Giant River Otter on several South American trips but never in the numbers we encountered on this trip. We had already recorded half a dozen further south and then encountered up to 20 on at Karanambu. In addition there were some orphaned otters raised at the ranch for eventual release.

 

Nearly 2m long these are truly ‘giant otters’ and communicate with each other with a series of penetrating whistles.

 

Not everyone likes Giant River Otters and sometimes the adults are killed by fishermen and hunters. The late conservationist Diane McTurk used to take in orphaned otters at the lodge, something that still continues to this day.

 

This and the otter in the photo above are of these orphaned youngsters which will be released back into the wild in due course.

 

On our second afternoon we returned to the river, disembarked then walked through the forest to this secluded lagoon.

 

This Wattled Jacana was living up to its alternative name of ‘Lily-trotter’, running around on these giant Amazonian water lilies.

 

A Rufescent Tiger-heron stood guard …

 

… and Spectacled Caiman swam between the giant lily pads …

 

… and guess what, there were more Giant River Otters.

 

Also seen was the eponymous Tiny Tyrant-manakin, looking not only diminutive but also looking more like a tyrannulet than a manakin. In spite of 25 or so visits to the Neotropics I’m still in awe of those tour leaders who can take one glance at this type of minute sub-oscines and can recognise them immediately.

 

We returned down the river at dusk seeing good numbers of Band-tailed Nighthawks and huge numbers of Greater Fishing Bats.