January – March 2017: a few, mainly birding, activities.   1 comment

This post covers a number of (mainly) bird related activities during January, February and March.

Apart from our week in France we’ve been having a relatively quiet time during the first three months of the year.  I made a New Year’s Resolution to do some birding every single day and so far I have stuck to that, but I haven’t travelled outside of Dorset and West Hampshire (except to travel to Paris) but have done a fair bit of local birding within that area and a lot of bird ringing at our regular sites.

Also I haven’t taken many photos, often deliberately leaving my camera at home. This is because I still have photos to edit and reports to complete on trips I did in 2016, so it seemed pointless adding even more to the ‘to do’ pile.

 

A sunset is usually placed at the end of set of slides not at the start, but early this winter these has been a sizeable roost of Starlings near Shell Bay at the entrance to Poole Harbour and so the sunset has to come first.

 

Many thousands of birds have come into roost, often performing the wonderful aerial acrobatics known as a ‘murmuration’. On this occasion the wind was rather strong and the flocks just flew in to roost.

 

I have birded many places in Dorset, mostly around Poole but sometimes going as far as Weymouth, Abbotsbury or the New Forest. On one particularly sunny day Margaret and I went back to Shell Bay.

 

For those who have never visited this is a particularly beautiful part of the Dorset coast. On the other side of the Bay is Sandbanks, one of the most expensive areas of the UK. The Haven Hotel and the chain ferry that permits vehicular access to the Studland peninsula can be seen.

 

Our target was this Snow Bunting which was feeding on the beach where Shell Bay meets Studland Bay. Although a regular wintering bird in reasonable numbers on the east coast, I have only seen this species seven times in Dorset, all singles except in early ’82 when a flock of 6-7 occurred in the Studland area.

 

As I said earlier I haven’t been taking my camera with me very much this year and these photos were hand-held digiscoped, hence the lack of quality.

 

Two races of Snow Bunting occur in Britain, nominate nivalis (from northern Europe and northern Canada) and the Icelandic insulae. All the evidence points to this being the nominate race.

 

 

The area around Mordon Bog and Sherford Bridge can be very good for birds but if you want to explore the area around Mordon Park Lake you need to cross this very dodgy ‘bridge’.

 

A distant Great Grey Shrike was the best bird I saw in Wareham Forest this year.

 

Leaving the birding scene behind for a moment, on one clear night I visited my friend and former work colleague Tim to look through his astronomical telescope. Unfortunately living in the middle of Poole, ambient lighting rather spoilt the images. No planets were in view but we did look at some star clusters and nebulae ….

 

…. but my favourite object that Tim was able to show me was galaxy M82, one of the Messier objects, 110 diffuse nebulae, planetary nebulae, open clusters, globular clusters and galaxies that were catalogued by Charles Messier as he searched the heavens for comets. Our view of galaxy M82 was nowhere near as good as this one (taken from Wikipedia) but it becomes the furthest object I have ever seen. At 12 million light years (or just over 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 km) the light would have left this galaxy in the Miocene era, even before human’s ape-like ancestors walked the earth.

 

I have done many trips in the UK and a few abroad with my friend Roger (here seen on a pelagic trip in the Azores) ….

 

…. so it was very pleasing to be able to attend his 60th birthday party. This unusual cake (made by his wife Sue) is complete with a model of Roger birding from a park bench.

 

Although I have I have little or no interest in gardening it’s probably Margaret’s favourite occupation. Deciding the front path was getting a bit grubby she bought a power washer and before I was even aware what was going on she had cleaned the lot.

 

Though she looked like she had a bad case of measles when she had finished.

 

Most of my activities during this period have involved bird ringing which I have been keen to continue through the winter period. This winter we have started ringing at a new site on heathland to the north of Poole which has proved very productive, especially for finches. This is the view on a frosty morning from our ringing site.

 

Here are a few photos of birds in the hand: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Blackbird with such incredibly rich colour to the bill and eye-ring before.

 

Understanding and recognising moult is key to telling the age of a bird and telling the age of a bird is key to understanding population dynamics. But there are always exceptions to the rule. This Robin has just moulted its three innermost primaries but not the rest. This is not a usual moult strategy and might have occurred after the feathers were lost after an attack by a predator.

 

Goldcrests can be aged by the shape of the tail feather, pointed in first years, rounded in adults. This first year Goldcrest has lost the three outer tail feathers on the right-hand side and although obviously it is still in its first year it has regrown the feathers with an adult shape. Thus if the bird was to loose all its tail feathers and regrow them in the shape of an adult, it would be incorrectly aged.

 

Some birds can be easily sexed in the field (for example Chaffinch or Bullfinch), other can only be reliably sexed in the hand such as this Greenfinch. The diagonal shape of the yellow on the outer webs of the inner primaries shows that this is a male. On a female the yellow would run parallel to the shaft leaving a black streak between the yellow and the shaft for the entire length of the feather.

 

Goldfinches can be only aged on the combination of a number of features and then only reliably in adult birds. The red extending behind the eye, more extensive red chin and longer bill indicate that the bird in the foreground is a male. Although on average, the male is slightly larger than the female, this is exaggerated in this photo as it is being held nearer to the camera.

 

We usually catch a few Redpolls in the autumn on migration at Durlston but its a long time since I’ve ringed one in it’s its breeding finery. We have caught a Redpoll that was ringed elsewhere and look forwards to learning where it came from and when it was ringed.

 

Redpolls are comprised of 5 or 6 subspecies divided into 3 (BOU list) or two (IOC list) species. The BOU has stated that as from the start of 2018 it will follow the IOC checklist, so we will loose our breeding form Lesser Redpoll as a separate species as it will be lumped with Common Redpoll. This however is just the start of the story, recent genetic research has shown that all the races of Redpoll are genetically identical and a proposal is being considered to lump the lot, so we will go from having three species on the British list to just one.

 

Another bird that we usually only ring in the autumn is Pied Wagtail when the majority are in drab first-year plumage. This smart male was ringed in one of our group member’s garden close to Lytchett Bay.

 

Another species we only ring occasionally is Jay, an aggressive and noisy bird in the hand and one that will leave deep marks on your fingers if they get anywhere near its bill. We have ringed four recently at our new site, it would be nice to get a recovery.

 

One of the ongoing puzzles that ringing may solve is the issue of ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaffs. This bird seen and ringed at one of our sites in Poole calls and sings like a Siberian (race tristis) has the whitish belly and green fringes to the flight feathers, yet in certain lights shows greenish tones in the upperparts. Body feathers accidentally shed in the ringing process have been sent for DNA analysis but as only mitochondrial DNA markers are available this will merely tell us what its mother was! Tristis is increasingly being touted as a full species, based mainly on its unique vocalisations, so robust identification criteria are needed.

 

Over the last few months I have been ringing with a young lady named Fenja. She recently returned from a voluntary research expedition to the lowland rainforest of south-east Peru where she assisted in wildlife censuses and ringing. During her stay they trapped 32 species of rainforest birds, all but one have been seen by me in one place or another, but I am quite envious of the photos of her holding a Hairy-crested Antbird, a species I have never even seen.

 

Towards the end of March our ringing group held its AGM, this time in a more professional looking location than my conservatory. As always it took ages to work through the agenda because we kept getting side-tracked (but some of us expected that and brought some beer along). L-R: Shaun Robson, Andy Welch, Olly Slessor, Ginny Carvisiglia, me, Chris Minvalla, Mike Gould, Daniel Whitelegg, Paul Morton, Carol Greig, Sean Walls, Bob Gifford and Brian Cresswell. Out of shot are Ian Alexander, Kath Clay and Terry Elborn. We thank Brian and Sean for allowing us to use the Biotrack offices for the meeting.

 

At the end of every AGM Bob awards the so-called ‘Stoate Award’ for the worst data submission in the last year. This time he performed it in the manner of the Oscars, calling on Shaun to open the envelope and read out the ‘winner’, then declaring a mistake had been made and then having it read out again. As expected I was the recipient, but I pointed out that I entered 64% of all the data submitted last year and therefore more mistakes were to be expected. The actual award is an unidentifiable ornamental bird, I’d rather it was the stuffed Eagle Owl in corner of the photo.

 

However the worse sin was that occasionally, when the program rejected a bird’s biometrics on the basis of it being too heavy, I would type ‘fat bastard’ or ‘who ate all the pies’ in the comments box. Judging from the photo above I think that’s a case of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’!

1st – 4th March 2017 – Paris part 2 and Versailles   Leave a comment

In the last post I described the first three days of our trip to Paris which involved both sightseeing and a visit to my friend John at nearby L’Isle Adam, whom I have known since 1969.

This post covers the remaining three days with more visits to Paris and to the Palace of Versailles.

 

On 1st March John drove us to the Palace of Versailles about an hour’s drive to the south-west of L’Isle Adam. These golden gates were torn down during the French Revolution and have only recently been restored.

 

Once past the golden gates we could clearly see imposing facade of Louis XIV’s famous palace. From Wikipedia: The Palace of Versailles, Château de Versailles, or simply Versailles is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. When the château was built, Versailles was a small village dating from the 11th century; today, however, it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) southwest of the centre of the French capital (point zero at square in front of Notre Dame). Versailles was the seat of political power in the Kingdom of France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved the royal court from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789, within three months after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.

 

We expected rain to arrive in the afternoon so planned to visit the extensive gardens first. However the rain had already started by the time we got there so our time in the gardens was fairly short.

 

Not only was cold and wet with very low light levels but as it was still winter little was in leaf or in bloom ….

 

…. even so the statues, lakes and ornamental gardens exuded grandeur.

 

However grandeur takes on a whole new meaning once you enter the Château and see the chapel ….

 

…. and that theme continues when you enter the state rooms with their majestic murals and ….

 

…. wonderfully decorative ceilings.

 

I took so many pictures of these extraordinary rooms that it is difficult to know which to use.

 

One of the most celebrated rooms is the King’s bedchamber. In the highly stylised ceremonial traditions of the Ancien Régime’s absolute monarchy, Louis XIV just about ran the country from his bedroom.

 

Imagine waking up to this on your ceiling!

 

But the most famous room of all, perhaps the most famous room in any palace anywhere in the world, is the Hall of Mirrors.

 

From Wikipedia: the principal feature of this hall is the seventeen mirror-clad arches that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors with a total complement of 357 used in the decoration of the galerie des glaces. The arches themselves are fixed between marble pilasters whose capitals depict the symbols of France. These gilded bronze capitals include the fleur-de-lys and the Gallic cockerel or rooster. Many of the other attributes of the Hall of Mirrors were lost to war for financial purposes, such as the silver table pieces and guéridons, which were melted by order of Louis XIV in 1689 to finance the War of the League of Augsburg.

 

Used mainly for ceremonial reasons this hall is simply stunning.

 

Another impressive room was the 120m long Gallery of Battles intended to glorify French military history from the Battle of Tolbiac c496 to the Battle of Wagram in 1809.Gallery of Battles, with its 30+ panels (but no panels depicting Waterloo or WW1 or WW2!).

 

From Wikipedia: The Battle of Wagram (5–6 July 1809) was a military engagement of the Napoleonic Wars that ended in a decisive victory for Emperor Napoleon I’s French and allied army against the Austrian army under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen. Try as I might, it is very difficult to photograph a painting when other members of the public are milling around it and get all the angles perfectly straight.

 

After three days of rather wet weather, Thursday 2nd was warm and sunny and we took the opportunity to see the obligatory tourist highlights.  We took the Metro to the Trocadero but low sun spoilt the view of the Eiffel Tower.

 

However by crossing the Seine to the Champ de Mars we had great views. However Margaret, who suffers from vertigo, didn’t fancy a trip to the top (or even to the first stage) and as I’ve been to the top several times we gave it a miss.

 

From Wikipedia: The Eiffel Tower is a wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. Constructed from 1887–89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world; 6.91 million people ascended it in 2015. The tower is 324 metres tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building, and the tallest structure in Paris. Its base is square, measuring 125 metres on each side. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930. Due to the addition of a broadcasting aerial at the top of the tower in 1957, it is now taller than the Chrysler Building by 5.2 metres. Excluding transmitters, the Eiffel Tower is the second-tallest structure in France after the Millau Viaduct. The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union. Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or lift to the first and second levels. The climb from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the climb from the first level to the second. Although there is a staircase to the top level, it is usually only accessible by lift.

 

From underneath, looking up at the restaurant on the first stage.

 

From the Champ de Mars we crossed the Seine and could look back at the museums of the Trocadero.

 

Soon we reached the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This is the view to the east looking towards the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre ….

 

And this is the view to the west towards the Arc du Triomphe.

 

TheArc du Triomphe stands in the centre of Place Charles de Gaule and commemorates those who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Twelve avenues radiate out from the Place, however again Margaret didn’t want to go to the top to see the view.

 

We caught the Metro to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre. By now we were pretty foot sore, here Margaret stops to rest her feet and admire a pigeon.

 

From Wikipedia: The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris commonly known as simply Sacré-Cœur is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Paris. A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1871 Franco-Prussian War and the socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighbourhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. It was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.

The church is on the highest point of the City of Paris and the view is excellent.

 

The narrow streets and courtyards of Montmartre are well known for their quaint shops and picturesque appearance ….

 

…. none more so than the Place du Tertre which is packed with artists trying sell their wares to the tourists.

 

Once the centre of Paris’s modern art movement, now you are accosted at every step by an artist who wants to paint your portrait or caricature. One told Margaret he could make her look like the Mona Lisa.

 

Descending the hill we arrived at Place Pigale, famous for its many nightclubs, none more so than the Moulin Rouge ….

 

…. although some of the clubs we passed looked rather more seedy.

 

John had agreed to meet up with a couple of his old friends from work and had come into Paris to meet them. we met up with him at the Gare du Lyons and from there he showed us another part of Paris where he once lived (and where I twice visited him in the 70s). We entered the enormous Printemps store, not because we wanted to buy anything ….

 

…. but because John wanted to show us the wonderful stain glass dome on the top floor.

 

We met up with John’s friends Quan (centre right) and Lily (right) in an Irish bar and then went to another place to eat, it was a very pleasant evening with most enjoyable company.

 

On the way back we passed the Opera House and La Madeleine (above), a church built to celebrate the glory of Napoleon’s Army. Unfortunately one side was covered for renovation.

 

On Friday 3rd we caught the Metro to the east end of the CH and walked across the Seine to Les Invalides.

 

From Wikipedia: Les Invalides commonly known as Hôtel national des Invalides, is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the burial site for some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte.

 

Louis XIV had this royal chapel with its beautiful dome built in 1708. Beyond the crucifix and the glass panel is the much plainer chapel (as apparently ‘fits their status’) built for the war veterans.

 

Below the dome now rests the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon died and was buried on St Helena in 1821 where he had been exiled by the British. In 1840 permission was granted for his remains to be returned to Paris where a state funeral was held.

 

We visited Napoleon’s original burial site on St Helena as part of our Atlantic Odyssey in April 2016. There can’t be that many people who have been to both of his burial-places within 12 months! Interesting this site along with Longwood House where Napoleon lived have been declared French sovereign territory meaning that there has to be an honorary French consul on the islands to administer them!

 

We didn’t have enough time to look at all the French military museums so waked across the imposing courtyard and back to the north bank of the Seine. Interestingly one facade was covered for renovation but the coverings were a fabric printed with an image of the original building, so from a distance the grandeur of the place was maintained.

 

Place de La Concorde is the largest public square in Paris. Constructed in 1755 to honour Louis XV it was renamed Place de la Révolution in the French Revolution. The new revolutionary government erected the guillotine in the square, and it was here that King Louis XVI and many others were executed.

 

We also paid a visit to the nearby Musée de l’Orangerie to see more impressionist and post impressionist paintings. This is Renoir’s ‘Portrait de deux fillettes’.

 

But the main attraction and the reason we had come was to see the eight panels of water lilies painted by Monet. These are housed in two oval shaped rooms each containing two long and shorter panels. Here art students practice their Monet technique with varying degrees of success.

 

Close to the painting just look a mess of colour but seen from a distance they are a delight.

 

Another painting we saw, not that day but earlier in the week at the Musee d’Orsay was van Gogh’s wonderful ‘The Church at Auvers’ ….

 

…. after we returned from Paris John picked us up and took us to the nearby village of Auvers where we saw the church the painting was based on. Using a wide-angle setting has meant that the verticals in my photo as are almost as wobbly as in van Gogh’s rendition.

 

In the village we visited the simple grave site where Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theodore are buried. Surprisingly no ornate tomb in Cimetière du Père Lachaise for one of the world’s best ever artists.

 

All that was left to do on the 4th was to get the train back to Gare du Nord and get the Eurostar to London and the bus home to Poole.

 

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It had been a very enjoyable week and quite a change from the usual birdwatching trips. Margaret very much enjoyed her first visit to Paris and I was able to visit a few places for the first time and see many wonderful sites once more. It was also great to meet up with John and Florence once again and we thank them for their hospitality.

25th – 28th February 2017 – Paris part 1   Leave a comment

I have visited Paris at least five times, the first on a school exchange visit the remainder to see my friend John who has lived near there for much of the past forty years, but Margaret has never been, so a week staying with John whilst we ‘did the sights’.

Rather than fly, we travelled to Paris on the Eurostar and John met us at Gare du Nord.

 

Here we are with John and his wife Florence at their home in L’Isle Adam. I first met John in 1969, we shared accommodation for four years at University in Leeds. After graduating he moved to Paris, after a spell back in the UK he returned to France and eventually settled in L’Isle Adam, a pretty town on the banks of the River Oise some 40km north of Paris.

 

That evening we went into L’Ise Adam and had a meal at a restaurant by the River Oise.

 

The following morning John took for a walk around the town that has been his home for the last twenty years. This is the town hall.

 

The local market was full of delicious cheeses, sausages and fruit. Margaret was quite taken by the wide choice and was keen to sample what was on offer.

 

Being a Sunday John was able to drive us into the centre of Paris – although we got caught up with a Mardis Gras festival.

 

Not the cultural experience you would expect in the capital of France.

 

We visited the famous Cimetière du Père Lachaise to the east of the city centre, the world’s most visited cemetery.

 

The cemetery holds a remarkable number of tombs of famous French artists, musicians and politicians plus some foreigners who have died in the city. We didn’t have time to seek out graves of the twenty or so famous people who I was familiar with but we did locate the final resting place of Oscar Wilde (traditionally female fans of his works kissed the enormous headstone wearing bright red lipstick, but due to the fear of damage the headstone has been encased in glass).

 

We passed the tomb of Frédéric Chopin (John tells a wonderful story of an old school friend of his whose life’s ambition was to play Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary’ in the middle of a pub brawl and he actually succeeded in doing so).

 

But the tomb we wanted most to see was that of rock star and poet Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors who died in Paris in 1971 at the age of 27. The original tomb was covered in graffiti by fans and the stone bust of the singer was stolen in 1988. The entire tomb was replaced in 1990 and fenced off from the public. The Greek inscription translates as translated as ‘faithful to his spirit’ or ‘against the devil within’.

 

Later we headed to the Place de la Bastille, the site of the former prison which was stormed at the start of the French Revolution on the 14th July 1789. The monument was unfortunately partially hidden by hoardings, presumably for renovation.

 

 

Nearby is the new Bastille Opera House.

 

We took a wander around the area where John first lives when he worked in Paris in the mid 70s and passed his old (somewhat basic) flat that I stayed at in 1974. The area has had a major facelift in the intervening 43 years.

 

This bottle store looked quite enticing (because its attractively backlit – not because it full of booze!)

 

On the Monday Margaret and I headed into Paris on the train and visited the Louvre. It was a very wet but at least we would be inside ….

 

…. however we hadn’t bargained for the hour long wait in the rain to get in. Paris is still on a heightened security alert and all bags are searched before entering historic buildings.

 

The Louvre is one of the most important (and one of the most rambling) museums in the world and is packed to the brim with countless priceless works of art including this gallery of French sculptures ….

 

…. these bronze statues known as ‘the Four Captives’ are by Dutch sculptor Martin Van Den Bogaert and represent four nations: Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Brandenburg and the Dutch Republic defeated by the armies of Louis XIV. Originally in one of Louis XIV’s palaces the statue was brought to Les Invalides and then to the Louvre. Each of the four statues is supposed to portray a different aspect of defeat.

 

There are also galleries of wonderful Assyrian (above), Greek and Roman sculptures ….

 

…. and mosaics.

 

Not forgetting, of course, the iconic Venus de Milo. The following is from Wikipedia: an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Created sometime between 130 and 100 BCE, it is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (Venus to the Romans). It is a marble sculpture, slightly larger than life size at 203 cm (6 ft 8 in) high. Part of an arm and the original plinth were lost following its discovery. From an inscription that was on its plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch; earlier, it was mistakenly attributed to the master sculptor Praxiteles. It is currently on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The statue is named after the Greek island of Milos, where it was discovered.

 

Of course the Louvre is better known for its vast collection of paintings, none more famous that the Mona Lisa, a portrait of Lisa Gherardini by Leonardo de Vinci, painted between 1503 and 1506. Considered the most famous and most valuable (estimated at $880,000,000) painting in the world, it has been in the Louvre since 1797 (apart for a time in the early 20th century when it was stolen by an employee).

 

Due to a number of attempts to damage the painting over the years it is now enclosed in a climate controlled chamber behind bullet proof glass. Just getting to see this masterpiece is tricky due to the huge crowds that throng the Louvre. Of course people want a photo but why do they have to use a selfie stick to get themselves in the picture!

 

We could have spent several hours more looking at these treasures but after a few hours you get museum-fatigue and your brain can take in no more. If I lived in Paris I would go regularly and do one section thoroughly each time. Rather than leave via the main entrance we descended to the shopping mall below which led directly to the Metro. If we had known about this initially we could have avoided the long queue or at least if there had been a long queue, stood in it out of the rain.

 

All underground systems have their buskers, most of which are totally ignored by people rushing to or from their place of work, but the standard of musicianship in the Metro was outstanding, particularly this opera singer who was giving a rendition worthy of a concert hall (yes, we did give her a tip).

 

Although still wet, the weather wasn’t as bad the following day so we headed for the  Île de la Cité ….

 

… and the Palais du Justice.

 

Within its grounds is the Concergerie, which was used as a prison during the Revolution to hold those awaiting the guillotine, and preserves the cell that held Marie Antoinette.

 

We also visited one of the best churches in Paris, indeed in the world – Sainte Chapelle. The lower chapel where you enter is pleasant enough ….

 

…. and has a highly decorated ceiling ….

 

…. but when you ascend the narrow spiral staircase to the upper chapel your breath is taken away. This was on a dull day, imagine it in full sunshine with the light streaming through the windows.

 

From Wikipedia: The Sainte-Chapelle is a royal chapel in the Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century, on the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris, France. Begun some time after 1238 and consecrated on 26 April 1248, the Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns—one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom. Along with the Conciergerie, the Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité. Although damaged during the French Revolution, and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collection anywhere in the world.

 

We still had one more architectural wonder to see, the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral. The queue to the mainland stretched across the bridge to the south bank of the Seine so we could watch the tourist boats pass by as we waited.

 

Notre Dame de Paris built between 1162 and 1345 ‘is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world’ (Wikipedia).

 

The beautiful rose window.

 

As we left we got caught in a torrential downpour and sought shelter in a restaurant adjacent to the cathedral. Not the cheapest of places to have lunch. With the weather improving we walked along the south left (south) bank of the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay.

 

The museum was originally a railway station and by 1970 it was due for demolition. However following a campaign it was saved as a historic building and turned into museum designed to bridge the gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Georges Pompidou Centre.

 

A former clock is now an ornamental window giving views out over the city ….

 

…. towards Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur.

 

The museum holds many impressionist paintings including works by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gaugin. Here is Claude Monet’s ‘London, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining through the Fog’, painted in1904.

 

And here his famous ‘The Water Lily Pond’.

 

But if I had to chose my favourite artist it would be a toss-up between Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh. This is Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait.

 

As with the Louvre the day before we could have spent longer had time allowed but as well as getting museum-fatigue we were both feeling the effects of all that walking. we returned to L’Isle Adam and had a restful evening.

Part 2 of my account will deal with our visits to the Palais de Versailles, Eifel Tower, Arc du Triumph, Montmartre, Les Invalides and Place de la Corncorde.

Central Peru part 7: the pelagic – 26th November 2016.   2 comments

This is the final post about the Central Peru tour I did in November 2016 and deals with the pelagic boat trip on the final day.

 

 

 

central-peru-map

Over the last 17 days we had followed this route clockwise from Lima. Now we were back at the capital for a final day of birding – not onshore but at sea on a pelagic trip 35 nautical miles (65 km) offshore.

 

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So early on the final day it was down to the docks ….

 

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…. to set off on our little open boat past the Peruvian Navy’s submarine ….

 

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and head out to sea ….

 

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As we passed the breakwater we saw a Hudsonian Whimbrel ….

 

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…. as well as several Surfbirds, a bird with one of the strangest non-breeding distributions on the planet, after leaving their Alaska/Yukon breeding grounds the entire population occupies a narrow intertidal band a few metres wide and 17,500 km long from Alaska to the Straits of Magellan. I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo as the boat sped by so I used this shot by Marlin Harms from Wikipedia.

 

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Leaving the coast behind we headed towards the Islas Palominas ….

 

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…. passing sizeable flocks of Inca terns …

 

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…. and rocks covered with Peruvian Boobies.

 

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We spent some time at the Islas Palominas ….

 

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…. that held truly impressive numbers of South American Sea Lions.

 

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Many were hauled out on the rocks. The darker ones are still wet from their last swim.

 

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A small number of impressive bull sea lions were present.

 

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A boat load of people were in the water …

 

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…. swimming with the sea lions ….

 

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…. whilst undoubtedly a great experience for the swimmers, I’m sure it disturbs the sea lions, all the individuals on shore are alert and moving up the rocks (our boat is much further away and the photo was taken with a 1000mm telephoto setting) ….

 

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…. in addition taking swimmers into such heavy surf close to the rocks is the height of folly (I was H&S man at work and can’t help doing ‘risk assessments’, even now).

 

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Many other birds were seen including Peruvian Boobies, now much reduced in numbers compared to 30 years ago ….

 

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…. although still providing a spectacle as they fly back to the rocks …

 

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Once very common the boobies, like several other birds of the Humboldt Current, have seen catastrophic declines due to over fishing and climate change have all had an impact.

 

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Three species of cormorant were seen, the elegant Red-legged ….

 

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….Neotropic, which is more usually seen on freshwater lakes and the Guanay Cormorant, which although the commonest, was never seen close enough to photograph.

 

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Another ‘guanay’ bird is the Peruvian Pelican, a larger version of the more familiar Brown Pelican.

 

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For a centuries the droppings (guano) of all those cormorants and boobies was harvested for fertiliser apparently without harmful effects. However recently these ‘guanay’ birds particularly Guanay Cormorant have dropped markedly. On a similar trip in 1989 I recorded over 6000 Guanay Cormorants, this time we saw less than 1000. The major factors driving this decline seem to be the El Nino phenomena, climate change and overfishing. Here the loading platform and associated warehouses of the guano collectors can be seen.

 

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Other birds seen included the elegant Inca Tern ….

 

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… often seen in large tightly knit flocks.

 

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This lovely shot was taken by my friend and room-mate Steve Lowe.

 

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The cold waters of the Humboldt Current which flows up from the Antarctic has allowed a separate species of penguin to evolve off the coast of central South America, named (perhaps unsurprisingly) Humboldt Penguin.

 

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On the rocks were a number of Blackish Oystercatchers ….

 

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…. and the only passerine of the boat trip, Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes.

 

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Leaving the islands we headed out to deeper waters.

 

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On an earlier post I described Belcher’s Gull as being ‘inappropriately’ named. A friend pointed out that it wasn’t inappropriate as the species was named after an Mr Belcher, so perhaps I should have said ‘unfortunately’ named. The original Band-tailed Gull was split into two – the Atlantic Olrog’s Gull and the Pacific Belcher’s Gull. I suppose we should be grateful the Atlantic species wasn’t named after any other bodily function!

 

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We only saw a pair of the delicately plumaged and ‘appropriately’ named Grey Gull.

 

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Further out under the persistent grey clouds we saw our first Swallow-tailed Gulls.

 

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Swallow-tailed Gull breeds only on the Galapagos Islands (a location I have never visited). There are just two species of gull breeding on the Galapagos, the other – Lava Gull is one just of two gull species worldwide that I have never seen. The unusually large eyes must mean that it is adapted to foraging at night.

 

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The upper-winged pattern makes Swallow-tailed look like a large version of Sabine’s Gull (an Arctic breeding species that also winters in the Humboldt current). We also saw Sabine’s on the pelagic but due to the rocking motion of the boat the photos were too poor to use.

 

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Another gull we saw was Franklin’s Gull, named after legendary Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin whose expedition to discover the North-west Passage ended in such tragedy. The species breeds in the prairies of North America and winters in the Humboldt Current.

 

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The species occasionally turns up in the UK as a vagrant and I have seen it six times at home, all in Dorset or neighbouring Devon and Hampshire.

 

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A migrant from the opposite direction was this Chilean Skua which breeds in the far south of South America.

 

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Another migrant from the south was this White-chinned Petrel, the nearest breeding colonies are in the Falklands and South Georgia. Possibly not the best name for the species as the ‘white chin’ can be as little as a single white feather and can even be absent.

 

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But one of the highlights of this pelagic was the storm-petrels. We saw no fewer than six species, four of which were life birds for me. These are Elliots (or White-vented Storm Petrels). The only known breeding grounds of this bird are the Galapagos and some islets off north Chile.

 

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The diagnostic white vent and lower belly can be seen here, the pale panel in the underwing secondaries is best seen in the top photo.

 

IMG_5420 Wilson's SP

Wilson’s Storm-petrel is similar but much more widespread (the commonest seabird and possibly the commonest wild bird in the entire world, but we saw very few on this trip). It differs from Elliot’s by the lack of a white vent and a different flight action. I took this photo in the subantarctic in April 2016.

 

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I’ve been unable to conclusively identify the storm-petrel in this picture. It is in moult which the Elliot’s weren’t. I suppose it is a Wilson’s but I have never seen them looking this long-winged. The other four species we saw can be easily excluded by rump colouration/shape.

 

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From the small and crowded boat, and not having my DSLR with me, I found photographing fast-moving stormies to be very hard. The following three pictures (all of life birds) have been taken from external sources. Wedge-rumped Storm-petrel breeds mainly on the Galapagos but also along the coasts of Peru and Chile. Photo (taken from Wikipedia) by Brian Gratwicke

 

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Another life bird was Markham’s Storm-petrel, a large and dark stormie. Until recently its breeding grounds were unknown but colonies (underground burrows) have been found several Km inland in the Atacama Desert of Peru and Chile. This photo by Cock Reijnders was taken from Internet Bird Collection. I also saw the northern hemisphere Black Storm-petrel which is very like Markham’s but is smaller with a different flight action.

 

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The most striking stormie was Hornby’s (or Ringed Storm-petrel). Its breeding grounds have never been discovered but are thought to be in the Atacama Desert. Photo by Cock Reijnders taken from Internet Bird Collection.

 

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But the best bird of the day and one of the top five birds of the trip was this Waved Albatross ….

 

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This magnificent bird breeds only on the Galapagos and is one of four albatross species confined to the northern and central Pacific.

 

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Waved Albatross is the new last albatross species that I will ever see. I hope to do a blog post on my observations of the world’s albatrosses soon but I need to assemble the photos, some of which are on 35mm slides.

 

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After our return to Lima we had a quick look at this lagoon near the port.

 

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As well as expected species like this Snowy Egret ….

 

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…. Grey-hooded Gull….

 

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…. and this adult Belcher’s Gull ….

 

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…. there were thousands upon thousands of Franklin’s Gulls. Our estimates varied from 20,000 to 100,000 but I made do with the lower estimate.

 

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Franklin’s Gull can be distinguished from the similar but larger Laughing Gull in winter by the partial black hood and prominent eye crescents.

 

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The gulls were easily spooked by people getting to close ….

 

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…. but the resultant clouds were quite spectacular.

 

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Franklin’s Gulls are unusual in that they have a complete moult after breeding ( as most gulls do ) and then again in the wintering grounds (a moult strategy shared as far as I know only by Willow Warbler). That said most of these individuals don’t seem to have started the moult yet.

 

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This lad seems oblivious to spectacle behind him.

 

From here is was just a short drive to a hotel for a wash and brush up and then to the airport for the flight home. All my foreign trips are interesting and rewarding experiences but this trip was exceptional in many respects. Peru is one of the most interesting of all Neotropical countries and I hope to return for a fourth visit sometime in the future.

Central Peru part 6: Apaylla to San Mateo, Marcapomacocha and the Santa Eulania valley – 23rd-25th November 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers our final leg of the trip, back westwards to the continental divide and the descent to San Mateo with birding over the following two days at Marcapomacocha and the Santa Eulania Valley.

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Following on from the last post we climbed out of the humid subtropics and headed westwards towards the high Andes.

 

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Soon we were out of the cloud and back in puna grassland.

 

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Domesticated llamas replace sheep at these altitudes.

 

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Llamas were almost certainly domesticated from the Guanaco, whilst the wool bearing Alpaca originated from the Vicuña.

 

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A Variable Hawk watched us from a nearby ridge. Formerly treated as two species the lower elevation Red-backed Hawk and high elevation Puna Hawk; it was shown a decade or so ago that there were no consistent differences between the two and they were lumped under the name Variable Hawk. Back in 1989 as we climbed the Andes on my first visit to Peru, I asked the leader how you separated the two. ‘Easy’ was his reply, they are Red-backed before the lunch stop and Puna afterwards!

 

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It was a long, but scenic drive punctuated with birding stops but became easier as the latter part was on tarmac. However we did meet some serious congestion when we reached the Central Highway.

 

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We were running short of daylight when we reached the continental divide at Ticlio Pass at an altitude of 4828m but we did have a short stop at Ticlio Bog.

 

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In spite of the late hour we had good views of White-bellied Cinclodes, a critically endangered species restricted to a few high altitude bogs in Central Peru. (Photo taken the following day in good light). The world population may be as low as 50 pairs as the bogs are suffering from overgrazing, drying out – in the long term due to climate change (all are fed from glacial meltwater from glaciers that will eventually disappear) and in the short term, the effects of La Niña.

 

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We had to descend for about an hour to San Mateo for the night. The next morning we retraced our steps back up to the pass and along a side road. At least we didn’t have to be there for dawn as there is virtually no bird activity that early on at these altitudes.

 

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We soon started seeing cracking new birds like this Junin Canastero …

 

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… Dark-winged Miner …

 

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… and at the highest of the bogs – Andean Snipe …

 

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… and another couple of pairs of White-bellied Cinclodes. For a critically endangered bird they were remarkably easy to see.

 

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Dave, one of the participants, using a GPS to track our journey, declared that we were at 4898m asl. This was the highest I have ever been. However I realised that if I climbed two metres up this rock I could reach a nice round 4900m. I have often wished I could reach 5000m but there is no way I could climb a further 100m vertically. That said I had acclimatised and could walk about without the extreme shortage of breath and headaches that occurred at the start of the trip.

 

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The acclimatisation was to be put to good use as our next stop was the bog at Marcapomacocha.

 

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Whilst it was a couple of hundred metres lower than the Andean Snipe site we were to spend several hours jumping from one tussock to the next as we searched for our target species.

 

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The meltwater from the glacier spreads out forming this hillside of shallow puddles interspersed with tussocks and cushion plants.

 

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Of course there were common Andean wetland species like Andean Goose ….

 

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… and Puna Ibis …

 

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… whilst a Variable Hawk soared overhead.

 

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With all dark underparts this was a very different bird than the one we saw the yesterday (hence the name). With so much variation in all populations it is understandable that the two former species were lumped, but on altitude alone this one would certainly qualify as a ‘puna’ hawk.

 

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White-winged Duica Finches were common.

 

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Although the epithets ‘white-winged’ and ‘finch’ are self-explanatory, no-one seems to know the origin of the world ‘duica’.

 

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In the drier areas around the bog we saw several small groups of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, the third sneedsnipe species of the trip (the only other one White-bellied, is only found in the far south of South America).

 

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There were several species of ground-tyrant on the bog, the neotropical equivalent of the wheatears, this is a Cinereous Ground-tyrant. Had we come in the austral winter then the place would have been stacked with various ground-tyrant species as many migrate north from Patagonia seeking the comparatively mild conditions of the central Andes.

 

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After some searching we eventually found the main prize …

 

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… the exquisite Diademed Sandpiper Plover …

 

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… one of the most beautiful waders in the world. It has a wide range from Peru to Chile but occurs only sparsely in high altitude bogs. For me it tied with Junin Grebe as ‘bird of the trip’ but it only came fourth in the group-wide poll.

 

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With this gem securely under the belt we slowly descended to the Santa Eulania valley. On this dirt road it took several hours before we reached our next destination …

 

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…. there were many distractions both avian and scenic.

 

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Our driver Julio (L) and tour guide Eustace.

 

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In the late afternoon we slogged up this gully at an altitude of about 4000m into the dwarf scrub (we are now of course on the dry side of the Andes so there is no  temperate forest here).

 

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As well as common and familiar species like this House Wren ….

 

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…. we found the beautiful Pied-crested Tit-tyrant …

 

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… surely one of the cutest of the 436 strong tyrant-flycatcher family.

 

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A small flock of Spot-winged Pigeons was a surprise as they are mainly confined to the east slope of the Andes.

 

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Our main target was this Rusty-bellied Brushfinch which was a life bird for me.

 

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With the day drawing on it was time to head down to the town of Santa Eulania which at an altitude of a mere 1000m was a long way below.

 

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Driving down these narrow dirt roads in the dark was quite scary (these photos were taken of the same area the following day).

 

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I was at the back of the minibus and on the left so I could see directly down a 1000m or so to the river glinting in the moonlight.

 

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We also had a puncture but fortunately not on of the perilous hairpin bends. All of the staff seemed to have left the hotel leaving only a night-watchman so it was a bit of a Fawlty Towers situation. We ordered in pizza for our evening meal and ate it out on the lawn.

 

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The following morning we returned up the Santa Eulania road and took a side road to reach the other side of the valley.

 

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We spent a few hours birding an altitude of about 3000m.

 

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This Bronze-tailed Comet was a new bird for me as was the pretty, yet elusive Rufous-breasted Warbling Finch (but I didn’t get any photos of that one).

 

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Again there were plenty of common species around such as this Chiguanco Thrush.

 

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Lower down see saw this Pacific (aka Peruvian) Screech Owl.

 

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We descended still further and crossed the valley via this bridge.

 

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Views from the bridge in both directions were quite spectacular.

 

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From here we joined up with the road that we used last night and returned to the hotel. We packed up and had a leisurely lunch before heading off to Lima for our final night in Peru.

 

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….. but just before we left we had views of this female Peruvian Sheartail in the hotel garden – our last ‘quality’ land bird of the trip. Photo by tour participant Steve Lowe.

 

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The drive back into Lima was, as expected slow and tedious but we arrived at the hotel with plenty of time for a clean up and a repack.

 

The trip wasn’t quite over, as although our land birding was over we had another day before our evening flight home and that would involve a pelagic out on the Pacific Ocean. The subject (of course) of the next post.

Central Peru part 5: Lake Junin to Apaylla – 19th – 23rd November 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers our journey from Lake Junin across the puna and the descent (again) into the more humid eastern flank of the Andes, visiting several different valleys before heading back west towards the continental divide.

 

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To reach our next destination at Villa Rica we took a short-cut through the mountains, that way we hoped to avoid all the lorries crawling along the main road.

 

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It was well worth it as we had great views of these Vicuña, wild camelids of the puna grasslands.

 

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Vicuña wool is said to be the softest in the world and they were once almost hunted to extinction. Vicuñas are now well protected and have been reintroduced to parts of their native range.

 

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The short cut was going well until after an hour of more we found the road ahead was closed. There was a diversion but it was on more of a mule track than a road. In spite of some scary moments we made it through.

 

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The following day as we descended into the cloud forest again we realised that the bamboo had flowered recently and now was in seed. Various seedeaters were common and we even saw the nomadic Slaty Finch, although the equally nomadic Maroon-chested Ground Dove was a ‘heard only’.

 

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By lunch time we arrived at Ulcumana Lodge, a beautiful location in some charming subtropical forest. The forest here was similar to that at the Carpish Tunnel but was more extensive and less degraded.

 

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It would be worth the tour operators spending less time at the Carpish Tunnel and more here, but I would have hated to go home without the Orange-breasted Falcon under the belt that we only saw at Carpish.

 

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We saw many birds here but few were photographed, at least by me. Here is the diminutive Peruvian Tyrannulet ….

 

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…. and here the rather more impressive Golden-headed Quetzal. The best birds by far were seen at night, a magnificent Swallow-tailed Nightjar and also Cloud Forest Screech-owl a species new to the Birdquest Life List (which now must be approaching 10,100) Photos of both will be available on the Birdquest tour report once it has been uploaded to their web-site.

 

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We didn’t have enough time at the lodge as the next day we had to move on, on route we saw a whole new range of birds resulting in multiple ‘write-ins’ and I managed to photograph these oropendola nests if not the oropendolas themselves.

 

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On route we saw this Cliff Flycatcher ….

 

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The two adults were feeding a juvenile.

 

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The Cliff Flycatcher’s rufous flight feathers shows nicely in this shot.

 

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We descended further into the lowlands where even more ‘write-ins’ were added to our ever-growing list ….

 

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Blue-and-White Swallows were a familiar site although this young bird is neither very blue nor very white

 

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There are few hotels in this remote area and we spent the night in this basic accommodation, but as our evening  meal was prepared by our helpful drivers and they had a stock of cold beers in for us, it was no great hardship.

 

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The following day we headed for the nearby Upper Mantaro Valley, an area that has been neglected by birders yet has recently be shown to harbour several endemic species.

 

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Some of the first birds we saw were the widespread Andean Guan ….

 

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…. and Spectacled Whitestart

 

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The recently described Black-spectacled Brush Finch is a much more restricted ranged bird ….

 

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…. although I prefer the alternative name of Black-goggled Brush Finch.

 

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White-winged Black Tyrant is quite widespread ….

 

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….. but the ‘Mantaro’ Wren is a newly discovered (and possibly still undescribed) form of Plain-tailed Wren that almost certainly deserves specific status ….

 

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…. the lightly barred tail and paler grey head are some of the features that distinguish ‘Mantaro’ Wren from the highly disjunct Plain-tailed Wren. Photo by fellow tour participant  Steve Lowe.

 

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Other goodies in the Mantaro drainage included Eye-ringed Thistletail.

 

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One problem of using abridge camera is that it is impossible to get a sharp focus if there is vegetation between you and the bird, but at least I got a record shot of this Creamy-crested Spinetail.

 

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We had good views of this Violet-fronted Starfrontlet (don’t hummers have the most marvellous names) ….

 

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The Peruvian form of this species may be split as Huanaco Starfrontlet (and indeed already has been by the Lynx/BLI Illustrated Checklist) the remaining population would the become a Bolivian endemic and be known as Bolivian Starfrontlet.

 

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In due course we left the Mantaro drainage and headed towards our stop for the night ….

 

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….  more basic accommodation, but the single bright light by the outside wash basin attracted a multitude of moths and I took many photos to send to moth-er  friends back home (the hyphen is essential otherwise moth enthusiasts become ‘mothers’).

 

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The next morning we had a field breakfast just as the sun was touching the high peaks.

 

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It certainly was a breakfast table with a view.

 

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These cecropia trees are typical of the subtropics, the low cloud and poor visibility is typical of the subtropics as well!

 

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A Broad-winged Hawk, a winter visitor from North America watched from a nearby branch.

 

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During the morning we slowly gained altitude and left the subtropical zone and the humid eastern slope of the Andes behind. From here we would cross the continental divide and descend towards Lima. That will be the subject of the next post.

 

 

 

Central Peru part 4: Huariaca area and Lake Junin – 17th – 19th November 2016.   Leave a comment

 

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After leaving the Huanaco  we explored areas near Huariaca, notably this steep-sided canyon.

 

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It was a bit of a slog climbing up the steep sides but we were getting used to the altitude.

 

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Meanwhile our ever helpful drivers prepared lunch. Note how the use of a telephoto lens has altered perspective, the front of the bus appearing wider than the back. This ‘size illusion’ can be critical if you are comparing the size of one bird in a photo (say a peep) with another species (say a Dunlin) that is a little way behind it.

 

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Some of the species we encountered well familiar to us like Band-tailed Pigeon ….

 

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…. but eventually we found our target, the rare Rufous-backed Inca-finch.

 

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The following morning we stopped at an area of polylepis forest in the upper Huariaca valley.

 

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We encountered a number of localised species such as this Giant Conebill ….

 

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…. as well as widespread ones like Cream-winged Cinclodes.

 

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One of our main targets was Stripe-headed Antpitta which had eluded us up to now. We eventually caught up with it in this grove of gnarled polylepis trees.

 

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Much of the polylepis forest has been felled, either for firewood or to replace it with alien and wildlife unfriendly eucalyptus which is preferred as its fast growing straight trunks can be used in construction and as windbreaks. However as this photo shows if coppiced polylepis can grow straight and quite quickly.

 

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By the afternoon we arrived in rocky basin that holds the enormous Lake Junin, the second largest lake in Peru (after Lake Titicaca)

 

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Surrounding areas held a good range of species including Burrowing Owl ….

 

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…. Puna Ibis ….

 

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…. this lovely pair of Aplomado Falcons ….

 

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…. the now familiar Black-billed Shrike Tyrant ….

 

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…. Ornate Tinamou (photo by my friend and trip participant Steve Lowe)

 

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Buff-breasted Earthcreepers showed nicely.

 

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In general there is less variation in English from one field guide/checklist to  another the Neotropics than in any faunal region yet the field guide confusingly calls this Plain-breasted Earthcreeper.

 

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This rodent was eventually identified as an Ashy Chinchilla Rat

 

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We could look out on the expansive waters of Lake Junin ….

 

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…. and the many lagoons that fringed its shores.

 

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Photography (for example of this Andean Avocet) was difficult as we would have flushed the birds if we had disembarked, so it had to be done through the single opening window which resulted in several of the group performing strange contortions.

 

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One of the stars of the show were these Chilean Flamingos ….

 

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…. but although Chileans were common we didn’t see James’ or Andean Flamingos, species that mainly occur on the salt flats further south.

 

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One of the highlight of this trip was seeing the normally invisible Black Rail. Although I have heard this species in the USA it is very rarely seen. Patiently waiting with our eyes fixed on this gap in the reeds we waited for one to respond to a tape, in the end we saw a pair but they was too quick for photos. The Lake Junin form differs vocally from other populations and probably should be split as Junin Rail.

 

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With storm clouds gathering ….

 

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…. it was time to head to the town of Junin for our overnight stop

 

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There was time for some birding on the outskirts of the town …,

 

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…. avoiding the gaze of a local knitter ….

 

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…. we searched for species like D’Orbigny’s Chat-tyrant and ….

 

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…. Andean Flicker

 

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The following morning we met up with a boatman who took us along a channel and out into the middle of the lake.

 

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The boat was at its mooring but the outboard was safely stowed elsewhere. The boatman slung the 80kg engine over his shoulder and ran towards us; all this at an altitude of 4100m !

 

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Many birds were seen on our way out such as this Great Egret

 

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Andean Gulls were breeding on the margins of the lake ….

 

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…. and were are constant companions until we were far from shore.

 

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The many ducks included Yellow-billed Teal ….

 

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…. Puna Teal ….

 

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…. and Andean Duck, a species that is sometimes lumped with the North American Ruddy Duck

 

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White-tufted Grebes were easy to find but they were not our main target ….

 

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Far out in the middle of the lake we came across four Junin Grebes, a flightless species endemic to this one lake. Official estimates give a population size of over 400, but our boatman, a local warden and others who know the area well think it could be as low as 40. The species is threatened by pollution from local mines and the introduction of Rainbow Trout.

 

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Until the 70s there were 23 species of grebe in the world but in a short space of time three went extinct, one each in Madagascar, Guatamala and Colombia. In each case it was due to a change in water use, usually the introduction of predatory fish which ate all their food or the pollution from agriculture. It now looks like two more species will join them in the near future, Junin Grebe and the Hooded Grebe of Patagonia. Junin Grebe was the last of the 20 extant grebes for my world list but my joy in seeing it was tempered by the thought that we could be some of the last birders to do so.

 

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Whilst the outboard and boatman were delivered to their rightful destinations we birded around the nearby buildings seeing many Bright-rumped Yellow-finches

 

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…. some living up to their name.

 

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Also there were good numbers of the beautiful Black Siskin.

 

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The male Black Siskin in particular is quite a stunner.

 

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We had good views of this Andean Cavy, the wild ancestor of the Guinea Pig.

 

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Our time at Lake Junin ended with a search for a hummer called Black-breasted Hillstar, whilst we did see it well, it was nesting inside a barn and the photos were poor. However this Magellanic Horned Owl that was found nearby posed nicely.