Archive for September 2013

22nd – 30th September – back home in Dorset.   Leave a comment

I returned from Fiji late on the 21st after a journey that lasted 47 hours and involved five flights. Although I have returned from the Pacific on previous trips, I have never felt so jet lagged, probably exacerbated by a nasty cold I picked up on route. My body stayed on Fiji time (eleven hours out), I would fall asleep each afternoon and then not sleep at night!

In spite of this I managed to visit Durlston on the 23rd, 25th and 26th to continue our ringing program, with several of our group away at the moment, I wished to ensure the coverage was as full as possible. We ringed good numbers of birds on the first two dates but the latter was curtailed by increasing wind and rain.

Feeling it would be too windy to ring on the 28th, I visited Portland Bird Observatory. There were very few birds about, but it proved to be an excellent social event, a chance to catch up with news and views from many of the Portland regulars, most of whom I have not seen since the spring. Also there was a chance to browse the Ob’s extensive natural history book store and of course I bought a couple of books.

One birder I haven’t seen for ages (mainly because he has been abroad for much of the year) is Paul Baker, aka Bagsy. Paul manages to update his blog daily, something I would like to do but have failed miserably to achieve. See http://bagsy-thecaptainslog.blogspot.co.uk/

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Bagsy poses with his eponymous new motor.

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I had better luck birding at nearby Lodmoor, here six out of a flock of seven Spoonbills were photographed flying over the marsh.

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Birders at Lodmoor seemed just as interested in a pair of Bar-headed Geese out in the middle of the marsh. Although a long distance migrant (breeding in Tibet and wintering in India) the chances of them being genuine migrants are close to zero.

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Up to 50 Mediterranean Gulls dropped in whilst I was at Lodmoor (at least four can be seen here with Black-headed Gulls). Once a scarce visitor to Dorset, now up to 100 pairs breed in the county and gatherings of up to 500 have been recorded in the Weymouth area.

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A winter plumaged Grey Plover at Lodmoor.

On the 29th Paul, Ian A and I ringed at Fleets Lane in Poole. We ringed about 45 birds. At this time of year most warblers have left with two exceptions, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Unlike most migrant warblers that winter south of the Sahara, the majority of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs winter in north Africa and the Mediterranean. Some over winter in the UK but these are thought (at least in the case of Blackcaps) to be birds from Europe rather than European breeders.

September ended with a very busy morning at Durlston. On a grey and misty morning, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps just poured through the garden. As always, we had to manage our operation to cope with large numbers and had to close some nets. By midday we had ringed 225 birds, all but 17 being the of two species mentioned above. Also there were large numbers of Swallows and Meadow Pipits moving overhead, involving thousands of birds. Durlston has to be one of the best places in the UK to see the spectacle of autumn migration.

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A small number of Meadow Pipits were ringed. The photo shows the very long tertials that completely cover the primaries on the folded wing.

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At this time of year Chiffchaffs have replaced Willow Warblers as the commonest Phylloscopus warbler. We trapped a single Willow today compared with 77 Chiffs. Although superficially similar, Chiffchaff (left) is slightly smaller, has a shorter supercilium, shorter primary extension, browner flanks and has a more rounded crown.

Posted September 30, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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18th September – a quick update from Fiji   Leave a comment

The trip to the South Pacific is nearing the end and I’ll be home at the weekend. As my usual tour company Birdquest were not running a tour to the South Pacific this year I booked with an American company Field Guides. As two of guys on this tour (including the person I was going to share with) has to cancel for personal reasons, I ended up with a tour that comprised of the leader Phil Gregory, four American ladies and me.

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Phil’s angels. L-R: Ellen, Terry, Phil, Valerie and Eva.

We started the tour on the French island of New Caledonia. Here we birded mainly in the forests of the Riviere Bleu National Park, but also on two offshore islands Ouvea and Lifou.

We managed to see all the endemic birds but one, the very elusive grassbird. In particular we had fantastic views of the bizarre Kagu along with 27 other endemic/near endemic species.

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The Kagu is real relict, the Coelocanth of the bird world, It appears to have remained unchanged on the island of New Caledonia and has remained unchanged for millions of years.

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Elsewhere on the island we saw the wonderful Cloven-feathered Dove

Later we visited two islands in the archipelago of Vanuatu, with most of the time spent on Espirito Santo. Many of the endemics are found on the very hard to access highlands, which are effectively out of reach to all but mountaineers. but we found the five lowland endemics after a bit of work.

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As well as birds endemic to Vanuatu we saw some regional endemics such as this South Melanesian Cuckooshrike

On Fiji we first visited the main island of Viti Levu where we found a wonderful series of endemic birds, Later we moved to the small island of Taveuni where we saw the legendary Silktail, a bizarre and elusive  bird of uncertain affinities, but which probably belongs in its own family. We also saw the gorgeous Golden Dove.

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Like the Kagu, the Silktail is another ancient relict. Confined to a couple of islands in Fiji, its nearest relative seems to be a the Papuan Drongo, which isn’t a drongo at all. It took a bit of bashing around in dense undergrowth to see this elusive bird, but it was well worth it.

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The Orange Dove, another Fijian endemic. Can you imagine a more absurd colour scheme for a pigeon?

We have one final island to visit, Kadavu, to the south of Viti Levu, before we make the long way home. I am currently staying within a few feet of the 180 degree longitude, so I could hardly be any further from home if I wanted to.

I will update the blog with a fuller account of the trip and lots more photos of this seldom visited, (at least by British birders) region of the world when I get home.

Posted September 18, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

4th September – Killing time at Sydney Airport   Leave a comment

One of the big problems with travel is the amount of time you spend doing absolutely nothing. Of course there are books to read, movies to watch and music to listen to on long plane journeys, but the reality is you are too knackered to really enjoy those things and too uncomfortable to get a decent kip.

I am on my way to New Caledonia, a French overseas territory in the Pacific. I left home before 1400 on the 2nd, took a bus to Heathrow which was delayed due to a problem with the aircon. At the airport I found I couldn’t board the plane to Sydney because I didn’t have a visa. But I protested ‘I’m not going to Australia, I’m staying in transit’. It transpired that because I was more than eight hours in transit I would have to pay £40 for a visa, although I could have got it for free if I had done it on line earlier. Nice of the travel agency to let me know! Anyway an hour later it was sorted and I could check in.

Seven hours later the plane stopped at Dubai where we all had to disembark. Once back on board we were told there was a problem with the aircon (what else?) Two hours later we were off and 14 hours after that I was in Sydney. Now due to the delay I didn’t have to wait more than eight hours for my connection so I wouldn’t have needed a visa after all (but I can’t get a refund). Oh the joys of travel, but as they say you can’t make an omelette without cracking an egg.

Its now 1000 on the 4th of September on a beautiful morning in Sydney (whatever happened to the 3rd of September) and in the afternoon I fly to Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. As there were no British bird tour group going to this region in 2013, I have joined an American outfit, Field Guides and this is my first trip with them. The main reason for visiting New Caledonia is to see the Kagu, a chicken sized bird found only there that has such an ancient ancestry that it has no close relatives and is placed in a family of its own.

After visiting New Caledonia we travel on to the island groups of Vanuatu and Fiji for more gripping birds. It is very unlikely I will get either wi-fi or spare time once there so I will probably not be able to post updates until I return.

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As we left Dubai there was a good view of the Burg Khalifa, at 830m the tallest building in the world. Desert haze and thick glass have reduced the image quality.

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Another view of the Dubai skyline with the Arabian Gulf behind.

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Approaching Sydney Harbour. The famous bridge can just be see in the lower left of the picture, whilst the sun is reflecting off Bondi Beach to the right.

Posted September 4, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

31st August – 1st September – Bournemouth Airshow.   Leave a comment

The Bournemouth Airshow has been running at the end of the summer for several years now but we have never been over to see the displays. This year we joined John, Anita and Kara on Saturday evening on the overcliff.

 

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It was a wonderful evening with the setting sun illuminating the beach and the display aircraft with a soft light.

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One of the highlights was the Spitfire Mk19, one of the few Spitfires that are still airworthy

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. I tried to explain to Kara why this plane is held in such esteem in the UK by saying’that if it wasn’t for the Spitfire we’d all be speaking German now’.

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Later there was a fly-by by this very impressive Sea Vixen. Unfortunately at this point my camera battery died and I’d forgotten to bring a spare, so the dramatic sight of planes doing aerobatics with fireworks shooting from the wing went unrecorded.

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I returned on Sunday afternoon just in time to see the Battle of Britain fly past. The sight of three iconic aircraft, the Spitfire and Hurricane fighters and the Lancaster bomber in the air together was really impressive. Unfortunately the sun was now in our eyes, producing rather washed out pics.

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I wish my father could have seen this fly-by, he served in the RAF from 1939 – 1945.

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Next up was the Meteor and Vampire, early jet fighters from the late 40’s and 50’s

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It costs a lot of money and the dedicated attention of many enthusiast to keep these old planes airworthy. I wonder if there is any chance of seeing an original Sopwith Camel at an airshow?

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There was a great aerobatic display from the Blades but unfortunately we heard that the highlight of the afternoon the enormous Vullcan had gone ‘technical’ and would be unable to fly.

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We that’s all from us for a week or two, I’m off on my travels again. I’ll update you when I return.

Posted September 2, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

August 16th – 26th – The Birdfair, the beach and various music events.   Leave a comment

 

Most years we go to the British Birdfair which is held the weekend before the August Bank Holiday at Rutland Water. This event has been described as the birders Glastonbury and certainly represents every aspect of the birding scene. Conservation bodies, bird tour companies, regional bird clubs, tourist agencies from countries all over the world, natural history book sellers, outdoor clothing, camera and optic manufacturers and wildlife artists all vie for your attention. The Birdfair, now in its 25th year, attracts tens of thousands and has raised over £2,000,000 for Birdlife International’s conservation programs.

I have said repeatedly that there is too much to do on a single day and we really ought to go for two. This year at least we drove up on the Friday night and stayed at nearby Market Harborough and so were there for the start at 0900. One of the most entertaining sessions was the Birdfair’s answer to the BBC’s Mastermind. The BBC’s version fits comfortably into a half an hour slot, but chairman Bill Oddie ad-libbed so much with both the questions and answers, that it took nearly an hour!

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Bill Oddie warmly welcomes the guy with the beers. Bill said that he was surprised that this was the 25th anniversary of the Birdfair as he had been coming for at least 30 years and wondered what he did for the first five!

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In most years after the Birdfair we continue on to Duffield, to the north of Derby to see my brother and family. This usually coincides with my niece Miriam’s birthday, who is 17 this year. One, of her friends had given her this huge cuddly monkey as a present.

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Her sister Jennifer also poses with the giant monkey.

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Whilst in the Derby area we always make a point of visiting Dennis and Ida, my sister-in-law Viv’s parents. They have known each other for 78 years as they were next door neighbours as children. They both have a great sense of humour and are great fun to chat to.

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On Sunday afternoon we popped down to a newly establish local nature reserve. We didn’t see much of note, but that’s not the point. Small nature reserves like this form a chain of wildlife habitats all across the country  preventing wildlife becoming isolated in ‘islands’ and are to be warmly welcomed.

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On Friday 23rd we went over to Bournemouth to have a drink with John and Anita and found out that Kara was already there.  What better place to have a pint then at BIC  where we could again watch the Friday night fireworks.

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We hardly ever went to Bournemouth before John and Anita moved there, but now we seem to go several times a week. On Sunday 25th we went back to the pier approach along with their friends Ken and Pam.                      L-R at the back: Amber, me, Kara, Anita, Janis, John, Ken and Margaret and Pam at the front.

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The pier approach area often has free bands playing and on this occasion it was the excellent Perfect Alibi, a Pink Floyd tribute band. Earlier on they played some of the longer and less well numbers like ‘Pigs’ from Animals and Margaret, Anita and Kara decided it wasn’t from them and headed back to the flat, but later on they performed perfect renditions of various numbers from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and ‘The Wall’ and ended up with a fantastic version of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’

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On Bank Holiday Monday we made our annual (or near annual) visit to the beach. It was suitably hot but the sea was still cold and I didn’t go in past my knees. The beach was very crowded at the car park end but a couple of hundred yards further on there was plenty of space.

That evening we returned to Bournemouth once more to see Leonard Cohen perform at the BIC. Cohen’s music is much like Marmite , you either love it or hate it or rather you either get it or you don’t. His gruff vocals set off by the beautiful voices of the backing singers and accompanied by some exceptional musicians are spell binding, but it is the lyrics that make his songs so special. If you can be bothered to carefully listen to the  moving, often introspective, lyrics that encompass religion, mythology, love and sex, yet which sometimes reveal a harder, cynical edge, then you may understand why we love his music.

At the age of almost 79 he can still fill large venues and it was a sell out at the BIC. We ended up with seats at the back and the photos were taken with my pocket camera so are of low quality.

Leonard Cohen in concert. Photo from the internet.

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On this tour the saxophonist has been replaced by a virtuoso violin player which give the songs more of a ‘gypsy’ feel. To the left are the lovely singers, Hattie and Charlie Webb and Sharon Robinson, each of whom took the lead vocal on a number of songs.

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An resounding standing ovation from the delighted crowd. In all the years I have been attending music events I have seldom seen such a rapturous reception.

Posted September 1, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized