Archive for December 2013

Boxing Day – Brunnich’s Guillemot, a belated and most welcome Christmas present.   Leave a comment

Mid-morning I received some excellent news, a Brunnich’s Guillemot had been found in Portland Harbour. This high arctic species breeds no further south than Iceland and has its stronghold in the far north in Svarlbard and northern Greenland and are an extremely rare visitor to the UK, with most records coming from Shetland. The Portland record is the first occurrence in southern Britain.

This is not only new for my Dorset list, it is also new for my British list and is actually the only British tick that I have had in 2013.

The bird was feeding close in and we had excellent views near Osprey Quay on a beautiful winters day.


There have been 42 records of Brunnich’s Guillemot in Britain. Of these 25 have been found as tideland corpses. Of the remaining only two have occurred south of the Scottish border, Farne Islands, Northumberland in 1970 and Yorkshire in November 2013. It is possible that this bird could be the same individual as the Yorkshire bird.


. Brunnich’s Guillemot is known as Thick-billed Murre in America. The thick bill, with a pale line on the cutting edge (particularly noticeable in summer adults), the slightly larger size, stockier appearance with shorter, thicker neck and black face in winter plumage separate it from Common Guillemot.


Brunnich’s Guillemot has paler axillaries than Common Guillemot.


On our way back home we called  in to see a Glossy Ibis that has been seen regularly on a flooded playing field near Radipole RSPB reserve.


The only other rarity that I have seen since getting back from Africa were these two juvenile  Common Cranes which took up residence for a week or so near Cheselbourne.


Posted December 26, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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Merry Christmas everyone   Leave a comment


We have had a lovely Christmas Day, Janis, Amber, Kara and their friend Helen joined us for dinner (and the present opening ceremony).


Merry Christmas from Ian, Helen, Margaret, Janis, Amber and Kara.

Posted December 25, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Malawi – the Miombo woodlands   Leave a comment

From our lodge near the Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi we traveled to Dzamalyana, an extensive area of miombo woodland. This forest type, also known as Brachystega cuts a wide swathe across southern Africa. Later we visited some forest patches situated between extensive tea plantations for more specialties before heading north. In the north of Malawi we visited another miombio woodland where we caught up with many of the specialties we  had previously missed.


This Red-throated Twinspot was one of the first life birds of the trip, recorded on the very first afternoon.


Extensive miombo woodland at Dzalanyama reserve.


There were a few proteas in flower but not enough to attract the rarer hummingbirds.


Unfortunately I didn’t note the name of these amazing red flowers


Birding is hard work in miombo woodland due to its dense foliage and the low density of its avian inhabitants, which mainly occur in fast moving flocks. This is a Stierling’s Wren-warbler.


Rocky areas held good numbers of Striped Pipits, a species I had only seen briefly before, in South Africa in 1991


The Boulder Chat is a rare inhabitant of the rocky areas of the forest


Stierling’s Woodpecker is confined to miombo woodland


Afican Pygmy Kingfisher is associated more with woodland than wetland areas


This magnificent Crowned Eagle was seen well at Dzalanyama


Near a village we saw a flock of 50 Grey-headed Parrots


..and nearby I found another Ovambo Sparrowhawk, this one a juvenile


Overhead we saw the impressive, but largely vegetarian Palm-nut Vulture.


Although supposedly protected, much of the reserve is under threat from illegal logging. This is mainly from locals cutting down trees to make charcoal and large amounts of wood can be seen being transported on the backs of bicycles. Regrettably, as we left, we saw evidence of wood being removed by truck which will greatly accelerate the rate of forest loss. Even more alarming was the fact (according to our driver) that the guys on the truck were prisoners which mean that this illegal deforestation must have official approval at some level.


In the north of Malawi we visited another extensive miombo forest. For some reason the trees come into leaf later here. New leaves emerge with a red colouration giving the forest an autumnal feel even though its early spring.


One of the best bird seen was this White-winged Babbling Starling. Photo by Ewan Brodie


I was particularly pleased to see this Racket-tailed Roller, not only was it a much wanted miombo specialty but it was my last of the world’s eleven Roller species.


Another target was this Miombo Pied Barbet


Further south we stayed at this lovely lodge in the midst of an extensive tea plantation.


We were treated to a candlelit dinner out on the lawn.


A record shot of this Livingstone’s Turaco, one of several excellent birds in this area.


Lizzard Buzzard is a widespread bird through much of tropical Africa

Posted December 23, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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Malawi and Zimbabwe – the night birds   3 comments

During our tour around Malawi and Zimbabwe we saw a good range of night birds. Fortunately we saw most of them at roost during the day thus negating the need for lengthy spotlighting sessions (which always reduced the time available for sleep). The exception was on the Kyika Plateau in Malawi where we did a couple of very successful night drives.


In the remnant forest patches in the tea plantations south of Blantyre we came across this roosting African Wood Owl



As we journeyed up the Shire River to Liwonde NP we saw a few Water Thick-knees. A relative of the European Stone Curlew, all thick-knees or dikkops are essentially nocturnal as can be seen by their huge eyes.



Another nocturnal bird seen roosting on the river banks was the rarely seen White-backed Night Heron. Again note the huge eyes.



At dusk over a hundred of the much commoner Black-crowned Night Herons emerged from roost and flew along the river to feed.


One of the highlights of the trip was seeing this enormous Pel’s Fish Owl at roost in a huge fig tree at Liwonde


Although one of the world’s biggest owls, it is seldom observed and we felt privileged to get such a good view.



A mere 21cm long compared to 62cm for the Pel’s, this tiny African Barred Owlet stares out from a wood near the shores of Lake Malawi.


On our night drive on the Nyika Plateau we came accros this Usambara Nightjar. There are three forms in this group; Montane, Ruenzori and Usambara Nightjars are found in various montane areas of Africa. Currently Ruenzori and Usambara Nightjars are lumped and Montane split. This makes no sense to me, either all three forms should be split or they should all be lumped in to one.



Several Spotted Eagle-owls were spotlighted on the Nyika Plateau



A female Pennant-winged Nightjar was tricky to identify but the unusual shape of the head was the clinching factor  ….



However there were no such problems in identifying a male Pennant-winged ! My friend Ewan flushed it from under foot in miombo woodland and was so surprised that his voice went all squeaky! Those are not tail streamers but massively enlarged inner primary feathers. Not without reason is this called ‘the most spectacular night bird in the world’.



Eventually the Pennant-winged landed on a horizontal branch, where the true magnificence of its ‘pennants’ could be appreciated.

Pennat-winged Nightjar (1)

I had to go to the internet to get a photo of this amazing species in flight. Photo by Michael Butler via Pinterest



In the Zamberi valley of Zimbabwe we came across another whopper, Verreaux’s Eagle-owl aka Giant Eagle-owl. Love the pink eye-lids.



A pair of Wood Owls had taken up residence above our huts in the Zambezi valley  and called all night ….



They had two adorable chicks, one of which nearly fell off the branch as it twisted upside-down to see what we were doing.

Posted December 20, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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Malawi and Zimbabwe – 23rd November – 12th December.   Leave a comment

I returned on the 13th from an excellent three week trip to Malawi and Zimbabwe. Whilst not producing the huge numbers of birds and big game that you would associate with say, Kenya or Tanzania, the tour was most rewarding and I added 47 life birds to my life list.

The tour started in the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe where ever before we reached the hotel we had scored with a ‘mega’, the tiny but seldom observed Locustfinch. The following day we visited Dzalanyama forest, a wonderful area of miombo woodland that is slowly being destroyed for charcoal production. We missed a number of the key species here but were able to catch up with most of them later in the trip.


Miombo woodland, a habitat that dominates south central Africa from Mozambique to Angola. This is a difficult habitat to bird in, the trees all look the same making directions difficult, birds are scarce and only travel in fast moving parties and are easily lost in the dense foliage. Fortunately this pair of African Hawk-eagles were easy enough to see well.


As well as miombo specialties, visiting Malawi allowed me to catch up on a number of widespread, but scarce, species such as this Ovambo Sparrowhawk. I have done 13 trips within its extensive African range but this is the first time I have seen it.


Further south we birded the few remaining woodland patches in the Vomba area, most of the forest has been transformed into tea plantations.


These White-eared Barbets were eating figs at Vomba. Other good birds included Buff-spotted Flufftail, White-winged Apalis and Green-headed Oriole ,which we got by the skin of our teeth as we were leaving.


Travelling up river to Liwonde NP we saw many Elephants and Hippos from our boat.


Accommodation was at Mvuu camp within the park. We stayed in these nice chalets. Bushbuck and a range of waterbirds could be seen from the balcony and a guard had to pick you up to take you to the restaurant in case you ran into an Elephant  or a Hippo on route.


We broke to long journey to the north on the shores of Lake Malawi. This is the view at dawn. The lake occupies 20% of the country’s area and the fish it provides are a major source of protein.


We had another bash at miombo woodland on the way to and the way back from the Nyika Plateau. These look like autumnal colours but are in fact the colour of newly emerged leaves in the southern spring.


Rocky outcrops, wooded valleys and extensive grassy areas make up the Nyika Plateau. part of our birding was in Zambia which co-owns the Park.


Magnificent Roan along with Eland, Zebra and Reedbuck were a common sight at Nyika.


A displaying male Black-bellied Bustard. It would extend its neck, then lower it whilst making a gurgling sound, wait two seconds then open its wings and make a loud popping sound.


From Malawi’s capital Lilongwe we had to fly overnight all the way north to Nairobi to get a flight to Harare (a bit like flying from Edinburgh to Paris to get to Glasgow). We then had a long drive to the Vumba mountains on the Mozambique border. Unfortunately it rained for most of our stay. We got the birds but not the photos, we could have done with taking some of the rain with us to our next destination!


On the optional extension we drove from Harare eight hours north to the Zambezi valley. The river, a tributary of the Zambezi was dry as was this creek. We had some great birding but dipped on our primary goal, the mega-elusive African Pitta. It is only visible when the rains start and they were late this year. Hence we didn’t even hear one. Frustratingly as we were waiting at Harare airport to fly home, clouds built up and there was a rainstorm as we left.


Beautiful White-fronted Bee-eaters provided some compensation for the dip.

This is a brief summary of the trip. I will upload several more posts about the trip as I go through the 1500+ photos that I took.

Posted December 19, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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13th – 15th December – two very different concerts   Leave a comment

I returned from a great trip to Africa (more about that later) on the 13th but had little time to unwind after the overnight flight, as we were off see Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra at the BIC in Bournemouth that evening..


The concert started with a lovely session from American singer songwriter, Galia Arad ….


… but after the break Jools (far left) was on with the 17 members of the Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, which includes a 11 strong brass section.

and what followed was an evening of virtuoso boogie-woogie and ska music 

…. and the concert was enlivened by guest vocalists, Louise Marshall …


… ex Spice Girl, Mel C …..


… and soul diva, Ruby Turner.


All in all, an excellent and varied concert.

On the 15th it was Margaret’s choir’s Christmas carol concert at St Peter’s Church in Parkstone. Under the direction of conductor James Eaton, they put on a wonderful performance, including a novel version of the Twelve Days of Christmas, where each verse was performed in a different musical style.


The Barclay House Choir and St Peter’s Orchestra led by conductor James Eaton. Margaret is just visible on the far left of the second row of the choir.


Nearly all were impressed by the music, but the girls, morally obliged to go and hear grandma sing, took the opportunity to catch up with some of their homework; art for Amber and Spanish for Kara.



James Eaton and leader of the orchestra, Andrew Foot shake hands at the end of the concert.