Archive for August 2014

1st – 22nd August – a ringing update.   Leave a comment

August can be one of the best times of the year for bird ringing, the weather is still mild, although a bit windy this year, autumn migration is in full swing and the variety of trans-Saharan migrants is at its peak.

I have spent as much time as possible ringing this month at Lytchett Bay and Durlston Country Park although the remnants of hurricane Bertha and getting up at 0430 everyday have proven to be obstacles.

Early in the month there were phenomenal numbers of migrants, especially Sedge Warblers on the move. A couple of visits to Lytchett Bay resulted in nearly 500 birds being ringed, most of them Sedges. Mid-month the weather changed to an unending run of westerlies and the numbers of birds present has been much lower.

Sedge Warblers are usually encountered in wetland habitats but can be seen on migration in scub and low vegetation.

Very common in the reed beds at Lytchett Bay with over 750 ringed this autumn, we have also trapped about 20 in the scrub at Durlston. Sedge Warblers winter in the Sahel, the arid region that lies to the south of the Sahara.


The heathland at Lytchett Bay has recently been purchased by Dorset Wildlife Trust. We applied to renew our ringing permission with the new owners and they asked us to do a public ringing demonstration. We have only caught a few birds on the heathland but a ‘dress rehearsal’ at the adjacent reed bed has produced a large number of Reed and Sedge Warblers and required us to call in reinforcements to help. Unfortunately the remnants of  hurricane Bertha prevented the actual demonstration from going ahead.


Whilst taking down nets at dusk we trapped this Brown Long-eared Bat. It might look undignified but this is the correct way to hold a bat, as it does not involve touching the delicate wing membranes.


Kingfishers appear in the early autumn every year at Lytchett Bay. We presume they migrate down the local rivers to winter in Poole Harbour. In 2014 we have ringed 8 new birds and retrapped one from last year, showing that the single kingfisher seen on each visit is not necessarily the same bird. We have retrapped several in subsequent years, showing year on year site fidelity, but have also retrapped a Lytchett Bay bird in a subsequent winter at Fleets Lane in Poole indicating that this is not an inviolate rule. In this picture a pristine first year (L) contrasts with the ragged adult (R) which is the process of moult. Accurate aging is essential for an understanding of population dynamics which is one of the main investigations conducted these days on ringed birds.


Grasshopper Warblers, with their graduated tails and long speckled undertail coverts are always a delight to ring. So far this autumn we have ringed 17 at Lytchett Bay and 7 at Durlston. Because of its secretive habits this species has one of the lowest recovery rates of all ringed birds and much is still unknown about its movements and life history.


Lytchett Bay is the only site where we regularly ring Cetti’s Warblers. An inhabitant of scrub adjacent to wetlands this species is not a true migrant but young birds do disperse as shown by a recovery of one of our birds from Norfolk. The mouse grey-brown plumage, short wren-like wings, broken white eye-ring and just ten rather than the usual twelve tail feathers are all identification features, but most birders will know it by it’s incredibly loud staccato voice.


We have ringed over 60 Garden Warblers this autumn, mainly at Durlston. It might look like the archetypal ‘little brown job’ to the uninitiated but the stubby bill, narrow grey shawl and plain upper parts with pale tipped remiges give a very characteristic appearance.


Unlike almost all other members of the genus Sylvia, adult Garden Warblers moult in the winter in Africa rather than before migration. Thus an adult on migration will be more abraded than a young bird. This can be quite subtle, the faded tips to these primary feathers are caused by bleaching by the sun over time and thus belong to an adult bird. It has recently been shown that Sylvia warblers are not warblers at all but representatives of the  mainly Asian babblers.


However caution is required when aging birds, the tail of this Garden Warbler might look abraded but this can happen in the nest. The presence of a growth bar shows that it is a first year bird. Changes in the availability of food whilst the tail is growing is reflected in the colour of the feathers. The fact that the growth bar occurs across all feathers means that all feathers grew simultaneously and therefore must be from a first year bird.


Common Whitethroats (the full name is needed to distinguish it from the next species) is a common breeder at Durlston but migrants also move through the Park in some numbers. The dark eye and lack of pure white in the outer tail show that this is a young bird.


Lesser Whitethroats are (as the name would suggest) smaller than the last species and also are much paler with white underparts, have a pale grey head and lack rufous in the wing. Small numbers breed at Durlston – we have ringed 12 so far this year.


Breeding mainly in the west of Britain – Devon, Wales and SE Scotland, Pied Flycatchers are pretty scarce on migration where we ring, however the trapping area comprises mainly of low scrub and is not ideal for these arboreal birds.


In common  with the last species, we have only ringed a single Spotted Flycatcher so far this year, although their migration extends well into September, so there may be more.


Tree Pipits are regular overhead migrants in late August – early September, usually just after dawn. The fine flank streaking, face pattern and (when you can see it) shorter claw length separate them from the similar Meadow Pipit. In the field the call is diagnostic. So far seven have been ringed at Durlston this August.


Juvenile Blackcaps have a dark brown crown. This changes during the post juvenile moult to the familiar black of a male or tawny-brown of a female. Note the crown of this bird: this not a mixture of black first year and brown juvenile feathers but rather first winter feathers with brown tips. These will presumably abrade to give the pristine black crown by the spring.


Most birds fly off immediately on release but some pause to ‘gather their bearings’. This Willow Warbler had a little rest on Margaret’s woolly hat before flying off into the nearby scrub.

 1st – 21st August 2014: catching up with the non-birdy stuff   Leave a comment



We have decided to splash out on a couple of items for the house including having solar panels installed.



With an east/west facing roof and some very tall trees in our neighbour’s garden our house isn’t ideal for solar, but we decided to go ahead anyway. Modern panels are more efficient than their predecessors in capturing indirect sunlight but we never even reach 50% of what the panels are capable of generating in ideal conditions.


Once the workmen had gone I could resist climbing the scaffolding to get this view of our garden.


Some months ago I posted a picture  of the old Peugeot when it had reached 111111 miles and asked the question of whether it was time for a new car.  Now its done a few more miles and the answer to the new car question is …. yes!


P8200651 new car copy

For the first time in my life I have bought a brand new car, a Nissan Qashqai Tekna and I am very pleased indeed. It is lovely to drive and is full of extras such as parking cameras, auto dipping headlights and does up to 75mpg although I’ve only averaged 55 so far.


The car got its first outing when we went up to Derby to see my brother and family and then on to the BirdFair in Rutland. It was hard to use features like cruise control as traffic was awful and it was stop/start all way. The BirdFair, known as the ‘birders Glastonbury’ was excellent as always and attracted about 22,000 visitors over the three days and raised about a quarter of a million pounds for Birdlife International’s conservation program. I spent a lot of time catching up with old friends and acquaintances as well as attending a few lectures and quizzes.


We attended a couple of quizzes run along the lines of Mastermind. One, the Bird Brain of Britain chaired by Bill Oddie was hilarious, mainly on account of Bill’s constant ad libbing with the questions and answers. We also went to a talk by Mark Beaman, Birdquest’s managing director, celebrating how the company has shown it’s clients over 10,000 bird species, some 95% of the world total. Mark’s talk was very interesting and highlighted a particularly difficult event in Arctic Siberia some 17 years ago.


We normally attend for just one day but this time we stayed overnight so we could go to the evening talk entitled ‘listening for life’ by my friends in the Sound Approach. Killian Mullarney (L) and Mark Constantine (R) gave an account of how the Sound Approach was formed and what it has achieved. Mark surprised many taking the microphone into the audience and to get impromptu sound bites from unsuspecting friends and colleagues.


We had planned to meet up with our American friend Patty Scott at the BirdFair and then bring Patty back to Poole with us for a couple of days of birding and ringing. Patty had already spent several weeks in the UK visiting friends and was staying with Rosemary Foster, an old friend from previous Birdquest trips, at her place near Grantham in Lincolnshire. Rosemary kindly invited us to stay there as well, so we spent a night at her lovely 16th century farmhouse.


This was the view from our bedroom.


Patty is a ringer (or bander as they say in the States) and was keen to come to Dorset to see some UK species in the hand. We spent two very pleasant mornings at Durlston (more in the next post). On one day we visited Corfe Castle on our way back.


The original pre-Norman castle was built of wood and became infamous when an English King, Edward the Martyr was murdered there in 978AD. The stone fortifications seen today were built by William the Conqueror.


The castle was sold by Elizabeth I in 1572 to her Lord Chancellor, it was then sold on to the Bankes family in 1635 who owned it until l982 when it was bequeathed to the National Trust.


The castle was held by the Royalists during the English civil war and was destroyed by Parliamentarians in 1645. Sappers lay gunpowder under the enormous keep, the resultant explosion and caused the left hand side to subside by several metres.


Today the castle is a major tourist attractions, its ruins dominate the skyline on the way into or out of Purbeck. Various medieval crafts are being demonstrated  in the marques below.


For once I could look down on the Swanage to Corfe steam railway . One day I’ll get round to travelling on it.


As well as visiting Durlston and Corfe Castle, Patty and I also went over to Portland Bird Observatory as another friend, Birdquest leader Pete Morris and his family we staying there for the week. Pete and his two boys Jack and Josh were off hunting bugs, Patty is chatting to his wife Nina. On the next day Pete, Nina and the boys came over to Durlston to see us ring some birds.

Tynham School

As well as Portland and Corfe Castle we took Patty to Tyneham, the village that was evacuated during the war so troops could prepare for D-Day. The village has remained deserted ever since. This is the school room restored to look just like it did in the 40’s.


BirdFair season always sees friends from the Sound Approach or the old Dorset birding scene visit Poole, either just before or after the Fair. We have had three pub get togethers in the last three weeks, the first to meet up with former Dorset birder James Lidster who now lives in Holland, the second to meet Killian Mullarney, Rene Pop and Arnoud van den Berg of the Sound Approach and the third to catch up with another Sound Approach member, Magnus Robb. Patty also came along for the third get together and was able to participate in a discussion of the appropriate English name for a new species of owl(you will have to wait for the publication of ‘Undiscovered Owls’ to find out which one!) In the picture above Killian talks to Nick Hopper whilst Margaret is chatting to Mo Constantine and Cecilia Bosman off picture.

Growing up – where are our bridesmaids now?   Leave a comment

It only seems like yesterday to us but five years have passed since our wedding in June 2009 and in those five years those ‘little girls’ that so enjoyed being our bridesmaids have grown up. All but one have left school this year and this post updates their changing lives.



June 2009 Lytchett Minster churchyard. L-R:  my niece Miriam, Amber and Kara (Margaret’s granddaughters) and my niece Jennifer.



We visited my brother Simon in Derby before going to the Birdfair last weekend. Miriam (L), now 18 ,has left school with three very good A levels and is taking a gap year to work with a Christian community in Watford before going to University next year to study theology.  Jennifer (R) has left school at 16 and will be attending Derby College to study child care and development.

Amber canal barge

Amber has left school at 17 and is now living with Anita and John in Essex. She has been working in a local boatyard and they fixed it for her to help crew a 90ft, three mast schooner that was sailing from Oban to Gloucester then on to Falmouth. Amber arranged the travel by public transport from Essex to Oban via London and Glasgow within a single day, all by herself. The yacht apparently will be used in a Disney  film and she is staying on to work as a film extra.  (photo  by Janis Dreosti)


Janis cartwheel

Janis visited Amber on the yacht last weekend. She was so impressed with her daughter’s progress that she did a handstand on the deck.


Janis Amber

Amber and Janis in Gloucester.


Kara training 6

Kara, 15, does her GCSE exams next June. She continues her Taekwondo activities and has recently been selected to trial for the British Junior Squad. She is making lots of trips to Manchester for intensive training. If she is accepted she will represent the country in future contests and is dreaming of competing in the 2020 Olympics! (photo by Janis Dreosti)

Kara training 5

Kara in training. Kara’s travel  is being sponsored by Wicked Coatings . See her blog (photo by Janis Dreosti)


Kara training 4

I didn’t know joints could bend like that! (photo by Janis Dreosti)


Here is a list of Kara’s competitions with her results

British International Open 13 July 2014 – Silver

British Masters London 9th Nov 2013- Gold

British National Championships 8th Sep 2013 – Bronze

British International Open 2013- Bronze

Capital Cup 12th May 2013- Gold

NTC Nottingham Open – 27th Jan 2013 – Silver

Quest Open – 18th Nov 2012- Gold

Scottish Cup – 4th Nov 4th 2012 – Silver

British National Championships 9th Sep 2012 – Bronze

Posted August 20, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

29th June – 5th July 2014: Borneo – Tabin and Danum Valley   Leave a comment


The final part of the Borneo account covers two lowland rainforest areas in eastern Sabah. Danum Valley is a superb area of virgin rainforest but it can be rather hard to bird; on the other hand Tabin has been selectively logged and much of it is secondary growth surrounded by oil palm, so although it does not have as many key species as Danum, a lot of them are easier to see. Tabin is particularly good for night drives as owls, civets and Leopard Cats leave the forest and go into the oil palm to hunt the many rats that occur there. We spent two nights at Tabin and four at Danum.


P1120019 Oriental Pied Hornbill

Our lodge at Tabin was right by a river and abutted the forest, various wildlife could be seen on the balcony such as these Oriental Pied Hornbills ……

P1110936 Pig-tailed Macaque

… and this male Pig-tailed Macaque

P1110949 Pig-tailed Macaque

A large troop of Pig-tailed Macaques patrolled the area behind the chalets. The females often took to sitting on the rocks mid-stream, keeping their youngsters out of trouble.

P1110930 Storm's Stork

Normally seen only in flight or perched high in a tree, we were amazed to see this Storm’s Stork walking around in the open near the lodge.

P1120029 Danum Valley

Early morning mist at Tabin

P1110967 Flying Squirrel

Flying Squirrels, including this Thomas’ Flying Squirrel were common at Tabin and Danum. We even got to see them in flight.

P1110941 Plain Pygmy Squirrel

Far smaller was this diminutive Plain Pygmy Squirrel, perhaps the smallest squirrel in the world.


One trail led to the ‘mud volcano’. Heat from volcanic action pushes mud to the surface like a slow motion geysir.

P1110881 Helmeted Hornbill

Of all the hornbills the Helmeted is the most spectacular, both visually and acoustically. This one flew over whilst we were at the mud volcano …

P1110895 Helmeted Hornbill

.. and perched up nicely for photos.

P1120047 Danum Valley lodge

Danum Valley Lodge gives great accommodation and superb food – at a price!

P1120063 aerial walkway

One of the features of Danum reserve is the canopy walkway …..

P1120183 from aerial walkway

… which allows you to get great views into the tree tops, although moving around a swaying bridge to get good views is fraught with difficulty.

P1120087 Danum Valley

One day we climbed the coffin cliff trail on the far side of the river, named as an ancient burial site of indigenous people was found there. Climbing several hundred metres of elevation in the near 100% humidity was exhausting but was most rewarding – see photo of Blue Banded Pitta below.

P1120083 Danum Valley

From here we could get a great view down onto the lodge

P1120162 Danum

In such a hot and humid environment the early morning mists produced spectacular effects.

P1120039 Danum Valley

Most days followed the same pattern, early morning along the roads then along the narrow trails once the birds became active.

P1120044 leech

Along with heat and humidity, Asian tropical forests have another unpleasant feature –  leechs. Initially they caused some consternation within the group but we soon got used to their presence and flicked most off before they could start blood sucking. I only got three leech bites but they took three or four weeks to completely heal.

P1120037 butterfly

As well as wonderful birds and mammals Danum has a range of exquisite butterflies, I’m afraid I don’t know their names.

P1120175 Ferruginous Babbler

We saw many birds and I photographed what I could. Here is a selection – Ferruginous Babbler

P1120032 Ruby-cheeked Sunbird

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird

P1120179 Whiskered Treeswift

Whiskered Treeswift

P1120232 Banded Broadbill

Banded Broadbill

P1110867 Grey & Buff Woodpecker female

Female Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker

P1120073 Banded Palm Civet

We did a night drive on each of our four nights at Danum. They weren’t as productive as at Tabin but we did come across this Banded Palm Civet.

P1120070 Rhino Hornbill at roost

… this huge roosting Rhinoceros Hornbill …

P1120218 YB Prinia

and a tiny roosting Yellow-bellied Prinia.

P1120091 Blue-banded Pitta2

But the best birds of Danum where the Pittas. Not needing to spend hours waiting for Bristleheads to appear gave us time to locate these mega elusive dwellers of the forest floor. Borneo has four endemic species of Pitta and either here or at Tabin and we saw them all. This Blue-banded Pitta required an exhausting hike up the coffin cliff trail but after a bit of effort we finally got great views of this seldom seen species.

P1120146 Blue-headed Pitta

Near the lodge we came across this Blue-headed Pitta but light levels were very low and this was the best I could do.

P1110912 Black-headed Pitta

This murky shot of the another endemic, the Black-headed Pitta, pushes the definition of a ‘record shot’ to its limits. The final endemic Pitta is Bornean Banded Pitta which we saw (but couldn’t photograph) at Tabin.

P1120311 Crested HB

One of the final birds of the trip was this Crested Honey-buzzard soaring over the lodge on our final morning.


And so concluded an excellent trip to Sabah in Borneo. I had about 50 life birds and 25 life mammals including some megas like Orang Utan, Bornean Gibbon, Proboscis Monkey, Colugo, Binturong, Leopard Cat, Bearded Pig. Of course on a trip like this you don’t see all the endemics, that would take multiple trips and require visits to the province of Sarawak and Indonesian Kalimantan, but we did very well indeed. Will I go back? I can’t say for sure as there are so many wonderful places in the tropics to visit, but I highly recommend it to anyone with a love of wildlife.

Posted August 11, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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26th – 29th June 2014: Borneo – Gomantong Caves and the Kinabatanga River.   Leave a comment

This post covers two nearby sites in the lowlands. Gomantong Caves, famed for its bat colonies plus large numbers of nesting echo-locating swiftlets and  the lodge at Sukau on the Kinabatanga River where a series of boat trips on the river and its narrow tributaries gave multiple opportunities to see and photograph the wildlife. Whilst at Kinabalu we got caught in as severe rain storm and my bridge camera got wet. Although it could still take photos I couldn’t use the zoom function, or change any of the settings, so it was effectively useless. Fortunately leader Chris Kehoe offered me the use of his camera when we got to Sukau, as he only carried one to obtain photos for the tour report, a commitment he was happy to pass on to me. So thanks to Chris’ generosity I was able to continue to document this excellent trip. After some last minute birding on Mount Kinabalu we crossed a sea of unbroken oil palm plantations on our way to Sukau and the Kinabatanga River. Unlike the parts of the Sunda region, Borneo has very poor soil and is unsuitable for large scale rice production. As a result as recently as the late 40s the island had a small population and was an almost unbroken expanse of virgin rainforest. The development of a strain of oil palm that could grow on poor soils has changed all that and now almost all lowland forest has been converted to plantation. Even along the Kinabatanga River with its wonderful range of wildlife, oil palm crowds in and even the narrow strip of riverine forest is broken in parts by plantations. Before we got to the river we stopped at the famous Gomantong Caves. Featured on BBC wildlife programs, this is the place to see all three species of echo-locating swiftlets on the nest, which is the only safe way to tell them apart, as each species nest is highly distinctive.

IMG_0766 Gomantong caves

The entrance to Gomantong Caves.

IMG_0784 Gomantong caves

There is a boardwalk around the main chamber but it is covered with bat and swiftlet droppings.

IMG_0779 Gomantong caves

The entire floor of the chamber consists of a huge pile of bat poo several metres high, as a result the entire place, including the boardwalk and hand rail is covered in cockroaches.

IMG_0783 Gomantong

Harvesting swiftlet nests for birds nest soup is highly lucrative.  As the commercial value of the caves is so high the owners guard against poachers. The smell of ammonia from the huge mound of bat poo behind the guards shelter is overwhelming, so this cannot be a pleasant place to make a living.


Edible nest swiftlet nests.  A single white pure spittle nest of a  Edible-nest Swiftlet retails at about US$50. Those of Black-nest Swiftlets are worth less as they include feathers . Those of Mossy-nest Swiftlets, composed  of moss bound with spit, are worthless. These days  many locals try to’farm’ swiftlets in towns by converting upper floors of buildings into swiftlet caves by blacking them out and playing recordings to attract them.  As I didn’t have a camera with telephoto capability until after the visit to the caves this photo was taken from the internet, see

IMG_0770 Gomantong caves

At long last, a breath of fresh air.


As we left the caves we came across a mother and baby Orang Utan, part of a small group marooned in this island of forest in a sea of oil palm . I only had my pocket camera so this highly magnified shot is the best I could do. I think it was my obvious disappointment of not being able to properly photograph this amazing animal that led Chris to lend me this camera.

P1110348 Wrinkle-lipped Bats

At dusk many thousands of Wrinkle-lipped Bats emerge but from our viewpoint we could only see a few.

P1110349 Bat Hawk

… and we saw the shadowy shapes of a Bat Hawk chasing it’s supper.

P1110669 Sukau

Our lodge in this area was at Sukau on the bank of the Kinabatenga River. From here we did five half day trips on the main river and its tributaries. It was often misty in the early morning …

P1110686 Sukau

…  but soon the mist cleared and by the time we had entered the quiet backwaters the sun was up. Our main target in these side channels was the mega-elusive Bornean Ground Cuckoo, which we heard but did not see.

P1110598 Proboscis Monkey

The bizarre Proboscis Monkey was common in the riparian vegetation but they moved quickly and seldom sat in the open for long and so were difficult to photograph …

P1110391 Proboscis Monkey male

… but I did get this shot of a mature male with his enormous nose and white underpants.

P1110754 Wrinkled Hornbill

The area was a mecca for hornbills with five species being seen. This is a Wrinkled Hornbill.

P1110567 Oriental Pied Hornbill

Oriental Pied Hornbill

P1110624 Black Hornbill

Asian Black Hornbill.  The white stripe  on the head is only seen in a minority of male birds.

P1110756 Rhino Hornbill

The enormous Rhinoceros Hornbill

P1110403 Grey-headed Fish Eagle

There were plenty of raptors along the river such as this Grey-headed Fish Eagle.

P1110367 Oriental Darter

Oriental Darters were common.

P1110633 Purple Heron & Gt Egret modesta

Purple Heron and the resident modesta race of Great Egret. Considerably smaller than the migrant race from mainland Asia (no bigger than the Purple Heron), this form has been considered a separate species.

P1110546 Storm's Stork

I was particularly pleased to get such good views of Storm’s Stork. This species has declined greatly and the riverine forests of Borneo are it’s last stronghold. It was the last of the world’s 17 species of stork for my list.

P1110528 Long-tailed Macaque

Long-tailed Macaques were common ….

P1110826 Monitor Lizard

as were Monitor Lizards ….

P1110458 Estuarine Croc

… and even the occasional Estuarine Crocodile was seen.

P1110814 Masked Palm Civet

This Masked Palm Civet swam across the river in front of our boat ….

P1110818 Masked Palm Civet

and emerged rather bedraggled on the far bank.

P1110732 Bornen Pygmy Elephant

Along the bank of the main river we saw several Bornean Pygmy Elephants. They differ considerably in size from Asian Elephants of the mainland and maybe should be treated as a different species.

P1110693 Borneo Bristlehead 2

But by far the best observation along the river was a flock of Bornean Bristleheads which qualified as my ‘bird of the trip’. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Bristleheads are a monotypic Family and are indeed the last family I needed to see. We did see some later at Danum Valley but not so well and this fortuitous encounter along the river saved us lots of time at Danum which was put to good use.  As an aside, contra to my earlier post on the bird Families, the new checklist by Lynx/BLI did NOT treat the New Zealand Kakapo as a monotypic family and their cover illustration has been changed accordingly.

P1110766 Sukau

So after two and half days we said goodbye to Sukau, the Kinabatenga River and its glorious vistas and headed off for rainforest lodges to the south.

19th – 25th June: Borneo – Kota Kinabalu and Mount KInabalu   Leave a comment

This is the first of three posts about my June/July trip to Borneo. This post covers the Kota Kinabalu area, the Crocker Range and the Mount Kinabalu area.

The tour was organised by Birdquest and led by Borneo expert Chris Kehoe and visited the state of Sabah in the Malaysian portion of the island.




IMG_0610 Reef Heron

I flew out a day before the tour started, mainly to get over the jet lag but only did a bit of birding along the bay opposite the hotel in the capital Kota Kinabalu. This dark morph Pacific Reef Egret was only about 100m from the hotel.

IMG_0639 rice fields

The first afternoon was spent near the city looking at ponds adjacent to some rice paddies. As well as wetland birds we saw many munias, including the endemic Dusky Munia and and the seldom seen Pin-tailed Parrotfinch.

IMG_0616 Wandering Whistling Duck

Wandering Whistling Ducks (above), Cinnamon Bitterns and other herons and egrets, Buff-banded Rails and White-winged Terns could all be seen in these marshy areas.

IMG_0647 Sunset

As dusk approached we stopped by a beach to look for Malaysian Plovers ….

IMG_0653 Malaysian Plover

…. which we soon located. What wasn’t expected was in June was Siberian breeding Whimbrels, Grey-tailed Tattlers and Greater Sandplovers.

IMG_0657 Crocker range

The following day we stopped at the Rafflesia reserve in the Crocker range, inland from Kota Kinabalu.

IMG_0665 Grey-chinned Minivet

Here we saw our first montane species, like this Grey-chinned Minivet and ….

IMG_0675 Bornean Leafbird

…  our only Bornean Leafbird of the trip. This completes my set of Leafbirds, a group of eleven species found only in southern and south-eastern Asia.

IMG_0674 Blyth's Hawk-eagle

Overhead Blyth’s Hawk-eagles showed well.


We continued on to Mount Kinabalu, at 4101m the highest peak between the Himalayas and the Snow Mountains of New Guinea. Our hotel, where we were to stay for five nights was situated just outside the national park and gave a wonderful view of the mountain in the evening.

IMG_0733 Whitehead's Broadbill

There are many montane specialities in Kinabalu NP, some are easy to see but many are not. This Whitehead’s Broadbill was a particular target, we only saw a pair. It was voted bird of the trip, but not by me – more of that later.

P1110248 Whitehead's Trogon

John Whitehead (1860 – 1899) was an ornithologist who collected in Borneo. He has three birds named after him, all are difficult to see: the Broadbill, this Whitehead’s Trogon and the mega elusive Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, which we failed to see. Once again I will quote Meat Loaf  ‘two out of three ain’t bad’!

IMG_0691 Whitehead's Pygmy Squirrel

If it is any compensation for dipping on his spiderhunter, we did see the cute little Whitehead’s Pygmy Squirrel – its about the size of a mouse!

IMG_0681 Fruithunter

Another mega we tracked down at Kinabalu was this Fruithunter, a member of the thrush family.

P1110280 Indigo Fly

Another montane speciality (although not a Borneo endemic) is Indigo Flycatcher.

IMG_0743 Pitcher plant

Carnivorous pitcher plants could be seen along the higher trails but we never saw a Rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world.

IMG_0746 Mt Kinabalu summit trail

One day half the group did the strenuous hike up the Mt Kinabalu summit trail. The hike to the top, which is very popular, involves a 2000m ascent, we did about a 500m ascent but that was enough to leave me knackered.

P1110003 Mountain Blackeye

This is a Mountain Blackeye, a type of white-eye found mainly on the higher trail. Our main target was the increasingly rare Kinabalu Friendly Warbler, which is quite approachable once actually found. It seems that global warming is pushing the species further and further up the mountain every year. At one stage it will run out of mountain to retreat to.

IMG_0760 Summit trail Mt Kinabalu

In view of the erosion caused by the thousands who ascend the mountain on a regular basis, much of the trail has been converted to a series of steps. Each step is somewhat irregular and rather higher than I would have liked and this resulted in considerable knee discomfort.  It is disconcerting when you read that on the Kinabalu Summit Race, participants can run from the park gate (4km and 500m lower than where we started) to the top and back again in two hours and fifty minutes.


It must be emphasised that although Borneo has the reputation of being a wild, remote place this is far from the truth. Places like Kinabalu National Park are the exception. Away from these islands of natural habitat Borneo is a sea of oil palm plantation. Ignore the construction in the foreground. The background shows oil palm to the horizon.

Posted August 9, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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Janet Avis Lewis 1947 – 2004: a tribute.   Leave a comment



Although I have mentioned it on this blog each year since I started it 2011, I make no apologies for remembering the anniversary of my first wife Janet’s death on the 6th August 2004. This year is especially poignant as it marks the 10th anniversary, so I have uploaded a post dedicated to the memory of a very special lady.

Janet was born in Long Eaton,  a small town that straddles the border of south Derbyshire and south Nottinghamshire. She was very much tied to the area until the age of 19 when she left home to study to be a librarian in Newcastle. Later she worked in libraries in Cornwall, Knaresborough and later on a mobile library based at Sherburn-in-Elmet in east Yorkshire. She moved to Leeds, whilst still working in Sherburn, in 1973. Janet shared a house with Margaret Clay, a nice lady who stood and eventually was elected to Leeds City Council on behalf of the Liberal Party (that was before they were known as the Liberal Democrats). My school and university friend Nigel was acting as campaign manager and that is how in March 1974, Janet and I met.

We got married in September 1976 and bought a house in the eastern suburbs of Leeds, but we weren’t there long as a promotion landed me a job in Poole. It might have been a promotion for me but it was a demotion for Janet. In the Thatcherite era jobs in public services and especially in libraries were being axed and she never got work in her profession again, but had to make do with series of jobs in factories, cafes, canteens and eventually a post office.

In some ways life gave Janet a rough ride, most notably in our failure to start a family, something which affected her deeply. She received support from the local church and made many good friends there. She also took up research into family history declaring that ‘if  she couldn’t take the family forwards into the future she would research it into the past’. In this she was spectacularly successful finding ancestors that dated back as far as mid 1600’s and distant relatives in many far flung parts of the world.

Although not taking it to the obsessive degree that I do, Janet enjoyed birdwatching and saw almost all of the regular species in Britain and Europe. She shared my love of remote places, but what she really loved was remote communities and loved to visit and stay with those who made a living ‘on the edge’. It was a particular ambition of hers to visit Eskimos, or the Inuit as they are more correctly known. She achieved that ambition in 2002 when we took a flight to Greenland and visited an Inuit settlement. Our last trip together was in February 2004 when we visited Sri Lanka.

Everything was normal on the 27th of July 2004 when we parted to go to work, but later that morning whilst serving a customer in the post office, she suffered a massive cerebral aneurysm. She would have died on the spot had not an ambulance been passing, but it was to little avail as she never regained conciousness and on the 5th August the life support was terminated. She died the following morning.

Of course without my partner of 30 years my life fell apart and although there were the occasional highlight, it was fully three years before it got back to normal. Although I have a happy married life now, I will always miss and will never forget Janet.

Janet’s mother died a couple of years after she did, followed soon after by her two remaining aunties. Now the only contact I have with her family is exchanging Christmas cards with two of her cousins. That chapter of my life is firmly closed.

Although I took many photos of Janet nearly all are on slides and I haven’t got a functioning slide scanner, so the following are restricted to a few old scanned photos and a couple of digital pictures I took towards the end of her life.





Janet as a baby. Even at this age her thick, black hair was evident.


As a toddler.


With pet tortoise.



On holiday with her mother and (I think) cousin Mike



Janet in 1974 just after we met. You might think I was trying for an arty soft focus look but its really just crap photography.


Janet in 1976, I was into black and white photography in those days.



Janet at our wedding in September 1976



The church in Long Eaton where we got married was opposite the pub and we got a lot of ‘I pronounce you man and barmaid’ jokes after this photo was published.


1977 in Morocco. Janet and some scruff with a beard.


Janet in Hawaii

Janet in Hawaii in 2003.


Jan at Nottm May04

This is the last photo I took of Janet, in a friends garden in Nottingham on the late May bank holiday in 2004.



Janet’s ashes are buried in the churchyard at Lytchett Minster. The original stone had raised lettering and this was badly damaged by strimmers used to cut the grass. I have had the stone replaced to coincide with the 10th anniversary of her passing.



Posted August 6, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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30th July 2014 – the New Forest Show   Leave a comment

Margaret and I visited the New Forest show at Brockenhurst yesterday. As it is always held mid-week and I and/or my partner have always been working, it has been over thirty years since I last went.

It was a beautiful sunny day with the temperature hovering around 27c which made it pretty hot inside the marquees. Of course there were the traditional exhibiting and judging of prize livestock but most of our time was spent looking at various merchandise and produce for sale, fortunately we didn’t yield too much to temptation and came away reasonably (financially) unscathed.


There were plenty of horse related activities being judged.


Horses of all sizes. I must admit I know nothing about horse shows so I can add no further details …..


.. but some are beautiful indeed



There were prize bulls ….


and prize sheep as well as prize pigs, rabbits and poultry …..


all patiently waiting to be judged.


There were demonstrations of traditional rural activities such as thatching …


and displays of old farm machinery like this threshing machine …


.. and even an exhibition of ferret racing.


Naturally I was interested in the display of falconry although no birds were being flown whilst we were there. I have never seen this Brown Wood Owl in captivity before, by a strange coincidence it is the last new bird I saw in the wild, in Borneo in early July.


I do not object to falconry when it is performed by reputable organisations. Birds kept and flown in Britain are captive bred and well looked after. What I do object to is the capture of wild falcons (predominately of Sakers and mainly in Central Asia)  This has a  a marked effect in Kazakhstan and Mongolia where populations are in free fall due to trapping for Middle East falconry . In the foreground is a Saker, I couldn’t get an angle to photograph it from the side, behind is a Lanner, its distribution is mainly African and it seems to be less affected by illegal trade.


I also had a look at the cage birds on show, most were the many varieties of Canary and Budgerigar and estrildid finches. As with falconry, I have no objection in principle to the cage bird trade, as long as it deals only in captive bred birds. However I do have certain reservations. Trapping of Red Siskins in the Guianas to introduce red genes into captive Canary populations had led to them becoming critically endangered. The same can be said of the Bali Starling (above) which was almost driven to extinction in the wild by the cage bird trade. When I saw the species in Bali in 1995 the wild population was 29, excessive poaching later saw this drop to 6. Aviaries holding captive reared birds for release in the wild have been broken into and the birds stolen. Recently a safe sanctuary for the species has been established on an offshore island and the free flying population has risen to over 100. I want to make it clear that I am not saying that the bird above was captured in the wild (it is close ringed so must have been raised in captivity) nor am I saying that its owners were involved in any impropriety whatsover, but the act of keeping birds for show can lead in some parts of the world to a massive toll on wild bird populations.

Posted August 1, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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