Archive for January 2015

Argentina part 6: the Strobel Plateau and Rio Gallegos – December 2014   Leave a comment




This is the sixth and final account of my recent trip to Argentina. It covers the journey north from El Califarte to the Strubel Plateau and the La Angostera Estancia and then south to Rio Gallegos.

From here Mark (the leader) and two of the participants travelled on to Tierra del Fuego for the optional extension, but as we had already been to Tierra del Fuego on previous tours, myself and two others flew back to Buenos Aires and then home.

Most of this account covers birds seen on the plateau and the estancia, but a few birds seen near Rio Gallagos are shown at the start.

IMG_3903 Rhea and chicks

Along the road to Rio Gallegos we came across this Lesser Rhea and chicks trying to get through the wire fence.

IMG_1264 guanaco stuck on fence

Earlier on, crossing the plateau, we had seen a number of dead Guanacos on the stock fences that flanked the road, animals that had got their limbs caught between the wires and had remained trapped until they died. This individual was still alive and Mark and our driver were able to release it, albeit with a large gash to one leg.

IMG_3915 poss Austral Canestero

In the Rio Gallegos area we connected with the range restricted Austral Canestero ….

IMG_3912 pos Austral Canastero

…. which showed off its wing pattern nicely.

IMG_3910 Flying Steamer Duck

There are four steamer ducks, the flightless Chubut further north, two further flightless species on Tierra del Fuego and the Falklands/Malvinas and this one the Flying Steamer Duck, even in this species older birds loose the ability to fly. Flightlessness may have led to cryptic speciation in this group and it has been suggested that there are several more species to be described.

IMG_3939 Rufous-chested Dotterel

Other birds in the Rio Gallegos area included this Rufous-chested Dotterel.

IMG_3665 plateau

A couple of days earlier we had left Califarte and headed northwards to the Strobel Plateau. This is a wild, windswept and treeless landscape crossed only by a few dirt roads.

IMG_1216 Trelew - Califarte flight crater lake

We were heading for a number of crater lakes, the breeding ground for the rapidly declining and critically endangered Hooded Grebe. Fifteen lakes are accessible from the tracks and we checked them all. This crater lake was photographed as we flew over the area when we descended into Califarte

IMG_1268 flamingos on plateau lake

Of the fifteen lakes, twelve were dry and two others covered in a green algal slime. This was the only one that held any birds and there were no Hooded Grebes. This bird was the reason I had come on this trip and now it seemed that there was every chance that I would be going home empty handed.

IMG_3670 Patagonian Tinamou

Well not quite empty handed because there were other good birds up on the plateau; this Patagonian Tinamou ….

IMG_3636 Least Seedsnipe

…. Least Seedsnipe ….

IMG_3650 Tawny-throated Dotterel

…. Tawny-throated Dotterel ….

IMG_3681 CV Tyrant

…. and Chocolate-vented Tyrant.

IMG_3701 Estancia

We were staying at this traditional estancia at the foot of the plateau. An adjacent marsh held lots of good birds including the seldom seen Austral Rail (which we only heard), but our main interest was a lake some 5km away where Hooded Grebes had been seen in the past.

IMG_3812 dawn

We visited the lake in the late afternoon and again at dusk (in case any birds had come into roost) but again drew a blank. It looked like the trip would have to be summarised as ‘it was a great trip but I missed the bird I had travelled all this way to see’.

IMG_3707 Magellanic Horned Owl

But there was plenty to see around the estancia, including this Magellanic (or Lesser) Horned Owl ….

IMG_3787 Upland Geese

…. flocks of Upland Geese ….

IMG_3739 Upland Goose

…. which wandered around with their goslings just outside where we were staying ….

IMG_3741 Upland Goose

…. Upland Goose is a sexually dimorphic species, this is the highly distinctive male.

IMG_3719 Chiloe Wigeon

Chiloe Wigeon were common ….

IMG_3803 Crested Ducks

…. and there were small numbers of Crested Duck.

IMG_3797 Corendera Pipit

Corendera Pipits perched on the posts but inspite of a lot of tramping about up to our knees in the marsh Austral Rail remained a ‘heard only’.

IMG_3773 Cinereous Harrier

A feature of this marsh was the wonderful views we had a nesting Cinereous Harriers. I don’t think I have ever had such close and prolonged views of an harrier species before, including our breeding Western Marsh Harriers at home.

IMG_3730 Cinereous Harrier

The male (photo above) and female (shown here) were seen just yards from the estancia and appeared to be defending their territory against another pair. We had repeated good views throughout the afternoon and early the next morning ….

IMG_3725 Cinereous Harrier

…. and I was even able to photograph a food pass.

IMG_3827 Black-faced Ibis

Black-faced Ibis were common and relatively tame.

IMG_3893 Hooded Grebes

Although it was in the wrong direction we opted to make a third visit to the lake. Our spirits were raised when we realised that there were far more birds there than at dusk last night. Several of us got onto two distant birds simultaneously but it was Mark who got he scope on them and announced ‘Hooded Grebes’. A wave of relief and delight passed through the group!

IMG_3885 Hooded Grebes

The distant birds slowly swam towards us and even did a bit of display. This species, which was only described in 1976, is declining rapidly due to the drying out its breeding lakes, being killed introduced mink, its food supply being taken by introduced trout and predatory Kelp Gulls colonising the area due to poor waste management of the increasing human population. It was incredibly exciting to see this extreamly rare bird which looks likely to go extinct within 50 years of its discovery.

It had been a wonderful trip, full of interesting birds and mammals and great scenery. As I had been to many of the sites we visited I wasn’t expecting very many life birds. In the end I added 23 to my list, we had a few misses but that was to be expected. I very much enjoyed traveling in southern Argentina and would certainly recommend it to other birders.

2014 – what a great year!   Leave a comment

2014 has been a great year, full of foreign travel, great birding/ringing and social events. Fortunately there have been no serious issues, so the year has passed without major problems.

This post just summarises some of the highlights; more photos and discussion of each subject can be found on the blog.

During the year the companionship of my family (see the Christmas photo below) and my many friends (be they from school or university days, or birders and ringers here at home or people I have met on foreign trips) has greatly added to the quality of life. There have been a number of social events and musical concerts, many of which I have illustrated on this site.

 

IMG_4075 unwrapping presents

When at home much of my time has been taken up with bird ringing, either around Poole or at Durlston Country Park. We have ringed well over 5000 birds in this area and have amassed a lot of useful data. We have been notified of lots of interesting recoveries some of which I intend to post here in due course. The photo shows a male Bearded Tit photographed at Lytchett Bay.

IMG_1303 beardie

British birding and twitching has taken a bit of a back seat this year. I recorded 223 species in the UK, quite a bit less than usual and most of my birding has been following up other peoples sightings. I have only added one species to my British list – this Baikal Teal seen in Cambridgeshire in March, one to my Dorset list – a Hooded Crow on Portland and one to my Poole Harbour list – a Great White Egret.

IMG_1272 Baikal Teal

Foreign travel has dominated the year. I did eight tours through the year, although this was just seven trips from home as two were taken back to back, and birded in eleven different countries. I recorded 1515 species in total and had 199 life birds. This brings my life list to 7870 following the IOC checklist or 74.5% of the world’s birds. According to the ‘list of lists’ on the Surfbirds website this gives me the 27th highest life in the world, but I know that there are quite a number of birders who do not submit their lists and think I’m more like 50th in the world. Even so, I consider that to be a great achievement and well worth the cost and physical effort involved, and although it hasn’t required much skill on my part, as I have mainly seen these birds on guided tours, I am very pleased to have progressed so far.

For each tour taken in 2014 I have included two photos below, one of the scenery and one of a notable  species.

The first trip was in February to Oman to search for the newly described Omani Owl, wonderful scenery, although long hours were spent in the dark before we eventually got good views. No photos were obtained of the owl so I have included a shot of two critically endangered Sociable Lapwings that were also seen on the tour.

 

IMG_0101-Sayq-Plateau

IMG_5787-Sociable-Lapwing

 

In March I did two trips to Mexico back to back. The first was to the delightful El Triunfo cloud forest reserve in Chiapas. The first photo shows dawn at the clearing where we stayed, the second the incredible Horned Guan, which was the 10,000th bird species Birdquest had seen on their tours.

IMG_0176 El triunfo

IMG_0074-Horned-Guan-b

 

The second Mexico tour was to the Yucatan where we enjoyed the Mardi Gras festival and climbed to the top of some Mayan ruins as well as some stunning birds like the Ocellated Turkey.

IMG_1084 Anne and Martin at Calakmul

IMG_1033 Ocellated Turkey

 

The most varied trip and in some ways the most enjoyable was the drive from North Carolina to the Canadian border that Margaret and I did in May/June. We enjoyed birding in southern woodland and the Appalachians, did pelagic trips off Cape Hatteras, went sightseeing in Washington and New York, birded in the boreal forests of New Hampshire and the coast of Maine as well as visiting a number of friends. I have yet to edit all these photos so I there should be more posts from this most photogenic trip still to come. Below – the Statue of Liberty and a Black Bear seen in North Carolina.

IMG_0094 Statue of Liberty

IMG_0210 Black Bear

 

In May/June I had another great trip, this time to Borneo. One of the highlights was seeing the last bird family for my list, Bornean Bristlehead, but the four new species of Pitta came a close second. There was a really good selection of mammals too. The photos show dawn at Danum Valley and Blue-banded Pitta.

P1120162 Danum

P1120091 Blue-banded Pitta2

 

In late August my friend Roger and I had a week in the Azores concentrating on pelagic trips off the island of Graciosa. The highlight for me was seeing two new species of storm-petrel, Monteiro’s and Swinhoe’s The former is shown below along with storm clouds off the coast of Graciosa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_5609 Monteiro's SP

 

The longest and hardest tip of the year was to northern Madagascar and the Comoros in September/October.  Good birds and mammals abounded but roads were poor in places, transport unreliable, journeys were long and accommodation was variable. The photos below shows sunset over Lake Kincloy, the site of the rare Sakhalava Rail, but the bird of the trip was the wonderful Helmeted Vanga seen earlier on the trip on the Masoala Peninsula.

IMG_0759 Kincloy Sunset

IMG_0329 Helmet Vanga

 

The final trip in November/December was to southern Argentina. This highly scenic trip was most enjoyable and produced some great birds. The photos show the Moreno Glacier in Glacier National Park and the critically endangered Hooded Grebe. I have still to upload the final installment of this trip but will be on this blog within a few days.

IMG_3559 Glacier NP

IMG_3885 Hooded Grebes

 

All of these trips are illustrated in more detail on the blog. Feel free to scroll back through the year. Happy New Year – here’s to a successful and enjoyable 2015.

Posted January 3, 2015 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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Argentina part 5: El Califarte and the Glacier National Park – December 2014   Leave a comment


This is the fifth installment of my Argentina saga and covers the area around El Califarte and the Glacier National Park.

IMG_1209 Trelew - Califarte flight

From Trelew we caught a flight to El Califarte in the far south-west of Patagonia. It was a bumpy ride as we descended through the cloud ….

IMG_1219 Trelew - Califarte flight

…. but the views as we came into land were spectacular.

IMG_3354 Califarte

Near to El Califarte is Largo Argentino. There was a bitterly cold gale blowing as we battled our way along the shore looking for the rare and enigmatic Magellanic Plover.

x20131006-_Y9C0949-Edit

It took about an hour battling into the wind before we found a pair of Magellanic Plovers, a species so unlike all other waders that it is put into its own family. I had a camera failure that day so had to take this picture from the Internet Bird Collection. Photo by R Lewis (no relation).

IMG_3373 Glacier NP

Later we drove up the hill where we had a commanding view of the lake, it was more sheltered here and we were able to get good views of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, and a small rodent called a Tuco Tuco

IMG_3374 Glacier NP

The following day conditions had improved as we headed for the incredibly scenic Glacier National Park.

IMG_3355 BC Buzzard Eagle

On route we had good views this juvenile Black-chested Buzzard Eagle

IMG_3375 BF Ibis

…. and these Black-faced Ibis.

IMG_3368 Black-chinned Siskin

We saw our first Black-chinned Siskin on the edges of the forest.

IMG_3404 southern beech forest

As we approached the Andes the endless Patagonian steppe gave way to Southern Beech forest. These Nothofagus forests are very interesting as species in the same genus also occur in Australia and New Zealand and fossils have been found in Antarctica, showing that they were widespread when all those land masses were joined together as Gondwanaland.

IMG_3383 Chilean Eleania

Chilean Eleanias, with their erectile white crests, were quite common ….

IMG_3598 WT Treerunner

…. but we only saw a pair of White-throated Treerunners, a funarid restricted to the southern beech forests.

IMG_3495 Magellanic Woodpecker

However the highlight of these cool temperate forests was the pair of Magellanic Woodpeckers, one of the largest woodpeckers in the world. This male showed rather briefly but ….

IMG_3507 Magellanic Woodpecker

…. but the equally enormous female hung upside down on this bough for some time, allowing great views.

IMG_3461 marsh

The area around a small and largely overgrown marsh was quite productive with Magellanic Tapaculo (a life bird for me)

IMG_3471Plumbeous Rail

…. Plumbeous Rail ….

IMG_3585 Spectacled Duck

…. and the rare Spectacled (or Bronze-winged) Duck.

IMG_3475 Glacier NP

Good as the birding was it was the scenery that stole the day.

IMG_3456 Glacier NP

From a viewpoint some miles away you get a fantastic view of the Moreno Glacier as it spills down off the Patagonian Ice Sheet. Note the rainbow over the ice.

IMG_3454 Glacier NP

There were plenty of other tourists enjoying the view …..

IMG_3528 RCS

…. as was the inevitable Rufous-collared Sparrow.

IMG_3535 condor

Several Andean Condors were seen in the area, it is not very often that you get to see the upperparts of this high soaring bird.

IMG_3548 Glacier NP

Close up the Moreno Glacier is absolutely spectacular

IMG_3558 Glacier NP

The lake is V shaped with the glacier reaching into the lake at the apex of the V. Over a four-year cycle the glacier expands until it touches the land, cutting the lake in two. As rivers flow into the part of the lake visible in this photo the level of this part of this lake rises by up to 20m until the water pressure undermines the glacier and a tunnel is formed. This expands until a ice arch is all that remains, in time this collapses and the cycle starts all over again.

IMG_3559 Glacier NP

It was a warm day with temperatures in the mid-twenties, but a freezing cold katabatic wind blew off the glacier, so air  temperatures could soar just by stepping into a sheltered spot.

IMG_3572 Glacier NP

Where the ice is greatly compressed by the weight of the glacier beautiful blue colours are formed.

IMG_3574 Glacier NP

Chunks of ice were always falling off the glacier but as sound travels a lot slower than light, the ice had always fallen into the water by the time we heard the loud crack. We had just left the viewpoint when we heard a massive roar, a huge chunk of ice had fallen off as can be seen by the area of clear water in the photo above, but all we saw was a huge splash.

IMG_3541 Condor 3

One of the most memorable sights in the whole trip, indeed on any trip, was when this Condor flew in front of the glacier face.

Christmas Eve 2014 to New Year’s Day 2015   Leave a comment

This post covers our time in Essex. Sussex and Derbyshire over the festive period plus the New Year boat trip in Poole Harbour.

IMG_4056 sunset

The famiy spent this Christmas in Maldon, Essex with John and Anita. We traveled up on Christmas Eve but Janis and Kara arrived the day before. In the late afternoon whilst the family watched TV, I drove down to the nearby Blackwater River for a bit of birding.

IMG_4049 Avocets R Blackwater

Good numbers of waders and ducks including this flock of Avocets was seen.

IMG_4052 Avocets Blackwater River

Avocets on the Blackwater River.

IMG_4075 unwrapping presents

Christmas Day Morning – the present opening ceremony. Clockwise John, Anita, Amber, Kara, Margaret and Janis.

IMG_4067 Amber & Kara Xmas 14

Sisters reunited. Amber has been living and working in Essex with her aunt and uncle since June, whilst of course Kara and Janis still live 100 yards up the road from us.

IMG_4081 family at Xmas

Merry Christmas from the Lewis/Dreosti family.

IMG_4084 Kara's prom dress

Kara shows off her new prom dress.

IMG_4092 Wallasea Island

On Boxing Day morning Margaret and I drove to the new RSPB reserve at Wallasea Island, about 45 minutes to the south from Maldon.

IMG_4107 Wallasea Brent's

It was a grey day on the saltmarshes with the temperature hovering around freezing. There were many birds on the reserve, large flocks of Brent Geese were to be expected but it was the large numbers of Corn Buntings and Stock Doves (both relatively scarce in Dorset) that impressed me. We also saw up to four Marsh Harriers, a Peregrine, Merlin, Sparrowhawk, Short-eared Owl, Common Buzzard and several Kestrels but not the hoped for Rough-legged Buzzard.

IMG_4105 conveyer belt Wallacea

The reserve is undergoing a major development. Using  spoil from the Crosslink rail project the land is being raised whilst basins are being created elsewhere. When completed the seawall will be breached in places allowing the basins to flood, so producing a mosaic of tidal lagoons, saltmarsh and rough grazing. The conveyor belt in the photo above is where the spoil extracted from beneath London is brought ashore from barges.

IMG_4108 Burnham on Crouch

Across the river from the reserve is the town of Burham-on-Crouch. Whenever I see that name I am reminded of the excellent, if saucy song ‘Billericay Dickie’ by Ian Dury ‘Oh golly, oh gosh come and lie on the couch with a nice bit of posh from Burnham-on-Crouch’

 

On the 27th we left Essex and headed north to my brother’s place in Duffield, near Derby.  On route we stopped at two sites in Suffolk, the RSPB reserve at Boyton and the famous archaeological site of Sutton Hoo. My reason for going to Boyton was to see the two Trumpeter Swans that have been present for the last couple of weeks, one of just five waterfowl species in the world that I have yet to see.

There has been some discussion at to whether these birds are wild or escapes from captivity. Arguments for them being wild are 1) they are unringed 2) the species is increasing rapidly in numbers in the USA due to re-introduction schemes 3) the species is partially migratory 4) there have been severe storms on the east coast of the States which may have induced dispersal out to sea 5) when they first arrived some staining, possibly iron oxide, was seen on the head, something that has been noted on Whooper Swans from Iceland and 6) another large bird from USA/Canada has occurred in the very same area – a Sandhill Crane in 2011. Arguments against are 1) they are adults, the vast majority of vagrants are first years 2) although the species is partially migratory, no really long distance movements have been noted and the swan is not found on the American east coast. The nearest population on the Great Lakes only makes short distance movements to ice free areas in winter and 3) they have arrived on the east coast when you would expect vagrants from America to arrive on the west coast or in Ireland, 4)the comparison with the Sandhill Crane is not really valid as that bird was a first year and had already made landfall in Scotland before moving south in stages, a pattern shared by the previous Sandhills in Britain.

There is almost always a case for and against a particular American vagrant being wild. If we were to give Chimney Swift, an undoubted vagrant, a score of 10 and Harris’s Hawk, a common falconer’s bird and a frequent escape, a score of 1, then I would allocate the Trumpeters a score of 4. Am I going to add them to my British list or my World list – no, am I glad I went to see them – yes, but only because I was in the area anyway.

 

TS LGRE

In spite of the wind and rain I had great views of the Trumpeter Swans but then realised I had left my cameras SD card back in my laptop. The following photo was taken earlier in the month by LGR Evans and is used with permission. See http://bbabirding.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/trumpeter-swans-in-suffolk-and-review.html

IMG_4119 burial mound

By the time we reached the nearby Sutton Hoo archaeological site of Sutton Hoo the weather had improved. In the late 30’s burial mounds on the site were excavated, many had already been plundered by grave robbers but one was intact and proved to be a ship burial of a Saxon noble, probably King Raedwald who died about 625 Ad..

IMG_4118 Sutton Hoo treasure

The grave was full of the most wonderful treasures, which are now in the British Museum, but replicas of some are on show at Sutton Hoo. Saxon’s are often thought to be uncivilised people from the ‘Dark Ages’ but these burial goods have shown they could produce the most wonderful artifacts like this gold and enamel purse ….

IMG_4117 Sutton Hoo treasure

…. the fabulous metalwork of this sword ….

IMG_4115 Sutton Hoo helmet

…. or this helmet.

IMG_4113 ship burial replica

The visitor centre had a recreation of the ship that the king was buried in. His body was laid out surrounded by the goods that he would want to use in the afterlife.

IMG_4120 Edwardian House

One floor of landowner’s Edwardian Manor House has been preserved as it was at the time of the excavations.

IMG_4277 Cromford

When we arrived in Derbyshire we found that the rain we experienced in East Anglia had fallen as snow further north. The following day we drove north into the Derbyshire Dales and found a picture postcard landscape.

IMG_4195 Carsington

Our destination was the scenic Carsington Reservoir where we saw some great birds, a pair of Bewick’s Swans and a flock of 300 Pink-footed Geese flying between their wintering grounds in Norfolk and Lancashire.

IMG_4186 Dunnock

With the cold conditions plenty of birds, such as this Dunnock, were coming to feeders.

IMG_4198 Willow Tit

I was particularly pleased to get views of Willow Tut, a species that has long been extirpated from Dorset.

IMG_4204 Willow Tit best

These two photos show several of the subtle features that separate Willow Tit from the similar Marsh Tit. Willow Tits have a duller crown, thicker neck, a pale wing panel, a more diffuse border to the bib, a subtle gradation from the cheeks to the side of the neck, lack of a pale patch at the base of the bill and a smaller difference between the length of the longest and outermost tail feathers. In spite of all these fine pointers the best ID features remain the vocalisations.

IMG_4230 Tree Sparrow best

Another bird that we seldom see in Dorset but which is delightfully common at Carsington, is Tree Sparrow.

IMG_4282 Cromford canal

Later we went to the nearby Cromford Mill, a site where Hawfinches are often reported but are never there when I visit. This actual mill is considered to be the birth place of the industrial revolution. The canal which once brought materials to and from the mill is now a pleasant place for a walk or a spot to feed to feed the ducks.

IMG_4295 Di, Steve, Nigel, Margaret

During our time in Duffield we spent some time with my brother and his family and also visited several of my old friends. We picked up my old school and Uni mate Nigel (sat next to Margaret) and visited friends from school and also Di who was at University with me and her husband Steve.

IMG_4305 fireworks on TV

We didn’t do anything to celebrate New Years Eve and just ended up seeing the New Year in by watching the Queen concert and the fireworks on the telly.

IMG_4321 bird boat

We are very thankful to Mark and Mo Constantine for putting on their annual bird boat around Poole harbour on New Year’s Day. About 65 birders took up their kind offer and we had a good social as well as some good birds. Only a few are in this shot as most are upstairs enjoying the birding upstairs.

IMG_4306 raft race

Poole Quay was busy and parking places hard to find due to the crowds watching the annual New Years Day raft race which seemed to involve all contestants getting thrown into the water.

IMG_4319 Spoonbill

It was a very low tide and the boat couldn’t get around all the islands as a result we didn’t visit the area to the west of Brownsea which often holds interesting ducks or Arne where most of the Spoonbill flock hangs out. However we did see this Spoonbill near the boat near Ower Quay. Not being able to complete the circuit was to our advantage as when we retraced our steps we came across a Black Guillemot near Brownsea Castle. This is the first time I’ve seen this species in Poole Harbour. I didn’t get any photos but some along with another account of the bird boat have been posted on Steve Smith’s excellent blog at http://BirdingPooleHarbourandBeyond.blogspot.co.uk

IMG_4325 Purps

After the boat docked Margaret and I drove round to North Haven and the mouth of Poole Harbour where in spite of the crowds going for a New Year’s Day walk these Purple Sandpipers were dodging the incoming waves.

IMG_4336 Purple Sand

An arctic breeder ‘purps’ winter on rocky shorelines, in Dorset this means they are seldom seen away from Mudeford Quay at Christchurch, the North Haven in Poole, Portland Bill and the Cobb at Lyme Regis.