Archive for March 2015

March 2015 (mainly) – Catching up: musical and social events, Undiscovered Owls and a dip on an eclipse.   Leave a comment

I don’t know if its Facebook or WordPress’ fault but the picture that comes up when I post the blog link isn’t the one that appears on my Facebook Timeline. Can anyone help me stop this?

IMG_2550 Rick Wakeman

On 13th February we attended a lovely evening at the Lighthouse in Poole entitled ‘Yet another evening with Rick Wakeman’ Just the man himself and a piano, this proved to be a wonderful evening showcasing his fantastic keyboard skills as he played a series of pieces depicting various times in his life.

IMG_2554 Rick Wakeman

Musician, composer, TV personality, raconteur and comedian, Rick told stories about the recording of ‘Morning Has Broken’ with Cat Stevens, his time with Yes, describing singed Jon Anderson as ‘I have never known someone who cares so deeply about the planet whilst living on a totally different one’ and what happened when his mother took all the inhabitants of an old people’s home to see one of his extravagant rock concerts.

IMG_0361 Paloma Faith

Over a month later on the 15th March we visited the BIC to see the lovely and very talented Paloma Faith in concert. Her music was wonderful (although I found the sound mix to be a bit strong on the treble for my ears) but what really grabbed my attention was the support act ….

IMG_0298 Ty Taylor

…. I had never heard of California band Vintage Trouble before (although I have seen singer Ty Taylor performing with Paloma on the Jools Holland Show). The musicians played excellent blues and rock style but Ty Taylor stole the show, if you shut your eyes you could believe you were listening to James Brown or Otis Redding. His energetic act took him all over the stage and indeed all over the auditorium. He returned to perform an Aretha Franklin song with Paloma during the main set.

IMG_0304 Vintage Trouble

Stupidly I didn’t take my camera so these shots were taken on my phone. This was particularly annoying as we had great seats just behind the mixing deck free from other people’s heads. Here Ty Taylor, Rick Barrio Dill, Nalle Colt and Richard Danielson line up to be photographed by and with the fans.

IMG_0315 Paloma Faith

In the second half Paloma Faith did a great set on her white art deco stage, complete with a ten piece band (most of whom are hiding in this shot).

IMG_0368 Paloma Faith

And here dances with her backing singers.

IMG_2636 Amber

Some family news. Our granddaughter Amber is still working in Essex and living with her aunt and uncle Anita and John. She came back to Dorset for a week and paid us a visit or two. As those of you who have visited us might notice, we have had all the doors and some internal windows in the house replaced recently which gives it a much brighter look.

IMG_1685 John, Anita, Kara & M

John and Anita also paid us a visit on the way back from visiting friends in Weymouth and Kara popped in too. Coincidently it was Mother’s Day so that was a nice treat for Margaret.

IMG_1684 Bob, Alan and Ian

In the last fortnight I have had a reunion with an old friend and had to say goodby to some new ones. Alan Martin, treasurer and one of the leading ringers in Stour Ringing Group up to 1996, was back in Dorset on business so three of us joined him for a drink in Wareham on 13th. L-R Bob Gifford, Alan Martin and Ian Alexander

IMG_1686 Farewells

We were all back in a pub in Wareham (well nearby Stoborough to be precise) on the 17th to say farewell to two members of the ringing group. Simon Breeze, a warden at Durlston is leaving for a new job in Somerset and Mick Cook has decided to retire from ringing due to other commitments. L-R Ian, Bob, Shaun Robson, Simon Breeze, Mike Gould, Sean Walls and Mick Cook. We wish them both  well but manning the ringing site at Durlston without their input and their expertise is going to be a challenge .

On 18th it was back to Wareham again, this time for the AGM of the Dorset Bird Club which we held in the Methodist church. The Club had looked like it was in danger of folding but thanks to a very generous offer from the Birds of Poole Harbour charity, Marcus Lawson has been employed for two years to take the Club forwards. After the AGM we had a fascinating talk from Magnus Robb on the new Sound Approach book ‘Undiscovered Owls’. We heard some of the wonderful sound recordings (the one of a Ural Owl was so atmospheric), were informed about Magnus’ discovery of the Omani Owl and learned about how the Little Owls over much of Europe, North Africa and Asia are not Little Owls at all , but a separate species they are naming the ‘Cucumeow’. It was one of the most entertaining and informative talks I have ever been to.

IMG_1689 Magnus at DBC AGM

Magnus answering questions after his talk on Undiscovered Owls. It looks like this book is going to be of an even higher standard than the four the Sound Approach has produced already. See for details including a pre-publication discount offer.

On the morning of the 20th there was the long-awaited partial eclipse of the Sun. It was going to be about an 88% coverage of the Sun by the Moon but that would have been spectacular enough. However there was thick cloud in our area and all we noticed was a drop in light levels and temperature. Fortunately I have seen several partial eclipses and a total eclipse, although the latter only briefly. In August 1999 I took a flight from Hurn airport specifically to see the total eclipse. We flew SW of Cornwall to the area of totality. Views through the aircraft windows were good but not excellent, because in spite being in a window seat as soon as I had seen it I had to duck down to let the other two passengers in my row have a view and because almost immediately the pilot had to turn the plane around to let the other side have a chance. As a result views of totality were restricted to a few seconds. One of the most memorable things was watching the shadow of the Moon race across the clouds towards us leaving a dark purple stain in its wake.

1999 eclipse scan of print

Although far better shots can be seen on the internet I have uploaded a scan of this photo which was taken from the cockpit of the 1999 charter flight and was delivered as print to all the passengers. It has been on my sideboard for the last 16 years and has faded some what. This along with it being taken though an aircraft’s window explains the poor quality.

And finally I delayed posting this entry until after our Ringing Group’s AGM on the 22nd. I thought it would be nice to have a photo of all of us together, well 13 out of the 16 of us actually. The evening went well and we made lots of plans for the future, sorted out a few issues and awarded the ‘Stoate Award’ for the worst paperwork entry of the year, but after the meeting had broken up I realised I had forgotten to take any photos. We have managed to go three years since the last AGM (does that make it a TGM?) so it might be 2018 before I have a chance to do that again.


Arctic Norway: 6th – 11th March 2015   Leave a comment

The Phoenix organisation, to which Margaret and I are members, advertised a charter flight from Bournemouth to Tromsø in arctic Norway that joined a three night trip on board one of Hurtigruten’s cruise ships. Although I had been to arctic regions four times before and seen most of its wildlife it had always been in summer with its 24 hour daylight and so had never seen the aurora borealis or northern lights as it is generally known now. The Gulf Stream keeps the waters off northern Norway ice-free throughout the winter and indeed makes this area about 20c warmer than it should be for this latitude.


IMG_1677 snow at Tromso

We arrived at Tromsø to very mild conditions. It was raining and 6c. Not what you would expect at nearly 70N in March. The heavy snow seen in this photo was taken on our return five days later.

IMG_2644 nr Tromso

The following day most of the group opted to try dog sledding at a centre some 30 minutes out-of-town.

IMG_1660 huskies

Quite contrary to my belief, these huskies were mild-tempered and docile.

IMG_1631 Husky puppy

And the puppies were quite adorable (and obviously were excused sled pulling activities).

IMG_1656 dog sledding

I have never seen dogs so eager to perform as these. They would strain at the leads whenever the brake was on and leap forwards the moment it was released. A few of the sleds got caught up in small trees or overturned so there was a bit of delay. We were out for an hour and it was pretty exhilarating.

IMG_1667 post dog sledding

Most of the rest of the Phoenix group. Only Davril and Margaret stayed behind. Yes, I did go on holiday with nine women.

IMG_3273 Midnatsol

In the afternoon we boarded the MS Midnatsol which sailed at 1800.

IMG_2678 Aurora borealis

Of course the main reason for coming on this trip was to see the aurora. It runs on an 11 year cycle with this year being at or just after the peak. Even so, the display wasn’t as good as some published photos would have you believe, however those photographers can chose the best nights and best locations for their stunning panoramas.

IMG_2713 aurora (best)

The problem I encountered was that my bridge camera wouldn’t give an exposure longer than one second. As a result I had to set it on 6400 ISO hence the grainy images. Also of course the photos were taken from a moving ship, further blurring the image.

IMG_2724 morning

Dawn the next day saw us steaming north through the many fjords.

IMG_2729 distant mountains

Conditions were a bit colder here and snow came down to the foreshore. Very few birds were seen except the ubiquitous Herring Gull and Kittiwake.

IMG_2763 Honningvag

Late morning we called into the pretty village of Honningsvåg on the northernmost island of Magerøya.

IMG_2783 North Cape

We transferred to the North Cape, generally considered at 71 10′ 21”N to be the most northerly point of Europe, although the next peninsula is 1.5km further north and of course Svalbard is nearly 1000km further still.

IMG_2798 North Cape in the wind

It was windy when we arrived but it soon got much worse. Even standing up to get your picture taken at the globe was a trial.

IMG_2841 North Cape

Things deteriorated rapidly when a hail shower driven by force 8 winds struck and caused everyone to run for the visitor centre.

IMG_2905 Fin Church

Later we cruised eastwards towards Mehamn. Here we passed a rock formation that bore a strange resemblance to a Finnish church.

IMG_3160 silver sea

It was relatively sheltered with calmer seas in the fjords.

IMG_2950 dawn at Varanger

We arrived in Varangfjord at dawn the next day. We were now as far east as Istanbul or Durban in the southern Indian Ocean.

IMG_3057 LT Duck better

Varangerfjord is famous for its wintering seaducks. Hardy species from arctic Siberia don’t need to travel to the Atlantic coast for winter which they consider to be just for wusses. They prefer the harsher conditions of the eastward facing Vrangerfjord. The best views were in Vadsø harbour where I photographed these Long-tailed Ducks ….

IMG_3003 Common Eiders

…. this raft of Common Eider ….

IMG_3035 male & female King Eider

…. and the wonderful King Eider, here on the sea ….

IMG_3072 male & female King Eider

…. and here in flight ….

IMG_2980 Stellar's Eider

Best of all was the much scarcer Steller’s Eider named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, the naturalist on board Bering’s 1725 expedition across Russian searching for an eastern route to the New World. Indeed Steller became the first westerner to reach Alaska from the east.

edredone-di-steller- M Ravasini

The Steller’s Eiders stayed at the back of the flock, just a bit too distant for photography, so I have copied this stunning image of a drake by M Ravasini from the Internet Bird Collection.

IMG_3145 Black Guillemot

We saw few birds as we crossed Varangerfjord on our way to Kirkenes on the southern shore. The best that Kirkenes harbour could offer was this Black Guillemot moulting from its mainly white winter to it mainly black summer plumage.

IMG_3126 Pasvik Valley

For an excursion we took a bus trip to the Russian border, mainly so we could get out of the town and see if there were any birds around. Here we are crossing the Pasvik river, proposed in the mid 19th century as the border between Russia and Norway, but Russia wanted some territory on the west bank so it could access an ancient Russian Orthodox Church. Norway managed to trade a few square km on the west bank for over a hundred on the east bank.

IMG_3114 Russian border

I have Russian visa for my trip in May but didn’t push my luck and try to cross. I’d have certainly missed the boat back to Tromsø.

IMG_3102 Pasvik Valley

We glimpsed a few birds in the Pasvik valley, a Fieldfare, a few Redpolls and a Great Tit and briefly saw flocks of Waxwings in Kirkenes, but from a birding perspective it was rather frustrating, but I was glad to visit this famous birding area as time did not permit this on my trip to Varanger in June 1987.

IMG_3167 Julie's birthday

Today was Julie’s birthday and the others had arranged a cake. Bottom row L-R Sue, Julie, Linda. Top row L-R Di, me, Rosemary, Davril, Helen, Von and Margaret.

IMG_3171 WB Dolphins

We crossed back to the north shore of Varangerfjord and sailed around the eastern side to the town of Vardø,  situated on an island connected by a tunnel to the mainland. The wind increased markedly and so did the bird activity as we passed the seabird breeding cliffs of Hornøya. Identification of the many (thousands) of auks in poor light and in flight was tricky, but I thought the majority were Brunnich’s Guillemots with smaller numbers of Razorbills and even fewer Common Guillemots. King and Common Eiders abounded and I saw at least 15 Glaucous Gulls, some Gannets and a White-billed Diver. Pride of place however goes to this large pod of White-beaked Dolphins, a species I have never seen before in spite of going on dedicated boat trips to look for it.

IMG_3190 on way back

The overnight passage was quite horrendous, the wind increased to force 10 and we were sailing straight into it. That said, the boat remained remarkably stable but we had a pretty bad night’s sleep as something came loose in the roof space above us and crashed and banged with every lurch of the ship. In the late evening we went up to the top deck to see the aurora, sheltering behind the funnel from the wind and ambient light.Very dramatic, with back-lit spray billowing around and above us whilst the green fingers of the northern lights danced in the background. The following morning things had calmed considerably as this photo shows.

IMG_3201 on coming blizzard

Our first stop that day was at Havøysund where this black cloud ….

IMG_3203 blizzard

…. dumped a whole load of snow on us.

IMG_3244 Hammerfest

We had a couple of hours to look around Hammerfest, which at over 70N is claimed to be the northernmost town in the world (but again they seem to have forgotten about Longyearbyen, the capital of Svarlbard).

IMG_3237 House Sparrow

Perhaps Hammerfest’s claim to fame is being home to the most northerly House Sparrows in the world (unless of course you know otherwise)

IMG_3228 Common Eiders

A flock of Common Eider in the harbour gave better views than was possible from the ship.

IMG_3253 on way back to Tromso

So the rest of the day was taken up with the journey back to Tromsø, again there was wonderful scenery at every turn.

IMG_3278 on way to tromso

Our final stop in daylight was the little town of Øksfjord just before it got dark.

IMG_3288 Tromso Cathederal

We arrived at Tromsø at 2345 but instead of going straight to our hotel we transferred to Tromsø’s Arctic Cathedral for a wonderful musical recital in a church with the most perfect acoustics I have ever heard. A beautiful end to a beautiful trip.



Brazil part 5: Serra Bonita, Porto Segura and Itacare, Bahia – 29th Jan – 1st Feb 2015   Leave a comment

This is the fifth and final report on my north-east Brazil trip.

From Boa Nova we continued south to the Serra das Lontras range and the Serra Bonita reserve. From here we headed south-east reaching the coast at Porto Segura before heading north towards Salvador for our flight home.

IMG_1739 Serra Bonita

We spent three nights at the private reserve of Serra Bonita near the town of Camacan which produced some excellent birding.

IMG_1970 view Serra Bonita

There was a beautiful panoramic view over the town from the restaurant, especially first thing in the morning.

IMG_1647 RT Jacamar

Here are a few birds from the Serra Bonita forests – Rufous-throated Jacamar ….

IMG_1807 Crescent-chested Puffbird

…. Crescent-chested Puffbird ….

IMG_1981 Blue Mannakin

…. Blue Manakin ….

IMG_2149 Treehunter sp nov

…. but the star bird was this undescribed species of Heliobretus treehunter. A full description is in the pipeline and it will probably be given the vernacular name of Serra das Lontras Treehunter. This is a copy of a print by Ciro Albano and is used with permission.

IMG_1827 rainbow Serra Bonita

A middle of the day shower produced a stunning rainbow over the town

IMG_1818 rainbow

… giving some most unusual effect when I engaged the maximum zoom setting.

IMG_1837 Wn thrush

Feeders around the HQ gave some great photo opportunities – here a White-necked Thrush with two Green-headed Tanagers.

IMG_1928 GH Tanager & G Honeycreeper

A Green-headed Tanager with a Green Honeycreeper.

IMG_2056 Green Honeycreeper

Female Green Honeycreeprs are just that, but the male is more of a blue colour.

IMG_1956 Chestnut-bellied Euphonia

Chestnut-bellied Euphonias were out numbered by their orange-bellied cousins but I have kept a photo of that species for later.

IMG_1924 RN Tanager

and finally the incredible Red-necked Tanager.

IMG_2103 Serra Bonita feeders

The hummingbird feeders were filled just before dusk to give the birds some calories before their overnight fast. Here Sombre Hummingbirds and a Black Jacobin vie for position.

IMG_1883 VC Woodnymph

A male Violet-capped Woodnymph catches the light just right.

IMG_1885 imm Black Inca

Only the immature Black Inca shows this brown moustachial stripe.

IMG_2157 Frilled Coquette

A tiny female Frilled Coquette. The smallest hummer in the world is the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba but the coquettes are not far behind.

IMG_2077 Serra Bonita views

Our final success at Serra Bonita was distant views of the rare Mantled Hawk from the highest peak.

IMG_1468 Hawk moth

The owner of Serra Bonita is a moth expert and runs a mercury vapor light regularly. Of the 24,000 species known from Brazil, he has identified 12,000 just on this reserve. This contrasts with just 2,500 ever recorded in the UK where there are thousands of moth enthusiasts trapping on a regular basis. I’ve no idea of the name but presume this is some species of Hawk-moth.

IMG_1476 moths

An unidentified micro-moth, a clearwing and what I presume is a one of the Geometridae.

IMG_2170 Variagated Fly

From Serra Bonita we continued to the most southerly point of the trip at Porto Segura. On route we saw many interesting species varying from the widespread Variegated Flycatcher ….

IMG_2209 Olivaceous Flatbill

…. Olivaceous Flatbill ….

IMG_2298 Southern Roughwing

…. and Southern Roughwing ….

IMG_2207 Eastern Striped Manakin

…. to the range restricted Eastern Striped Manakin ….

IMG_2222 Least Pygmy Owl

…. and Least Pygmy Owl.

IMG_1479 1st Portugeuse in Brazil - hotel foyer

Porto Seguro is famous as the first place in modern Brazil to be visited by Europeans, being first visited by the Pedro Álvares Cabral expedition in April 1500. As the area lay within the part of the world allocated to Portugal by the Treaty of Tordesillas, a Papal Bull declaring that all newly discovered lands were to be divided up between Spain and Portugal, the region was claimed for Portugal. This characature of Pedro Álvares Cabral was painted on the wall of the foyer of our hotel.

IMG_2066 Golden-bellied Euphonia

From Porto Seguro (the southernmost point of the trip) we headed north to Itacaré, our final birding destination. On route we stopped at our guide Eduardo’s brother’s house where we could see lots of nice birds coming to the feeder such as this Orange-bellied Euphonia ….

IMG_2335 RL Honeycreeper

…. Red-legged Honeycreeper ….

IMG_2344 Brazillian Tanager f

…. and a female Brazilian Tanager

IMG_2418 Aracari to ID

The following day we birded nearby forests seeing many species such as this Black-necked Aracari ….

IMG_2395 B& W Hawk-eagle

…. and this magnificent Black-and-White Hawk-eagle. This is the first time I have seen an adult of this species and the first time perched.

IMG_2435 mangroves

Later in the day we called in at an extensive area of mangroves in the hope of see the two species of rail that we had failed to find earlier in the trip, Little Wood-rail and Mangrove Rail. It was very hot and we had no luck. We hoped to return the next day but unfortunately it didn’t pan out that way.

IMG_2443 beach resort at Itarce

We had lunch by the beach at Itacaré ….

IMG_2444 Eduardo and brother

… at a beach restaurant run by (on the left) Eduardo’s brother Leo.

IMG_2484 lake

In the afternoon we visited the Catitu private reserve.

IMG_2450 BH Berryeater

We saw four excellent species of cotinga, both Black-headed Berryeater

IMG_2289 WW Cotinga

…. and White-winged Cotinga showed well. Bare-throated Bellbird was seen at a distance (but I only got very poor photos) but the best of all, the rare Banded Cotinga, was seen perched at such a distance that it couldn’t be identified until it flew.

IMG_1486 Itacire

Our final night was again spent in the pleasant holiday resort of Itacaré. The following morning we revisited Catitu in the hope of better views of Banded Cotinga. We had a very birdy morning but failed with our primary target. This was the only day on the whole trip when I failed to pick up a life bird.

IMG_1490 fiesta

Then it was  long drive north to Salvador for our flight to Lisbon and home. Initially following the coast road, the journey was delayed by poor roads, heavy traffic, a funeral procession and (above) a fiesta, but we arrived at the airport in good time, so concluding an excellent trip. I personally recorded just short of 500 species. I had expected 65 life birds, 70 if I was very lucky, I got 78 and saw a couple of fantastic species that I didn’t know were even possible on this itinerary. There is a lot of driving on this trip but the results make it more than worthwhile.

WW Potoo IBC Ciro Albano

But I will finish this narrative with another bird that deserves the epithet of ‘bird of the trip’ and one that wasn’t on my radar at all at the start. We bumped into Ciro Albano and his group at Veracel reserve near Porto Segura and after dark we all were able to get great views of two White-winged Potoos. Photo by Ciro Albano from the Internet Bird Collection.



Brazil part 4 – Boa Nova, Bahia – 23rd – 25th January 2015   2 comments

Continuing the journey south through north-east Brazil, our group arrived at Boa Nova in Bahia State on the afternoon of the 23rd.

IMG_1421 Boa Nova hotel entrance

Although I have stayed in worse, the accommodation in Boa Nova was clearly the least luxurious of the trip. Entrance to our rooms was through a padlocked gate in the street. I understand that a new hotel has been opened recently so this shouldn’t put others off visiting.

IMG_1416 room at Boa Nova

Rooms were a bit dingy, there was a lot of noise from the street and I was plagued by mosquitoes in the night. There was even the legendary chewing gum on the bedstead (from 1950’s Lonnie Donegon song for those too young to remember).

IMG_1486 BB Scythebill

The birding however was outstanding. This Black-billed Scythebill, a rare relative of the woodcreepers, gave reasonable views.

IMG_1609 Pink-legged Graveteiro

Several Pink-legged Graveteiro’s, showed in the canopy. This species of furnarid was only described in 1996.

IMG_1501 Sharpbill

Sharpbills gave their falling bomb whistles from the trees. This species has been considered to be a cotinga or has been placed in a family of its own, but has now ended up in the Tityridae along with such other neotropical oddballs as the tityras, royal flycatchers, schiffornis, myobious, purpletufts (see below), xenopsaris (see below), becards and some of the mourners.

IMG_1528 Ochre-rumped AB

As usual ant-thingies were a regular feature. This is an Ochre-rumped Antbird ….

IMG_1411 Slender AB

…. a male Slender Antbird ….

IMG_1698 Slender Antbird f

…. and here the even more elusive female Slender Antbird.

IMG_1738 Buff-throated Purpletuft

One of the cutest birds of the trip was the diminutive Buff-throated Purpletuft. Now, as I said above, a member of the Tityridae.

IMG_1478 Weid's Black-tufted eared Marmoset

Mammals even got a look in. This is the rare Weid’s Black-tufted-ear Marmoset.

IMG_1546 White-naped Xenopsaris

In a drier, more open area we saw a pair of White-naped Xenopsaris. This species occurs over a wide area but is always scarce. This is the fourth South American trip I have seen this bird on, but up to now it’s just been one per trip.

IMG_1426 Steve Lowe at Boa Nova

Part of two afternoons were spent searching a rocky outcrop ….

IMG_1431 Boa Nova

… it was covered in cacti so you had to watch your step.

IMG_1540 WT Seedeater

We had great views of several seedeaters including this White-throated and the rarer Dubois’ ….

IMG_1457 Pygmy Nightjar

… but our main target was Pygmy Nightjar which we found just before dusk, perfectly camouflaged on the rock.

IMG_1581 Hummer and cacti

The flowers of the cacti attracted many hummingbirds ….

IMG_1567 Ruby-topaz Hummer

…. a female Ruby Topaz Hummingbird ….

IMG_1579Ruby-topaz Hummer

…. and the brighter male. Hummingbirds have feathers that shine iridescent from certain angles. The entire bird will never glow at the same time. As this bird turns its ruby crown will turn black but its gorget will light up a bright orange.

IMG_1576 Glittering-bellied Emerald

Similarly this Glittering-bellied Emerald will only live up to its name when viewed from a certain angle.

IMG_1594 Giant Snipe

But the bird of the day, no, the bird of the trip, was seen at a nearby marsh after dark. We had fantastic views of a Giant Snipe by torchlight. Almost half as big again as a Eurasian Woodcock, this monster of the marshes showed well for several minutes. OK the photos aren’t brilliant but it was some way away and lit just by the torch beam. Araripe Manakin and Lear’s Macaws were expected highlights of the trip, this wasn’t, hence my decision to give it the honour of  ‘bird of the trip’.


Brazil part 3 – Pernambuco, Alagoas and Bahia States. 17th – 22nd January 2015.   Leave a comment

The last Brazil post dealt with our visit to the Canudos Biological Reserve and its wonderful Lear’s Macaws. From here we drove south-east to Jeremoabo and the following day continued to the coast at Palmares in coastal Pernambuco.

IMG_0673 Pectoral Antwren

Pectoral Antwren, one of many species of antwren seen on the tour and one that is restricted to far eastern Brazil, was a highlight of our time at Jeremoabo.

IMG_0698 Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owls could be seen along the sides of the road in open areas.


The area around Palmares is part of the ‘Pernambuco centre of avian endemism’. Unfortunately the vast majority of forest has been converted to sugarcane or banana plantations and the remaining endemic birds are critically endangered. Some forest does remain, but it is severely fragmented. In Europe or North America forest birds would disperse from one patch to another so bolstering the population, but here each population becomes increasingly isolated and inbred so numbers are falling at an alarming rate. Alagoas Foliage-gleaner, Pernambuco Pygmy-owl and Cryptic Treehunter may already be extinct and Alagoas Antwren, Pinto’s Spinetail and White-collared Kite may soon be following them into oblivion. Originally three days were scheduled for this area but rather than ‘flog a dead horse’ our time was cut to a day and a half, allowing us to see some of the specialities without wasting time on birds that had already disappeared.


IMG_0770 forest patches Frei Caneca

Frei Canaca reserve is typical of the plight of the NE Brazilian coastal rain forest, being encircled with and fragmented by plantations. We saw some good birds here but they were in very low density and it was hard work!

IMG_0717 Forbes Blackbirds

I wasn’t able get good photos of any of the Pernambuco forest birds but in coastal marshes we saw and photographed the equally rare Forbe’s Blackbird.

IMG_0833 WH Marsh Tyrant

The attractive White-headed Marsh Tyrant is a much commoner and widespread bird.

IMG_0868 King Vulture

Overhead we had great views of the largest of the lowland New World vultures (the Andean Condor of course is the largest).

IMG_0889 Fringe-backed Fire-eye

Further south in coastal Bahia State we came across another range restricted antbird – Fringe-backed Fire-eye.

IMG_0919 sunset in palms

We visited nearby palms at dusk and were fortunate to see …

IMG_0925 Jandaya Parakeet

…. the endemic Jandaya Parakeets flying to roost.

IMG_0942 mangrove creek

Searching mangroves the following morning we located several of the recently split Mangrove Rails, but they refused to be coaxed from deep cover and remained a ‘heard only’. However a chance encounter with another tour group gave us great scope views of the coastal Rufous Crab-hawk, but it was too distant for decent photos.

IMG_0960 Comb Duck

On route we saw the trip’s only Comb Duck, a species recently split from the Old World Knob-billed Goose.

IMG_0968 Chestnut-headed Blackbird

Chestnut-headed Blackbirds frequented these roadside marshes.

IMG_1376 Lencois

Moving back inland, we stayed for a couple of nights in the charming town of Lencois. From here we explored the nearby Chapada de Diamantina and surround caatinga.

IMG_0685 toilet signs

You’re not going to be confused as to which is which with these toilet door signs!

IMG_1013 Cassiornis site

A nearby river valley held two very special birds ….

IMG_0978 Sao Francisco Sparrow

…. Sao Francisco Sparrow, named after the regions largest river ….

IMG_1002 Ash Br Casiornis

… and Ash-throated Casiornis, a seldom seen tyrant flycatcher that looks more like a furnarid.

IMG_1063 rock outcrop

The Chapada de Diamantina consists of many tepui-like rock outcrops and is scenically very attractive.

IMG_1066 Sincora Antwren

Among the many great birds we saw was Sincora Antwren, a bird described as recently as 2007 ….

IMG_1088 Serra Finch

…. and Serra Finch, another eastern Brazil speciality.

IMG_1414 tapaculo gully

One of the best birds we saw in the area was another recently described species, Diamantina Tapaculo. To get to see this rarity we had to battle our way through thick scrub and climb down into this rocky gully. Our first attempt was unsuccessful, which was frustrating as our leader had already located it on a ‘recce’ whilst we were having lunch, so we knew it was there. But our attempt the next morning was successful, but no pictures were obtained of this little skulker.

IMG_1093 Red-cowled Cardinal

This slightly blurred photo of a Red-cowled Cardinal looks like (but isn’t) something out of John Dunning’s ‘South American Land Birds’. Long before any good field guides existed for South American, JD mist-netted many South American species and photographed them in a special photography cage, complete with a few branches to perch on and a pale blue background to mimic the sky. For a long time this book was the best guide available.

IMG_1099 Campo Troupial

Also endemic to NE Brazil is the Campo Troupial, a species of icterid or New World blackbird.

IMG_1119 Cinnamon Tanager

Cinnamon Tanager, another eastern Brazilian bird.

IMG_1132 Red (Hepatic) Tanager

The former Hepatic Tanager has been split into three, the Central American populations which reach as far north as the south-west USA, retain the name Hepatic Tanager, the Andean forms are now known as Tooth-billed Tanager and this, the lowland form, is appropriately known as Red Tanager.

IMG_1151 rocks nr Lencois

The following morning we climbed high into the tepui-like cliffs of the Chapada de Diamantina, but early morning mist obscured the views.

IMG_1160 Stripe-tailed Yellow Finch

Out targets, Stripe-tailed Yellow-finch ….

IMG_1175 Hooded Visorbearer

…. the beautiful Hooded Visorbearer ….

IMG_1181 Velvety Black Tyrant

… and the drab Velvety Black Tyrant soon fell.

IMG_1171 outcrops nr Lencois

On the way down we found the cloud had lifted slightly, partially revealing the dramatic scenery.

IMG_1257 BT Saltator

Lower down we found the stunning Blue Finch, but at a considerable distance. However this Black-throated Saltator performed at close range.

IMG_1282 Shrike-like Tanager

The Shrike-like Tanager is just that, a spitting image of the Old World Lesser Grey Shrike, apart from lacking a hooked bill and an evil look to its beady eye.

IMG_1356 caatinga nr Mucage

Not far from Lencois we birded an extensive area of caatinga.

IMG_1298 Plumbeous Seedeater

Plumbeous Seedeater was one of many scarce or range restricted seedeaters we were to see on the tour.

IMG_1330 Collared Crescentchest

We had great views of Collared Crescentchest. The four species of crescentchest are now considered to be a separate family Melanopareiidae, rather than being included in the tapaculos.

IMG_1346 Grey-backed Tachuri

Other goodies included the tiny Grey-backed Tachuri, a diminutive tyrant-flycatcher  ….

IMG_1404 Sharp-tailed Tyrant

…. the dainty Sharp-tailed Tyrant ….

IMG_1395 scary spider

…. and some scary looking spiders.

IMG_1380 Mucage area at dusk

Dark clouds gathered as dusk fell ….

IMG_1369 Least Nighhawk

…. but that didn’t prevent an impressive gathering of 15 or so Least Nighthawks.

From here we continued south heading for Mucage and Boa Nova. This will be the subject of the next post.