Archive for November 2015

Catching up: ringing, coastal walks, slide shows and music. Mid October to late November 2015.   Leave a comment

This post covers the six weeks between my return from Paraguay and now and deals mainly with bird ringing and a few other activities.



DCP demo

Immediately after my return from Paraguay our ringing group held a public demonstration at Durlston. Fortunately other group members were able to organise it, but in spite of some jet lag, I was still able to participate. Here my colleague Ian Alexander explains some of the findings that bird ringing has revealed whilst we wait for some new birds to be captured.

Forage Festival2

At the end of October we also did a public demonstration at Arne RSPB for their Forage Festival. A number of country crafts and home produced food outlet stalls were on show in this field.

Forage Festival 3

…. and there was a big climbing frame for the kids.

Forage Festival

We had some nets erected nearby and birds caught were shown to the public. Two-hatted Paul Morton was representing both the Sound Approach and Stour Ringing Group from the same stand. Here Paul (left) is talking to Simon Constantine, son of the Sound Approach’s founder Mark Constantine.

Goldcrest DCP

The big story this autumn has been the arrival of large numbers of Goldcrests. We haven’t seen influxes like this since the 80s. Our ringing totals for the last five years at Durlston have been: 2011 – 39; 2012 – 85; 2013 – 29; 2014 – 53; 2015 – 445. The number ringed this year might have been even higher had we been able to man a site known as the ‘goat plots’, as in previous years this spot yielded the highest numbers of crests.

Goldcrest poss coatsi

The large numbers of Goldcrests has been noted on the continent as well, with ringing stations in Denmark and Holland reporting really big catches. It has been suggested (see Martin Garner’s excellent Birding Frontiers’ website) that some of these birds, especially those with a ‘grey shawl’ like this bird, may belong to the race coatsi, which breeds no closer than western Siberia. Quite a journey for a bird that only weighs 5 grams.

Firecrests 3

The normally scarce Firecrests have been much commoner this year as well with 29 ringed in October and November. including these three at the same time on 12th November

Redwing LH

We have also been able to ring quite a number of Redwing at both Durlston and Lytchett Bay.

Redwing LH2

Aging Redwing is quite straightforward. The white step on the outer web of the tertials indicates that this bird is in its first year, although a surprisingly high proportion of the birds we have ringed have been adults.

Redwing undertail

Another identification criteria highlighted in Martin Garner’s Birding Frontiers blog is that of of the Icelandic Redwing race coburni, which has more heavily marked breast and under-tail coverts than the nominate race from northern Europe. So far all the birds we have trapped have been of the nominate race.

Green Woodpecker DCP

The capture of not one, but two Green Woodpeckers at the same time was noteworthy (photos of the two together proved unsatisfactory).

Lesser Redpoll DCCP

The capture of a few Lesser Redpolls was also of note. Like many finches large numbers fly overhead at Durlston but few come down into the trapping area. It has long been debated whether the six races in the Redpoll complex consists of two, three, five or even six species. Now the answer is clear – there is just one, and the different forms look different not because they have different DNA but due to the way that DNA is expressed. So unfortunately I expect to lose a couple of ticks on both my British and World list before too long.

Coal Tit DCP

We catch large numbers of Coal Tits at our site at Holton Lee but they are rare on the coast at Durlston, so when we ringed this bird in November we speculated about it being the nominate continental race, but although the black bib looks particularly broad, the mantle doesn’t seem blue-grey enough to ascribe it that subspecies.


There has also been quite an influx of Yellow-browed Warblers, especially in the northern isles. One was ringed at Durlston during my absence in early October and I hoped that we would get another one after I returned, which indeed we did on 20th October.


Breeding no closer than the Urals, this tiny warbler goes all the way to SE Asia to winter, although an increasing number seem to be heading SW to western Europe each autumn

IMG_6617 Siskin EHF

We ring very few Siskin at Durlston but do catch a few at Holton Lee where this bird was ringed on 23/11. Clearly a male ….

IMG_6622 Siskin male

…. it can be aged as an adult by the striking yellow greater coverts with only very fine white edging. Also the tail feathers are much rounder than on a young bird.

I regularly post pictures of birds that we ring but seldom get round to reporting where our birds get recovered. Here is a selection of Durlston recoveries and controls (ringed birds retrapped by another ringer).


Species Date ringed Ringed at Date found Recovered at Time lapse Distance
days Km
Willow Warbler 10/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 14/08/2011 Gillingham, Dorset, England 4 52
Chiffchaff 30/07/2011  Castlemorton Common, Worcs, England 29/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 61 165
Blue Tit 20/02/2010 Woolsgarton, Dorset, England 26/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 552 9
Whitethroat 10/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 17/08/2011 Lychett Bay, Poole Harbour, Dorset, England 7 19
Chiffchaff 17/08/2011 England, Yorkshire, York, Thornton, England 07/04/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 234 376
Chiffchaff 19/09/2012  Kenfig, Bridgend, Wales 27/09/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 8 163
Goldfinch 09/09/2012 Martinstown, Dorset, England 18/11/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 70 42
Chiffchaff 15/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 31/03/2012 Portland, Dorset England 198 37
Chiffchaff 21/09/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 28/09/2012 Sandouville, Seine-Maritime, France 7 203
Blackcap 04/09/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 18/09/2012 Icklesham, East Sussex, England 14 188
Greenfinch 11/02/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 18/07/2013 Barnham, West Sussex, England 157 97
Chiffchaff 29/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 18/10/2011 Embalse de Pedrezuela, Guadalix de la Sierra, Madrid, Spain 19 1099
Sparrowhawk 03/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 19/07/2013 Christchurch, England 285 22
Willow Warbler 06/07/2013 Eskmeals, Cumbria, England 27/08/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 52 429
Garden Warbler 12/07/2013 Roydon Village Mariner, Essex, England 19/08/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 38 190
Blackcap 08/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 16/05/2013 Herberg, Utsira, Rogaland, Norway 250 1042
Chiffchaff 19/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 22/09/2013 Haseley Manor, Arreton, Isle of Wight, England 3 52
Goldfinch 07/11/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 10/12/2013 Braytown, near Wool, Dorset, England 33 23
Chiffchaff 05/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 07/10/2013 Hastings Country Park, Warren Glen, East Sussex, England 2 185
Chiffchaff 14/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 08/11/2013 Portland Bill, Dorset, England 25 37
Chiffchaff 22/09/2013 Low Newton-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, England 13/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 21 547
Lesser Redpoll 13/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 14/01/2014 Ferndown, Dorset, England 93 25
Chiffchaff 17/08/2013 Lychett Bay, Poole Harbour, Dorset, England 26/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 40 19
Chiffchaff 21/08/2013 Wintersett Reservoir, Wakefield, W Yorkshire, England 01/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 41 339
Blackcap 22/08/2013 Thorne Moors, nr Doncaster, S Yorkshire, England 08/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 17 345
Goldfinch 13/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 09/03/2014 Laval, Mayenne, France 147 293
Chiffchaff 01/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 01/04/2014 Margam Park Nursery, Dywyll, Neath Port Talbot, Wales 182 165
Blackcap 07/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 12/09/2013 Beachy Head, East Sussex, England 5 156
Chiffchaff 04/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/09/2013 Smallridge, Devon, England 287 78
Dunnock 13/08/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 16/11/2014 Swanage, Dorset, England 95 0
Chiffchaff 15/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/05/2014 Kenfig Pool, Bridgend, England 201 163
Blackcap 29/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 17/03/2014 Garrapilos, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain 900 1581
Willow Warbler 10/08/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/05/2014 Ballynafgh, Kildare, Ireland 267 448
Blackcap 14/08/2014 Beachy Head, East Sussex, England 05/10/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 52 156
Willow Warbler 07/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/05/2014 Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, Wales 293 311
Blackcap 14/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 23/09/2014 Stanford Reservoir, Northamptonshire, England 348 212
Chiffchaff 09/09/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 12/09/2014 Squire’s Down, Gillingham, Dorset, England 3 52
Chiffchaff 22/07/2014 Millwater, Crewkerne, Somerset 01/09/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 41 70
Blackcap 08/06/2014 Northward Hill, Rochester, Medway, England 06/09/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 100 200
Chiffchaff 07/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 12/03/2015 Jew’s Gate, Gibralter 544 1629
Chiffchaff 08/07/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 01/03/2015 Jew’s Gate, Gibralter 174 1629
Tree Pipit 21/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 01/05/2015 Coleg Elidyr,Rhandirmywn, Camarthanshire, Wales 1349 209
Swallow 23/09/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 10/09/2015 Hook Park, Hampshire, England 717 54
Willow Warbler 15/04/2014 Lundy, Devon 11/08/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 483 202
Reed Warbler 03/09/2015 Beddington Sewage Farm, Greater London, England 08/09/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 5 155
Goldcrest Outstanding 08/1102015 Durlston, Dorset, England
Goldcrest 15/10/2015 Bawdsey Hall, Bawdsey, Suffolk, England 28/10/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 13 281
Song Thrush Belgium (outstanding) 02/11/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England
Blackcap Spain (outstanding) 25/10/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England
Blackcap 08/08/2015 Slapton Ley, Devon, England 10/09/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 33 125
Common Scoter

Now onto other subjects. Every month from September to March birders across the UK take part in the Wetland Birds Survey (WeBS), the idea that counts in a given area ar coordinated so the birds aren’t counted twice or missed. My area is the south-east of Holes Bay, which usually isn’t that exciting, at least compared the bird rich north-east sector. On the October count however, I was surprised to see two male Common Scoter, a bird associated more with the open sea in winter than sheltered inland bays. I didn’t have my decent camera with me so I only have this mediocre digiscoped shot.

Margaret, Gio and Jessica2

One day in late October Margaret and I met up with my old friend and former work colleague Gio and his wife Jessica and went for a walk along Ballard Down from Ulwell Gap to Old Harry and back to the pub at Studland. Very enjoyable with great views over Swanage, Poole Harbour and Poole Bay.


On consecutive nights in early November I gave my ‘what came first – the Archaeopteryx of the egg?’ talk to the Wiltshire Ornithological Society in Devizes and Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group in Christchurch. The talk has taken at lot of researching and has been extensively rewritten since I first showed it a couple of years ago. And although I say it myself, I was pretty pleased with the outcome. It was quite a long drive across Cranbourne Chase and Salisbury Plain to Devizes, not helped by a large diversion due to road repairs, but I’m glad I did it. This photo shows Market Square in Devizes.

Tivoli Wimborne

On an entirely different note, Margaret and I spent a very pleasant evening at the beautifully restored and wonderfully old-fashioned Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne.


We had gone to see the legendary American folk singer Judy Collins,famous for her renditions of ‘Send in the Clowns’ and ‘Amazing Grace’. Now aged 76 she still has a wonderful, powerful voice and gave a totally spellbinding performance. Between songs she told tales of the past from her friendships with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan to working with famous producers like Stephen Sondheim and revealed that the Crosby, Still and Nash anthem ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ was written for her. Photography is not allowed during the performance so I have used one of her publicity pictures.

Rachael Sage2

I found the support act captivating as well. American singer Rachael Sage played a beautiful set of quirky songs that reminded me a little of Tori Amos. She was selling CDs in the foyer during the interval and I got chatting and asked if she minded if I took her photo ….


…. and of course I was obliged to buy her rather excellent CD after that.

Sickle-winged Nightjar – my 8000th bird   6 comments

I have been looking forward to seeing my 8000th bird for some time. Of course any bird seen for the first time is exciting, but some are more exciting than others, whether because the bird is very hard to see, is very rare, one that you have been wanting to see all your life, very beautiful or bizarre in appearance or because it is a landmark bird like my 8000th was.

I never thought I would get to see so many birds worldwide. I never set out with the ambition of getting to 8K, but once I had travelled to a few tropical destinations I realised that nothing in the birding world gave me more pleasure than setting eyes on a world lifer for the first time.  Of course it made sense to document all these sightings – which led to a list of what I had seen, ie my life list, and this in turn spurred me on to go to new areas to increase this list still further.

Progress at first was slow, but by the 90s I was able to do two or three foreign trips a year, as my employers prefered to give me time off in lieu, rather than money for working weekends and we had decided to stay in our small terraced house and spend money on doing things rather than owning things. Of course as time went by you ‘get less birds for your buck’, but as recently as 2003 I was able to get over 400 new birds in a year. In the last decade I have visited some pretty remote areas of the world, including islands in the Micronesia, Melanesia or Polynesia groups, gone well off the beaten track in Madagascar and the Comoros and climbed mountains on the Tibetan Plateau and the Andes to find new birds. It hasn’t all been about numbers, I have done many a trip where I only got to see a handful of new birds, either because I particularly wanted to see those special birds or because I particularly wanted to go to a certain place.

There has also been the question of what to count and what not to count. Initially I just counted what ever I was presented with, if a species was in a field guide or on a trip checklist then I just added to a paper list of birds I had seen. As time went on I realised that I had to computerise my records; and then came choices. Some available checklists or national authorities considered a particular bird to be a full species, others considered the same bird to be merely a race of another species. This level of uncertainty grew until it occupied about 10% of my list. By this time I had developed a real interest in the bird taxonomy which underpins what can and what cannot be considered a full species. For a while I followed the Clements checklist, but after Jim Clements’ death in 2005 it was taken over by Cornell University who declared that the North and South American checklist committees decisions would take priority over all other national or regional checklists, even if the species concerned was just a vagrant to the Americas. This Americo-centric view I found increasingly unacceptable, but fortunately by then the International Ornithological Committee (IOC) had a user-friendly, regularly updated checklist up and running that relied on regional advisors for their decisions. I have followed that list ever since and would urge others to do so.

Another issue has been whether to count ‘heard only’ birds. If I included ‘heard onlys’ I would have reached 8000 on 14/10/14 when I saw Mayotte Scops-owl in the Comoros, for a number of reasons I keep my ‘heard onlys’ as an add-on to the main list: see  If I included these ‘heards’ my life list would currently stand at 8159.

Over the years many birds have had their taxonomic status changed. Some like Red-billed Gull of New Zealand have been lumped (with the Australian Silver Gull) but splitting has been much commoner than lumping. Since the seventies the number of bird species has increased from 8,600 to 10,600. About 150 of these 2000 extra species are genuine new discoveries but the rest has been due to taxonomic realignment, which is just another way of saying splitting. Adding to your list as a result of a split of a bird you have previously seen is known as an armchair tick, as you can add a new bird from the comfort of your armchair!

RB Gull 5

Red-billed Gull of New Zealand, now lumped with Silver Gull of Australia. Photographed in New Zealand in November 2009


Originally considered a race of Collared Kingfisher this form has been split and now is considered a full species, Marianas Kingfisher. Photographed on Rota,  Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands, Micronesia in November 2010

Of course I knew that number 8k was approaching, but after the cancellation of my trip to far-eastern Russia in June I also knew that I was unlikely to get there in 2015. I expected to pass this milestone in western India in January 2016. I had hoped that things wouldn’t work out so that was at the start of the trip, I wanted it to be a moment to savour towards the trip’s end. What I hadn’t expected however was that the IOC would accept numerous splits of Collared, Micronesian and Variable Dwarf Kingfisher from the Pacific region whilst I was in Paraguay which gave me nine additions and meant that it would be touch and go as to whether I would reach the magic number before the trip ended (if I didn’t it would mean that the 8000th would be an armchair tick obtained sometime between the Paraguay and Indian trips). Number 7999 was the fairly uninspiring Southern Bristle-tyrant, which looked quite like other bristle-tyrants I had seen before, so I’m glad that didn’t end up being the ‘Big One’.

Enough pre-amble: here is an account of my 8000th tick, it wasn’t hard to find, it was easy to see, but it was oh, so satisfying.

IMG_1252 nightjar site

On the evening of the penultimate day of the Paraguay trip we drove to Isla Alta, an island in the Paraguay River. The island forms part of a hydroelectric dam that spans the river between Paraguay and Argentina and although we were actually still in Paraguay we had to go through customs to get there. The island is owned by the power company, so a security guard on his motor bike shadowed us to make sure we weren’t up to no good.

IMG_1277 SW Nightjar

As darkness fell a pair of Sickle-winged Nightjars were quickly found. Like the con-generic White-winged Nightjar this species depends on visual display instead of vocalisations to attract a mate and hold territory. We were able to photograph the male on the deck ….

IMG_1287 SW Nightjar

…. with and without flash ….

IMG_6543 SW Nightjar

…. but it was only when Rob was able to catch the bird (he has been involved in a ringing study of these birds and needed to know if this individual was one of the birds he had ringed previously) was the bizarre ‘sickle-like’ structure of the bird’s wing revealed.

Coming at the end of an excellent trip, being such an enigmatic bird, seeing it in the hand (and from a fellow ringer’s point of view, being given the chance to release the bird myself) made it a very satisfying 8000th lifer.

Now what of the future, will I now give up – certainly not! Will I continue as before? – probably. I will target birds I particularly want to see and go to places I particularly want to go – but that’s exactly what I have been doing for the last 35 years. Perhaps the only difference is that I might not be quite so concerned with what my life list total has got to at the conclusion of each trip. I still need another 150 or so birds to reach 8k on the Clements list and that is still something I would like to achieve even if I don’t use that checklist routinely.

Will I ever reach 9000? Almost certainly no, as that is something only five birds worldwide have done (but I never thought I would reach 8000). The law of diminishing returns really kicks in at this level. Some tours are probably too tough for me to do now and there are some I’m not that interested in. Even including future armchair ticks I would be lucky to average more than 60 or 70 new birds a year, which means it would take about 15 years to see another thousand birds and that would make me nearly 80 years old!

As each thousandth life bird represents a milestone I have taken the opportunity to show them here. Even if I could have photographed them, all but the 7000th would be on slides (and I wasn’t able to photograph either of the contenders for number 7000) so all but two have been taken from the Internet Bird Collection.

I didn’t note my 1000th bird at the time, indeed I was already well past that number when I sat down to write out a life list. Working with the list as it stands today I have narrowed the 1000th to something I saw on Doi Inthanon, Thailand on 8/2/83 and of the various new birds I saw that day I have nominated the beautiful Yellow-bellied Fantail as number 1000.

YB Fantail Cedric Mroczko Kaladhung India

Yellow-bellied Fantail. First seen by me at Doi Inthanon, Thailand on 8/2/83. Photographed at Kaladhung, India by Cedric Mroczko. Photo from the Internet Bird Collection

I do know exactly which bird was my 2000th as I had the life list completed before I went to Venezuela in 1988. I went with a private group and the four of us arrived in the town of Barinas in the Venezuelan llanos in the afternoon of 18/2/88. It was baking hot, probably over 40c and we were all jet lagged, but we went out anyway. I remember a fantastic array of birds with over 40 life birds in a few hours, getting Green Ibis as my landmark species but returning exhausted with a splitting headache.

Green Ibis Aleix Comas Pantanal Brazil

Green Ibis: First seen by me in the Venezuelan llanos on 18/2/88. Photographed in the Pantanal, Brazil by Aleix Comas. Photo from the Internet Bird Collection.

My 3000th bird was seen in the Philippines in Feb/Mar 1991. This was a trip that I arranged at fairly short notice as I had been forced to cancel a trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe the previous autumn for health reasons. I didn’t make a special note of which was my 3000th bird, but I have been able to narrow it down to one I saw on Mount Kitanglad on Mindanao on 28/2/91 or 1/3/91 so for the sake of this blog post I have chosen the amazing Giant Scops Owl, which at the time had been seen by very few birders.

Giant Scops Owl, Irene By, Mindanao, Phillipines

Giant Scops Owl: Seen by me on Mount Kitanglad, Mindanao, Philippines on 1/3/91 . Photographed by Irene By on Mindanao. Photo from the Internet Bird Collection.

My 4,000th bird was seen on 16/11/94 in Australia. My late wife Janet and I had been birding in Queensland and as we flew down to Melbourne I totalled up what we had already seen, the Queensland section of our month-long trip brought my life up to 3994. Six to go to 4k! We had quite a drive from Melbourne to Deniliquin the next morning where we planned to meet up with local expert Phil Maher, the man who knew where to find the enigmatic Plains Wanderer. I thought I could easily find six life birds myself on the drive north, after all it was an entirely new part of the country. Long-billed Corella, Little Lorikeet, Red Wattlebird, White-plumed Honeyeater and White-winged Chough were found, but could I find that sixth lifer? We met Phil Maher in the afternoon and he immediately took us to a pond and there were some Black-tailed Native Hens, great, but I wished I’d have found them myself!

BT Native-hen Col Trainor Australia

Black-tailed Native Hen: first seen by me on 16/11/94 at Deniliquin, Victoria, Australia. Photographed by Col Trainor in Victoria, Australia. Photo from the Internet Bird Collection.

My 5000th life bird was seen 16/2/98 near Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. This was quite a significant find as at the time there were considered to be about 10,000 species of birds in the world, so this represented the half way point. From now on the number of birds I hadn’t seen was smaller than the number of ones that I had. This had in several ways been quite a difficult trip, although ultimately a very rewarding one. My usual tour company had cancelled the Tanzania trip that I was booked on the previous year due to lack of support, so when I saw an advert for a comparatively cheap camping trip by another operator I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately El Nino floods had brought down bridges and we weren’t able to get to where we wanted to go, necessitating a 15 mile hike (each way to get to good forest). We got the overladen vehicles stuck in mud many times and the leader and one client were mugged by locals and had their passports stolen. Quite an adventure.

Abyssinian Scimitarbill buchert Ngorongoro Tanzania

Abyssinian Scimitarbill: first seen by me at the Ngorongoro conservation area, Tanzania on 16/2/98. Photographed by Buchert in the same area. Taken from the Internet Bird Collection.

My 6000th bird was also very memorable. Janet and I were in Hawai’i, I had seen all of the possible Big Island endemics except the wonderful ‘Akiapola’au (most Hawaiian birds have wonderful local names made up of too many vowels, lots of apostrophes and too few consonants). We had been on a guided tour to some restricted access area, but to no avail. We took another guided tour the next day to another area (in retrospect I wish I had gone on a helicopter flight over Kilauea’s fiery heart instead). It was looking like my 6000th lifer would be the attractive, but introduced Java Sparrow but I decided to give the Saddle Road another go. I remembered that the guide said that local tradition said that collecting a bit of lava from Kilauea’s slopes would invole the wrath of the fire god Pele, so I threw my souvenir piece of a’a away before I hiked across the barren landscape of pahoehoe lava flows towards a kipuka. These strange islands of vegetation are caused when a lava flow is directed on both sides of an area of forest by a rise, ridge or other obstruction, leaving an oval of forest intact in a sea of cooling volcanic rock. The lava flow around the kipuka I was heading for had been so extensive that the lava was level with the tops of the trees and you had to climb down 15m or so to enter this strange isolated world. I searched several kipukas over the next hour before returning to the first one, which eventually gave me great views of one of Hawaii’s most bizarre birds with it’s chisel like lower mandible to chip into soft bark and a fine curved upper mandible to winkle the grub out. Like almost all of Hawaii’s native bird the ‘Akiapola’au is endangered and suffers from introduced predators, introduced avian malaria and habitat destruction, both man-made and natural. Do I believe that throwing away my souvenir bit of a’a, collected whilst still hot from a recent lava flow, appeased the fire god Pele and led to me find this avian mega? Of course not (but its a good story).

Akiapolaau Big Island Hawaii

‘Akiapola’au: seen by me on 18/3/03. Photographed on the Big Island, Hawaii by Brian Scully. Taken from the Internet Bird Collection.

Strangely my ‘thousandths’ birds seem to come right at the start or the end of trips and this one was at the end. By 2007 fed up with the speed at which Clements checklist was incorporating newly split species, particularly in the Old World, I ended up counting lots of birds where the published information clearly showed they were good species but Clements (now in the hands of Cornell University) hadn’t taken the time to keep up to date. In Jan/Feb of that year I was in Colombia on the Caribbean coast on the last day of the trip when we came across a beautiful, yet critically endangered hummer (population estimated at 250 individuals), Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird, this was my unofficial 7000th bird.

Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird Magdelena district Colombia GuyPoisson

Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird: seen by me at Isla Salamanca, Magdelena, Colombia on 3/2/07: Photographed by Guy Poisson at the same location. Taken from the Internet Bird Collection.

Such was the disparity between my personal checklist and Clements that it took another three years before I got to 7000 following Clements, on 8/5/10 to be precise. In 2011 the IOC checklist started up and having met one of its editors, David Donkster on a trip to China and discussed listing issues with him, I decided to stick closely to the IOC list, departing from it only if our British BOU checklist differed.

In spring 2010 my friend Roger asked me for advice about visiting Georgia and Armenia, I replied that I hadn’t considered going as there were only two life birds (actually only one as Caucasian Rosefinch has since been lumped) but I expected that he would have an excellent time. However once Roger had booked, I kept saying that I wished I was going with him, until Margaret told me to stop moaning and go. We had a great trip (with the exception of the encounter with a drunken driver on a narrow mountain track), my only life bird was seen on the first afternoon on the pass that divides Asia from Europe and this was by 7000th bird following Clements.


Caucasian Snowcock: seen by me at Jvari Pass, Georgia on 8/5/10. Photographed in Georgia by Birdfinders.


SW Nightjar J Newman

And finally back to my 8000th bird: Another Sickle-winged Nightjar male – this one was photographed on an earlier trip to mine in the same area of Paraguay by my friend Jonathon Newman and as before it has been trapped as part of the research program.

Paraguay part 3: Mbaracayu, Hotel Tirol, San Rafael and Yacyreta -28th September – 6th October 2015   Leave a comment

This post covers areas of Atlantic Forest and mesopotamian (between rivers) grasslands in eastern and southern Paraguay.

From Laguna Blanca we headed south to the Mbaracayu Biosphee Reserve, 70,000ha of Atlantic forest and cerrado, arriving just before dark.

IMG_0892 forest stream

Our full three days at Mbaracayu were spent on narrow forest trails, some near the lodge, some further away or driving to more distant cerrado habitat for specific birds.

IMG_6514 wet trail

Heavy rain had made some trails rather wet ….

IMG_6509 dodgy bridge

…. and the bridges just got dodgier ….

IMG_6512 v dodgy bridge

…. and dodgier.

IMG_0714 Suracura Trogon

But we were rewarded with some excellent forest birds like this Surucua Trogon ….

IMG_1003 Bare-throated Bellbird

…. the very vocal, yet elusive Bare-throated Bellbird ….

IMG_0748 Helmetted WP

…. and two enormous and rare woodpeckers – Helmeted ….

IMG_1100 Robust Pecker

…. and Robust.

IMG_0802 craking

A lot of time was spent in this area of cerrado trying to locate the elusive Occelated Crake.

IMG_0793 Mbaracayu savana

Although I saw it, my views weren’t as good as those had by most. A few of the group returned one evening (it was a 90 minute drive from the lodge on rough roads) but I declined to go as I thought I stood a better chance of goodies down by the river, but they got cracking views of the crake and several owls and tinamous on the return drive! You can guarantee that when there is a choice to be made in birding location that I will choose the wrong one!

IMG_0789 Collared Crescentchest

We all got great views of Collared Crescentchest in the cerrado ….

IMG_0718 PlumbeousKite

…. and flocks of migrant Plumbeous Kites were all over the place.

IMG_0930 emerging termites

The kites were probably feeding on the winged termites or alates which emerged from the many termite mounds.

IMG_0932 emerging termites

Using flash it was possible to see that the mounds were covered with flightless worker termites ‘waving goodbye’ to their winged siblings.

IMG_0667 butterflies

Mbaracayu was an amazing place for insects, some, such as legions of biting mozzies and sand flies were unwelcome but we also say a wonderful array of butterflies ….

IMG_0831 cricket

…. crickets ….

IMG_0826 praying mantis

…. and back at the ledge, a praying mantis ….

IMG_0851 moth

…. and enormous numbers of superb moths ….

IMG_0856 butterfly

…. and butterflies ….

IMG_0810 tree fall

Our nocturnal drives produced several nightjar species and the much wanted Black-capped Screech Owl ….

IMG_0807 tree fall

…. but we were hindered by a tree that had fallen across the track, which had to be removed by brute force.

IMG_0697 BC Tityra f

The trees in the clearing by the lodge were very good for birds including a nesting pair of Black-crowned Tityras

IMG_6520 Dani's birthday

The lodge is adjacent to a girl’s school where they teach the girls, among other things, the tourist trade. The girls who served us our meals were very pleasant and cooked a cake for Dani, one of our drivers ….

IMG_6521 Dani's birthday

…. as it was his birthday.

IMG_6525 girls Paul and Rob at Mbaracuya

The lodge at Mbaracayu, the girls and leaders Paul and Rob.

IMG_1014 hotel tirol

The long drive south to San Rafael was broken by a night at the Hotel Tirol near Encarnacion. The hotel fell into the category of ‘faded elegance’ and seemed to be a series of rooms and buildings connected by endless red-brick arches.

IMG_1011 hotel tirol

…. and the hotel had a stand of Atlantic forest in its grounds which allowed us to add birds like ….

IMG_1035 Ruby-crowned Tanager

…. Ruby-crowned Tanager ….

IMG_1053 Euler's fly

…. and Euler’s (pronounced ‘oilers’) Flycatcher to our lists.

IMG_1084 San Rafael

At our next destination, San Rafael, we stayed in fairly basic accommodation (made more basic by the fact that there was power failure) at an adjacent farm.

IMG_1070 San Rafael

The farmer cuts the sedges in the meadow twice yearly to provide grazing for his cattle and apparently crakes often run out of cover as he does so. Conveniently he had planned to do this on our arrival.

IMG_6534 farmer and guinea pig

He leapt off his tractor and was able to catch this guinea-pig or Brazilian Cavy before releasing it in an area of sedges away from the meadow ….

IMG_1076 Red & White Crake

…. but the highlight was this wonderful views of this Red-and-White Crake that paused briefly before legging it to a nearby ditch.

IMG_1091 San Rafael

The reserve consists of a large tract of Atlantic forest surrounding this lake where we saw excellent species like the newly split Purple-crowned Plovercrest ….

IMG_1098 White-spotted WP

…. and White-spotted Woodpecker.

IMG_1121 San Rafael

Much further away we birded in an area of grassland where we saw the fast declining Saffron-crowned Oriole ….

IMG_1131 sunset & bugs

…. and after dark saw the amazing Giant Snipe (see my account of north-east Brazil in February for photos of this wonderful bird)

IMG_1306 Dark-billed Cuckoo

The last stop on the tour was at Yacyreta, an area of mesopotamian (literally ‘between rivers’) flooded grassland close to the Paraguay River and the border with Argentina. Many species were seen here including the rare Dark-billed Cuckoo ….

IMG_1238 Ochre-breasted Pipit

…. and Ochre-breasted Pipit ….

IMG_1231 Ochre-breasted Pipit

…, from the back a species that is reminiscent of the Palearctic (and vagrant to the UK) Pechora Pipit.

IMG_1346 Monk Parakeets

I’ll end this account with a photo of one of the commonest birds in all of Paraguay, Monk Parakeet. Their giant stick nests are everywhere, on power pylons, telegraph poles, trees etc. There is a small population of released birds in the UK, if they ever get established, expect some objections from the electricity and telephone companies.


By the end of the trip I recorded some 400 species (including 23 heard onlys) and had 20 life birds.

There is one birding site and one bird that I have omitted to mention, one that against all odds ended up becoming a land mark bird for me and the de facto ‘bird of the trip’. I think it deserves a post of its own!

Paraguay part 2: Laguna Blanca and surrounding areas – 26th – 28th September 2015   1 comment

This post covers the drive from Asunción to Laguna Blanca and Laguna Blanca and surrounding areas and will be the second of three posts on this wonderful country.

Progress with uploading these photos has been slow, partially due to my continued efforts to get as much autumn ringing at Durlston in as possible, preparing slide shows for various societies, but mainly due to a computer error (that I still can’t fathom out) leading me to lose several hundred edited photos from the Paraguay trip. Fortunately I still had the originals but re-editing them has taken ages.


IMG_9911 Asuncion Bay

After the very hot and sunny conditions in the Chaco we encountered dull conditions and a 20c degree drop in temperature for the next few days. Before we left the capital we made a short visit to an area known as ‘the bay’ a marsh on the banks of the Paraguay river, unfortunately the best areas for migrant waders and other interesting birds have been destroyed by road building.

IMG_9889 LB Tern

There weren’t that many highlights at ‘the bay’ but we had good views of Large-billed Terns, a species I refer to as ‘Sabine’s Terns’ due to the striking resemblance of their upper-wing pattern to the enigmatic high-arctic gull.

IMG_9926 Jacanas

Muddy creeks, littered with discarded bottles, were full of jacanas but very few migrant waders.

IMG_6487 Asuncion

We later drove through Asunción, seeing a mix of attractive old buildings and modern high-rise.

IMG_6490 Asuncion

As with all South American cities Asunción has its poorer side as well.

IMG_0004 LW Harrier

We stopped on route at a number of marshy areas, seeing a number of excellent species such as this Long-winged Harrier.

IMG_0103 WH Marsh Tyrant

White-headed Marsh Tyrant was a welcome addition to the trip list but one I had seen many times before ….

IMG_1187 Lesser Grass-finch

…. however Lesser Grass Finch was a new bird for me.


IMG_0084 Strange-tailed Tyrant

But the most exciting moment was seeing the wonderful Strange-tailed Tyrant, one of the main reasons for visiting Paraguay.

IMG_0028 Many coloured Chaco Finch

Other birds seen in these roadside marshes included the attractive Rusty-collared Seedeater ….

IMG_0176 Field Flicker

…. ‘Field’ Flicker these days, unfortunately, lumped with Campo Flicker ….

IMG_0124 Shiny Cowbird

…. the ubiquitous Shiny Cowbird ….

IMG_0628 YC Spinetail

…. the rather poorly named Yellow-chinned Spinetail ….

IMG_0142 Streamer-tailed Tyrant

…. and an amazing pair of displaying Streamer-tailed Tyrants, at 40cm in length, probably the largest of all the tyrant-flycatchers.

IMG_6492 Laguna Blanca

In the mid afternoon we made it to our accommodation at Laguna Blanca, which consisted was a series of fairly basic rooms with bunk beds by the lake shore, but with the toilets and showers 100m away. It was wet for much of our time here so this ment putting on wet clothes/boots for a nocturnal visit to the loo.

IMG_0615 Laguna Blanca

The lakeshore was very attractive ….

IMG_0220 Ash-throated Crake

…. and we had just enough time before dusk to obtain good views of an Ashy-throated Crake.

IMG_0356 night drive Laguna Blanca

However it was our nocturnal wanderings that was the highlight of our time at Laguna Blanca, indeed the highlight of the entire trip.

IMG_0304 WW Nightjar

It didn’t take too long to find our quarry, the rare White-winged Nightjar.

IMG_0290 WW Nightjar

We were able to move into a position where we could all see it well without flushing it, this one turned out to be a female. Know only from a three sites in Brazil, two in Paraguay and one in Bolivia, this is a highly range restricted and endangered bird.

IMG_0274 WW Nightjar

Flash photography revealed the details of its plumage, but females don’t have the eponymous white wings so the search for a male continued.

IMG_0328 WW Nightjar

Eventually we saw a male in display flight, fluttering around to reveal its white wings and deliberately landing heavily on the ground with a thump. No photos were obtained in flight, but we did get this cracking view of it on a branch. This bird, above all else was the reason I came to Paraguay.

IMG_0332 Common Potoo

On the way back we came across another stunning nightbird, the bizarre, although widespread, Common Potoo.

IMG_0481 WW Nightjar m

The following day was wet, windy and rather cool. We went out looking for goodies like Cock-tailed Tyrant and as we wandered through the wet cerrado Richard accidentally flushed this male White-winged Nightjar.

IMG_0485 WW Nightjar m

…. and I managed to get a couple of mediocre flight shots showing the wing pattern from above ….

IMG_0482 WW Nightjar m

…. and below. It seemed at the time that this would be the undoubted ‘bird of the trip’ for me but there was another encounter right at the end of the trip that would push it into second place. More of that later.

IMG_0519 Buff-bellied Puffbird

It wasn’t just us who got soaking wet, this Buff-belied Puffbird looks in need of a hair dryer.

IMG_0404 White-rumped Tanager

Other birds seen that morning included White-rumped Tanagers and ….

IMG_0381 Shrike-like Tanager

…. the aptly named Shrike-like Tanager ….

IMG_0439 Cock-tailed Tyrant fem

…. and this bedraggled female Cock-tailed Tyrant (note the falling rain drops in the photo).

IMG_0474 Cock-tailed Tyrant

Eventually the cute little male Cock-tailed showed well.

IMG_0537 sunset

Much of the afternoon was given over to searching for tinamous with varying degrees of luck. As darkness fell breaks in the cloud appeared ….

IMG_0551 eclipse

…. which was good news as there was an eclipse of the Moon that night. As usual we had an early start so I didn’t stay up to see the Moon fully covered by the Earth’s shadow and anyway as the photos were hand-held, I probably wouldn’t be able to take photos at totality anyway.

IMG_0585 dawn Laguna Blanca

The following day with all the moisture in the air, the sunrise over the lake was spectacular ….

IMG_0588 dawn Laguna Blanca

…. as the sun rose and shone through the mist ….

IMG_0576 dawn Laguna Blanca

…. the entire lake lit up in a dazzling show of light.

IMG_0605 cobwebs

So that was our time at Laguna Blanca over. Unfortunately this marvelous area with its fascinating wildlife is under threat. The reserve is leased by the conservation organisation Para la Tierra but the owner’s plan to sell. Although Para la Tierra has first option to buy they will be competing against rich cattle ranchers and soy farmers. A recent competition which secured EU funding to the winning applicant failed by a narrow margin. Unless external funding can become available this precious site could be lost forever.