Archive for March 2016

Birds and other things – March 2016   Leave a comment

This posts covers a few (mainly bird-oriented) events in March.

Pallas' Leaf W 2 feb 16 Nick Hull

The best bird in Dorset this month and arguably this winter has been a Pallas’ Leaf Warbler that was discovered in the village of Portesham in West Dorset. I went along with my trainee ringer Chris after a ringing session near Poole. We had good views, but in the afternoon the sun was in our eyes and my pics were rubbish. This photo and the next were taken by Nick Hull of Two Owls Birding  and is used with permission.

Pallas' Leaf W Feb 16 Nick Hull

Pallas’ Leaf Warbler is a rare but regular visitor from Siberia to the UK. Most records are in the late autumn, wintering is much rarer but is not unprecedented. Named after German ornithologist Peter Pallas who explored Siberia in the late 18th C, this tiny Phylloscopus warbler is little bigger than a Goldcrest. It is distinguished by the lemon rump, central crown strip, double wing bar, yellowish supercillium and long black eye-stripe. It is arguably the most beautiful of the genus. Photo by Nick Hull.

7F1A5982 RB Merg

I have recently bought a new digital SLR. I failed to get any usable photos of the Pallas’ but afterwards we went down to Portland Harbour where I used in the field for the first time – even so, these Red-breasted Mergansers were too far for a decent shot.

7F1A5972 Robin

I have debated for some time over the best way to photograph birds. My attempts at digiscoping have been pretty poor so I have dropped that. I used to have an old Canon SLR with a 100-400mm zoom lens but the sensor must have got damaged as spots appeared on the image that I was unable to remove. Since then I have gone over to using a bridge camera. Undoubtedly the SLR gives a better image (this one would be better still if I had upgraded my zoom lens as well and had photographed this European Robin on a bright day) but the main problem is weight. The bridge camera weighs 600g, the SLR & lens nearly 2.5kg. Add to that the weight of a telescope and tripod and I’ll be restricting my birding to a few hundred yards walk from the car. Also the bridge camera has a much greater telephoto capacity, 1200mm instead of 400, so four times the reach for a quarter of the weight. Bridge cameras however are useless in taking birds in flight, yes you might get the odd good image, but in general an SLR wins hands down in this category. With a couple of wildlife cruises coming up this year the choice was clear – buy a new SLR and my choice was the Canon EOS 7D MkII.

7F1A6008 Dartford Warbler

Even on a dull day I got a reasonable photo of this Dartford Warbler at Mordon Bog ….

7F1A6003 Dartford Warbler

…. but even with an SLR there is a limit to how far you can blow up the image before you lose resolution.

7F1A6019 Mordon Lake

However, although there were Tufted Ducks, Coots and Great Crested and Little Grebes on Mordon Park Lake none were close enough for anything other than record shots.

IMG_3829 Monties meeting

Several of us joined Paul Morton and Mark Constantine of the Birds of Poole Harbour charity for a drink in order to meet a number of British and Dutch ornithologist researching and conserving the threatened Montagu’s Harrier. Being free the next day I was able to attend their meeting which was held in the LUSH offices in Poole the following day.

IMG_3825 Montie's talk

There are only about a dozen Montagu’s Harrier pairs breeding in the UK and in spite of protection this number isn’t increasing. Certainly some birds have disappeared under suspicious circumstances (possibly mistaken for the similar and much persecuted Hen Harrier) but it may be that the wider countryside in the UK is unsuitable for this species. They are certainly much commoner on the continent as the Dutch speakers were able to demonstrate.

IMG_3828 Montie's routes

We were also told of the amazing results of a Europe-wide satellite tracking program which has shown that Monties winter in the Sahel to the SSW of their breeding locations. British birds, unsurprisingly, winter further west than others in western Senegal.

IMG_3835 Holton Lee

The Holton Lee estate (where I ring birds at the feeders) contains areas of heathland and foreshore currently managed by the RSPB.

7F1A6025 Holton Lee

It is great that I have these ‘wild’ areas on my doorstep, the houses in the distance are in Lytchett Minster, the next village beyond Upton.

7F1A6072 Grey Squirrel

Heading back to the feeders I was able to use my new camera on a bright day for the first time. This Grey Squirrel posed nicely ….

7F1A6036 GS Woodpecker

…. as did this Great Spotted Woodpecker. After many ringing visits to this area nearly all the birds visiting the feeders bear rings. This is allowing us to obtain useful data on longevity, over four winters we have ringed 36 Great Spotted Woodpeckers and have had 49 occasions when one has been recaptured. This has indicated that the average lifespan of the birds here is relatively short, only 2-3 years, less than many of the Blue and Great Tits we have ringed.

7F1A6045 Blue Tit

Speaking of Blue Tits ….

7F1A6061 Goldfinch fem

….but it was this photo of a Goldfinch that proves to me how much better image you get with a SLR compared to a bridge camera.

7F1A6063 Goldfinch fem

Unlike the Bullfinch and Chaffinch, Goldfinches are not easy to sex in the field (and not that easy in the had either). The extent of red behind the eye and the relatively short bill indicates that this is a female.

IMG_3842 Goldfinch 6m

On the other hand this bird that we ringed at Holton Lee on another date appears to be a male, the bill is longer (and it has a long wing length) and the red extends further behind the eye. One feature that I find unreliable is the colour of the nasal hairs, said to be black in males and grey in females. They both appear to be grey so either that feature is unreliable or the red behind the eye is. I find Goldfinches hard to age and sex and try to exercise caution.

7F1A6090 Pied Wagtail

We ring quite a few Pied Wagtails at roost in the late autumn but even the adult males in autumn don’t look as smart then as they do in the spring. This bird was photographed on a subsequent visit to Portland Harbour.

7F1A6085 Helicopter and boat

Whilst searching for ducks, grebes and divers we saw this helicopter practicing landing a crew member onboard a boat.

IMG_3852 Lodmoor

The reason for Margaret and I were in Weymouth on 16th March was that we had agreed to lead a birdwatching walk for our friends in the Phoenix organisation.

IMG_3850 Lodmoor

I chose the RSPB reserve of Lodmoor for the walk because there is a decent, usually dry, path around the reserve and there are always some birds on show and we saw or heard about 50 species.

7F1A6105 Little Egret

Most of the birds we saw on Lodmoor were common species that I would see on every visit  like this Little Egret ….

7F1A6100 Spoonbill Lodmoor

…. but we did get excellent views of three Spoonbills that were well appreciated by the group.

7F1A6099 Spoonbill Lodmoor

There has been a real increase in Spoonbill numbers in the last decade or so with a small breeding colony now established in Norfolk. Most of our birds seem to originate from the Netherlands, some pass through on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Spain, others spend the winter with us – mainly in Poole Harbour.

IMG_3881 Kara

Unfortunately our granddaughter Kara has seriously damaged her knee (again) doing taekwondo, she has been out of action for several weeks and it will be some time yet before she is back to normal. We wish her a speedy recovery.

IMG_3855 ETO Don Giovanni

And finally on the 18th we went to the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole to see a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni by the English Touring Opera. Opera is not my favourite musical category but I must say that I quite enjoyed it, I had expected it would be sung in Italian but it was in English with screen displaying subtitles, so I was able to follow the ‘plot’.

East Anglia and London: 23rd February to 1st March 2016   Leave a comment

We spent a few days in late February at my step-daughter Anita’s place in Maldon, Essex. Regular readers of this blog may remember that a wildlife cruise I had booked around the Russian Far East was cancelled at short notice in 2015. Well I’ve rebooked for this year, so that means a trip to London to be fingerprinted for my Russian visa (even though they have my fingerprints on file from 2015!). Rather than go to London from Poole we opted to wait until we were in Essex as that was a much shorter journey also we could spend the rest of the day sightseeing.

 

 

IMG_3882 The gerkin

We caught the train from Chelmsford to Liverpool St Station and were surprised to find how close we were to ‘the Gherkin’.

IMG_3883 painting

We walked to the Russian visa centre in Gee Street, passing some interesting murals on the way. You have to say one thing about the Russian visa system, once you have spent a day filling in the forms and have actually got to the visa centre, the process only takes a few minutes, so we were done by 0930 and had the rest of the day to ourselves.

IMG_3941 St Paul's

We chose to go to St Paul’s Cathedral which was in within walking distance. This photo was taken later in the day from Ludgate Hill.

St_Paul's_old._From_Francis_Bond,_Early_Christian_Architecture._Last_book_1913.

Between the early 7th C and 1666 at least four different St Paul’s Cathedrals stood on the site, the fate of the first is unknown, but numbers two and three were destroyed by fire in 962 and 1087  respectively. This drawing of the old cathedral as it appeared around 1561 was taken from Wikipedia.

Stpaulsblitz

The fourth St Paul’s was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The current cathedral with its iconic dome was built by Christopher Wren starting in 1669 and was consecrated in 1708. The cathedral was almost destroyed when a bomb hit it during WWII. This photo of S Paul’s taken on 29/12/40 by Herbert Mason during the blitz has to be one of the most famous photographs ever taken. Copied from Wikipedia.

GTO 225 London.qxp:Regional Update.qxd

Photography within the cathedral is prohibited so I have taken this photo from www.grouptravelorganiser.com. Looking eastwards from the nave to the choir and the high altar.

St-Pauls interior

This stunning fish-eye view was taken from www.hdrone.com and shows the dome and the nave.

london-st-pauls-cathedral-whispering-gallery

It is possible to climb up into the dome and view the ‘Whispering Gallery’ Here you can look down directly into the nave. All sounds from the far side of the gallery are amplified by its curved structure – hence the name. Photo from www.planetware.com

St_Paul's_Engraving_by_Samuel_Wale_and_John_Gwynn_(1755)

The spire above the dome is 365 feet tall, one foot for every day of the year. Spreading the load of the dome was a problem, Wren’s solution was to create a dome within a dome supported by the brick cone seen in the diagram. It is possible to continue up from the Whispering Gallery to the lower ‘Stone Gallery’ and then up a narrow spiral staircase between the brick cone and the outer dome to the ‘Golden Gallery’. Picture from Wikipedia.

IMG_3905 spiral staircase

One place in the cathedral where you are allowed to take photos. Here the brick cone supporting the weight of the outer dome can clearly be seen.

IMG_3808 St Paul's

At the top of the inner dome you can look through an oculus to the floor of the nave far below.

IMG_3894 from St Paul's

From the Stone Gallery and the Golden Gallery you get a wonderful view over London. Light conditions changed rapidly hence the lack of clarity in some of the following.

IMG_3898 from St Paul's

Paternoster Row and the Temple Bar

IMG_3900 The Shard

At 306m The Shard is Britain’s tallest building.

IMG_3910 Millenium bridge

Unacceptably wobbly when first opened – The Millennium Bridge.

IMG_3914 from St Paul's

Looking east towards the Gherkin and other tall skyscrapers. Tower Bridge is just out of sight to the right of the photo.

IMG_3916 PO Tower

Looking north-west to the Post Office Tower.

IMG_3925 The Globe

On the other side of the Thames, The Globe, a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s famous theatre.

IMG_3927 The Eye

The London Eye.

IMG_3928 Templar Chapel

After St Paul’s and some lunch we walked to the nearby Temple Church.

IMG_3934 Templar Chapel

Whilst hardly matching the magnificence of St Paul’s, the Church has an interesting history. Built in the 12th C by the Knights Templar as their English HQ, in the reign of King John it served as the Royal Treasury, making the Knights Templar early examples of international bankers.

IMG_3938 Templar Chapel

The Knights Templar were originally formed to protect Christian pilgrims on their visit to Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple after the first crusade in 1099 . They grew to be the wealthiest and most influential of the Christian military orders. Although the peak of their power only lasted for 200 years, they bankrolled much of Christendom (inventing aspects of the modern system of banking) and became a feared fighting force in subsequence crusades.

IMG_3939 Templar Chapel

Modern day stories or should I say myths, involve the Templars in the whereabouts of the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant and the origins of Freemasonry and they have of course been highlighted in such influential books as the ‘The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail’ and the Templar Church itself featured in the film ‘The Da Vinci Code’.

IMG_3812 John, Lois, Gavin

We hurried back to Maldon in Essex as we knew that Anita’s husband John and his brother-in-law Gavin wanted to go out for a drink as it was Gavin (R) and his wife Lois’ wedding anniversary. Some of the pubs in Maldon are more like someone’s front room than a typical boozer.

IMG_3815 John Gavin

This one in particular is smaller than the typical living room, you have to wait for someone to leave before you can squeeze yourself in.

IMG_3944 Blackwater estuary#

On the Saturday I popped out to the nearby Blackwater estuary to do some birding but a strong easterly wind was blowing and it was bitterly cold.

IMG_3951 Brent Geese

The tide was coming in pushing the Brent Geese towards to me but they still remained too far away for good photos.

IMG_3957 Avocets and Blackwits

A flock of Avocets in flight with Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the water’s edge.

IMG_3965 Brent Goose

As the tide rose further many of the geese headed for the nearby fields.

IMG_3968 Blackwater estuary

To make matters worse I had left my gloves back at John and Anita’s so when I heard that Margaret and Anita were enjoying tea and cakes at a nearby cafe I abandoned the birds for a bit of warmth.

IMG_3986 Smew female

On Sunday I drove to Abberton Reservoir, a 30 minute drive to the north. I had not expected too much, so I was pleased to see three female/immature Smew.

IMG_3990 Smew drake

We have had a female Smew in Holes Bay near to where I live in Poole but its been a long time since I saw a drake in the UK, well 2004 to be precise.

IMG_3980 Smew Drake

The beautiful drakes seldom turn up west of London except in very hard weather when more easterly lakes and reservoirs freeze up, so I was delighted to see two of them here.

IMG_4009 Gippo

Less exciting was this Egyptian Goose, an introduced species that is slowing spreading westwards from it’s East Anglian stronghold. It is now quite numerous in the Avon Valley on the Dorset /Hampshire border but is still rare around Poole.

IMG_3821 Anita, M, John, Gavin, Lois

So on Sunday evening we said goodbye to the family and headed for Cambridgeshire to stay with my old friend Jenny. L-R Anita, Margaret, John, Gavin and Lois, with me making a guest appearance in the mirror!

IMG_4019 Jennie & Margaret

I have known Jenny since 1972 when she came to Leeds University to study for a PhD. Along with three others we shared a house from 1973-76 and have kept in touch since. Now that we visit Essex on a regular basis, calling in to see Jenny has been so much easier.

IMG_4014 Wicken Fen

Jenny works as a volunteer at Wicken Fen, in Cambridgeshire, mainly doing botanical work and demonstrating wildlife to visiting children The core part of Wicken Fen is a fragment of the original fen habitat that once covered much of East Anglia. With almost all of the fens drained and turned into agricultural land, there is a move now to recreate some large areas of former fen for wildlife. Areas like this on the edge of tWicken Fen have been bought up and are slowly being converted back to their former glory.

IMG_4015 Wicken Fen

The National Trust has a long term plan to restore an area of fen stretching from Wicken Fen in the north to the outskirts of Cambridge, a distance of 25 miles, although they have set a time span of 100 years in order to achieve that.

IMG_4031 Konig horses

The marshes are grazed by Konik horses from Poland, morphologically and genetically closest to the Tarpan, the original wild horse of Europe.

IMG_4034 konig horses

Tarpans went extinct in 1909 although they were probably extinct in the wild for some time before that. Their ability to survive unaided in wetland areas and lightly graze the area to deduce invasive vegetation makes them ideal for the recreation of lost fen habitats. As nice as Wicken was, at this time of year it wasn’t great for birds, so after lunch we headed north to the border of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk to look for wild swans.

IMG_4039 Whooper Swans

From wild horses to to wild swans. In the fields around the WWT reserve at Welney large numbers of Whooper Swans and a much smaller number of Bewick’s Swans were grazing.

IMG_4045 Whooper Swans

We used to get flocks of 100+ Bewick’s in Dorset and just over the border in the Avon valley, but these days they are very rare, just one has turned up this winter and that was only after we visited Welney. Whooper Swans have always been rare in the south. All of these birds are the larger Whooper Swans from Iceland with the triangular yellow mark on the bill. The smaller Bewick’s from arctic Russia have a rounded yellow patch on the bill. Bewick’s numbers have decreased noticeably across the UK in recent years, this may be due to climate change allowing them to winter on the (now much milder) continent ,but hunting on their migration routes must be a contributing factor.

IMG_4067 Whooper Swans & Pochards

The Welney reserve is part of the Ouse Washes, a twenty mile long embanked area where water from the River Ouse is pumped in winter to prevent the surrounding farmland flooding. This results in a haven for wildfowl in the winter and grazing marshes favoured by breeding waders in summer. This type of ‘sacrificial land’ could well be adopted in other flood prone areas, rather than the current system of channeling the flood water away ASAP to the detriment of those downstream.

IMG_4056 Whooper Swan

Around the margins of the flood were many Lapwings, Golden Plovers and the odd Ruff, whilst in the open water we saw many Mute and Whooper Swans and other wildfowl.

IMG_4069 Whooper Swan

The triangle yellow patch on the bill which separates this Whooper Swan from the smaller Bewick’s can be seen well in this photo.

IMG_4077 Pochard drake

Among the many ducks on the reserve where good numbers of (mainly male) Pochard. This species has declined in Dorset in recent years, probably because they are now wintering father east than before.

IMG_4085 Mute & Whooper Swans

At 1530 the swans are fed and the Whooper and Mute Swans come right up to the hide giving excellent views. There was supposed to be both White Stork and Great White Egret on the reserve but they could not be found during our visit.

IMG_4095 Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans migrate from Iceland as a family unit and remain together over the winter. Here an adult pair are accompanying their four cygnets (one is out of shot).

We returned to Jenny’s that evening and headed home the following day with nothing more exciting than a Red Kite seen on route. As before our trip to East Anglia was to see family and friends but its great to combine this with birding in this outstanding part of England.


Western India part 7: Nagpur to Melghat Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra – 27th – 30th January 2016   Leave a comment

This the final part of my account of the tour to Western India covers the last few days of the tour, which found us not in the west, but in the centre of this huge country.

There was no real birding on the 27th as the entire day was taken up with flights from Bhuj to Mumbai and from Mumbai to Nagpur. We arrived at our Nagpur hotel after dark. The following day we headed west towards the Melghat Tiger Reserve in northern Maharashtra.

IMG_3775 goat jam

The roads were quite good in this part of India but even on a dual carriageway you could get held up by a goat-jam.

IMG_3766 bullock cart

Comfort break for bullocks? When I last visited western and northern India 30 years ago much of the transport was by traditional bullock cart ….

IMG_3772 village scenes

…. but now most people are using motorbikes and lorries to transport themselves and their goods.

IMG_3782 Red-crested Pochard & Coot

We stopped at a lake some 25 miles west of Nagpur, there was an interesting mix of water birds from the familiar Red-crested Pochards and Eurasian Coot ….

IMG_3784 Cotton Pygmy Goose

…. to the more localised Cotton Pygmy Goose.

IMG_3767 LRP & statues

I wasn’t sure if I should focus on these little Hindu statues on the lake shore or the Little Ringed Plover behind them – the LRP won.

IMG_3780 Booted Warbler

In the surrounding bushes we saw a Booted Warbler, a close relative (and formerly lumped with) the Syke’s Warblers we saw in Rajasthan. Both species occur as vagrants to the UK and indeed I’ve seen both in Dorset.

IMG_3876 Tiger Reserve

Eventually we arrived at the Melghat Tiger Reserve where we were to stay for two nights.

IMG_3871 Melghat

The reserve consists of 1500 square Km of mainly Sal forest. Of course it was highly unlikely that we would see any Tigers, although our guide ensured us there was a good population. A couple of locals on a bike stopped us and said they had just seen a Leopard, but the only cat I recorded was a brief view of a Golden Cat  as we drove back one evening.

IMG_3793Tiger scat

But our guide showed us some Tiger scat on the road, full of the hair of its recent victims.

IMG_3818 Forest Owlet

The bird we had come all this way to see was the critically endangered Forest Owlet. The estimated world population is in the range of 25 -250 individuals and is known from only 12 highly fragmented sites in northern Maharashtra and south-east Madhya Pradesh. Other sites may exist, a new location has recently been discovered close to Mumbai, possibly negating the need for future bird tours to fly to Nagpur.

IMG_3822 Forest Owlet

The size of a Little Owl, but with unusually large head and feet, this species is largely diurnal. Diligent searching of known locations eventually gave us stunning views. We able to watch the species calling and preening (see below) right in front of us.

IMG_3814 Forest Owlet

The history of the discovery and rediscovery of the Forest Owlet is one of the most bizarre in the history of ornithology. It was first collected in 1872 in eastern Madhya Pradesh by F. R. Blewitt (who is commemorating in the birds scientific name Heteroglaux blewitti) and described by Allan Hume. A further six specimens were collected in central India in the 19th century, mainly by James Davidson, but one of these was subsequently lost. Another specimen was collected by the infamous Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen in Gujarat in 1914. Subsequent searches in the 20th C in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh showed that the sites where the birds had been collected were largely deforested and no birds could be found. Attention switched to Meinertzhagen’s site in Gujarat, but that also drew a blank and the bird was assumed to be extinct. However by the 1990s suspicion was gathering about the veracity of Meinertzhagen’s claims and American ornithologist Pamela Rasmussen had the Gujarat specimen X-rayed. This showed that the specimen hadn’t been prepared in Meinertzhagen’s usual careful style, but in the amateur fashion of Davidson; it was the missing specimen – stolen by Meinertzhagen from the British Museum and relabeled as one of his own! In 1997 Pamela Rasmussen, David Abbott and Ben King mounted an expedition to where all the 19th C specimens had been collected, including the remaining forests of Maharashtra, and the bird was rediscovered !

IMG_3853 Barred Owlet

Later that day we had excellent views of the much commoner and more widespread Barred Owlet.

IMG_3848 river bed

At a nearby river I picked up another life bird and one that I didn’t really expect, Malabar Whistling Thrush. It was quite distant, well behind the horizontal log ….

IMG_3842 Malabar Whistling Thrush

…. which is my excuse for why the photo is so poor!

IMG_3855 prob Jerdon's Baza

Talking of distant photos; a medium-sized raptor overhead puzzled us but I was able to get a shot and although it was just a dot in the viewfinder, blowing it up indicated it was a female Jerdon’s Baza. Well out of range (at least according to the first edition of the Ripley guide) but the wing and tail pattern all seem to match.

IMG_3787 field lunch

After a successful morning’s birding we paused for a packed lunch. Sometimes we were given a curry, which was really good and sometimes sandwiches, which weren’t. Even so after curry twice a day for 18 days I was really looking forwards to steak and chips, bacon sandwiches, roast beef etc.

IMG_3790 siesta

It was clear that the trip was drawing to a close ….

IMG_3792 Rainer's siesta

…. and that 18 days of early starts and long drives was taking its toll.

IMG_3860 White-naped WP f

… but some stayed awake long enough to locate this female White-naped Woodpecker on a nearby tree.

IMG_3877 Gt Cormorant and Lesser Whistling Duck

So our excellent trip to Western India drew to a close, my 65th with the company Birdquest. On the return to Nagpur we stopped at the lake again, adding Lesser Whistling Duck (seen here with a Great Cormorant) to our list. At Nagpur some stayed on for further adventures in India whilst most continued on to Mumbai and home.

IMG_3780 locals

It had been a good trip, with great birds and mammals, good scenery and architecture and good company, both from the other participants of the trip and the many kind and pleasant local people that we met along the way.

 

Western India part 6: CEDO and the Bhuj area, Gujarat – 24th – 26th January 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers our two and a bit days in the Bhuj area of Gujarat, specifically three outings arranged by CEDO, the Centre for Desert and Oceans. We arrived in the mid afternoon and immediately boarded their jeeps for an excursion in search of the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing.

IMG_3493 Sociable Lapwing

Sociable Lapwings breed on the steppes of Central Asia and pass through the Middle East to winter in north-east Africa and western India. Once plentiful, habitat destruction has reduced the population to 5,600 breeding pairs, but winter counts in the Middle East and Turkey suggest that this might be an underestimate. They are scarce in India and this flock consisted of just seven birds.

IMG_3486 Sociable Lapwing

In spite of their global rarity this species has turned up in the UK as an autumn vagrant with some regularity. There have been about 40 records in the UK since 1958, although none in the last few years. I have seen this species five times in Britain, in South Wales, Kent, Hampshire, Dorset and Scilly between 1984 and 2008. I have also seen it in Oman and Kazakhstan.

IMG_3469 CB Sandgrouse m

We also had good views of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in the same area.

IMG_3499 marsh sunset

The day ended at a very birdy marsh but there were few places where we could get a view unimpeded by vegetation, and although the sunset was glorious it did little to aid the viewing conditions. In spite of this we saw many Common Cranes coming into roost, lots of waders, pelicans, a Red-necked Falcon and several Paddyfield Warblers.

IMG_3509 Crested HB

The following day we were at an area of scrub soon after dawn and found a couple of Oriental (or Crested) Honey Buzzards still at their roost.

IMG_3515 Grey Hypocolous

It wasn’t long after that our main target appeared, the enigmatic Grey Hypocolius. This a much sought after bird as it is placed in its own family (although thought to be most closely related to the Waxwings). As it breeds in Iran sightings come mainly from wintering areas, especially Bahrain (where I have seen it before but only in flight) and here in Gujarat. This is a male ….

IMG_3516 Grey Hypocolius

….whilst the female lacks the black mask. There were quite a few family collectors in our group so this species was voted number 2 in the ‘bird of the trip’ contest – after Great Indian Bustard of course.

IMG_3546 RT Wheatear

Other birds we saw that day included more Red-tailed Wheatears ….

IMG_3569 YW Lapwing

…. Yellow-wattled Lapwings ….

IMG_3573 Syke's Lark

…. Syke’s Lark, which was a life bird for me ….

IMG_3603 Indian Bush Lark

…. the bulky Indian Bush Lark ….

IMG_3604 Indian Bush Lark

…. with it’s very well-marked breast  ….

IMG_3578 White-naped Tit

…. and the rare and elusive White-naped Tit (another lifer).

IMG_3588 Indian Courser

We got better views of Indian Courser ….

IMG_3593 Green Bee-eater

…. and great views of Green Bee-eater. The new Lynx Illustrated Checklist treats Green Bee-eater as three species, the all-green viridissimus in Africa, the blue-headed cyanophrys in the Middle East and the blue-throated orientalis from southern Iran eastwards.

IMG_3616 Yellow-fronted WP

We only saw a few woodpeckers on this trip, this Yellow-fronted Woodpecker only posed briefly.

IMG_3609 selfie time

The selfie craze has reached India, these girls knocked on the door of our vehicle and asked for a selfie with Heidi.

IMG_3620 crossing the beach

The following day we left early and arrived at the coast to the west of Bhuj at dawn

IMG_3623 the beach

The rising sun soon backlit the flats. Crossing the channels was quite hard for those who didn’t bring suitable footwear as we sunk well past our ankles in the soft mud, however the going was easier closer to the shore.

IMG_3632 the beach

Behind us was a vast expanse of mudflats full of waders and gulls.

IMG_3628 Little Stints

Wader/shorebird species included Little Stints ….

IMG_3695 Sanderling

…. Sanderlings ….

IMG_3683 Lesser Sand Plover

…. Lesser Sandplovers (and the occasional Greater) ….

IMG_3703 Tereks

…. and Terek Sandpipers.

IMG_3672 Grey Heron

Whilst herons were represented by the familiar Grey Heron (which I hope doesn’t get tangled in the discarded fishing line)….

IMG_3668 Great Egret

…. the almost cosmopolitan Great Egret (which should really be split into three species New World, Old World plus SE Asia and Australasia).

IMG_3635 Western Reef Egret

Western Reed Egrets are mainly dark phase here. In winter they occur as far east as Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, further east Eastern Reef Egret replaces it.

IMG_3707 Pallas' & Heuglin's Gulls

Most large gulls were Heuglin’s Gulls, currently treated as a subspecies of Lesser Black-backed Gull, but probably worth species status. The bird on the left is a Pallas’ Gull, a winter visitor from Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Tibet.

IMG_3713 Pallas' & SB Gulls

Here two Pallas’ Gulls in near adult summer plumage pose with a group of much smaller Slender-billed Gulls. Pallas’ Gulls used to be called Great Black-headed Gull but that invites confusion with the similar sounding Great Black-backed Gull and requires that the familiar Black-headed Gull’s name is given a modifier, usually Common Black-headed Gull (which in turn invites confusion with Common Gull). Pallas’ Gull also celebrates the life of Peter Pallas, a great explorer of Central Asia in the late 18th century.

IMG_3700 Brown-headed Gulls

We also saw a small number of Brown-headed Gulls, quite like Black-headed Gulls at rest but with a strikingly different wing pattern in flight.

IMG_3663 Gt Thick-knees

Two birds stood out in our exploration of the coast. The first was a group of eleven Great Thicknees (seven seen here), a relative of the Stone Curlew.

IMG_3646 Gt Thick-knee

Only present in rocky area, they gave superb views, far better than I have had before.

IMG_28951 Crab Plover FL

The second highlight was Crab Plover, another species in its own family. Several were seen some way off but as the tide came in they left the distant sandbar and flew towards us. At that moment my camera battery died and I found I had left he spare in the vehicle. This photo and the next were kindly given to me by tour leader Frank Lambert.

IMG_28772 Crab Plover FL

A Crab Plover with two Little Terns in winter plumage. Photo by Frank Lambert

IMG_3634 the beach

Well that was that for the shining sands of Kutch. We headed back to CEDO making a few stops on route.

IMG_3763 village scenes

We passed through many settlements on route with their hard working villagers ….

IMG_3762 village scenes

…. and inevitable cattle-jams.

IMG_3731 Indian Fruit Bats

One village had a large colony of Indian Fruit Bats. In many part of the world fruit bats living so close to people would have been eaten but in India there is a respect for nature in spite of its burgeoning population.

IMG_3727 Indian Fruit Bats

We were able to get excellent views of the colony from the roadside

IMG_3758 Indian Fruit Bats

…. and watch the bats fly over the village as we enjoyed a glass of tea.

IMG_3765 dipping on owls

Our final stop was this gorge where we tried to improve on our earlier views of Indian Eagle-Owl, but to no avail.

That ended out time in Gujarat. The following morning we left early for a flight to Mumbai. Here we had several hours to kill before we took another flight to the city of Nagpur in the state of Maharashta, pretty much in the centre of the country. That will be the subject of the seventh and final post on Western India.