Archive for January 2017

Central Peru part 4: Huariaca area and Lake Junin – 17th – 19th November 2016.   Leave a comment

 

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After leaving the Huanaco  we explored areas near Huariaca, notably this steep-sided canyon.

 

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It was a bit of a slog climbing up the steep sides but we were getting used to the altitude.

 

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Meanwhile our ever helpful drivers prepared lunch. Note how the use of a telephoto lens has altered perspective, the front of the bus appearing wider than the back. This ‘size illusion’ can be critical if you are comparing the size of one bird in a photo (say a peep) with another species (say a Dunlin) that is a little way behind it.

 

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Some of the species we encountered well familiar to us like Band-tailed Pigeon ….

 

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…. but eventually we found our target, the rare Rufous-backed Inca-finch.

 

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The following morning we stopped at an area of polylepis forest in the upper Huariaca valley.

 

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We encountered a number of localised species such as this Giant Conebill ….

 

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…. as well as widespread ones like Cream-winged Cinclodes.

 

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One of our main targets was Stripe-headed Antpitta which had eluded us up to now. We eventually caught up with it in this grove of gnarled polylepis trees.

 

img_7239-playing-field-and-polylepis-windbreak

Much of the polylepis forest has been felled, either for firewood or to replace it with alien and wildlife unfriendly eucalyptus which is preferred as its fast growing straight trunks can be used in construction and as windbreaks. However as this photo shows if coppiced polylepis can grow straight and quite quickly.

 

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By the afternoon we arrived in rocky basin that holds the enormous Lake Junin, the second largest lake in Peru (after Lake Titicaca)

 

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Surrounding areas held a good range of species including Burrowing Owl ….

 

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…. Puna Ibis ….

 

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…. this lovely pair of Aplomado Falcons ….

 

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…. the now familiar Black-billed Shrike Tyrant ….

 

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…. Ornate Tinamou (photo by my friend and trip participant Steve Lowe)

 

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Buff-breasted Earthcreepers showed nicely.

 

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In general there is less variation in English from one field guide/checklist to  another the Neotropics than in any faunal region yet the field guide confusingly calls this Plain-breasted Earthcreeper.

 

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This rodent was eventually identified as an Ashy Chinchilla Rat

 

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We could look out on the expansive waters of Lake Junin ….

 

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…. and the many lagoons that fringed its shores.

 

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Photography (for example of this Andean Avocet) was difficult as we would have flushed the birds if we had disembarked, so it had to be done through the single opening window which resulted in several of the group performing strange contortions.

 

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One of the stars of the show were these Chilean Flamingos ….

 

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…. but although Chileans were common we didn’t see James’ or Andean Flamingos, species that mainly occur on the salt flats further south.

 

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One of the highlight of this trip was seeing the normally invisible Black Rail. Although I have heard this species in the USA it is very rarely seen. Patiently waiting with our eyes fixed on this gap in the reeds we waited for one to respond to a tape, in the end we saw a pair but they was too quick for photos. The Lake Junin form differs vocally from other populations and probably should be split as Junin Rail.

 

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With storm clouds gathering ….

 

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…. it was time to head to the town of Junin for our overnight stop

 

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There was time for some birding on the outskirts of the town …,

 

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…. avoiding the gaze of a local knitter ….

 

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…. we searched for species like D’Orbigny’s Chat-tyrant and ….

 

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…. Andean Flicker

 

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The following morning we met up with a boatman who took us along a channel and out into the middle of the lake.

 

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The boat was at its mooring but the outboard was safely stowed elsewhere. The boatman slung the 80kg engine over his shoulder and ran towards us; all this at an altitude of 4100m !

 

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Many birds were seen on our way out such as this Great Egret

 

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Andean Gulls were breeding on the margins of the lake ….

 

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…. and were are constant companions until we were far from shore.

 

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The many ducks included Yellow-billed Teal ….

 

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…. Puna Teal ….

 

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…. and Andean Duck, a species that is sometimes lumped with the North American Ruddy Duck

 

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White-tufted Grebes were easy to find but they were not our main target ….

 

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Far out in the middle of the lake we came across four Junin Grebes, a flightless species endemic to this one lake. Official estimates give a population size of over 400, but our boatman, a local warden and others who know the area well think it could be as low as 40. The species is threatened by pollution from local mines and the introduction of Rainbow Trout.

 

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Until the 70s there were 23 species of grebe in the world but in a short space of time three went extinct, one each in Madagascar, Guatamala and Colombia. In each case it was due to a change in water use, usually the introduction of predatory fish which ate all their food or the pollution from agriculture. It now looks like two more species will join them in the near future, Junin Grebe and the Hooded Grebe of Patagonia. Junin Grebe was the last of the 20 extant grebes for my world list but my joy in seeing it was tempered by the thought that we could be some of the last birders to do so.

 

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Whilst the outboard and boatman were delivered to their rightful destinations we birded around the nearby buildings seeing many Bright-rumped Yellow-finches

 

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…. some living up to their name.

 

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Also there were good numbers of the beautiful Black Siskin.

 

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The male Black Siskin in particular is quite a stunner.

 

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We had good views of this Andean Cavy, the wild ancestor of the Guinea Pig.

 

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Our time at Lake Junin ended with a search for a hummer called Black-breasted Hillstar, whilst we did see it well, it was nesting inside a barn and the photos were poor. However this Magellanic Horned Owl that was found nearby posed nicely.

Central Peru part 3 – Carpish Tunnel and Bosque Unchog: 13th-17th November 2016.   Leave a comment

We spent four nights in the comfortable yet very noisy hotel in Huanaco. During this time we explored two areas, the partially degraded forests around the Carpish Tunnel and Paty Trail and the cloud forests of Bosque Unchog. We spent two and a half days at the former and two days at the latter.

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Rising out of Huanaco the road climbs through a mainly dry habitat now largely deforested to grow crops of decorative flowers.

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As the road emerges from the tunnel under the Carpish Pass onto the eastern side of ridge the habitat changes markedly to humid cloud forest. Once the inevitable jokes about the ‘Carpish Tunnel syndrome’ were complete we set about exploring this wonderful area.

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Birding in cloud forest can be tricky. If the cloud lifts the birds tend to be inactive and silent, however too much fog and you can’t see the birds in the murk.

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The locals are used to it, these kids seem to have no problem playing football in 30m visibility.

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But when it’s clear enough to see the birds the cloud forest can deliver some real crackers, like this Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan.

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Most of our time was spent on the Paty Trail which descends from about 2700m near the tunnel to the main road far below. This local man told us he had been down to the town at the start of the track and it had taken him seven hours to climb back up (we met him at about 0900 so most of that was in the dark). A long way to go if you run out of milk!

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Many consider the birding in the cloud forests of the eastern slope of the Andes to be the finest in the world. Certainly there is little that can match the flocks of dazzling multi-hued tanagers that appear and disappear out of the gloom, full of gems such as this Flame-faced Tanager ….

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…. or this Hooded Mountain Tanager

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…. Hummingbirds were represented by Amethyst-throated Sunangel ….

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…. and Collared Inca.

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We didn’t see as many furnarids here as in the open puna habitats on this tour, but Streaked Tuftedcheek was seen quite regularly in the cloud forest.

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No Neotropical forest would be complete without its quota of tyrant flycatchers – here an Unstreaked Tit-tyrant ….

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…. and here a lovely little Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet. Many UK birders if told this little bird with its wing bars, insectivorous bill and yellow, grey and brown plumage was a Phylloscopus warbler would go all dewy-eyed, however if told it was a tyrannulet they would diss it as ‘list fodder’.

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Antbirds tend to be more characteristic of lowland habitats, although a few reach mid-elevation. This Uniform Antshrike was one of them.

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This forest held a high concentration of White-eared Solitaires and their single high bell-like note, sounding like an alert on a mobile phone, was regularly heard.

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Of all of the neotropical passerines, the cotingas are some of the most spectacular. We may have dipped on White-cheeked Cotinga earlier on in the trip but here we scored with Band-tailed Fruiteater ….

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…. and Barred Fruiteater.

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Overhead we caught a glimpse of the elegant Swallow-tailed Kite through the foliage ….

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…. but it was much further down, below the level of the clouds, that we had distant views of one of the top birds of the trip ….

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…. the widespread but rare and totally stunning Orange-breasted Falcon. I have made multiple trips to areas within this bird’s range which extends from Belize to Argentina, but have always dipped. We could hear it calling for ages before sharp-eyed Ken picked it up in flight and was able to follow it back to a perch. It was possibly over 1Km away but such is the power of digital photography that I was able to get a record shot.

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Another group of neotropical passerines that always generate a lot of excitement are the tapaculos. In the south, in Chile and Argentina there are some large tapaculos that inhabit open areas but the cloud forests and puna are inhabited by the Scytalopus tapaculos. All Scytalopus are similar (there are 43 of them) and many can only be told apart by their vocalisations. This photo might not be in focus but it captures the jizz of these charming little birds perfectly. With their short wings and tail they seldom fly and skulk around invisibly on the ground. When responding to a tape they have been known to pass unseen between an observers legs. The dry La Nina conditions meant that many of the tapaculos and antpittas weren’t responding, although in the end we did see a full suit of seven tapaculos but only four out of the seven possible antpittas – and we had to do a lot of work to see those.

 

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The other site we visited during our stay at in this area was Bosque Unchog. In the past you have had to camp at this rather wet and cold location but road improvements have made it possible to day-trip it from Huanaco

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The only birds we saw in the boggy areas were Andean Lapwings ….

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…. but our goal was the cloud forest below this escarpment.

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These cloud wreathed trees are home to a range of very special birds but finding them in the fog can be problematic.

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In the 1970s researchers from Louisiana State University discovered three new species to science at this site. In this high area of elfin forest they found a new mountain-tanager (Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager, one of the largest tanagers of all) a cotinga in a totally new genus (the Bay-vented Cotinga), and a very odd little tanager, the Pardusco. We were able to see all three of these wonderful birds.

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Firstly the beautiful Golden-backed Mountain Tanager ….

 

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The second of the LSU’s discoveries was the Pardusco, a dull coloured gregarious tanager. Photographing these fast moving specialities in foggy conditions was tricky, so I have used a picture from the Internet Bird Collection taken by Dubi Shapiro at Bosque Unchog.

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It took some time to find this Bay-vented Cotinga in the mist but we were eventually rewarded with great views.

 

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Another speciality was Rufous-browed Hemispingus, another species of tanager. This photo was also taken at Bosque Unchog by my friend Martin Reid. Martin used to live in Dorset and we went on a series of twitches together and even did a trip to Morocco. He now lives in Texas and I haven’t seen him for over 20 years, but thanks to social media its easy to stay in touch.

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Another target species was this Golden-collared Tanager. I was the only one to see this gem at Bosque Unchog but fortunately everybody else connected later in the tour. This second bird (above) was photographed by tour participant and my roommate Steve Lowe.

 

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It was time to say goodbye to these beautiful moss-covered forests …..

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On the way back we stopped to explore the dry side of the mountain. As happens regularly in the Andes cloud builds up on the eastern slope during the day and overspills onto the drier western flank where it rapidly evaporates.

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We were able to investigate this drier habitat more fully on our second visit to Bosque Unchog and get good views of Brown-flanked Tanager and few other species that had eluded us on our first visit.

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Much of the habitat in this area has been degraded for agriculture – although many farmers are leaving for work in the cities as the many abandoned buildings attests.

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As well as seeing a some of the specialities of this region we also saw many widespread birds such as these Groove-billed Anis, a type of cuckoo.

 

The following day we left Huanaco and after some final birding on the Paty Trail drove to Huariaca for the night. The day after we reached the wonderful Lake Junin and that will be the subject of the next post.

Huascaran National Park and the drive to Huanaco: Central Peru part 2.11th -12th November 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers a day out on the 11th from Caraz to the Huascaran NP and back and the journey from Caraz to Huanoco on the 12th.

 

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We left very early in the morning and were already climbing high into the Sierra Blanca by the time the sun had fully risen.

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We had a short stop at the pass of Abra Portuchela to admire the stunning scenery.

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Early morning light was giving our driver selfie problems.

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6500m peaks were all around us, five on one side of the road, three on the other.

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At 4750m it was hard to walk around without becoming breathless, it was very cold and few birds were around so we descended to the forest below ….

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…. by a series of hairpin bends.

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I was pleased that I managed to capture the reflection of the mountain in this high altitude lake as this photo was taken through the window of a moving bus.

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Our main birding was along the edge of this extensive polylepis forest on the far side of the pass. Sorry about this horizontal line. I added it by mistake and can’t find an easy way to remove it!


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Our main target was the rare White-cheeked Cotinga, endemic to Central Peru which in spite of searching for most of the day, we failed to find. The forest is extremely dry, after last year’s El Nino event, the Andes comes under the influence of ‘La Nina’ as the currents of the Pacific return to normal and this is associated with unusual dry conditions, which was nice in that we had good weather but had a profound effect on the local breeding birds.

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Polylepis trees are noted for their gnarled appearance and flaking paper-like bark. We may have missed the cotinga but we did find the delightful Rufous-eared Brushfinch.

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Polylepis forest is effectively impenetrable and we could only see the brushfinches when they strayed to the edge.

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Baron’s Spinetail, a split from Line-cheeked Spinetail performed well ….

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…. as did this female Ashy-breasted Sierra Finch.

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Although this Rufous-webbed Tyrant posed nicely I failed to photograph the rufous webs to the flight feathers that gives it it’s name.

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In the afternoon a stop by a lake gave us views of ….

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…. ‘northern’ Silvery Grebe (a bird that really should be split from the golden-eared, brown-headed population of Patagonia) but we only heard our main target, Ash-breasted Tit-spinetail, in the nearby forest.

 

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Heading back we only paused briefly at the top of Abra Portuchela, which was now in a less flattering light.

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We descended to the lake far below.

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Now in the shadow of the mountains the light was fading fast but I managed to see my lifer Jelski’s Chat-tyrant ….

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…. as well as this much commoner Chiguanco Thrush.

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The following day we made a dawn visit to an area of cactus scrub near our hotel in Caraz and saw my first and only Pale-tailed Canastero ….

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…. and the poorly spotted Spot-throated Hummingbird.

 

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The rest of the day was taken up in the 13 hour drive to the town of Huanaco.

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The early part of the trip took us back through the Huascara NP with its spectacular scenery ….

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…. and ice capped mountains.

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Along with other travellers we stopped to admire this stand of puya plants.

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Puya raimondii known also as the ‘the queen of the Andes’ is the largest of the puya species and is related to the bromeiliads. The flowering spikes can grow to 10m tall. The plant only flowers once after it is about 40 years old and then dies. The spike can contain 3,000 flowers and produce 3,000,000 seeds.

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Andean Hillstars were busy feeding on the flowers.

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Although looking quite like the Rufous-webbed Bush Tyrant I photographed in the polylepis, this Black-billed Shrike Tyrant can be easily distinguished by its all dark wings and the extensive white in the tail.

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Further on we saw a flock of the lovely Andean Ibis ….

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…. although it was difficult to get close for photos when they landed.

We eventually reached a pass at 4880m but the scenery wasn’t on a par with Abra Portuchela. It was already getting dark as we descended the enormous Magdelena canyon and we still had several hours to go. We arrived in a very noisy Huanaco to find that a soccer match between Peru and Brazil was being relayed on giant screen in a establishment immediately under our hotel room. Not the best night’s sleep!

Coastal areas and the ascent into the Andes: Central Peru part 1, 9th-10th November 2016   Leave a comment

From the 8th – 26th November 2016 I took part in a very enjoyable Birdquest tour of Central Peru with Eustace Barnes as the leader. I knew most of the other participants from previous trips, the tour ran smoothly and we saw more birds and had more lifers than we ever expected. As the photos will show the scenery was out of this world and the birding wasn’t bad either!

 

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Map of Peru showing (approximately) the route we took. It might not look that we covered any real distance at this scale, but progress was slow as we were often driving on mountainous dirt roads and had very slow lorry traffic on the better roads.

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Early in the morning of the 9th we left a dreary fog-bound Lima and headed along the coast and then climbed up to the scenic Lomas des Chey just as the sun was breaking through the coastal gloom.

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Here in the Atacama Desert it hardly ever rains but the fog, visible here on the upper left of the photo, persists at sea level for 10 months of the year.

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One of the first birds we saw was the delightful Vermillion Flycatcher. With a range from the southern USA to Argentina this is a bird I have come across many times. Since my return I have learned that southernmost populations have been split as a separate species, Scarlet Flycatcher, but I don’t know if these birds are the southernmost breeding Vermillion Flycatchers, or wintering Scarlets from the south. At this time of year the former seems more likely.

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Nice as the flycatchers were it was a species of furnarid that was our main target, the perky little Cactus Canastero.

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I was delighted to see a flock of this rare finch, Raimondi’s Yellow-finch, although the views were quiet distant and the image quality poor.

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Later we headed back to the fog-bound coat and to another area of lomas (woodland where the only moisture comes from fog).

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There are four species of seedsnipe, aberrant waders adapted mainly to barren areas. Three occur only at high altitudes but Least Seedsnipe is found in the coastal desert. The male is on the left, the female on the right.

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Although I know they have a cosmopolitan distribution, it was still a surprise to see the familiar Peregrine posing for photos in this barren habitat.

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Another widespread species in dry habitats throughout the Americas is the Burrowing Owl.

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Oasis Hummingbirds occurs in the dry woodland and scrub to the west of the Andes.

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Another bird of the dry coastal deserts is this Coastal Miner.

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A bird of similar distribution to the last two is the little Collared Warbling-finch,

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In the afternoon we moved to the coast to Bahia Paradiso, fortunately the mist had cleared.

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This tour used to be run in reverse, this meant that there was very little time to spend along the coast as it was necessary to get to Lima that evening. That was a shame as there was plenty to see on route as this mixture of Black Skimmer, Slate-coloured Coots, Common Gallinules, White-cheeked Pintails and Kelp, Grey-headed and Franklin’s Gulls shows.

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There were more gulls on the beach where Kelp, Grey-hooded and Franklin’s were joined by the inappropriately named Blecher’s Gulls. They were all first years and were easily recognised by their long bill, brown plumage and dark hoods.

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Here two 1st year Belcher’s Gulls say goodbye to the three Snowy Egrets

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Nearby on the rocks this Hudsonian Whimbrel stood sentinel. The UK and Holland seem to be the only countries recognising the New World form of Whimbrel as a separate species, based on its dark rump and more strongly marked underwing pattern. I think the head pattern is more striking as well. However the vocalisations of the two forms are identical and no other Old World/New World wader species pair fails to show distinct vocal differences.

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An interesting comparison between Blackish Oystercatchers (L) and American Oystercatchers (R).

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An elegant Great Grebe sailed by offshore.

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We stayed overnight in the town of Barranca. The following morning we explored an area of cultivation and scrub where we saw many species such as these Chalk-browed Mockingbirds ….

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…. a moulting Blue-black Grassquit ….

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…. Black-necked Woodpecker ….

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…. this charming pair of Croaking Ground Doves ….

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…. the diminutive Pacific Pygmy-owl ….

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…. a Green Kingfisher posed for photos along the river ….

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…. and Black Vultures roosted on nearby rocks

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We started to climb up into the Andes and took a side road up the Fortaleza Valley.

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The best birds in this side valley were Great Inca Finch (which I managed to photograph) and the rare Russet-bellied Spinetail (which I only managed rubbish shots of).

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We continued to ascend the west flank of the Andes eventually coming out the puna grasslands at an altitude of over 4000m.

 

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We made a stop at Lake Conocha. Even walking slowly along the road was exhausting, my head throbbed, my chest ached and my legs felt as weak as jelly. On the original itinerary today we would have birded at a site even higher than this and would have needed to scramble around high altitude bogs for several hours to get our targets. Fortunately the reversed itinerary meant we would be acclimatised well before then.

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We took a few minutes to take in this awesome panorama (and get our breath back). This mountain range is known as the Cordillera Negra, as being on the dry side of the Andes it seldom snows.

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In the distance flocks of Chilean Flamingos and Crested Duck could be seen.

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The most wanted species on this lake was the shelduck-sized Giant Coot.

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Giant Coots are known only from a few high altitude lakes of the Andes. Here a pair are constructing their floating nest.

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Cream-winged Cinclodes (formerly known as Bar-winged Cinclodes prior to a three way split) were common in these high altitude areas.

We continued on to the town of Caraz where we stopped for the night. Fortunately this was at a much lower altitude in an inter-montane valley, so we had no difficulty sleeping.

Late December 2016 – early January 2017 – The Festive Season   Leave a comment

It’s a bit late in the New Year to be reminiscing about Christmas but as usual I’m running late with blog updates, so here is a short account of our activities over the ‘Festive Season’.

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Don’t we scrub up well! The first and only formal Christmas party we attended this year was on the 17th in Bournemouth with the Phoenix Organisation (formerly Nexus), the organisation through which Margaret and I met. I had been ill for about a week beforehand so we did little more than enjoy the meal, have a token dance and leave.

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For Christmas we all went to Margaret’s daughter Anita and her husband John’s place in Maldon, Essex. Kara was already there, we arrived on the 22nd and Janis and Amber arrived on the 23rd. On Christmas Eve we all went for a rather chilly walk near Bradwell-on-Sea at the mouth of the Blackwater Estuary. L-R Kara, Amber, John, Margaret, Janis and Anita.

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Birding-wise it wasn’t too exciting with just this flock of Brent Geese near the car park and a few common waders along the shore ….

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…. but there was an interesting chapel built in 654 AD by Cedd a bishop from Lindisfarne in Northumbria using stone from an earlier Roman fort.

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The rather sparse interior is still used for regular services.

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Many houses and gardens near Anita and John’s house in Maldon were suitably (over) illuminated for Christmas ….

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…. but we had to laugh at this illuminated snowman that appeared to be about to jump to its death …..

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…. compounded by fact that the inflatable Santa below had already hung himself.

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On Christmas morning it was time for the grand present opening ceremony. Janis looks particularly delighted with hers.

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Amber was given some goggles that convert your mobile phone into a VR experience. Kara is clearly enjoying her sister’s present ….

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…. and so for that matter, was her grandmother.

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Having turned his double garage into a ‘man cave’, John was most pleased to receive this sign for Christmas.

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For Christmas dinner we were joined by John’s sister Lois and her family for a slap-up feast in the ‘man-cave’. Clockwise from the left: Amber, Margaret, John, Anita, Lois, her husband Gavin, their son Lyle, Lyle’s girlfriend Heather, their daughter Shan, Janis and Kara. This must be the first year when I haven’t eaten any turkey over the whole Christmas period.

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As they were almost hidden in the last photo here is a better shot of Lyle and Heather.

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And here Shan assisting Janis’ with a selfie.

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Usually after a large Christmas dinner everyone falls asleep during the Queen’s speech, but Anita kept us busy with a series of party games such as this ‘card blowing’ contest where the object was to get the card to balance on the edge of the table without falling to the floor – much harder than it sounds.

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…. but one of the funniest games was the ‘twerking contest’. Small baubles were placed in a box with a hole and tied to your waist. The aim was to knock out as many baubles as possible just by hip action.

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On Boxing Day morning I went to nearby Abberton Reservoir to see a drake Ring-necked Duck (on the left), a rare visitor from America.

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I was pleased to see four Smew on the reservoir including this stunning drake. They occur occasionally as far west as Dorset but the majority of wintering Smew are found in the south-east of the UK.

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This Ring-necked Duck probably hatched in Canada or the northern USA, the Smew in Scandinavia or Siberia and the Pochard from eastern Europe or western Russia yet all come together in one photo in Essex.

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On the 27th we headed north to my brother’s in Derbyshire, an early start helped us to avoid the traffic. We stopped at my University friend Di’s place in Breedon-on-the Hill (centre of the photo with her husband Steve). Her daughter Hannah, husband Karl and daughter Mai were staying and it was great to see Hannah who I haven’t had a chance to speak to for many years and meet Karl and Mai for the first time.

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Over five year’s ago Hannah’s dad, my University housemate Clive was tragically killed in a motorbike crash. I was surprised how like her father she now looks, which of course brought back how much I miss Clive.

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I came to Beeley, a small village in the Peak District, in early December to see a Dusky Thrush, a very rare vagrant from eastern Siberia. The thrush was still there on so I took Margaret to see it.

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The residents of Beeley have been praised by birders for their warm welcome, something that doesn’t always happen when a rarity is found in a residential area. The bird is now showing just outside the village and the number of birders arriving is much reduced but even so residents will probably be glad when it migrates in the spring.

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There have been a reasonable number of Waxwings turning up this year, but very few have reached the south. We managed to catch up with one some ten miles to the north of Beeley but if we had got there five minutes earlier we would have seen a flock of 40!

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On the way back to Poole on the 29th we detoured to see another vagrant thrush – a Blue Rock Thrush, a bird with a wide distribution from the Mediterranean to the far East. This beautiful bird has taken up residence in a housing estate at Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire and is using roof tops as a substitute for its usual rocky mountain or coastal cliff habitat.

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A few birders are denigrating this bird, considering it an adult and therefore less likely to be a true vagrant, and saying wintering in the middle of the UK rather than the coast points to captive origin. These critics seem to mainly be twitchers who saw the Blue Rock Thrush on Scilly some 20 years ago and don’t want all these newbies catching them up – ie they are doing a bit of list protection. There is debate about its age, some consider it a first winter, and vagrancy can occur in adult birds and nobody criticised the Dusky Thrush because it was found in the middle of the country!

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When the Blue Rock Thrush was seen from certain angles its lovely blue hue faded to a dark grey. As I said before twitching rarities in urban areas can be difficult, photographing a bird on someone’s roof is one thing but on their bedroom windowsill is a different matter entirely.

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Now if Starlings were rare vagrants from Siberia then birders would go crazy for them, just look that blue sheen. But they were just considered something to photograph whilst we waited for the thrush to appear.

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We did nothing more exciting than watch TV on New Year’s Eve. The planned boat trip around Poole Harbour on New Year’s Day was postponed to the 2nd so we paid a visit to Longham Lakes before the rain set in. The first quality bird of the year was this Great White Egret, one of three that are wintering at Longham. Once a true rarity, there has been a huge increase in numbers in the last few years and now they even breed in Somerset.

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The 2nd was a much better day for our boat trip, kindly put on by our friends Mark and Mo Constantine, but compared to previous years there were relatively few quality birds in the harbour.

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There was one last event that fits in with the broad definition of the ‘Festive Season’, the annual bird race. This year I opted to do the race with my three ringing trainees L-R Daniel, Ginny and Chris. I think it would be fair to say that my team has had less birding experience than the members of the other teams, but they did extremely well and we ended up with 117 birds seen/heard during the 12 hours of the race and actually came second out of the four teams participating.

2016 – that was another year that was.   2 comments

2016 earned the reputation as the year when everything went wrong – the awful Brexit result which will have adverse consequences for the rest of my life, the shock American presidential election which may have ramifications far beyond the borders of the USA, the ongoing slaughter in Syria and the threat of terrorism and the death of many much-loved celebrities; but on a personal level 2016 has been both a great success and very enjoyable with much travel at home and abroad and lots of quality birding and bird ringing.

This post summarises what we have been up to this year, most of the photos have been uploaded before and more details can be found by reading the original posts.

 

IMG_2326 Golden Temple Amritsa

In January I spent three weeks in western India, mainly visiting the states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The tour started with a visit to the wonderful Golden Temple at Amritsar.

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The final few days of the trip were spent in the state of Maharashtra where we searched for the recently rediscovered Forest Owlet. The bizarre story of the discovery, loss, presumed extinction and rediscovery of this enigmatic species is explained in an entry posted on the 18th March. The tour was well covered on this blog with seven separate posts uploaded in February and March.

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A post in March tells of our trip to Essex and from there to London. As well as sorting out my Russian visa for a subsequent trip we also visited St Paul’s cathedral from where I took this shot of the Millennium Bridge.

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From Essex we moved on to Cambridge to stay with my old University friend Jenny.

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The longest and most remarkable trip of the year was the Atlantic Odyssey which ran from late March to early May. Starting at Ushuaia in southernmost Argentina we sailed on the Plancius to South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension and Cabo Verde.

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South Georgia was a delight with stunning views of King Penguins ….

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….cute Fur Seal pups plus several species of albatross and many other seabirds.

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In complete contrast we encountered desert like conditions on the island of Ascension and a range of tropical seabirds ….

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…. and tropical cetaceans like this Clymene Dolphin.

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But the star of the show was the breeding endemic Ascension Frigatebird that only breeds on a single half hectare offshore rock stack. Although the trip was over five weeks long and we sailed from the subantarctic to borders of the Western Palearctic I only had 13 life birds – but most of them were very sought after indeed.

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After landing at Cabo Verde we flew to Mallorca to join Birdquest’s 35th anniversary reunion. We had a very enjoyable time meeting up with old friends and making new ones amongst great scenery and great birds.

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Birding highlights were my first views of Moltoni’s Warbler, and first proper views of the endemic Balearic Warbler and the newly split Mediterranean Flycatcher. On a boat crossing to the island of Cabrera we had the best ever views of Scopoli’s and Balearic Shearwaters. Unfortunately these two wonderful trips have not been covered well on the blog with just a single extended post uploaded on 18th May covering the entire six weeks. It has always been my intention to give a more detailed coverage but other things have got in the way!

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I was only home for a couple of weeks before it time to join another cruise, the so-called ‘Russian Ring of Fire’ to the Russian Far East. Cancelled at short notice in 2015 due to the Russia authorities intransigence, the cruise from Kamchatka to the Commander and Kuril Islands and on to Sakhalin was absolutely outstanding, even if we did get snow at sea level in early June.

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I saw something like 17 life birds on the trip, perhaps the most beautiful and most desired was the wonderful Whiskered Auklet. As with the previous cruise, other commitments prevented me from doing it justice on this blog, but a summary was posted on 25th June.

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In late June and early July Margaret and I had a two week trip around Wales, parts of northern England and ended with a visit to Essex. As well as visiting friends and family we enjoyed many sights from castles in north Wales ….

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…. to a wet and dreary Blackpool. I uploaded two posts on this trip in late July/early August.

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From mid July to early November my time was taken up with ringing. Covering the entire autumn migration I paid 60 visits to Durlston Country Park as well as ringing at several other sites. We ringed over 4700 birds adding greatly to our knowledge of bird migration at Durlston. Autumn 2016 will be long remembered for the remarkable influx of birds from Siberia, caused by a strong easterly airflow that persisted for weeks. Although we didn’t catch any real rarities, there was much larger than usual number of Ring Ouzels passing though ….

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…. and as a group we ringed at least 16 Yellow-browed Warblers, a species that breeds no nearer than the Urals. The only ringing I did away from Dorset was when my friend Chris and I spent several days at Spurn Bird Observatory in early September. I have uploaded a number of posts on my ringing and UK birding activities throughout the year.

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In November I went on an excellent three-week trip to central Peru. The scenery on almost every day was outstanding ….

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…. as was the birding, with much wanted gems such as the flightless Junin Grebe (my last grebe) ….

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…. and the enigmatic Diademed Sandpiper-plover, a rare inhabitant of high altitude bogs, which took a lot of stomping around at a breath-taking 4500m to find. This was by far the most productive trip of the year for both species and lifers and I accumulated some 57 new birds and bringing my life list (with the help of a few armchair ticks) to 8122. I am still editing the many photos from this tour but hope to upload some to the blog in a week or so.

DCINY presents UK composer Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light: A Requiem led by Maestro Jonathan Griffith. Solo singers: Sarah Joy Miller - soprano, Scott Joiner - tenor, Steven Fddy - Baritone

Whilst I was in Peru Margaret had the opportunity to travel to New York with members of her choir to join a massed choir of over 200 singing Howard Goodall’s composition ‘Eternal Light’. There is more on her adventure in a blog post uploaded on 4th December.

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2016 has become infamous as the year when many much loved celebrities passed away. Whilst not unexpected, he was 82 and in poor health, the death of singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen saddened me the most. A fan since I first heard ‘The Sisters of Mercy’ back in 1968 I have all of his CDs and love his deep, poignant and moving lyrics. I am pleased to have had the privilege of seeing him in concert three times, once when I was a student and twice in recent years. I bought his 14th and final studio album ‘You Want It Darker’ just days before his death on 7th November.

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We have only been to a few music events this year, a fantastic gig by the Afro Celt Sound System and a visit to the opera to see Don Giovanni. I even missed both of Margaret’s UK choral concerts, one by being in Russia, the other through ill health. However, although not a musical event, a trip to the BIC to see the funniest man in the world, Billy Connolly in late November, was a hilarious night out.

IMG_4946 Caspian Stonechat

Although UK birding has taken a bit of a back seat with a large amount of time being devoted to ringing and the subsequent paper work, but I have mamaged to see a number of great species this year. In the spring my friend Roger and I twitched a ‘Caspian’ Stonechat in Hampshire. Although currently considered a race of Siberian Stonechat this white-rumped form from the southern borders of the Caspian Sea could well warrant specific status.

Great Spotted Cuckoo1 Chris Minvalla

Although I have seen two in the UK before, this beautiful Great Spotted Cuckoo at Portland was a much appreciated addition to my Dorset List. Other local goodies in May included Red-footed Falcon, Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Stilt and Honey Buzzard. Photo by my friend Chris Minvalla.

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In recent years I have shied away from long distance twitches due to the effort and cost involved and because I am often familiar with the species concerned from birding abroad. However in mid October, as the remarkable influx of Siberian and Central Asian goodies continued I was tempted back to Spurn once more. This Isabelline Wheatear in a muddy field by the coast (here with a head stained from the dark soil) was reason enough for the long journey ….

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…. but the real prize was this superb Siberian Accentor just a few hundred yards away in the grounds of the gas terminal. This species had never been seen in the UK before 2016 but this autumn there were 12, with close to 300 found in western Europe. As far as my UK birding is concerned this was ‘bird of the year’. Photo by Chris Minvalla.

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There was another Siberian mega to twitch before the year was out. Just north of where my brother lives in Derbyshire a Dusky Thrush was found in early December. With only a dozen UK records (and most of those from antiquity) this was a much wanted UK tick. I was prevented from going for a Dusky Thrush in Kent a few years ago by earlier commitment, so a trip to the Derbyshire Peak District became essential. I needn’t have fretted as it was still these when I visited my brother over the Christmas period and we went to see it again. Photo by my friend Roger Howell.

Another mega-rare thrush, a Blue Rock Thrush was seen towards the end of the year on my way home from Derbyshire (giving me 4 new birds for my British List in 2016 and bringing it to 493 by the BOU list). I will upload photos of this plus an account of our activities over Christmas and New Year will be in the next post.

Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.