Birthday birds: species I have seen on my birthday over the past 40 years.   Leave a comment

I have recently returned from a trip to the Lesser Antilles Islands in the Caribbean. As always it will be a while until I have sorted, edited and labelled my many photos but in the interim here is a ‘post with a difference’.

Whilst away I had my birthday and it was a very good day, or at least morning, for birds. This got me thinking, what other notable birds have I seen on my birthday?

I have searched the database and found that I made bird notes on 17 out of the 41 birthdays that have passed since I started birding. Of course many birthdays were spent at work, sometimes on call. It also looks like that on many of the times when I was at home I didn’t bother to go birding on the ‘big day’ as there is often entries for June 8th and/or June 10th but not the one in between.

As I didn’t start digital photography until 2003, many of the photos below were not taken on the date implied or were taken from Internet sources.

Although my first ever binoculars and field guide were supposed to be a birthday present in 1977, I actually got them in May as we had an early June holiday booked, so I was back in Leeds and at work on the 9th. The first birthday when I recorded what I had seen was 1980.

 

By 1980 I had started training to ring birds.  On June 9th I was ringing with my trainer Trevor in the reedbeds at Lodmoor near Weymouth. I will always remember him taking a bird like this one out of a bag and in his inimitable style saying ‘birthday or no f***ing birthday, you’re not ringing this!’ The next time I was to see (as opposed to hear) a Savi’s Warbler in Dorset was on 14/5/11 when another occurred at Lodmoor, in precisely the same spot as the one we trapped in 1980. Photo from the Israeli Ringing Blog.

 

In 1982 my late wife Janet and I had a holiday in Scotland. On June 9th we were on Skye enjoying better weather than when this photo (of the Quiraing) was taken in June 2012.

 

Of the various birds we saw that day, I suppose the highlight was a Golden Eagle, just like this immature that I photographed on Skye in June 2012.

 

On 9/6/84 Janet and I arrived in Torremolinos in southern Spain at the start of a two-week tour of Andalusia and Extremadura. It was well into the evening by the time we had collected the hire car and found a hotel and we had no time for birding. As we sat outside the hotel we saw many swifts flying low overhead. It wasn’t until later in the trip that we realised that the vast majority of them would have been Pallid Swifts, not the familiar Common Swifts. Most British records of Pallid Swift are in the late autumn, I think that any that occur when Common Swifts are abundant would probably get overlooked. This one (pursued by a Goldfinch)was photographed in Christchurch, Dorset on 25/10/13.

 

It takes a view like this to be really sure you have seen a Pallid Swift and we were to get many such views as our Spanish trip progressed. This Pallid Swift was photographed in Sicily by gobirding.eu. Key ID features compared to Common Swift include the scaly underparts, paler head and throat, a paler area in the outer secondaries and inner primaries compared to the rest of the wing and darker underwing coverts compared to the body.

 

Breeding Lapwing have declined greatly in the UK over the last 30 years due to agricultural intensification and draining of wetlands. In 1985 Lapwings were still breeding near to my house and on 9th June I was able to ring one or more chicks. Photo by Garry Prescott https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/

 

During the 80s our ringing group was conducting an intensive study into the biology of the European Nightjar, something that continues, albeit at a lower level, to this day. On 9th June 1987 I was ringing Nightjars in Wareham Forest. The lack of white marks on the wing and tail tips identifies this bird as a female.

 

In 1988 Janet and I plus two friends drove all the way from Helsinki in Finland to northernmost Norway. After a week of driving we reached Vardø on 9th June, a town on an island at the head of Varangerfjord in far north-eastern Norway Nearby I saw my first ever Brunnich’s Guillemots, although I didn’t get views as good as this. Photo taken in the Kurils, far-eastern Russia in 2016.

 

We also saw a number of King Eiders. Unlike the last, this photo was taken in Varangerfjord, but not until we returned there in March 2015.

 

In June 1989 Janet and I spent a few days in Jersey, taking the ferry over from Poole. Although a United Kingdom Crown Dependency, birds on the Channel Islands are not added to the British List as they are not part of the British Isles (being so close to the French coast). Only one species breeds there that doesn’t breed in the UK and that’s Short-toed Treecreeper. I can’t find any notes on my trip so I’m not really sure if I saw this species on my birthday or not, but we were certainly in Jersey at that date. Photo taken by Aleix Comeis in Catalonia, Spain.

 

Tree_swallow_at_Stroud_Preserve

My birthday in 1990 was quite notable. Janet & I had returned from an excellent trip to Canada at the end of May only to find the UK was flooded with megas from all points of the compass. Having been away for several weeks it wasn’t easy getting time off work, so I was unable to twitch them and I became stressed out about all these ‘once in a lifetime’ UK ticks slipping through my fingers. On the 8th June I had a social gathering with friends to celebrate my birthday. Mid-evening I heard there was a Tree Swallow on St Mary’s, Scilly. I had to cut my social event short so I could get to Penzance and catch the Scillonian the following morning. I think this was a watershed moment. After those stressful few weeks I concluded that I didn’t HAVE to twitch every rarity if it wasn’t convenient, and although I continue to this day to chase some UK rarities, very few cause a reaction like the 1990 Tree Swallow did. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

 

No more notable birthday birds until 1996 and then it was just a Raven at Studland. But the following day I set of the most adventurous trip I have ever done – three weeks in the Arctic tundra and forests of north-east Siberia. The trip was the most travel disrupted I have ever been on. It would be fair to say that when it ran to schedule it was the best travel experience ever and when it wasn’t, it was the worst.

 

After having the tour cancelled in 2003 due to the SARS outbreak I finally got to Tibet on a private trip with five friends in June 2005. On the 8th we climbed up the Er La massif (but not to the summit, we did that later in the trip) seeing many excellent high-altitude birds. We probably reached 4700m that day.

 

Accommodation in the area was basic and our hotel (similar, if not worse than this one) had filthy black carpets, an outside loo across a muddy yard inhabited by ferocious dogs and most importantly was 4500m up. I got out of breath just getting dressed. On the morning of my birthday I awoke after a dreadful night’s sleep, absolutely exhausted with a resounding high-altitude headache. It looked like it was going to be the worst birthday ever ….

 

…. that is until a few miles down the rough road we saw a Grey Wolf harrying some Yaks.

 

Mind you I think the Yaks saw the Wolf off pretty quickly. The headache quickly vanished and I received the best birthday present of my life!

 

No more birthday birds until 2008 when Margaret and I were in Cape Town. We didn’t do a lot of birding that day, just a quick visit to Strandfontein water treatment works were we saw birds like Cape Shoveler ….

 

…. and Cape Teal.

 

Later in the day we crossed the Cape Flats, by-passing the notorious squatter camp of Khayelitsha and climbed up to Sir Lowry’s Pass. It was very windy on the pass and we had no luck at all with birds in this area. Later we drove to the town of George where we stayed with Margaret’s cousin and his wife. The day before we had birded the Cape Peninsula seeing Penguins and a host of other good birds and the following day I birded De Hoop NP seeing Blue Cranes and Denham’s Bustards, so I’m afraid the birthday birding, although better than being at home, wasn’t the best of the trip.

 

Fast forwards to June 9th 2012 and I was on Skye again, part of my attempt to see over 300 species in the UK in a calendar year. I covered year this extensively on my blog so please peruse the archives if you are interested. Today Margaret and I left Skye and headed for Harris/Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, more for sightseeing than anything else. Fortunately as it was a Saturday we made sure we had a full tank of fuel and some snacks with us, as nothing at all was open on  Sunday in mega-religious Harris/Lewis.

 

On route we saw a lovely summer plumaged Red-throated Diver ….

 

…. whilst good numbers of Gannets and Manx Shearwaters cruised by. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see European Storm-petrel on either crossing and failed to get this species on my year list.

 

It was quite late in the day when we landed with little time for birding, however we could admire the Hebridean race of Song Thrush, which lacks the buffy wash on the breast and flanks.

 

This brings us to the Uganda trip in 2013, a superb mixture of bird and mammal watching which also was covered on my blog. On the 9th we birded the ‘Royal Mile’ a forested area in the west of the country. Our main target was Nahan’s Partridge, a strange species that seems (along with Stone Partridge) to be basal to the New World Quails! The thought is that New World Quails originated in Africa and spread via Europe, Greenland and North America to their current distribution in Central and South America. If you understand the movement of the continents with time this makes sense. The remainder of the ‘new world quails’ were then wiped out in the Old World by competition with Old World partridges and francolins. Of course I didn’t photograph such a retiring species but I know someone who did! Photo by Pete Morris/Birdquest.

 

OK they’re not birds (but neither was the Tibetan Wolf). Birding and bird photography was rather tricky today but the butterflies were superb.

 

As I have little to show from 9/6/13 I’ll chuck in a photo from earlier on in the trip, – Northern Red Bishop.

 

For much of my retirement years I have purposefully spent early June abroad. It’s not a great time for birding or ringing in the UK and lots of good foreign trips go at this time. In 2014 we were just winding up a great three-week trip to Eastern USA. We had travelled from North Carolina to Canada, birding on land and at sea, sightseeing in Washington and New York and visiting various friends. We ended the tour in coastal Maine.

 

The main targets in Maine (excuse the pun) were Saltmarsh (above) and Nelson’s Sparrows, two closely related species that exist in sympatry here.

 

One of the last species we saw before we drove to the airport was the Willet (really should be called Eastern Willet as the eastern and western races are different enough to deserve specific status). We were talking to an American couple who seemed quite knowledgeable until a Willet flew past, when one exclaimed ‘Mountain Plover’. This just goes to show that you cannot take everything a birder tells you at face value. My birthday celebration that night was sipping a warm beer on a transatlantic flight out of Boston.

 

Back to normality in 2015. We did go to America again that year but in March/April. On 9th June I was in Wareham Forest in Dorset where I saw a Red Kite.

 

I had some serious delays coming home from the Russian Ring of Fire cruise in 2016 so I spent my birthday more or less on my own on the island of Sakhalin. Birding the Gagarin Park near the hotel gave me views of ….

 

…. the beautiful Narcissus Flycatcher ….

 

…. and many Pacific Swifts (an example of which turned up in Scotland yesterday!) Unfortunately time constraints meant that the 2014 Eastern USA and the 2016 Russian Ring of Fire photos never got fully edited and uploaded to the blog. One day perhaps.

 

So we conclude with photos taken three weeks ago on the French island of Guadeloupe. We only had a morning to appreciate the island’s bird life but it was one of the best mornings of the trip. In one small area we saw and photographed the Caribbean endemic Mangrove Cuckoo ….

 

…. Bridled Quail Dove, known only from Guadeloupe and Dominica ….

 

…. Plumbeous Warbler which is also known only from Guadeloupe and Dominica ….

 

…. Forest Thrush which is a bit more widespread and is found on Dominica, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, and Saint Lucia ….

 

…. Purple-throated Carib, which occurs from Antigua south to St Vincent ….

 

…. and best of all, the single island endemic Guadeloupe Woodpecker, which is unusual in being almost entirely glossy black with just a hint of purple on the breast. The afternoon was taken up with returning to the airport and flying on to Martinique – but that’s another story which will be told in due course.

 

So by choosing just one day of the year, albeit one of special importance to me, I can show that on over a third of occasions over the past 40 years I have been involved in something out of the ordinary and have seen (more often than not) some special birds. Perhaps that’s not so surprising when you consider how relatively easy quality birds have become to see and how birding has developed into such an absorbing and rewarding hobby.

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