Archive for October 2017

Lesser Antilles part 3: Guadeloupe and Martinique, 8th – 11th June 2017   1 comment

This post, the third covering my island hopping Lesser Antilles tour, concentrates on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, both overseas departments of France.

 

As I mentioned in the last post, from Dominica we had to overfly Guadeloupe to Antigua then return to Guadeloupe hours later. Similarly on our onwards flight to Martinique we had to overfly Dominica!

 

Guadeloupe is a department of France and hence has all the benefits of belong to the EU, something we are carelessly discarding in Britain. It consists of two island Basse Terre (seen in the distance) and Grande Terre joined by an isthmus and a series of bridges.

 

The capital Pointe-a-Pietre straddles the isthmus leading to the major traffic jams at rush hour.

 

Our birding at Guadeloupe was on the slopes of the mountains in the south-west of Basse-Terre. In fact all of our birding took place at this single picnic site beside the river.

 

Just on dawn several Bridled Quail-doves walked around the clearing. We had seen one before on Montserrat but the views here were so much better ….

 

…. however the light was poor that early in the morning, so these pics aren’t very sharp.

 

Other species we saw included Pearly-eyed Thrasher ….

 

…. and we had multiple views of the usually skulking Forest Thrush.

 

We had seen Plumbeous Warbler on Dominica but here one posed for photos.

 

We also saw our first Purple-throated Caribs.

 

We were surprised when this Mangrove Cuckoo appeared carrying a cricket ….

 

…. presented the cricket to a nearby female, copulated ….

 

…. and then perched on a branch with a smug look on his face.

 

The bird of the morning was Guadeloupe’s only endemic bird, Guadeloupe Woodpecker.

 

On an earlier post I uploaded images of birds that I have seen on my birthday, well it was my birthday today and this bird was a fantastic birthday present.

 

So it was goodbye to the glade by the river and goodbye to Guadeloupe as well, we returned to the airport and flew to Martinique.

 

Our flight from Guadeloupe to Martinique wasn’t on the local island carrier LIAT but on an Air France Jumbo, direct from Paris and on route to French Guiana.

 

Martinique, like Guadeloupe was like a slice of France transported into the Caribbean, but a rather dull, hot and sticky slice at that. We drove to a peninsula on the east coast of the island and checked into our hotel.

 

Situated on the side of a steep hill, the multiple steps caused consternation for some of the group members.

 

It was getting late in the day so a quick look around the immediate vicinity and a chance to photograph Zendaida Dove was about all there was time for.

 

The following morning we took a short drive down the pLa Caravelle Peninsula

 

…. where Lesser Antillean Saltator showed well. It is  found on several of the central Lesser Antilles but we only saw it here and on St Lucia.

 

More widespread was Antillean Crested Hummingbird which we saw on most of the islands.

 

Golden/Mangrove Warblers are a bit of a conundrum. Taken together with Yellow Warbler (the species that turned up at Portland in August) they fall into three groups, the migratory Yellow Warbler from North America, in which the male has a chestnut streaked breast and a yellow head, the sedentary Mangrove Warbler of the coastal mangroves of Central America and northern South America, which has an entirely chestnut head and Golden Warbler of the islands of the Caribbean where the male shows a little chestnut cap. OK you say, clearly they are three separate species, the trouble is in the Lesser Antilles the Golden Warblers look just like Mangrove Warblers with a complete chestnut head but aren’t associated with mangroves. As a result, despite the morphological differences the two resident forms are considered one species and only the migratory Yellow Warbler is split off.

 

Carib Grackles are a bit of a puzzle as well. Birds in the Lesser Antilles look different from those of northern South America and the females in the central Lesser Antilles are much paler than those in the more northerly islands. Nice as they were the bird we really wanted to see was ….

 

…. White-breasted Thrasher, a species known only from Martinique and St Lucia. Our views were reasonable but the birds remained partially hidden so I have used a photo from the Internet Bird Collection taken by Mikko Pyhla http://www.hbw.com/ibc/u/3849

 

To see the remaining Martinique goodies we had to leave the coast and head for the misty mountainous interior.

 

Unfortunately we had heard that the road from the east coast to the interior had been blocked by a major landslide, sufficiently large that it was marked on the maps, so we had no alternative but to drive back south and head inland from a different direction, a detour that must have taken about an hour. At least the roads were good and unlike Guadeloupe, not congested.

 

In due course we reached the mountains and it didn’t take us long to find the goodies ….

 

Whilst walking the mountain road we found Martinique’s endemic lizard, the Martinique Spotted Anole.

 

We spent quite a time watching this lovely Blue-headed Hummingbird ….

 

It stayed perched motionless on the same branch for ages and because the branch was situated by a hairpin bend we could watch it from many different angles

 

As always with hummingbirds, their colours are only revealed when the light strikes them at a certain angle, so in this pose the blue head becomes black and the gorget lit up like a police car’s strobe lights.

 

Joseph shows his video of the hummer to Mark and Keith.

 

In due course we found our main target, the endemic Martinique Oriole. Initially our view was of a bird directly overhead ….

 

…. but later we got a view that placed less of a strain on the neck ….

 

…. and we could watch it as it preened.

 

Before we left we returned to the La Caravelle peninsula ….

 

…. but we didn’t get to see anything new, just a chance to photograph the widespread Tropical Mockingbird.

 

Then it was time to move on again, this time to the island of St Lucia, which will feature in the next post.

 

 

 

Lesser Antilles part 2: Dominica, 5th – 8th June 2017.   2 comments

This post covers my visit to the island of Dominica (pronounced Dom-in-ee-ka) as part of my tour of the Lesser Antilles.

I had intended to post photos from Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique but I had more decent photos of Dominica than I though, so the two French islands will appear in the next post.

 

Compared to Antigua and in particular to the two French islands (which are part of the EU), Dominica is somewhat impoverished, although car ownership seems quite high. It is a mountainous and verdant volcanic island quite unlike Antigua and Barbuda. A former British colony, taken from the French in 1763 and gaining independence in 1978, it gained its name because Christopher Columbus first sailed past it on a Sunday.

 

Our flight from Antigua arrived after dark and we had to cross the island from north-east to south-west to arrive at the island’s capital Roseau, seen here from a boat trip that we took later in the trip.

 

Our hotel was situated on the coast just south of Roseau, it was a long way from the best birding site but decent accommodation is in short supply.

 

Much of our time on the island was spent at or near this viewpoint in Morne Diablotin NP, named after local breeding petrels or diablotins, (their name in turn deriving from their devilish sounding vocalisations). Unfortunately the weather was against us and it rained for much of the time. On the right is our tour leader Mark van Beirs from Belgium. Mark has led more tours than any other Birdquest leader and is capable of leading trips to any part of the world. Indeed I’ve been on no less than 18 tours with him from 1989 onwards. One of the joys of always travelling with the same tour company is that on any given tour there will be several people you already know. Keith, the guy with his back to the camera, was on our Atlantic Odyssey in 2016, although I know Keith from UK birding and we first met in 1980.

 

The main targets were two species of parrot. The smaller Red-necked Parrot was easy to find and perched up on the far side of the valley. However its ‘red-neck’ was harder to see ….

 

…. but can just be seen as a red dot on this photo. Another example of a bird that is named after its least obvious field characteristic.

 

The other species, the larger Imperial Parrot, known locally as the Sisserou, was much harder and it took two morning visits to the view-point before we had tickable flight views. An internet search failed to produce any pics of wild birds but I did find a photo of this captive individual taken by Mikko Pyhala http://www.hbw.com/ibc/u/3849

 

By now the weather on the mountain had turned really bad and we retreated to the visitor centre for shelter.

 

The now familiar Lesser Antillean Bullfinch also sought shelter from the storm.

 

In spite of the weather Keith seems pretty pleased with the outcome.

 

On the return we noticed some Caribbean Martins on wires in this village and stopped for photos, but may have caused a bit of a traffic jam in the process.

 

These chunky hirundines gave excellent views. ….

 

…. but then they exhibited a most bizarre behaviour, stretching out along the wire, presumably drying themselves after the heavy rain. They certainly seemed to be enjoying sunbathing!

 

Around our hotel we found nesting Green Herons. This species is found throughout north and central America but in South America (and Trinidad) it is replaced by the similar Striated Heron.

 

On our second morning we returned to the mountains and in spite of the continuing rain managed flight views of the Imperial Parrot and our first view of Plumbeous Warbler and the Dominica race of House Wren. All of the races of House Wren in the Lesser Antilles deserve to be split as a series of single island endemics as they look and sound different and inhabit forests not human conurbations.

 

We returned to the hotel late morning and in the afternoon took a boat from the adjacent dock.

 

We headed south towards the southernmost tip of the island in search of seabirds and cetaceans.

 

On route we found an American Oystercatcher, a rare migrant from North America and one that even resident birders haven’t seen.

 

Soon we reached Scott’s Head at the most south-westerly tip of Dominica.

 

There were a lot of Magnificent Frigate birds fishing and we soon saw why, a shoal of tuna were pushing small fish up to the surface.

 

Amongst the leaping tuna was a small dark tern (LHS of the photo).

 

It proved to be an American Black Tern. Many in the UK (if not in North America) treat this race of Black Tern as a separate species based on a few morphological differences, but to my knowledge there has been so study of genetics, voice etc and until there is I think they should be considered conspecific.

 

We continued up the west coast until we were level with misty (and wet) Morne Diablotin, the highest point of the island, where we had been birding earlier in the day.

 

Our aim was to find the Sperm Whales that are regularly seen off Dominica and we located two, presumably a mother and well-grown calf. Note the laterally offset blow hole which gives this whale its characteristic blow.

 

They put on a good show before finally diving into the deep underwater trench that lies just offshore.

 

So it was back to the hotel and an early departure the next morning for the airport. I was expecting our flight would take us on to Guadeloupe but no, things weren’t that simple ….

 

…. first we had to fly north, over flying Guadeloupe in the process, spend many hours sitting around in Antigua airport (again) before taking the short hop back to Guadeloupe.

 

No wonder Mark was knackered.

 

Arriving in Guadeloupe was like arriving in France (and technically it was France) French signs, three lane highways and traffic jams. What a shock after the rural simplicity of Dominica.

 

Rather than end this post with a photo of traffic congestion instead let’s enjoy a wonderful sunset from our Dominica hotel at the conclusion of our boat trip.

 

 

Lesser Antilles and Trinidad part 1: Antigua, Barbuda and Montserrat; 2nd – 5th June 2017   Leave a comment

 

The islands of the Caribbean hold a multitude of birds, many of them endemic. The islands fall into two main groups, the Greater Antilles (the four large islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico) and the Lesser Antilles, a chain of 30+ islands that stretch southwards from Puerto Rico towards the Venezuelan cost. For the purpose of this blog and birding in general, the islands off the Venezuelan coast and Trinidad and Tobago are not considered part of the Lesser Antilles. Map of the Caribbean from Google Maps.

 

The Lesser Antilles comprise of eight nation states and seven overseas dependencies. Our tour took us all the islands that had endemic birds namely (in order of arrival) Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Lucia, St Vincent, Barbados and Grenada. We also visited Trinidad. This post deals with Antigua, Barbuda and Montserrat. Barbuda is the unmarked island just north of the A of Antigua. Map of the Lesser Antilles from Google Maps.

 

After a long flight from the UK I landed at St John’s on the island of Antigua on a rather cloudy afternoon and met the rest of the tour group at the airport.

 

Although we were tired after the long flight, after dropping the bags off at our hotel we headed out to a nearby beach.

 

It wasn’t the beach we came to see but a lagoon just inland. Access was via this dirt track, there must have been a sewage works near the start as the smell was awful. However we were soon away from that and came across some good birds like this Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

 

As you would expect from a freshwater lagoon, there were many Black-necked Stilts. This is the New World equivalent of our familiar Black-winged Stilt and some authorities treat them as conspecific.

 

All stilts noisily defend their nests against potential intruders, indeed their piping call is a familiar sound at wetlands over much of the world’s temperate and tropical regions.

 

There were several species of tern on the lagoon, by far the commonest was Least Tern.

 

Least Tern is the New World equivalent of our Little Tern. Although very similar in plumage it differs vocally. A Least Tern visited a Little Tern colony in Sussex for several years in the 90s but it was several years before it was conclusively identified by which time it was less reliable. I twitched it but dipped.

 

There were several species of wildfowl on the lake, most notable were a few West Indian Whistling Ducks but they remained in cover at the back of the lagoon. These White-cheeked (or Bahama) Pintails were more co-operative.

 

Brown Pelicans were common on the lagoon and along the shore.

 

Magnificent Frigatebirds were seen on all eleven islands that we visited and were common on Antigua.

 

After a much-needed sleep we set off by boat the next day to Barbuda. The islands of Antigua and Barbuda were British colonies but achieved independence as a single country in 1968.

 

Barbuda is a small low-lying island of about 160 sq km, about a third the size of Antigua, largely covered with scrub vegetation. Tragically three months after our visit the island was flattened by Hurricane Irma and all inhabitants were evacuated to Antigua. After disembarking we headed on foot to a nearby wooded area

 

We soon started seeing birds like the widespread American Kestrel ….

 

…. and the tiny Antillean Crested Hummingbird, a species that occurs in Puerto Rico as well as the Lesser Antilles and one we saw on every island except Antigua.

 

White-crowned Pigeon is a bird of the northern Caribbean, occurring from the Florida Keys south to Antigua, Barbuda and Montserrat.

 

There are twenty-eight species named Elaenia, mot of them nondescript and hard to identify. Caribbean Elaenia occurs in Puerto Rico and islands off Central America as well as the Lesser Antilles.

 

 

The semi-concealed erectile white crest is typical of many species of Elaenia.

 

The common and ubiquitous Lesser Antillean Bullfinch was seen on all the Lesser Antillean islands except Grenada (more about that later). This was my first life bird of the trip, being seen in the car park of the airport at Antigua on arrival.

 

The female is much drabber (again more about this later).

 

Lesser Antillean Flycatcher belongs in a genus known as Myiarchus With their lemon yellow bellies and grey breasts and brown upper parts members of this genus are most distinctive even if it is hard to tell one from another. Rather than using the non-specific name ‘flycatcher’ I wish they would all have the english name of Myiarchus. With over 430 species of tyrant flycatcher in the New World, then anything that makes a genus easier to remember is to be welcomed. We were only to see this species on Barbuda and Dominica.

 

Black-whiskered Vireo is widespread in the Caribbean especially in low-lying coastal regions. Its distinctive voice forms the backdrop to a lot of Caribbean birding.

 

The main reason we had come to Barbuda was to see the beautiful little Barbuda Warbler, which of course is endemic to the island. They seemed quite common and it didn’t take us long to locate some.

 

Fears had been expressed for their continual survival after Hurricane Irma but recent surveys have proved that at least some remain.

 

With our targets under the belt and with the temperature rising we returned to the dock. Today was a festival and there was very loud music playing from a beach party, most of the group kept well away ….

 

…. but I braved the deafening beat and had a wander around.

 

As we returned to the boat there were many Frigatebirds about ….

 

…. we realised why when we saw fisherman landing their catch.

 

A Brown Pelican was feeding on some discarded fish offal but this Frigatebird was hanging around nearby ….

 

….. and it quickly grabbed and stole the fish guts from the pelican’s beak!

 

Soon it was time to return to Antigua and to our hotel.

 

Early following morning we were back at Antigua airport waiting for our flight to Montserrat. One of the tour participants was Joseph del Hoyo editor of the Handbook of Birds of the World series. Joseph is keen on videoing birds and much of his work can be seen on the Internet Bird Collection/HBW Alive at  https://www.hbw.com/ibc Here Joseph is videoing a Carib Grackle that was hanging around our breakfast venue at the airport.

 

Some discarded toast would soon bring the grackle within photo range.

 

Our flight to Montserrat (a UK Overseas Territory) was in this light aircraft.

 

I have to say it was a bit of a squash inside.

 

The board outside Montserrat’s airport illustrated our reason for coming to Montserrat, the endemic Montserrat Oriole. Although we were to see the species, the most views were of females so this was our best view of the a male! When the immigration officer asked my reason for coming to Montserrat I replied ‘I’ve come to see the oriole’, his eyes lit up, they are obviously proud of their national bird.

 

Due to the flight schedule our time on Montserrat was brief. We arrived mid morning and dropped our gear off at our hotel (which had a lovely view from the rooms) and immediately went birding.

 

The so-called ‘oriole walkway’ was our best chance to connect with the island’s special birds and we spent the rest of the day there.

 

It was good quality forest growing on volcanic soil, not the sand of Antigua and Barbuda (which reduces the height of their forest cover to that of low scrub on those islands).

 

The first good bird was Pearly-eyed Thrasher, a mimid, that is a member of the family that includes mockingbirds, catbirds, tremblers as well as the thrashers.

 

We had brief views of a Bridled Quail-dove in the gloom of the forest.

 

Eventually we saw our prize, Montserrat Oriole, but only this female perched for photos. I had a brief look at a male but many of the group only saw females.

 

It was nearly dark by the time we were back at the hotel.

 

The following morning it was straight to the airport for the return flight to Antigua. Although I knew that this would be a whistle-stop tour of the islands I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t see more of Montserrat. In particular I’d have like to see some of the lava flows that formed after the 1995 eruption and whatever remains of the capital Plymouth. Although the southern third of the island is an exclusion zone, apparently there is a public viewpoint that overlooks Plymouth.

 

The eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in 1995 destroyed much of the southern part of Montserrat and buried Plymouth, the docks and the airport under pyroclastic flows and lava. The whole southern part of the island was evacuated (about two-thirds of the population) mainly to the UK and the economy was destroyed. The new airport was built in 2005 but the island economy has yet to recover. Although the volcano destroyed much of the Montserrat Oriole’s habitat, some remained in the north and it has recently been downgraded from Critically Endangered. Margaret lived on a yacht and sailed though the Caribbean in the mid 90s and has described to me the wonderful experience of passing Montserrat by night and seeing views like this (from www.sciencedaily.com).

 

It was back to Antigua in the small plane ….

 

…. we had time before our onward flight to visit the lagoon once more, go into St John’s for lunch (this is St John’s cathedral) and visit a new site a bit to the south.

 

Getting the lake by the Cocos Hotel took longer than expected so it was a quick scan, a few photos and then on to the airport.

 

There were a few new species like American Coot and Pied-billed Grebe plus a chance to photograph Great Egret ….

 

…. and Tricoloured Heron.

 

So for the third time we said farewell to Antigua and headed off in the late afternoon to Dominica.

 

The next post will cover Dominica and the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Ringing and birding Summer 2017- plus an unexpected bonus in October.   Leave a comment

This post covers a few of the ringing and birding activities during the summer of 2017 plus a post script about a Dorset Mega in October.

 

Most of the birds we ring at Durlston and beyond are small passerines so I felt it would be useful for my trainees to get some experience in handling larger birds such as geese or swans. Fortunately we were all free to join the annual Canada Goose ringing session at Chew Valley Lake in Somerset.

 

Margaret, my trainees Ginny and Chris, Olly, another ringer from our group and I drove up to Chew Valley. Most of us went out on the boats to round the geese up. Unfortunately for the ringing program many of the geese were feeding in a shallow, weed filled area where the boats couldn’t get so the total number ringed/processed was smaller than usual.

 

As they moult most of their flight feathers simultaneously the geese are flightless in early July so using some well-practiced boat maneuvers, the flock was shepherded ashore and into a corral.

 

Each of us was handed a goose and we proceeded to the a table where the ‘scribe’, ably assisted by Margaret, handed out the rings and recorded the details.

 

Although they had never held such a large bird before Ginny and Chris managed very well and were able to close the large ‘L’ rings around the goose’s tarsus.

 

Chris enjoying his visit to Chew Valley. This may be a rather inelegant view of a Canada Goose but it is the safest and easiest way to carry one.

 

Closing a large ring on a large bird involves a very different technique to say ringing warblers or garden birds. Although an introduced bird, the monitoring the movement and population growth of alien species like Canada Geese is very important, so ringing these birds is so much more than just an outing for trainees.

 

In the end the ringers compared their ‘war wounds’, a torn t-shirt, a few scratches and a bit of (human) blood on your sleeve.

 

A Collared Dove was an unusual bird ringed in my garden this summer. This species naturally colonised the UK from the 1950s onwards and now is an established breeder throughout the country. However they were introduced to the Caribbean from where they have spread to the USA and in a very short period colonised much of North America.

 

Our ringing at Durlston commenced on the 19th July with local breeders like this  Common Whitethroat (note the grey head and pale eye of an adult)  ….

 

…. but the highlight was this 1st year Nightingale. As we also trapped an adult in the spring it is likely that the species has bred locally. Like many woodland birds Nightingales have declined markedly. Our ringing group had ringed 99 Nightingales prior to 2017 but none of those were after 1994 showing the scale of the decline.

 

Details of wing length, weight and moult status are recorded. This year a few Willow Warblers must have bred near or at Durlston as we trapped a few adults in moult as well as juveniles. Willow Warblers used to be common breeders but with climate change their range has shifted northwards. This bird is missing its 6th primary, a little tricky, as the exact shape of this feather is what proves categorically that it not a Chiffchaff. However there were enough other features to prove its identity beyond doubt.

 

One feature that is sometimes seen on young birds is ‘growth bars’. As a bird is growing its remiges and retrices (primaries, secondaries and tail feathers) in the nest, the quantity and quality of food delivered to it will vary depending on the weather. This can affect the growth of the feathers and as the feathers are grown simultaneously appear as a bar across the tail. Growth bars across the primaries and secondaries are usually much less obvious than across the tail. This Reed Warbler is notable because of the strength of the growth bars across all the flight feathers. It must pointed out that this is not a plumage characteristic of the species but an anomaly in this particular bird.

 

Of the more unusual captures, this Northern Wheatear was notable.

 

One of the features of ringing this summer/autumn was the capture of nine Nightjars, seven in August and two in September . All were juveniles and presumably were on migration, or at least undergoing making postnatal dispersal prior to migration as the species is not known to breed on the limestone grasslands and scrub at Durlston. Most likely we only discovered their occurrence in the park because this year we took to arriving on site that bit earlier, typically about 0430 in August.

 

On one occasion a Nightjar was trapped just on dawn so we were able to photograph it in what appears to be daylight. In fact it was still quite gloomy, I was just using a very slow shutter speed!

=

Another benefit of getting the nets up before dawn has been the capture of a record number of Grasshopper Warblers. Most years we ringed 10-30 of these skulky little warblers, last year that rose to over 100, this year to over 200 with 65 on a single day. This huge increase cannot just be attributed to earlier starts, the species must have had a very good breeding season. We also had our first Grasshopper Warbler ‘control’, a bird ringed last autumn in Hampshire. We also ‘controlled’ a Tree Pipit, a Willow Warbler and two Reed Warblers, all ringed in various parts of the UK but our only Bullfinch recovery was a bird we ringed in the spring that was found killed by a Sparrowhawk in a garden less than a mile away.

 

I mentioned in my previous st that we visited London for the day. On our way from Victoria coach station to Trafalgar Square we passed through St Jame’s Park.

 

Many people think the only ‘wildlife’ in London parks are the pigeons but in fact a lot of wildlife lives there.

 

That said many of the wildfowl are introduced, if this female Smew had been seen on a reservoir in the east of the UK in winter it would unhesitatingly be treated as wild but in St Jame’s Park in July – no way.

 

The existence of free flying birds like this White-headed Duck (WHD) in ornamental collections confuses the true status of any potential vagrants to the UK. Before Ruddy Ducks escaped from captivity and became established in the UK, WHDs (away from collections) were very rare. The commoner Ruddy Ducks became the more vagrant WHDs were seen. Logic was that British Ruddy Ducks wintering in Spain were pairing up with WHDs and returning to the UK with them in tow. Of course it was this interbreeding with Spanish native WHDs that forced the UK authorities to eliminate the Ruddy Duck, but guess what once the UK Ruddy Ducks were gone then so were apparently wild WHDs as well. Clear evidence that those WHDs away from collections in parks etc were genuine vagrants from Spain.

 

Whatever you think of the status of wildfowl, there is no doubt that this Grey Heron was wild even if it was walking around on well used public footpaths.

 

Although I continued my ‘New Year Resolution’ to go ringing or birding every day, July wasn’t a great time for rare birds. A few nice waders were seen at Lytchett Bay but a highlight of early August was this American Bonaparte’s Gull that pitched up on Brownsea Island. Bonaparte’s Gull was not named after Emperor Napoleon but after his ornithologist nephew Charles.

 

Several weeks later, on 22nd August to be precise, we had a most unexpected treat when an another American bird, a Yellow Warbler turned up on Portland. This is migrates relatively early in North America and so seldom gets caught up in the severe weather systems that propel migrant New World warblers all the way across the Atlantic. However the remnants of a hurricane reached the UK just the day before and was undoubtedly the reason why the lovely bird graced our shores. Photo by Chris Minvalla.

POST SCRIPT

Nothing to do with summer 2017 but yesterday (17/10/17), only minutes after I had returned from a very busy morning’s ringing at Durlston I heard that a warbler first seen two days ago at St Aldhelm’s Head had been identified as a Two-barred Warbler (formerly known as Two-barred Greenish Warbler). So it was an immediate turn round and a quick return to Purbeck, the site is just 4 miles west of Durlston. The weather by this time had deteriorated, but in spite of the rain I had nice views but got no photographs. I left about 4pm by which time less than 20 birders had seen the bird. Along with the Yellow Warbler above this was a new species for my British and of course Dorset, Lists. Fortunately for twitchers across the UK it remained overnight and was seen by hundreds today. Fortunately my ringing colleague Chris and his father Tony saw the bird well and Tony has given me permission to use his excellent photo.

 

Two-barred (Greenish) Warbler – formerly treated as a race of Greenish Warbler, hence the inclusion of ‘greenish’ in its former name, breeds no closer than central Siberia from the upper Tungusta/Lower Yenisey rivers east to Sakhalin, northern China and North Korea. Although formerly lumped with the more westerly cousin it has been shown to act as a separate species in the area of overlap. This is about the 6th record for the UK but the first for Dorset. This ends a 30 year bugbear, I ignored reports of a ‘funny Yellow-browed Warbler’ on the island of Gugh, Scilly in 1987 only to find the day after I returned home that it was the UK’s first Two-barred! So it wasn’t just hurricane strength winds that occurred in mid-October 1987 and mid-October 2017. Photo by Tony Minvalla.

 

Summer 2017: a few trips away from home.   Leave a comment

As in 2016 I haven’t posted much to my blog during the summer and early autumn.

As I mentioned earlier I have lost all my edited photos from the Caribbean trip so haven’t been able to upload any of those, I spent much of July and August ringing and September was spent on a wonderful tour of Western Australia.

With my ringing paperwork up to date I’ll now attempt to edit the thousands of outstanding photos (outstanding in the sense that I haven’t touched them rather than that they  particularly good) that I have accumulated and get the blog up to date.

This post deals with a few non-birdy activities this summer (or rather should I say ‘less-birdy as birds creep in a bit)  and the next with the more birdy ones.

 

In early July we went up to Derby to see my brother and his family and then from there on to Leeds. The purpose of the visit was to meet up with my old friend Nigel (left) whom I have known since school and Uni days. Another friend from University is Dave (right) who lives in County Durham and caught the train to Leeds to meet up with us.

 

Nigel has a strong interest in art and as we all like a good stately home, we visited Temple Newsam House in Leeds which was quite near where I lived in 1976-78.

 

Temple Newsam is a Tudor-Jacobean house with grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. The estate was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, was once owned by the Knights Templar (hence the name), was seized by the crown and given as a present by Henry VIII to his niece Margaret. Today it is owned by Leeds City Council.

 

One of the most outstanding features of this grade 1 listed building is this highly decorative staircase.

 

The ornate rooms, carefully shielded from the rays of the sun are what you would expect from a house of this antiquity.

 

Later we all returned to Leeds for a spot of lunch. When I lived there in the 70s Leeds was a drab northern town (although still full of character). Today it is lively, modern and beautifully decorated (for example by these owls on the side of high-rise building).

 

However the old arcades have been preserved and in many case improved.

 

Dingy back streets have been covered over and turned into beautiful shopping malls. I lived in Leeds from late 69 to early 78 and am amazed at its transformation.

 

A particularly dingy area was along the banks of the River Aire but now decaying warehouses have been turned into luxury flats and pedestrian access along the old tow-paths allows for a pleasant stroll by the waterside.

 

As with our last visit we stayed at a hotel just south of the river. The following morning we set off on a long drive to Essex. We stopped for a bit of birding in Cambridgeshire and then visited Margaret’s friends in Suffolk before arriving at her daughter Anita’s house in Maldon that evening.

 

Anita, her husband John and Margaret on a coastal footpath in Essex.

 

At the park in Maldon is the statue of Byrthnoth, a Saxon Earl who rejected King Ethelred’s policy of appeasement towards the Vikings. He fought and was defeated by the Vikings at the Battle of Maldon in 991.

 

The only bird photo in this post! Along the shore there were many Black-tailed Godwits. Nearly all the UK’s Black-tailed Godwits breed in Iceland, a few non-breeding birds spend the summer in the UK and in July these are joined by the first of the returning birds. At this time many are in their resplendent brick-red and grey summer plumage.

 

John and Anita had some business to attend to near Southend, so we went with them and took a walk along the seafront. Off shore several large sailing barges could be seen. In the distance is the Kent coast on the south side of the Thames Estuary.

 

The tide was out exposing a huge expanse of intertidal mud. This is an important area for wading birds but in early July relatively few had returned from their breeding grounds.

 

In the distance we could see Southend Pier, the longest pier in the world. On a previous visit we walked to the end of the pier and I posted photos of and from the pier on this blog.

 

Rows of beach huts, he stereotypical image of an English seaside resort.

 

On another day we visited the area around Tollesbury, which lie to the north of Maldon on the Blackwater estuary. Unlike Suffolk and Norfolk to the north the Essex coastline is dissected by multiple estuaries. These have created a large area of saltmarsh (much of which has been converted into grazing pasture) but fortunately some remains, as seen here . I don’t like the phrase ‘reclaimed land’ as this indicates that farmland was once ‘lost’ giving farmers  the right to ‘reclaim’ it, which is far from the truth.

 

An old lightship and Bradwell power station (on the south shore of the Blackwater) are seen above the expanse of salt marsh.

 

 

The many creeks are enlivened by some pretty villages.

 

 

Two days after our return from Essex I undertook a far less successful trip, this time to western Cornwall. Earlier in the year news had broken of an Amur Falcon in Cornwall, but it disappeared long before I had a chance to go and see it. On 17th July it was rediscovered at St Buryan to the west of Penzance and was even seen to go to roost. Two of my friends joined me for the 200 mile overnight drive. We arrived about 0400 and waited from dawn until late morning at this vantage point but there was no sign of the falcon. This is the second time that this highly migratory east Asian raptor has been recorded in the UK It was a real shame that we dipped, partially because of the wasted effort but mainly because unlike the first UK record in the north-east it was in an easily identified plumage and had shown very well the day before. Also there was no ‘back-up’ rarities in the area to allow us to claw back some value from the twitch.

 

Later in July we had a day in London, Margaret needs to renew her South African passport and this required a trip to the South African consulate.

 

Situated near to Trafalgar Square this involved an early morning bus ride from Poole and a lot of queuing and form filling. Even now this simple matter is not fully resolved.

 

We later walked past the fortress that is Downing Street. On a visit to London as a child I remember you could walk up Downing Street and take a photo of Number 10, how things have changed.

 

We spent the afternoon in the impressive Victoria and Albert museum (usually known as the V&A).

 

Even the cafe is a historical exhibit in its own right ….

 

…. but the reason we had come was to see the Pink Floyd exhibition which charted the 50 year history of the band from its psychedelic beginnings ….

 

…. to the bitterness and remorse of ‘The Wall’ ….

 

…. to the post Roger Waters period.

 

I first heard ‘Piper from the Gates of Dawn’ in 1967, saw Pink Floyd three times between 1970 and 1974 and have seen Pink Floyd tribute bands many times recently. I have all of their albums. I can honestly say that few bands have given me so much enjoyment or given me so much food for thought. In particular I have come to love the interplay between Waters’ acerbic lyrics and Gilmour’s angry guitar playing on ‘The ‘Wall and ‘The Final Cut’ albums. I never saw them perform ‘The Wall’ live and I will always regret that, but I’m glad I saw them when I did and delighted that 50 years on a three-month long exhibition about their timeline can draw tens of thousands of fans.

 

After the exhibition there was only an hour or so available to enjoy all of the other exhibits at the V&A. These beautiful medieval triptychs are but an example of the countless treasures in this wonderful museum. We must return and spend the whole day here.

 

In early August, planned to coincide with the so-called ‘glorious twelfth’ I attended Hen Harrier Day at Arne RSPB. The purpose is clear, opposition to illegal killing of our birds of prey. Year after year shooting interests openly flaunt the law (and in most cases get away with it) and slaughter birds of prey just in to prevent them predating their precious game birds. This is most acute on moorlands where whole estates have been turned over to ‘Red Grouse factories’, with every predator exterminated, wet areas drained (so increasing erosion and flooding downstream) and birds even fed with medicated grit to avoid infections that result from overcrowding. The result is a hundred-fold increase in grouse numbers all to the detriment to all other species – just so people can blast the grouse out of the sky!

 

This raptor persecution is wholly against the law as the Police Wildlife Crime Officer reminded us, yet it still goes on seemingly unpunished. Although Peregrines, Goshawks, Buzzards and even Golden Eagles are targeted it is the beautiful Hen Harrier that comes off worse. Most years only 3 or 4 pairs in England raise young whilst enough habitat exists for 300 pairs.

 

Every year a few stalwarts like Chris Packham (above) and Mark Avery speak at Hen Harrier events but I’m beginning to think they are preaching to the converted and a new plan is needed to bring this iniquity to a wider audience. Over 100,000 people signed a petition to call for a ban on driven grouse shooting but the parliamentary committee that looked into it swept the facts under the carpet.

 

Our final trip away during the summer was our (almost) annual trip to the Bird Fair at Rutland Water. This time we went up to Derby prior to the Fair to see my brother and his family. As well as meeting up with many people who I know, the main aim of the visit was to look into getting a new telescope. In the event I didn’t buy one but at least I know which one I want.

 

As well as visiting many of the stands and chatting to old friends we went to a number of talks. Perhaps the most interesting was from Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis who set a record for the most birds seen worldwide in a single year, an incredible 6,833 and gave an account of his non-stop race around the world.

 

Arjan got a lot of sponsorship for his record-breaking and was able to present a cheque to BirdLife International’s preventing extinction program of (I think) 24,000 Euros.