Archive for the ‘BirdQuest’ Tag

Guyana part one: the southern savannahs: 22nd – 26th February 2020   Leave a comment

In the last post I explained how and why I stopped off for a few days in Florida on my way to Guyana in February 2020, here is the first of several posts on the Guyana part of the trip.

Although I had been to neighbouring Venezuela twice before, including its south-eastern border with Guyana, there were still plenty of new birds in Guyana for me including two particular goals, Sun Parakeet and Red Siskin. Although Birdquest had offered tours to Suriname before, now the first time they offered a trip there as an optional extension to Guyana, making this tour combination an irresistible attraction.

As the considerable avian attractions of Venezuela are now out of bounds to all but the most foolhardy of birders, then interest in Guyana, which shares many of its avian wonders, can only increase in the future.

 

I arrived in Guyana well after dark to find that the international airport was an hour’s drive south of Georgetown, so it was quite late when the taxi dropped me off a the hotel. Georgetown is situated by of the mouth of the Essequibo River, just under the ‘I’ in Wakenaam Island in the map above. Guyana was previously under French and then Dutch administration but the British took control in 1796, it gained independence from Britain in 1966. The capital Georgetown was named after King George III in 1812 and it is the only South American country where English is the national language. Initially we flew down to the Rupununi Savanna in the south-west, from here we drove slowly back to Georgetown over the next ten days.

 

Flying in from Miami we passed the Bahamas, an island group that I’ve never visited despite having a nice range of endemic birds (one for future perhaps).

 

As I said above, I arrived late that evening with time only for a quick chat with tour leader Eustace Barnes. The following morning I met the rest of the group and we departed for the nearby Ogle domestic airport where we caught a flight to Letham in the far south.

 

Here’s the view from the light aircraft as we left Georgetown with the Caribbean in the distance …

 

… and here the view of Letham and the Rupunui River as we came into land. On route we saw the large extent of rainforest and savannah that still exists in Guyana, as befits a country with the second lowest population in South America (about 790,000) however we did see a lot a clearing made by illegal gold miners who, as well as felling trees, use toxic chemicals like mercury to extract the gold.

 

Letham airport didn’t have much going for it, but soon we met our drivers and set of in three 4x4s to the 1700 square mile Dadanawa ranch tucked away in the vast expanses of the Rupununi.

 

With an avifauna not that dissimilar to the Venezuelan llanos we had plenty to see on route.

 

Eventually we arrived at the pleasant Wichabai lodge. These savannas can flood in the rainy season hence building it on stilts.

 

Of course we saw the ubiquitous Palm Tanager around the building …

 

.. but from the upper deck we saw Long-winged Harrier (above) and more importantly four Sharp-tailed Ibis, a declining species that I haven’t seen since my first trip to Venezuela in 1988! Unfortunately, although we got good scope views, they were too distant for photos.

 

Like the llanos, the Rupunui savannahs were excellent for raptors with species like the impressive Laughing Falcon …

 

… Savannah Hawk …

 

… Black-collared Hawk …

 

… and White-tailed Hawk.

 

So it was off early the next day, driving on rough tracks to a remote part of the ranch and a very good bird indeed.

 

Red Siskins were were once widespread across northern South America are now restricted to tiny areas of Venezuela and southern Guyana.

 

 

In captivity they can be made to mate with domestic canaries to produce red variants and so are in high demand for the pet bird trade. Relentless trapping has reduced the population to a few thousand but even at this highly protected site the current situation doesn’t bode well. Our leader Eustace has commented as follows: Unfortunately, aviculturists have not only discovered this population but also discovered a loop hole in the law regarding ‘natural resource’ exploitation in native communities. It goes like this – native people (as they live in tune with nature) are allowed to carry on using resources as they have done for countless millennia [including] controlled’ burns, taking fish, hunting and it seems, now trapping Red Siskins for pets! These are then sold to the avicultural community quite legally. Can you believe it?

 

Given their rarity I didn’t attempt a close approach so I’ve supplemented my photos with (an uncredited one) from Wikipedia.

 

The road back was equally bumpy …

 

… whilst negotiating the rocks we saw our first Great Black Hawk and then  noticed some Giant Otters in the river – but more about them in the next post.

 

… and after some lunch we departed and head off to our next stay at Manari.

 

Raptors seen on route included more Long-winged Harriers.

 

We went on a drive into the savannah that evening but for some reason had to use vehicles provided by the lodge, which were some of the worse I’ve ever been in, having to be pushed to start them and basically just falling apart.

 

We carried on the following day passing open savannah and gallery woodland.

 

We checked a number of spots along the Iring River, a tributary of the Rio Branco that forms the border between Brazil and Guyana (yes, that’s Brazil on the far bank). We found the localised Hoary-throated Spinetail but despite trying over and over again there was no sign of the Rio Branco Antbird which can only be seen along the banks of this one rive system.

 

Parrots were quite common and sightings of Red-and-green Macaws occurred regularly.

I guess this cyclist was used to seeing flocks of White-faced Whistling Ducks flying overhead …

 

… but we aren’t, so a stop at this small pool was in order.

 

This area has numerous wetlands and small lakes and we enjoyed the sight of many waterbirds including the enormous Jabiru (Stork).

 

I mentioned in the Florida write-up that this is no longer Northern Caracara. Although split from Southern Caracara for a few decades the split hasn’t stood up to scrutiny and the populations north and south of the Amazon rainforest have been reunited as Crested Caracara.

 

Among the great birds we saw that afternoon were this lovely Chestnut Woodpecker …

 

… Painted Parakeets …

 

.. and Double-striped Thick-knee – a close relative of the Stone Curlews we get in the UK.

 

With both birds facing in opposite directions you can see how the ‘double stripes’ formed by the supercillium and coronal stripe wrap around the head and almost meet on the nape.

 

That evening we stayed at Karasabani, this small village of indigenous Guyanans is the focal point of efforts to save the the endangered Sun Parakeet.

 

That said they weren’t all that welcoming. In spite of the fact that we had booked the whole guest house we found we were double booked. Eventually some sort of accommodation was sorted out for some of the group elsewhere.

 

It was a noisy and fairly uncomfortable night, with some unusual co-inhabitants, but well worth it for what we were to see the next day.

 

The next morning saw us birding along the road in the forest and it didn’t take long for us to find a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl.

 

Calling in the daytime and with a range from south Texas to Argentina, this is one of the most frequently encountered owls in the Neotropics.

 

Many other species were seen including Green-backed Trogon …

 

… and a species of puffbird known as Swallow-wing.

 

It didn’t take all that long before we came across of flock of the exquisitely beautiful Sun Parakeets.

 

Very popular with the pet trade Sun Parakeets (or Sun Conures) were once being trapped at the rate of 800,000 a year. There are now more in captivity than in the wild (from Wikipedia).

 

Once seen throughout the northern part of the Brazilian state of Roraima and southern Guyana, this species can now only be seen with any regularity in this tiny area around Karasabani, perhaps a couple of thousand wild birds survive.

 

From Karasabani we continued north to Karanambu ranch where we stayed for three nights, this and other areas in central and northen Guyana will be illustrated in the next post.

 

 

 

Southern Spain – Lynx special: 5th-11th January 2020.   Leave a comment

Spain is my most visited country outside of the UK. Previously have made 14 trips there: two to Mallorca, three to the Canaries, two to the north and north-east and two to the south or south-east. In addition I’ve made five visits to Bilbao, return boat trips from Portsmouth, mainly for seawatching and cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay.

However I’d never been there in winter and although I had seen the ‘avian specials’ there were a few that I wanted better views of or ones I had only seen before they were split from other more widespread forms. But most importantly, there was a mammal that I really wanted to see, the endangered Iberian Lynx.

Although my other trips to Spain were arranged by myself, on this occasion we opted to go with BirdQuest. Some of my friends had tried to see the lynx, sometimes with success, sometimes without, but I knew the BirdQuest leader Pete Morris well and he has an excellent record of finding the target species, so joining him seemed the best plan. Margaret was keen to come as well, and we decided to add on a number of days on our own at the end to explore Madrid (which will be the subject of the next post).

Pete is also an excellent photographer and uses 1st class equipment. He provided a CD of photos to the clients, so with permission I’ve used many of them in this post as they are superior to mine. All his photos are marked ‘©PM/BQ’ ie ‘copyright Pete Morris/BirdQuest’. The remainder, unless marked otherwise are mine.

 

After meeting at Madrid airport we drove south, stopping at Castillo de Calatrava la Nueva, from where we had this great view and saw species like … ©PM/BQ

 

this rapidly disappearing Black-winged Kite … ©PM/BQ

 

… the common (and truly wild, unlike in the UK) Red-legged Partridge … ©PM/BQ

 

… the widespread Black Redstart (this one’s a female) … ©PM/BQ

 

… gorgeous Black Wheatears … ©PM/BQ

 

… Thekla’s Lark, which can be told from the similar Crested Lark by its preference for rocky habitat, different song and a shorter bill with a curved culmen. ©PM/BQ

 

The big surprise though was finding an Alpine Accentor which usually winters at higher altitudes. My first Alpine Accentor was an even bigger surprise, I was at Portland in April 1978 on one of my first ever visits when someone said ‘have you see the accentor?’. I had no idea what he was talking about but he directed me to a point on the the cliff edge where Dorset’s first Alpine Accentor was feeding – my first UK rarity and there was no body else watching it but me! ©PM/BQ

 

After dark we arrived at our rural hostel in the Sierra de Andújar, so it was the following day before we discovered what it looked like. ©PM/BQ

 

Our next couple of days were spent along the La Lancha road in the Sierra de Andújar.

 

There were plenty of Red Deer visible along with some Fallow Deer (of true wild origin here unlike in the UK) … ©PM/BQ

 

… and I was delighted to see some Mouflon, a species of wild sheep that was a lifer for me. ©PM/BQ

 

Of course many of the species we saw were familiar from home like Dartford Warbler (that breeds just up the road from my house), one of the few Sylvia warblers that doesn’t migrate south in winter.

 

Also present were Long-tailed Tits, here of the rather different race irbil. ©PM/BQ

 

Firecrests have become quite common in the south of the UK in recent years, no doubt as a result of global warming. We had fantastic views of several along the road. ©PM/BQ

 

Along with the closely related Goldcrest, Firecrests are the smallest European birds. ©PM/BQ

 

Overhead we saw good numbers of Common Ravens. ©PM/BQ

 

Of course there were Spanish specialities too. Mainland Spain (away from the Canaries and Balearics) has no endemic birds, but there are four that are endemic, or nearly so, to the Iberian Peninsula. The first is Iberian Grey Shrike.

 

Pete’s photo shows the pinkish tinge to the flanks well. Originally a race of Great Grey Shrike, the southern group of races (from Iberia and the Canaries across N Africa and the Middle East to Central Asia) were split off as ‘Southern Grey Shrike’, but this did not agree with DNA findings. More recently the Iberian form has been split as a ‘stand alone’ species and the other southern forms lumped back into Great Grey Shrike – although I doubt if this is the last word on the subject. See my posts on India and Mongolia for more. ©PM/BQ

 

The second Iberian endemic is Iberian Magpie. Birds very similar to this are found in Japan, eastern Russia and eastern China. It used to be thought that Portuguese navigators returned from the Far East with these birds which then escaped and established a population in Iberia. That idea was quashed with the discovery of 40,000 year old bones in a cave in southern Spain. DNA evidence has shown that the two populations diverged long enough ago to be considered separate species. ©PM/BQ

 

However I would query if Iberian Magpie is the best English name. Several of the clients thought that when Iberian Magpie was called they were referring to this bird above. Having heard something about Eurasian Magpie being split (that’s the Maghreb population not the Iberian one, although a different race these are decidedly the same species as the one we get in the UK) they thought this was the bird being discussed Wouldn’t it be better to call Iberian Magpie, Iberian Azure-winged Magpie and the other species Asian Azure-winged Magpie. OK, its a bit of a mouthful but the Iberian/Asian bit would be dropped for field use and there would be no confusion. ©PM/BQ

 

Picus viridis sharpei 033.jpg

The third Iberian endemic is Iberian Green Woodpecker. I have seen this species on all my visits to southern Spain but this is the first time I’ve seen it since it was split from our familiar European Green Woodpecker. Neither Pete or I got a decent photo of this bird so I’ve taken one from Wikipedia by Luis García

 

But the fourth endemic was the one I most wanted to see, Spanish Imperial Eagle. Back in 1984, before it was split from Eastern Imperial Eagle, I saw it twice – distantly in Monfragüe and close, but briefly though the trees in Doñana National Park. There is no doubt I’d seen the species but I wanted better views and that’s what we got, we could watch this individual for ages until … ©PM/BQ

 

… it took off and flew right over head. We saw this species several times over three days but it’s not clear just how many individuals we saw. ©PM/BQ

 

Also seen were a number of Eurasian Crag Martins … ©PM/BQ

 

… and as the weather warmed up so the vultures appeared. Up to 40 Eurasian Griffon Vultures put in an appearance (anyone whose read my account of our trip to India will know there has been a catastrophic decline in vulture numbers in Asia, but as yet Spain seems unaffected) … ©PM/BQ

 

… as well as a number of Cinereous Vultures.

 

Originally known as Black Vulture, this species isn’t as Pete’s photo shows, black but rather a greyish-brown. The name Black Vulture is also occupied by a quite unrelated, but mega-common New World species. There was a misguided attempt to change the name to ‘Monk Vulture’ but a change to Cinereous seems a good idea all round. ©PM/BQ

 

We’d had a great first day in La Lancha but no luck with lynx. So it was a cold, early start the next day.

 

As the sun came out there were great views over the wooded hills …

 

… as the early morning mist cleared.

 

Eventually we had a distant view of the Iberian Lynx. Although too far for decent photos we could a watch a pair for an extended period through the scope.

 

We also had good views of a closer pair wandering through the scrub but all the photos ended up being rear-end shots. The reason that the period from Christmas to early in January is the best to see the lynx is because the females are on-heat and the males follow them around wherever they go and as such they are (unlike other times of year) visible in daylight.

 

The group was pretty strung out along when Pete found a pair right by the road. Just about everyone got there in time before they skulked off into cover. From Wikipedia: The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) is a wild cat species endemic to the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In the 20th century, the Iberian Lynx population had declined because of overhunting and poaching, fragmentation of suitable habitats, as well as the decline in population of its main prey species, the European rabbit caused by myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Fortunately, with protection the lynx seems to be making a slow recovery. ©PM/BQ

 

We also visited the nearby Jándula Reservoir. On the rocky scree above the dam we saw some Iberian Ibex, my third new mammal of the trip.

 

Whilst we were eating our picnic lunch a Black Stork flew over, a most unexpected find in January when they are supposed to be in Africa. ©PM/BQ

 

Next to the dam there were a couple of tunnels, one for the road, the other it would appear, as an overflow conduit in case of flooding.

 

In the roof of the tunnel we could see a number of roosting bats inside crevices. This is a Daubenton’s Myotis. ©PM/BQ

 

On the fourth day of the trip we left early (well not that early, about 0700 as it didn’t get light until well after 0800) and headed north to the plains south of Cuidad Real. There was still a frost on the ground when we arrived and it was bitterly cold, but there was no sign of rain, on the plain or elsewhere. ©PM/BQ

 

This is the sort of habitat loved by bustards and sandgrouse, open fields without hedges and only the occasional tree visible.

 

Soon we located flocks of Little Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. ©PM/BQ

 

We followed the flocks down and tried to observe them on the ground. ©PM/BQ

 

The beautiful Little Bustards showed well in flight but were too elusive to photograph on the ground … ©PM/BQ

 

… however at least a few of the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse posed for photos. ©PM/BQ

 

Even more elusive were the Great Bustards. These magnificent birds still occur in good numbers of the Spanish steppes. ©PM/BQ

 

An adult male Great Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world, weighing in at up to 5.8kg. For the last 15 years or more a reintroduction program has being trying to produce a viable population of these magnificent birds on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire and in 2019 it was announced that they had succeeded in establishing a self-sustaining population of over 100 birds. I have been to Salisbury Plain a number of times to see them and the odd bird has reached Dorset in winter. Some birders are opposed to this reintroduction, something I don’t understand at all. Mankind was responsible for their destruction, the last Wiltshire bird was shot in 1832, and mankind should, if possible, be responsible for correcting past mistakes. ©PM/BQ

 

There are few more thrilling sites in European birding than seeing a Great Bustard in flight. ©PM/BQ

 

The following day we were back in the Sierra de Andújar where we saw more Iberian Lynx, including a very close female with cubs that were almost invisible in deep vegetation (I never did see the cubs) and explored some damp meadows where Hoopoes and Mistle Thrushes could be found.

 

In the late afternoon we explored the river around Encinarejo. ©PM/BQ

 

A few birds were seen around the river, such as this Common Kingfisher but I missed the flyover Goshawk … ©PM/BQ

 

However we did well for herps seeing a Horseshoe Whip Snake hiding in a rock crevice (I actually flushed it and saw it enter the crevice), this Vaucher’s Wall Lizard. ©PM/BQ …

 

… and this Stripeless Tree Frog (which seems to have a fairly obvious stripe down it’s side!) ©PM/BQ

 

We stayed by the river until sun set in the hope of seeing Tawny Owl, which we heard but didn’t see despite putting a lot of effort in. Views of the moon reflected in the water made it all worthwhile.

 

The following day we packed up and left Sierra de Andújar and headed for Laguna de Navaseca not that far from Cuidad Real. The commonest bird was Greylag Goose, not the feral ones that we see in Dorset but wild birds from central Europe here for the winter.

 

Half a dozen scruffy immature Greater Flamingos were also seen … ©PM/BQ

 

… along with a few Western Swamphens (once lumped in with Grey-headed Swamphen shown in my recent posts about India) … ©PM/BQ

 

… the ubiquitous Black-winged Stilt …

 

… and a few Black-necked Grebes. In the UK, although a few pairs breed we usually only see this species offshore where they occur regularly around Poole and Weymouth. ©PM/BQ

 

There were two ‘sort after’ ducks on the lagoon, a Ferruginous Duck which although visible never lifted its head up and several White-headed Ducks. ©PM/BQ

 

White-headed Ducks (WHD) has an interesting history. Although the eastern populations seemed secure, the Spanish population was under severe threat from hunting and by 1977 only 22 remained. Action by Spanish conservationists has seen their numbers rise to 2,500. Then a threat from the UK was realised. The related North American species Ruddy Duck had formed a feral population in England, originally from a few birds that escaped from Slimbridge and were now wintering in Spain and hybridising with WHD. It was clear that if nothing was done then the western population of WHDs would disappear into a hybrid swarm. Then feral Ruddy Ducks were found with WHDs in Turkey so even the eastern population was under threat. Under EU legislation the UK had no option but to cull our Ruddy Ducks. Yes, I miss seeing the delightful Ruddy Duck back home and regret they had to be killed, but prefer to see the bigger picture – that the global conservation of a threatened species (WHD) takes precedence over the enjoyment of a few UK birders who want to see a bird (Ruddy Duck) that is after all abundant in its native America. See here As an aside this brings up an interesting question, WHDs in the UK have always been considered escapes and indeed some of them are, I’ve posted images on this blog of one from St James Park, London that clearly falls into that category. Now when Ruddy Ducks were common there were a number of apparently wild WHDs discovered with them in England. The logical explanation isn’t that there was a mass break out of captive birds but the two species had paired up in Spain and the WHDs had migrated north with their Ruddy mates in spring. As soon as Ruddy Ducks were culled then WHD occurrences stopped. A strange co-incidence or should WHD be added to the British List as truly wild bird? ©PM/BQ

 

The margins of the lagoon yielded three top-class passerines – Bluethroat which Pete managed to photograph … ©PM/BQ

 

…plus Penduline Tit (photo by Martin Mecnarowski) …

 

… and Moustached Warbler – which neither of us did. (Photo by Marco Valentini)

 

Nearby we saw large flocks, possibly totalling over a thousand, of wintering Common Cranes. ©PM/BQ

 

A couple of Marsh Harriers may have spooked … ©PM/BQ

 

… as some of them soon took to the air.

 

Later we visited an area where White Storks were already building their nests. I was of the understanding that wild populations (as opposed to some of the northern European reintroduction schemes) were totally migratory and the only birds to remain in Europe throughout the winter were birds too sick to make the long journey to tropical Africa. I was clearly wrong. ©PM/BQ

 

Having dipped on Eurasian Eagle Owl at the start of the trip we were keen to visit Pete’s back up site. There was no sign of it until it was almost dark and then it appeared on the top of the crags and gave great views in the fading light. ©PM/BQ

 

We were still enjoying the deep hoots of the Eagle Owl when the moon rose above the cliff. We then headed for our hotel in Daimiel, a short distance from Cuidad Real where we were two days earlier. You may wonder why the trip wasn’t arranged around four consecutive nights in the Sierra de Andújar. and two in the Cuidad Real area. The answer was simple, the main purpose of the tour was to see the lynx and if weather or other circumstances had prevented us from doing so earlier in the week then then the itinerary would have to flexible enough to accommodate an extented stay at La Lancha.

 

On the last morning of the trip we spent several hours driving to Pinares de Peguerinos, an area of mountainous forests north-west of Madrid.

 

Here we expanded our list with birds like Common Crossbill … ©PM/BQ

 

… and the lovely European Crested Tit. ©PM/BQ

 

This species has a strange distribution occurring in coniferous forests from Spain, through the Alps, the Balkans, and northern and eastern  Europe with an outpost in the Caledonian pine forests of Scotland. Thus to an English birder it seems strange to see them as far south as Spain. As you can see from the photo, the beautiful blue skies we had enjoyed all week remained until the last day. ©PM/BQ

 

But the bird we most wanted to see in these forests was Citril Finch. I saw this species in the mid 80s in the Austrian Alps but views were brief, then again in Andorra in 2006 but have never seen it as well as this. ©PM/BQ

 

Well all that remained was to drive back to Madrid airport. There Margaret and I said our goodbyes to the group and got a taxi to our hotel for the cultural part of the trip. The BirdQuest group at Pinares de Peguerinos, Far left co-leader Dave Farrow, Margaret is in the middle dressed in black and I’m on the far-right (my location, not my politics!). ©PM/BQ

 

But it would only be fair to end with the best sighting of the trip – the superb Iberian Lynx. ©PM/BQ

 

It had been an unusual trip, the first of the many BirdQuests I’ve done without a life-bird. But I had three new mammals including one that falls into ‘mega category’. In addition I had my best ever views of a number of Spanish specialities. We both thought it was a most enjoyable trip.

The next post will deal with our three-day extension; our visit to Madrid and Toledo.

 

Vietnam part 2: Bao Loc to Phong Nha: 10th – 23rd March 2018   2 comments

This post is the second about my tour to Vietnam. As usual I travelled with Birdquest, my 74th trip with this company. The 25 day (27 with travel to and from included) covered much of the country.

The first post just covered Cat Tien NP, this post covers the central part of Vietnam from Bao Loc to Phong Nha Khe Bang and the final post will detail our travels in the north.

 

Map courtesy of the Birdquest website. See http://www.birdquest-tours.com/Vietnam-birding-tours/2019#topofpage for details of this tour and more photos.

 

Like at Cat Tien a fair bit of our time was spent in makeshift hides. This one at Do Lui San was set up to see Blue Pitta. Unfortunately it was heard but not seen. Here local leader Quang is replenishing the mealworm bait.

 

Our primatologist friend Lucy and Birdquest leader Craig Robson seemed capable of remaining motionless for ages but after about 10 minutes my knees would be killing me and I’d have to move around a bit.

 

No luck with the Blue Pitta, but stunning views of another Orange-headed Ground Thrush, this time a male.

 

Nearby we had great views of a Collared Owlet.

 

Later that day we visited an area of native pine forest on the Da Lat plateau. Our targets were the endemic Vietnamese Greenfinch …

 

… and ‘Vietnamese’ Crossbill. Although an endemic race, this distinctive form, which seems to have a bigger bill than even Parrot Crossbill, is still lumped in Common (or Red) Crossbill. Massively disjunct from other crossbill forms and with a distinctive morphology, it surely more deserving of specific status than our Scottish Crossbill or even the recently split Cassia Crossbill of Idaho.

 

We spent three nights at the town of Da Lat which has some impressive modern architecture in its centre.

 

Again we spent time in hides in the forest of the Da Lat plateau. Here the group reconvene on the pathway after a long session of sitting still.

 

However the rewards for all that discomfort were really great. A White-tailed Robin …

 

… Large Niltava …

 

… Snowy-browed Flycatcher …

 

… and the tiny Pygmy Cupwing. Until recently called Pygmy Wren-babbler, this and three other congeners have been shown to be unrelated to other wren-babblers and so have gained this rather cute moniker.

 

But our main target was the beautiful Collared Laughingthrush.

 

Just one of 17 species of laughingthrush we saw on the tour, Collared Laughingthrush is endemic to the South Annam area of Vietnam.

 

We also visited a rather unusual ornamental park at Ta Nung Valley Resort. Here Craig uses this unusual platform to search for bird flocks.

 

Our main target was the South Annam endemic Grey-crowned Crocias.

 

Also seen in the area was Vietnamese Cutia, a split from the more widespread Himalayan Cutia …

 

… and Kloss’ Leaf Warbler. This species was formerly lumped in White-tailed Leaf Warbler but has, like so many other members of the genus Phylloscopus, been recent split. In fact the leaf warbler genus has increased from something like 50 members to 77 as a result of taxonomic investigations, making it one of the largest genus in the avian world and the family Phylloscopidae the only large family to be composed of a single genus.

 

There are many confusing species of bulbul in South-east Asia, and this, Flavescent Bulbul is one of them.

 

Away from the forest we visited this large lake …

 

… more open country birds like White-throated Kingfisher …

 

… another Flavescent Bulbul …

 

… and Grey Bushchat in the process.

 

We also saw Necklaced Barbet (formerly lumped in Golden-throated Barbet) found only in SE Laos and south Vietnam.

 

Our final location in the Da Lat area was on a hillside above the local cemetery.

 

Here in rank grassland after a bit of scrambling and bush bashing we caught up with the elusive and seldom seen Da Lat Bush Warbler. Now in the genus Locustella, I suppose it should be renamed Da Lat Grasshopper Warbler.

 

On our way north we paid a brief visit to the picturesque Lek Lake.

 

We saw a few typical asian waterbirds like Chinese Pond Heron …

 

… but when I casually mentioned to Craig that I’d seen a male Pintail (somewhere near the far shore of this photo) he didn’t believe until he’d had a look down the scope himself, as this duck, a familiar winter visitor in the UK, had not been recorded in Central Annam before!.

 

We arrived at our hotel at Mang Den rather later in the day after over ten hours of driving.

 

We visited a number of sites in the Mang Den area but by far the most memorable was near Ngoc Linh.

 

Only Lucy, Adrian, Leonardo and I joined Craig on the hike which was on narrow, steep and muddy trails.

 

It took several hours to get there but we were eventually rewarded with views of the Critically Endangered Golden-winged Laughingthrush. Only described in 1999 it is only known from this tiny area and so is in immediate danger of extinction. It has been seen by just a handful of birders and indeed was a lifer for Craig, an acknowledged expert on Vietnamese birds. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo, this one is by Nguyen Minh Tuan: see http://birdwatchingvietnam.net/group/golden-winged-laughingthrush-871

 

Another restricted range babbler, although easier to see was Spectacled Barwing which was quite common along the road.

 

Another highlight of the Mang Den area was the critically endangered Grey-shanked Douc Langur of which as few as 500 individuals may remain.

 

Our long journey north continued. I was impressed with the ornamental borders, arches and general tidiness of the Vietnamese towns.

 

Most of our accommodation was good, a few were below par but the Lang Co Beach Resort was superb. Unfortunately the sunny weather that had accompanied us since the start had gone and we found ourselves in thick fog.

 

The hotel grounds had been touted as the place to see Siberian migrants on their way north and the adjacent beach as the place to see interesting waders but it was not to be and after a couple of hours of birding we gave it up as a bad job.

 

We headed up the mountain to BAch Ma NP where our accommodation was far less salubrious but the weather was better.

 

It was nice to see this female Blue Rock Thrush perching on the crumbling accommodation building. The last time I saw this species was also on a building, in a housing estate in Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds in December 2016. Buildings seem a perfectly practical substitute for the rocky ledges where they usually feed and I see no reason why some birders dissed the Cotswolds’ record (other than the fact that they had already seen the species in the UK on Scilly and hated being gripped back).

 

There have been claims that the eastern Blue Rock Thrush races (including both red-bellied and blue bellied forms) should be treated as a separate species but this has not been followed, at least not by the IOC.

 

Other good birds in the area included the pretty Silver-eared Mesia (another babbler) …

 

… the charming Chestnut-headed Bee-eater…

 

… and male migrant Narcissus Flycatcher on route to its breeding grounds in Japan, Sakhalin or Ussuriland.

 

Barbets, non-passerines distantly related to woodpeckers, are prominent members of the South-east Asian avifauna but are more often heard than seen. Here are three species: Moustached Barbet which can be found over much of Indochina …

 

… Green-eared Barbet which like the former species is widespread, although less conspicuous …

 

… and the near endemic Necklaced Barbet which we also encountered earlier in this post.

 

The weather had been good during our stay at Bach Ma …

 

… but the next day low cloud we had seen on the coast caught up with us and it started to rain. In fact much of the next week would be plagued by low cloud and fog. It didn’t affect the birding much but certainly spoilt the views. We cut our losses at Bach Ma and headed to Phong Na Khe-Bang NP.

 

There is always plenty to see on Vietnam’s roads from motorbikes with loads three times as wide as they are to women working in paddyfields wearing traditional ‘coolie’ hats.

 

Phong Na Khe-Bang’s beautifully sculptured limestone hills are on the itinerary of most tourists to Vietnam.

 

Although it remained dry the low cloud certainly spoilt the view.

 

One of the key birds at Phong Na Khe-Bang was Sooty Babbler. No photographs were obtained so here is one by James Eaton of Birdtour Asia  https://www.birdtourasia.com/

 

Another speciality of this karst habitat of northern Indochina is Limestone Leaf Warbler, another Phylloscopus. This photo was taken by Nguyen Hao Quang http://birdwatchingvietnam.net

 

Easier to photograph was this charming Asian Emerald Cuckoo.

 

We spent a lot of time in the park walking along the road. Parts of the area had previously been deforested and the remaining vegetation was covered with an invasive creeper. However we saw some good birds ranging from a pair of distant Brown Hornbills to groups of Cook’s Swifts overhead.

 

However only the widespread Crested Serpent Eagle was photographed.

 

To many when Vietnam is mentioned their thoughts turn not to the green verdant land of today but to the civil war fought in the sixties and early seventies which resulted in major involvement of the USA and others. As we approached the former North Vietnam there were more reminders of that war. Circular ponds in the rice fields were the result of carpet bombing by the Americans …

 

… and here a shrine to a group of youth workers who took shelter in a cave during an American bombing raid and were entombed and died by the resultant rockfall.

 

I’ll conclude this post with another of SE Asia’s avian gems -a Silver-breasted Broadbill photographed at Phong Na Khe-Bang.

 

 

 

 

The final locations of Cuc Phuong, Tam Dao and Sa Pa/Fansipar will be shown in the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica photos from Pete Morris   1 comment

As with summer 2016 I have been so busy with ringing and the resultant paperwork that I have little time for my blog. From late-July to now I have been visiting Durlston on most days when the weather permits and have made 22 visits so far, I have also done some ringing at our Lytchett Heath site on several occasions.

My intention was to upload a series of posts about my excellent trip to the Lesser Antilles and Trinidad. I had spent many hours sorting the photos and had cropped, edited, and labelled about 800 of the 2500 I had taken. I stored them all on an external hard drive and took it with me when we visited friends and family in early July, unfortunately I appear to have lost the hard drive! Of course I should have kept the edited photos in more than one place, but I’m afraid I didn’t. I can’t face going through them all over again but remain hopeful that the drive will eventually surface. Failing that I may go through the unedited ones and pick out some of the best for a quick summary.

However I have some great photos to hand. When Pete Morris of Birdquest, the leader of my April Costa Rica trip, sent out the trip report he included a CD of his photos and agreed that I can use them on my blog. Pete is an excellent photographer and uses top notch gear. By and large I have chosen birds that I didn’t photograph or ones where my photos were poor rather than just select the very best of Pete’s images. The pics are in alphabetical order, for chronological account of the trip see the multiple posts I uploaded from May onwards or for the full tour report and more photos see: http://www.birdquest-tours.com/pdfs/report/COSTA%20RICA%20-ULTIMATE-%20REP%2017.pdf

 

Admirable Hummingbird – fairly common on Cerro de la Muerta, a recent split from Magnificent (Rivoli’s) Hummingbird. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Banded Wren of the arid NW of Costa Rica, one of 22 species of wren on this tour. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Bare-crowned Antbird – a single male was seen at Arenal, Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Our bird of the trip – the seldom seen Bare-necked Umbrellabird. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

It took some searching but after a number of unsuccessful evenings owling in the Cerro de la Muerta area we finally tracked down a Bare-shanked Screech Owl at Monteverde. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Bicoloured Antbird, seen at Carara and Braulio Carillo. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Black-and-White Owl, why did I leave my camera behind when we popped out after dinner at Arenal? Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Black-and-Yellow Phainoptilia, fairly common on Cerro de la Muerta. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Black-throated Wren, it took a while to find one but it showed well when we did. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Blue-crowned Manakin, bathing in the stream at Carara NP. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Broad-billed Motmot, one of six species of motmot seen on the tour. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Boat-billed Heron. I took many photos of perched birds but never captured one in flight. Pete’s shot reinforces what a weird bird this is. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Cabanis’s Wren, one of a three way split of the old Plain Wren. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Chestnut-backed Antbird, another rainforest speciality. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Chestnut-sided Warbler a migrant from North America. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Collared Forest Falcon. Forest falcons are elusive and seldom photographed. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Chiriqui Quail-Dove, one of five skulky quail-doves seen on the tour. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Common Paraque, a very widespread nightjar with a range from South Texas to central Argentina. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Dusky Nightjar: unlike Paraque this species is restricted to the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Dusky-faced Tanager, seen at La Selva. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

I mentioned in my final post that I almost stepped on the small but deadly Fer-de-Lance as I walked back from the restaurant at La Selva. Well here it is! Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Fiery-throated Hummingbird, hummers seldom show off all their iridescent colours in a single photo. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Golden-browed Chlorophonia, another beauty seen at Cerro de la Muerta. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Grey-headed Dove, a single bird was seen at first light at Cano Negro in the far north of Costa Rica. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Not much help in this photo. but the Large-footed Finch really does have large feet (can’t comment on any other part of its anatomy though) Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Lesser Violetear, formerly known as Green Violetear until it was split into two species. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture: similar to Turkey Vulture but with more contrasting wings, white shaft streaks, paler underwing and a more pronounced dihedral in flight, this bird flies low over open marshes. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Montezuma’s Oropendola, quite impressive in flight. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Northern Barred Woodcreeper. Of the dozen woodcreepers seen on the tour this has to be one of the most attractive. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Northern Royal Flycatcher, although I have seen the various ‘royal flycatchers’ on several occasions I have still to see one raise its weird laterally compressed crest.  Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Ocellated Antbird, one of the best of those skulking, understory hugging ant-thingys. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Olive-backed Euphonia, makes a change from the usual black and yellow colour scheme of euphonia. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, one of five Nightingale Thrushes seen on the tour, species in the same genus as the more familiar Swainson’s, Hermit, Grey-cheeked etc Thrush of  the Nearctic- Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Orange-billed Sparrow, another stunner – Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Orange-collared Manakin, there are few bird families that give as much pleasure as the manakins. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Pacific Screech-owl, seen at a day roost at Hacienda Solidar. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Red-throated Ant-Tanager, not a member of the Thamnophilidae like other ant-thingys, this one is actually a real tanager.  Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Rufous Mourner, a bird whose taxonomic affinities have moved around a bit through the years, once a cotinga, its now a tyrant flycatcher. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Semi-plumbeous Hawk, seen at La Selva as we walked to dinner. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Short-billed Pigeon, quite attractive when seen close up. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Short-tailed Hawk, a widespread species but always a pleasure to see. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Snowcap, one of the best birds of the trip. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Adult Spectacled Owl roosting at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Spotted Antbird, another forest speciality.  Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

We all saw this wonderful Spotted Wood-quail with its chicks but only Pete got any photos in the very poor light conditions. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Streak-breasted Treehunter on Cerro de la Muerta. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

This Streak-breasted Antpitta eventually gave good views. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Owling at Esquinas produced this Striped Owl. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

A Sunbittern making an aggressive display to two Black Phoebes intruding on its territory. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, who says all woodcreepers look the same. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

A confiding Thicket Antpitta. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Uniform Crake: once again I left my camera behind because the light was bad and ‘crakes never show well anyway’. Well the light improved and this crake hadn’t read the instruction manual. Fortunately Pete was on hand with his mega-lens.- Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Vermiculated Screech-owl at La Selva. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

White-collared Manakin, also at La Selva. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Wood Thrush, a beautiful migrant from North America. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

Although it’s not in alphabetic order I can think of no better photo to conclude this selection than Pete’s shot of an Osprey with a fish flying into the sunset. Shame there are no photos of the Zeledonia as that would be an even better (and alphabetically more correct) finale. Copyright Pete Morris/Birdquest

 

 

 

Posted August 31, 2017 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

Argentina part 1- the Buenos Aires area – November 2014.   Leave a comment



I visited Argentina on a four week long BirdQuest trip in 1997, however the following year they added extra areas and divided the tour into two, one to the north and the other to the central and southern regions. Thus I would have to go back and do both tours if I was to get to see the majority of the birds of this fascinating and scenic country. One bird I particularly wanted to see was the beautiful, yet rare Hooded Grebe, in 1997 we visited the lake where it was first described in 1974 but it was only an occasional visitor to this lake and we dipped. Subsequen