Archive for the ‘Kingfisher’ Tag

Western Australia part 2: Albany, Wave Rock and the Kalgoorlie-Kookynie area: 16th – 18th September 2017   Leave a comment

This post continues my travels in south-west Australia on Birdquest’s Western Australia tour. Previous posts have covered my time in Christmas Island and the drive from Perth to Albany.

One of our first birding sites in the Albany area was Emu Point, where there was a notable lack of Emus and I suspect that has been the situation for a considerable time.

 

Overlooking the bay we saw a number of terns, gulls and waders as well as some Bottle-nosed Dolphins.

 

Overhead we saw an Osprey, recently the Ospreys east of Wallace’s Line have been separated off as a separate species based on their smaller size and different face pattern. They are named, somewhat unimaginatively – Eastern Osprey.

 

Australian Pelicans gave good views but most of the other birds seen here were too distant for photography.

 

Lawns and other grassy areas invariably held Australian Magpies ….

 

…. whilst a path by a nearby lake gave us views of another SW endemic, Red-eared Firetail.

 

We made an early departure to get to Cheyne’s Beach for dawn. This site, about an hour’s drive east of Albany is famed as the location to see three of SW Australia’s most difficult birds. One the Whipbird we had already seen (although the birds here are a different race) the other two are Western Bristlebird and Noisy Scrub-bird. This short dirt road to the beach is considered to be the best spot to see the mega-elusive Scrub-bird which seldom flies, but rather runs from cover to cover like a rodent on performance enhancing drugs. We had quite a long wait with just some Western Grey Kangaroos as company, then on a couple of occasions the Scrub-bird shot across the path. It was a real ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ experience and I have to admit on a couple of occasions I did just that.

 

Fortunately we returned later in the morning and one was seen skulking in the grass by the path. Then it shot across the road like a bullet and incredibly Rainer Ertel was able to fire off about half a dozen shots. one of which was actually in focus. Perhaps the fastest reaction to a birds appearance that I have ever seen from a photographer. There are only two species in the scrub-bird family, the other one, Rufous Scrub-bird of the Queensland rainforests is possibly even more elusive and my views in 1999 were brief to say the least, although I did hear it well. It was therefore a great relief to get satisfactory views of a member of this tricky family. Photograph by trip participant Rainer Ertel.

 

With one mega under the belt it was time to look for the other two so we headed for the adjacent heathland. The Western Whipbird showed briefly but wasn’t photographed (see last post for a shot of this species) but a little persistence resulted in ….

 

…. views and photographs of skulker number three – Western Bristlebird. Bristlebirds are another of those ancient relict families that can be found in Australasia. Remember that the whole passerine order probably originated in Australasia and there are many ancient families with just a handful of species each peppered across Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand. There are three species of bristlebird, the other two occur in eastern NSW and southern Victoria.

 

So with the targets sorted it was time to ‘relax’ on the beach. Of course when a birder goes to the beach they don’t put a towel out and reach for the sunscreen they grab scopes and check the gulls and terns and look for pelagic seabirds!

 

In the dunes we saw a couple of Australian Pipits, a bird with a checkered history, once lumped in with Richard’s Pipit of Siberia, then split off with the New Zealand birds as Australasian Pipit they now are a species in their own right.

 

Far away in the bay a Southern Right Whale and her calf frolicked in the shallow water ….

 

…. whilst on the beach the huge-billed Pacific Gull was seen.

 

We retreated to some shade for our lunch and were able to photograph Brush Bronzewing ….

 

…. Common Bronzewing ….

 

…. and the SW endemic White-breasted Robin.

 

Later in the day we headed back to Albany ….

 

…. stopping on route to see another SW endemic, Western Wattlebird.

 

On our second full day around Albany we visited Middleton Beach early morning and in the afternoon and also drove to The Gap, a lookout that faces the open ocean.

 

From the platform you could peer down to the raging surf below.

 

From the platform and from near this natural bridge we did some seawatching and were able to add Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, some very distant shearwaters and a Brown Skua to our lists.

 

A few distant whales were seen, both Southern Right and Humpback. This somewhat confusing image shows a distant Humpback breaching the moment before it hits the water. It is coming down on its back with the huge pectoral flippers extended on either side of the body.

 

We had most of the endemics sorted but one eluded us, Rock Parrot. We tried numerous locations and the most reliable site, Middleton beach, was visited three times. We walked the dunes at dawn wandered around the golf course and scanned the hinterland, all to no avail.

 

But in spite of the fact that we had a long drive ahead of us we tried yet again for Rock Parrot on our final morning. Arriving at sunrise we saw three flying over the car park. Never has a minibus decamped so quickly.

 

Along the tide line we watched a number of Red-capped Plovers ….

 

…. before the horse riders and dog walkers booted them.

 

Well we never photographed Rock Parrots but there were plenty of gorgeous (yet widespread) Galahs in the area …

 

…. indeed whilst walking the dunes we were accompanied by a blizzard of pink.

 

The commonest bird in the coastal scrub was New Holland Honeyeater, a bird that we soon tired of, as every movement in a bush or distant perched bird proved to be this species.

 

I’m sure whoever put this bench in place so walkers could enjoy the wonderful view over Frenchman Bay was well-meaning, but a little maintenance is required to keep it that way!

 

As soon as we had finished at Middleton Beach we left Albany. We had a long drive ahead of us as we were heading north-east towards Hyden and the famous Wave Rock. We had a pit-stop back in the Sterling Range where we had good views of Regent Parrot, certainly an improvement on the flight views we had on our way south.

 

We also encountered the flock of ‘white-tailed cockatoos’ again. Judging by the upper mandible this one is a Baudin’s. The books say that the two species don’t form mixed flocks but although the majority appeared to be Baudin’s there were a few undoubted Carnaby’s in there.

 

We also had great views of Sacred Kingfisher in the Sterling Ranges. We subsequently stopped a number of times as we drove north but although the birding was good there was little of real note.

 

However in the late afternoon we reached the stunning Wave Rock near Hyden ….

 

…. and added a number of new birds to our list such as this White-eared Honeyeater.

 

The following morning we headed well off the beaten track. Signs like this are a reminder that you need to be well prepared when travelling in outback Australia.

 

From now on most travel would be on dirt roads. This part of the trip was added to the trip itinerary for the first time in 2017 and it was well worth it as produced  many new species to the list (even if we had to drive over 1000km to see them). Most notable were two species of quail-thrush both of which we were to see today. We would be travelling through the Great Western Woodland, the largest intact area of deciduous woodland in the world, at 16 million hectares it is larger than England.

 

I love that there are four categories of alert greater than HIGH!

 

We arrived at McDermid Rock soon after dawn and soon found the amazing Copper-backed Quail-thrush skulking in the dry scrub. A recent split from Chestnut Quail-thrush, this is a member of the Psophidae, a family that includes the quail-thrushes, whipbirds and New Guinea jewel-thrushes. I have a long-standing ambition to see/hear 50% of all of the world’s bird families and this I had done with the exception of the owlet-nightjars and the Psophidae. With the addition of the Western Whipbird and the two quail-thrushes then its just the owlet-nightjars left.

 

There is relatively little sexual dimorphism in this species, this female is just a slightly washed out version of the male.

 

We also saw the pretty little Redthroat, a member of the Australian Warbler family.

 

The long drive took us further north-west, past the mining town of Kalgoolie and away from the deciduous forest and into semi-desert scrub or mulga ….

 

…. often characterised by the red earth that gives the ‘Red Centre’ its name.

 

We were approaching our destination, the former town of Kookynie, when the leader Andy  spotted something at the side of the road, once again we all piled out in seconds flat and there was quail-thrush number two ….

 

…. the seldom seen Western Quail-thrush, which showed even better than the Copper-backed had.

 

There wasn’t much left of Kookynie. Once a prosperous mining town, just a few ruined buildings, the odd static caravan and ….

 

…. the Grand Hotel, situated beside the long disused railway station, remained. It was quite literally a ‘one-horse town’.

 

The interior spoke of past glories and events never to be repeated, a quaint if rather sad situation.

 

We were up at dawn (of course) and exploring what was left of the town.

 

We saw a Western Bowerbird, here at the extreme edge of its considerable range. Pics of the bird were not useable but the rather more static bower was easier to photograph. It needs emphasising that this is not a nest but a display ground, carefully constructed, maintained and decorated with shells by the male in order to impress a female.

 

Other birds seen in Kookynie or the quail-thrush area included Red-backed Kingfisher ….

 

…. the wonderful little Red-capped Robin ….

 

…. Little Woodswallow ….

 

…. a close up view of a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles and many more birds typical of the interior of the continent. I wish we had a second night in this area as there was much to see but the tour was already quite long. It’s a shame we couldn’t swap the extra day on Christmas Island where we were just marking time for another day here.

 

On the way north we had skirted the mining town of Kalgoorlie and just seen the spoil tips and massive excavations. On the way back we stopped in the town for fuel and were able to admire the 19th century architecture of the town centre.

 

Australia has five regularly occurring corvids and they are all pretty similar. In the south-west the regularly occurring species is Australian Raven (above) but in the Kalgoorlie area we did see (and hear, as voice is one of the best ways to tell them apart) the very similar Little Crow.

 

And so we continued the mega-drive back to Perth, nearly 700km in total. First we passed through desert scrub or mulga, then the deciduous forest and finally through the wheat-belt and intensive cultivation. We arrived back in Perth at 1830 for an overnight stay.

 

Do readers remember when if you drove a fair distance in the UK then your windscreen would be covered with bugs? Well now pesticides have killed all the insects so your windscreen remains clear but the birds have nothing to eat. Fortunately bugs and birds still exist in good numbers in Australia and long may it remain so.

 

So I’ll finish this post with another shot of the magical Western Quail-thrush. The south-western part of the trip was over with all the endemics seen (except of course the mythical Night Parrot) The following day we were to fly to Broome in the north-west for the next chapter of this extraordinary tour.

 

 

 

Costa Rica part 7: northernmost Costa Rica; 15/4 – 17/4 2017   Leave a comment

This post covers two areas in northernmost Costa Rica, the areas around Celeste Mountain Lodge and Heliconia Lodge,a boat trip on the Rio Frio near Cano Negro and birding in nearby marshes..

 

From Monteverde we made our way to the beautiful Celeste Mountain Lodge.

 

This lodge, with it’s open plan architecture was a delightful place to stay with great views of the surrounding forest and excellent food. The birder on the left is looking out of a slidable picture window that looks straight onto an elevated bird feeding platform.

 

Hoised up by pulleys, the platform is host to Passerini’s, Palm and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Black-cowled Oriole and Clay-coloured Thrush.

 

Visitors included common birds like Great Kiskadee ….

 

….. and male and female Passerini’s Tanagers. The male looks almost identical to Cherrie’s Tanager of the south-west that I uploaded previously but the female has a greyer head and a reddish blush to the upper breast and rump.

 

Joining them here are the subtle Palm Tanager and gaudy Golden-headed Tanager.

 

This was the only place we saw Crimson-collared Tanager, a life bird for me.

 

Another of the look-alight euphonias. The fact that the yellow comes to a point below the bill rather than there being a wholy dark-blue chin shows that this is a Yellow-throated Euphonia rather than one of its congeners.

 

Black-cowled Orioles appeared at the feeder and in the nearby trees.

 

We stayed overnight at Celeste Mountain Lodge and before we left the next day ….

 

…. we were rewarded with excellent views of the elusive White-tipped Sicklebill which seldom sticks around for photos. A specialist of heliconia flowers (hence the unusual bill shape) the species ranges from Costa Rica to northern Peru but is difficult everywhere and I have only seen it once before (on my 1981 Costa Rica trip).

 

These were not the only feeders in the area; at the entrance to the nearby national park Passerini’s and Palm Tanagers were joined by a Red-legged Honeycreeper.

 

Honeycreepers are part of the main tanager family Thraupidae. Here is daddy ….

 

and this is his ‘son’ (females don’t have the dark remiges and coverts).

 

We spent much of the following morning at an area of rainforest behind nearby Heliconia Lodge. This deep gully was crossed by several suspension bridges.

 

Mel crosses the bridge in the morning mist, but worryingly another bridge had collapsed forcing us to cross the gully the hard way.

 

Birding here was difficult and although we scored with a few nice birds progress was slow. Perhaps the highlight was our best view of Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth. I know what you’re thinking ‘its got three toes’ All sloths have three toes on the hind limbs, its the number on the forelimbs that separates the three-toed and two-toed species. From here we had distant views over a large body of water with land beyond it. Initially I thought it must be the Gulf of Nicoya that we had seen on route to Hacienda Solimar, but that was far to the south. Others said it was the Caribbean coast but that was too far away as well. It was in fact the enormous Largo Cocibolca in Nicaragua. Unfortunately due to mist and heat haze I didn’t bother with any photos.

 

In the late afternoon we checked out a site for Lovely Cotinga, which looks quite like the Turquoise Cotinga that I illustrated in post #2. Some of us spread out looking for the bird, but it was those who hung around by the bus who scored. I was some way way down hill and arrived breathless only to see it fly. This was the most disappointing experience of the whole trip.

 

A gathering of Swallow-tailed Kites, nice as they were, were little compensation.

 

We arrived at out next destination, the hotel at Cano Negro well after dark and were welcomed by an imitation Mesoamerican statue converted into a water feature.

 

Early the next day we took a boat trip on the nearby Rio Frio some 10 km away from the Nicaraguan border (although the area was anything but frio once the sun got up). There were two main targets, Grey-headed Dove which we saw in the half-light before boarding ….

 

…. and the diminutive Nicaraguan Grackle which just crosses the border into northernmost Costa Rica. The male is far smaller than Great-tailed and lacks the purple gloss ….

 

…. whilst the female, as well as being smaller than female Great-tailed, has a paler belly and more prominent supercilium.

 

Waterbirds that I haven’t featured before on the blog included  Anhinga ….

 

…. Neotropical Cormorant,

 

…. and Pale-vented Pigeon (for such a colourful pigeon couldn’t they find a better name than ‘pale-vented’?)

 

But some birds I couldn’t resist posting for a second time, such as this male Ringed Kingfisher ….

 

…. or the wonderfully bizarre Boat-billed Heron.

 

One of the highlights was getting great views of both sexes of Sungrebe, the Neotropical representative of the Heliorthinidae. a very ancient family that are not related to cormorants or other similar waterbirds. The female (above) is more brightly coloured than the male, although unlike the plumage and role reversed phalaropes and buttonquails where the male incubates and cares for the young, both sexes share parental duties.

 

That said the duller male has something unique in birds, a flap of skin under each wing. If danger presents the two chicks can clamber into the flaps and the male can fly with them on board to safety. Sungrebes and the two Old World finfoots do not generally dive for food, rather pick insects off overhanging vegetation.

 

Surprisingly a boat trip can provide a good vantage from which to to tape out elusive birds such as this Spot-breasted Wren.

 

This bird took me completely by surprise. I have seen Grey-necked Wood Rail on several trips but had forgotten that the populations from southern Mexico to extreme northern Costa Rica had been split as Rufous-naped Wood Rail (not to be confused with Rufous-necked Wood Rail that we dipped earlier in the trip).

 

The river bank was full of Spectacled Caimans ….

 

Some were a bit apprehensive when we got out of the boat at this marsh where the caimans were abundant. However it was good to remember the old adage ‘if it runs away from you its a caiman, if it devourers you it’s a crocodile’. These ran away.

 

If searching for birds is called birding and searching for owls is known as owling then this must be craking. We formed a line and stomped through the marsh hoping to flush a crake or two.

 

We flushed a single Grey-breasted Crake and two or three Yellow-breasted Crakes. By leaving the camera on a wide-angle setting and pressing the shutter the moment a crake flew (without even moving the camera up to my eye) I was able to get this shot of a Yellow-breasted Crake.

 

Widespread from Canada to northern Costa Rica, Red-winged Blackbirds were abundant in the marshy areas.

 

They looked particularly attractive when they raise their red and yellow epaulettes in display.

 

On my return to the UK I heard that a female Red-winged Blackbird had been found on North Ronaldsay in Orkney. A first for Britain (if you discount some deliberate releases in the 19th C) it attracted a lot of twitchers. Although I like to add to my British list I’m not in that league. That said if it was a world lifer and I couldn’t easily see it on a planned future foreign trip I’d have be enquiring about charter flights!

 

On the edge of the marsh was a lake with the usual run of stilts, egrets etc but a group of Blue-winged Teal (just visible in the centre) and American Wigeon (which are not) made the visit worthwhile.

 

In the wet grassland were a few Collared Plovers, a resident wader species ….

 

…. and the highly migratory Pectoral Sandpiper. Recent research has shown that when Pecs have completed the arduous journey from Patagonia to the Canadian/Alaskan tundra, the males then fan out, some visiting the entire breeding range from the tundra of the northern Ural Mountains to Canada’s Baffin Island in a single season. Here they display at a series of leks attempting to mate with as many females as possible over their entire 4000km breeding range before flying back to Patagonia to winter. Aren’t birds just marvellous!

 

It was back to the hotel and it’s weird statue for breakfast, then on again to some areas of marshes and irrigated fields.

 

Here we found that aberrant wader, Wattled Jacana in some abundance. The bird at the rear is a juvenile. Interestingly the Lesser Jacana of Africa looks just like a small version of juvenile African Jacana and is a rare example (in birds at least) of neotony, speciation by remaining in juvenile plumage until of breeding age.

 

Green Kingfishers were particularly photogenic in the irrigation ditches surrounding the fields.

 

Thee same ditches gave us wonderful views of White-throated Crake ….

 

…. our third crake of the day (fifth if you include rails and galinules) although as often happens the bird hasn’t been named after its most obvious field characteristic.

 

I have posted a number of photos of adult Bare-throated Tiger-heron before but here is a tiger-striped juvenile ….

 

…. but this heron, Pinnated Bittern was a real surprise. I have been searching for this bird since the 80’s and have drawn a blank across its huge Neotropical range. It was one of five write-ins on the trip, ie species that have never been recorded in Birdquest’s 30 years of running trips to Costa Rica. Three of these are species that have been added due to taxonomic revision (that is recorded before but not when they were considered full species) another was Wilson’s Phalarope, which was just a scarce migrant and the fifth was this bird – which just goes to show how thinly spread they are over their enormous range. Maybe not quite the bird of the trip but one of the contenders certainly.

 

Another Nicaraguan bird that just creeps over the border into Costa Rica is Nicaraguan Seedfinch. After some searching we found this huge-billed gem in a fallow field.

 

Seedfinches don’t usually feature very high on birders want-lists but with a bill like that this qualifies as a ‘mega’.

 

Our final destination on this action packed day was a visit to a private reserve at La Fortuna. Grey-head Chachalacas were common and tame but we failed to score with the elusive Uniform Crake, (although we did hear it and it was probably glimpsed). Shame as a four crake day would have been something special.

 

Ominous clouds were gathering as we left and headed for the nearby Arenal Observatory Lodge.

 

At Arenal Observatory Lodge some of us went out owling after dinner and saw the magnificent Black-and-White Owl. I didn’t take any photos through. The point of telling you this is that this means I saw eight life birds today, unprecedented in my recent birding history – what a day!