Archive for the ‘shorebirds’ Tag

Western Australia part 3: Broome: 19th – 21st September 2017   1 comment

This is the third post about mainland Western Australia (the fourth if you include Christmas Island) and deals with the area around the town of Broome on the northwest coast.

We flew from Perth at 0700 and arrived at Broome at 0920 and after collecting the vehicles and dropping baggage off at the hotel we were straight out birding (well we were hardly going to rest in the shade with so many top quality birds to see!).

 

The flight from Perth to Broome took us over some amazing desert scenery which helped pass the time.

 

We arrived at Broome mid morning ….

 

…. and after collecting the 4×4 cars and meeting Stuart who was to be be second leader and second driver on this section of the tour, we made a quick visit to the hotel to drop off our gear ….

 

….. and headed down to a jetty in the mangroves.

 

…. a site of local historic importance as the pearl lugger fleet used to disembark and unload here.

 

There were plenty of Fiddler Crabs on the mud below us but the birds tended to be elusive in the 35 degree late morning heat.

 

However at a nearby overflow pipe Red-headed Myzomelas, a tiny species of honeyeater, arrived for a drink.

 

Magpie-larks were common throughout the town ….

 

….and we had a real treat when we scanned a cricket pitch in the town centre, a group of eight Oriental Plovers fresh in from Mongolia were giving excellent views.

 

This enigmatic species can be hard to find but I have been lucky to see this species on two previous trips (Java and Australia’s Northern Territory) and saw it at three locations on this trip, but I have never encountered it in its gorgeous breeding plumage. However I will be visiting Mongolia in May this year so should catch up with that plumage at long last.

 

Also on the pitch were a number of resident Masked Lapwings.

 

We spent some time at the water treatment works where an elevated platform had been erected to let you watch the birds. There were many species here, ducks, waders, terns and these Australian Pelicans.

 

Among the many birds we saw were Royal Spoonbill ….

 

…. and Australasian Grebe.

 

Later that afternoon we visited nearby mangroves and walked along the sandy beach ….

 

…. and admired the rocks carved into bizarre shapes by wind and water.

 

Our main target here was the ‘Kimberley Flyrobin’, a very plain race of Lemon-bellied Flyrobin that was once treated as a separate species. The two subspecies group look different, occupy different habitats and are allopatric so there is no gene flow between them. The Handbook of the Birds of the World ‘Illustrated Checklist’ treats them as full species, its a shame IOC doesn’t as well.

 

Other mangrove species we saw in the area were Mangrove Fantail ….

 

…. White-breasted Whistler ….

 

…. and Dusky Gerygone, a species of Australian warbler.

 

We were back in a nearby area the following morning but our main targets were now waders (or shorebirds as they are known in North America).

 

A few White-headed Stilts were seen along the tide line. This species/race is found throughout Australasia. If we exclude the very different Banded Stilt of southern Australia and the similar but all-black Black Stilt of New Zealand, we are left, worldwide, with four stilt ‘species’; White-headed, White-backed, Black-winged and Black-headed, all of which differ only in the exact distribution of black and white on the head, neck and back. In the contrary situation to the Kimberley Flyrobin, IOC splits them all and HBW lumps them all. Obviously I like the idea of having the extra life birds on my list, but in reality I think the days of having four ‘pied stilt’ species are numbered.

 

The vast majority of the waders (or shorebirds if you are from North America) were very distant but as the tide rose we headed back along the track ….

 

…. to a number of lookouts where we could scope them (note the wader flocks along the shoreline, especially behind the grass).

 

 

…. although any attempt to get closer just resulted in flushing them. In this photo a few Black-tailed Godwits, tattlers and others can be seen in flight but the majority are Great Knots with a few Red-necked Stints in the foreground.

 

However in a few locations we could at least photograph the flock, if not individual birds.  Great Knots predominate in this photo as well. There is one still in partial summer plumage at about 10 o’clock to the centre. Like many of the species present, Great Knots breed on the tundra of eastern Siberia and winter in Australia.

 

This photo shows mainly Red-necked Stints, plus a few Curlew Sandpipers and sand plovers.

 

And there’s more! Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints and a few Terek Sandpipers are illustrated here.

 

A lot of Grey-tailed Tattlers, plus a few Black-tailed Godwits and Turnstones were roosting on the rocks, and a Pacific Reef Egret is taking shelter from the ferocious sun ….

 

…. as was this Great Egret.

 

On this sand spit smaller waders are joined by the odd Whimbrel, Greenshank and Bar-tailed Godwit. Also in the photo are a number of Gull-billed (or gullible as I like to call them) Terns. These are interesting, as the HBW Illustrated Checklist treats the Australian population macrotarsa as a separate species based on its larger size, differently shaped bill and nomadic and kleptoparasitic behaviour.

 

Also in the high tide roosts were a number of Crested Terns, Silver Gulls ….

 

 

 

…. and the odd White-faced Heron.

 

 

The roosts at Broome are one of the great wader gatherings in the world. Destruction of coastal wetlands in Korea and China has led to a marked reduction of the population of some species (most notably Far-eastern Curlew and Little Curlew of which we only saw fifteen and one respectively) and the general opinion was that we were too early and there were still enormous numbers of birds still to arrive. That said, our estimate of wader numbers in Broome area was amazing and an estimate of numbers is given below: (an asterisk indicates that the species was mainly seen away from the high tide wader roosts).

Bush Stone Curlew* 1
Pied Oystercatcher* 10
Sooty Oystercatcher* 4
White headed Stilt* 1
Masked Lapwing* 10
Red-kneed Dotterel* 2
Pacific Golden Plover 50
Grey Plover 80
Red-capped Plover* 10
Lesser Sand Plover 1000
Greater Sand Plover 500
Oriental Plover* 8
Black fronted Dotterel* 5
Black-tailed Godwit 50
Bar-tailed-Godwit 800
Little Curlew 1
Far Eastern Curlew 15
Whimbrel 30
Marsh Sandpiper* 2
Greenshank 500
Common Redshank 4
Wood Sandpiper* 1
Grey-tailed Tattler 200
Terek Sandpiper 200
Common Sandpiper 12
Ruddy Turnstone 30
Great Knot 10,000
Red Knot 5
Broad-billed Sandpiper 3
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper* 10
Curlew Sandpiper 200
Red-necked Stint 1000

 

Back at the hotel for lunch and a chance to scan over the mangroves and see birds like

 

…. Brahiminy Kite ….

 

…. and White-bellied Sea-eagle.

 

During the afternoon we watched a number of roadside pools which was surprisingly successful with a nice range of species like Red-winged Parrot ….

 

…. Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (the red panel in the tail can just be seen on the foremost bird) ….

 

…. and Great Bowerbird, although this individual looks more interested in collecting pebbles to decorate its bower than coming for a drink).

 

Dabbling around the edge around was a trio of Pink-eared Ducks. You have to look hard to see the ‘pink ears’ but can just make out a small pink area behind the dark surround to the eye.

 

On the 21st we packed up and left Broome and drove towards Derby (a town that is presumably named after the British city where I spent much of my teenage years.). On route we saw our only flock of Budgies.

 

Seeing wild Budgerigars is always a high on the wish-list of any birder visiting Australia, but the species is nomadic, travelling from one area that has had rainfall to the next and the flocks are restless and not prone to posing for photos.

 

Whistling Kites were quite common (primary moult in this individual gives it an unusual outline) ….

 

…. and at a river crossing we saw the magnificent Black-necked Stork ….

 

…. the equally magnificent Australian Bustard ….

 

…. and the more mundane Intermediate Egret.

 

Other species seen on route included the delightful and diminutive Diamond Dove ….

 

…. the ubiquitous Magpie-lark (a relative of the monarch flycatchers and not either a magpie or a lark) ….

 

…. and another common bird, Torresian Crow, which replaces Australian Raven, Little Raven and Little Crow in the north.

 

Yellow-throated Miners (a species of honeyeater) ….

 

…. and Little Corellas also kept us company.

 

In due course we reached Derby, had a very late breakfast and then headed west along the Gibb River Road. We weren’t far out of the town when we ran out of tarmac.

 

We wouldn’t see a paved road again (apart from a few short stretches over bridges) until we were almost at Kununurra in three days time. It was a given, especially for those in the second vehicle, to be enveloped in dust at all times. Note the radio aerial on the left of the bonnet has snapped of from all the vibration.

 

Our drive across the Kimberley region will be the subject of the next post, however I like to end with an eye-catching shot (mainly because Facebook has stopped selecting a photo at random and now choses the last one to head up a post). This sunset was photographed at the rocky beach at Broome where we visited the on the first day to look for Kimberley Flyrobin.

 

Western India part 6: CEDO and the Bhuj area, Gujarat – 24th – 26th January 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers our two and a bit days in the Bhuj area of Gujarat, specifically three outings arranged by CEDO, the Centre for Desert and Oceans. We arrived in the mid afternoon and immediately boarded their jeeps for an excursion in search of the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing.

IMG_3493 Sociable Lapwing

Sociable Lapwings breed on the steppes of Central Asia and pass through the Middle East to winter in north-east Africa and western India. Once plentiful, habitat destruction has reduced the population to 5,600 breeding pairs, but winter counts in the Middle East and Turkey suggest that this might be an underestimate. They are scarce in India and this flock consisted of just seven birds.

IMG_3486 Sociable Lapwing

In spite of their global rarity this species has turned up in the UK as an autumn vagrant with some regularity. There have been about 40 records in the UK since 1958, although none in the last few years. I have seen this species five times in Britain, in South Wales, Kent, Hampshire, Dorset and Scilly between 1984 and 2008. I have also seen it in Oman and Kazakhstan.

IMG_3469 CB Sandgrouse m

We also had good views of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in the same area.

IMG_3499 marsh sunset

The day ended at a very birdy marsh but there were few places where we could get a view unimpeded by vegetation, and although the sunset was glorious it did little to aid the viewing conditions. In spite of this we saw many Common Cranes coming into roost, lots of waders, pelicans, a Red-necked Falcon and several Paddyfield Warblers.

IMG_3509 Crested HB

The following day we were at an area of scrub soon after dawn and found a couple of Oriental (or Crested) Honey Buzzards still at their roost.

IMG_3515 Grey Hypocolous

It wasn’t long after that our main target appeared, the enigmatic Grey Hypocolius. This a much sought after bird as it is placed in its own family (although thought to be most closely related to the Waxwings). As it breeds in Iran sightings come mainly from wintering areas, especially Bahrain (where I have seen it before but only in flight) and here in Gujarat. This is a male ….

IMG_3516 Grey Hypocolius

….whilst the female lacks the black mask. There were quite a few family collectors in our group so this species was voted number 2 in the ‘bird of the trip’ contest – after Great Indian Bustard of course.

IMG_3546 RT Wheatear

Other birds we saw that day included more Red-tailed Wheatears ….

IMG_3569 YW Lapwing

…. Yellow-wattled Lapwings ….

IMG_3573 Syke's Lark

…. Syke’s Lark, which was a life bird for me ….

IMG_3603 Indian Bush Lark

…. the bulky Indian Bush Lark ….

IMG_3604 Indian Bush Lark

…. with it’s very well-marked breast  ….

IMG_3578 White-naped Tit

…. and the rare and elusive White-naped Tit (another lifer).

IMG_3588 Indian Courser

We got better views of Indian Courser ….

IMG_3593 Green Bee-eater

…. and great views of Green Bee-eater. The new Lynx Illustrated Checklist treats Green Bee-eater as three species, the all-green viridissimus in Africa, the blue-headed cyanophrys in the Middle East and the blue-throated orientalis from southern Iran eastwards.

IMG_3616 Yellow-fronted WP

We only saw a few woodpeckers on this trip, this Yellow-fronted Woodpecker only posed briefly.

IMG_3609 selfie time

The selfie craze has reached India, these girls knocked on the door of our vehicle and asked for a selfie with Heidi.

IMG_3620 crossing the beach

The following day we left early and arrived at the coast to the west of Bhuj at dawn

IMG_3623 the beach

The rising sun soon backlit the flats. Crossing the channels was quite hard for those who didn’t bring suitable footwear as we sunk well past our ankles in the soft mud, however the going was easier closer to the shore.

IMG_3632 the beach

Behind us was a vast expanse of mudflats full of waders and gulls.

IMG_3628 Little Stints

Wader/shorebird species included Little Stints ….

IMG_3695 Sanderling

…. Sanderlings ….

IMG_3683 Lesser Sand Plover

…. Lesser Sandplovers (and the occasional Greater) ….

IMG_3703 Tereks

…. and Terek Sandpipers.

IMG_3672 Grey Heron

Whilst herons were represented by the familiar Grey Heron (which I hope doesn’t get tangled in the discarded fishing line)….

IMG_3668 Great Egret

…. the almost cosmopolitan Great Egret (which should really be split into three species New World, Old World plus SE Asia and Australasia).

IMG_3635 Western Reef Egret

Western Reed Egrets are mainly dark phase here. In winter they occur as far east as Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, further east Eastern Reef Egret replaces it.

IMG_3707 Pallas' & Heuglin's Gulls

Most large gulls were Heuglin’s Gulls, currently treated as a subspecies of Lesser Black-backed Gull, but probably worth species status. The bird on the left is a Pallas’ Gull, a winter visitor from Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Tibet.

IMG_3713 Pallas' & SB Gulls

Here two Pallas’ Gulls in near adult summer plumage pose with a group of much smaller Slender-billed Gulls. Pallas’ Gulls used to be called Great Black-headed Gull but that invites confusion with the similar sounding Great Black-backed Gull and requires that the familiar Black-headed Gull’s name is given a modifier, usually Common Black-headed Gull (which in turn invites confusion with Common Gull). Pallas’ Gull also celebrates the life of Peter Pallas, a great explorer of Central Asia in the late 18th century.

IMG_3700 Brown-headed Gulls

We also saw a small number of Brown-headed Gulls, quite like Black-headed Gulls at rest but with a strikingly different wing pattern in flight.

IMG_3663 Gt Thick-knees

Two birds stood out in our exploration of the coast. The first was a group of eleven Great Thicknees (seven seen here), a relative of the Stone Curlew.

IMG_3646 Gt Thick-knee

Only present in rocky area, they gave superb views, far better than I have had before.

IMG_28951 Crab Plover FL

The second highlight was Crab Plover, another species in its own family. Several were seen some way off but as the tide came in they left the distant sandbar and flew towards us. At that moment my camera battery died and I found I had left he spare in the vehicle. This photo and the next were kindly given to me by tour leader Frank Lambert.

IMG_28772 Crab Plover FL

A Crab Plover with two Little Terns in winter plumage. Photo by Frank Lambert

IMG_3634 the beach

Well that was that for the shining sands of Kutch. We headed back to CEDO making a few stops on route.

IMG_3763 village scenes

We passed through many settlements on route with their hard working villagers ….

IMG_3762 village scenes

…. and inevitable cattle-jams.

IMG_3731 Indian Fruit Bats

One village had a large colony of Indian Fruit Bats. In many part of the world fruit bats living so close to people would have been eaten but in India there is a respect for nature in spite of its burgeoning population.

IMG_3727 Indian Fruit Bats

We were able to get excellent views of the colony from the roadside

IMG_3758 Indian Fruit Bats

…. and watch the bats fly over the village as we enjoyed a glass of tea.

IMG_3765 dipping on owls

Our final stop was this gorge where we tried to improve on our earlier views of Indian Eagle-Owl, but to no avail.

That ended out time in Gujarat. The following morning we left early for a flight to Mumbai. Here we had several hours to kill before we took another flight to the city of Nagpur in the state of Maharashta, pretty much in the centre of the country. That will be the subject of the seventh and final post on Western India.

 

 

1st – 6th March 2014 – The Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, part 1: Cancun, Cozumel and Rio Lagartos.   1 comment

Here is another series of photos from Mexico. The Yucatan peninsula part of the trip was sold as a separate tour from El Triunfo, with only Riita from Finland, the tour leader Mark van Beirs and myself taking both parts. This tour was very different from El Triunfo, there we were cut off from the modern word, isolated in the silence of the montane forest, here we were slap bang in the middle of it, something that was accentuated by the Mardi Gras festivals that carried on well into the night. El Triunfo was lovely and cool, Yucatan was hot, El Triunfo required a moderate degree of fitness, hiking up to 10km a day, often uphill with basic accommodation, the Yucatan was perhaps the easiest Birdquest I have ever done, with just short walks from the vehicle on flat terrain and good quality hotels and lodges. I have to say that although the birding in the Yucatan was excellent, overall I enjoyed the El Triunfo part of the trip more.

IMG_0012 Velasque's WP

Our first night was in Cancun, Mexico’s answer to Torremolinos. Fortunately we didn’t have to visit the front, packed with European and American grockles soaking up the sun. A short wander around the hotel grounds produced this Velasquez’s Woodpecker, a recent split from Golden-fronted. Bizarely it chose to drum on the metal covering of a street lamp, which certainly amplified the sound!

 

IMG_0018 Plain Chachalaca

Most members of the Cradids, the Family that includes Guans, Currasows and Chachalacas, are elusive forest denizens. This Plain Chachalaca stood in full view outside the hotel.

 

IMG_0055 iguana

Later that morning we drove south to catch the ferry to Cozumel Island. However, although we had allowed lots of time to catch the ferry we encountered huge queues (pre-booking is not available), we later found out this was because of the Mardi Gras festival that was taking place on the island that weekend. There was very little in way of shade, food or drink available whilst we spent four hours queuing in the baking sun (and what little shade was available was already taken by the local Iguanas).

 

IMG_0048 YB Sapsucker

Even bird photography was hard to perform.  I was almost arrested by some ‘jobsworth’ who insisted that photography was not allowed when I tried to get pics of this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Give a man a cap and a clip board and they become a little tyrant (or should that be tyrannulet?). Note the holes that the Sapsucker has drilled in the back, they will return to each in turn and literally sap-suck.

IMG_0073 Cozumel sunset

By the time we had got to Cozumel and checked into our hotel the sun was already setting.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course we were expected to get into the party mood. Here tour participant Audrey photographs tour leader Mark.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

During both our evenings on Cozumel there was a huge procession of floats right past our hotel. Most of the guys on the tour considered this float to be the best, but whether that was because it was advertising beer or because of the beautiful models that accompanied it is open to debate!

IMG_0212 new moon

We spent the following day searching the scrub for Cozumel’s two endemics. There were once considered to be four, but Cozumel Thrasher is probably extinct (perhaps from the double whammy of a severe hurricane in 1988 and the accidental introduction of Boa Constrictors) and Cozumel Wren has been re-lumped with House Wren. The other two, Cozumel Emerald and  Cozumel Vireo were easy to see, as were the only Black Catbirds of the trip. The highlight however was the pair of elusive Ruddy Crakes seen the following evening under the light of the New Moon. Incidently the ghostly glow of the majority of the Moon’s surface is caused by Earthshine,  sunlight reflected off the daylight side of the Earth onto the dark side of the Moon and then back to the dark side of  the Earth. This precise alignment  can only  occur near the New Moon.

IMG_0520 RL Hotel

On Monday morning we got up very early to catch the ferry back to Cancun. In the event we didn’t need to get there quite that early (0400) but the last thing we wanted was another major delay. We arrived on the mainland about 0800 and drove to the hotel we used on ther first night for breakfast. Then followed the long drive to Rio Lagartos on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula where we checked into our hotel which overlooked the lagoon.

IMG_0671 skimmers

The following species were common and could be seen on the lagoon immediately in front of the hotel: Black Skimmer

IMG_0237 Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

 

IMG_0677 Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

 

IMG_0406 Royal Tern

Royal Tern

IMG_0527 Mag Frigate

Magnificent Frigatebirds were constantly overhead. This is an immature bird.

IMG_0496 White Pelican

A highlight of our time at Rio Lagartos was a boat trip on the lagoon. We were able to get close to a number of species roosting on various sandbars, such as these American White Pelicans .

IMG_0423 Willet

Willet, a widespread shorebird from North America and the only long-distant migrant shorebird occurring on the Atlantic coast that hasn’t been recorded in the UK (although there has been a record from Norway).

IMG_0462 Caspian tern

The largest tern in the world, Caspian Terns are as big as Herring Gull. Small numbers were seen around the lagoon.

 

IMG_0426 George

Although not rare, I was pleased to get good looks at first winter American Herring Gulls. A recent split from its European counterpart first-winters can be identified by the all dark tail. There was debate whether the American species should have been given a different English name that didn’t use the word ‘herring”. To suppress any further dissent it was agreed that from this point onwards all American Herring Gulls would be known as ‘George’

 

IMG_0541 GWE

Great Egret, another New World form that should be split from its Old World counterpart. In the breeding season the bare part colouration and display differs quite markedly and there are differences in vocalisations; see http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/01/can-old-world-and-new-world-great-egrets-be-distinguished-by-call/

IMG_0280 Am Flamingos

One excellent birding area that we visited several times was the salinas or salt pans. Here hundreds of American Flamingos could be found along with large numbers of shorebirds.

 

IMG_0263 Am Flamingos

A recent split from Old World Greater Flamingo, American Flamingos are the brightest of all the six species. As flamingos would be incapable of flying the Atlantic, Old World and New World forms must have been separated for tens of millions of years and on this basis alone, must have evolved enough differences to be treated as separate species.

IMG_0782 Wilson's Plover

A real treat was the discovery of this Wilson’s (or Thick-billed) Plover at dusk.  A specialised feeder on crabs, this species is only found from Delaware southwards on the Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean.

IMG_0737 Hud Whimbrel

The American form of Whimbrel, known as Hudsonian Whimbrel has been recently split by the BOU on the basis of its all dark rump and a few other plumage features, however vocalisations seem identical and the split has not been followed by the IOC or other world checklists.

IMG_0755 SemiP & Least

Many shorebirds (aka waders) could be seen on the salinas, including large numbers of ‘peeps’ as the Americans call the smallest sandpipers. Here two very similar species can be seen, Least Sandpiper at the back and Semi-palmated Sandpiper in the foreground. A third species, Western Sandpiper was also present, and this is even more like a Semi-P than  Western Sand is.

 

IMG_0571  BB Heron

Scrubby areas around small freshwater pools also held some great birds such as this prehistoric looking Boat-billed Heron.