Friday, 17 November 2017

Weekend in the South West

Had a very enjoyable weekend in Cornwall & Devon with my other half, celebrating my 30th birthday (eeeek!) between 02/11 - 05/11.

Did a little bit of birding, here and there, popping into Bowling Green Marsh near Exeter and doing a bit of walking along the coastal paths around Polzeath & Port Isaac. Birding highlight of the weekend was a visit to Labrador Bay near Teignmouth for Cirl Buntings. I managed to find at least 30 birds showing well at the western end of the reserve, sheltering from the stiff easterly wind.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The honeymoon!

Having got engaged in Iceland back in March 2016, myself and Em finally tied the knot at the end of September. Woooo! For our honeymoon, we spent the majority of October in both Vietnam & Malaysian Borneo.

It was a really exciting trip, particularly Borneo, where we had some incredible wildlife experiences. There were so many highlights although the primates in particular were really stand out.

We spent the whole time in the vast state of Sabah, briefly exploring the area close to Mount Kinabalu, before moving East to Sandakan. From here we explored the rainforest around Sepilok before finally spending a few days along the Kinabatangan River as far as the village of Sukau.

For the most part, we had our own guide, which have to say was well worthwhile, particularly along the Kinabatangan, where we had their full attention, as well as being able to approach the wildlife that bit easier, as apposed to being part of a group. Exploring the Kinabatangan with our guide was a particularly exciting part, cruising up and down the river searching for things, not knowing what will appear around the next bend in the river!

On the mammal front, the highlight was one, possibly two wild Orangutan around Sepilok. The first was a young male (photo 3 of 4) coming to the daily feed at the Orangutan Rehabilitation centre, who we were told was not part of their programme. Seeing this was amazing however if I was ultra picky, it wasn't quite the same as seeing one in the wilderness! The other Orangutan (photo 4 of 4) will have to go down as possibly wild. This was seen close to the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre at some distance. Looking at the photos of it, I can't see any evidence of tattoos (to show it was part of the rehab centre projects) but hard to tell for certain considering the distance we saw it at. Lovely to see all the same!

Across the road from the Orangutan Rehab Centre is the Sun Bear Sanctuary, also well worth a visit. We were able to enjoy rescued Sun Bears at close quarters, climbing trees and play fighting. It's so sad that throughout Asia, these stunning animals, Orangutans and many others are slowly disappearing due to the illegal pet trade, medicine trade and habitat loss. Us humans really have a lot to answer for!

We were very lucky to see a group of wild Bornean Pygmy Elephants close to Sukau, feeding on the side of the Kinabatangan River. These were by no means certain, however thankfully we were at a time of the year when they can be found moving along the river. They spent pretty much the whole time in the long grass, however we were able to get pretty close and enjoy good views.

We managed to see four species of monkey in all, including Pig-Tailed Macaque, Long-Tailed Macaque & Silver Langur. The Long-Tailed Macaques, were particularly bold around the Abai Jungle lodge, with Em & I having one particularly nasty encounter, being cornered by a seriously feisty beast, baring his teeth and growling at us. Somehow, we managed to escape...lesson now learned, never stare a Macaque in the eyes, this tells them you want to fight! Woops!

Of the monkey species we saw, it was the Proboscis Monkeys that really stole the show. We saw quite a few troops of 15-20 and spent quite a bit of time watching their antics.

Onto the birds! I saw just shy of 100 species which was pretty decent going. Rarity wise, three species stood out. Firstly we managed to jam in on TWO Bornean Bristleheads at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok. This was made the more remarkable by the fact we were only looking for about 15 minutes before a huge tropical storm swept in! This is a very unique species in that it is the only member of the Pityriaseidae family. It is also a Bornean endemic and is notoriously difficult to see due to spending most of their time in the tree canopy. So basically, we got very lucky!

Another standout was catching sight of a couple of Storm's Storks high over the Kinabatangan, near to Abai village. These are exceptionally rare and endangered, with a very fragmented population across Malaysia & Indonesia of perhaps only 400 individuals left in the wild. So a very special encounter.

Finally, the other real stand out bird was encountered while on an evening boat cruise down a tributary of the Kinabatangan. The boat screeched to a halt and the guide announced to us that in a nearby dead tree was a very special species. It turned out to be three male White-Fronted Falconets, a Bornean endemic and one of, if not THE smallest bird of prey species in the world, being no more than the size of a Chaffinch! Amazing!

The Hornbills were my personal bird highlight, they really were impressive! We saw 4 out of the 8 Bornean Hornbill species with Oriental Pied the most common, as well as seeing Black, Bushy-Crested & Wrinkled. The one I really wanted to see, Rhinoceros unfortunately eluded us! Twice we saw probables, however neither us or the guides saw enough to confirm for sure.

We saw 6 stunning Kingfisher species, including our very own Common Kingfisher! My favourite though was this formidable Stork-Billed Kingfisher, found by Em sitting motionless on a riverside branch! Look at that bill!

There were several reptile highlights including 3 separate Crocodile sightings, Mangrove Snake, a couple of other snake sp. and amazing views of a couple of large Monitor Lizards around Abai Jungle Lodge.

There were some spectacular butterflies, however the Common Tree Nymph was the one that really wowed me the most with it's approximate 15cm wingspan and transparent wings. They would glide around the forest, barely flapping their wings; a real mesmerising sight!

Our day spent close to Mount Kinabalu allowed to connect with a few very cool plants. A walk with our guide around the botanical gardens was really interesting, finding out what many of the local plants were and still are used for in Bornean culture. Here we saw a few native Orchid species including one of the smallest in the world, the Pin-Head Orchid as well as the aptly named Dancing Lady Orchid.

Down the road we paid a visit to the Poring Hot Spring which I have to say, was a bit of a uninspiring tourist trap. However, here we were able to see a flowering Rafflesia keithii, the biggest flower species in the world. Quite a bizarre sight and a unexpected treat! The ones we saw were not at full size but were still a good c3 feet across!

This is a bit of a highlights package and so there are plenty more photos on my flickr page here:

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Red-Necked Phalarope

The last 3 weeks ago has really hotted up on the birding front. After what seems like forever, we have finally experienced some easterly winds producing the first couple of waves of Yellow-Browed Warblers to the coast, together with a decent sprinkling of other scarce migrants.

There has been a slight upturn in wader passage too, most notably a pretty decent wave of Little Stints, as well as a small influx of Red-Necked Phalaropes, pretty much exclusively all juvenile birds. Inland, they are a valuable commodity, so when one turned up at Farmoor Reservoir (Oxford) last week, I was really hoping it would hang on to the weekend. By Friday evening it was still in situ, so regardless of any news, I decided to head to Farmoor first thing Saturday.

It was a pretty dull, cloudy morning, however was pretty mild. Soon after my arrival, I checked the Oxon Bird Log website to find it had already been reported...excellent!

I made my way round F2 to the Causeway, grilling a couple of flocks of Tufties on route for the recently reported eclipse drake Scaup. No luck.

As I approached the causeway, it was pretty clear where the Phalarope was, with a huddle of birders / photographers peering over the concrete edge on the northern side of F2. I joined the gaggle and was immediately treated to an exquisite little juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope. It was noticeably smaller and more elegant that it's close relative the Grey Phalarope, a species still very fresh in my mind following that cracking Grimsbury bird.

I spend a good hour watching the RNP, probably no older than a month or two and totally unperturbed with everyone's presence, as is generally the case with Phalaropes. It's plumage was very fresh and while not exhibiting the wow factor of a spring adult, I think they still look super smart with that dark smudge through the eye and almost golden stripes down the back. To see one so close was a real treat, particularly being only half an hour from home.

While there, also eventually picked up the long-staying juvenile Shag, out on a raft with a bunch of Cormorants. There were also several Yellow-Legged Gull loafing about, 2 Common Sandpipers and a striking, partially albino Coot. A really enjoyable visit and certainly one of my birding highlights of the year.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Wonderous westerlies

The past week has produced some really exciting birding with a couple of spells of strong westerly winds hitting the UK, producing a sprinkling of displaced seabirds throughout the UK. Going out, you didn't really know what you might see!

Monday 11/09 saw the first burst of these winds and I was therefore keen to hit the Grimsbury patch in the vain hope I could muster something juicy. I couldn't make it up there until the evening, following work. I arrived in between a couple of rain showers and the sun was out. I made my way up the Western side of the res & roughly half way up, I was far enough along to scan the far northern end.
I soon picked out a pale bird pecking around along the northern shore. It was hard to get a feeling for size at that range and so I thought it was likely to be a Pied Wag. It then turned breast on and it was gleaming white; too white for a Pied Wag. It then promptly hopped into the water and starting swimming...holy cow this was definitely no Pied Wag...surely it couldn't be what I thought it was?! Without hesitation, I began sprinting the 150m to the far north end of the reservoir, passing a rather bemused dog walker in the process!

It didn't take me long to confirm the ID of the it was a Grey Phalarope!! I was understandably buzzing!

I got on the phone to Gareth straight away and got the news out far and wide, before settling down to enjoy this charismatic little wader, with my chest still burning from my unprovoked sprint! Thankfully, most of the local birding scene made it down to see it, despite a relentless and torrential period of rain, that failed to dampen the spirits too much! This was a first for Grimbo and also therefore a cherished patch tick for both myself and Gareth. What a great record for our humble little patch, pulling in birders from further field over the next few days.

For us, it felt like genuine reward for the daily, largely uneventful hammering of the patch and proved to be a very welcome distraction, providing endless photographic opportunities and the chance to really enjoy this patch mega! On one occasion, I also got to go inside the reservoir perimeter fence and see the bird up really close, together with Mike Pollard. Grey Phals are renowned for their approachable nature and this bird was no different, wandering within 5 feet of us sat on the concrete, not remotely bothered by my presence.

After 4 days, the bird was last being seen on the evening of Thursday 14/09. However that was not the end of the week's excitement!

Late afternoon on Wednesday 13/09, Gary Pullan discovered a beautiful juvenile Sabine's Gull at Daventry Reservoir. Thankfully, following Gary's call, I only had another 20 minutes before I finished work.

The journey from Banbury to Daventry is straightforward, however usually pretty slow-going and of course on this occasion, I was soon stuck behind a typically sluggish driver. I did however hold my patience with Gary updating me that the bird was still there. Unfortunately, on reaching the country park car park, Gary called again to say it had flown off north. Bugger!! 

Still, I decided to continue and walked up to the dam in the hope that it may return. I could see quite a few gulls coming and going from the direction it had gone, so I remained positive. Roughly half-way along the dam, my positivity was fulfilled as I looked up to see the bird fly across and land just off the dam, right below me! Oh my word!!!

In no time a few of the already present Northants birders arrived from further up the path, including Gary. We all stood, pleased as punch to see it return and went on to enjoy some fabulous views as it pottered about along the dam and Lovell's Bay, close to the visitor centre. Eventually, it flew to the centre of the reservoir, signalling that it was time to head off.
This was a lovely county tick, being a tricky species to catch up with inland and it was yet another excellent Gary Pullan find! Following the Phalarope, it made an already good week, into a thoroughly great one! 

Weekend in the South West

Had a very enjoyable weekend in Cornwall & Devon with my other half, celebrating my 30th birthday (eeeek!) between 02/11 - 05/11. Did ...