Tuesday, 12 November 2013

September 2013

It seems I have been struggling to keep my monthly reviews up-to-date and I feel as if I keep having to play catch up. Thinking back to September already feels like a distant memory so its a good job I manage to keep my notebook slightly more up-dated.

Right then, since the vast majority of my birding was spent within the county I had better start off with a round-up of what I saw in Hampshire before moving on to anything further afield. Although migration had been in full swing for quite some time already, I only really noted a steady trickle at best, at least up until the point I went to Shetland on the 21st. Yellow Wags, Whinchats and Wheatears etc were at all the usual sites I check but not at all in the abundant numbers I have sometimes recorded in recent years. The first highlight of the month was a not-so showy Wryneck at Farlington (3rd), shortly followed by abit of a waderfest at Pennington (7th). The hot summer had clearly taken its toll on the lagoons leaving plenty of mud on the near side of the pools. Butts and Fishtail Lagoon had almost completely dried up; whereas Keyhaven Lagoon seemed to have the perfect combination of shallow water and wet mud that had the preference of most the waders. Amongst the masses of some 600 Dunlin were at least at least a dozen Curlew Sandpiper, and two Little Stints but the undoubted star of the show was a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Little Stint
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
The high numbers of waders remained the focus throughout the month, though sadly nothing rarer than the Semi-p could be found. Some unsettled weather may have stirred things up a little but it never materialised. Fast forwarding to the second half of the month to when Rob Marchant found what he initially thought was a Red-backed Shrike on his patch at Hook-with-Warsash. He soon after managed more prolonged views and quickly came to the conclusion it was Hampshire's first Brown Shrike. Luckily for me, I had a sales meeting at the Fareham branch and was able to sneak out down to Warsash during my lunch break. The Shrike; favouring a fenced strip near the sub-station performed well at range, and was still in the same place when I returned, again, after work. It was classic individual in every respect; with a short primary projection giving that typical long-tailed appearance. A bull-necked individual with a heavy bill and strikingly bold ear-coverts with the buffiest, and the most obviously vermiculated underparts of all the previous Brown Shrikes I've seen in Britain.
Brown Shrike © Lee Fuller
Leading up to Shetland I was only tempted out the county once; for a Great Snipe. Having never attempted to twitch one before I knew it was just a matter of time before I would find myself racing up to the east coast to meet an organised flush. Never did I expect to see one strutting around my feet besides a road like the one at Spurn over the weekend of the 15th. It showed no fear of people, nor any predators so it came to no surprise when it fell victim to Tiddles the cat later that week.
Great Snipe

Thursday, 10 October 2013

August 2013

This year has been non-stop from start to finish with no signs of slowing up yet; and again this month was no different. But there were two trips in particular this month that were worth sharing. The first followed on from my recent trip to Mexico when I got the opportunity to swim with Whale Sharks; I then jumped at the chance to go swim with Basking Sharks off Coll and Tiree in the Inner Hebrides a few weeks later. An exhaustive overnight drive to Oban to catch the Mull ferry allowed us (myself and Josh Jones) to get great views of fishing Harbour Porpoise, and a nesting White-tailed Eagle. Moments later we were aboard a small fishing boat heading out towards the Small Isles.

The previous weeks trip out was a total waste of time, but thankfully the seas were alot less choppy this weekend and the waters around the northern edge of Coll seemed surprisingly sheltered. This was where the first of numerous Basking Sharks and a single Minke Whale were seen surface feeding. There were a few false alarms to get into the water where the sharks promptly dived and disappeared but once we had discovered the knack of subtly getting into the water without scaring them, it got surprisingly easier to get close to them, but Christ was that water cold!! Even with a 7mm wetsuit on!! Note the Jellyfish just below my hand that stung me...
I had only been back from Scotland a few hours before I started to plan another trip up there. Now the story of the Swinhoe's Petrel is a confusing one. After a drought of almost twenty years since the three Tynemouth birds from 1989-1994, a similar scenario seemed to be unfolding on Fair Isle. A couple of weeks ago Fair Isle birds obs managed to trap and ring an individual on an overnight ringing session. Needless to say this bird was seen released and never seen again; so no need to panic I thought. That was until the observatory trapped a Swinhoe's Petrel again. Rather remarkably a different bird. This bird was then trapped the following night, and then the next. It took a few nights of successful trapping before we twigged that this bird was surely gettable, which set the wheels in motion in try and organize a charter to Fair Isle late afternoon to return the next morning.
A fair bit on planning ensued and I eventually formed a hardcore team to fly up from the East Midlands early evening, where we wasted time around the obs till it was dark enough to start the petrel ringing session.
Unlike the previous night, there was not-a-peep out of the Swinhoe's till gone 00:30, when it started to sing and fly above our heads at close range but we still couldn't see it! A Leach's Petrel joined in too, and a good 40-odd Storm Petrels had been trapped. It was tantalizing to be so close to such a rare bird without seeing it and it just felt as if it would be one of those nights where we simply weren't going to be lucky enough and the bird would avoid the nets. More and more time passed and I was giving up hope despite the fact we could still hear the bird singing. Once again it flew around us, without us seeing it, singing as it went when the song came to a sudden end. A slight kerfuffle around the nets and a very pleased warden began to walk towards the hut with a bag, with a singing petrel inside it.

Once in the hut; this is what he pulled out:
Within a few minutes, the bird was processed again (weighed), quickly photographed and released; not to be seen again that night. This unique experience was possible one of the best highlights of my birding career so far!

Highlights elsewhere this month included the Long-billed Dowitcher at Pennington Marshes (Hampshire - 2nd), Citrine Wagtail at Marazion Marshes (Cornwall - 24th) and Booted Warbler at Climping Beach (West Sussex - 27th). August was pretty bloody good actually.
Oh, and I was at Pendeen on that infamous morning when the Red-billed Tropicbird flew underneath us below the rocks. Although the seawatching was good that weekend with a number of large shears passing, sadly the guy down the bottom of the cliff never thought to share his sighting of the Tropicbird until 30 minutes later. Once the Tropicbird had been long gone.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

July 2013

As soon as we landed, the Bridled Tern that had been frequenting the Farne Islands for a few days previous became my immediate priority. Despite a 10-hour overnight flight without any sleep, I was totally pumped for the long drive up North. I quickly resolved a few logistical problems which resulted in my mum bringing my car to Gatwick airport as time was limited in order to get the last boat of the evening.

Thankfully the roads were clear, and I even had time to pick Cain Scrimgeour up enroute in Whitley Bay. I have visited the Farnes a few times now and it is always a fun and enjoyable experience with the sheer number of seabirds. This trip didn't disappoint either with stacks of birds flying past the boat as we positioned ourselves between the archipelago. Almost two hours past before we got our first brief view of the Bridled Tern as it did a lap of the boat before disappearing into the Tern colony on Inner Farne. It was a huge relief to have connected with this unpredictable bird, but at the same time I felt very deflated with the very brief encounter.

Another two hours passed, and dusk was closing in before we were treated with another, more extended view as it flew out of the colony being mobbed by a Herring Gull; performing nicely for the small crowd. I managed a few record shots of the bird but nothing worth sharing.

Two days later and the shocking news of an Ascension Frigatebird on the Inner Hebrides got the heart beating for this was a bird many thought would never appear in the British Isles again following the moribund individual of 1953. Despite the chances of it ever being seen again being further than remote; myself, Dan Pointon, John Pegden, and Alan Lewis invested in a weekend on Islay just incase.
As expected there was no further sign of the Frigatebird, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable weekend with singing Spotted Crake, excellent views of Corn Crakes down to a few feet and by far my closest views of a male Golden Eagle holding territory at a nest site.
With the weather for the remainder of the month turning rather nice; attentions were turned to butterflies. These beasts were clearly having a more productive summer this year that gave me the opportunity to catch up (and occasionally photograph) a few species including Purple Emporer, White Admiral, Northern Brown Argus, Purple Hairstreak and perhaps the most difficult thesedays; High Brown Fritillery.
 Silver-washed Fritillery
 White Admiral
 Silver-washed Fritillery
 Dark-green Fritillery
Large Skipper
Purple Hairstreak

Bird wise, waders stole the show with a White-rumped Sandpiper at Lodmoor, Dorset (20th), Pectoral Sandpiper at Pennington Marshes, Hampshire (21st) with both Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stints there (28th). Three Spoonbills also frequented Needs Ore (1 ad, 2 juvs).

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Mexico Trip Report (22/06/13 - 02/07/13)

I'll admit that Mexico wasn't really on my 'to do list', but with time running out before the summer was upon us, Emma and I were hurrying to find somewhere appropriate to spend our summer holidays. An attractive deal on the web came to the rescue advertising 10 days in Cancun that  initially seemed too good to be true. After further investigation - it wasn't, there were no hidden costs, and included the lot.

Being a holiday for both Emma and myself I knew I would have to compromise, do a few things she wanted to do, and in return we'd do a few things that I wanted to do. This wasn't a problem as it was inevitable that I'd see new birds wherever we went and Emma was more than happy to spend a few days exploring the jungle as she also had her target species, for example Hummingbirds, Parrots and of course Toucans.

Online trip reports seemed limited, but their itineraries were very similar with many recommending a days birding on Cozumel as well as a few days in the jungle on the Yucatan Peninsula itself. Since dawn till about 9am offered the best birding (before the temperatures soared to high), early mornings were required in order to make the most of it and see as many of the species as possible in the limited time. I'll try to summarize as quickly as possible.

22nd June 2013

Our flight left Gatwick early morning and we arrived in Cancun around 16:30 local time, followed shortly by our transfer to the hotel. As soon as we landed there were new birds everywhere with common birds like Great-tailed Grackles, Tropical Mockingbirds and Great Kiskadees at the airport entrance. From our hotel window were the first Magnificent Frigatebirds gliding past, and I could also see a Least Tern colony just a little down the coast.
Great-tailed Grackle
23rd June 2013

On the first morning I was up at the crack of dawn to explore the nearby vicinity, wandering around the golf course for two or three hours before I was eventually kicked off. In the time I was on there I found the likes of Tricoloured and Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Wilson's Plover, Social Flycatcher and Green-breasted Mangos amongst other common residents. A pair of Mangrove (Yellow) Warblers were also good value. While the beach offered great views of American Sandwich Terns and fishing Brown Pelicans.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Wilson's Plover
During the day we stayed mostly local, going for a sweaty trip across the lagoon on a pedalo that yielded Osprey, Altimira Oriole and American Crocodile. In the afternoon we relaxed on the beach as Laughing Gulls flew to roost and Royal Terns flew up and down fishing.
Brown Pelican
24th June 2013

....and we had our first excursion. Firstly to Ik-kil Cenote where Cave Swallows were nesting in abundance, Turquoise-browed Motmot were also nesting, while Black-headed Saltator and singing Yellow-faced Grassquit were around the entrance.
Turquoise-browed Motmot
Mid-afternoon we arrived at the impressive Chichen Itza where we wandered around the Mayan ruins in the blazing heat for a good few hours. Additional bird species of note here included Clay-coloured Thrush, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Masked Tityra, Ruddy Ground Dove, Vaux's Swift, Bronzed Cowbird and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.
 Clay-coloured Thrush
Bronzed Cowbird
25th June 2013

We were up early to catch various buses from Cancun to Playa del Carmen where we planned to get a connecting ferry mid-afternoon to Cozumel. We stopped briefly in the middle of the day to visit the Botanical Gardens at Peurto Merelos. Our walk around the gardens was sadly rushed due to the large numbers of biting Midgies but we managed a few more birds including our first endemic to the peninsula; Yucatan Jay. Noisy Green and Brown Jays were also regular, presumably alerting us and everything else to the presence of a small troop of Spider Monkeys nearby. Here we also found a small party of Plain Chachalacas, and singles of Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Groove-billed Ani.
 Spider Monkey
 Spider Monkey
Ring-tailed Coati
We continued our journey south and arrived on Cozumel early afternoon and were greeted by this thing waiting for scraps from the local fishermen.
Brown Pelican
26th June 2013

Another early start, way before dawn to meet Rafael Chacon (a local biologist who agreed to take us around in the morning). Under the cover of darkness we made our way to the north of the island where Common Pauraques frequented the sandy tracks. It felt odd when a Barn Owl flew out infront our car. Golden (Yellow) Warbler and Black Catbird were out and singing in numbers as the sun started to break the horizon and curious Pygmy Raccoons came to investigate the car.  As the morning progressed we set to work trying to find the three endemic species to Cozumel. Our first stop was a success all round with Yucatan Woodpecker, and Caribbean Dove, and it didn't take long before we found our first of several Cozumel Emerald. Continuing the walk it didn't take long before we were watching Bananaquit (endemic subspecies), one or two Cozumel Vireos, and we even managed to see the elusive Cozumel Wren.
Black Catbird
Pygmy Raccoon
Cozumel Vireo
 Cozumel Wren
Our next port of call was the nearby golf course where there was an American Crocodile performing some kind of territorial display that we duly ignored. Here we found a mix of Herons and Egrets, Northern Jacanas and American Coot.
American Coot
As we made our way towards the southern end of the island we stopped briefly to look for the endemic suspecies of Rufous-browed Peppershrike, that eventually called repeatedly as we were about to give up. Yucatan Vireos were common, as were Common Ground Doves, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Tropical Pewee and White-crowned Pigeon. A small lagoon also held several Least Grebe, though sadly we failed to locate any Stripe-headed Tanagers.
Yucatan Vireo
Our afternoon, was spent snorkelling the offshore reef before we returned back to the mainland, and back north to Cancun.

27th June 2013

Today was a relaxation day where we stayed around the hotel, we took a mid-afternoon stroll down the beach and so I took this opportunity to photograph the various Terns etc gathering.
 Least Tern
 American Sandwich Tern
 Laughing Gull
 Royal Tern
 Royal Tern
Brown Pelican
28th June 2013

It was finally time for a largely anticipated trip into the Gulf of Mexico. On our way out we saw a pair of mating Green Turtles, a pod of 30+ (what looked-like Bottlenose) Dolphins and several Sooty Terns. We were about 20 miles out when we joined a fleet of small fishing boats and around them were about 30-40 Whale Sharks surface feeding. Being the world's largest fish at 40ft in length, it was superb to watch these animals come so close to the boat. But this was not close enough. Within minutes we were kitted out with snorkel and goggles, and in the water amongst these incredible beasts. At times we were so close that the tail (about 5ft from top to bottom) brushed right past us. Beneath us, the blue sea eventually faded away into darkness, something I found quite eerie, especially when 15-20feet wide Manta Rays were passing beneath us. It was certainly an experience I will never forget.
 Green Turtle
Bottlenose Dolphins

29th June 2013

We went on another excursion to Xel-ha Water Park where I continued to add more birds to the trip list, including Common Black Hawk, Scrub Euphonia, Neotropic Cormorant, Green Kingfisher, Barred Woodcreeper and Hooded Oriole. However the undoubted highlight was an adult Bare-throated Tiger Heron that flew over us as we drifted downstream in a rubber-ring. We managed to turn against the current to find where it landed in a nearby tree to attend its scruffy Bittern-like chick.

With only a few days left, I was beginning to panic that I still hadn't had a proper trip into the jungle, so I was frantically searching around online for someone who could show me a few more of the endemics to the Yucatan peninsula.
 Rock Iguana
Neotropic Cormorant
30th June 2013

I found someone! We were collected from our hotel by Luis Ku Quinones at 4am and headed towards Puerto Merelos, near the Botanical Garden we visited a few days previously. The main reason for an early start was to target Yucatan Nightjar and Yucatan Poorwill; both of which we saw briefly (3 of the latter) in the headlights; a Vermiculated Screech Owl was equally as brief.

As dawn broke, the Orioles began to sing with Orange, Altamira, Yellow-tailed and Black-cowled all singing simultaneously, alongside various other songbirds like Melodious Blackbird, Couch's Kingbird, Green-backed Sparrow, Spot-breasted Wren and Mangrove Vireo to name just a few. This site was particularly productive, Luis was continuously pointing out birds by call, so without his help, I'm sure I would've struggled to see half the birds we did!
 Barred Antshrike
 No idea...??
White-bellied Emerald
Luis helped us to see many of the remaining Yucatan endemics including Yucatan Parrot and Red-throated Ant Tanager, but Emma was particularly keen to see Hummingbirds and hopefully a Toucan. Hummingbirds were abundant but rarely stayed still long enough, though we did get good views of Canivet's Emerald, White-bellied Emerald, and Wedge-tailed Sabrewing. Luckily Luis had a nest site staked out for the Keel-billed Toucan and as we approached the wooded area, we saw a bird flying between trees before dropping out of view.

To name all the species we saw this morning would be too long winded, but I saw about 60 new birds that morning alone! 
 White-bellied Emerald
 Red-legged Honeycreeper
White-winged Tanager
1st July 2013

The penultimate morning was a damp one having recently rained heavily. This seemed to bring out the mosquitos in force and I couldn't stop no longer than a couple of seconds before I had several biting my legs. There was one final addition to the list with Lesser Nighthawk and I attempted to photograph the local pair of Northern Jacanas.
Northern Jacana
Ridgeway's Rough-winged Swallow
2nd July 2013

I was too hungover to get out of bed (after an eventful night out at Coco Bongo) and go out before we had to check out of our hotel, we flew the same way home as we arrived but an hour delayed. I had heard there was a Bridled Tern on the Farnes back home and I was soon to make this my priority as soon as we landed...