Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Singapore Botanical Gardens

It's certainly been a while since my last post, but not much has been happening on the birding front. On 27th of January this year, my wife and I went off on a non-birding cruise to Thailand and Vietnam from Singapore,with a 3 day city stay prior to the cruise. We decided to visit the Botanical Gardens on our first day in Singapore as we had been told it was a lovely site for a pleasant walk, with a few birds to be seen into the bargain! We were't disappointed - the gardens are stunning with lots to see and enjoy. During our stroll around, we saw the following birds.....
( a poor image of a) Yellow-vented Bulbul

Javan Myna

Common Myna (looking a bit worse for wear!)

Some other birds of note were Asian Glossy Starling, Black-naped Oriel and great 'flight' views of a Blue-tailed Bee-eater.
Whilst walking down towards Symphony Lake - a large lake in the gardens - we got talking to a local birder who informed me that there was a Band-bellied Crake on the other side of the lake. He also told us that it was only the second time this bird had been recorded in Singapore, and that the species is on the near-threatened list, through loss of habitat. It is seen in several South-East Asian countries. Can't believe I found myself on a 'twitch' thousands of miles from home. We had to stop en route to watch this big beastie below......

Monitor Lizard Swimming

Monitor Lizard sunbathing on the footpath after his swim.

Whilst waiting for the Crake to show itself, I managed to get a few images of  the male and female Olive-backed Sunbird

Male Olive-backed Sunbird feeding on birds of paradise flowers

 Male Olive-backed Sunbird

Female Olive-backed Sunbird

Female Olive-backed Sunbird

There were also lots of Feral Pigeons and Spotted Dove, along with a few Jungle Fowl (which have most likely been introduced, as were the Mute Swans swimming on the lake)

Spotted Dove

Jungle Fowl

 Below are a few images I managed to take of this quite elusive Band-bellied Crake

On our walk back towards the exit, we also had nice views of Collared Kingfisher which were sitting in trees and calling to each other.

Collared Kingfisher

Collared Kingfisher

The last bird we saw whilst in the Botanical Gardens was a very confiding White-breasted Waterhen. I wish all birds (feathered variety!!) were this easy!
White-breasted Waterhen

The next day we caught the Hopper to sight-see, but got off for a few hours at The Gardens in the Bay and noted Yellow Bittern, Arctic Warbler, Chinese Pond Heron and Oriental Magpie-robin. Where normally, you see lots of House Sparrow, in Singapore it seemed that they were not so common, whereas Tree Sparrow were very abundant. Also noted here was Zebra Dove and House Crow.
After spending the three days in Singapore, we joined the ship for a very enjoyable cruise, and from then on, we never really birded anywhere else but as we were leaving the port of Laam Chabang (Bangkok) I did tick a flock of Black-naped Terns. Whilst cruising Thailand and Vietnam in the South China Sea, I did expect to see one or two cetaceans, but on our three sea-days, we never saw any birds or animals - and it wasn't for the want of trying! Quite bizarre, really!
As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed  reading about our trip around The Botanical Gardens of Singapore!

Friday, 15 December 2017

Blorenge Rock Thrush

I was just sorting through some images when I came across some I took of the Rock Thrush that frequented a quarry at Blorenge in Gwent. I went with a couple of mates John Hague and Brian Moore - and not forgetting Brian's grand-daughter Rosie! I actually forgot about it, as when I went to see it in October, I had only been back from Shetland a few days. It was a British tick I didn't expect to get as the bird was at the quarry before |I even went to Shetland, so I wasn't expecting it to stay around for so long!
Below are a few images of the said bird.

 Rock Thrush


It was a quick trip to Wales, as John and I had got get to get back to Leicester for other commitments so no other birding was done. There were a few birds noted on the mile or so walk to the quarry and back including Raven, Red Kite, Buzzard, Jackdaw and lots of Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails.
As always thanks for stopping by. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Shetland 2017

Here's a few highlights of my yearly pilgrimage to the Shetland Isles in 2017 which started on the 27th September and was for ten days, ending on the 7th of October. There were just the three of us this year - me along with my good mates Steve James and Dave Gray.  If the previous week was anything to go by we were in for a good trip as Yellow-breasted Bunting had been found on the Outer Skerries, and a Siberian Thrush at Baltasound on the Isle of Unst but sadly both birds had disappeared before we arrived on the Islands -  but were the weather and winds going to be in our favour, as in previous years? Well, to cut a long story short they weren't,  with the wind coming from the East or from the South East, which is what birders want- but it was far too strong (40 to 50 mph gusts)and would imagine a lot more over the higher ground but also brought in lots of wet weather, which meant that the birds that were on the islands were keeping their heads down!  The weather didn't deter us though - we were out every day come hail or shine searching for birds.(it was really hard work though) I thought this year there were a lot more common migrants on the mainland too, as we saw Redstart everyday, along with lots of Robins and Chiffchaffs and also it seems the good old  House Sparrow has had good year on the Shetlands

This was the first year in the nine years I've been making this trip that I never left the mainland - but we still managed to clock up just short of 800 miles in the car, travelling around the island.
As I said previously, migrants were plentiful, with Blackcap, Yellow-browed Warblers, Chiffchaff,  and also, still quite a few Swallows around. 
We were out to the west of the island on 29th September, at a place called Dale of Walls where a Great Grey Shrike had been reported. Steve soon managed to pick it up as he walked down a burn. Other birds of note here were Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler and a few Ruff mixed in with Redshank and Lapwing.
1st October saw us around the north of the island when a message came up from our Whatsapp group that a Pallas's Grasshopper-warbler had been found at Barnafield. Steve needed this bird for his list, so we set off to see it. On arriving, there were only about a dozen other birders there but it wasn't long before we got really good views of the warbler.As we were on our way back to our chalet at Veensgarth, we called in to see the Short-toed Lark we knew was at Aith - only 200yds from where we'd stayed last year. It was in a sorry state, as it was wet through due to the incessant rain we'd had all day, but it was still busily feeding which was good to see.
On October 3rd, we headed south, birding as we went, and went to have a look at an Oystercatcher that had some characteristics of the Eastern race (Haematopus ostralegus longipes)- it certainly looked different from the other Oystercatchers it was associating with anyway! (see the image)


4th October found us in Lerwick, as we needed fuel for the car, so while we were there, we decided to drop in on some Parrot Crossbills that had been feeding in a pine tree on a nearby housing estate. We had really good views, but went back again a second time a few days later, when we found the birds were literally feeding on cones off the pavement so we had much better views! We headed towards Lower Voe after we'd finished in Lerwick, where we had some really good views of Rustic Bunting.
In the bay, we saw lots of Red-breasted Merganser and Shag.


5th October, and again, we were back in the north of the island, and again strong winds were hampering the birding. We were just checking out some waders - Ringed Plover, Turnstone and few Gannet out in a bay, when another birder stopped, coming from the other direction; he informed us he had just found a Red-flanked Bluetail at a place called Houll, so, after a few directions, we headed off to find it. Within 15 minutes, the three of us were where we had been directed to and searching for the bird. It wasn't long before Steve flushed it from a derelict croft covered in honeysuckle. More and more birders started to turn up, but the bird seemed to have gone to ground. It finally popped up again from the same honeysuckle, giving the people there good but brief views.

 Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus longipes)
 - note the brown back, black hood and, we felt, more white in the wing when we saw the bird in flight, but a very interesting bird.

 Wood Warbler we found at Cunningsburgh

 Parrot Crossbill

 Parrot Crossbill

 Spotted Flycatcher

 Rook - a 'common' farmland bird which is not that common in Shetland!
The main corvids are Raven and Hooded Crow which you see plenty of every day.

 Common Crane flying up the Loch of Spiggie

 Yellow-browed Warbler

Our final day - 6th October, and once again we were in the south of the island, birding around Geosetter we found a good flock of chaffinch and with a few Brambling mixed in and also a Whinchat. Steve and Dave decided to walk the burn when Dave noticed a lot of Greylag Geese had taken to the air, and when he looked up, there was a White-tailed Eagle overhead. It turned, and headed towards the Loch of Spiggie, so we decided to go and see if we could find it again but to no avail - we did, however,  find the Common Crane which has taken up residence there.Other birds of note were Wheatear, Whooper Swan, lots of Wigeon an some Teal. 
I didn't have any new ticks this year first time in nine years, so thats not a bad run . It was really hard work due to the adverse weather but it wasn't for the lack of trying, but we still saw plenty, had a few good birds, a few good  laughs, and as always had a great time with two good mates. Here's to Shetland 2018!
Thanks for stopping by - hope you enjoyed the read....

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Leicestershire Hoopoe!!

Having now got back on my feet again, the Duchess and I decided to go to Dartmouth for a few days to visit relatives (from the Thursday till the Sunday).  I always keep my eye on the news reports whenever we're away in the UK, and on arriving in Devon, I checked the news service; low and behold, a Hoopoe had been reported in Leicestershire, on a housing estate in Loughborough which is about 10 miles north of my home! How's  your luck? There was nothing I could do about it until we went home again on the Sunday, so I put it out of my mind and settled into enjoying our few days in beautiful Devon.
On our departure from Devon, I checked the news again;The Hoopoe was still there, so after an uneventful 3.5hr drive, I  dropped Sue off at home and headed off to Loughborough. When I got there, there was  quite a few birders present, but from their body language, I knew the bird was not showing.  I asked when it was last been seen, and I was told it had been 15 minutes previously, in its' favourite garden, so it was just going to be a 'watch and wait'.  20 minutes later, and it appeared on a garden wall for a couple of minutes, then flew quite purposely away. Well, at least I had a County tick!  I had just decided to go back to the car and head home, when my good mate Pete Asher called me to say he was on his way,  so I decided to stay and see him. While waiting for Pete, another good friend, Richard Peglar turned up. We were chatting away when Pete arrived, and we all stood talking opposite the garden where the bird had been frequenting, hoping for its return. We had been standing there for about 20 minutes or so, when a lady approached to ask if were looking for 'the bird'?  We replied that we were, and her next words were music to our ears! - the Hoopoe was in her back garden and we were welcome to go and see it. All I can say is a very big 'thank-you' to the lady at 'Number 8', who invited a dozen birders into her house to view this stunning bird feeding on her lawn from her lounge and dining room! and to the birders who were all very well behaved.
Below are a few images of the Hoopoe

My next jaunt is to our yearly pilgrimage to Shetland - unless anything turns up in the meantime, of course!  As always, thanks for stopping by to - hope you enjoyed it!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Scilly Pelagics

Well, having had my operation in March, I did not think for one minute that it would be the middle of August before I got discharged by the hospital!  In between time, however, I did manage to get to few county twitches (with the help of some good friends) in the shape of Black-winged Stilts, Great Reed Warbler and the European Bee-eaters, and did manage to get over to Brascote GP, my local patch, on the odd occasion. If I had any hair, I would have pulled it out towards the end of my 'recovery' but slowly and surely, I am finally up and running again!  I did have something to look forward to though, in the shape of a few pelagics from The Scilly Isles, a small archipelago of islands off the south-west coast of the UK. This trip was with my good mate Steve James and was booked in the September of 2016 with Bob Flood and Ash Fisher who run 'Scilly Pelagics', as these trips are extremely popular, and sell out very quickly; what I hadn't realised however - the dates coincided with the 2017 Bird Fair at Rutland Water - this would be the first one I've missed in more than 25 years! - and this year, the LROS stand (Leics & Rutland Ornithological Society) were basing their display on the work I've been involved in, helping another very good friend, Paul Riddle (Owls About That Then), in making and siting nesting boxes for owls in south Leics, so I was a bit gutted, to say the least! Apparently, it all went off very well though!
After staying overnight in Penzance, we boarded the 'Scillonian III' for the three hour crossing to St Mary's, Scilly Isles. The crossing was uneventful but we did see hundreds of Manx Shearwaters as we crossed, and Steve picked out Cory's Shearwater too.

The Scillonian III

Our first Pelagic was the same afternoon so we boarded The Sapphire - one of the inter-island boats skippered by Joe Pender - and headed back out to sea, to the east of The Scillies. It wasn't a trip for the faint-hearted with swells up to 4.5 meters - but fortunately, everyone on board seemed to have good sea legs! Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were soon on the scene feeding on the bread being thrown overboard by one of the crew, which soon attracted Greater Black-backed Gulls along with Gannets and Fulmars. These birds were plentiful on all three pelagic trips we did. Steve and I did have a target bird for the trip, which was Wilson's Petrel, and we also hoped for good views of Great Shearwaters and Cory's Shearwaters. We did get a view of a Wilson's Petrel, but the bird flew towards the boat and went away again as quickly as it had appeared so we were both hoping for better views tomorrow. Good views of Cory's; Great and Manx Shearwaters were all seen, along with lots of European Storm Petrels - a good evenings' pelagic, arriving back into port in darkness!

Great Black-backed Gull

Day two dawned bright and sunny, and after a hearty breakfast, we joined the Sapphire again at about 11.00 for an all-day pelagic. Today, we headed south of The Scillies; the winds had died down by 10 knots and the swell was only 1.5 meters, so a much calmer day. The crew started feeding the gulls again with bread and they also put out the 'chum'  in a netted sack which allows the oil from the fish to cause a slick on the water. Once this is put out, we didn't have to wait very long before it bought in the Storm Petrels, Cory's and Great Shearwaters along with Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, These birds always get the attention of Great Skuas (Bonxie).  A Mediterranean Gull and half a dozen Arctic Terns were also seen.
The skipper, Joe Pender, is involved in a project catching and tagging Blue Sharks, and we were lucky enough today to see one caught, (weighing about 130lb) tagged and released back into the ocean - what a stunning fish! My only regret was not having my 50mm lens with me, so I wasn't able to get any images. 
We also saw a massive pod of Common Dolphin too - it was really funny to watch the skippers' dog Belle, who got very excited by their presence and I'm surprised she didn't finish up in the ocean with them! Today was really good, giving both Steve and I brilliant views of Wilson's Storm Petrel, with at least four being seen. 

Herring Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Our third and final day saw us sailing off at 08.00 to the north-east of The Scillies in cold, dank drizzle but moderate seas. Again, the crew started with the bread and 'chumming' which attracted the gulls again. We were heading for Seven Stone Reef, and once there, the crew began fishing for Pollock and Ling which they then clean, using the innards as chum for the 'tubenoses' (Petrels, Shearwaters etc) who find the smell irresistible - it's absolutely amazing to see the Storm Petrels coming in from down-wind to feed. again, all three Shearwaters were seen, along with Great Skuas and an adult Sabine's Gull - but the icing on the cake for me was seeing up to seven Wilson's Petrels. The crew caught and tagged another Blue Shark today - it weighed around 80lb.  We also saw an Ocean Sunfish! Apart from the miserable weather, we had another great day.
If you are ever considering doing a Scillies pelagic, I can certainly recommend Joe Pender, Bob Flood, Ash Fisher and their crew. Joe Pender is not only a really good skipper, he is also an excellent photographer! www.scillypelagics.com or www.sapphirepelagics.blogspot.com
Here are a few images of some of the birds we saw.




Great Skua (Bonxie)

European Storm Petrel

European Storm Petrel

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Sabine's Gull

Sabine's Gull

Wilson's Petrel (greatly cropped)

Wilson's Petrel

Wilson's Petrel

Wilson's Petrel

We caught 'The Scillonian III'  back to the mainland and on our journey, saw European Storm Petrels, hundreds of Manx Shearwater, Great Shearwater and also more Common Dolphin. All in all, Steve and I had a great few days and I can certainly recommend it!
I'm really pleased to be out and about and 'blogging' again. 
As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed reading about my latest exploits!