Sunday, 30 May 2010

Update from the patch...

After missing the West Hartford temmincks stint earlier during the week (it had chosen to be found just as I was leaving for nightshift..., flying off that night, no sign on Thursday but one common sandpiper to compensate etc...) I've realised I need to keep a closer eye on the patch.

It has been an early start on both Saturday and Sunday, and the birding has been ok to very good by Cramlington standards.

Three visits to West Hartford on Saturday gleaned the following: two ringed plover, four shelduck, grasshopper warbler, two grey-lag geese and one obliging barn owl (no camera!!!).

Early morning Saturday at Arcot Pond produced 2 grey-lag geese (probably the birds at West Hartford later that evening), a family of Canada Geese (four goslings survive), lesser whitethroat, common tern, sedge warbler and curlew. Great-spotted woodpecker continues to be conspicuous.

A tip off from Phil earlier in the week led me to the fields near the Plessy windmill, where after a bit of scanning, my first red-legged partridge in Cramlington was picked up. What a delight!... (a temmincks stint would have been better though...). Yellowhammer were also singing in the area.

Sunday birding has commenced as early as that on Saturday, with two trips to West Hartford by 09:00. Undoubted highlight was the text from Gordon, just as I was pulling up onto the roadside verge for vist number two: Marsh Harrier at West Hartford!!!!!

I jumped out the car and within a few seconds, thanks directions from Gordon, I was watching my third marsh harrier on the West Hartford patch and my 4th in Cramlington. By the looks of it its' an immature, probably on a summer wander... And wander it did, having lifted from the field it attracted unwanted attention from the carrion crows and gradually increased height, being lost to view north of the River Blyth.

As the harrier departed a cracking fox arrived...

Followed closely by a single roe deer...

Lindsay McD arrived a little later (probably best not to post a picture here ;-), as did a single ringed plover, three oystercatcher and a pair of mallard.

Inbetween the two early morning vists to West Hartford I had been back to Arcot - which was quieter than on Saturday, though a non singing grasshopper warbler was on view briefly and stock dove were kicking about.

More later?... 

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Lame Stint!

Monday afternoons plans to wash the car were shattered when the pager announced at 14.27  that there was an interesting stint sp. not to far down the road at Lamesley - in fact it was being put out that the aforementioned bird was a possible long-toed stint.... So, with a rinsed car that dried very streaky, I made my way south on the A1. Passing Gatesheads' Metro Centre news was broadcast that the bird was still present, but was thought to be a probable little stint...
A few were gathered at the site and it was clear that the bird was interesting - loosely associating with little ringed plover, this apparent pale legged bird has a nice white supercilium and rufous looking cap. In flight it was noted by others that the toes did not seem to project, but no one realy was committed to making a judgement!

I put a couple of images on Birdforum last night (note that the record shot was taken with both 1.4 and 2.0 convertors stacked, so pretty poor!!) and some video also appeared on Youtube... and not too long later opinion seemed to settle on little stint. Just shows, stint id' isn't too easy... Anyone remember the 1989 bird at Saltholme??? (think it turned out to be a presumed hybrid... pec sand * dunlin if I remember correct?)


Sunday, 23 May 2010

Sunny on the patch...

It's been a beautiful sunny weekend in the north-east of England and birding has been rather restricted.

Saturday morning started early, with the final Mauritius blog images posted. By 07:00 I was at West Hartford enjoying the song of grasshopper warbler, lesser whitethroat, garden warbler, willow warbler, whitethroat and blackcap. Two canada geese were on the pool edge and a single shelduck stood amongst the gulls. A single greenshank scooted along the mud.

At Arcot the warbler activity was simlar, with sedge dominating the proceedings. Great-spotted woodpecker were clearly feeding young and a pair of canada geese has 4 young. One common tern was feeding over the pond.

Mid-morning saw me head north to Stewarts stomping ground, where good banter was shared with Stewart and Alan. No sign of the rosefinch though, as Stewart has already written, the arrival of lawnmowers into the gardens may have forced retreat...

It was a lazy afternnon, I spent most of it getting burnt in the garden!

Sunday dawned just as bright and warm as Saturday, and it was pleasing to have to dash out to West Hartford to "tick off" my first garganey on the site. A nice addition, though not unexpected, to the patch list.

Early afternoon was spent sprucing up a new header image for the blog - predominated by the June 2008 lesser grey shrike that was present on the Long Nanny, a stunning bird indeed.

While the rest of the UK is enjoying a flurry of decent birds... broad-billed sandpipers north and south, iberian chiffies continuing and bee-eaters in many locations, I wonder when the north-east will score for a spring overshoot? Soon...?

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Resort Birding

Most of the bird species around the resort in Mauritius were introduced and of standard holiday fare - common myna were very abundant and noisy, while the bold red-whiskered bulbul (right) came a close second.

A small stream near the resort entrance was checked a couple of times per day and produced most species, including village weaver, common waxbill, nutmeg mannikin, madagascar fody, spotted dove, zebra dove, madagascar turtle dove, yellow-eyed (also known as yellow fronted) canary and the familiar house sparrow.

Of more interest was the native species. In the resort this comprised of the most common endemic - Mauritius grey white-eye - an odd white-eye without a white eye / eye ring! Very tricky to photograph (see below), they had a knack of staying just within the foliage, obscuring a clear view! This species would often be found in small parties, typically 2 - 4 birds, and were generally very active.

Mascarene martin (below) were present, and appeared to be nesting at the hotel next door. I spent a morning waded out into a tidal channel trying to get some decent shots, but this species beat me! This species reminded me a little of purple martin...

Also available were the occasional striated heron (often feeding on the stream, most commonly on the shore-line), and an occasional fly-over white-tailed tropicbird.

Above - Yellow Eyed (Fronted) Canary
Below - Village Weaver

Late afternoons were spent checking out the sea ~ walks up and down the coast produce small numbers of whimbrel, while offshore there were good numbers of common noddy and a single sooty tern was logged.

Above - Common Waxbill

Mauritius is a fantastic place... it's certainly not a place to visit for high numbers of bird species, but in terms of endemics it has some real treats and this visit may have given me my only ever chance to see pink pigeon, echo parakeet, Mauritius olive white-eye... Combined with stunning scenary, the best fish I've every tasted (and Rhum I've drank!) and very friendly locals it comes highly recommended as a holiday destination.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Final Tail

Last of the white-tailed tropicbird images to be posted... promise!

Next up... some of the birds around the resort.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Black River Echo

Our base in Mauritius was in the Bel Ombre area, located in the south-west of the island and close to the last native forested areas of Black River Gorges National Park.

The park extends over 6,754 hectares, covering about 2% of the island’s area and holds 9 species of birds, which are found only in Mauritius. So that was enough incentive to explore the area!

Armed with some of Charlie Moores trip details from a few years back we headed to the Le Petrin visitor centre and took an easy walk along the Macchabee forest ridge. Many of the introduced bird species were seen frequently along the trail including red-whiskered bulbul and rose-ringed parakeet. It was however another parakeet species that was of more interest...

It was a really hot day but the views enabled us to forget the sweat dripping...! The gorge was exceptionally deep and their were some wonderful views of waterfalls.

Above - failing miserably to photograph Mascarene Swiftlet...

In the gorge white-tailed tropicbird dominated and were a pleasure to watch, their tails were amazing!

Nearing the Macchabee viewpoint were finally heard the deep croaking call of one of our target species, and a few seconds later a pair of the endangered endemic Mauritius echo parakeet flew past. Phew! The male bird is essentially similar to rose-ringed, with the deeper call being the most reliable distinguishing feature, while female birds have a conveniently all dark bill - see the record shots in this post.

Above - male Echo Parakeet
Below - Female Echo Parakeet

While we did not manage to see any Mauritius kestrel, a single Mauritius bulbul was seen (near the Black River Gorges Viewpoint), so it was a relatively successful visit... certainly recommended for the views alone.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Ile aux Aigrettes ~ few more...

Above - Madagascar Fody - abundant on Mauritius and more colourful than the native Mauritius endemic
Below - Aldabran Giant Tortoise ~ 50 year old and 200kgs! Introduced on Ile aux Aigrettes to "naturally" graze the land. Replaced a native species that became extinct, but maintains the eco-balance.

Telfair Skink - only found un the wild on Round Island, introduced to Ile aux Aigrettes.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Mauritius: Ile aux Aigrettes

Prior to the trip to Mauritius I was fortunate to have stumbled over Charlie Moores wonderful tale describing his visit to Ile aux Aigrettes, a tiny island off the south-east coast of Mauritius. This island has been utilised by the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation to re-establish some of the areas most threatened bird species.

We booked a visit upon arrival on Mauritius, and the mention that one of the party (me!) was a birder secured us a private tour with a warden who specialised in the bird species present.

Our landing on the island was greeted with the first of many Mauritius Fody - a cracking start! This species was introduced to the island in 2003 and now supports a population of over 100 birds. Considering that the MWF website states:

 "The Fody is the rarest endemic bird of Mauritius with 100-125 pairs remaining and is considered Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In 2002 MWF began a recovery project to rescue nests from the wild, hand-rear the offspring and release them onto Ile aux Aigrettes, a predator-free offshore island under the conservation management of MWF. This project has been very successful and today there are around 100 birds on Ile aux Aigrettes, the result of releases and offspring produced by the latter".

- So Ile aux Aigrettes is possibly the best place to encounter this species.

Mauritius Pink pigeon now numbers an entire population of 320 birds, a pleasing rise from the population of 12 in 1986...

I had visions of many photo opportunities with pink pigeon, but alas it was not to be - our initial bird, an immature teased us from a viewing platform, while this adult greeted us on a heavily vegetated track - so record shots were only achieved before the bird lifted with nesting material. A stunning species nonetheless!! Pink pigeon is a very rare bird indeed, Birdlife International list the species as "endangered", while the MWF now cites 5 sub-populations on Mauritius.
The final endemic bird species seen took a little more effort - but thanks to the assistance of a second warden we finally connected with the critically endangered Mauritius olive white-eye....

... and what a tricky species this prove to be to photograph!

Two birds were present but very elusive. This species was only very recently introduced to the island and still maintains a very small breeding population. Birdlife International state that the current population is in the region of 190 - 296, with approx 36 on Ile aux Aigrettes.

An amazing morning...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Oriental Express

Spent an enjoyable day out with Phil of Crammy Birder fame in Lincolnshires' Frampton Marsh. Predictably this visit was a twitch for the oriental pratincole. It was positive news on the pager early morning, so our journey down was quite relaxed. Arriving at the reserve just after 10.00, we were watching this delightful pratincole soon after, as it hawked for insects over the fields.

Our initial viewpoint was from a track just beyond the 360 hide, and viewing proved to be distant. So we walked on, and what a good vantage point the east hide prove to be, as the pratincole hawked very close indeed!

 Above - Oriental Pratincole, Frampton Marsh RSPB. Click the image for a sharper version

There were lots of "oohs" and "aahs" as this eastern mega swooped very close to the assembled mass! Occasionally the pratincole would land (weirdly always in the same spot as it had left) and many digi-scopers are sure to have got some very decent images. It was in flight when photography was more of a challenge as this bird could really shift as it hawked! I've a load of "blurredpratincoleinsky" shots, some of which don't even have the "blurredpratincolein"...!!! However, I had a lucky flypast where a sequence were nearly in focus and (more importantly for me) the light was suffice so that you could see the smart plumage and colouration of this bird without too much need for photoshop editing. 

The oriental pratincole was a significant bird for me - it completes my UK set of pratincoles (those recorded so far anyway!) and it was my 400th UK tick. (!)

In addition to the pratincole there was some good birding to be had - wood sandpiper, little-ringed plover, garganey, corn bunting, little egret, three 1s little gull, dark-bellied brent geese were all nice padders, while we missed both temmink's stint and curlew sandpiper.

The journey back north was broken with a time-constrained visit to Potteric Carr. What a huge reserve! Arriving after 15.00, we had to be back to the car by 17.00 (note to self - don't park in the gated car park next time!). After paying for a permit Phil and I headed as quickly as we could to the St Catherine's field area of the reserve where we instantly could hear the very vocal iberian chiffchaff singing in trees on the M18 embankment. Cracking! Annoyingly we could not see the chiffie, though others could, albeit very briefly.

Time moved quickly and it was not long before we had to head back to the car - a shame for Phil - a tick so near but so far... There'll be others. And with that we headed back, arriving at 19.00, exactly 12 hours after we had started our day. Exhausted but well worth the effort!


A busy week at work and a busy start to the weekend, with Dinosaur jr at Newcastle Academy.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Above - Red-wattled Lapwing, Safa Park, Dubai

As previously mentioned I recently returned from a short trip to UAE and Mauritius. Newcastle benefits from scheduled flights to Dubai with Emirates - so Dubai was a logical stop-off on the journey on 26th - 28th April. We stayed three nights south of the main city, although the first night does not really count as you arrive late. Day one was spent acclimatising round the hotel pool- temperatures were climbing to the forties...!

Above - view of the hotel on a day of leisure

Day two was more birdy, with a morning trip to Safa park. On arrival it was apparent that the park was rather vast, but luckily I met an ex-pat birder, so I was pointed in the "right" direction. Migrants were thin on the ground, with spotted flycatcher, redstart, yellow wagtail (5 grey-headed types and one assumed blue-headed) and one red-throated pipit.

The highlight for me was the number of hoopoe - tens! I've never seen so many, all feeding away on the newly cut lawns. frustratingly the only close birds kept to the shaded areas.

Red-vented and white-cheeked bulbul were common throughout the park while the boating pond in the middle held a couple of fine red-wattled lapwing (see top image) - stunners! Also on the boating pond were a single common sandpiper and an immature black-headed gull.

Further in the park is a fenced bird sanctuary area with limited viewing and access. This area was relatively quite, with little grebe, Egyptian goose, black-winged stilt, black-crowned night heron added. Purple sunbird were numerous but remained high in the canopy.

Above - Indian Roller - 3 - 4 present in Safa Park

Round the hotel Mynas' were represented by two species - common and pied - I rather like the pied! (see below). The only issue (for me) was that the security guards at the hotel did not like me wielding a camera around, so photo opportunities were limited - I was accosted as I went to take the image below!

Our room at the hotel was on the 18th floor. Pallid swift skimmed passed the tinted windows throughout the day and some limited sea watching provided two socotra cormorant, saunders tern and a single summer plumaged great black-headed (pallas's) gull. Indian silverbill bathed in the ornamental streams flowing through the gardens and the shrubs and palms were bustling with the tiny graceful prinia (see below).

So, a nice stop-over... on the morning of the 29th April it was back to the airport and onto Mauritius.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


We arrived on Mull via the 07:30 from Oban - a journey that had started well with three otter in Oban harbour along with several dapper black guillemot and some crossbill. Our arrival at Craignure forty-five minutes later was equally as good, with another otter on the shore next to the harbour.

The main objective of Saturday was to get to Iona early - so we headed along the A849 to Fionnphort on what was a beautiful drive - cloudless skied, mirror-like water on the sea. Our progress was slowed somewhat by the amazing (by north-east England birders definition...) of great northern diver - a species that was to dominate our marine observations. There were many present, including some stunning summer pluage birds - see above! Also observed were many red-breasted merganser and eider.

While no eagles were seen in the morning, many buzzard were noted. As described in the previous post the main quarry on Iona was corncrake - and almost immediately upon arrival we could hear the crakes "crexing" - however it was three painful hours before two birds emerged - in a garden of all places!! A great tick for two of the group.

Back on Mull we headed back along Loch Scridain and joined the B8035 to travel in the direction of Knock. Our journey was slow and many stops were made to check the shores, cliffs and general stunning scenery as we drove. Highlight of the journey was meeting a familiar face from Northumberland - Bryan Raines, who "migrated" to Mull a few years back. Bryan will be familiar to many of the bird blog readers as he can be found here. It was great to catch up, and the mention of a pint later was suffice to give us a clear route back to our digs! Our meeting point was at the newly established "official" (there's a locked hide of sorts above the road) white-tailed eagle viewing point - and sure enough the female was sitting, albeit distant!

We continued our journey and it was not long before we bumped into another immature white-tailed eagle - and then another... Not quite as close as I'd like, but always impressive and a second tick of the day for cousin Rob!

We began our journey back to the digs (Bunessan: Argyll Arms - great accommodation and breakfast!!), not without another look at the eagle nest - male dropped in with the female, and a  very pleasant couple of pints with Bryan first at Pennyghael, which included a tame grey heron in the pub garden, eating dog food!

Sunset at Bunessan - Image by Rob Lawson

Sunday dawned a little more cloudy, but it was not without good birding - pre-breakfast included three rock dove feeding on the shore outside the hotel and a very showy grasshopper warbler on the road to Ardchiavaig.

Our drive back to Craignure after a very large Scottish breakfast featured decent birds including crossbill at Pennyghael, golden eagle and plenty of hooded crow. As with our arrival, our departure was met with another otter at Craignure!

We departed on the one o'clock ferry and left feeling rather sad that the trip was coming to an end - but all agreed it was a great success... a short trip with bird species seen high in the '70s, a couple of ticks for the group and a load of good banter and micky taking, endurance of the foul and ill effect of real ale too... roll on next year for our next venture!

Above - the "crew" - Mark, Rob, Me and John B

Monday, 10 May 2010

Crex Crex!

Friday 7th - Sunday 8th May 2010 was spent in the company of lifelong birding buddies Mark, John B and cousin Rob. We had chosen to spend time on Mull and Iona as part of a proposed 10 year birding project where each of us would meet somewhere as a group in the UK to attempt an entire "10 year trip" target of 200 species.

What a splendid choice Mull and Iona prove to be!

Saturday morning was spent on Iona, where after three hours two corncrake finally emerged from cover. Fantastic! I'd never heard corncrake calling before (having only seen a sorry-state bird on Scilly a few years back) and it was a magic experience - how a bird can be so close and remain completely hidden from view beat us all. In total a minimum of nine birds were heard/seen. And with a supporting cast of rock dove, hooded crow, sedge warbler and whinchat we were quite happy with our trip start.

More about Mull soon...

Friday, 7 May 2010

Tropic Tales...

A very quick post - back in UK from a rather pleasant trip to the Middle East and Mauritius. There will be more words and pictures from this trip soon... I'm heading to Mull & Iona this afternoon, where hopefully there will be some good birding to be had.

Here is a quick taster hot off the camera card: white-tailed tropicbird at Black River Gorges, Mauritius.