Friday, 30 January 2009

Water on the shore

A quick morning visit to the north beach at St Mary's produced some nice views of the wintering water pipit that was feeding with some very tame rock pipit. A single grey wagtail was thrown in for good measure. Otherwise quiet, no sign of the two brent geese that have frequented the area recently.

A cold forecast for the weekend...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Here are the final San Francisco images from the trip... I might finally get out and do some proper UK birding now.

The house finch popped up in front of us while watching golden-crowned sparrow at the yatch club - a very dapper bird.

The red-shouldered hawk was, presumably like me, was dipping varied thrush in the Strybing arboretum in Golden Gate Park.

The black phoebe was near the rose garden in Golden Gate Park and was one of the final images taken on the trip. The walk in the park was quite productive, with townsend's warbler, hermit thrush, american wigeon, red-tailed hawk, common yellow throat, chestnut-backed chickadee and pygmy nuthatch also noted. I had hoped for a few more duck species, but I suspect the weather was too nice to draw them in for food hand-outs.

All in all a great end to a winter trip - roll on the next one...

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Calypte Anna

I'll finish today's posting with a couple of photographs of one of my favorite Californian species - anna's hummingbird. They're delightfully colourful and incredibly hardy. In particular, I love the way that a male bird can transform from an aparant "black-throated" bird to a vibrant red-pink iridescent throated bird with the turn of it's head - amazing!

These two birds were photographed near Crissy Fields on 9th January 2009 and were very vocal as they dashed around their business.

Pacific Surf

A walk along the San Francisco harbour front area to Crissy Fields produced some very close viewing of pacific birdlife - including these two fellas' here.

I was lucky enough to see the first UK pacific diver on an old quarry in Yorkshire a few years ago - unfortunately I saw it within a couple of hours of the news being released, so viewing was from a distant roadside prior to the landowners giving permission to view (for a ten quid parking fee) from the waters edge. My twitch companion Mark was boozing abroad at the time, so when he arrived back the following weekend I was able to head back down the road again for another go... annoyingly we had just passed Darlington when the pager informed of the diver flying off high!! So that was the end of that... In San Francisco there were several birds off-shore, the bird photographed here was one of two feeding among the moorings of yachts. Great views and a fantastic opportunity to see the chin-strap up close.

The surf scoter was also feeding among the moorings, I just love the orange on the multi-coloured bill and the piercing eye!

Glaucous-winged Gull

Pity this wasn't taken in Cleveland, UK..... I had some moderate success with this species on the trip, with birds noted at Santa Monica, an immature on Hawaii (where any gull species is rare) and several in San Francisco. This adult, was photographed in San Francisco on the waterfront on 9th January 2009; it superficially resembles the bird that was in Cleveland at the very same time - heavily streaked head of winter adult with nice grey primaries and bright pink legs. For those regular readers of this blog you may well have noted that this species was predicted to turn up this winter way back in November (see this post) - however, it had a bit of a cheek to do so when I was out of the UK!! (I dipped it twice upon return...) Nevertheless, a great species that I expect to become available again in the UK... I hope!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Two Sparrows

Golden-crowned sparrow was a new species for me on this trip, and prove to be fairly numerous on our walk to Crissy Fields, with others seen in Golden Gate Park. I like the yellow on it's forecrown, a nice tough on what is relatively a dull coloured bird! This species was often in mixed flocks of white-crowned and song sparrow.

The song sparrow was photographed at Crissy Fields - I've a bit of a soft spot for photographs of birds on rusty wire fences (see below, yellow-rumped warbler...), very "rustic"?... maybe not!

Two Warblers

It was a return to cooler temperatures in San Francisco, our final destination of this trip. Featured here are two warbler species: yellow-rumped and orange crowned.

The yellow-rumped warbler was photographed at Crissy Fields, and was a common species in SF. A tricky species to photograph as they were very active feeding in the low coastal bushes - I struck lucky here when one bird landed on the fencing as I was waiting for a black phoebe to return.

The orange-crowned warbler was feeding under Fort Mason and was very inconspicuous. Not the best photograph as the light was poor in the undergrowth. Above us several red-masked parakeet were squabbling, quite a bizarre sight on a grey January morning!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Birding Honolulu

....Airport. We had a relatively short lay over in Honolulu on the island of O'ahu, made much more tolerable due to the presence of a rather nice garden area within the terminal. In the time between disembarking our picturesque Hawaiian Airlines flight (great views of the other islands!) and giving in to one more Kona Brewary beer and steak I managed another three species for the holiday list:

Red-crested cardinal - similar to the yellow-billed seen on the Big Island, a few of these birds were feeding on the lawn area. This species was introduced in 1930 from South America.

Two bulbul species were seen - red-vented and red-whiskered. Of the two species, red-vented appeared more dominant in the pecking order and was observed chasing the red-whiskered on several occasions. RVB was introduced from Asia in the mid 1950's while RWB was introduced around 1965.

In addition to the new species there were a couple of spotted dove, zebra dove, Japanese white-eye, house sparrow, java sparrow and common myna.

It's Over...

Here's a final selection of photographs from the Big Island.

Black-crowned night heron ('auku'u) is the only native heron in Hawaii and was abundant in the resort area. This particular bird was in very good plumage - I love the vibrant legs!

Green sea turtles were often found on the shore, especially during the afternoon - close inspection revealed scoured marks all over their heads - I assume this is from the largely volcanic rocks being sharp edged (the turtles seemed quite happy to doze on the rocks as well as the limited sandy beach).

Zebra dove, native to Asia, were introduced in 1922. This species, along with spotted dove, were commonly observed throughout our stay. Birds were often in small flocks and would readily associate with sparrows and finches feeding on the hotel lawns.

Yellow-billed cardinal was one of three cardinal species to be seen on the trip. This species is native to South America and was introduced to the Kona coast in 1973.

So that's all from the Big Island, a truly wonderful place.... time for an island hop en-route to San Francisco

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Bristle-thighed Curlew

Bird of the trip for me, this bristle-thighed curlew was delightfully confiding. I found this bird on an afternoon shore-line walk... and admit that my language was a little blue as I scrambled to attach a tele converter to the 500mm lens prior to getting my first record photographs. As it turned out no tele convertor was needed - this bird was fearless and would frequently walk past at an un-focusable distance. I was fortunate enough to have several sessions with this bird.

This bird was very entertaining to watch feeding - chasing crabs around rock pools (literally), then bashing them on rocks to enable swallow-able chunks to be devoured!

Bristle-thighed curlew breed locally in the tundra of west Alaska and winters among Pacific islands, it is more common in the north-west Hawaiian islands but is considered rare on the main Hawaiian islands. It's unique among waders as it is flightless during moult - perhaps a reason why there are only approximatley 7,000 left...


Or Hawaiian stilt... I was very pleased to stumble across five birds south of our resort on Kahapapa fishpond. Stilts are a very pleasant species to observe, they're delightfully delicate. This endemic race of black-necked stilt is only found locally on all of the Hawaiian main islands, and was a species I thought I was going to miss on the visit. According to the Hawaii Audubon Society their population (1998-2003 data) is only approximatley 1,350 birds.

Wandering Tattler

Common in the Waikoloa area, this wandering tattler was photographed on the man-made pool next to the kings shopping complex.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Pacific Goldie

Pacific golden plover, or kolea, is an abundant winter visitor to Hawaii. Indeed, it was one of the first birds I saw on our first morning on the Big Island. Their abundance is, for a UK birder, brilliant - with birds noted on garden lawns, roadsides, garage roofs and golf courses. Another advantage for me was their boldness - this species was quite happy to feed among sunbathers in our resort, so photography was a relative ease (other than curious holiday makers and, er, hotel security, enquiring about the camera equipment being used!) All of the photographs presented here were taken in the hotel grounds.

The birds were often very territorial, immediately chasing other pgps' away from their own feeding patch. When feeding the birds would often run a short distance, stop, then pick a grub out of the grass... then do it all again.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Hakalau NWR

An early start saw us heading to Hakalau NWR on January 2nd, on a pre-booked forest tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail, our primary target species being the native forest endemics including Pueo, Io, Omao, Elepaio, Hawaii Amakihi, Akepa, Hawaii Creeper, Akiapolaau, Iiwi, and Apapane. Our guide for the day was Garry Dean who was extremely knowledgeable about the natural history of Hawaii. Garry gave nothing less than 100% throughout the tour and is highly recommended - his knowledge of endemic species, including recognition of species calls was invaluable. Recordings of the endemics calls can be heard here on the HFT website.

Departing Waikoloa we headed east to the saddle road, quickly picking up two short-eared owl (pueo, see previous post), Eurasian skylark, ring-necked pheasant (including green form versicolor), erckel's francolin, wild turkey and house finch. The scenery was nothing less than spectacular, with the snow capped peak of Mauna Kea dominating on the Saddle Road and incredible lava formations aplenty.

Later we joined the unpaved Keanakolu Road for 11 miles to the Pua Akala tract of the private refuge. Along this road (drivable only by 4 wheel vehicle, access by permit only) we picked up two Hawaiian hawk ('io), one pale phase, one dark phase, and three kalij pheasant. Erckel's francolin and Eurasian skylark were common, but we failed to locate any koloa (Hawaiian duck) on the ponds.

Our arrival at the forest was greeted with an nene (Hawaiian goose) in the grassy car parking area - closer inspection revealed a sitting female, nesting under an old unused vehicle! Up to four birds were present in the area, with all adults ringed by the refuge.

Heading into the forest native species soon appeared, with the delightfully scarlet i'iwi (with it's rusty hinge-like call) and crimson 'apapane being most abundant. Quickly the weather turned and it remained wet throughout the visit - clearly photography was going to be difficult, and pictures in this post are nothing more than record shots, with the 100mm-400mm lens only used.

Descending further into the forest we were treated to good views of Hawaiian 'elepaio - a small and active flycatcher with a distinctive cocked up tail. Soon we heard our first of several olive green plumaged Hawaiian creeper (the only endemic not to have a local Hawaiian name), and soon we had good views of a bird creeping - just like nuthatch in the UK! At least four of the finch-like 'akepa were seen (two pairs, the males are a gorgeous peachy orange colour!) and vocal 'oma'o (Hawaiian thrush) were noted several times along with vibrant green Hawaii 'amakihi. Of all the target species only 'Akiapola'au was not seen (though it was heard on one occasion...) The walk back produced a few gaudy red-billed leiothrix and japanese white-eye.

All in all a super trip, highly recommended. Pictures in this post are as follows (top to bottom): 'Oma'o, male 'akepa, 'i'iwi, hawaii 'elepaio, nene.

Saturday, 17 January 2009


Pueo (or Hawaiian owl) is the endemic race of short-eared owl asio flammeus sandwichensis that occurs on Hawaii.

Short-eared owl have a worldwide range that covers North America South America, Eurasia, North Africa, Middle East, Pakistan and S China; the Caribbean, Falkland Islands, Galapagos, and Hawaiian Islands.

This photograph was taken on the Saddle Road en-route to Hakalau. One of two birds seen (the first was observed flying off with a large rodent), this bird duly obliged by sitting on a roadside fence post while we observed from the comfort of our 4x4 van. I can't say that there is any significant plumage variation to birds that I have seen in the UK, nor that it is unusual to see a short-eared owl during daylight - it was however a very good start to our day with Hawaii Forest and Trail.


Ventured south to Teesside this morning as a re-united quartet, birding alongside Mark, cousin Rob and John B. Both Rob and John B no longer live in the north-east, so it's rare that we can all meet up for a spot of birding. Given the recent GWG, Teesside seemed a good spot to be. Alas, no sign of the GWG, but we did manage a nice selection with peregrine, short-eared owl and little egret at Saltholme, an immature/first winter glaucous gull at Cowpen Bewley, second winter mediterranean gull, adult yellow-legged gull and 6 waxwing at the Tees Barrage.

Chips with curry sauce at Hartlepool were smashing too!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Hawaii 5 (intr)o

At last! Hawaii pictures... Let's start with some of the colourful introductions... it is an introductory post isn't it!?

We arrived on Hawaii late evening on Dec 31st - as we were disembarking the plane I received a text from my boss - holidaying in New Zealand - it had a great line (spellings per text message) "at an albatros colony lot of fuss for a big seagull". Class!!

So, back to the birds - first species on Jan 1st 2009 were common myna... nutmeg mannikin... spotted dove... house sparrow... zebra dove & pacific golden plover. This was certainly going to be a cosmopolitan week! Birds featured in this blog post are as follows (all photographed in the hotel grounds):

African silverbill - formerly considered a subspecies of warbling silverbill, the exact date of introduction is unknown, probably in the early 1970's. Regarded as common on Hawaii, this species is, surprisingly, from Africa...

Java sparrow - A native of Indonesia, locally common on Hawaii, introduced in 1867 and re-introduced in 1967 (must like them here, eh?). Certainly common in the resort with flocks feeding on lawns adjacent the hotel rooms. Massive beak!
Nutmeg mannikin - Introduced from south-east Asia in about 1865, widespread on all Hawaii. On the resort this species would often associate with house sparrow, java sparrow and saffron finch.
Saffron finch - these belters were a delight! Surprisingly easy to overlook when out walking, birds would often allow close approach - until a camera was pointed at them! This species is regarded as common on the Kona coast, a native of South America introduced in the 1960's. Lisa ("Birding reluctantly most-times") liked these alot!

Yellow-fronted canary - also regarded as common on the Kona coast (though not particularly on our resort), this attractive species is native to Africa and was introduced in the late 1960's.
All introduction species data extracted from "Hawaii's Birds" published by the Hawaii Audubon Society. A recommended purchase if you're heading out to Hawaii.

Plenty more images to follow - I'll try and put a few native / naturally occurring species on the blog soon!

Another Occidentalis

A gull this time! Western gull is a very stocky bird with quite a heavy bill (I reckon it could do some damage...) - it was probably the most encountered gull species on the trip, both at Santa Monica and San Francisco. Whilest staying in Los Angeles I would often seen small groups of this gull heading back to the coast as dusk approached.

Given it's abundance I was able to get a nice selection of images including several age groups - presented here are a juvenile/1st winter, 2nd winter and adult. Interestingly this species has plumage variation between northern and southern birds, with the latter having a darker toned mantle. Given the tone of the adult in the image above I'm guessing that this particular bird was "southern".

Ring-billed & California

Ring-billed gulls are frequent vagrants to the UK, although my home county of Northumberland has not had many (rather amusingly the first bird I saw in the UK/Northumberland was in company with a laughing gull larus atricilla at Newcastle General Hospital many years ago...). I love the yellow iris with piercing black pupil!

California gull seemed to be less abundant at Santa Monica than RBG, and ony a few photographs were obtained. The winter adult featured here shows the relative long winged profile, dark iris and grey-green legs.

Only Occidentalis

First week back at work since the trip is now complete, so in effort to stay awake and finally get the body clock back to the UK timezone (a week of night shift has kept me in virtual Pacific time!) I've not gone to bed this morning and started ploughing through some more photographs.

Today's selection will take in the remainder of the Santa Monica images and onto Hawaii.

First up here is western grebe - this lone bird was photographed off the end of Santa Monica pier, dodging the many fishing lines. Many more were observed off San Francisco (Maritime National Historic Park, Crissy Field etc), none of which were as close as this bird. Regretfully for me, no clark's grebe were seen for comparison.

Thursday, 15 January 2009


I've a bit of a soft spot for heermann's gulls - they're a very attractive species. On the trip birds were seen at Santa Monica and San Francisco - all the images here are from the former destination. Heermann's gull is almost exclusively coastal in all seasons, with the wintering rage extending up the California coast just north of San Francisco.
The dark brown immature bird is almost skua-like in plumage and was a bold as the waders on the shore. It's the first immature heermann's that I'd seen and none were encountered further north in San Francisco.
The non-breeding bird was on the pier (head-shot photograph), waiting for food hand-outs no doubt.
Several breeding adults were also present - I love the plumage - airbrushed qulity to the grey body and white head, vibrant red bill - very striking!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Limosa Close-a'

One of the striking features of birding west coast America is the tameness of shorebirds - great for photography - find a suitable spot, sit down and let the birds walk past merrily feeding, oblivious (or simply bold?) to the presence of humans!

This very active marbled godwit is a prime example, photographed on the beach at Santa Monica on December 31st. The image was taken using the 100-400mm lens. The godwit was feeding alongside a single willet and some wave dodging sanderling, with several pacific diver, surf scoter and brandt's cormorant offshore.

A venture onto the pier revealed several chip scavenging heermann's gull (there'll be some images of this attractive species later) and a single western grebe.

Monday, 12 January 2009


It certainly is. Arrived back in the UK on Sunday 11th mid afternoon and spent the rest of the day trying to get back into "normal mode". Retired to bed early evening and woke up at 03.30 - jet lag has set in!

Ok, down to business - here's a rough list of the species seen while I was away. Departed UK on 29th December for 2 nights in Los Angeles - birding was restricted to a morning at Santa Monica beach, then onto Hawaii (the Big Island) for seven nights at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. During the stay on Hawai'i we were able to take a full day excursion with Hawai'i Forest & Trail to the permit only Hakalau reserve - more on this great biring day in another post. Departing Hawaii on the morning of the 7th we headed to San Francisco for 3 nights via a few hours stop over at Honolulu on Oahu.

I've taken a heap of photographs, these will creep onto the blog over the next few weeks.

The unofficial "list", probably with spelling mistakes etc:
  1. great white egret

  2. american crow

  3. anna's hummingbird

  4. black phoebe

  5. yellow rumped warbler

  6. western gull

  7. western scrub jay

  8. bushtit

  9. house sparrow

  10. starling

  11. mourning dove

  12. sanderling

  13. brewers blackbird

  14. heermann's gull

  15. double crested cormorant

  16. brandt's cormorant

  17. pacific diver

  18. surf scoter

  19. marbled godwit

  20. willet

  21. brown pelican

  22. glaucous-winged gull (SM/Hawaii (Waikoloa imm on 3rd Jan, rare but annual on Big Island)/SF))

  23. herring gull

  24. forster's tern

  25. california gull

  26. common myna

  27. nutmeg mannikin

  28. spotted dove

  29. zebra dove

  30. pacific golden plover - unbelievably common and tame on Hawaii: car parks, grass verges on roads, garage roofs.... !

  31. saffron finch

  32. wandering tattler

  33. black-crowned night heron

  34. japanese white-eye

  35. yellow billed cardinal

  36. northern cardinal

  37. african silverbill

  38. bristle-thighed curlew (star bird on trip, single at Waikoloa throughout stay - oblivious to humans, many, many photographs taken!!)

  39. short-eared ("hawaiian") owl - seen at close range on Saddle Road

  40. ring-necked pheasant (inc green morph)

  41. erckel's francolin

  42. skylark

  43. hawaiian hawk - pale and dark morph seen

  44. wild turkey

  45. kalij pheasant

  46. red-billed leiothrix

  47. house finch

  48. yellow fronted canary

  49. 'elepaiao - ridgwayi form

  50. 'omao

  51. 'akepa

  52. 'amakihi

  53. hawaiian creeper

  54. 'apanane

  55. 'i'wii

  56. nene

  57. java sparrow

  58. ruddy turnstone

  59. hawaiian stilt - 5 on pools north of hotel

  60. grey francolin

  61. red-vented bulbul

  62. red-whiskered bulbul

  63. red-crested cardinal

  64. mew gull

  65. ring-billed gull

  66. western grebe

  67. orange-crowned warbler

  68. red-masked parakeet

  69. great blue heron

  70. greater scaup

  71. ruddy duck

  72. bufflehead

  73. pied billed grebe

  74. eared (black-necked) grebe

  75. killdeer

  76. least sandpiper

  77. song sparrow

  78. white-crowned sparrow

  79. goldened-crowned sparrow

  80. california towhee

  81. american coot

  82. snowy egret

  83. northern mockingbird

  84. red-winged blackbird

  85. mallard

  86. canada goose

  87. chestnut backed chickadee

  88. american robin

  89. common yellowthroat

  90. townsends warbler

  91. ruby crowned kinglet

  92. dark eyed junco

  93. hermit thrush

  94. raven

  95. red-tailed hawk

  96. red-shouldered hawk

  97. american wigeon

  98. pygmy nuthatch

  99. red-breasted nuthatch

Annoyingly 'akiapola'au was only heard in Hakalau.