Friday, 3 November 2017

Surrey Vice County - Headley Heath - Hawfinch Heaven!


Waves of Hawfinch are still being reported around the country and in the South they are regularly appearing at sites that are close to home. I attempted a stake-out at the Farm which has so far failed despite my efforts. The day six went through was a footie day and I was no-where to be seen within the gates. I think it’s called the law of Sod!

This had also sown a small seed that perhaps I had missed this torpedo like bird, amongst the early morning Farm movement. A conversation with Pete Alfrey during a watch had put my mind at rest on that one! He had the heavy artillery out that day too clock the first two after registering the call on his sound equipment. The other group of four were lower and closer so would have been well within my sightline. Pete has the eyes of a hawk I have stood next to him on occasions when he has been describing where a bird is flying and I could not see it even through my binos!
I took a trip to Headley Heath this afternoon to see a few birds in action. There were a few birders dotted around including Mr & Mrs Tank and Dibley from the Farm! The wait turned out to be a fairly long one but I spotted two Hawfinch fly into a tree on the opposite side of the valley to the Farmers!
Scopes were trained on the birds with a concerted effort to get Mrs Tank a decent view of what she had been hanging around for, for so long! In the mean time other Hawfinch had joined the pair. The next challenge was to get flight shots in conditions where the cloud had covered the sun and it was looking decidedly gloomy! Thanks Tank!!

Various numbers were being mentioned as to the amount of birds present. The largest flock I saw was eight birds. I have at least laid my doubts to rest. I have not seen any likely candidates during my Farm watch. This species I have seen plenty of but my patch has only had three records therefore there is no harm in a refresher course elsewhere!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Beddington Farm - A dip then some glory!


The forecast was for a northerly blow which would make life slightly uncomfortable on the corner but it had to be done having missed the Hawfinch yesterday. There was hardly any movement of birds compared with the previous day but this wind has a habit of producing something on or over the Farm.

I was joined by Nick who took me to a place which is even higher than Kojak’s corner some twenty foot in fact! Brambling, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Meadow Pipit and a few pigeons were noted before Nick made his way to cover the SE corner and the landfill.
Swifty was the last entrant through the gates and with him came the rain and a subsequent dash to the hide for cover. A group of corvids are strategically positioned on a high tree at the NW end of the lake. They are very quick to defend the Farm from intruders making our life easy to spot raptors that get drawn within the boundary line.
 On this occasion it was a Short Eared Owl which had to fend off the mob as it made its way south.
Within the confines of the incinerator another group of corvids had been set to work but we could not see the centre of their attention. A few moments later Nick announced a Raven being heavily mobbed over the landfill site. I took a short dash back up the slope and pictures were secured of this Beddington rarity. With so many Raven now nesting in Surrey we would expect to see more of this species visiting the landfill, but this is not the case as this was the first record of the year!

The Raven was more hardy than most species ducking and diving its way through its smaller cousins and even looked as though it had seen off the opposition at one point. Then another obstacle was put in front of it. Mind the chimneys!! The late JA (five years missing in action) always said to us try and get a feature of the Farm into your pics so that there can be no doubt as to the validity of it. Well this obstacle is hard to miss these days!! 


I have now beaten my highest species year tally at Beddington Farm with time to spare to break my own record! Woo Hoo!

Friday, 27 October 2017

Beddington Farm / Surrey VC - Rarity Double Whammy!!


The day started out at Beddington Farm on my corner with Frank counting passage migrants with the vein hope that we might get sight of a Hawfinch or even hear a Yellow Browed Warbler!

The Farm did not have the latter species but a local Wallington garden did with the bird appearing for a second day. It was potentially too dangerous to abandon the Farm when this news broke having seen this species in Surrey Vice County in the past. I arranged a visit after the Farm vigil had finished arriving early afternoon.
I spent around three hours attempting to photograph a rather secretive and lethargic Yellow Browed Warbler which favoured trees in a neighbouring garden. 
The bird called intermittently just to let the two observers know it was still in the vicinity. I guess now I have the pictures I will be writing the species account for the records committee. A good photo always makes life easy though!
The vizmig at the Farm was also productive with a stream of 1400 Wood Pigeon and an almost annoying 721 Parakeet heading S/SW. Chaffinch were also seen in numbers along with Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Linnet, and Buzzard. The bird of the morning a Great White Egret was seen as a result of the pigeon count as Frank and I had our eyes constantly on the skies. This bird passed over the corner high S (which is some sixty foot higher than any other point of the Farm) which meant it probably would not have been seen from the hide. I am not sure if we will be using this vantage point come December!

The days double whammy was complete. No new species for me but great migrants passing through an inland county. Woo Hoo!!

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Beddington Farm - Back to Blighty!


I returned to England late last week and was surprised how mild and potentially stormy it was. This could be a good opportunity for a Surrey Vice County (SVC) tick having missed a couple while I was away in the form of Black Crowned Night Heron, and White Stork. I was living in Paraguay when the Farm Storks appeared.

This Autumn I had not missed anything of the same magnitude at Beddington Farm. There had been reports of movements of Hawfinch in Surrey and from Steve Gale in the Ewell area. As the crow flies the Farm is not far away from his patch. The Farm is not known for attracting this species but having missed a bird in the Storm tanks a couple of years ago it was time for a stake-out. A fly-over bird was more likely so my corner and the hide were to be the points to maximise the viewing.
Thus far there have been no Hawfinch and the highlight so far is a Redshank that came in today as a result of a downpour. I put my hand to some phone scoping without the aid of a safety net and turned out a slightly shaky image.
Little Egret, Water Rail, Skylark and flyover Cormorant were the best on offer today. The numbers of duck are on the up with Mallard, Pochard, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, and Wigeon all present. Snipe are secreted about the islands with only a couple visible usually when they are flushed by a Heron.
There is stormy weather forecast for later on this week which means eyes cannot be taken off the Farm just in-case that late October MEGA decides to grace us with its presence!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Costa Rica - Ciao Arenal Lodge!


I spent my last day at Arenal Volcano Lodge being chased around by low cloud that was like a ghost one minute covering the area and then not a trace of cloud anywhere. This pushed alot of the birds up the slope and into the grounds of the Lodge.
On the grass area below the swimming pool was what I believe to be a moulting juvenile to adult Black-headed Grosbeak which showed a pink orange wash on the belly. This species winters in Southern Mexico. Sightings in Santa Rosa National Park and Monteverde have been recorded and with the recent storms I guess Arenal is not that far away.
As the morning brightened up birds began to sing or laugh in the case of two Laughing Falcons. Both took advantage of the top of a dead tree in the valley. Grey Headed Chachalaca was also on the move through the lower bushes and trees.
Hummingbirds were also active around the gardens with a Blue-throated Goldentail taking a short rest before continuing its nectar feast.
Costa Rica’s national bird the Clay-colored Robin also put in an appearance on the bird table along with Blue-Grey and Palm Tanagers.

The last stop in my trip was to be where I began at Hotel Bougainvillea. The journey by Interbus was good value for money and hassle free. The cab journey from the airport to the Hotel was in the thick of rush hour and should be avoided!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Costa Rica - Arenal Lodge after the storm!


The evening was certainly much livelier for my feathered friends. There were numerous seed eaters roaming the longer patches of grass. The regular flycatchers Kiskadee, Grey Headed, Social were busy in the gardens in front of the accommodation.
Other flycatchers were slightly more difficult to locate but generally gave good views after a bit of patience. I still have to identify a couple.
I believe this species is a Yellow Tyrannulet. Getting a shot of this bird was definitely a game of patience.
A Yellow throated Euphonia was far easier fayre posing nicely on a bush for the papperazzi!

A personal favourite of mine is the Passerini’s Tanager which is surprisingly shy even at the bird tables in from of the dining room. I hope to get some good shots of this species before I leave.
Crimson Collared Tanager showed well but at distance in the taller trees. The birds were in a small group but did not venture far in the mid section of the trees.
Keel Billed Toucan are heard regularly and one was seen at the top of a tree near the wedding area late on. Another species that gave good views was Band Backed Wren who was aggressive to any other species that dared to venture into their territory.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Costa Rica - Arenal Volcano - Un Gran Tormenta a Traves de Costa Rica!

A huge tropical storm has hit the majority of Costa Rica killing numerous people and destroying everything in its path but Tortuguero seemed to have escaped the devastation. By pure coincidence my time with Cano Palma had ended and my next stop was to be close to the disaster area at Arenal Volcano.

Hotel Arenal Lodge was my destination and I arrived late afternoon after a boat and minibus journey. The area had been hit by the storm but the damage was restricted to power and telephone lines. The location was perfect for birding in their extensive grounds and to take some time out by the pool before my journey back to San Jose and home.
The morning was a slow affair with the birds seemingly still hiding from the winds that had preceded me. I covered both trails with two raptures being the highlight at the watchpoint. The second bird was a White Hawk which gave distant views and non publishable pictures.
A walk through the Hummingbird garden produced Rufous tailed and Violet Headed Hummingbird. It was a game of patience to get pictures but there were plenty of subjects to choose from.
A Bananaquit was also spied skulking around the flowering plants.
I returned to my room and spent post lunch time birding from my balcony. Yellow Faced Grassquit were busy feeding on the grass directly in front of my viewpoint.
These birds were scattered by the arrival of a small group of Grey Headed Chachalaca who showed their rufous  in the primaries as they crashed into the bush.

What would the evening session bring?!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Costa Rica - Cano Palma - View from the Kitchen!


There was a storm overnight that saw an electricity failure in the local area. The rain was much lighter this morning and had me stood by the back door to the kitchen observing a mixed flock of warblers and flycatchers.

The task in hand was to photograph as many of the flock as possible which was tricky as the trees were covered in leaves and naturally the birds did not want to sit for long with so much competition in the vicinity.
The first puzzle of the hour long session was unsurprisingly a warbler that appeared to be in partial moult. The bird had extensive yellow on the underbelly with a white vent and black outer tail. The body was streaked black at the sides. After some consideration with the help of The Warbler guide I asked for opinions from the Facebook Neotropical Bird Club page. Verdict: Blackburnian Warbler.
Seen on the edge of the flock was, Cinnamon Becard and Northern Barred Woodcreeper. Red Eyed Vireo was busy feeding amongst the leaves oblivious to the other members of the flock.
A Lesser Greenlet put in a brief appearance before disappearing into the understory.

I still have a couple of flycatchers to identify but it always amazes me what can be seen whilst in the kitchen!

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Costa Rica - Macaws Enjoy the Fruits of Life!


As I enter into my last week at Cano Palma the Macaw surveys have been the best opportunity to add a few extra species onto the trip list. I have logged over one hundred species in the Tortuguero area which is not a bad total considering most areas are restricted. There are still some unidentified flycatchers to add to the total fortunately I have pictures allowing plenty of time to complete the task.
I have heard owls around the base and Great Tinamou at what was a tourist walkway up to the top of the Cerro. Tourist access is restricted but we have access to the four hundred and eleven steps on a Macaw survey day. San Francisco offers the best opportunity to view both species of Macaw either in flight or feeding in gardens.

At the Sea Turtle Centre a group of Roseate Spoonbill and a juvenile type Crested Caracara were seen in flight over the lagoons. The Green Macaws also gave spectacular close views as they fed on the beech almonds.
A laughing Falcon gave Chris, Jane and I prolonged views as it landed in a tree close to our watch-point in San Francisco a few days ago. Jane spotted the Falcon as it crossed the lagoon. This is the best view I have had of this species.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Costa Rica - Storm in San Francisco!


The San Francisco species tally was helped by a brief storm which had what I believe is a Dark Pewee seeking sanctuary of a high tree branch at the entrance to the village. As soon as the insects emerged it was busy feeding away returning to the same spot. This matches the behaviour of the bird but it is suggested this species is confined to 1100+m elevations in the central highlands of Costa Rica.
The hummingbirds were also seeking sanctuary of branches rather than chasing each other around the numerous flowering gardens with flowering plants. A female Green breasted Mango struck an elegant pose for long enough to capture the moment.
A male White Necked Jacobin was far more productive on the Laguna side of the village taking short rapid flights between flowers.
I was called into a garden to look at the Collared Aracari and found a Masked Tityra at the top of the tree. This was a pleasant surprise and a species I was familiar with from my time in Paraguay.
Black Bellied Plover has been present in the last couple of days on the beach perhaps another victim of the stormy weather.
A regular but very spotty Spotted Sandpiper was as close range on the west shore giving excellent photo opportunities. Most of the birds seen here are not in breeding plumage.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Costa Rica - Turtles On Your Marks, Get Set! Gooo!


Early morning turtle census involves walking a three mile stretch of beach to check all the existing turtle nests for predation, progress in the hatching stage and to take sand samples that will be analysed for micro plastics. All turtle tracks are swept to and from the sea in an attempt to disguise any new nests.

The walk this morning started with Anna in the usual way in overcast conditions (which is always good!). We started work making our way up the beach. At we were nearing the half way point when I noticed numerous tiny turtle tracks heading straight for the sea. I called Anna over and we traced the origin of the tracks. As we both looked at the small holes that had already been made a tiny head appeared in the sand. Then another and another until there were five little heads just above sand level.
This was my first group of hatchlings and they were Hawksbill Turtles who only had one thing on their mind and that was to make it to the sea. Anna became protector, wildlife film and documentary photographer as the five scuttled as fast as their tiny flippers could take them down the beach.
We shadowed the five making sure each one made it to the sea and said our goodbyes as each entering the water and with a single sweep of a wave disappeared from view.
This was truly another great moment and for five hatchlings another leg of their perilous journey into adulthood begins. Woo Hoo!

Pictures by and used with permission of Anna Harris (USA)

Monday, 18 September 2017

Costa Rica - San Francisco - Bird Conundrums!


The order of the day was a species census in San Francisco. The morning I would spend alone with Jane joining me during the afternoon to hopefully add to the mornings tally. The local people are very friendly inviting me into their gardens to look at my feathered friends. The local children are also fascinated and can’t wait to thumb through my bird guide to show me what birds they like or have seen. This is also a good opportunity to practice some Spanish which sometimes causes amusement amongst the gathering friends.
There were also some new birds added to my Costa Rican tally. A Lesser Greenlet was the first seen on the walk through the outskirts of San Fransisco.
A more familiar Ruddy Turnstone was on the shore but I could not re-locate the Short-billed Dowitcher Charlotte had during her shorebird survey. A pair of Pale-billed Woodpecker was observed pecking away at the trunk of a tree as I entered the village.

The mornings total was a reasonable thirty five species but there were some regulars that were missing off the list. Enter Jane the afternoons eagle eyed self confessed birder from Canada!
A tanager like bird was seen on the wires along the main path. It has been confirmed by Pete Morris as a moulting Summer Tanager. Thanks Pete.
The next species I have not identified yet but they were described as cute as they huddled together on a bush just off a paved path. The camera once again secured the evidence allowing further scrutiny of this species. - I think Yellow Tyrannulet!
The last conundrum of the day was a pair of yellow birds that were feeding amongst grass on the edge of the village. With so many species falling into this bracket the identity has not yet been confirmed which incidentally is a nice change from everything being a small brown job!... Ironically enough I think this is a Yellow Warbler!

The next few days are a mix of Turtle, Macaw census and further visits to San Francisco....

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Costa Rica - Tortuguero - Macaws Have a Feast!


Chris and I had a fantastic day of Great Green Macaw observations with a group of birds frequenting the trees within the grounds of the Sea Turtle Visitor Centre in Tortuguero. The birds were seen feeding on the fruits over a two hour period. A sample of the fruit has been taken and photographed depicting its various layers.
The birds rest for a short period before flying back over the waterway and out of view. It is not clear if the birds visit other fruiting trees or have a preferred resting site. A couple of Scarlet Macaw was seen but although both species consume the same fruits they did not join their Green cousins on this occasion.

More from San Francisco next..

Friday, 15 September 2017

Costa Rica - More birds of San Francisco!


No Macaws were seen at Cano Palma watchpoint this morning but there was time to catch up with a pair of Prothonotary Warbler that have been camera shy over the last few days.  This species generally busily skulks about in dense foliage and has been tricky to photograph. A pair have also been seen in SanFrancisco.

A Green Ibis made its second appearance along the canal regularly changing position but did offer any explanation for its movements. This ibis is generally dark in colour with the green sheen showing in brighter light.
There was a huge number of Hirundines rolling in off the coast circa 1500. Sometimes the sky was littered with birds on a mission to get somewhere. Barn Swallow was amongst the masses and after many attempts pictures of what I think are Grey breasted Martin were taken.
The afternoon was spent in San Francisco where a Passerini’s Tanager almost made good its escape from the wires. This species is being seen regularly in San Francisco at the moment.
An Amazon Kingfisher was far more relaxed around the paparazzi allowing close views of this large Kingfisher.
The bird of the afternoon was one of the last on the list a Black-cowled Oriole which again was very approachable as it rested in a garden off the main path. This species is common in the Caribbean lowlands perhaps they have just been avoiding me!

Next up a Macaw update..