Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Rotherhithe tickage

I decided to give Rotherhithe a bit of a running over this morning - dull, grey conditions made it feel like early autumn alright. I have a pretty much set routine, checking the River Thames only at low tide unless conditions for stuff passing through are on the cards. Today wasn't one of those days and 'the beach' by the Hilton Hotel just held the usual gulls.

Passerines aren't a strength of the place, but a bit of bashing over the last 3 years has produced notables including a couple of Firecrest and a Pied Flycatcher. And when I got to the end of Downtown road, by an area of rough ground adjacent to the doctor's surgery (where I've found Hobby and Wheatear in the past), I did my usual pishing and out popped a bit of colour. Nice - a Redstart and a first for me in Rotherhithe!
1st-winter male Redstart - lack of any grey on the greater-coverts ages it as a first-winter

ghosting of male plumage and bright underparts sexes it, albeit a dull male

Other stuff included a nice Sedge Warbler (pretty scarce here) and 3 Whitethroat. A fall by Rotherhithe standards, so pretty chuffed with the morning's haul. Also a couple of proud female Tufted Ducks on Globe Pond with 12 pretty young ducklings.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Keep the faith?

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Doonbeg, Clare August 2011

That's it for another year. I couldn't really title this posting 'Bridges of Ross 2011' because, well, I lost the faith and was only there a couple of days. Like last year - when I headed off early to explore other bits of Ireland - this year was a real letdown at the mighty Bridges. There just were not the birds around. Perhaps the lack of southwesterlies hadn't brought the birds far enough north in the Atlantic to be then brought down by the northwesterlies? Perhaps it's unseasonably cool? However, on Saturday there were some decent northwesterlies and what went past? Nada. The near Manx line was non-existent and those Grey Phals, Leach's and Sabine's of years gone by just didn't materialise. Some of the Irish lads went to Slyne Head this weekend and had 8,000 Sooties (plus a couple of Long-tailed Skuas and a Great Shear), so despite what I've just written, there are birds around. But Sooties were only in low double figures past the Bridges...
juvenile Kittiwake Bridges of Ross, Clare

So it was waders that saved the day. Well, they more than did that and a cracking juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper found by Clewesy was top notch looking nice and fresh on the beach at Doughmore, Doonbeg, Clare on Friday. The next day, I managed to scoop an Irish wader tick with a nice adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper reappearing on the incoming tide at Shannon Airport. And that was that for Clare.
Ring-billed Gull Black Rock Strand, Kerry

juvenile Sanderling (with adult in the background)
 A couple of days in Kerry were pleasant, but the weather was a bit too nice. It started nicely with an adult Ring-billed Gull at Black Rock Strand the first evening, and this was again present the next morning. Juvenile Sanderlings and Bar-tailed Godwits were passing through in massive numbers, while a fair few juvenile Med Gulls were around Tralee Bay and Dingle. We checked in at Rossbeigh and were surprised to find quite a few Common Scoters (predominantly drakes) but predictably the Asian rhino wasn't around just yet, presuming it'll be back at some stage. A nice Osprey drifted over Blennerville yesterday afternoon, while an adult Little Stint at Carrahane made us feel a bit cheated and a dozen or so juvenile Curlew Sands were noted too.
Osprey over Blennerville, Kerry
Bring on a bit of westerly weather and roll on some more yank waders. Autumn for me has officially started by the way. Each year the first juvenile American wader I see signals the start of the business end of the birding season. Roll on September.
The Skelligs - viewed from St. Finian's Bay, Kerry

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Back at the Bridges

The mighty Bridges of Ross
Later on this afternoon, I'll be heading off to the Bridges of Ross, County Clare for my annual bit of seawatching. This site, bar none, is the best in Britain and Ireland and it's been a permanent fixture in my calendar ever since I first went there in 2002. Quite a bit has changed since those almost solitary days before loads of Brits descended upon the place for their 'presumed Feas' tick. Thankfully, as the job is done and a lot of those involved have got their quarry, it's back to relatively low numbers of birders (for British - not Irish - standards at least).

I've now seen 5 presumed Feas at the Bridges of Ross, as well as finding one further north off Annagh Head, County Mayo. However, that elusive Little Shearwater - or Macaronesian Shearwater - still eludes me and probably still will on my return. I've been on site when one flew past (there are a couple of choices of where to sit, and I was with the majority who were in the wrong place), been at breakfast when another was reported past and missed the odd one or two by a couple of days. But if you're looking for good views of a steady stream of migrating seabirds, that can increase dramatically in numbers with strong northwesterlies, then the Bridges of Ross is bang on the money. Sit at Porthgwarra and you'll get distant views of stuff, at Pendeen views may be slightly better but more weather dependent. At the Bridges, when it's good it's mint. I'm talking 40+ Sabine's, Long-tailed Skuas cutting the corner and scooting over your head, Wilson's Storm-petrels in the cove below you. That sort of shit you don't get in Cornwall. Never.

The weather looks ok for this year, well tomorrow at least. And then current Magic Seaweed predications show a nice high settling in the eastern Atlantic so it'll predictably go quiet. And when it goes quiet, there are always a few spots to check for waders etc. Last year, with Josh Jones and Marc Read, we were lucky to see a single presumed Feas Petrel before heading down to Kerry for a grotty American Herring Gull and then up to Mayo to see the Snowy Owl, Black Duck and we managed to find an unseasonal Ring-necked Duck on Achill Island too. Along the Clare coast, over the years, pleasant distractions have included regular Ring-billed, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls as well as Long-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper and finding White-rumped Sandpiper. So all in all, it's always a decent and relaxing trip with good company.
Snowy Owl and pellet, County Mayo August 2010

American Herring Gull, Blennerville, Kerry August 2010

Glaucous Gull, Kilrush, Clare August 2010

Ring-necked Duck looking grubby on Achill Island, Mayo August 2010
Times have also changed. Back in the day, Franko and I used to sleep in a barn that was kindly (unwittingly) laid with fresh hay by the farmer. However, the last couple of years have seen the roof corrode a bit and this free accommodation is no longer. Last year was the tent, but now having turned 30 I'm reluctantly splashing out on the (comparative) luxury of The Lighthouse Inn in Kilbaha. Admittedly this is where most other birders have based themselves each year, so it's not a palace by any means.
Ring-billed Gull Spanish Point, Clare August 2009

Iceland Gull Liscannor, Clare August 2008

Mediterranean Gull Limerick August 2008

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Early autumn migration on The Thames

I awoke to a nice bit of drizzle early this morning. I'd checked Rotherhithe yesterday, with the only real bird of note being a smart juvenile Yellow-legged Gull. Nothing to write home about when a few miles further east there'd been Razorbill and Guillemot amongst other goodies. So I decided to head out to Cross Ness, arriving just shy of 8am.

The drizzle had slightly abated, but almost as soon as I'd got out of my car and onto The Thames Path by Thamesmead golf centre, I heard the squawking of Sandwich Terns - 4 of them, all heading upriver and past the outfall. Nice start! 10 minutes later a group of 5 juveniles Black Terns came through too, in amongst a rain shower as you'd expect with this species. Then, to my surprise, a short while later a Goldeneye flew in and landed in amongst a small group of Teal; knowing that this wasn't exactly usual for the site I texted John Archer, and he was able to alert Ian Millar and Steve Carter who arrived and got some decent views before the bird flew off west in the direction of Barking Bay.
juvenile Black Tern - nice blodge on the foreflanks

Dark leading edge to the upperwing and obvious dark secondaries on underwing

concolourous rump and tail

quite advanced moult of mantle feathers
A showy juvenile Black Tern - easily the most confiding one I've ever seen at Cross Ness - gave me something to photograph despite the gloomy light. There was also a lone Little Egret, a couple of Common Sandpipers and during the course of the morning, I saw 5 Yellow-legged Gulls (3 adults and 2 juveniles). A quick walk to the paddocks produced a fresh juvenile Wheatear and 100s of Goldfinch. A nice morning's work!
Goldeneye - heading off towards Barking Bay

Cross Ness Seal - increasingly regular in The Thames

Monday, 22 August 2011

Sorry, but surfing is cooler than birding...

Quite a good looking bird, Pink-necked Green Pigeon. Yeah, exotic and I only put the photo onto Birdguides this afternoon and I've already had a couple of thumbs ups. Wow! That means people think it's good. People think the bird is cool and my photograph rocks. I'm on a crest of a wave. Admiration from fellow birders. Nice people saying that the fruits of my labour have been appreciated. Well, that's what a lot of people seem to want when they post their photos all over the web.
Pink-necked Green Pigeon - a cool photo of a cool bird?
While I've been away in Indonesia, the biggest annual birding event has taken place in a smeggy, stinky set of marquees in the middle of England. All birders and their sidekicks get dressed up for the day - in their khaki uniforms, wanting to blend in with nature and show off their latest Rohan or Country Innovation attire. When, essentially, there are no birds around there and all you need is your credit card and an unbelievable tolerance for sales bullsh*t. You could go there wearing those stupid Bermuda shorts that Timmy Mallet used to wear, and you'd still see just as many bloody birds. Not cool. The whole event really is unfortunately, let's be honest, not cool. Our tribe sucks.
Last week though, I visited Padang Padang beach on Bali's southern peninsula of Ulu Watu. Just the names sound cool don't they? Better than Rutland Water or Egleton anyway. These guys are really cool - and people who say they're not jealous of their tanned bodies, 'coolness' and pulling power are just bullsh*tting themselves. Surfing really is cooler than birding. What I admire is their sole purpose in life; they literally live to surf. They've shunned everyday conventions and live their dream.

I wanted to butt into their conversation and tell them that I use Magic Seaweed too. Tell them how cool birding is. But then, sensibly, I thought it best to keep my mouth shut. Birding really isn't, and never will be, cool!
Ask the macaque - is surfing cooler than birding? He thinks so.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Bedugal and back to the beach

Dawn over Lake Bratan looking from Bedugal
Today was a long day. Up at 4.30am and headed inland for an hour and a half to arrive at Bedugal Botanic Gardens just before sunrise. Lovely temperature, and the first time since Java that I've had to wear a 2nd layer on top of my t-shirt. A nice sunrise, with a view over Lake Bratan and the distant volcanic peak though the action started quickly.
Indonesian Honeyeater
Not 100% familiar with all the Asian sounds, I know a Barbet when I hear one - and though it took a bit of time to see, I did manage to get good views of a Flame-fronted Barbet early doors. Then there was some more quality, in the form of a Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher that was just warming itself up in the morning gloom. A Little Pied Flycatcher was nearby while Short-tailed Starlings and Javan Grey-throated White-eyes were both fairly numerous. The Botanic Gardens were a beautiful place to walk around, and I pretty much had the whole place to myself from 6am until 8am, when a few workers etc started to arrive.

Dark-backed Imperial Pigeons were impressive, both in terms of their size and bellowing call. However, once I'd settled into the site and had my fill of the 'common' species at this altitude (Mountain Leaf Warblers and Blood-breasted Flowerpeckers were both easy here, despite not having seen them anywhere else), it was time to get grafting and go for a couple of specialities. The first one, Sunda Warbler, was found in some low scrub adjacent to a dried riverbed, busily feeding away and showing off its white eye ring on rather chestnut head. However, as I kind of thought before I set out, the last one would be a real struggle... Sunda Thrush. Typically a skulking Zoothera, I'd fortunately been given a fairly specific site within the gardens to search and, after some time of hearing leaf litter being flicked about, one revealed itself on the forest floor before bombing off never to be seen again! Excellent stuff.
Javan Pond Heron - a roadside bird in Bali
It was now 9.30am and activity was dying down a bit, so I travelled the short distance to the shores of Lake Bratan for a quick look. As usual with the type of habitat, loads of Javan Pond Herons flopping about as well as more unusually a nice Yellow Bittern that flushed from a small lakeside rice paddy.
Yellow Bittern
I took in a quick stop at Bedugal market on the way back. The fresh fruit and vegetables out here put the stuff we eat in the supermarkets back in the UK to shame. And predictably, it's a damn site cheaper too.

Back on the beach in Sanur for the afternoon, the first couple of birds that I saw were Lesser Frigatebirds; I knew that others had seen them here from trip reports, but these were the first of my trip so always nice to see. After having the usual Mie Goreng I walked to the southern extremity of the beach and found a stinking mangrove channel where, alongside the rabid dogs, I managed to find a Barred Buttonquail on the deck as well as a couple of Javan Plovers in the channel just as the tide was going out.
Lesser Frigatebird - note the white belly patch extending onto axillaries

Barred Buttonquail on the beach at Sanur

Friday, 19 August 2011

South Bali

I had a really enjoyable day yesterday, birding along South Bali as well as taking in some tourist stuff. I think Karen quickly rumbled that there was an ulterior motive as to why I was really enthusiastic about visiting the sea temple at Ulu Watu. And, within 10 minutes of admiring the clifftop view, there was a cracking White-tailed Tropicbird in view. In the end this majestic bird flew to eye level - much better views that I'd anticipated of a quality bird. Two birds were present and it was interesting to note an obvious golden wash to the mantle and uppertail of one of the birds in particular.
White-tailed Tropicbird

Padang Padang beach at Ulu Watu

No trip is complete though without the obligatory trip to a sewage works, and this wasn't an exception. However, believe it or not, Nusa Dua sewage works were probably the cleanest and least offensively smelling I'd been to. There were a fair few birds around too - many of which I'd not seen previously on my Balinese trip - with Wandering Whistling Duck, Little Pied and Little Cormorants, Blue-tailed Bee-eater and quite a lot of Sunda Teal the main draws. Herons floated about too, with Purple, Black-crowned Night and Striated along with loads of Great. Little and Cattle Egrets.
Little Pied and Little Cormorants sizing each other up
The final stop of the day was just across the causeway on Pulau Serangan. Hery, the senior ranger at Bali Barat, had guaranteed that if I visited this site then I'd see Great-billed Heron. He wasn't wrong, although they played hard ball with me - or much more than I'd envisaged. They were pretty skittish, though the turning tide may not have helped things. Nevertheless this site was packed full of quality birds with loads of Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Red-necked Stints, Terek Sandpipers roosting up while large numbers of both Little and Crested Terns were around. I also managed to flush up a roosting Savannah Nightjar in broad daylight. So all in all, another really enjoyable day.

Crested Tern

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Bali Barat National Park

Aside from the Bali Starling, the northwest of Bali was a really enjoyable place to be. It was packed full of decent birds - with Javan Banded Pitta commonly calling in riverside forest for example. However, just for the wow factor and the colours you never see on a bird in the UK/WP, Rufous-backed Kingfisher stole the show for me in this habitat. And that's saying something as any bird finds it hard to top a Pitta!
Rufous-backed Kingfisher

Bumbrun, again within the confines of the national park, was stacked full of birds. From the start, a roosting Savannah Nightjar posed well in the early morning light and then, while looking for the endangered Black-winged Starling (which I managed to see), there were quite a few Java Sparrows buzzing around - this species is a common site unfortunately in captivity, and Bali is apparently the stronghold for this species compared to Java these days. Though the birds breed in dry scrub/monsoon forest, when they're not breeding they head to the rice fields where they can easily be mist netted.
Savannah Nightjar

Java Sparrow

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters were actually quite common, and one posed really well while I was looking out into Gilimanuk Bay - nice to see some Beach Thick-knees again (three of them) as they were one of my favourite species when I was in Oz. Also visited some a site for Green Junglefowl and ended the day at Banyuwedang where I got some cracking views of Javan Plover as well as a couple of flighty Sunda Teal. Apparently this site will be long gone in the future - plans to build an airport in this unspoilt part of the island will open it up for more mass tourism...
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

Green Junglefowl - looks good enough to eat?

Javan Plover

The only species I was keen to see that I didn't in northwest was Great-billed Heron. The tide was in at Bumbrun, where there's meant to be one that favours the mangroves. Then I drew a blank at Gilimanuk. Having dipped this species on the Daintree River in Queensland in 2003, hopefully I may finally put this species to rest tomorrow at Serangan... we'll see!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

In search of Bali Starling

A couple of months ago, when planning the Bali stretch of this trip, there is only really one bird that you can say is synonymous with the island - Bali Starling, Rothschild's Myna or whatever you want to call that species that is so near extinction it's criminal that it has got to this stage. Bali is a big island, or at least it feels like it is, with the rather slow road network. These days, the Bali Starling is restricted to the extreme northwest of the island in the Bali Barat National Park. It's a 4 hour drive from the popular south and southeast coast that's frequented by tourists.

The 'real' Bali seems to still exist in this lovely corner of the world and, prior to my trip, I'd made contact with Hery Kusumanegara who is the senior ranger at Bali Barat National Park. A genuinely lovely guy, and with what seems extremely limited resources, tirelessly observes and tracks down the last few remaining Bali Starlings (unfortunately it seems as though it's down to 5 genuinely wild birds left now, at 3 locations within the national park). We got a boat from the jetty at Labuhan Lalang and headed the few km to Bumbrun, the site where Bali Starlings are reintroduced into the wild and where a couple of wild birds (told by their lack of rings) still exist.

one of four reintroduced Bali Starlings seen 'in the wild' on Bumbrun
There were four reintroduced birds – all ringed – showing rather well and typically vocal that were hanging around ‘in the wild’ around the release centre. However, there was no sign of the 1-2 wild, unringed Bali Starlings that still persist in the area. A real shame to have come all this way, to not see a genuinely wild Bali Starling. However, the habitat at Bumbrun is relatively dense coastal dry forest. I’d not known of anyone seeing this species away from this site in recent years either.

However, Hery suggested that we bust a move and head back to Labuhan Lalang as he thought we may have a better chance at another site. Just on the outskirts of Gilimanuk, in some pretty marginal habitat where cows were grazing, Hery had discovered a single Bali Starling some 5 months ago. Perhaps it’s a straggler from the nearby monsoon forest? Ever since, one of his volunteers has been helping out and making sure that this bird doesn’t become victim to another bird trapper. For obvious reasons, they try to keep a low profile with local residents while doing their duty.

Bali Starling habitat near Gilimanuk

Anyway, we got to the site and ditched our motorbike. We took a stroll in the midday sun but there was no sign. Hery’s mate arrived and we had a good look around – plenty of usual suspects such as White-shouldered Trillers, Collared Kingfishers and the like. But then, suddenly, appeared a white blob perched in a distant tree. Bins up, and there is was – a truly wild Bali Starling. Brilliant for me to see, but a bit of a double-edged sword; this lone individual being alone, without a mate, and one of only a handful of this species left that is presumably, within my lifetime, destined for extinction. Compared to the reintroduced birds on Bumbrun, this was a truly wild, skittish bird...
the real deal - one of only a handful of wild Bali Starlings left

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Indonesia - the first few days

Quite a lot has gone on since the last post from Hong Kong. Flying into Surabaya a few days ago, the first thing to do was admire the active volcano that is Mount Bromo. It was excellent, with a decent sunrise, lovely secenery and some pretty sulphurous fumes... but given that a 2km exclusion zone was lifted only a few weeks ago (due to a recent eruption earlier this year), the ash made the area pretty birdless. Apart from a few swiftlets to give me a headache (probably Glossy Swiftlets)!
The journey from Surabaya was filled full of roadside egrets and Javan Pond Herons, though the highlight was a nice Javan Kingfisher - good to see it first on the island after it was named. A few other bits and bobs, with the obligatory Yellow-vented Bulbuls replaced at high altitude (around Bromo) by an Indonesian endemic, Orange-spotted Bulbul.

Scaly-breasted Munia
After just a couple of days on Java, which really didn't do the place justice, it was time to fly on to Denpasar on Bali where I'll be for a while now. After a slow start on the first day (having ditched down for the night in Ubud), I've now been in the northwest of the island for the last 2 days. Too much to write about just now, but privileged to have seen one of the few remaining wild Bali Starling (that was not from the reintroduction scheme) as well as Black-winged Starling, Javan Banded Pitta, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Javan Plover, Sunda Teal and a whole lot more.
That darn leaf... Javan Banded Pitta