Sunday, 1 August 2010

Syderstone & Sculthorpe, July 2010 - Norfolk (UK)

Chaffinch (female) at Sculthorpe Moors
A few days in Norfolk is always rewarding as far as birding goes, whether one visits one of the many excellent reserves or not. My visit was no different and actually got some more "common" European & British birds onto my list that have been conspicuous in their absence. During the visit I stayed in the village of Syderstone which has some great 'walks' around the village and is also has about 10-15 reserves in a 10 mile radius.

The garden in Syderstone produced my 1st lifer with a Song Thrush stuffing itself with cherries, in competition with 2-3 Blackbirds though. A juvenile European Robin was great to see which I'd not seen before, only adults up till then. Swifts were plentiful and at least 5 of them I suspect were nesting nearby as they came through low in the mornings and evenings with their distinctive screams. Other birds seen in the garden; Chaffinch, Gold and Greenfinches, Magpie, Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove. Individuals of House Martin and Barn Swallow showed up once as well.

Song Thrush in cherry tree

The fields behind the church in the village turned out to be great for Skylarks, as pointed out before they appeared, by a friendly resident. I managed to get a recording of the display call and even a reasonable record shot of it in flight. Whilst watching this, a Grey Partridge appeared in the path ahead of me - another lifer! A road out the other side of the village produced brief views of a Wren.

The visit to Sculthorpe Moors Nature Reserve was even more rewarding and even though a small reserve, I think it has great potential when visited a few times. My walk here started on a high note with the amazing Golden Pheasant, a brief but good view. Great Tits were at the feeding station and Chiffchaffs were calling all over. A quick and partial photo I got was later confirmed as Dunnock. Walking further along the boardwalks, another friendly birder pointed that they had seen a Tawny Owl and gave directions - I found it, pretty well hidden but unmistakable; a lifer and making up for missing it in London.

Dunnock at Sculthorpe Moors

In one area a Blackcap was singing constantly and eventually it showed itself but not long enough at a time to get a photo. A Water Vole had been seen in the channel nearby but I never got a view of it. A lovely bit of "air-play" commenced with a Sparrowhawk dive bombing an Eurasian Marsh Harrier giving all great views of both. The Marsh Harriers had chicks in a nest nearby which could be viewed on the site webcam. Huge numbers of Starlings seemed to congregating on the adjacent field where a lone Common Pheasant was foraging.

We went for lunch the last day at Sculthorpe Mill, lovely view and good fare as usual. Here I managed ok-ish shots of Grey Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher (photo left; something else I missed at Sculthorpe Moors). A Wood Pigeon was busy with nesting material nearby and a tiny chick of a Common Moorhen was spotted at one stage. The other notable was a Water Vole leisurely swimming along making up for yet another dip from Sculthorpe Moors.


London Wetland Centre - June 2010 (UK)

One of the views from the Peacock Hide
On 22 June I did a half-day visit to London Wetland Centre and got in just after they opened at around 09:30am. There was a lot of breeding activity going on with Coots, Common Moorhen and Tufted Ducks with chicks. Other immatures recorded were those of Blue Tits and Lapwings. Unfortunately I didn't come across many waders; Starlings were around in huge numbers and I counted at least 10-12 Grey Herons. Below are some photos from the visits and some notes on them.

Some of the other species listed were Black-headed and Common Gulls, Great Tit, Great Crested Grebe, Chaffinch, Little Ringed Plover, Common Tern and Sand Martins. I did however miss out apparently on a Tawny Owl outside the Wetland Centre that was in one of the big trees along the road.

Eurasian Coot

Common Tern hovering

Tufted Duck (male)

European Robin

Common Moorhen

Grey Heron

Bernese Oberland June/July 2010 (Switzerland)

Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald
During the latter part of June and early July, we did a walking trip in Switzerland. The weather was on our side and even a little too hot at times but the scenery certainly made up for that. During the walks I managed to cast my eye in the direction of a few birds and/or find a few in the villages where we stayed. I didn't come home with a massive list but managed to get a few good species for my list like Lammergeier over Mannlichen and Alpine Accentor on the Bachalpsee trail. The rest of this trip's photos can be viewed in my Flickr "Switzerland" album.

Eurasian Swift

The walk from Wilderswil to Murren probably chalked up the most birds with Kestrel, Swifts (many everywhere), Blue Tits, Chaffinch, Common Redstart, Common Buzzard, Red Kite and Willow Tit up to the half-way mark. From there I added Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel and Nutcracker - 3 lifers in a row! The area around the Hotel Alpenruh produced quite a few birds as well with Bullfinch, Greenfich, Goldfinch, Alpine Chough (also at Schilthorn and Kleine Scheidegg), Coal Tit, Sisken and White Wagtail. On our visit to Schilthorn we saw Chamois (antelope) from the gondola/cable-car.

Alpine Chough

On the walk from Wengen to Grindelwald via Wengernalp and Alpiglen, I added Tawny Pipit and an adult male Fieldfare with great sightings of the dark morph Red Squirrel which was way too quick for photos. Grindelwald and our walks there produced more notables like Green (2 adults & 2 immatures) and Medium Spotted Woodpeckers, Common Cuckoo (which we heard along some of the walks to Grindelwald too). The walk from First via Bachalpsee to Faulhorn was great with White-winged Snowfinches, Fieldfare and Alpine Accentor with Alpine Marmots and a very large and furry Red Fox adding to the mammal list.

Bachalpsee (between First & Faulhorn)

White-winged Snowfinch (juvenile)

Interlaken on the last day was a surprise with Great Crested Grebe, Common Moorhen, Tufted Duck and Goosander, I'd not been expecting to be anywhere for waterfowl and managed a couple of good shots here.
Great Crested Grebe


Mubwindi Swamp, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda)

View of Mubwindi Swamp
Byron and I met up with a ranger at the Ruhija UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) office who happened to also be the guy who took some birders the day before to see the African Green Broadbill. This was going to be a "go go go" trek so we didn't hang around and set off. The trek starts with a short section along the main road before cutting into the forest from where a couple of ascents and descents test the old legs a bit. At one stage we came across some very fresh mountain gorilla faeces and tracks - the ranger radioed in to the UWA office to report that the gorillas had passed a few minutes. Just after this we reached a look-out point where we could Mubwindi Swamp below us in the distance - we still had to drop around 600m to get to the Swamp level.

Black & White Colobus monkey
With not much time to hang around for 'other' birdwatching unfortunately, we hammered on and commenced a very steep descent where the ranger also pointed out where an elephant had slipped its way down a few days before. 09:05am we reached the site where the broadbill had been seen the day before and we went into high alert mode for an appearance. While we were waiting, we took some time to see what other birds were around; Bar-tailed Trogon, African Paradise Flycatcher (2 adults at a nest), Tambourine Dove and Northern Puffback were there whilst Grauer's Warbler and Black-billed Turaco were calling.

African Green (Grauer's) Broadbill
09:30 on the dot, the ranger pointed excitedly as an African Green Broadbill arrived at the nest. What a stunning little bird! Another adult soon arrived as well and the 2 of them continued collecting lichen and working on their nest. As if this wasn't enough, 2 juveniles/immatures also arrived and were flitting about - it wasn't clear if this was a recent 'batch' from the same parents but didn't seem unlikely as the adults didn't chase them away.

We had to set off back again, so after 20minutes of watching these little jewels started on the return trail which is a different route to the descent route and not as steep. Half-hour into the walk and there seemed to be an opportunity to get Byron his bogey bird, the Black-billed Turaco - and didn't he get it. There were eventually 4 birds around us and all calling and providing great views including a couple of flight views which showed their amazing red underwings. Some White-headed Wood-hoopoes popped out just after this as well. A Black-fronted Duiker (photo below) was foraging on the trail ahead of us giving me a brief opportunity to get a photo.

Once we got back to the road, Byron got another of his wishes - great views of Black & White Colobus monkeys in addition to some Sykes (Blue) Monkeys in the immediate vicinity. This was a brilliant ending to a fantastic morning and overall, excellent trip.


Birding in Ruhija, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda)

Sharpe's Starling

We arrived at what is known between birders as the "School Trail" which goes through a patch of forest along a wide path to the edge of the forest. This trail also leads to one of the local schools and used by school children and the community, hence the name. Walking down the trail, one overlooks some canopy on the left whilst looking up on the right into forest. Not overly dense and also with some vegetation on the trail level, the altitude here of c. 2600m makes it ideal for Albertine Rift Endemics that don't occur at the lower altitudes of Buhoma.

We met Ugandan birding guide Emmanuel and his client there (whom I'd been birding with in Minziro Forest, Tanzania) who were staying at Trekker's Tavern nearby. The specials and endemics came rapidly (with a host of "normal" ones as well of course) with Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Mountain Masked Apalis, Grauer's Warbler, Ashy Flycatcher, Stripe-breasted Tit, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Luhder's Bush-shrike, Montane Oriole, Northern Puffback, Sharpe's Starling, Strange Weaver (2 adults and a juvenile), Yellow-streaked Greenbul (nesting) and African Paradise Flycatcher (also nesting - photo above). A Carruther's Mountain Squirrel (photo below) was the only mammal during the birding.

Chatting to Emmanuel and his client, we learnt that they'd seen the African Green Broadbill down at Mubwindi Swamps the previous day. Byron and I debated our timeframe for getting back to Rwanda and decided that we'll stay one night at Trekker's Tavern and see if can get a chance to see the broadbill. Worst case scenario would be some early morning birding at the School Trail (as if that's a bad thing). (photo left: Yellow-whiskered Greenbul)

The afternoon, most of the birders at Trekker Tavern set off to the School Trail including Herbert Byurahanga and his group. Byron and I did a brief sortie down the main road first where we got great views of 4 Crowned Hornbills and some Black & White Colobus monkeys. Back at the School Trail things were hotting up with species coming out in rapid mode again; White-starred Robin, Grauer's Warbler, Ruwenzori Apalis, Regal Sunbird, Chinspot Batis, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird, Strange and Baglafecht Weavers, Mountain Illadopsis, Black Cuckoo and a Stripe-breasted Tit (a ringed adult - part of a research project on their nesting).

Willcock's Honeyguide made a spectacular appearance slightly downhill from us but great views with Sykes (Blue) Monkeys in the distance. Ruwenzori Batis was obliging followed by White-browed Crombec, Hill Babbler, Northern Puffback and Mountain Masked Apalis. Luhder's Bush-shrike (photo at right) appeared again with a Dusky Turtle Dove flying over as a finale.

Happy chappies and all, we returned to the lodge for a celebratory drink, hot shower and some good food. Chatting with everyone here, also Saul (Ugandan birding guide we'd met in Buhoma a couple of days earlier) with his clients who had seen the broadbill at a confirmed nesting area the day before, said that we could do the trek on a "quick in & out" which would be about 2.5 hours. We were going to "risk' it and see what happens.

African Stonechat at Trekker's Tavern