Thursday, October 08, 2020

Red-eyed Vireo, Kenidjack Valley, Cornwall

A short clip of Red-eyed Vireo. A first for me anywhere on planet earth. I was incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time. A bird I've waited 30 years to see in West Cornwall after spending nearly every autumn here.

Weirdly, as I walked into the valley I had this species on my mind, little knowing I was about to find out one was just a 20 minute walk away near the bottom of the valley. Then after searching for some time, I managed to be standing a few meters away from the person who relocated it. Many spent all day there without seeing it as it spent most of its time in the cover of a large garden.

There are about 150 records of Red-eyed Vireo (about 2 a year) in Britain, almost all in the western extremities of these islands - unsurprising for a species which breeds across North American and winters in South America.



Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Firecrest, Cot Valley, Cornwall

Been in West Penwith for nearly two weeks now and after some very good seawatches early on the persistent heavy NW winds have kept the birding fairly mundane (while the east coast and Scotland in particiular have been having a bumper autumn). I've been checking out the Cot Valley most days and turned up a fair few Firecrests (and the odd Yellow-browed Warbler). Today there were perhaps as many as five with some clearly arriving during the morning along with a few Chiffchaffs as Siskins and Meadow Pipits passed over. This was a particularly showy individual right at the top of the valley.


 

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Otmoor RSPB Reserve

After three months without transport in the UK (a lot of it in isolation) it was absolutely wonderful to spend a day in good habitat at this excellent reserve near Oxford. Unfortunately due to continuing restrictions the narrow path to the main wetlands (with the promise of Bittern among other birds) was closed but the surrounding wet fields and habitats were rich enough with wildlife and the weather warmed up greatly in the afternoon leading to a good array of insect life on show.

Birding was good, despite the target species of Cuckoo and Turtle Dove not performing. Curlew, Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier and Hobby were among the best.
Redshank Tringa totanus and Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Dragonflies were particularly good and with less wind I'm sure more species would be possible. The Grass Snake was basking on top of bankside vegetation after a shower.

Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa

Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum

Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea

Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella

Grass Snake Natrix natrix

Parhelophilus Hoverfly

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta

Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus

Yellow Shell Camptogramma bilineata


Tree Wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris

Monday, June 15, 2020

Hornet Moth

Day 88 of our exile in Banbury and another success. Earlier during the 'situation' I'd noticed old exit holes at the base of several mature poplars in Bankside Park near where we're holed up and made a note to return and check the first sunny morning in the second half of June. First try this morning and bingo! Four in total, two in cop, on two of the eight trees in the park. First time I've seen these in 14 years.



Hornet Moth Sesia apiformis

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly

86 days marooned in Banbury, where the wildlife has been surprisingly entertaining. Nightly visits from up to 2 Badgers and regular Peregrines over. Even single passage Whinchat and Wheatear earlier in the spring.

However it's taken until today to find a lifer. A Red Data Book species with a scattered distribution across southern England and a westerly bias, it's perhaps not surprising I'd not previously encountered Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura pumilo). But since being here and getting to know the area I've had my eye on a stormwater pond at a new development near Longford Park. The species is known for colonising successional habitats so I thought it might be a good bet.

They outnumbered most other odonata there, except perhaps Azure Damselfly (my first of the year). Although known from Oxfordshire it may not have been recorded around here before according to the BDS website but will be contacting the local recorder.

Easiest feature to spot is the limited black at the very tip of the abdomen. Photos of Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) included for comparison.

Other species present in smaller numbers were Large Red Damselfly, Black-tailed Skimmer and Emperor Dragonfly.
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura pumilio)

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura pumilio)

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) for comparison 


Friday, February 08, 2019

Langkawi

Malaysia. We'd arrived the previous day by train to the provincial city of Alor Setar. There's very little I can say about our one night here other than I did see my first Jungle Myna and it has a large distinctive tower. Malaysia proved a bit of a culture shock being much more developed and westernised than Thailand. At the border we got off an old third class Thai train with open windows onto a air conditioned rapid transit type train on the Malay side.

We were bound for the large, rather independent island of Langkawi. The ferry port was a short taxi ride away and the crossing about an hour and a half. Another taxi took about an hour to get across to our chosen accommodation in a quiet location in the west of the island near Kampung Bukit Lembu.


Our stay at The Box Chalet was wonderful. The relatively cool garden environment and proximity to some pretty sumptuous and accessible jungle suited us so well we just kept extending our stay. They also lent us bicycles for free, which was handy as the nearest shops, etc. were too far to walk. We had to move once to a place on the coast as it was fully booked but just came back again for more.

Met lots of other travellers here and one couple who nearly had us heading off to Sumatra due to incredible tales of their time with a tribe way off the tourist map. Maybe for another trip.
Most of the birding here was during morning walks or cycles up a mountain road into forest with secondary growth, older sections and some abandoned rubber plantations. We also took rides across the rice paddies to nearby villages.

Banded Kingfisher Lacedo pulchella
Highlights included a stunning Banded Kingfisher glimpsed by chance deep in a section of overgrown old rubber plantation sitting perfectly still allowing a decent photo. Every evening Large-tailed Nightjars would display next to the place and come to feed on moths attracted to the lights along the road. Spectacled Langurs were around but never came very close.

Returning across the rice fields one evening I picked out a few crakes in the reedy ditches including a Ruddy-breasted Crake and my first Slaty-breasted Rail. However it was the Black Giant Squirrels that stole the show with a couple showing particularly well feeding on the abundant kapok pods in a small village.

White-bellied Sea-eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
Long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis
Our couple of nights by the coast at Kuala Periang were also good and provided a chance to get to see some coastal wildlife. An estimated 400 Pacific Golden Plovers using the extensive mudflats was spectacular and a Black Giant Squirrel joined the Long-tailed Macaques in the tree by the guesthouse.



While there we visited the nearby Seven Wells waterfall complex and liked it so much went back again the second day. Perhaps that was something to do with the magnificent sight of a pair of Great Hornbills flying over and a fair selection of other good birds.


The birding on the island was excellent but did throw up a few challenges. A raptor over the top of the cable car route seen from Seven Wells looked very like a Black Eagle (a very scarce species on the island). It was too distant to photograph and despite extended distant views I failed to note it soaring on raised wings so it remained unconfirmed.

I saw several snipe around the rice fields. With three extremely similar species wintering in the area (Common, Swinhoe's and Pin-tailed) these were largely left unidentified but one flushed close to a road was different. After crouching for a short while, it flew off strongly and gave a soft 'queesht' call, very different to Common Snipe. I'm not that familiar with the calls of Swinhoe's (although saw a displaying bird in Finland some years ago) but they tend to rise weakly (like Jack Snipe?) and are normally silent, plus maybe rather scarce here. I considered this most likely to be Pin-tailed Snipe but a local recorder who assessed the eBird record reckoned they were not separable on call and behaviour so remains unidentified.
Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater Merops leschenaulti

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha Phaenicophaeus curvirostris

Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus

Laced Woodpecker Picus vittatus

Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus brunneus

Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo Surniculus lugubris

Thick-billed Green-pigeon Treron curvirostra

Blue Marsh Hawk Orthetrum glaucum
Skink sp.

Many-lined Sun Skink Eutropis multifasciata

Asian Common Toad Duttaphrynus melanostictus


Black Giant Squirrel Ratufa bicolor
Blue Pansy Junonia orithya

True Bug (prob Coreidae)

Mudskipper Oxudercidae and Fiddler Crab Ocypodidae


I'll split the systematic lists into four areas. The first covers the Box Chalet accommodation and forest road heading up into the hills behind. The second the rice fields between there and Kampung Kedawang to the SW. The third covers the coastal area at Kuala Periang and the fourth the Seven Wells area. A total of 79 species seen during our week stay.

Box Chalet area
Spotted Dove
Asian Emerald Dove
Thick-billed Green-Pigeon
Greater Coucal
* Chestnut-breasted Malkoha
Asian Koel
Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo
* Large-tailed Nightjar (several displaying every evening close to Box Chalet)
Germain's Swiftlet
Crested Honey-buzzard
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
* Oriental Pied-Hornbill (2 regular around the Box Chalet and nearby forest)
* Banded Kingfisher (1 in old rubber plantation)
White-throated Kingfisher
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Dollarbird
* Laced Woodpecker (male and female seen along the forest road)
Ashy Minivet
Black-naped Oriole
Common Iora
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Black-naped Monarch
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Barn Swallow
Pacific Swallow
Rufous-bellied Swallow
Yellow-vented Bulbul
* Red-eyed Bulbul
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
Common Hill Myna
Common Myna
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Brown-throated Sunbird
Van Hasselt's Sunbird
Olive-backed Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Baya Weaver
Scaly-breasted Munia
Forest Wagtail

Rice Fields
Spotted Dove
Greater Coucal
Asian Koel
Germain's Swiftlet
* Slaty-breasted Rail
White-breasted Waterhen
Ruddy-breasted Crake
Red-wattled Lapwing
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe's Snipe
Wood Sandpiper
Yellow Bittern
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
Common Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Dollarbird
Black-naped Oriole
Common Iora
Brown Shrike
House Crow
Barn Swallow
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Common Myna
Brown-throated Sunbird
Baya Weaver
Scaly-breasted Munia
* White-headed Munia
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Seaside Guesthouse
Rock Dove
Asian Koel
Pacific Golden Plover
Common Sandpiper
Grey Heron
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Pacific Reef-Heron
Chinese Pond Heron
Striated Heron
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
White-throated Kingfisher
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Barn Swallow
Pacific Swallow
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Asian Glossy Starling
Common Myna
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Grey Wagtail

Seven Wells
Asian Palm-Swift
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Crested Goshawk
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
* Great Hornbill (a pair seen flying over mid-late morning on both visits)
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
Dollarbird
Peregrine Falcon
White-bellied Erpornis
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Black-naped Monarch
Pacific Swallow
Eastern Crowned Warbler
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Van Hasselt's Sunbird
Grey Wagtail


Thursday, January 31, 2019

Phatthalung and Khao Ok Thaw

After three days at Pak Meng Beach it was time to continue our journey south towards Malaysia. The regular tourist route from here to Langkawi would be via the islands; several hours on speedboats via the tiny border post of Ko Lipe. A much cheaper option though was to take our old favourite, the train, across the land border and make the crossing to Langkawi from the mainland. The railway south takes a more easterly route so we first had to cross the peninsular by the dreaded minivan via the regional centre, Trang, to Phatthalung province.

Two cramped van journeys awaited us so we allowed all day, booking an overnight stay on the east side of Phatthalung town. A good decision as it turned out. The journey to Trang bus station was straightforward enough but when we got to Phatthalung bus station we hit a snag.

Bus stations in SE Asia are almost always out of town on a major highway somewhere. Some towns even have more than one making it necessary to take a tuktuk or similar even if only changing buses. This is not a problem as there are always fleets of tuktuks and songthaews touting for your trade (at elevated rates as you generally have little choice). In this case however there were none. Something we've never seen before or since. All the locals on the van hopped onto scooters or got lifts. We were left asking around for options.

Phatthalung is not on the regular tourist routes so not of a lot of english was spoken but this is Thailand and everyone was extremely helpful. Phone calls were made in an attempt to find transport but in the end our only real option was two motorbike taxis. Now we don't have loads of stuff but we don't travel really light either, so each bike ended up with one of us riding pillion wearing a rucksack and a case wedged precariously wherever they could find. No helmets of course!

The journey started off ok on fairly quiet roads but this soon changed as we hit the highway and then dived into the town traffic. It was with a sense of relief, a silent prayer to an unknown entity and a vow never to let that happen again that we arrived at the Mountain View Guesthouse. And what a mountain view!


Khao Ok Thaw is typical of the heavily vegetated karst outcrops common across much of the region and our place nestled right at the base. Being right on the edge of town it is festooned with cave shrines, temples and a monastery. For us it proved a wonderful base for exploring the wildlife and was close enough to town to sample some of the day to day way of life away from the tourist traps.


Although this is mainly a wildlife blog I think a few words about Phatthalung town wouldn't be out of place. Most of our travels have inevitably been on fairly well-worn backpacker routes but this was well off the beaten track. We didn't see another westerner during our stay. Every evening a night market popped up next to the railway station and we would wander down to get something to eat. Fair to say we were something of a novelty with many people wanting to practice their English and ask where we were from. We met some fascinating people and the food was utterly brilliant.

Hooded (Chestnut-crowned) Pitta Pitta sordida cucullata
So on to the wildlife. Although a fairly small oasis of steep jungle among the urban and agricultural surroundings the mountain held a good selection of birdlife and other animals. Best had to be the Hooded Pitta (of the chestnut-crowned northern race) I found skulking away along one of the lower concrete paths leading up to the temples, etc. The only photo is, ah, pittaful but at least shows the colours. I didn't get any photos of the Orange-headed Thrush I found deep in very dark cover a little further up.

Emma Gray's Forest Lizard Calotes emma
Among the abundant non-avian fauna here was this rather splendid Emma Gray's Forest Lizard (Calotes emma), one of two lizards named after Maria Emma Gary (the other being Calotes maria). She was an English naturalist studying molluscs and algae and was also an accomplished illustrator.

Sadly our Thai visa was due to expire very soon so we had to leave after a couple of nights. I would have loved to stay longer. The train to Hat Yai from here cost less than £1 for both of us and from there it was on to Malaysia



Asian Common Toad Duttaphrynus melanostictus

Banded Bullfrog Kaloula pulchra

Chalky Percher Diplacodes trivialis

Slender Skimmer Orthetrum sabina

Malay Cruiser Vindula dejone

Mantis

Millipede Orthomorpha sp

Red-spot Marquis Euthalia monilis

Yellow-striped Flutterer Rhyothemis phyllis
Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus
Full bird list, including those seen in and around the town (* = lifers)

Red Collared Dove
Spotted Dove
Zebra Dove
Greater Coucal
malkoha sp.
Asian Koel
* Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo 1
Germain's Swiftlet
Asian Palm-Swift
Black-winged Stilt (many distantly on flooded paddies)
Asian Openbill
Cattle Egret
Chinese Pond Heron
kingfisher sp. (small bird flew along the river in town)
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Coppersmith Barbet (heard only)
Lineated Barbet (heard only)
Peregrine Falcon
* Hooded Pitta (1 of the Chestnut-headed race)
Black-naped Oriole
Common Iora
Malaysian Pied-Fantail
Black Drongo
Brown Shrike
Common Tailorbird
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Barn Swallow
Rufous-bellied Swallow
Stripe-throated Bulbul (2 near summit, 1 lower down)
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Yellow-browed Warbler 1
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler 1
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
* Abbott's Babbler 4
Asian Glossy Starling
Common Myna
Great Myna
* Orange-headed Thrush 1
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Indochinese Blue Flycatcher (2 singing birds high on the trail to the summit cave)
Blue Rock Thrush (1 at summit cave)
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Olive-backed Sunbird
Scaly-breasted Munia
Eurasian Tree Sparrow