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 particular 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 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Cat Tien National Park

Wow! A three and a half hour journey and we arrived at superb wooden accommodation overhanging the river a short walk from the ferry across to the National Park. A Lesser Adjutant soaring overhead as we arrived was to be the only one we saw but it was the start of an incredible week with 129 species of bird (18 lifers) and 10 mammals.

Cat Tien is a large lowland forest on the west bank of the Dong Nai River. Entry costs just 60,000 dong (about £2) and includes the ferry crossing but must be paid again if you leave and return in the same day.  First crossing is at around 7am after the dawn songs from the Yellow-cheeked Gibbons have subsided. Good roads, trails and paths spread out from the landing mainly along the course of the river but also well inland to the NW towards a large lake, Bàu Sấu, known for it's semi-wild Siamese Crocodiles, and beyond.

Many of the off-road trails direct you to monumental trees and these trails proved the most productive for the more interesting forest birds. Within a short walk of the entrance there are a number of privately run hides. A position in one of the hides costs $30 a day but the birds that are attracted to the food and water provided there can be seen from the trails nearby if you aren't fussed about point blank views. You would need to visit all three to be sure to see all the specialities here.

We kept extending our stay here and ended up doing 7 nights. I could have stayed much longer. There was still much to see. The Green Bamboo Lodge has a range of accommodation options and does a good choice of food. It is possible, but not guaranteed, to see the male gibbons from here as they sing from the treetops on the opposite side of the river at dawn but our encounters were all in the forest near the ferry.

These were by far and away the highlight of the time here. Although heard close by every morning they spend a lot of their time quietly in the tops of the trees and glimpsed only rarely, but once or twice we encountered them closer to the ground. This video is one of those magical once in a lifetime experiences. The boisterous gibbon close to us is an immature (3 year old) male, part of a family group with its parents, and known to approach visitors. At one point when swinging across the path it used my upper chest to spring off.

We failed to encounter the Black-shanked Doucs here, which by all accounts were much deeper into park but Long-tailed, Northern Pig-tailed and possibly Stump-tailed Macaques were all seen. Other mammals included Northern Slender-tailed Treeshrew, Cambodian Striped Squirrel, Indochinese Ground Squirrel, Horse-tailed and Pallas' Squirrels and a Giant Muntjac!

Slaty-legged Crake Rallina eurizonoides
On to the birds then. Germain's Peacock Pheasant is one of two speciality pheasants here, the other being Siamese Flameback, which I unfortunately failed to locate. I only saw Germain's close to the hide south of the HQ where they are fed. This also produced my only sightings of Blue-rumped Pitta and Slaty-legged Crake but all were in very poor light with limited views. Views from the hide itself would have been spectacular. The Giant Muntjac showed close to here.

Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata

Great-eared Nightjars were common and heard singing at dawn and dusk but only occasionally seen over the farmland. Among other more common farmland birds a Burmese Shrike here was my first. The river was very productive and many birds could be seen with patience from the room balcony, often during morning and evening roost movements. Best were Pied and Black-capped Kingfishers, Oriental Pied and Great Hornbills, Oriental Darter and Blue-bearded Bee-eater. The Hornbills made dawn and dusk flights to and from the island just upstream of the ferry but views were generally brief and distant in very poor light.

Still on the eastern shore Dollarbirds were plentiful and displaying at times. Vernal Hanging Parrot and more numerous Red-breasted Parakeets often flew across the river. Watching the treetops in the park from this shore produced the only views of my first Golden-crested Mynas.

Bar-bellied Pitta Hydrornis elliotii
One of the most productive trails starts just close to the slipway near HQ. As you walk up from the ferry turn right onto the main road and c.100m on the left are stepping stones heading into the forest. This was where most gibbon encounters occurred and where we had very close views of Bar-bellied Pitta and Orange-headed Thrush at one of the hides. The Pitta also showed on the trail itself along with other forest floor species such as Scaly-breasted Partridge, Siberian Blue Robin and Puff-throated Babbler. Other highlights along here were Black-and-buff Woodpeckers (flock of 3), Laced Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, 5 Black-and-red Broadbills together, an Orange-breasted Trogon and Large Woodshrike.

Black-and-red Broadbill Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos

Orange-headed Thrush Geokichla citrina

Siberian Blue Robin Luscinia cyane

Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis
Following the main track/road north from the HQ/landing was excellent with waves of birds often passing containing things like Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Van Hasselt's Sunbird Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Purple-naped Spiderhunter and, another lifer for me, Grey-faced Tit-babbler. It was particularly good for Kingfishers, especially at places where it crossed muddy streams and pools. Black-capped, Stork-billed and Blue-eared Kingfishers all showed from time to time. Along with Pied and Common Kingfishers at the river, White-throated on the farmland and a female Banded Kingfisher at a drier part of the track there were 7 species here.

Banded Kingfisher Lacedo pulchella (photo by Phil Hall)

A short trail leaves the main track towards what's called the Uncle Dong Tree and this junction often produced loads of great birds and a few Long-tailed and Pig-tailed Macaques. On one occasion 3 Orange-breasted Trogons, a Black-and-red and 2 Banded Broadbills. Grey-eyed Bulbul and Swinhoe's Minivet were both firsts for me along here.

Banded Broadbill Eurylaimus javanicus

Orange-breasted Trogon Harpactes oreskios

Buffy Fish Owl Ketupa ketupu
Another good area was nearer HQ where a dry ford crossed just below a small dam. This held a Buffy Fish Owl that was present the whole week but could be incredibly hard to see as it tucked into the rocks of the dam but sometimes was out hunting in the remaining small pools.

I should just mention the rather up-market Forest Floor Lodge, which as far as I can tell is the only accommodation on the National Park side of the river other than at HQ. A pause here for a shady drink showed what an incredible location it enjoys. Views past fruiting trees looking up the river would be incredible for picking up Hornbills, Egrets, Adjutants and the like in flight. As it is we enjoyed extended views of an Osprey over and close views of Yellow-vented and Thick-billed Flowerpeckers, Blue-winged Leafbird and Verditer Flycatcher.

Finally there is a trail billed as the Botanical Gardens, although it is pretty dense forest, if rather younger than most of the other trails. The denser understory here made birding harder but it was the only place I saw Grey-headed Woodpecker and Scaly-crowned Babbler and it was great to see a male Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher with a full tail here.

Systematic list at the bottom.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus

Golden-crested Myna Ampeliceps coronatus

Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus

Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis

Bronzed Drongo Dicrurus aeneus

Indochinese Blue Flycatcher Cyornis sumatrensis

Rufescent Prinia Prinia rufescens

White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus

Indian Forest Skink Sphenomorphus indicus

Scaly-breasted (Green-legged) Partridge
Germain's Peacock-Pheasant
Red Junglefowl
Rock Dove
Red Collared Dove
Spotted Dove
Asian Emerald Dove
Zebra Dove
Ashy-headed Green-Pigeon
Thick-billed Green-Pigeon
Greater Coucal
Green-billed Malkoha
Plaintive Cuckoo
Great Eared-Nightjar
Germain's Swiftlet
Asian Palm-Swift
White-breasted Waterhen
Slaty-legged Crake
Common Sandpiper
Lesser Adjutant
Oriental Darter
Little Cormorant
Great White Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Chinese Pond Heron
Striated Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Crested Honey-buzzard
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Mountain Scops Owl
Brown Fish-Owl
Orange-breasted Trogon
Eurasian Hoopoe
Great Hornbill
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
Common Kingfisher
Blue-eared Kingfisher
Banded Kingfisher
Stork-billed Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Black-capped Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
Blue-bearded Bee-eater
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Indochinese Roller
Coppersmith Barbet
Blue-eared Barbet
Green-eared Barbet
Lineated Barbet
Greater Flameback
Black-and-buff Woodpecker
Lesser Yellownape
Laced Woodpecker
Grey-headed Woodpecker
Red-breasted Parakeet
Vernal Hanging-Parrot
Black-and-red Broadbill
Banded Broadbill
Blue-rumped Pitta
Bar-bellied Pitta
Scarlet Minivet
Ashy Minivet
Brown-rumped Minivet
Black-naped Oriole
Black-hooded Oriole
Ashy Woodswallow
Large Woodshrike
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
Common Iora
Great Iora
Ashy Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
Hair-crested Drongo
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Black-naped Monarch
Blyth's Paradise-Flycatcher
Brown Shrike
Burmese Shrike
Racket-tailed Treepie
Large-billed Crow
Common Tailorbird
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Grey-breasted Prinia
Plain Prinia
Barn Swallow
Black-headed Bulbul
Black-crested Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Stripe-throated Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Ochraceous Bulbul
Grey-eyed Bulbul
Yellow-browed Warbler
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler
Arctic Warbler
Yellow-bellied Warbler
Grey-faced Tit-Babbler
Scaly-crowned Babbler
Puff-throated Babbler
Abbott's Babbler
Golden-crested Myna
Orange-headed Thrush
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Oriental Magpie-Robin
White-rumped Shama
Hainan Blue Flycatcher
Indochinese Blue Flycatcher
Verditer Flycatcher
Siberian Blue Robin
Taiga Flycatcher
Siberian Stonechat
Pied Bushchat
Thick-billed Flowerpecker
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Van Hasselt's Sunbird
Olive-backed Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Purple-naped Spiderhunter
Little Spiderhunter
Blue-winged Leafbird
Golden-fronted Leafbird
Scaly-breasted Munia
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Grey Wagtail
Paddyfield Pipit

Long-tailed Macaque
Northern Pig-tailed Macaque
Stub-tailed Macaque?
Yellow-cheeked Gibbon
Common Treeshrew
Norther Slender-tailed Treeshrew
Pallas' Squirrel
Horse-tailed Squirrel
Indochinese Ground Squirrel
Cambodian Striped Squirrel
Giant Muntjac

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Capital birding

Vietnam was our main aim for January but it would be wrong not to call into Phnom Penh and see our friends here. Scoddy (Scott Bywater) was doing a gig, a few other musician friends were in town and our old neighbours were also on their way to Vietnam after travelling through Thailand and Laos for the past couple of months. The bus from Siem Reap took about 5 hours with stops and we stayed in a high room overlooking the park near the National Museum at the Bright Lotus Guesthouse.

Scoddy's gig was at Tacos Kokopelli's, one of my favourite places in town, and he kindly had another musician and me play a few numbers as well. We'd met up with Phil and Carol earlier and had a great evening. The following morning I checked out the banks of the River close by. Once again found Oriental Reed Warbler, Plain and Yellow-bellied Prinias here and a Caspian Tern patrolled the water. A female Streaked Weaver that perched below our room was a lifer (but guess it could be an escape here where there are a criminal number of birds in cages).

Streaked Weaver Ploceus manyar

Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos

After another evening of music at The Sundance Inn we caught an early morning bus to Ho Chi Minh City; Our first time in Vietnam. Appeared birdless from the bus but the city parks were brimming with wildlife, especially the grounds of the Independence Palace. Among more common birds I chalked up a couple of lifers, Blossom-headed Parakeet and Black-winged Cuckooshrike, and there were also Red-breasted Parakeets, White-crested and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher, Scarlet Minivets and a superb juvenile White-throated Thrush.

White-throated Rock-thrush Monticola gularis

Phil also had a Red-billed Blue Magpie in the grounds here but it failed to appear again. We didn't make it as far as the Botanical Gardens here and I think a few days stop over in the city would reveal a good deal more birdlife. We're not really ones for the city and only spent two nights here before moving on the Cat Tien National Park. The Independence Palace itself was a fascinating visit but the traffic in HCMC absolutely crazy.

Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus

Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea

Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone affinis

Green-billed Malkhoa Phaenicophaeus tristis

Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush Garrulax monileger
Oriental Garden Lizard Calotes versicolor

Pallas' Squirrel Callosciurus erythraeus

Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla