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 

Saturday, February 01, 2020


Took the journey to Huế from Hoi An by train via Da Nang; a comfortable, scenic 3 hour ride in pretty poor weather and the only birds to show were not identifiable from the train. Greeted on arrival at Huế station by cartel taxis wanting ₫200,000 (about £7 for less than 2km along a dead straight road) so we walked the 25 minutes in increasing rain and arrived at the hotel like drowned rats. Perhaps that's why the staff were a bit miserable but it was more likely because the boss wasn't around and they are just like that. Took a while to persuade them to a) clean the room and b) provide us with more than a single duvet! Welcome to Huế!

Otherwise the room was cheap, very comfortable and high up with a superb view across the Perfume River to the Imperial City on the other side. Met up once again with Phil & Carol who had travelled ahead of us and were leaving to push further north the following day. Ate at an excellent Indian restaurant and the following evening at the Indonesian next door to it. Both were a massive improvement on the rather unimaginative Vietnamese food we'd had most of the time so far.

Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus
Main attraction here was UNESCO World Heritage site number 75 for me, the extensive Imperial City, much of which had miraculously survived the worst ravages of the war. Well worth the ₫200,000 entry fee and, with large gardens, excellent for wildlife. I found Chinese Blackbird and Daurian Redstart here, both lifers, my American counterpart who visited a day later also found Japanese Thrush and I had an Orange-headed Thrush here so it's well worth digging around in the more unkempt margins of the complex looking for birds. The NE corner with its large Black-crowned Night Heron colony and the gardens just south of that were the best.

Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus
Other birds included Common and White-throated Kingfishers, White-breasted Waterhen, Dusky and Yellow-browed Warblers, Brown Shrike, Red-breasted Parakeets (12 about), Plaintive Cuckoo, Swinhoe's White-eye, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Stejneger's Stonechat and Grey Wagtail. Just outside the city walls found a male philippensis Blue Rock Thrush.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis

The Imperial City

Just 37 species seen in a couple of days in the city but 2 lifers.

Rock Dove
Zebra Dove
Greater Coucal
Plaintive Cuckoo
Germain's Swiftlet
Common Moorhen
White-breasted Waterhen
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Common Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Lineated Barbet
Peregrine Falcon
Red-breasted Parakeet
Common Iora
Brown Shrike
Large-billed Crow
Common Tailorbird
Barn Swallow
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Yellow-browed Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Swinhoe's White-eye
Great Myna
Orange-headed Thrush
Chinese Blackbird
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Taiga Flycatcher
Daurian Redstart
Blue Rock Thrush
Siberian Stonechat
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Grey Wagtail
Pied Wagtail/White Wagtail
Paddyfield Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Nha Trang, Hoi An and My Son Sanctuary

The 22-23rd January were travelling days. With our travelling companions Carol & Phil we took a taxi into Dalat and caught another day sleeping bus on the slightly queasy, but extremely scenic winding mountain road to Nha Trang, taking a little over three hours. There we parted company again as they were flying on north, but we were to fulfil another dream and take the sleeper train. Sometimes unavoidable but we prefer not to use air travel where ever possible. We dropped off our luggage at the station and took a taxi to the beach to await the evening departure. Birdlife was sparse both on the journey and at the coast.

News of the virus sweeping Wuhan in China had been reaching us for a while now and from now on it would be ever present in our minds. This was the first time we were temperature checked and masks were becoming ever more prevalent. The packed train left at around 8pm and we were sharing a 6 berth compartment with a young family who soon settled down and we had a pretty good night.

Red-billed Starling Sturnus sericeus

A 6:30am arrival in Da Nang meant plenty of time to find a cafe and have a leisurely breakfast before sharing a cab with a couple from Denmark for the 45 minute drive to the historic city of Hoi An. It was still quite early so we dropped off bags at the hotel and went to explore the old town. Among the old building and small parks were the odd Plaintive Cuckoo, Blue Rock Thrush, Asian Brown Flycatcher and a small flock of Red-billed Starlings, with the usual Coppersmith Barbets, Red Collared Doves, Common Tailorbirds, Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, Barn Swallows, Tree Sparrows and Grey Wagtail.

Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius

We liked Hoi An a lot and stayed a full week, much of it in the company of Phil & Carol, right through the impressive Chinese New Year celebrations. There were two main areas of interest from a wildlife point of view. The first a small patch of dune habitat and farmland across a frankly alarming metal scooter bridge on the northern edge of Cam Kim island south of the town and a region of rice paddies on the northern edge. There was a third area visited by an America birder I met but I failed to find a way past the security guard on the only entrance. It's an area partially cleared for development on the SW of the island of Cam Nam and he reported a 300 strong flock of Yellow-breasted Buntings there - probably international significant numbers! He also had Watercock and an Indian Nightjar here among other things and it was probably the best habitat close to the town. I recommend using a bicycle to reach all three areas.

Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala
The Cau Cam Kim dunes were on an undeveloped finger just across the metal bridge and produced one of the best birds of the trip; a Black-faced Bunting. Tantalising views of a skulking Luscinia/Calliope turned out to be a Bluethroat. Other good birds here included Lesser Coucal, Racket-tailed Treepie, Yellow Bittern, Long-tailed Shrike and Stejneger's Stonechat. A Quail or Buttonquail species flushed from short grass here remained stubbornly impossible to relocate.

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica

Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis

Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach

White-browed Crake Amaurornis cinerea
The paddies were very active with many waterbirds. As well as the expected Yellow Bittern, Pond Herons and all four Egrets there were Pin-tailed Snipe, Little Ringed Plover, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, White-browed Crake, Racket-tailed Treepie, Black-browed Reed Warbler and with some effort managed to get brief views of the Pallas' Grasshopper Warblers wintering there but not the reported Lanceolated Warblers.

While there we took one organised excursion; a rare treat for budget travellers like us. We were bussed for just over an hour out to my 74th UNESCO World Heritage site; My Son Sanctuary (pronounced "mee son" to rhyme with "gone" as our effusive guide was at pains to point out). Occupied by the Champa Kingdom for about 1000 years (4th-14th century AD), at one time it was a complex of 70 Hindu temples but was mostly destroyed during one week of the Vietnam war.

Orange-headed Thrush Geokichla citrina
Being well out in the countryside there was the potential for some good birding and sure enough I found an Orange-headed thrush almost straight away on a track close to the toilets near the entrance and got a terrible photo in the gloomy conditions. Unfortunately, despite having some time to explore away from the party, that was just about it apart from common birds. 2 Green-eared Barbets showing well and a couple of Swinhoe's White-eyes were just about the only things of note. By 1pm we had all been herded back on the bus for a half hour drive to a dock where we took a leisurely boat ride including a basic lunch. Another half hour along the river and we were back in the old town of Hoi An. Birdlife was also fairly limited on the river with some Grey Herons and Greenshanks providing the only distraction. A very wet day but actually not a bad trip, with a very entertaining guide, costing about £10 a head including the entry fee and lunch.

Green-eared Barbet Megalaima faiostricta

Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris

Stejneger's Stonechat Saxicola (maurus) stejnegeri

Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus

The total combined list for this week came to 59 species including four lifers.

Rock Dove
Red Collared Dove
Spotted Dove
Zebra Dove
Greater Coucal
Lesser Coucal
Plaintive Cuckoo
Germain's Swiftlet
Asian Palm-Swift
White-browed Crake
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Pin-tailed Snipe
Common Sandpiper
Common Greenshank
Wood Sandpiper
Yellow Bittern
Grey Heron
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Chinese Pond Heron
White-throated Kingfisher
Green Bee-eater
Coppersmith Barbet
Green-eared Barbet
Common Iora
Black Drongo
Brown Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
Racket-tailed Treepie
Common Tailorbird
Yellow-bellied Prinia
Plain Prinia
Zitting Cisticola
Black-browed Reed Warbler
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler
Barn Swallow
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Stripe-throated Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Yellow-browed Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Swinhoe's White-eye
Red-billed Starling
Orange-headed Thrush
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Blue Rock Thrush
Siberian Stonechat
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Scaly-breasted Munia
House Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Grey Wagtail
Paddyfield Pipit
Black-faced Bunting