Thursday, December 31, 2009

Procrastination for the nation

It may come as a bit of a shock to you to see this blog back in action following a lengthy spell of inactivity. Bascially i've been so busy with uni stuff that I haven't had the time to even go birding, let alone write it up on here.
However, now i'm back in Somerset for the christmas holidays, i'm bored out of my skull and need something to pass the time. I really should be revising for chemistry and biology exams that I have in a couple of weeks time, but really can't face that so, in a desperate attempt to put that off, remembered that my posting of photos from my epic Ameicas trip lst year was incomplete, so here's the next installment, nearly in real time, plus a year of course.

After a mental New Years in the Yucatan, we whipped through Belize and into Guatemala where we camped at the legendary mayan ruin site of Tikal for a few days.

Highlights here included this super rare Orange-breasted Falcon that was nesting on the scaffolding being used to repair one of the pyramids

Occelated Turkeys, wandering around the temples

And this young Pheasant Cuckoo skulking in the scrub alongside the track that lead to the airfield

Not hanging around, we exited Guatemala so quickly that we somehow missed the immigration departure point, oops. A short boat trip later and we were in Honduras, where we camped near Lago Yojoa. We took a short trip into the cloud forest, where we were rewarded with some mega shit more normally seen in Chiapas in Mexico.
Prevost's Ground Sparrow, of the muttonchopus subspecies

Bushy-crested Jay

errm, not sure I remember this one, possibly chestnut-capped warbler, or something along those lines
Oh Yeah, The Boy: Resplendant Quetzal, an awesome sighting, one of the best of the trip. Terribly evocative and atmospheric and just plain amazing as it floated around in the mist through gaps in the canopy
Blue and White Mockingbird. We didnt even realise that his occurred in the area we were so casued a bit of jubiliation at the time
Rusty Sparrow
And finally, a Howler Monkey, pretty much the only picture I took in Nicaragua, thanks to a vicious bout of food poisoning that struck me for most of our time in the country.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Out with a Bang!!!

Well, thats it. My time on the Farnes is over. After 6 fantastic months at at one of the most amazing places in the world, i've moved back down South to start a degree in Ecology and Wildlife Conservation at Bournemouth University.
The Autumn had been really slow migrant-wise on the islands until this last week, and then it all went absolutely mental. Last Friday, a Minke Whale cruised North between the islands and the mainlands, and I managed to get decent views of this dinky whale and secure a British cetacean tick. We were all really happy with that, but what happened next blew us all away. On Sunday, the skipper of a dive boat gave us a call to alert us to a Humpback Whale off Longstone, the most easterly of the island group. Frustratingly, Longstone was blocking our view so we sped out in the zodiac to the Big Harcar to get a clearer view. By the time we got there the beast had moved a fair way to the North but we were still treated to the incredible sight of this 40-ton monster breaching clean out of the water, and coming down with an almighty splash. As far as worldwide wildlife spectacles go, witnessing this behaviour has got to rate up near the top, so to observe it in British waters was just phenomonal, definately the highlight of my year so far.

Surely things couldnt get any better, but on monday they surely did. A quick trip over to Staple Island ib the morning revealed a Barred Warbler lumbering around the sparse vegetation, a long awaited first of the year on what has become a very reliable site for this species on recent years.

A seawatch soon after saw good numbers of Manxies passing close by, and then unbelievably, more cetaceans, this time 3+ Risso's Dolphins that lingered off the South end of the Islands for c10 minutes, giving good views of their tall dorsal fins and scarred bodies, proving that they really are so much more than 'gay sharks'. The Risso's were a cetacean world tick for me, so I was feeling pretty bloody happy.
An hour or so later, David Steel and Jason Moss, the 2 birders on Inner Farne, came over to have alook at the Barred Warbler with us. At one point, the Warbler flew a short distance and dropped into a weedy gulley, only for another bird to jump out onto the rocks, a Bluethroat!!!!

Quality stuff, having birded Staple thoroughly earlier, this was clearly a new bird in, something mega wa happening. Inspired by this, we drove out to Longstone, where we greeted by a Goldcrest, 2 Willow Warblers and 2 Lesser Whitethroats scarmbling around on the seaweed, and then, a Common Rosefinch appeared too, this was just getting better and better.

It was starting to get dark by now, so headed back to Brownsman to celebrate a superb day. As we walked up towards the cottage, a chunky, pale bird flew up from the nettles at our feet. As it flew away, I knew immediately that it was a bird I had never seen before, it just looked wierd. luckily it landed on the wall of the veg garden, bins up, and, BLACK-HEADED BUNTING, HOLY SHIT!!!! The bird dropped down behind the wall straight away, leaving us rolling around on the ground, punching the air and generally going apeshit until we realised that we really ought to crack on with the ardous task of ruling out Red-headed Bunting. The bird showed well on the ground before flying back to wall giving us great views through the scope and allowing me to grab some record shots in the gloom.

The black streaks on the crown, shadow of a black-face and rufous tint to the scapulars are all spot on for Black-headed Bunting. Some books are pretty useless when it comes to identifying immature black/red-headed bunts but it seems that with good views there shouldnt be too much of a problem.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Cor, he's a Shearwater

With a 3-4 West-nor-west this morning, and no new migrants on the land, along with an overnight departure of yesterdays birds (including the Icky), I settled down for a morning of data entry on the computer (a big job when you have as many seabird nests to monitor as we do). Just minutes after turing on the computer, Head Warden David Steele called us on the radio to warn us that some lads seawatching down the coast at Newbiggin had just had a Cory's Shearwater heading North. Myself and fellow brownsman warden Adam Scott needed no further excuses to abandon work (come on, it's a Saturday) and headed down to the seawatching spot at the Brownsman South End. It wasnt looking good, with the few manxies that were moving being very far out and with the morning sun right in our faces, we weren't feeling overly confident that we would get the bird.
After an hour, the sky started to cloud over things were looking a little easier, maybe we had a chance. 80 minutes after the Newbiggin sighting, a sudden radio shout from Inner Farne, they had the bird and it was heading our way. After a few frantic seconds searching through distant manxies, the beast loomed into view no more than 300 metres offshore, and slowly sauntered past, giving me my best views ever of this awesome seabird. it showed so well that I was able to pass the scope on to Adam, giving him great views of a British Tick and I even managed to grab a few photos that could just possibly be classed as 'record shots'.
This was an excellent example of how good communication between coastal sites can allow plenty of people to enjoy great birds like this, so many thanks to the guys down at Newbiggin, Cheers Lads!!!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Icky at last!!

Well, I had been hoping to update this blog quite frequently this autumn with tales of rares and mega falls on the Farnes, however to be perfectly blunt, the autumn thus far has been absolute shit, no two ways about it.
Like the rest of the country, we've been dominated by howling westerlies and clear skies, which for an east-coast site like us is a total waste of time.
At long last, wednesday night and thursday morning gave us a brief spell of easterlies, as the wind direction backed a full 300 odd degrees to the nor-westerlies we're stuck in now. Yesterday (thursday) was quite an exciting day, with The Farnes beating its record day counts for Teal and Swallow, with 894 and 248 north respectively, along with the first Ruff and Goosander of the year. However it failed to produce any of the much anticipated rares, just a few commoner land migrants. And then the Nor-westerly picked up to Severe Gale Force 9 and driving rain all night and all this morning, effectively the end of any rare hopes.
Still, us wardens on the mighty Brownsman don't give up that easily and a most un-pleasant walk in horiffic weather this morning was rewarded with brief looks at a nice Icterine Warbler trying to shelter in the sparse vegetation by our pond.
Luckily the weather cleared up this afternoon and we were able to get excellent views of this eastern scarcity feeding in typical Farnes fashion on open rocks and then in our artifical 'stick' (a bundle of driftwood nailed together to look like a tree!'

I've only got 2 weeks left on the Farnes before moving off to pastures new (watch this space!!!), so i'm desperately hoping for some easterly orientated weather conditions to bring in a few more goodies before I leave, fingers crossed eh.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

So Farne So Good

Apologies for a rather long-term lack of postings since returning from my travels.

Way back in mid-march, I moved oop north to The Farne Islands, in Northumberland, where I'm working as a Warden for the National Trust for the summer. It's been a superb season so far, it's just an amazing place, absolutely covered in birds. For example, Brownsman, the island I live on, has 1000 pairs of Arctic Terns, 10,000 pairs of Puffins and 8,000 Guillemots!!!

It's a good spot for 'real birding' too, this spring we've had 2 Red-throated Pipits, a Bluethroat and a Wryneck, along with a good sprinkling of common-ish migrants.

Here's a few pictures for now ,hopefully i'll be able to add a few here and there over the course of the summer.

Roseate Tern, not breeding unfortunately, but always nice to see

Arctic Tern, one of the massive colony around our cottage

Puffin, THE bird that people come to the islands to see

The second Red-throated Pipit, in horiffic weather back in May

Possibly the best bird of the spring. A male Bluethroat that spent a few days showing ridiculously well around the cottage

Saturday, March 07, 2009


From Palenque, we headed into the Yucatan Peninsula for a few days.
We stayed a while at Tulum, where we mainly got very drunk, but we did manage some birding in the scrub opposite our hostel.

Rose-throated Tanager (yucatan endemic)

White-eyed Vireo (my hot tip to turn up in Britain or Ireland sometime soon)

We also had a day out at the nearby Mayan ruins of Coba

Black-headed Trogon

Plain Chachalaca

Worm-eating Warbler

After rushing through the grim town of Playa-del-Carmen (think Costa Del Sol, but with the package holiday brits replaced by their american counterparts, yuk!!) we got the boat out to Cozumel Island, which was also very plasticky and crappy around the main town, but exploring the island, we found it be quite a nice spot, and we also caught up with some local endemics;

Cozumel Vireo

Yucatan Vireo

Cozumel Emerald

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Palenque photos

After a gruelling 26 hour bus journey from Oaxaca, we arrived at the historic Mayan ruin site of Palaenque, where we stayed for 4 days over Christmas. The ruins themselves were extremely busy with tourists, but the trails leading off into the nearby gave us some excellent birding.

White-collared Swift

Red-capped Manakin

distant White Hawk

female Great Antshrike

Kentucky Warbler (taken through a window in our tent)

Bat Falcon, sat in a tree in the centre of the ruins early in the morning

Lovely Cotinga, taken from the top of one of the Pyramids. These birds are infinitely better seen in the sunlight, they are an unbelievable electric blue, with big purple patches, just stunning!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


One of the highlights of our trip was a 5 day stay with our good friend and expert local birder, Eric Martinez, in Teotitlan Del Valle, in Oaxaca State. The birding was truly excellent in this area, and with Eric's knowledge of the local sites, we were able to pick up a decent number of regional endemics and specialties, along with plenty of other great birds.

Oaxaca Sparrow

Lesser Nighthawk, Usual Excuses for poor quality(near darkness, manual focus, Max ISO ,blah blah blah)

Bridled Sparrow

Black-throated Grey Warbler

Rock Wren

Bullocks Oriole

Vermillion Flycatcher

Boucard's Wren

Red Warbler

Chestnut-sided Shrike Vireo

Red-faced Warbler

Violet-green Swallow

Lark Sparrow

White-throated Towhee (looks like a heap of shit, but a very range restricted endemic and my 1000th bird of the year)

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Curve-billed Thrasher