Azorian Adventure

We’ve just returned from a weeks holiday, with friends Bob & Sue, birding on The Azores, visiting just two islands of this Atlantic archipelago, Sao Miguel and Terceira. Winter is probably not the best time to visit but with flights at less than £50 per person, very good value accommodation and excellent food, it was too good an opportunity to miss. In the end we managed a total list of 66 species, including: 17 species of duck and water birds – seven of which were American, 16 species of wader including two American, eight species of gull including two American and both common ‘white-wingers’ and a few other odds and ends like Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret, Great Northern Diver and, of cause, Azores Bullfinch – subject of my previous blog. Not too shabby an outcome really. Definitely to be recommended.

Azores Bullfinch or Priolo – the only totally new bird of the trip

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Several of the more common residents have endemic races, like Buzzard, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Goldcrest, Chaffinch and this Blackcap

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Glossy Ibis was a bit of a surprise as it flew over our heads at Paul da Praia 

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We saw seven species of American duck and water birds – most were on the ‘town pond’ of Paul da Praia, on Terceira. These are two male Blue-winged Teal

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Followed by three Lesser Scaup 

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This Redhead – looking not unlike our own Pochard, was usually in the company of the Ring-necked Duck. We had up to three males and two females, but they never came particularly close

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American Wigeon was the fifth species of New World duck we saw on the ‘town pond’ of Paul da Praia – one of two rather flighty males

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Equally difficult were these two male Wood Duck – seen on Largoa Azule

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To round off this section, American Coot at Cabrito reservoir – our 7th species of American wildfowl and water birds for the trip

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Of the fifteen species we saw at the amazing wader hot-spot of Cabo da Praia quarry, Semi-palmated Plover was by far the rarest – looking not unlike our own Ringed Plover, it was at times, difficult to find

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There were plenty of winter Sanderling coming and going. This one is with Little Stint – one of three seen

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Curlew Sandpiper, again in winter plumage, could have been mistaken for Dunlin with just a cursory inspection

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Kentish Plover, along with Sanderling, were the default wader species at this remarkable spot

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Knot are always nice to see, even in their rather drab winter plumage

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The gull action came mostly in the form of two American species, this Bonaparte’s Gull appeared to spend most of it’s time at Canada do Quinhão Grande – roosting at Cabo da Praia quarry. At least we think it was the same bird. Photographed here, at the first site with Black-headed Gull

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And again at the quarry

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These American Ring-billed Gull – four in total were seen on the beach at Praia da Vitoria with a single Common Gull

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Further gull action came in the form of the two common ‘white-wingers’, Glaucous and Iceland. The first, a 1st winter Glaucous on the beach at Praia de Monte Verde

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The other, an Iceland Gull – 2nd winter, at the marina in Ponta Delgada

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To finish off with a couple more regular but no less interesting species, beginning with Spoonbill, feeding unperturbed, near the cafe at Sete Cidades

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Waxbill, a well established escape, seen at several locations around Sao Miguel

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The Azorian race of Common Buzzard, seen here in the rain – not an uncommon weather feature of these islands!

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Cattle Egret, one of two, seen at Canada do Quinhão Grande – a bit of eye-balling go on here

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And to conclude, Great Northern Diver – in the outer harbour at Praia da Vitoria

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For a full annotated species list from our trip, click this link.

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Priolo Perfecto

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We’re here in The Azores having a ‘cheeky week’ birding – well it would have been rude not to accept Mr Ryanair’s kind offer of flights for under £50 a pop! We’re with our long-time birding friends Bob & Sue, staying at the incredible Casa do Jardin on Sao Miguel, a former palace, set in the Botanical Gardens in Ponta Delgarda. Being here means that the top priority was to see Azores Bullfinch, or Priolo as it’s know locally. Probably one of the rarest species on the plant – now confined to the Laurel forests of eastern Sao Miguel, on this remote archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic. With the expansion of forestry and the threat of invasive species putting pressure on it’s habitat, the Priolo was down to an estimated 30 – 40 pairs by the 1970’s. Following successful International conservation measures the population is now thought to be around ten times that number. But don’t get me wrong, they are still pretty tricky to find! Most keen birders hire a guide but, based on some excellent information from several recent sources, we were able to locate them at a couple of sites. However the cloud never lifted off the mountain top and, as a consequence, it was pretty gloomy the whole time we were there – limiting photography to a few record shots.

Priolo look like a chunky version of our own female Bullfinch (the sexes are similar) 

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Please vote for N&N 2018 Eco Hero

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The big news today is that the Peoples Vote has now opened for the Norwich & Norfolk 2018 Eco Hero Award. I only agreed to be nominated in the hope that any publicity it generates will help raise the profile of Felbeck Trust – the trustees, volunteers and friends who are FT and our current campaign to raise money to purchase Spurrell’s Wood. Their are some genuinely worthy candidates – please vote by visiting the N&N ECO Awards website (click here) and please pass on the link to family, friends and acquaintances. Your vote would be much appreciated!

Australia 2017 – snaps from the cutting room floor

Here are a few photos from our recent trip to Australia, which didn’t make it into the original blogs. Thanks to Alex Berryman for dragonfly id and to Dan, Mick et al for help with bird id

Champagne Celebration for Dan’s 400th

Dan celebrates his 400th HBOC tick in style! (photo courtesy of Jane Williams)

The final day of our recent outback adventure was spent in pursuit of Dan’s 400th species in the Hunter Bird Observers Club area. He’d been creeping closer to the target over the past few months and we had hoped that our recent pelagic might produce the goods, but it was not to be. On his journey out west, to meet up with us for our ‘back O’Bourke’ holiday, Dan ticked up Crimson Chat, number 399. The weather out west has been particularly dry of late – at one place we stopped, the aboriginal drinking pools at Byrock, it hadn’t rained since 26th October 2016. This weather has forced birds, usually only seen in the red centre, to seek water further east – bringing them into the upper Hunter in unprecedented numbers. We’d only just reached the western edge of the HBOC recording area when I saw a Kingfisher on the wires from the car. We pulled over for Dan to check it out – Red-backed Kingfisher. A great bird to see this far east and, more importantly, his 400th – cue champagne celebration!

And the cause of all the fuss, Red-backed Kingfisher. Only seen once in the HBOC recording area prior to the current unprecedented  influx – we came across at least five

Other scarce birds in the area, in addition to the Crimson Chat which was still present at Durridgere, included Black Honeyeater – record shot of one of two males seen

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We saw more than a dozen Pallid Cuckoo, all female  – rarely seen in these numbers in the Hunter. 

The scarcer Black-eared Cuckoo  

As we headed for home from the Upper Hunter –  this delightful Spotted Harrier bade us farewell

A great bird to end a memorable days birding – bringing Dan his 400th and taking my overall Hunter list to 314. Not a bad total for a tourist – accumulated in only six weeks birding in the region. Until the next time…

 

 

Birding the Back O’Bourke

The Sheep-shearers quarters at Belah, Gundabooka National Park – 80k from the nearest pint of milk (or beer)!

We’ve just returned from a weeks holiday with Dan, Morgan & The Boys in the outback, staying in a former sheep-shearers shed, in the middle of the Gundabooka National Park. There’s a popular expression about the ‘back O’Bourke’ – literally the Australian equivalent to ‘back of beyond’. Bourke is a small settlement, on the River Darling, which used to be the hub of a thriving sheep-farming and trading community. To get there we drove nearly 500 kilometres west from Sydney airport, across the Great Dividing Range, over-nighting at Dubbo, before finishing the journey to Bourke along a near straight road (the longest in New South Wales) for another 350ks. Our accommodation was then only a mere 80 kilometres further on, the final thirty of which were on a dirt track! Handy if you ran out of milk or, as we did, popping to the pub for supper! Actually, despite it’s rural-rustic appearance, the shearer’s quarters made for a surprisingly comfortable stay. We visited several of the local visitor attractions in the park, including some interesting aboriginal rock paintings and spent a day sight-seeing in Bourke – taking in the various attractions, including the old gaol, town cemetery and the fort which turned out to be a very small, make-shift stockade. Birding interest came in the form of three regional specialities: Little Woodswallow, Chestnut-crowned Babbler and White-browed Treecreeper, together with an impressive supporting cast of ‘mulga’ specialities. We played board games in the evening and lit a fire – all in all a throughly memorable experience!

Aboriginal rock paintings – Mulgowan (Yappa), Gundabooka National Park (photo courtesy  of Jane Williams)

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First of the Australia List ticks to fall – Little Woodswallow 

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Next to fall, the rather elusive Chestnut-crowned Babbler – seen close to our accommodation

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Last of the trio of new ticks – White-browed Treecreeper

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Other notable birds in the Gundabooka area included Major Mitchell’s (or Pink) Cockatoo

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Some of the interesting birds, like this Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, were rather elusive

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Others, like Red-capped Robin and Splendid Fairy-wren were anything but…

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These Rainbow Bee-eater, male & female, were a delight to see warming themselves in the early morning sun

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The particular type of vegetation in the park – mulga, is home to the parrot of the same name

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Our day out in Bourke began with this family group of Emu along the access track

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Apostlebirds – so named because they supposedly go round in groups of twelve, are a common sight along the roads and nature strips

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On the way back we stopped at Warren water treatment ponds – excellent birding, which immediately produced Spotted Bowerbird and two sorts of Crake – Australian Spotted & this Baillon’s

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Also, the only snake of the trip so far – the rather venomous Eastern Brown (photo courtesy of Jane Williams)

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..and a long awaited Australia List tick – Plum-headed Finch!

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FNQ – Far North Queensland birding

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Southern Cassowary – finally puts in an appearance at the Jindalbah car park

After the successful Port Stephens pelagic – which enabled me to reach 300 birds in the Hunter, we flew north to Cairns to meet up with my brother Rob and wife Gi for a birding trip of far North Queensland. Unfortunately, the hoped for prize of the first day and a half – Southern Cassowary, failed to materialise. Despite being at Mission Beach – the epicentre for recent Cassowary ‘hunting’, it rained continuously and we failed in our mission (pun intended) miserably. We then headed north, via Port Douglas, to the Daintree River, where we did manage to connect with some of the region’s specialities – finally tracking down Southern Cassowary at Jindalbah, but not before a three hour wait in the car park and a narrow miss of a Noisy Pitta! A couple of hours flying time further north is the small, by Aussie standards, national park of Iron Range – a fragment of tropical low-land rainforest, with a dozen or so endemic specialities. Here we stayed at the lovely bed & breakfast at Portland Roads and ate in the adjacent cafe – tremendous food at literally the end of the road! An over-night stay in Cairns, before returning south, allowed for a couple of visits to the world renowned wader hot-spot of The Esplanade and an early morning bird of the Botanical Gardens.

Common in north Queensland, Bush Stone-curlew – this one was seen in Cairns Botanical Gardens

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Comb-crested Jacana – present on most suitable inland waters in North Queensland

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Also present, Salt-water Crocodile – this one was seen on the Daintree River cruise

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Also seen along the Daintree River, one of a number of Kingfisher species – this one is Azure 

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Restricted to the rainforests of northern Queensland is Macleay’s Honeyeater

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Similar to the above species is Tawny-breasted – one of three Honeyeaters ‘endemic’ to Iron Range  

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Cape York endemic Monarchs include this little cutie – Frill-necked 

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Much more common but equally as appealing – Olive-backed Sunbird, the only representative of this diverse group in Australia

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We did eventually catch up with Noisy Pitta but were too early for it’s rarer cousin Red-bellied, which is only a wet-season visitor to Cape York

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Water birds were few and far between, but these Pied Heron at Lockhart River ‘poo ponds’ were a welcome exception

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Evening entertainment was provided by this murmuration of Metallic Starlings off Restoration Island

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Reasonably common in Iron Range is Magnificent Riflebird – not quite so easy to see though!

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A top prize in Iron Range is the restricted and endangered Fawn-breasted Bowerbird

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Equally prized, in their only Australian foot-hold of Iron Range, is Eclectus Parrot – we found this male (green) and four females (red) at their nest-hole. Seeing this beautiful bird has been a birding ambition of mine for many years – I even named my Management Consultancy after it!

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More common, but still difficult to see, are these Double-eyed Fig-Parrot – Australia’s smallest parrot species

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The last species added to the list in North Queensland was this fabulous roosting Rufous Owl – located by a kindly birder I met in the Botanic Gardens who gave me a lift back to the hotel. We managed to photograph it in the final minutes before the taxi took us to the airport! Here, in typical pose, with prey in his talons 

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