Return to Fuerteventura – ten years on

The island’s only endemic – the must-get Canary Islands Chat

We’ve just returned from a ‘cheeky week’ birding on Fuerteventura, with friends Bob & Sue. We flew with Ryanair from Stansted, stayed at the Eurostars hotel in Caleta de Fuste – central for visiting all parts of the island, and hired a car from Goldcar – where the guy behind the counter gave us an excellent recommendation for a tapas bar with live music, the El Capitan. It turned out to be a superb place – we eat there every night!

You certainly don’t go to Fuerteventura expecting a big list – or if you do you’ll be sadly disappointed – but what you do see is pretty special. As well as the must-get desert species: Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Barbary Partridge, Trumpeter Finch & Lesser Short-toed Lark, we caught the tail-end of Spring migration with Iberian & Spotted Flycatcher and Melodious Warbler being’ the high-lights. The ever-present Spectacled Warbler, Berthelot’s Pipit and Canary Islands (Fuerteventura) Chat, interspersed with African Blue Tit, Canary, Egyptian Vulture and Barbary Falcon all made for a great birding experience. On an island where fresh water is at a premium – average annual rainfall is only 200mm – we saw some interesting ‘water birds’ – Little & Cattle Egret, White Stork and Spoonbill, but ‘star bird’ was, without doubt, the long-staying, though seemingly increasingly elusive, African Dwarf Bittern. It took us seven visits to Barranco de Rio Cabras and more than 15 hours solid observation to finally get acceptable views of this ‘5th for the Western Palearctic’.

The desert species can take some finding – 25 of these Black-bellied Sandgrouse were found at a well-known mid-morning drinking pool


Harder to find were Houbara Bustard – record shot taken in the heat of the afternoon sun


Found whilst looking for the bustards – one of a small flock of Lesser Short-toed Lark


The Micronesian endemic – the ubiquitous Berthelot’s Pipit – found pretty-much everywhere on the island


Raptors are thinly distributed but we did find seven Egyptian Vulture together in one spot – we also came across a breeding bird on it’s nest


Turtle Dove, though near-mythical now in Norfolk, were present in good numbers on Fuerteventura


along with a few well-dispersed Laughing Dove, and African Blue Tit



Spring migrants were scarce, most having already gone through, but we did find Melodious Warbler and Iberian Pied Flycatcher together in Barranco de la Torre



The resident shrike is the koenigi race of Iberian Grey Shrike


Unlike on the mainland, Spectacled Warbler are easy to find on Fuerteventura


A splash of colour was provided by Trumpeter Finch, with their unmistakeable ‘toy trumpet’ call


But the ‘bird of the trip’ was, without doubt, the long-staying African Dwarf Bittern – finally seen well after seven visits and over 15 hours intensive observation!


Other wildlife highlights included two special dragonflies: Broad Scarlet & Epaulet Skimmer



and Fuerteventura Green-striped White butterfly



NCN 1 – Yorkshire to Norfolk


The Minster at Beverley, our first stop on this year’s NCN 1 cycle-ride

Last year we cycled the National Cycle Network Route 1 from Berwick, on the Scottish border to Flamborough. Last week we continued our journey south, from Flamborough to Norfolk. Unfortunately we were a man down this year, as Neil developed a nasty swollen knee just prior to departure – leaving brother Bry and me to carry the flag. We cycled 250 miles in five days, stopping at Beverley, Market Rasen, Boston and Gayton (just off the NCN 1, but the only place with suitable accommodation). Overall, a very pleasant section of the route, beginning with the gentle rolling hills of East Yorkshire, crossing the Humber bridge, through Lincolnshire following the line of the Wolds, around The Wash into Norfolk, heading north to the coast before finally turning east and the Cromer Ridge. The weather was near perfect, if a little too hot on occasions. A great way to spend a week  – good company, nice scenery, interesting people and tasty ale!

Crossing the Humber – the traditional selfie


The Stump – in the historic town of Boston (in need of a little tlc) – departure point of the Pilgrim Fathers


We stopped at several delightful refreshment points along the route – none better than Caffe Aurora, Holbeach – where we were treated to some impromptu mid-morning opera!


Noticed on departure from The Crown at Gayton – one of two nice Delft tiles, set in the car-park wall


Next year – legs willing, Norfolk to the southern end of NCN 1, at Dover!

Birds of Italy

Marble Parrot table-top, in the Pitti Palace Royal Apartments

Despite the fact that this was an entirely cultural trip, I even left my binoculars behind – first time I’ve done that since pre-1972!, we did manage to see a few birds. Black Redstart, House Sparrow and Rock Pigeon around the city streets, Long-tailed, Blue & Great Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Serin, Collard Dove, Magpie, Starling and Kestrel in the parks and gardens, along the river Cormorant, Great & Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mallard, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed, Herring / Yellow-legged Gull, Cetti’s Warbler, Pied Wagtail, Hooded Crow and Stonechat, from the train Moorhen, Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard, and over Florence city walls a single Swallow – Spring is on it’s way!

We also found a few interesting birds in amongst the historical artefacts. This picture, in the Pitti Palace collection, was amazing! Approximately 12″ x 15″, it looked like an OK water colour of a group of birds. Look closer and you see it’s made up of thousands of tiny mosaic tiles, no more than a millimetre square!


Coming soon – highlights of our wildlife week in Northern Greece

Squacco Heron – one of fifty or more seen along the north east shore of Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece

We’ve been meaning to visit Northern Greece ever since we came across Steve & Hilary on the Lake Kerkini and Birdwing stall at the Rutland Water Birdfair, a few years ago. They, along with Nikolaos, who runs an excellent hotel for birders close to the eastern shore of the lake, do a fabulous job of promoting bird conservation in this beautiful but threatened corner of Greece. Armed with a copy of Steve’s site guide, Birdwatching in Northern Greece, we, accompanied by our youngest son Jake – a passionate birder himself, recently enjoyed a weeks birding and general wildlife watching holiday exploring the numerous sites between Lake Kerkini and the Evros Delta. A full annotated check-list and selected photos will appear on this blog in the very near future.

Doi Lang and Thaton Rice Paddies

Our penultimate stop was at Fang, a good base from which to visit the rice paddies around Thaton and the mountainous areas of Doi Lang. Unfortunately the top of Doi Lang, at a height of over 2,000m., is occupied by the military, which means that you have to access the ridge (which has the most interesting birds of course) from two directions – the western approach being infinitely easier but, as a consequence, more popular. You can however walk along the connecting road through the various check-points, which we did on several occasions.

The birding along the ridge was excellent and we spent many happy hours walking the same kilometre stretch of road, seeing an ever-changing cast of species. There are several unofficial ‘feeding stations’ situated along the road – despite the signs in Thai and English saying that they are illegal, which attract a variety of fabulous birds, which the ‘clickers’ take great pride in approaching, within a couple of feet, to obtain their eye-wateringly good photos. On several occasions we’d be watching a bird from a discreet distance when photographers would say ‘excuse me’ and stand right in front – it takes a bit of getting used to!!

When we weren’t at the top of the mountain we were down on the plains, driving around the superb rice paddies of Thaton looking for everything from Buttonquail to Buntings.

We saw surprisingly few raptors, this Crested Serpent Eagle was a welcome exception


Best bird at one of the lower ‘feeding stations’ was this Ultramarine Flycatcher


Hill Prinia is normally a rather shy species


In marked contrast to many of it’s more gaudy cousins, this White-gorgeted Flycatcher was a stunning bird


Speaking of brightly coloured, this is White-bellied Redstart


Big, brash and noisy – Spot-breasted Parrotbill


Similar colour scheme but much less bold, this is White-browed Scimitar-babbler


Up the less accessible east side, Whiskered Yuhina


The dazzling and tongue-twisting, Crimson-faced Liocichla


The positively electric Himalayan Bluetail


Seen at dusk, on our final attempt, male Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant


Apart from the bevy of buntings seen on the Thaton rice paddies, this gymnastic Zitting Cisticola providing a touch of European familiarity


Another Babbler, this time Chestnut-capped


and finally, another familiar species – Bluethroat, which winters in a broad sweep from North Africa, Middle-East, Indian sub-continent, Southern China to SE Asia


Final stop on our three week tour, Mae Wong, more fabulous birds.. and a monkey!


Five a day – Bunting Bonanza


Black-headed Bunting – Thaton rice fields

One of the most memorable birding episodes of our recent trip to Thailand was the morning we spent at the Thaton rice fields, bunting hunting.

We’d seen Chestnut-eared previously but, thanks to some excellent information from local guide Nick Upton, we were on station, just as the sun was rising, to catch up with Yellow-breasted and the duo of Thai rarities Black-headed and Red-headed. First fleeting glimpse was of a Yellow-breasted departing from the reed beds and flying away over the fields! Next were distant views of another Chestnut-eared, again hidden in the reed-beds. By systematically walking the elevated tracks we eventually tracked down both Black-headed and Red-headed. Later that afternoon I was lucky enough to encounter a Chestnut Bunting in the upland pines of Doi Lang, making it five bunting species in a single day – not bad!

Chestnut-eared Bunting


Yellow-breasted Bunting


Red-headed Bunting


and finally, Chestnut Bunting 



Chiang Saen


Local private nature reserve – location of some of our best birds

We’re spending a few nights at the excellent Viang Yonok resort, on the shores of Chiang Saen, close to the river Mekong and neighbouring country of Laos. The quality of the accommodation is only matched by the varied birdlife. One of our favourite locations has been a private ‘pocket’ nature reserve at Nam Kham, where we’ve encountered several fabulous species include an over-wintering, ‘first’ for Thailand – Firethroat and several Siberian Rubythroat, along with an impressive supporting cast.

As I’m still experiencing difficulties uploading my own photos, I’ve happily  ‘borrowed’ some from Jane – thus setting a new standard, which will be hard to follow in future posts.

A ‘first’ for Thailand, last year’s returning wintering bird – a Firethroat. One of only a handful of Thailand ticks for Neil so far 


The absolutely majestic Siberian Rubythroat


Yellow-bellied Prinia


Red Avadavat


Doi Ang Khang


View of the border post, on the Myanmar side

We’ve just spent the last couple of days at Doi Ang Khang, in the north west corner of Thailand, on the Myanmar border. Whilst the birding has been great, the weather has been somewhat thermally challenging. The hotel we were staying in served ‘breakfast on the terrace’, which I guess in ordinary circumstances would be idyllic but, at 4 deg C. as it has been, was more like boot camp! By the time you got back to your table from the buffet, your food and drinks were stone cold. It was misty with a slight drizzle yesterday morning, which meant we couldn’t even enjoy the stunning views! Supper though has been enjoyed sitting in front of a roaring log fire.

We had some fabulous birds to make up for it though but unfortunately I’m currently experiencing difficulties uploading photos so you’ll have to use your imagination…

Today we’ve driven east to the shores of Chiang Saen lake, with plenty of good birds on route.

Doi Chiang Doa


 Wat Tham Pha Plong,  just a stroll from Malee’s front door. Photo by Jane Williams

We’ve just spent three nights at Malee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows, situated at the entrance to the Doi Chiang Doa National Park, where the food and hospitality has been excellent. Unfortunately we’ve had a couple of setbacks to our itinerary, including having to taking Bob to Chiang Mai yesterday for an emergency dental appointment to have a nasty abscess dealt with. I’m pleased to say that he’s now on the mend. Today was a ‘before dawn’ start to ensure we arrived at the top of the mountain by day-break, but despite doing so, the birding proved to be rather under-whelming. However, one of our two ‘birds of the day’ came almost on arrival at the top, in the shape of a superb Black-tailed Crake. Our other best bird came at the very end of the day, just as it was getting dark – a splendid Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl, at the entrance to Wat Tham Pha Plong.

The generally elusive Black-tailed Crake


Record shot of Spot-bellied Eagle-owl


Doi Inthanon Photo Gallery

We’ve spent the past couple of days birding in the national park of Doi Inthanon, at the top of Thailand’s highest mountain – formerly known as Doi Luang, ‘Big mountain’, reaching a height of 2565m. Much of the park is pristine rainforest which supports a range of birds, unique to this part of Thailand. Breakfast on the terrace at Mr Daeng’s has been enjoyed at temperatures as low as 7 degrees – struggling to reach the mid-twenties in the middle of the day. We’ve seen some lovely birds but given the nature of the habitat – the best of which is a dark, dank forest bowl, accessed by a circular boardwalk, close to the summit, photography has proved to be challenging! Here is a selection of the more reasonable ones.

Large Niltava, male


Long-tailed Minivet


Yellow-cheeked Tit


and the much rarer Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker


There are a number of Sunbirds at Doi Inthanon, Two of which were absolutely stunning, Mrs Gould’s and the scarcer Green-tailed



A good number of Thai passerine families seem to have blue and orange as their main colours – making identification for the novice something of a challenge. This one, seen at the very summit of the mountain, is Snowy-browed Flycatcher


This, rare Blue-fronted Redstart was one of our ‘celebrity’ birds


This bird, White-browed Shortwing, lives in the deepest, darkest parts of the forest – record shot, taken at 1/4 sec at 6400 ISO!


Another skulker was this Hill Prinia


Some birds however did put on a show, this Banded Bay Cuckoo was in the car park at Mr Daeng’s


One of our favourites was Bar-throated (Chestnut Tailed) Minla