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

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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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

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The resident shrike is the koenigi race of Iberian Grey Shrike

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

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

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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!

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

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and Fuerteventura Green-striped White butterfly

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NCN 1 – Yorkshire to Norfolk

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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

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

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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!

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

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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

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

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Hill Prinia is normally a rather shy species

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

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Speaking of brightly coloured, this is White-bellied Redstart

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Big, brash and noisy – Spot-breasted Parrotbill

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

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Up the less accessible east side, Whiskered Yuhina

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The dazzling and tongue-twisting, Crimson-faced Liocichla

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The positively electric Himalayan Bluetail

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

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

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Another Babbler, this time Chestnut-capped

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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

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

 

Five a day – Bunting Bonanza

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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

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Yellow-breasted Bunting

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Red-headed Bunting

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and finally, Chestnut Bunting 

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Chiang Saen

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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 

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The absolutely majestic Siberian Rubythroat

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Yellow-bellied Prinia

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Red Avadavat

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