Bueng Borapet – Baer’s Pochard


Male Baer’s Pochard, Bueng Borapet, Thailand

It’s our first full day in Thailand and we spent the morning at Bueng Borapet – Thailand’s largest fresh water lake and swamp, looking for one of the world’s rarest duck. In a four hour boat trip around the lake we managed to locate just one male of this critically endanger species, which breeds, in small numbers, in eastern Russia and northern China. Numbers of this Aythay have declined dramatically in the past two decades and during a recent survey of it’s traditional wintering grounds, less than a hundred birds were found. This truly amazing sighting gets our Thailand trip off to a flying start!

Flight shot of Baer’s Pochard (foreground) showing under-wing detail, in comparison with the similar Ferruginous Duck 


Australian Wildlife Miscellany

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a nice mixture of Australian wildlife. Here are a few photos of some of the stuff we’ve seen on our travels in New South Wales and Victoria, starting with the mammals..

Tasmanian Pademelon




Bennett’s Wallaby – white form


One of the undoubted highlights was to come across a Platypus, swimming in a Tasmanian mountain stream, in the middle of the day! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to obtain anything other than a poor grab shot..


We only came across a couple of snakes, unfortunately. This is Lowland Copperhead – described in the text as ‘extremely venomous’!


Some of the fabulous birdlife, which probably didn’t get the attention it deserved whilst in the pursuit of my 500th species for Australia. This is the very eye-catching New Holland Honeyeater


Hooded Plover, a rarity – only found on the remote beaches of Victoria and Tasmania 


This wasn’t a ‘parrot trip’ – so this Blue-winged was a welcome bonus


Pink Robin, a bird of the dense rainforest


and to finish, a nice male Satin Flycatcher. Reasonably common but stunning nonetheless


We’re finishing our four week family holiday in Australia with a trip-list of just short of 260 species, including 15 Australian ‘Life ticks’. This is a great country for wildlife in general and birds in particular. What makes it particularly special is that practically everyone you meet is keen to share their knowledge – without their kind assistance I certainly wouldn’t have reached 500 species on this trip. With grateful thanks.. we’ll be back for more!

Next post will be from Thailand.

Van Diemen’s Endemic Clean-up

Last week we took a family holiday on Bruny Island, Tasmania. Interspersed with doing all the usual touristy things with the grand-kids, we were also in pursuit of the island state’s endemics. Traditionally, there were twelve resident endemic species: Tasmanian Native-hen, Green Rosella, Forty-spotted Pardalote, Scrubtit, Tasmanian Scrubwren, Tasmanian Thornbill, Yellow Wattlebird, Yellow-throated Honeyeater, Strong-billed Honeyeater, Black-headed Honeyeater, Dusky Robin and Black Currawong, which, together with a recent addition, Morepork – a split from Southern Boobook and two breeding endemics, Swift and Orange-bellied Parrot, formed our targets. In the six days we were on Bruny Island we cleaned-up on all but the Orange-bellied – which fortunately we’d seen previously on their wintering grounds in southern Victoria. Now sadly critically endangered and on the brink of extinction.

Easiest to see by far was the Native-hen, common in most pastures near water


Yellow-throated Honeyeater were readily located by their vocal habits


In the tree at the bottom of our holiday accommodation garden was a family party of Dusky Robin


Green Rosella were also regular over the garden


In the nearby adjacent woodland were Black-headed Honeyeater and Yellow Wattlebird



A trip to the coastal woodlands around Adventure Bay produced Tasmanian Thornbill and Strong-billed Honeyeater


IMG_1500 Forty-spotted Pardalote is regarded as one of the trickier species to find – it’s certainly one of the rarest. We eventually found a small group high up in the White Gums, in McCracken’s Gully. Record shot only


An expedition up into the rainforest was required for our next two targets – Tasmanian Scrubwren and the similar looking, but rather more elusive, Scrubtit



Amazingly, the last of the traditional twelve to fall was the Black Currawong


Morepork, the recent split from Southern Boobook, was found whilst attempting to relocate a Masked Owl, seen a few nights earlier. This, a screen shot of the back of my camera, texted by Dan to his mates in Newcastle, moments after our ‘tick-up’! 

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As if this ‘tick-fest’ wasn’t enough, we also saw several Tassie sub-species, which are potential splits for the future, including Masked Owl (not photographed) Brown Quail and Grey Shrike-thrush

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All this ticking-up has taken me well over the 500 target for my Australian List!

We’re now on Wilson’s Prom with my brother for a few days R&R before heading off to Thailand, to join up with Neil and Bob & Sue, for what I hope will be an intensive and rewarding tour of the top sites in the north of the country.


500th Aussie tick


Tasmanian Thornbill – my 500th Australian bird species!

Yesterday I ‘ticked up’ my 500th bird species for Australia! We’re down on Tasmania attempting to see all the island’s endemics – my 500th happened to be one of the more uninspiring of them! Tasmanian Thornbill is similar to the more common and widespread Brown Thornbill, only rather more range-restricted. This reasonably modest total has been accumulated over a number of family holidays, but including visits to most of the geographic regions of the country, with the exception of the north west corner – which we’re saving for a future visit. Most of our trips have been in the Australian summer months.

Great Ocean Road


The Great Ocean Road and the ‘Twelve Apostles’ – photo by Jane

On the last morning of our road trip from Newcastle to Melbourne we drove along the wonderfully scenic Great Ocean Road – looking for the range-restricted Rufous Bristlebird!

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The target species – safely ‘under the belt’!


Singing Honeyeater –  was a surprising find along the coastal strip


Koala – just chilling! Found in eucalypts near our morning coffee stop. Photo by Jane

We’re off to Tasmania first thing tomorrow, so I fear it may be a week before we’re back in internet range. It’ll be a mixture of sight-seeing, beach  and hunting down Tasmania’s thirteen endemic bird species. Watch this space…


Thomas Hardy Trail, part 2 – Behind the Scenes

We’re just back from Dorset, where we stayed at Lower Bockhampton and travelled around much of Hardy’s Wessex searching out the sites believed to have been the inspiration behind many of the locations used by him in his popular novels and poems. Here is a selection of some of the fabulous and fascinating places we visited.

Under the Greenwood Tree

The replacement of the church choir by an organ is a prominent theme in the novel. Although the setting was the church at Stinsford, where Hardy’s father was a musician in the choir, the gallery was subsequently removed. TH took guests to see one of the few remaining galleries in Dorset, at nearby Puddletown


17th century graffiti on the musicians gallery


Keeper Day’s cottage, in Yalbury Wood – based on this remote cottage in Yellowham Wood


Pair of Blue Eyes

The Smith’s cottage in the Valency valley – where, in the book, the young architects parents reside


Widow Jethway’s cottage  – based on another cottage in the same remote Cornish valley


In real life, Hardy’s takes Emma down to the stream in the Vallency valley for a picnic and, in a famous event, she loses a glass in the water. Hardy captures the moment in a sketch and later a poem – Under the Water Fall


Paddle steamers feature in several of Hardy’s novels, in this particular one there is only a brief reference.  The Waverley, here pictured moored at Swanage, is the only working ocean-going vessel of her kind left in the world


Far from the Madding Crowd

This grand property was the model for Upper Farm, which Bathsheba inherits from her uncle (photo courtesy of RW)


This, now converted tithe barn at Cerne Abbas, is thought to be the inspiration for the wedding celebration barn in the novel


Lulworth Cove, the scene of Sergeant Troy’s thwarted attempt to drown himself


TH’s poem,  At Lulworth Cove a Centuary Back 


The Hand of Ethelberta

In the novel, Ethelberta rides to Corvesgate (Corfe Castle) on a donkey


Christopher Julian, one of Ethelberta’s suitors, plays the organ in Melchester cathedral – Salisbury, in real life


The Trumpet-Major

The lower mill at Sutton Poyntz is believed to be Hardy’s inspiration for Overcombe Mill, where the heroine lodges and from where she can observe the regimental goings-on in their camp, on the hill behind


Anne, the heroine, watches the Fleet departing for Spain from Pulpit Rock, close by this lighthouse on Portland Beal


Figure of King George III, carved in this Dorset chalk escarpment, to honour a visit by the royal


King George is also commemorated in this recently restored statue on Weymouth seafront


Major of Casterbridge

Some of the remaining booths at Weyhill Fair, where the drunken Michael Henchard sold his wife, Susan, to a passing sailor!


Henchard’s Casterbridge house after he’s made his fortune and became mayor of the town


Susan spies Michael Henchard at a meeting in a first floor room of the King’s Arms Hotel, years after their estrangement


Gray’s Bridge – frequently visited by Henchard in his more melancholy moods (photo courtesy RW)


Through an unfortunate chain of events Henchard is financially ruined, but is then given, by the townsmen of Casterbridge, a seed merchant’s shop to manage, overlooking the church yard


Tess of the d’Urbervilles

The model for Tess’s family home, before the death of her father and their subsequent eviction


Tess goes to work as a milk-maid on Talbothays Farm, before her marriage to Angel. The dormer window is said to be the bedroom where Tess prepared for her wedding


West Stafford church, used by Hardy as the location for Tess & Angel’s wedding


Wellbridge manor where Tess & Angel spend their honeymoon


The fatherless family camp in the churchyard, under the d’Urberville window at Bere Regis church, seeking recognition of their rightful inheritance


The Cross in Hand, hidden in a Dorset hedgerow – omen of mis-fortune for Tess


After Tess murders Alec, she and Angel run away. They take shelter at Stonehenge, where she is arrested and subsequently tried and hanged


Jude the Obscure

Jude finds employment as a stonemason, working on Melchester cathedral (Salisbury)


Jude is believed to have resided in accommodation close to Town Gate


Sue, Jude’s cousin, lives in Shaston (Shaftesbury)




The Well-beloved

Thought to be the model for Avice’s cottage, now the Portland Museum


Pierston rents Sylvania Castle in his pursuit of Avice


Photograph of Thomas Hardy, taken in his study at Max Gate, shortly before his death in 1928. From humble beginnings he became one of the most prodigious 19th century British authors, with more than ten popular novels and nearly a thousand poems to his name. He lived the majority of his life in Dorset and created a virtual landscape – Wessex, through which he captured, described and preserved many of the customs, traditions and hard-ships of a by-gone era.



For more photographs, covering the whole Thomas Hardy Trail week, visit http://www.robinwilliamsphotography.com/thomashardy










Thomas Hardy Trail, part 1 – Life & Times


Portrait of Thomas Hardy, born 1840 – died 1928

We’ve come down to Dorset for a few days with my brother Robin – over from Australia, to do the Thomas Hardy Trail. Staying at the wonderfully atmospheric Old Post Office in Lower Bockhampton – which features explicitly in a couple of his poems, is opposite the old primary school which the young Hardy attended – just a short walk from his birthplace, close to Dorchester – Hardy’s Casterbridge and central for most of the important location throughout his life and, consequently, many of the places on which he based his novels and poems. We (well actually Jane and Robin!) have drawn heavily on the many available sources to create the itinerary, but we’ve found The Landscape of Thomas Hardy by Denys Kay-Robinson to be amongst the most useful. The majority of locations we’ve visited are to be found in the delightful county of Dorset but we have wandered more widely around ‘outer Wessex’ in our quest of discovery.
This blog is divided into two parts, the first covers most of the places significant in Hardy’s own life, the second, details the actual locations – about which there is a whole library of material and much debate, believed to have been used by Hardy as the backdrop to his novels and poems.

Lower Bockhampton, location of the Old Post Office


The Old Post Office, Lower Brockhampton


The porch of the old village school where Thomas Hardy was a pupil


The water meads across which TH would have walked on his way to and from school (courtesy of RW)


Thomas Hardy’s house in Upper Bockhampton, now in the care of the National Trust


The interior of the cottage, with Jemima his mother’s chair and his father’s violins


At the back of the cottage, Hardy’s Egdon Heath – location for much of the action in Return of the Native


Jemima’s parents cottage in Melbury Osmond


As a young architect, Hardy travelled to the remote church of St Juliot, Boscastle


Here, at the Rectory (now a B&B), he met Emma and fell in love. He married her more than a decade later


Hardy was responsible for supervising a major restoration of the church

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The house in which Hardy lived briefly in Swanage, best observed from Sentry Road

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Their first home together was on the banks of the Stour, at Sturminster Newton

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The mill on the river which featured in his poetry


Max Gate in Dorchester, designed by TH and built by his father, where he lived for over forty years – first with Emma and later with Florence, his second wife. Now in the care of the National Trust (photo courtesy of RW)

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The Hardy’s reconstructed sitting room – all of the original furniture & fittings having been sold off after his death


Details of Emma’s upstairs accommodation


The contents of Hardy’s study – removed from Max Gate, on his instruction, and relocated to the town museum after his death (photo courtesy of RW)


Thomas Hardy’s grave in Stinsford churchyard – his heart is buried here whilst his ashes rest in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey. He lies in the company of both Emma & Florence


Part 2 will feature the settings for most of his major works…


Three Peaks Challenge


Ben Nevis – first climb of the amazing Three Peaks Challenge

This coming weekend we’re doing the Three Peaks challenge – climbing the three tallest mountains in Scotland, England & Wales, all in 24 hours! Well, when I say ‘we’ I mean three of our sons Matt, Josh and Jake, with their cousin Jack – in aid of a truly worthy charity, Marie Curie. My small part in this heroic venture is to act as driver, cook, first aider and general dog’s body! The itinerary goes roughly like this:

Friday night, drive to our Lancashire ‘base camp’. Saturday 10.00 am depart for Scotland, arriving at Fort William for around 4.30 pm. Ascent of the first peak, Ben Nevis, 4409ft, begins at five in the evening – they should be safely off the mountain by night-fall. Over-night drive to Wasdale Head, in the Lake District, ready for the climb of Scafell Pike, 3209ft, starting at 4.00am. Five hours later we should be on the road heading for Llanberis and the final ascent –  Snowdon, 3560ft,. If all goes to plan they should be up and back in four hours, inside the time limit of 24 hours!

Please do visit their giving site at http://www.sponsorme.co.uk/joshwilliams/3-brothers,-3-peaks,-24-hours!.aspx and support this noble cause.

Land of Ice and Fire

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Last week we spent a few days in Iceland with brother Rob and his wife Gi from Australia and Bob and Sue, our long time birding buddies. We flew easyJet from Luton and stayed in two places – the excellent guesthouse and cafe of Vogafjos, on the shores of Lake Myvatn (Lake of the midges!) and the hotel at Stykkisholmur  –  location for some of the filming of the recently released Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Iceland has a pretty limited resident bird population, which is augmented by a range of summer migrants. Our ‘not to be missed’ list included the ‘big three’ Harlequin Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye and Brunnich’s Guillemot – which mostly have their only European breeding presence in Iceland. We did see sixty or so species in the five days we were there but missed out on Gyr Falcon and Red (Grey) Phalarope – oh well, gives us a reason to return. By way of compensation though was the spectacular scenery – volcanos, waterfalls and fumerals.

First though the birds, starting naturally with the water birds. Fourteen species of duck breed on Lake Myvatn, the main reason being the abundant food supply, as can be seen in this photo of a male Wigeon..


.. and from this shot. They aren’t the biting kind of midge, like you get in Scotland, but boy there are a lot of them and they get everywhere – making birding impossible at times!


Long-tailed Duck are present in small numbers – males in breeding plumage are difficult to beat


First of the ‘big three’ Barrow’s Goldeneye – two males with three females. Myvatn is the principal location for this rarest of breeding nearctic ducks in Europe


Slavonian Grebe is the only member of this genus which breeds in Iceland – just gorgeous


Second of the ‘big three’ is the stupendous Harlequin Duck, which move from the icy, fast flowing streams to the flood plains of the Laxa river for just two months of the year to breed


Red-necked Phalarope are just about everywhere in Iceland!


A couple of other species which are surprisingly common, Snow Bunting and Redwing (of the Icelandic race)

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Now for the sea birds, first Arctic Skua..


.. which prey on the abundant Arctic Tern


Glaucous Gull, rather than Iceland Gull, are surprisingly the only breeding ‘white wingers’ on Iceland


Last of the ‘big three’ – Brunnich’s Guillemot, a rare Arctic breeder – last seen at Portland Dorset in December 2013!


and Black Guillemot or ‘Tystie’, as it’s known in Scotland


An added bonus at these seabird cliffs was the small group of Orca – Killer Whale, hunting off-shore


Now some of that spectacular scenery I was telling you about



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Finally, the iconic church at Stykkisholmur – watch out for it in the movie!





Sugarloaf Point


Yesterday, on our return from Crowdy Head – after a few days away with Joe and Gabriella, we called in at Sugarloaf Point to see the lighthouse. Wow, turned out to be one of the most exquisite places I’ve seen in all Australia – just fabulous and couldn’t resist posting some pics.

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Joe and Gabriella doing their Titanic thing!


If you want to go there you can stay at one of the old Keeper’s Cottages – but it’ll cost you $4,700 a week in high season!