Last Monday there I was sitting in the bar at Heathrow chatting to Mrs B on the phone prior to my flight to Manchester. End of another tour and what better way to spend the following weekend than a midday footy match? Arsenal v. Spurs: London derby. Mrs B reminds me that we had planned a weekend on the Solway.
"But, but midday kick off......"
Sunday's forecast is looking bad with a blanket of rain over the UK but Mrs B reminds me that it's site closing weekend at Southerness and we have to attend to the caravan. Enough is enough and it's time I put my foot down!
So ......... we set off for Southerness this morning. First birds of note were some Pink-feet just before the border from the M6. Then 65 Fieldfares as we hit the A65 in D&G before stopping at Seafield Bay near Annan. Tide was just ebbing as we arrived and I can't remember seeing 38 Snipe at one site anywhere on the Solway for sometime but apart from 8 Black-tailed Godwits there was little else of note.
Pete Berry contacted me to say he had Black Redstart at the Mull of Galloway the other day (part of an influx around the country for this species). I've had the rocky shore and seawall of Southerness Point earmarked for this bird (the Mull is a bit far for a day trip from Preston for Black Red') so I thought we'd give it a go. Parking at the point and having a quick sarny Radio Five Live somehow slipped on just in time for the first goal, swiftly followed by the second. A Great Northern Diver just off the point may well be the one we've been seeing here for three winters now. With so much rocky foreshore exposed those Purple Sand's could have been anywhere and we couldn't find any despite a thorough search among the Turnstones. Just a few Great Crested Grebes and a female Common Scoter offshore so we made for the beach in search of our Black Red'. No joy this year, but boy it looks good.
An untidy skein of Barnacle Geese made us remember that we'd planned to finish the day at Mersehead RSPB so we headed out there. Mersehead is always a great place to finish a Solway day: Water Rails squealing from the reeds, roosting Starlings, Barnacle Geese overhead, Pintails, Shovelers, Teals and 4 Pochard.
Homeward bound with rain on the M6 and thank heaven for Match of the Day (3-0)!
Saturday, 31 October 2009
Friday, 30 October 2009
Popped out for a couple of hours this afternoon. The estuary was teaming with birds: 35 Little Egrets (probably more), Merlin, Peregrine, Grey Plover, 790 Golden Plover, 40+ Black-tailed Godwits, 30 Curlew, 250 Lapwings in one ploughed field and 50 Greylag Geese with a few Canadas all at the west end of Banks / Crossens. Single Raven mobbed by Lapwings continuing my good run of records for this species on the Ribble of late.
By the time I reached Old Hollow Farm the rain had set in, making the visibility poor. Loads of Wigeon and smaller numbers of Teal, Mallard and Shelduck on the pools, 110 Dunlin, 2 Snipe and 3 Spotted Redshanks but no sign of any dowitchers.
Making a hasty retreat back to the car I put up a couple of Grey Partridges and several hundred Pink-feet were going out to roost on the salt marsh. With Lesser Canada Goose and Snow Goose seen nearby today they should get plenty of attention over the coming weeks.
Plenty to see at the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge apart from the star bird. Birding the road here gave us an opportunity to see both Golden-headed and Crested Quetzals, Black-streaked Puffbird, Cerulean-capped and Yungas Manakins, Peruvian Piedtails plus some impressive mixed species flocks. One evening we took the trip up above the lodge to the Mirador where a male Lyre-tailed Nightjar regularly sings and displays. This is a really amazing sight as he flies above the trees with his tail streamers flapping around in his wake. We even managed 'scope views of him perched this year and for some it was the highlight of the whole tour.
This building is opposite another lodge at Union Bridge. If you look carefully under the eaves you can just about see something resting on the thatch.
It's more obvious in this photo above. But in close-up it's a female Lyre-tailed Nightjar (below).
Next: Amazonia Lodge and the lowlands.
Dropping through the temperate cloud forests with Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Blue-banded Toucanets, Golden-headed Quetzal and Andean Potoo and descending to the subtropics the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock can easily be seen on the Manu Road. The forests near the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge with its observation platform has to be the best place anywhere to see this strange cotinga.
Males perform their ritual displays early in the morning and again in the late afternoon, but can be found just about anytime near the lekking site throughout the day. The squeals can be heard even before it's light as males gather at the lek to entice a female to join them. Once the male has attracted a female he mates and that's it! Back to the lek and the hen continues with the nest building and care of the young.
The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock of this part of Peru is a little more vivid orange than birds further north. Belonging to the race saturata, these birds can be found south to northern Bolivia. The nominate peruviana lives in central and north Peru while the paler aequatorialis can be found on the east slope of the Andes in Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. Many will have seen the "postbox-red" sanguinolenta from the west slope in Ecuador as there are some accessible leks there, though nowhere near as easy to reach or as spectacular as the Manu Road birds.
Almost educational that.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
The birding route along the Cusco - Shintuya road (The Old Manu Road) is undoubtedly one of the classics. I am privileged to have been able to watch all kinds of birds along this road on over thirty occasions now, mostly leading birding tours.
This year we started early as usual reaching the arid slopes near Huancarani before it became too hot, our main target bird being the endemic Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch. Thanks to an impromptu stop for Andean Tinamou we ended up finding this attractive species early plus Rusty-fronted Canastero and a host of other interesting birds.
Heading towards Paucartambo Andean Ibis can be found on the arid "pampas". This scarce species can be found almost anywhere in this vast area and a modicum of good fortune is needed to encounter one but thanks to the sharp eyes of one of our group members (nice one Peter).
Climbing out of Paucartambo the habitat slowly becomes less arid until the Puna grasslands are reached and the road drops over the pass and into the cloud forests of the eastern slope of the Andes. In the more humid valleys the endemic Creamy-crested Spinetail can be found and Giant Hummingbirds (a Starling-sized hummer) sally from perches catching insects. This year we found an Andean Tyrant here; a bird I've personally seen on only a handful of occasions.
Into the cloud forests next ........
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Mixed fortunes on the south Ribble marshes today on a fine autumn day. As we crossed the river about 60 Fieldfares were seen near Penwortham. A walk around Longton Marsh produced a few more with small numbers of Redwings, a Raven and best of all 15 Corn Buntings. About 50 Skylarks were in the stubble but otherwise no large gatherings of passerines.
Hesketh Out Marsh was quiet apart from the now expected Marsh Harrier, 10 Whooper Swans, 3 Tree Sparrows, another Raven and a few winter thrushes. A couple of Little Egrets were out on the RSPB reserve strutting their stuff but that was about it apart from an impressive 2,000 Starlings on the saltmarsh.
No time for Banks Marsh today as we made our way to Martin Mere WWT in the hope of seeing the Lesser Canada Goose seen there this morning. I'm not a great fan of hide-hopping and forgot it was half-term but persevered nevertheless. Hordes of Pink-feet and nearly as many people! No sign of any small Canadas for me and I could only pick out a single Barnacle Goose with the Pinks. We'd had enough by late afternoon and Mrs B bailed out early in preference of pulling her fingernails out in the car while I gave the small Canada one more go. After relocating the Barnacle Goose once more I decided enough was enough and chucked in the towel too.
I was most fortunate being able to watch and photograph this stunning Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher in the Pantanal last month. Found from the footpath alongside the Pixaim, it remained perched quite unconcerned as I approached to take some shots of this quite elusive bird. A species of the forest and river or lake edge, the Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher can be one of the more difficult kingfishers to see. Indeed during the most recent trip to Peru we located one deep in the terra firme forest at Manu Wildlife Centre at a small low lying swamp area of forest. A magic moment indeed.
We spent a day at Machu Picchu on Saturday. Quite incredible when I look at these photos to think how the weather changed at lunchtime with heavy rain as we finished our guided tour of the ruins. Some 2,000 tourists visit Machu Picchu daily on average nowadays we are told!
The view from the main gateway looking past the caretakers house (with the thatch) towards the mountain of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu means old mountain in Quechua and is higher than the perhaps more famous Wayna Picchu ("Young Mountain") featured in the header photo.
Looking down to the Urubamba Valley from the ruins. Terraces in the foreground with the river "wrapping" around the mountains nowadays producing electricity for Cusco by the hydroelectricity plant in the valley.
Main quarry (no, not THAT quarry - don't get excited Bill!) where the granite was worked for building.
Right, that's got that out the way then ......
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
I'd been following the movements of local dowitchers while I was in Brazil, and most recently of a couple on the Ribble Marshes during my tour to Peru. Two had been located at Banks Marsh mid-month by John Wright and Bill Aspin but updates on the whereabouts of these birds had been few and far between until Bill looked again late last week. So, I still had a chance of a Ribble dowitcher then and decided to have a look despite no recent news.
The weather was pretty grim when Mrs B and I set out this morning for the short journey to Banks and on arrival we were greeted with the sight of splashes jam-packed with birds. Wigeon were tightly squeezed onto the pools with Teal, 50+ Redshanks, 200+ Dunlin, a few Golden Plover, several Black-tailed Godwits and 2 Spotted Redshanks. Five Little Egrets were easy enough to find but after a few scans no sign of any mobile sewing machines so I decided to scrutinise the birds in the far pool. Wasn't too long before we located a single Long-billed Dowitcher with its distinctive feeding motion (like a bird trying to shake something off its beak, as Mrs B so accurately observed).
We spent as much time watching the dowitcher as poss' but the dull conditions and distance made even a record shot impossible today. Eventually it started to roam a bit and we lost it amongst the hordes of Wigeon on the splashes. It's sure nice to catch up with some Lancs October rarities once in a while (I'm often away the whole month, working abroad). Will try again tomorrow no doubt.
Just enough time to call in at the excellent new Ribble Estuary RSPB reserve at Hesketh Out Marsh (HOM). This site is full of potential and although the marshes are not yet fully established it already boast an impressive list of good birds including Great White Egret, Spoonbill and Rough-legged Buzzard. We didn't get time to do the place justice this morning but Marsh Harriers are always a nice sight on the Ribble and 7 Whoopers Swans flew past as we watched a Merlin perched on the fenceposts. HOM will certainly feature in our Ribble birding circuit in the future for sure.
Monday, 26 October 2009
Just back from the Peru tour with a seamless journey from Lima to Madrid with onward connections to London and then finally Manchester. A fine trip indeed encompassing birding sites from the high Andes down through the cloud forests of the Manu Road and into the Amazonian lowlands. Finishing on Sunday on the arid Pacific coast near Lima with a variety of seabirds, waders and wildfowl was a real bonus too.
Peruvian Thick-Knees at Villa Marshes near Lima, Peru 25 October 2009.
I'll recap on more birds of Manu over the next few days but here's a selection of images from our final day in Peru. We left Cusco on the first LAN flight to Lima on Sunday and with plenty of time to spare before our evening Iberia flight to Europe, we headed out to the coast. Our first stop was near the plush Miraflores district by the excellent seafood restaurant Rosa Nautica (above).
I've stopped here a few times and been lucky with Inca Terns and with a few black birds in the bay as we passed our bus came to a sudden halt. There were some 40 Inca Terns in the small bay by the restaurant on stilts - a fine start to our morning on the coast.
Next stop was the superb urban coastal wetland reserve at Villa Marshes. White-cheeked Pintails (above), Cinnamon Teals (below), Great Grebes, Andean Coots, Puna Ibis and Andean Ducks were easily seen from the road and near the visitor centre before we headed out to the coast.
One of the main attractions here is the Peruvian Thick-Knee. They can be tricky to find though and after searching some fields I decided to try a small area of waste ground where I'd been lucky in the past.
We found a pair almost straight away and were able to approach with care, obtaining some stunning views of this strange "stone curlew". Other birds characteristic of the Pacific coast here included Amazilia Hummingbirds, Long-tailed Mockingbirds, Pacific Doves, Croaking Ground-Doves, Scrub Blackbird and a few Vermilion Flycatchers (although all males were red, rather than the sooty morph so often found along this arid coastal strip).
Next stop was the beach and coastal lagoon which was alive with Neotropical Cormorants, Pied-billed Grebe, Little Blue Herons, Striated Herons, Killdeers, Wren-like Rushbirds, Many-coloured Rush-Tyrants and Yellow-hooded Blackbirds.
Parties of Franklin's Gulls (the majority of which winter along this coast in the cool Humboldt Current) dropped into the lagoon to join larger numbers of Band-tailed Gulls with a sprinkling of Grey-headed, Kelp, Grey and Grey-headed Gulls as well.
Apart from passing Peruvian Pelicans (above), Peruvian Boobies and Guanay Cormorants the sea was quiet and just some Hudsonian Whimbrels on the beach, so we decided to move onto our final birding destination of the tour at the nearby fishing village of Pucusana.
Still a few birds to find so this Blackish Oystercatcher seen while we were having lunch was a bonus. Then it was a stroll around the harbour in search of Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes which we finally found in the yacht club. No time for a boat trip so we headed up to the only available headland for a scan of the sea.
Some cracking Inca Terns viewed at close quarters (header photo) and then a Red-legged Shag made the scramble worthwhile. Best saved for last though when half-a-dozen Humboldt Penguins were found swimming offshore, rolling around and preening. Great stuff and perfect timing as we headed back north to Lima to the hotel to freshen up for our flight home.
More from Peru and Brazil soon.