Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas in Cornwall - Sunday 27th

The day after Boxing Day, Sunday December 27th, we planned to explore a few birding locations in the southern part of Cornwall, starting off with a visit to the Lizard. We've been here together twice before. The first time we sat in the car listening to the fog horns, with visibility less than ten metres, the second time involved short dashes between hostelries in driving rain, which of course was at the height of a British summer.

This time we were in luck. It was very windy and very cold but neither foggy nor raining:

We walked around the point, to a small valley known as a good spot for migrants in Spring. We weren't expecting much at the start of Winter of course. There was a small group of Song Thrushes, including this one:

Other birds included Stonechats, Kestrel, Lesser-black Backed and Herring Gulls, and this Meadow Pipit, foraging in a field near the cliff-edge:

We walked around the point and back into the village before driving to the National Trust car park by the lighthouse. A Jackdaw looked like it was picking the lichen off a roof-top:

A group of Herring Gulls were sheltering from the heavy winds in the car park:

Herring Gulls have a bit of a reputation in Cornwall, I for one however find them to be very interesting and attractive birds.

From the car park we decided to walk down to the most southerly point in Britain, not for that but because the Chough are known to frequent the area:

We weren't disappointed, a pair of Choughs were feeding on the cliff:

From the Lizard we headed next to Hayle Estuary, timed to arrive as the tide was coming in, about an hour before high tide. It's fair to say that next time we'll probably aim for a lower tide as, with the rising water, a lot of birds had been pushed to the far side of the estuary so it made it harder to spot birds, rather than easier. We did enjoy watching this flock of Dunlin move from the estuary proper into the small RSPB reserve:

As this birding was proving distant we decided to head further into Hayle, crossing the iron bridge across the estuary to walk up up to the furthest point of the rising tide. The walkway is a very good spot for birding being sub-tropical in climate (surprisingly). There are loads of common/garden species, including tits, finches, etc., as well as the odd migrant including some Redwing. Out on the estuary we watched Curlew mixing in with the gulls:

Numerous Redshank:

One bird that caught our attention was this Rock Pipit, which we've not seen outside of coastal cliff habitats before:

Beautiful little bird:

On our way back to the car we spotted a small group of Ruddy Turnstones:

And a Carrion Crow, not a regular feature in this blog, but I like the light, the shadow, the colours, etc:

We checked out Drift reservoir to find it was permit only and didn't know where Chapel Carn Brae was, so no chance of spotting the Richard's Pipit either... so time to head back, clean-up and pitch-up for dinner. We've added Cornwall as a Spring birding destination to the ever longer list of places we'd like to visit for Spring migration...

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Christmas in Cornwall - Boxing Day

Helen hails from Cornwall and a good portion of her family still lives there so we regularly visit with family and friends in Cornwall, especially around Christmas time. This year, after a dash down on Christmas Eve and a food and drink laden Christmas Day courtesy of Helen's sister-in-law, we headed out as a group to walk some of the excess off on Boxing Day. Our hosts selected a walk starting at Chapel Porth and taking in St Agnes Beacon. The wind was blowing, whipping up the sea:

Chapel Porth has loos and a cafe and is home to a family of Rock Pipits:

On the walk down from St Agnes Beacon we took in the coastal path, not too 'cliffy', thank you, enjoying the sunlight playing off the water:

Not a very birdy day or location, but I think this one is interesting, I believe it to be a Stonechat of the Siberian race, if correct then this is a very uncommon bird for our country:

The walk was shortish, lasting a little under two-hours but then large clumps of rain cloud were passing close-by so heading home for a hearty soup seemed like an excellent plan!

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stuck In

The snow that covered much of the UK caused us some fun and games too, we only just made the Christmas party in London on Friday, through a combination of walking, taxis and trains, which themselves were severely disrupted. Other plans however were put 'on ice' as we hadn't planned ahead and moved the car from the driveway, which is at quite a slope. I tried to move it a couple of times, only to fall over and badly bruise a shin, so we were pretty much stuck for the balance of the weekend.

So our attention turned to feeding the local birds. You can see here how miserable it was, early on Friday morning, this Redwing was perched in our hedge, with no cover to avoid the snow:

It stayed cold all weekend, the highest temperature we recorded was around 2 Celsius, so all the birds are puffed-up against the cold, like this Robin:

This is the first Wren we've seen for about four months:

The Starlings are back in numbers now, we've had around forty at any one time this weekend, they love sultanas:

The local territorial singing Song Thrush was killed by a cat in April, which was very upsetting, and we've not had one in our garden since then. This weekend we've had two:

The second one keeps lifting a foot off the ground, trying to keep one foot at least warm.

Another Winter to Spring regular is the Reed Bunting, we had our first in the garden less than two weeks ago, we're up to about eight today:

And of course the Blackbirds. Loads in Spring when they were breeding, then literally the odd one through Summer and Autumn as they move out to feed, then when the winter gets hard, double figures within a day:

Other birds include House Sparrows (around eighty to one hundred), Wood Pigeons, Black-headed Gulls, Sparrowhawks, Stock Doves, Collared Doves, Feral Pigeons, Chaffinches, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and for the third year in a row, a female Pheasant. The forecast is for this cold spell to stay with us for at least another week. We expect more and more birds to come into the garden during this period...

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Kenya - Saturday, Lake Naivasha, last day in Kenya

Rain stopped play. We were both disappointed and delighted it was raining. Disappointed as it was our last morning birding opportunity for this holiday, delighted as this country badly needs all the rain it can get. So having got up early, we gave up on a walk and after breakfast spent more time catching up on Bird ID’s, packing, etc. It did stop raining mid-morning, which gave us a chance to slide around:

A common bird in some locales, the White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher was the first we spotted:

We might have to re-name this the 'early bird'. Followed by the Grey-backed Fiscal Shrike:

A Brimstone Canary looking resplendent in the sunlight:

An African Citril:

A Blacksmith Lapwing:

We were over-flown by a heavier and all orange bodied swallow a Mosque Swallow. Alas as usual with Hirundines, no picture to accompany the sighting. As always the most numerous bird was the aptly named Superb Starling:

Down on Lake Naivasha a pair of Egyptian Geese were raising a brood of goslings:

We were joined on our walk by Geoffrey the bird guide and hotel boatman who wanted to show us the woods by the yacht club. On the walk there we spotted another bird of prey cruising over-head. We think this raptor is an immature Eurasian Marsh Harrier:

Over in the woods, and before we were shooed away by the yacht club security guards for ‘trespassing’, we spotted our second new species of the day, an Isabelline Shrike:

As you can tell by the light, it had started raining again. Next a Crowned Plover:

A rather thin looking Wildebeest:

In this area there are no predators, just a shortage of land and therefore food. The rain was getting heavier so we scampered back to the hotel, planning on a mid-morning tea break. We did stop to snap another new species, Dusky Turtle Doves:

After the rain had abated, we headed out again, keen to improve on our species list thus far, adding White-headed Barbet:

In the grounds of the Country Club, we bumped into a birder from South Africa in the company of two local guides. We got their business card (http://www.bensecologicalsafaris.com/) on the basis someone who really does know their birds will help us plan both a better itinerary when we head back to this part of the world (we will) and help us to both see and identify more birds than we alone managed. Benson pointed out this Sulfur-breasted Bush-Shrike, while we were chatting:

These Green Wood-Hoopoes were allo-preening:

We headed off back towards the lake shore. This Black-lored Babbler was keeping lookout for a group foraging on the ground below:

Next a very close Streaky Seedeater:

An Amethyst Sunbird:

A male Blackcap, a long way from where we normally spot them, was mostly obscured in the undergrowth. A blurry picture of a Crimson-rumped Waxbill (it had just started raining again, this time with accompanying booms of thunder!):


The grand total then, drum roll, is 222 species identified of which 179 were the first time we had seen them. Our life list now stands at 840. Awesome.

Kenya is a wonderful country, offering a unique birding experience. I know a lot of people are wary of visiting Kenya because of the drought and the security situation. The drought is bad, but the way things are structured humans will be the last to notice. In respect of security, the only time we felt in any way vulnerable was when I asked security to leave us alone on the shoreline of Lake Naivasha, at which point we were then vulnerable and (we believe) lined-up for a mugging, but were smart enough to notice and move back to safe territory. We have on occasions felt equally at risk in some of Britain’s larger cities.

The bigger picture stuff was never going to affect us and wouldn’t affect any other tourist. So the risks in Kenya are the same as anywhere else and the safe practices the same too. In my opinion there’s no reason not to travel to Kenya and a lot of positive reasons to travel there. Final comment, if you’re going to a developing country and have an old pair of binoculars or bird guide take them with you and give them to the local guides, they will really appreciate the gesture and it’ll only help them to help you…

We used this trip to find out as much as we could about birding in Kenya. For our next trip, assuming we get an opportunity, we would probably schedule something along the lines of Mombasa and the coastal area, the Masai Mara, then to Nairobi and Sweetwater, Samburu, Lake Baringo, Turkana Forest and back via a different National Park, so a fortnight in all. Maybe that’s two trips?!

Of course Uganda and Tanzania both deserve fortnights of their own too…so many places, so little time!

And finally, a note on the blogging software, it's much improved, thank you Google. Much less painful than last time...

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Kenya - Friday, Lake Naivasha, afternoon walk

Another afternoon of bird ID checking, typing, photo (and this time video) processing flew by, just in time for our afternoon self-guided birding walk around the grounds of the Hotel…

Our first encounter, a now familiar White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher:

Not very sharp as these are very quick moving, small birds that like to feed in bushes and trees. A White-browed Coucal:

A pair of Lilac-breasted Rollers, really good looking birds:

An African Dusky Flycatcher, not only plainly coloured but also playing hard to get in the shadow of the trees:

A Winding Cisticola:

This is another Sunbird that doesn’t match any in my guidebook. I suspect this is a Variable Sunbird:

We did see Sand Martins and Scarce Swifts, I have record shots of both, but nothing worth adding to the blog. The Swifts in particular were great to watch zooming around, the fly fast and low and make a great sound as they swish past.

A familiar bird from home, the Willow Warbler, which makes me wonder if the previous one might have been a ChiffChaff. So much easier when they are signing their song in late Spring in the UK!

The over-side and under-side of a Montagu’s Harrier. The local guide was as surprised as we were to see this:

I took this picture of the bougainvillea at the front of the hotel:

This group of White-browed Robin-chats were signing together, which was lovely to watch:

Based on the tail and the size of the bird, I believe this is a Square-tailed Drongo:

A Spectacled Weaver - though blurry the black chin makes it clear it’s not a Baglafecht Weaver:

This tree, unusually, has a cactus growing in it:

As the day drew in a troop of Monkeys moved through the grounds:

It turns out the Buffalo, Water Buck, Giraffe and Hippopotamuses also move through the grounds… hence we got moved out of one area we were birding in by some very twitchy security guards.

After dinner, as we walked briskly down to the lake to share our G&Ts with the hippos, we were once again stopped by the same twitchy security guards. Helen is disappointed to report that, despite all the warning signs telling people that they do this or that (parking, walking, breathing) at their own risk, there is no such thing as ‘voluntary assumption of risk’ in Kenya, and you are not allowed to do anything that might be remotely dangerous. Sadly, the hippos were deemed not to be safe to view until the magic hour of 7am (not 6:45am, mind) the following morning. So we instead retired to bed.

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