Sunday, September 25, 2011

a weekend with family

We travelled to just south of Gloucester on Friday night to meet up with family. The plan was to visit the Aquarium in Bristol on Saturday morning and Slimbridge WWT on Sunday morning. The bits inbetween were to be determined.

Saturday started gloriously. The Harbour area in Bristol is much invested in and improved. There is a local off-shoot of the Science Museum:

Together with a lot of water based architecture. I was genuinely impressed with what has been created, it's a fun and involving space. You could almost sit on those benches:

The Aquarium was great. Lots of good fish and good for kids, being interactive rather than remote displays. The Sharks 3D on the IMAX was good too, although a depressing reminder of the effect of humans on every other species and how we're busy eliminating all other life forms on this rock.

From the Aquarium and after a light lunch we tried the Zoo Gardens but it was heaving. Even at 2pm the queue looked an hour long or so, just to get in, so we headed for Plan C, Westonbirt National Arboretum.

Well it turns out we chose well. I expected the foliage to be mostly green with some gold and rust, but some of the maple trees are already 'on fire:

This taken from under the foliage:

The view to what we presume was the house for which the arboretum was originally developed:


Lime tree avenue:

More pastels:

Catching fire:


And it's only just the second half of September. Looks like every forest will be a worth a visit this Autumn!

Sunday morning we did indeed visit Slimbridge and fed the ducks, geese and swans. We had a great time, somewhat tempered by the rain, which got progressively heavier as a number of thunderstorms passed. Late morning we decided to head to our various homes to recover after what had been a great weekend!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Puerto Rico - Sunday 18th September,

Sunday morning started with a dilemma. We knew by then how bad the roads in Puerto Rico can be, especially when occupied with drivers from Puerto Rico... and we needed to get back to the airport in San Juan within five hours of leaving the hotel. Sat nav said three hours via Marico Forest, which we wanted to bird to see the Elfin-woods Warbler. This species was only discovered in the 1950s despite the island having been populated for hundreds of years by that point.

We headed out promptly, passing a car on its side that had been victim of one of the Puerto Rican driving phenomena, that is people driving out of a junction without checking to see if there's any traffic on the road they are entering while usually being on the phone or smoking or both. The firebrigade were trying to extract a human, we couldn't tell the condition, as we passed.

We reached Marico promptly and set about trying to locate said warbler. The accessible part of the forest is actually a picnic area and a small one at that, the described trails are no longer open to the public.

We spotted first another Puerto Rican Tody:

I crept closer to try for a better picture:


Another Puerto Rican Bullfinch. They proved easier to locate than we had expected:

Spotted again!

And then finally at the gate by the power station, movement, a small group of Elfin-woods Warblers. The sighting was fleeting, the light poor but I can prove that we did indeed see them:

The view was pretty dramatic too:

We headed on to San Juan, and arrived with time to spare, however San Juan was under one of the thunderstorms that we'd been seeing all the time but had avoided thus far... so we settled for a nice lunch in the airport including another very rare species in Puerto Rico, the vegetable!

Then it was time to fly...

Puerto Rico is a long way to go for a long weekend. Ideally we would have had a few more days there to try and see more of the species, although we did very well in the time we had, seeing 58 species of which 34 were new lifers and 9 of these were endemics. Driving is very stressful due to the machismo culture and attitude of virtually everyone else with a car and the island feels very crowded too. We were surprised by the charges and practices of the hotels in the more populous areas but delighted with our accommodation in La Parguera. Another point to note, we would have been pretty stuck without my rudimentary Spanish as outside of San Juan finding someone who speaks English is tricky. The bad weather was localised and avoidable so that was a non-issue. Oh and if you do go, remember the mosquito repellent...


Puerto Rico - Saturday 17th September, Cabo Rojo Lighthouse

We finally made it to Cabo Rojo Lighthouse after more car trauma so were stressed but also looking forward to the birding.

En route we'd had to navigate through a large political rally by what appeared to be the local Senator. Cue Latin music, lots of cars and security.

We didn't really know what to expect of Cabo Rojo. I parked the car on the road to avoid the rough surface of the park drive and we walked in.

Along the roadside are a series of shallow lagoons, all of which had waders in them. There was one flock in particular of Western Sandpipers:

Accompanied by one much taller bird, a Stilt Sandpiper:

The 'peeps' were very accommodating, allowing me to get really quite close while they fed:

Further along the trail is surrounded by shrubbery, in which we encountered the most colourful bird of the trip. The imported (from Venezuela) but now very established Troupial:

We followed the bird as it moved from the bushes to cacti to continue feeding:

We approached the lighthouse, which is on a headland in the extreme south-east of the island:

We were rewarded with good views of the coastline:

and back towards the mainland:

Helen got her revenge from the morning by photographing a very sweaty Michael while looking for further bird species from the top of the main building of the lighthouse:

A last bird on the way back to La Parguera, the Ring-necked Turtle Dove:

Back at the hotel we made full use of the bar facilities while reviewing the birding thus far, after a tremendously satisfying day.


Puerto Rico - Saturday 17th September, the approach to Cartagena Lagoon

From Guanica we decided to head next to Cartagena Lagoon. We got thoroughly lost before finding the road by chance, having given up and in fact decided to head to Cabo Rojo Lighthouse.

So having found the road we turned off and followed it. The road however was blocked by a large truck and a lot of parked cars... so we turned around again and headed back. We weren't going to get to Cartagena Lagoon. We did however take advantage of the relatively quiet road to jump out of the car and photograph some birds we passed, including a perched American Kestrel:

A singing Bananaquit (these birds really are everywhere in Puerto Rico, the most ubiquitous species by far!):

A Grey Kingbird:

And a new species, the Smooth-billed Ani:

You can see on this bird quite what a bill they have:

We passed the 'industrial bay' at the head of the road and headed on to Cabo Rojo...


Puerto Rico - Saturday 17th September, Guanica Dry Forest

We got to the gate to Guanica Dry Forest but it was locked. It was due to be open but it wasn't, but we decided to hang around, photographing this Black-faced Grassquit while we waited:

I snapped Helen walking along the main drag, heading for the birding trail recommended to us by the chap who eventually arrived and opened the gate:

A spider was settled on its web on the trail:

From the trail we started to see birds, including this Stripe-headed Tanager:

A new endemic species, the Puerto Rican Flycatcher:

A Lesser Antillean Pewee:

We originally identified this as a Yellow-throated Vireo but I think on reflection it's another Adelaide's Warbler:

Once we joined the birding trail we realized we'd made a big mistake in our planning and packing - no mosquito repellent! Luckily for Helen she was with me and I am a mosquito magnet. She suffered four bites, we found twenty-eight on me.

Suffice to say we didn't hang about on the trail but marched through the forest and back to the car in double-quick time. I always seem to forget mossie repellent when visiting the USA in summer. Doh! We blew therefore our chances of seeing Puerto Rican Cuckoo Lizard... hey ho.