Thursday, 14 December 2017

Iver Heath - 14th December 2017

The BTO in conjunction with Exeter and Oxford Universities, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology are looking at the origins and genetics of the UK's over wintering Blackcap populations. Prior to this winter period we were issued with a series of colour ring combinations to fit to any Blackcaps caught, plus if any feathers are dropped during handling these need to be collected and sent off for sampling.

We have already had a male Blackcap in the garden, but today we had a female, which with the use of a short period of audio lure was caught, processed and fitted with very light plastic colour rings, and released back into the garden. Alas no feathers were dropped and we have not applied to be added to the licence to take samples, so none were obtained.

 Blackcap, female, age 3

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Wraysbury GP and Staines Moor - 12th December 2017

Finally, we got a fine day without wind and it just happened to be after a night when the temperature had been forecast to drop to minus 6 in our area. Snow that fell two days before was still lying in some areas and frost and ice remained throughout the whole session.

We targetted thrushes and did quite well, but we were also very pleased to get eight pre-processed Robins, some dating back to 2014. Most of the Robins were carrying a lot of fat and were well prepared for the cold snap.


 Redwing with wing of 125mm and some dark centres to 
undertail coverts - but those legs look a bit pale for coburni.

Female Blackbird

Song Thrush aged 3

Totals: 50 (12)

Dunnock - 1 (1)
Robin - 1 (8)
Blackbird - 2 (1)
Fieldfare - 13
Song Thrush - 1
Redwing - 25
Goldcrest - 2 (1)
Long-tailed Tit - 5 (1)

We returned to Staines Moor in the evening to probably try out the thermal imager for the last time before its return, and really did not find it much easier to use due to the lack of magnification, even on a slightly colder night. We did identify a couple of Jack Snipe, but these flew off. There were quite a few Snipe heard, along with a couple of Wigeon and a Redshank. There were a couple of mice picked up feeding on the weed found over the open water, and eventually a Pipit was picked up and caught in the hand net. A leg full of water was collected in WA's wellingtons, for what was expected to be a Water Pipit, but turned out to be a Meadow Pipit, which was duly processed and again returned to the same spot. A couple of Water Pipit were also seen later, but none picked up by the imager, and we left the moor under moderate drizzle.

Total: 1

Meadow Pipit - 1

Wraysbury GP - 5th December 2017

Today seemed the only day with wind low enough for mist netting and we decided to go to Wraysbury. We had six nets up and, over the morning tried for Fieldfare, Redwing, Chiff-chaff, Blackcap, Goldcrest and Firecrest.

There were a lot of winter thrushes in the area around the nets, but few came to the tapes and we spent most of our time watching them fly into and out of the tops of bushes. That said we did manage one Fieldfare and three Redwings. We found a lot of Chiff-chaff on the Stanwell Moor site at our most recent visit, however there was none apparent at this site. Blackcap was tried since we hold some colour ring combinations for over winterers, but again no luck. Goldcrest made up half the catch today, showing that the site holds reasonable numbers of these little birds in the winter months - and a Firecrest was probably best bird of the day.

3F Fieldfare

3M Firecrest

Totals: 17 (2)

Fieldfare - 1
Redwing - 3
Robin - 2
Goldcrest - 8 ( 1 retrap, 1 control KKD 760)
Firecrest - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 1

Stanwell Moor GP - 2nd December 2017

We are just doing a few easy ringing sessions to get back into the swing of things, but most sites in our part of the UK in mid winter are never overly busy, potentially due to being too urban, and without any truly wild habitat. There is another group fairly local to us that maintain a feeding station, which is potentially the best way in a poor countryside area to maintain fairly high data in collection, and for them whilst the catches of around 100 are mainly Blue and Great Tits, the data they obtain has real added value as they ring around 500 or so Tit pulli, and this provides them with a good set of survival data from re-traps year on year.

However, we do not, and have to make the best of our sites by seasonal targetting. Stanwell is particularly good for controls so there is extra value in feeding in to the tracking of individual birds. We also regularly get wintering Chiffs.

We decided to focus on winter thrushes, wintering Chiffchaff in the reedbed and on the mound, and Meadow Pipits.

There was an interesting observation of Woodcock in the reedbed, flushed as we went in to set up. The nets went up without much bother and being a bit blowy we opted to use just the walk-in trap for pipits.

We began attracting Redwing, many more than the five actually caught and realised that a net on the far side of their favoured bushes may result in more captures, but continued earth removal on that side has meant that there is a very narrow ridge that really isn't suitable for a net as clearing it would be problematic.

We did quite well for Chiffchaff with five caught, also Goldcrest seem to be remaining on site as there were  seven new and two retrapped, relatively recently ringed, birds.

The Meadow Pipits were slow to take an interest in the audio-lure, but in the late morning two groups came in, with six captured including a control. By the wonders of DemOn we know that the bird was only ringed a couple of months ago, and we look forward to further details.

Juvenile Meadow Pipit ADB8290

Juvenile Goldcrest

Total - 29 (7)

Meadow Pipit - 5 ( 1 control ADB8290)
Blackbird - 2
Redwing - 5
Dunnock - 2
Robin - 1 (1)
Chiffchaff - 5
Goldcrest - 7 (2)
Blue Tit - 1 (1)
Great Tit -  1 (2)

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Staines Moor - 28th November 2017

As the Brewood ringing group have had some success with thermal imaging at night we had managed to get hold of a thermal imager via a London University on loan, so tonight we gave it a trail on the Moor. The one used by Breewood is a Pulsar XD50S camera which has a capability to magnify similar to binoculars up to x2.8 with a range of 1250 metres. This specific model is no longer available but has been replaced by the XP50 but has a high price in the region of just under £4000, but there are other models XQ50F that are similar price at around £2500 as the XD50S, that have ranges up to 1500m with two other models that have a ranges of 1350 and 1000m. They are very much in the high financial outlay for most ringing groups, and Brewood where fortunate to be grant funded for the purchase by the West Midlands Bird Club.

It soon become obvious, that ours a hand held device not dissimilar to carrying a mobile phone,m without any magnification capability would have it's limits as it is used for examining rocks from a fairly close range. We though did have some moderate success on walking along the bank at close range surveying and quickly picked up a single Jack Snipe that was caught utilising a hand net.

Jack Snipe

The bird was processed and returned to the same spot as it was originally found at.

Again the imager picked up what turned out to be a Water Pipit, which interestingly showed that the roost overnight on the weed a few feet in from the bank overnight. The bird was not caught unfortunately as we are trying to colour ring the birds on the Moor to discover their local movements, actually how many are present and with luck where they go to bred in the summer, and whether they return the following winter. 

A Short-eared Owl was seen hunting over the Moor, which is never really dark due to the light pollution, which always leaves the area seemingly under late twilight light.

Nothing was picked up at any distance, and it was hard to pick out any positive images at times. It also became obvious that this specific imager would probably be of little use trying to locate Sky Lark on adjacent Stanwell Moor. 

Totals: 1

Jack Snipe - 1

Sri Lanka Birding November 2017 - Part 3 Udawalawe, Sinharaja & Talangama

The next morning we revisited the tanks and managed to see Black Bittern at the last chance.

Black Bittern

We had one last look at the fruit bats and the waterbirds while Parakeets and Barbets flew around in the branches above our heads.

Indian Flying Fox

Brown-headed Barbet

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Cattle Egret

Pied Kingfisher

Then it was time to move on again. We were only travelling for a couple of hours and reached the Grand Udawalewe Hotel for midday and had a brief break before setting off to the last national park of our tour.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

 Elephants again

Painted Storks

Next morning, we began our journey, culminating in a drive up a slow road punctuated by many hairpin bends, to Sinharaja. We made a few stops to watch birds, including close views of Black Eagle, along the way.

Here we were to stay in the Blue Magpie Lodge, a very basic lodge that in our case, provided a room not only with a resident Gecko, but also a creature that uttered eery screaching sounds while walking the walls. Again our arrival occurred close to midday and it was arranged that we would walk into the rainforest starting at 2pm. We were soon to learn that it is regular for rain to fall from 11am onwards - and that day was no exception. We were to walk 1.5km, up hill, before reaching the entrance gate. The rain was heavy and we put on rain jackets, but the humidity was such that we were still soaked when we got there. In the rain it was difficult to see birds. There were few clearings and we managed to connect with just one small flock and had closer views of the endemic Myna. We did manage to see a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouth.

Sri Lanka Frogmouth

Green Garden Lizzard

We walked back in failing light and were grateful to be offered a lift down, in a jeep that was collecting two other guests at the lodge. Even though the track was tortuous and the vehicle appeared to be full of leeches, it was still better than walking.

Next morning we couldn't go straight into the reserve as there was a reliable site outside that we needed to visit. Here our guide was unable to locate the Serendib Scops Owl but we had no trouble seeing Sri Lanka Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush, Sri Lanka Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Spurfowl and Slaty-legged Crake although the light levels were low.

Sri Lanka Spurfowl

Slaty-legged Crake

Sri Lanka Junglefowl

Then, it was back in the jeep to head up to the reserve proper. The clouds were already drifting down amongst the trees and rain threatened.

Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush

Sri Lanka Tree Nymph

There were a number of interesting plants, including the below undentified orchid and a species of pitcher plant.

The rain held off until after midday, but once it started, there was a complete deluge. This is called a rainforest for a reason. We shared an umbrella and walked down to the starting point rather than risk the jeep journey on a track that would be awash. Of course, leeches are also more active in wet conditions.

The path becomes a river.

Back at Blue Magpie Lodge, once the rain eased off, we watched birds in the garden while pondering how we might pick up on a few endemics that we had still failed to connect with.

Legge's Flowerpecker - female

Yellow-fronted Barbet

Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot

Pale-billed Flowerpecker

Lakshma agreed to take us back to the park office first thing, where the Magpies are seen regularly in the early morning. We also hoped to see White-faced Starling.

Dusky Palm Squirrel

Yellow-browed Bulbul

We left for breakfast knowing that there was no chance of seeing these birds now. Sri Lanka Blue Magpie was particularly gaulling since in addition to staying at a lodge named for this bird, its image also appeared on the cover of the guide book that has accompanied us on our travels.

After a breakfast of oat cakes, pancakes and marmalade  we packed our things at set off for Columbo via the Talangama Wetland. Here we found that there was nothing new for us to see - it would have been a good place to start, but made a slightly lack lustre ending to our tour.

Grey-headed Swamphen

Common Tiger and Blue Tiger

Open-bill Storks

Pheasant-tailed Jucana, male and female

We carried on to the Mount Lavinia Hotel expecting that there would be no new species for our last full day in Sri Lanka. We did see some terns just off the beach and two more species, Roseate and Little, was added.

House Crows congregated in the palms between the hotel and the beach and these and the terns were the last birds that we had chance to watch. 

House Crows

Next day there was nothing on the itinery but to brave the Colombo traffic and be sure to make the airport on time.

View towards Colombo across the crow proofed balcony.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Sri Lanka Birding November 2017 - Part 2 Nuwaraeliya, Bundala & Yala

Our morning drive brought us to the Araliya Green Hills Hotel by around 11am. The temperature here was much lower than the last few days without very high humidity. The climate was a relief and it seemed that we'd need the warm tops packed for chilly evenings after all.

After a short break we would meet Lakshma and be driven to the nearby Victoria Park, where he had a spot for Pied Thrush.

It was rather busy in the park and unsurprisingly we didn't find the Pied Thrush, a rather shy and easily flushed bird. We did however see our first Forest Wagtails and some other beautiful species.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Brown-breasted Flycatcher

Common Tailorbird

Oriental Magpie Robin

Scaly-breasted Munia

Brown Shrike

We moved on to Hakgala Botanical Gardens, not at its best for blooms at this time of year but still attractive to foraging flocks of birds.

We connected with one flock and had excellent views of the birds just above our heads, then found another flock further into the park.

Black Bulbul

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike

Bearded Monkey

The next day was an early start for the Jeep ride up to Horton Plains. 

The view to the south of the island at dawn

First stop was a known spot for Whistling Thrush. We watched the opposite bank for a long time, waiting for the male, but it didn't show. But Chris spotted a skulking bird, right shape, right size, grovelling along the waters edge no more than a metre in front of us. We both saw it, although obscured by vegetation, but Chris was able to see the blue shoulder panel indicative of female Whistling Thrush.

View across Horton Plains - invasive plant species, 
Gorse and Bracken, are a problem 

Sambar Deer

We drove a short track, hoping to pick up some more species before embarking on the walk - that we didn't expect to produce much as we'd become accustomed to seeing little in thickly vegetated areas.

 Himalayan Buzzard

Female Pied Bushchat

Male Pied Bushchat

We were right about the walk being a bit light on birds. Lots of White-eyes and Chinese tourists with not too much else. Both were quite noisy.

Sri Lankan White-eye

Alpine Swift and and Hill Swallow were also added to the species list.

Hill Swallow

Yellow-eared Bulbul

In the afternoon we were down to go to Bomuru Ella. We walked a track along a water course that swiftly dropped away leaving tree top level much closer to the track. Indian Blackbird was seen here. Chris also got Scimiter Babler. We then walked the grounds of one of the Jetwings hotels. This gave opportunities to photograph some common species but there were no new species to be found.

 Red-vented  Bulbul pair

Spotted Dove

The next day we were up early and back in Victoria Park trying to see the Pied Thrush. It had been seen just before we got there, but failed to reappear over the next 15 minutes or so. We took a few steps back and tried to leave the area clear for it to return to its favoured area. This was difficult as we couldn't control where another person looking for it walked. Chris got a brief flight view but I never saw it.

Kashmir Flycatcher

We then travelled to Yala, stopping on the way at a hotel with rather unkempt grounds where two Brown Wood Owls were resident in the woods.

Brown Wood Owl

In the car park a few birds were picking through low vegetation and we got excellent views of Scimitar Babler. Then we saw a White-bellied Drongo with an extensive area of white on the breast and belly.

 Scimitar Babler

White-bellied Drongo

We continued our journey to Yala where our guide made contact with some lads who had some local info on some birds that we never could have found on our own. While arrangements were made we checked out some tanks, seeing Yellow Bittern and Grey-headed Swamphen.

Yellow Bittern

Grey-headed Swamphen

Collared Scops Owl

First we were taken to see an owl that had taken up residence under the eaves of a house.

Jungle Owlet

Then we tracked down a Jungle Owlet in someone's back garden. This was a known site where the bird tended to move around quite a bit. Consequently, we ended up finding this for ourselves and our trackers, without the benefit of binoculars, confirmed from our photoes that we'd seen the intended bird.

By now the light was failing and our views of Brown Fish Owl were little more than a silhouette against the rapidly sinking sun. The tree was on the other side of a river so an alternative view was impossible, but at least this was a species that had been seen before.

Brown Fish Owl

The next day we began a series of jeep safaries into nearby national parks and we started at Bundala. The sun was just coming up as we entered the park and we started with Great White, Intermediate and Little Egret all together in the view finder.

A trio of egret species

We started off with some waterbirds.


 Indian Thick-knee

 Greater Thick-knee

With the odd mammal putting in an appearance.

Black-naped Hare

Our driver knew the park very well and found some good species for us.

Jerdon's Bushlark

Ashy-crowned Sparrow Larks

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Kentish Plover with colour ring fitted at Bundada

Painted Stork

'Animals are the true owners of the jungle. 
Make it your purpose to save their lives'.

In the afternoon we set off to Yala, known for having the greatest concentration of Leopard worldwide. Birds were still our focus, but the drivers have a good communication network so any good opportunities to Leopard shouldn't be missed.

Juvenile Brahminy Kite

Purple-rumped Sunbird

Mugger or Marsh Crocodile

The park closes at 6pm and an hour or so before we noticed a queue of jeeps and cars.

A male Leopard had been spotted resting up in the shade.

We watched for a while, then it set off towards the jeeps, crossing the road right by us.

He sat for a while, watching Chital in the nearby brush, but decided against hunting and retrieved an old kill, watched by a wild boar and a Peacock.

That was the end of our first Yala game drive. A better view of Leopard was unlikely.
We were back the next day, picking up new species before we'd accessed the main park area.

Tawny-bellied Babbler

Indian Pitta

Some interesting rock formations to check over for birds and animals

Lesser Whistling Duck

There were a lot of Peafowl in the park and this displaying Peacock was especially 
wonderful to watch. The hen also appeared quite taken with him.

Ruddy Mongoose

Kangroo Lizzard

Crested Hawk Eagle - juvenile

One of the many colourful lorries on Sri Lanka's roads, although a lot are much older,
 more faded and possibly less roadworthy.

A heavy shower during lunch time - glad we 
were undercover and not in the open sided jeep.

Back after lunch and there was a bird on the wire to identify.

First year Shikra

Grey-necked Bunting, 3rd for Sri Lanka. 
Found while waiting for tickets to enter the national park.

Asian Koel

This cow looked quite friendly, but we had to reverse quickly when she came towards the vehicle - she was blind in the right eye and behaved erratically when not positioned sideways on to the jeep.

Orange-breasted Green Pigeon

Common Hoopoe

A herd of Chital, or Spotted Deer

Green Bee-eaters taking a dust bath

Green Bee-eaters

Common Iora

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Curlew Sandpipers

Brackish lagoon by the dunes

 In the dark, as we returned to our hotel, the temple was most stricking