Friday, 19 February 2021

Spring is in the Hare

Every year, I spend hours around suitable fields trying to photograph the local Brown Hares boxing, and for one reason or another, every year I never get anything I'm really happy with. Usually they only box when they are far away from me on the other side of a field or are facing the wrong way, but I persevere.

The Nunnery Lakes Reserve adjoins the Shadwell Estate which has a good population of hares, and in the last couple of weeks they have become more obvious and with increadingly spring-like temperatures in the last few days, have become rather more frisky than they were during the recent cold snap. 

This morning I headed out on my daily walk around the reserve, and as the wind had dropped, I headed straight to the best hare field, and waited. At first a couple of pairs of ears were just visible over the brow of the field, and after another half an hour, the first couple of hares came closer over the brow and looked quite settled. It was only when two more hares joined the party that the first chasing around started and eventually two had a proper boxing match, luckily I had been following the correct couple of hares in the viewfinder and then kept my finger on the shutter while they had their bout, before one conceded defeat and ran off. There's no finesse when it comes to boxing, it seems to be close your eyes, flail your arms around and hope you land a blow!

Monday, 21 September 2020

In leaps and bounds

With Wednesday being a write off with the glorious weather of the previous day instead being grey, cold and windy, wildlife watching was hard going. A look off Fort George, which lies on the opposite side of the bay to Chanonry Point in the hope the dolphins may be closer in off there drew a blank, though seabirds were more numerous in the conditions, including a group of Arctic Skuas terrorising terns for their food which I always enjoy watching! The Findhorn Valley wasn't any more productive, with no sign of any Golden Eagles, just a few 'Tourist Eagles', a.k.a. Buzzards seen. A walk through the woods at Boat of Garten in the hope of Red Squirrels proved fruitless, though several Crested Tits called loudly high in the pines and a Roe Deer looked unsure of us but stood his ground.

Thursday we again woke to beautiful sunny weather, and so headed back to Nairn Harbour where at least 3 Basking Sharks were still feeding offshore, but more distantly than on Tuesday. A group of Bottlenose Dolphins loitered in Nairn Bay, so we went just down the coast to Whiteness to try to see them closer, but they were still distant, only a confiding group of juvenile Sanderling on the beach made the visit worthwhile.

With such nice weather, we carried on to Chanonry Point in the hope of closer views of the dolphins. Our hopes were realised immediately as we arrived with a group of Bottlenose Dolphins were bounding through the bay just offshore, occasionally jumping clear of the water much to the delight of the gathered watchers on the beach.

After while the dolphins moved further out and many of the dolphin watchers left, and as we sat and waited in the hope of the dolphins returning, a group of 6 Ringed Plover flew in, with a slightly larger wader, and landed on the beach in front of us. It was a surprise when I lifted my bins and realised the larger wader was a very smart-looking juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, not a bird I was expecting to see here! 

With the dolphins not returning, we headed to Glen Affric. At the head of the glen is a short steep walk up to a viewpoint, which gives a superb view of the surrounding hills, excellent for looking for raptors. Initially only a few Buzzards and a Kestrel were on show, and eventually a Golden Eagle appeared, soaring majestically, and was soon joined by a second bird. Initially both eagles were distant, and once one landed, the original bird, a first year bird judging by the white on the tail and wings appeared closer and gave superb 'scope views.

With the hope of photographing Red Squirrels, we went around the other side of the glen to Plodda where they are reportedly abundant. Typically, none were to be seen, but better was a Crossbill, which looked good for Scottish going off the bill shape which perched on top of pines around the car park, calling loudly, but frustratingly I wasn't able to get a photo.

Friday was another gorgeous morning, with the thick fog soon burning off as we headed toward Speyside. With Toni wanting another go at photographing dolphins, I took myself off up Cairngorm to look for Ptarmigan. The warm weather made for a tough walk up Coire an t-Sneachda where I have had success in the past, and despite a 5 hour walk with stunning views back over Loch Morlich, I couldn't find a Ptarmigan anywhere!

Saturday was our final day and after a quick visit to Lochindorb, which is my favourite loch, to do a WeBS Count, which produced an unexpected Slavonian Grebe with as small group of Goldeneye, lingering fog around Speyside brought our week-long trip to a conclusion, just the 10 hour drive home to look forward to...

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Scottish weather, seriously?

 After a couple of wet and windy days on the west coast of Scotland, including the arduous drive down Ardnamurchan Point to be greeted by a bank of fog, only the resident American Black Duck at Strontian and a couple of sparring White-tailed Eagles to slightly raise the excitement levels, we headed across to Speyside. 

Arriving in our accommodation late afternoon, a wander around the forest produced a superb but all too brief juvenile Goshawk, darting across a clearing, perching briefly before disappearing into the trees.

This morning we awoke to the sound of rain, and following a leisurely breakfast, we took the chance that the Met Office forecast for Inverness was correct and headed to the Moray Firth in search of some dolphins. Amazingly the forecast was correct as the sun broke through the clouds and there wasn't a breath of wind, something I can't remember ever experiencing at usually one of the coldest spots in Scotland - Chanonry Point. Typically the small car park here was already nearly full when we arrived and the only dolphins were very distant, and they stayed that way the whole 2 hours were were there. 

A chance text message from our AirBnB owner told us of a couple of Basking Sharks on Nairn Harbour, something we had hoped to see on the west coast, but the weather was far from suitable. Here though, the sea was like a mill pond, and immediately on arrival at the harbour, we could see the distinctive fin and tail tips of a Basking Shark offshore. A scan around revealed at least four other Basking Sharks, though most quite distant, and became more distant as the tide receded.

With the glorious weather, we had to drag ourselves away for a prior appointment in Badger Hide. We met our host, Allan, in Boat of Garten and followed him in his car to the parking spot, and after a short walk arrived at the hide. The hide is run by the Boat of Garten Wildlife Group who do other conservation initiatives in the village. Less than half an hour after arriving and the peanuts being put out, the Badger arrived, as early as 7pm while it was still light. This was quickly followed by a couple more and eventually had 5 at one time, including a cub. The badgers fed completely unconcerned just feet from the hide, and were completely unconcerned by camera noises or even our host talking about some conservation issues.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

What's that coming over the it a monster??!!

When news of a Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture if you follow new names, broke of a bird photographed over a garden near Coventry at the end of June, British birders hoped it would get relocated, and last weekend their hopes were realised, when after a series of sightings in the Peak District, the bird was found to favour a rocky outcrop on the moors above Ladybower Reservoir just to the west of Sheffield.

Although I don't twitch that often these days, stunning photographs and videos on Twitter over the weekend, and even on the BBC News website, meant that it was getting very hard to ignore, and on Monday morning the decision was made to go for it. The main drawback is the 8 mile round walk to view its favoured roost site, but in preparation, we drove up and stayed in a B&B at Dungworth Green, a few miles from the site ready to embark first thing in the morning, hopefully before it left its roost.

Arriving at the parking spot shortly after 6am where the road was already lined with 30+ cars, we set off on the walk, and straight into a headwind up a hill, which living in Norfolk, is not something our legs are used to. About an hour later, we reached the turnoff from the track from where we had to trudge across some boggy moorland and across a stream to the favoured area, to be greeted by the news it had already left its roost and flown off to the northeast, and so we sat down and waited...

After an hour sat on a grassy tussock, the cold brisk wind was getting to us (that's what happens when you trust and dress for the Met Office forecast of sunny and 18 degrees, as opposed to 11 degrees and cloudy that it actually was!), and so we decided to slowly head back toward the car and rethink the plan or hope it got relocated somewhere else. About half way back to the car, feeling dejected and discussing that after the failure at the Belgian Wallcreeper twitch earlier in the year that maybe I should give up twitching for good, we noticed a couple of young birders stood off the path just ahead of us intently watching something. As we took a few more steps, it soon became clear what, it was the Lammergeier, being mobbed by a couple of Ravens, that looked like flies in comparison! I frantically got my camera out of the bag and took a series of photos as the bird circled and drifted slightly closer and then carried on back toward where we had just come from, eventually dropping behind the hill and out of sight.

Even though our views were nothing like some of those by other birders, it was still an amazing sight, an absolute monster of a bird with its 2.5m wingspan, and well worth the walk, even if the powers that be do eventually decide it's not officially tickable on the British list due to it thought to be the offspring of a pair of reintroduced birds from the Alps. Whatever its origin, there won't be many more spectacular birds to occur in this country, and certainly none anywhere near as big!!

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Homeward bound

Leaving the rainforest and heading back down the hill, we started our journey back south to the Blue Mountains where the roadtrip had begun over 3 weeks ago, and ultimately back to Sydney Airport and the long, long flight home.

4th August

After a slight detour to revisit Toni's daughter in Toowoomba, we set off south down the New England Highway. As we came into the town of Warwick, as we passed a picnic site at Rotary Park, Toni realised she had been there before when she was here earlier in the year and that it was good for parrots, and so we pulled in. She certainly wasn't wrong, as a group of very noisy Musk Lorikeets fed in the trees above our heads and Toni caught a quick glimpse of a Platypus in the nearby river.

Musk Lorikeet

A bird I had hoped to see while we were in the outback was Zebra Finch, a bird I used to keep as pets when I was young. As they are very nomadic, they can be difficult to pin down and we hadn't come across any so far, but eBird again came to the rescue (sorry BirdTrack!!) and recent sightings just outside Warwick gave me hope. The site was by a lake on the back of a housing estate, not a habitat I had expected to be going to look for them, and although the lake had an abundance of Pelicans and a few White-headed Stilts there was no obvious habitat for finches. As we gave up and drove back out of the housing estate, 3 Zebra Finches flew up by the roadside - success! As I got out of the car and walked back to where they were, about 35 finches flew up, I have no idea how we had missed them as we drove in and although very flighty, some sat nicely in some trees along with a pair of Striated Pardalotes.

male Zebra Finch

Striated Pardalote

The rest of the day was spent driving down to Bellingen, along some back roads with their abundant kangaroos.

5th August

A pleasant night in a Youth Hostel in Bellingen put us in a good location for Dorrigo National Park. I visited Dorrigo when I was last in Australia 6 years ago, and the weather was poor and so we couldn't walk the trails which Toni said are worthwhile. This time the weather was glorious, and the trails were devoid of people and many of the usual rainforest birds like Whipbirds and Catbirds called loudly and a couple of Topknot Pigeons showed surprisingly well, while a female Superb Lyrebird was less showy in the undergrowth.

Topknot Pigeon

After a mid-morning cream tea, we headed back down the trail to the car, the female Superb Lyrebird had moved across to the opposite side of the path from where I had seen it on the way up. As we watched it along with a young bird, we could hear an array of bird calls including kookaburra and whipbird close by and realised it was actually a male Superb Lyrebird singing a few feet away mimicking them perfectly! After it stopped singing, it moved towards the female and young bird and then met another male and a face off ensued, their extravagant tail feathers fluffed up as they called angrily at each other before one of the males ran off.

Superb Lyrebirds

Heading toward the coast for a spot of lunch, we grabbed some fish and chips and went and sat up on the clifftop at Nambucca Heads. From here, we could see at least 6 Humpback Whales offshore, many of them constantly breaching but always very distant. Much better were a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles that coasted low overhead, hanging on the wind just off the clifftop.

White-bellied Sea Eagle

We finished off driving down the coast to Myall Lakes Holiday Park for a couple of nights, arriving after dark and after the reception had closed. Thankfully they had left an envelope with the key and gate code for us and so we were able to get to our accommodation, complete with a couple of tame Grey Kangaroos and a screeching Barn Owl.

6th August

After all the driving of the last few weeks, today we had a nice relaxing day around the Myall Lakes area. The hoped for surfing dolphins off the Hole in the Wall car park that Toni had seen earlier in the year failed to materialise and we carried on south to Jimmy's Beach. Twelve years ago when Toni visited Australia for the first time, having failed to find a Dingo in Queensland, she randomly came across one somewhere near Jimmy's Beach and so was intent on finding the same spot. We parked up at a random car park near a creek and as we stood looking across, a Great White Egret suddenly flew up and moments later, a Dingo walked through the mangrove and stood on the opposite side of the creek looking at us!! Typically neither of us had a camera to hand as we hadn't expected to see anything, so we ran back to the car, grabbed the camera gear and walked back and the Dingo was still there watching our antics and after a few minutes walked across, paused again and then disappeared back into the mangrove scrub.


The rest of the afternoon was spent on the Tea Gardens to Port Stephen Ferry, where a couple of Bottlenose Dolphins entertained the passengers as they bow-rided just underneath the boat for several minutes.

7th August

It was time to head back to Katoomba, and we left Myall Lakes behind and rather than just whiz down the highway to Sydney, we instead set off west towards the Hunter Valley. We first headed up the Monkerai Valley toward Barrington Tops until the road we thought we could carry on over became impassable, but not before we had seen photogenic Australian Kestrel, Wonga Pigeon and Fan-tailed Cuckoo.

Australian Kestrel 

 Wonga Pigeon

Fan-tailed Cuckoo

We finally arrived back in Katoomba after dark, following a slight delay as Toni helped round up a horse that had got loose and ran down a road toward us.

8th August

A morning walk looking for reporting Gang-Gang Cockatoos at Blackheath drew a blank, but a stunning male Scarlet Robin more than made up for it, a quite fitting looking bird to end the trip.

Scarlet Robin

A quick tot up of the miles that Google suggests we covered meant it was just over a 4,500km round trip (probably nearer 5,000km by the time you add the odd diversion and driving around areas), which Toni's Subaru Outback did admirably!! It was interesting to see Malaysia followed by Australia and the outback (well apart from the flies), see the whales and then do some rainforest birding, so a bit of everything really! We managed to amass a species list of about 240 birds and over 26 mammals and had fantastic weather (if rather cold at night) throughout so can't complain one bit. Now just the excruciating flight back to the UK to look forward to tomorrow....

An Englishman who went up a hill and came down a mountain

Leaving the whales in Hervey Bay behind, we weren't completely finished with cetaceans just yet, a short drive down to nearby Tin Can Bay before driving down to Lamington National Park for some rainforest birding.

1st August

An overnight stay in Tin Can Bay meant we were only minutes away from Barnacles Dolphin Centre where each morning several Australian Humpback Dolphins come in to be fed by the public. Admittedly it is a bit of a circus that I would normally shy away from, but it was a mammal tick, and wasn't quite as bad as I thought, plus the breakfast at Barnacles was very nice indeed under the very watchful gaze of some Australian Magpies and Blue-faced Honeyeaters! When we got there, two dolphins were already there waiting for their breakfast, while the two women stood in the water and explained the rules and history of the dolphin feeding at Tin Can Bay to the gathered crowd, and were joined by a mother and young calf too.

Dolphin feeding at Tin Can Bay

Blue-faced Honeyeater 

Australian Magpie

After breakfast, we headed south towards the famous O'Reilly's Guesthouse in Lamington National Park, via a stop at the equally famous Yatala Pie Shop on the outskirts of Brisbane for a spot of lunch. Arriving in Canungra, the sat nav was still saying we were nearly an hour away from O'Reilly's, even though it was only 30km away, and as we started to ascend the hill, which turned into a mountain, we could soon see why as we twisted and turned up the hill, avoiding the Whiptail and Red-necked Wallabys by the roadside.

Whiptail Wallaby

After what seemed an age after a days driving, slowly driving up the mountainside, we arrived at O'Reilly's, which was much bigger than I had expected, not the simple guesthouse I had envisaged, but a resort with restaurant and cafe, gift shops and a swanky reception. Thankfully, being midweek and winter, it was quiet of people, I dread to think what it would be like in the height of summer!

2nd August

I was up and out early walking the boardwalk and some of the trails, hoping to see Albert's Lyrebird and any other local specialities. I had been warned that diversity of species may not be high, and that proved to be the case, but although I couldn't find any Lyrebirds, it was nice to get excellent views of Logrunners as they busily fed in the undergrowth, always accompanied by a scrubwren or robin after a treat they had unearthed. Other good birds on the rainforest trails included Bassian Thrush, Wonga Pigeon, a couple of confiding Green Catbirds, and several Eastern Whipbirds, which are one of the most distinctive and iconic sounds in the rainforests.

Australian Logrunner (don't ask me why they are called that!) 

Eastern Whipbird 

Green Catbird

Around the main resort area, the birds are very accustomed to people, especially those carrying trays of seed. King Parrots and Crimson Rosellas will happily sit on your head if you offer out food, while Satin Bowerbirds would come to within inches of you for anything dropped, not a species I was expecting to behave in such a manner. Smaller birds would mop up any dropped seed, mostly White-browed Scrubwrens, but also a group of a dozen Red-browed Finches, Superb Fairywrens and Lwin's Honeyeaters were equally confiding.

Needing a closer look at a Crimson Rosella

Australian King Parrot 

Lewin's Honeyeater 

Red-browed Finch 

Superb Fairywren

Satin Bowerbirds (male top, female below)

3rd August

After a very comfortable night's sleep (Toni was most impressed with how comfy the mattress was, something she often complains about on our trips, even if the birding wasn't quite to her taste), we were out first thing again having read in the sightings book of Lyrebirds being seen on the Centenary Trail. Within minutes of walking down this trail, we came across an Albert's Lyrebird which was busily scraping around and although a bit skittish if you moved too quickly, was also very confiding.

Albert's Lyrebird

On the adjacent campsite, a mother and joey Red-necked Pademelon were equally confiding, we had seen them at dusk yesterday but the light was too poor for photos and so it was nice to see them both again and in better light.

Red-necked Pademelon (mum above, joey below)

Also on this trail aside from the usual suspects of Eastern Yellow Robins and White-browed Scrubwrens following the lyrebird and Brushturkeys around was a superb looking Crested Shrike-tit, looking something like a Great Tit with the beak of a Shrike, and I thought Blue and Great Tits back home are painful to hold when ringing them, not sure I'd like to handle one of these guys!

Crested Shrike-tit

With the Saturday crowds staring to appear and more noisy groups on the trails, we were more than happy to pack our stuff and head back down the hill. I'm not sure if it was just the time of year, but the forest was quiet and species like Regent Bowerbird and Paradise Riflebird which I was expecting to see quite easily were both absent, but it was still a very enjoyable and relaxing couple of days