Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Patchwork Update - April/May

It has to be a double-month update this time round, as I've been struggling to get to the computer to do anything for the last few weeks.

I'll start with April.

Species: 103
Points: 110

Additions this month:20
House Martin, Blackcap, Swallow, Nuthatch, Grey Partridge, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Swift, Common Tern, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Avocet, Whimbrel, Cuckoo, Grasshopper Warbler (...phew!)

As hoped for, I managed to get my 20 species for the month, leaving me on a par species-wise with 2015 by the end of the month. A lot could be said for April on the patch, but I won't drivel on too much. In general it was decent, but felt a little sluggish in comparison to last year, with numbers of scarcer migrants seemingly lower and the early passage of waders being quite slow.

Highlights included some patch firsts, such as the long-awaited Nuthatch, as well as some more exciting stuff such as Whimbrel, Avocet and Gropper. The usual spring stuff came in as expected and the only disappointment really was the comparatively low numbers of Yellow wags, and the fact I missed several wheatears, so I'll have to hope for some autumn birds later in the year. 

And May...

Species: 113
Points: 123

Additions this month: 10
Ruff, Black Tern, Turnstone, Knot, Temminck's Stint, Greenshank, Dunlin, Coal Tit, Lesser-black-backed Gull, Hobby

May started out pretty well, with some proper nice birds finding their way onto the site. A group of 4 Ruff one evening started things off nicely, before the weekend saw a load of Black Terns invading the county, and I saw the beginnings of a spectable of over 50 on the A52 pit, one sunny Sunday afternoon. The week that followed saw lots of waders passing through the county, and a particularly miserable couple of days had them dropping in to inland waterbodies. Holme Pierrepont got a share of the action, as I came across a group of 18 Redhsank, with a turnstone and Knot in tow. The same week saw 2 Temmincks Stints on the reserve, which stayed for 6 days and drew plenty of birders onto the site.

I managed a few 'expected' additions too, including some Hobbys, the first of which I saw whilst leading a guided walk on the 15th.

After this however, things quietened down. An Avocet on the 17th provided some variety, but with little else passing through, my visits started to dwindle, coinciding with becoming a little busy with work and life to visit the patch reguarly. In the few times I did visit the patch in the latter half of the month, the onlt things keeping it fresh were the Lapwing and Oystercatcher chicks which have been raised on site.

So there we go, not a bad couple of months, but with an expected lull in the weeks approaching June. Some missing birds (for me) inlcude Wood Sand, the godwits, and Sanderling. Perhaps the autumn will provide some decent stuff. i'm reasonably happy with the points total however, and I'm easily going to match, if not surpass my 129pts of last year, without too much effort.

I only added one bird last June and by that time I was only on 105 species, so not really sure what target to set, except to get down there as much as possible and to hopefully pick up some early summer specials before the autumn passage begins again next month!




Thursday, 19 May 2016

The good times continue...

Tuesday night saw me popping down to the patch, hoping for a Sanderling, with all the records this time last year, it can only be a matter of time before one drops in, but I was unlucky this time round. However the Avocet that was reported earlier in the day was still present, the 4th record on site this year, and 3 Dunlin were present.

I also added several new birds for the year on Sunday, during a guided walk which had a poor turnout. A coal tit, singing near the carpark, 2 Lesser Black backs and 2 Hobby.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Some impressive migration



The last week has really seen migration picking up in the county. With the end of a bit of cold weather a couple of weeks ago, I thought that some late spring passage would start to occur, and it seemed to have done so in style.

On Friday, after a few Black Terns were reported in the county, a brace of Whiskered Tern graced Attenborough, and unlike many other previous records, these birds stuck about and I managed to get down after work to have a look. The birds showed well, either sitting on the deck for extended periods, or flying round feeding with numerous Common Terns and a couple of Black Terns to boot.

I had expected that it wouldn't be long before the Tern-fest reached my patch, but I couldn't really make it down over the weekend due to other commitments. However after one was reported on Sunday morning, I managed to get half an hour to bike down and have a quick look on the A52 pit in the afternoon. Looking from the eastern end of the pit, looking directly into the sun, it was evident that there were many terns present, but it was hard to estimate numbers without a scope and a better angle. I managed a count of 12 Black Tern, but knew there must have been more as I could see more birds in the distance. Later on I found that there had actually been around 50 Black Tern over the lake, an incredible count, even in comparison to the 69 birds that were at Lound the same day.

Things continued to improve, with a Great Reed Warbler at Netherfield (as well as another in derbyshire the same day!) as well as a little tern and BNG at attenborough. I considered going after work for the GRW but didnt really have time as I was heading into town to see my brothers band that evening. Instead I thought about going to HP instead for a quick blast, but last minute decided I would be cutting it too fine to be able to get to town in time. I wish I hadn't, as 2 Temmincks Stint were seen on Blotts, amongst other things, a much sought after patch tick!

It looks like its shaping up to be a decent week, as today seems to have been a bit of a wader fest in the county, with numerous sites getting records of gems like wood sand, temmincks and sanderlings. With it hammering it down all day, I was worreid I'd be getting a soaking, but wasn't going to let that stand in my way, but luckily by the time I got to the patch at about half 6 it had all but stopped. I got there just in time to pick out a flock of 18 Redshank, clustered together on one of the bunds on Blott's pit, and amongst them was a cracking summer-plumage Knot, only the second I've seen in the county and my first on patch. Also present was a Turnstone, a long-awaited county tick. Within a few minutes however they all spooked and flew off North, leaving the Knot behind, but that seemed to disappear shortly after.

I stuck around for a while, intent on picking something else up, and managed a Common Sand and a Ringed Plover, but nothing special!


Knot.... I need to sort my phonescope setup... or start remembering to take my camera out...

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Last trip of april

Just a brief one. Spent this morning birding before going away to Manchester til Monday. Walked the entirety of blotts pit, hoping for some migrant passerines on the eastern banks, such as wheatear or whinchat. No such luck unfortunately, but a couple of Common Sandpipers on Hackett's lakes made it worthwhile, and there were good numbers of Swift and House Martin about.

On the western side, I finally managed my first Cuckoo of the year, a nice male which sat out on a fenceline for a while, and Alan got me onto my first Gropper for the site, a species i've been after for a while.
Cuckoo
I also went round the finger ponds later on with the dog, but didnt add much to the list, although as usual the place was teeming with warblers, particularly Whitethroats. The cuckooflower must have known about my sighting this morning, as it was flowering in abundance, and I found some orange-tip butterfly eggs on some. This and garlic mustard seem to be the favoured foodplants of this species.


Cuckooflower - with orange-tip egg

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Early april birding

I've been out birding every night after work this week, trying to squeeze in a few new birds before I disappear to Portugal for a week.

Monday I was down at Holme Pierrepont, where 3 LRP were noted, and a Redshank, that I had seen on Saturday, and was still knocking about. Otherwise, not much of interest, although a few more Willow Warblers were singing.

Tuesday, I popped down briefly to Clifton Grove to have a look for the Ring Ouzels that had been seen on Branshill, but as usual I couldn't locate any in the time I was there. I then went back to HP for another look round, the LRPs had increased to at least 4 birds, and were showing some territorial behaviour, and the Redshank was still about too. A Lapwing has begun nesting onsite too, lets hope they succeed in raising a brood, as they failed last year.

Yesterday, a Ring-necked Duck was reported at Kilvington, so I decided to have a look after work. The poor light and extremely windy conditions made for difficult viewing, but within a few minutes I had located what I thought to be the bird in question, but it was diving frequently and was hard to place as the choppy water kept obstructing my view. After a while though, it showed pretty well, and I was happy to get a new bird before I went away. Hopefully its the beginning of a productive spring in the county.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Spring rushing in

I had a feeling this weekend would be decent. With some southerly winds forecast and some warmer weather forecast, it surely meant that some migrants would be about. It started well last night with a couple of House Martins in the evening, and then as I went to walk the dog in the rain, there were good numbers of Sand Martins over the rowing course, with a few Swallows and House Martins in there too. Blackcap were also singing in the old Skylarks reserve.

After heading home to drop the hound off and have some lunch with my girlfriend, I headed back down on my bike to seee what else was about on the A52 and blotts pits, maybe some of the Sandwich terns reported the other side of town this morning?

As it happened, there were no terns, but another patch tic, the long awaited Nuthatch, was heard singing in the blotts country club garden whilst I was surveying the heronry. I also noted 2 Grey Partridge on the eastern side of Blotts pit, my first here since 2014. A Willow warbler  was also noted, singing in the scrub nearby. Otherwise, there were a few Little Ringed Plover about, and the swans were getting particularly frisky, and there were also a few butterflies on the wing, Peacocks, Small Torts and Comma.




Patchwork Update: March

Species: 83
Points:87

Additions this month:10
Ringed Plover, Skylark, Jay, Curlew, Meadow Pipit, Chiffchaff, Grey plover, Stonechat, Sand Martin, Little Ringed Plover

March was pretty good on the patch and I have ended up with a higher points total than before at this stage in the year. Some good additions this month include the 3 patch-ticks in as many weekends - Curlew, Grey Plover and Stonechat. It was also nice to get in some of the 'easier' birds like Jay, Mipit and Skylark. There seems to be more Skylarks than the last couple of years which is encouraging. Some spring additions have been trickling in, and it was nice to squeeze in Little Ringed Plover at the end of the month.
Male Stonechat

From looking through reports and from what I know personally, at least 98 species have been recorded this year on site, though i may have missed a few commoner species that haven't been reported elsewhere. About the only species I'm missing which I would have expected by now are Coal Tit, Tawny Owl and perhaps lesser black-backed gull.

Curlew
April is the classic month for bulking up the PWC yearlist, so I'm hoping for a decent month. I only added 13 in April in 2014, but in 2015 I added 22 species, and ended on 103 species. That's a target of 20 additions this month, if I'm to match that total. It shouldn't be too difficult, although I will be going away to Portugal from the 8th-15th, so may miss the odd passage bird, but the 'bread and butter' stuff like warblers and commoner waders should be easy. (19 is the taget now, as I got House Martin on the 1st!)

Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter birding

I only managed to get out properly birding once this weekend, despite having 4 days off work, as I had a busy schedule of family and friends to see.

I managed to get a good walk in on Good Friday with the dog, covering the finger ponds and rowing course, and it was nice to finally get some good numbers of singing Chiffchaff, after a quiet week regarding that species. Otherwise, an Oystercatcher and Shelduck on the flooded fields near Radcliffe viaduct were about the only other thing of interest, as well as 7 displaying Buzzard above the rowing course.

Saturday, I managed to get a good visit to blotts pit and the surrounding area, where I added to the mornings tally of little egrets to total 6 for the day. Otherwise 4 oystercatcher and a patch-first Stonechat were highlights. Thats 3 patch ticks in as many weekends...

Things slowed down after that, with only two brief and rather uneventful visits whilst walking the dog on Sunday and Monday. I missed out Monday morning, as a couple of little gulls and 3 Brent geese were noted, among other things, but you can't help these things sometimes. The little gulls seem to have been part of a mini influx, as birds were noted at several sites across the county this morning. The evenings are longer now, so at least I'll be able to make the most of this and hopefully the species tally will begin to increase.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

#patchgrey

I only managed one proper visit to the patch over last weekend, as I was in Wales on Saturday cleaning out some Pied flycatcher nest-boxes which are monitored by the ringing group. It was a good, but tiring day, but its always nice to see Red Kites and Ravens, and I even flushed a Woodcock which was nice.

Sunday, I was leading the volunteer group on the patch, so got down early to see if there was much about before we entered blott's pit to remove willow saplings from the waters edge. After an initial scan of the area, I decided to check facebook as in the distance I could see Alan Clewes looking at something. I was right, he had reported a Grey Plover which had been present for over an hour now. I couldn't see if from where I stood so wandered round to the middle viewing screen but despite scanning, I didn't see it. I later heard from him that it had been there the whole time I was stood there, so I felt a little stupid. Luckily the bird stuck around despite our being there for most of the morning, and Alan got me on it at around 1pm, so I was pleased with that, as its a notts tick for me.

Other birds around included another Curlew and a Redshank, and I heard my first Chiffchaff of the spring. Otherwise, a Ringed Plover was on site on Friday evening.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Decent day on the patch

I sacrificed a weekend ringing waders in Norfolk, for a weekend spent at home getting a few bits done, as well as wanting to get out and do some proper birding round Holme Pierrepont. On saturday I was down there at 8:15 to walk the dog, and had a pleasant stroll around the watersports centre and finger ponds. There were loads of birds singing, but no spring migrants. The only highlight were a pair of Shelduck in the flooded fields near the viaducts, and for the first time in weekes there were no egrets there.

After dropping the dog at home and feeding her, I had a coffee and then got on my bike and headed back down with my scope to check out the A52 pit and Blotts. A look in from the gate next to the A52 resulted in a redhead Smew, only the second i've seen this winter, and a nice surprise. Not much else of note, although I counted just under 500 Wigeon on the far bank.

I cycled round to Blott's country club and parked the bike up there, before wandering clockwise round Blott's pit. There wasn't a great deal on the water, as much of the wildfowl has departed, though a few Goldeneye remain. I added Jay to the year-list, with a couple squawking around in the woods to the south of Blott's. On the banks of the wet-grassland I noted a Curlew, my first for the site. This is another one of those species which has eluded me for ages on the patch, despite being recorded several times a year. In fact, I have barely seen any in the county, aside from some up at Collingham and Besthorpe on a few occasions, so I was actually pretty chuffed with this! 4 Oystercatcher were also nice, but I did feel a little short changed at the lack of any sand martins or ringed plover!

Patch tick!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Snipes at dusk

I had a brief visit to the patch this evening after work, in which I was surveying the waters edge around the islands and scrapes on Blott's pit for Willow saplings, which are to be hand-pulled for the next volunteer session.

One of the small reed stands in the centre of the scrapes was obviously attractive to Snipe, as i counted 29 birds as they flushed on my approach, a site record for me. Otherwise pretty quiet, although I guess the fact I was stomping around the waters edge didn't really help matters.

Patchwork Update: February

Species: 73
Points:77

Additions this month: 6
Pheasant, Shelduck, Water Rail, Buzzard, Redshank, Goosander



I feel I could have pulled a few more out the bag in February, but in the end I finished the month on the same as the last two years, 73 Species. The fact I went away to Lincoln, Norfolk and Edinburgh over 3 of the weekends meant that visits were limited, although I did mange to get at least one visit in on every weekend, but not always at the best time of day, and not always covering a lot of ground.

Highlights included the first returning Shelduck of the year,a species that I've only recently started seeing regularly on the patch, since the habitat work done a couple of winters ago. I also didnt see one til the end of march last year, and there have now been 2 pairs that have stuck around all month. Starling murmurations have been spectacular too, and Wigeon numbers on the A52 pit have been excellent, with a flock of just under 1000 birds recorded late in the month. Another good one would be the 1st Goosander I've seen in a few Winters on site, which would be better had I actually seen it properly, but it was just a speck in the distance when it was pointed out to me... guess it still counts.

It has been a tough month though, and sometimes it feels like going through the motions, with very few new additions, but thats patch birding for you, especially in late winter. I really would have expected to have seen Jay, Skylark and Meadow Pipit by now, and i'm still gunning for some less common bits before the main spring passage such as Whooper Swan or some scarce duck, but its just a case of sticking at it and seeing what turns up.

Previous march totals are 79 (2014) and 81 (2015), so my target is at least 8 additions this month, lets see how I do.




Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A few year ticks

At the weekend, I went to Lincoln for a bit of a booze-up, so seeing as I was going out that way, I thought it'd be rude not to drop into Girton to see the White-fronted Geese and Great Northern Diver that had been reported there over the last 2 weeks. Getting to Girton, I had a wander up the track between the A1133 pit and the Sailing lake, stopping to scan from the very limited viewing spots. No diver. I bumped into Nick Crouch, and we went to look for the geese, but any geese we did see were heads down, out of the wind, so had no luck there either. Nick told me about another spot to view the roadside pit from, so I headed back to my car and had another look, and within a few minutes I had fantastic views of the diver only 50m or so out. It showed excellently, and didnt dive once while I was there, just sat there.

The next day, with a bit of a sore head, I headed back to Girton at about 2pm, and headed straight to the sheep fields north of the sailing lake, to have another look at these geese. The large flock of greylags were a lot more visible and very soon I was looking at the group of 7 White-fronted Geese, before they flew off behind a bank in the field, leaving the greylags behind. These were the first white-fronts I've seen since 2012 i think, so long overdue. The Great Northern Diver was still on the roadside pit, and a few birders were there this time round, but it was a lot more elusive, diving constantly and very mobile.

I had a quick look in at Collingham, seeing 7 Curlew and a Green Sand, but couldn't locate the red-head Smew that had been reported. After this I headed down for a quick look at HP before it got dark, bagging a Pheasant for the patch yearlist before getting out the car. Blotts was very quiet, wildfowl numbers were especially low, but there were lots of small gulls and 2 Shelduck, a nice early addition for the year, I hadn't expected these til later in the year on the patch.

Heading back to my car, I noticed a good-sized murmuration of Starlings, so headed to the reedbed in Skylarks NR for a better look and to see them go in to roost in the reeds. It was an awesome display, and I got a cheeky Buzzard and Water rail on the patch yearlist too.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Patchwork Update: January

The first month of my third year doing the 'Patchwork Challenge' down at Holme Pierrepont went pretty well. Out of the 3 years., this has been my best January for number of species so far, with 67 seen. In comparison, I had only seen 63 species in January in 2015 and 65 in 2014. Looking at these numbers it seems that if I'm hitting the mid-60's mark, then I'm doing OK.

With a few more visits, I probably could have notched up a few more, but being limited to weekends and having other responsibilities, I have only been able to hit the main part of the patch ,maybe once a week, but have been able to get to the lesser visited northern end of the patch whilst walking the dog.

Highlights this month are a female Smew at the end of the month, an annual species, but not always easy to catch up with; a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls have been nice additions, again annual visitors but I usually see them later in the year; a flock of 22 Golden Plover was a first for the site for me, it seems a species I should have seen a lot sooner, but for some reason always eluded me; the first returning Oystercatcher was bang on time at the end of the month; and a Treecreeper, a common bird, but again not always easy to catch up with on patch, one I was particularly glad to pick up.

There are still some gaping holes in the list, which should be filled before the spring migrants rock up, including such easy birds as Pheasant, Buzzard and Meadow Pipit, and other which shouldn't take too much finding like Jay, Coal Tit, Water rail and Redshank.

I've ended February on 73 species in the previous two years, so I'll be doing well if i can add around 10 species this month.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Insects of Vietnam August 2015






 As may be noted from my birding trip report, I didn't get many bird photographs, as they were extremely shy and kept well hidden at all times! I did have a little more luck in photographing insects, and I particularly enjoy photographing butterflies. These were still very difficult subjects, as they were constantly flitting around, making it very frustrating when trying to capture them. However when they did eventually sit still, they proved to be amazingly beautiful subjects. I have little knowledge of what these are, and have struggled to find a decent online resource, but enjoy them all the same...








Orange Staff Sergeant Male

Orange Staff Sergeant Female








Punchinello

Blue Glassy Tiger

Southern and Central Vietnam, August 2015



Southern and central Vietnam, August 2015

In August, me and my girlfriend flew to south-east Asia for three weeks to travel around Vietnam. I thought I may as well do a birding report seeing as I did see a few interesting species while we were going round the country. It wasn’t really a birding holiday, although I had my bins with me every day, but there were a few times when we went out specifically to find birds.
I thought it would be best to go through each area we visited, and what I saw there, rather than do a detailed account of everything, as that would take forever! The biggest impression I got from Vietnam was that you really have to work to find the birds. I had read about this before going, but I was still a little surprised to find just how difficult it would be. Unlike other countries I have visited, there are barely any birds in urban areas, which unfortunately stretch far and wide into the countryside, so much so that there are vast tracts of land as you travel along the busy highways, where there is no gap in human habitation, leaving no wonder that there are few birds around. Given that songbirds are routinely trapped for the cage bird trade doesn’t help matters. Even in areas of suitable looking habitat, it could be difficult, but a little perseverance is sometimes rewarded. My complete lack of experience in tropical birding was also a massive hindrance, as I was unfamiliar with both calls and appearance of any of the birds, so anything I did see resulted in me frantically flicking through the pages of my field guide or trying hopelessly to get a record shot with my camera!
We were there in the rainy season, but this only meant short intense showers of rain, mostly in the evenings. Otherwise it was very hot and sunny, usually between 35-40°C, and very humid!

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
This was the first stop on our trip and whilst looking round tourist attractions in the city, and amongst the hubbub and chaos of the city itself, I was actually surprised that there were at least some birds. Tree Sparrows replace the niche of the House sparrow here, and are commonly seen absolutely anywhere there is human habitation, and in the parks of HCMC, they were very common. Spotted doves were also seen here, and again are very numerous across the whole region.
   Aside from these, we did see White-vented Mynas near the river, and there were a few Common Myna seen around the Reunification Palace grounds. The latter area seems worthwhile of the attention of visiting birders, as it is actually quite green and uncrowded here. Thousands of House Swifts filled the skies in the evenings.

Mekong Delta
We took a tourist trip into the Mekong delta from Saigon, but it was so rushed and they tried to squeeze in so much into the 2 day trip, that we didn’t really have much time to search for birds. I had imagined swathes of wetland habitat, but it is very well populated, with habitations crammed into every bit of riverbank and thousands of boats. This results in a polluted looking river and not a lot of wildlife. Some of the areas we visited were very pretty, for example some of the islets, but it would have been nice to be able to explore a bit. There were plenty of birds calling, but that didn’t help me, but I did manage to identify Pied Fantail and Olive-backed Sunbird. Not one water bird was seen, despite being on the water for the whole time, apart from a caged little egret…


Pied Fantail


Da Lat
Da Lat was meant to be a sleepy city tucked in the mountains, but like most other places in Vietnam, it was still mega busy! We lost each other when we rented motorbikes in the crazy traffic! A nice place though and well known as a good area for birding. However, I didn’t really know where to go for the birds, so again didn’t really add much! A guide probably would have been a good idea.
We did a few touristy bits on the first day, including the botanical gardens, which I thought sounded like it might have some birds. There were a lot of Common Mynas, and several Burmese Shrike, the latter of which were very attractive and quite confiding. 


Juv Burmese Shrike
 I followed some advice from various internet sources and decided a visit to Datanla Falls could be worthwhile, as it could apparently be birdy. We got there mid-morning but it was choc-full of tourists, so difficult to find birds, and there was constant awful music playing from tannoys! The only bird I saw here was a Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, a nice bird, but it left me wanting more!!
In the afternoon we headed to get a cablecar up to the Buddhist monastery at Truc Lam, just south of the city. We had to wait til the cablecar opened so had a sit down for an hour and have lunch, overlooking a beautiful pine forest. There were a few Sand Martins and house swifts overhead, but apart from that not a great deal, although a Large Niltava did make an appearance briefly. The cablecar ride was brilliant, and many birds were heard calling as we passed slowly above the tree canopy. The monastery was very tranquil and picturesque and there were a few birds here, including a Streaked Spiderhunter, some Common Iora and quite a lot of Spotted Doves. The area deserved a bit more exploration but we were limited on time. We had a walk down to Tuyen Lam lake but didn’t see anything else apart from a single Grey Wagtail flying overhead. Apparently the forest on the other side of the lake has good birding, but I only found this out afterwards!

 
Hoi An
This was the best, and hottest place we visited in the country. We enjoyed it so much that we returned 2 times once we’d done some travelling round.
I had read that birding was pretty rubbish here, but I persevered and ended up seeing a fair bit. We stayed in Cua Dai which is a few km outside the town itself, next to the coast. The beach here is beautiful and stretched for several miles. In between the beach and the main road is a load of habitations and resorts, interspersed with scrubby areas and trees. It was in these areas where I concentrated on, visiting in the early mornings and now and again when we were on the beach.
Sooty-headed and Streak-eared Bulbuls were common here. The former were the local subspecies P. aurigaster thais, with yellow undertail coverts. The latter were very indistinct, looking almost like a mix between a sylvia warbler and a thrush. Also in these plantations were small numbers of Scaly-breasted Munia, the odd Long-tailed shrike of the nominate grey-crowned race, and a few White-throated Kingfishers. Just behind the part of the beach we favoured, was a bit of waste ground with some tall broad-leaved trees in it, and these always held a small flock of Blue-tailed bee-eaters, and occasionally Plain Prinia were also seen. A common kingfisher was seen flying over the sea while we were in it one morning, and large flocks of Little Egret were frequently seen over the sea too.
In the old town of Hoi an, birding was mainly restricted to Tree Sparrows, however along the river front there are several large colonies of what I believed to be Germain’s Swiftlets, which flew constantly over the water and amongst the roofs of the larger buildings. One afternoon, while having a beer next to the river, a Black-shouldered Kite was also seen.
Whilst staying in Hoi An, we took a motorcycle ride to the ruins of My Son, about 55km from the town, which situated in some pretty beautiful jungle, but as with a lot of places in Vietnam, it is advised not to go off the beaten track, due to the presence of unexploded ordnance from the war. This was maybe the ‘birdiest’ place we had visited so far, yet once again I only identified a small number of the birds as most were only heard and the majority that did show only gave extremely fleeting views. 2 more Bulbul species were noted here, the commonest being Stripe-throated Bulbul, but Black-crested Bulbul were also present in smaller numbers. The highlight was seeing a Lineated Barbet, which alerted me to its presence with its strange call, and showed in a tree almost right above me. This is probably the best bird I saw during the whole trip. Also seen were Racket-tailed Treepie and a few more Common Iora.


White-throated Kingfisher


Another trip from Hoi an was the Cham Islands, a pain to get to and somewhere we didn’t stay very long, but had a great time staying at a homestay with a local family. Due to a lack of exploring and limited time, we saw virtually no birds, but whilst out on a couple of boat trips, I did see a dark-morph Pacific Reef Egret, which was awesome, and a Bridled Tern. A sunrise boat trip round to the rocky cliffs the other side of the island offered a Common Sandpiper, and the ‘swallow’ caves where thousands of swifts nest, and where their nests are harvested by the locals for selling for food on the mainland.  

Bach Ma
This was the only national park we ended up visiting during our trip, and so I was excited about the prospect of finally getting some proper birding in. It was difficult to organise transport to the park, so we ended up doing a one-day tour, with the aim of getting left at the park to stay at the facilities. It didn’t go exactly as planned, as the tour itself was extremely rushed again, although took us through some amazing jungle. We were hoping to do some birding up at top half of the park, and stay at the guesthouse up here, but we were made to feel pretty unwelcome by the staff who were just trying to rip us off, so we ended up getting a motorcycle ride back down with them for a hefty price, rather than pay an even heftier price to stay up there with no prospect of any dinner. Whilst up at the top we did manage to see Fork-tailed Swifts and Brown-backed Needletails zooming around the observatory at the summit of the park. Silver-eared Mesia were also seen, an amazing colour-palette of a bird! Golden-throated Barbet were heard everywhere, but unfortunately never seen!
The visit to the park was saved however, by the guy that seemed to run the canteen and guesthouse at the bottom of the park, near the visitor centre. He was extremely welcoming, gave us a basic but cheap room, and even went out especially to buy us some food to provide us with some dinner. He took some interest in my field guide, and told us about some of the birds in the park. I wish I’d got his name, he was a legend!
In the morning we got up at dawn and walked up the hill to try and reach the first of the nature trails. This was a lot further than we thought though and within a couple of hours, we were sweating buckets and were out of water, so turned back. The pathways were full of birdlife however, and I managed to identify quite a few. Pin-striped Tit-babblers and Common Tailorbirds were everywhere, and we also got amazing views of a Crimson Sunbird, a proper gem. It was nice to see a few Red-whiskered Bulbuls free-flying, as all the ones we’d seen previously had been in cages.  Other highlights were Blue-winged Leafbird, Little Spiderhunter and a Long-tailed Shrike. The biggest surprise was an Arctic warbler, very few phylloscopus warblers spend summer here, so I presume this must have been a returning wintering bird?
After a sleep and some food, we headed for a waterfall, which is a local swimming spot, hoping for a few more birds on the way. There were Blue-throated Bee-eaters in good numbers down here, as well as a few Black-collared Starling, and a few other bits and bobs. A dip in the swimming pool with the locals was very welcome.

Hue
We spent a couple of nights in Hue, which is where we got our trip to Bach Ma from. It was a nice place, with a bit more relaxed atmosphere. I had read the birding was reasonable, especially near the Imperial Palace, so I took by bins with me when we had a Motorbike tour of the tourist sites. At the imperial palace I saw a Red-collared dove, a few Oriental Magpie Robins, as well as more Common Ioras, Olive-backed sunbirds and Scaly-breasted Munia. Another long-tailed shrike was noted at the back of one of the monasteries.

Hoi an (again)
With a couple more days to go, and not enough time to venture further north, we ended up returning to Hoi An for a third time as the guesthouse and beach were so great. I also had some other ideas about where to go birding. Both mornings we were there before flying back to Saigon were spent cycling down to some Paddyfields a mile or so from our guesthouse. These two mornings proved to be the most productive birding of the entire trip!
I saw a fair few birds along the river to the back of our accommodation, including some Plain Prinia and Common Tailorbirds, as well as plenty of Sooty-headed Bulbuls and Common Mynas. A tern sp was noted flying upriver on several occasions but I never got it down to species.
The paddyfields were reached by turning off the main road to Hoi an, just after crossing the river on the Cua Dai bridge. Instantly I was on to birds, White-throated Kingfishers were everywhere and I also noted a singled Pied Kingfisher, a proper giant! I finally go on to some heron species too, with a Cinnamon bittern being flushed from the reeds just next to the path, and many others were seen, along with a good numbers of Yellow Bittern. A Black bittern was also noted. Further up the path, with ponds either side of me, lots more kingfishers and bitterns were noted, and in the middle of the path, a group of around 10 Common Sandpipers. In the fields on the far side of the ponds was a flock of Little and Intermediate Egrets, and there were several waders, a little distant without a scope, but I managed to pick out a few Greenshank and a Red-wattled Lapwing. A few Paddyfield Pipits were flushed along the path and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were seen regularly perching on fences and wires around the buildings. On our last evening there, we were cycling from the town, back to our accommodation, and going over the bridge near the paddies, we noticed the tide was out and had exposed the banks of the river. Egrets were feeding there in good numbers, but also some waders, with several Sanderling seen, as well as a single Marsh Sandpiper.

Summary
I really enjoyed Vietnam from a number of different perspectives, a lot of the people were very friendly, and the food was excellent. The scenery could be outstanding, and it was great to see a bit of culture and history. On the other hand, it was very hard to get away from the tourism, and a lot of people involved in that sector seemed to be grumpy and unaccommodating, which put me off a great deal. The birding is very difficult, and if I were to visit again, I think I’d consider getting a guide, as travel around the country is extremely difficult, and you really have to know where the birding hotspots are. Having said that, I am glad I went and we did see some amazing birds, and met some really hospitable people.  We still have the north to return to!


59 species identified confidently (plus many more left unidentified!)
  1. Feral Pigeon
  2. Tree Sparrow
  3. Spotted Dove
  4. White Vented Myna
  5. Common Myna
  6. Pied Fantail
  7. Olive-backed Sunbird
  8. House Swift
  9. Burmese Shrike
  10. Blyth's Leaf Warbler
  11. Sand Martin
  12. Large Niltava
  13. Streaked spiderhunter
  14. Common Iora
  15. Rufescent Prinia
  16. Little Egret
  17. Grey Wagtail
  18. Sooty-headed Bulbul
  19. Asian Palm Swift
  20. White-throated Kingfisher
  21. Black-shouldered Kite
  22. Germain's Swiftlet
  23. Scaly-breasted Munia
  24. Common Kingfisher
  25. Long-tailed Shrike
  26. Streak-eared Bulbul
  27. Lineated Barbet
  28. Black-crested Bulbul
  29. Stripe-throated Bulbul
  30. Pacific Reef Egret
  31. Bridled Tern
  32. Common Sandpiper
  33. Fork-tailed Swift
  34. Brown-rumped Needletail
  35. Silver-eared Mesia
  36. Pin-striped Tit-babbler
  37. Common Tailorbird
  38. Blue-winged Leafbird
  39. Red-whiskered Bulbul
  40. Little Spiderhunter
  41. Crimson Sunbird
  42. Racket-tailed Treepie
  43. Arctic Warbler
  44. Blue-throated Bee-eater
  45. Black-collared Starling
  46. Red-collared Dove
  47. Oriental Magpie-robin
  48. Plain Prinia
  49. Cinnamon Bittern
  50. Pied Kingfisher
  51. Paddyfield Pipit
  52. Intermediate Egret
  53. Red-wattled Lapwing
  54. Blue-tailed Bee-eater
  55. Black Bittern
  56. Yellow Bittern
  57. Greenshank
  58. Marsh Sandpiper
  59. Sanderling


           

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Owls and stuff

Not really been out doing proper birding this weekend, but i've still managed to notch up a few new birds here and there. On friday I was working near home in the morning, so dropped in to HP on my lunch break to year tick the redhead Smew that has been knocking about near blott's pit all week, and got the first returning Oystercatcher in the process, pretty much on cue as they usually return this time of year.

A couple of dog walks around the northern end of the patch resulted in the years first Lesser Redpoll, with a decent flock of around 40 this morning, as well as a Treecreeper, a bird I only managed to see once last year on the patch, so a welcome addition.

Saturday morning, I met up with Rob Hoare to have a look at his Little Owl boxes that have been up for a few years around Barton-in-fabis. I will be checking these this year for any nesting birds and hopefully ringing the chicks. The first box we checked had a roosting bird in it, so this is encouraging. We also had excellent views of a Barn Owl hunting in broad daylight behind Holme Pit.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Glauc in the bag!

Me and my girlfriend have recently taken over the care of her dog, Abbie, who had lived at her parents house, but with the arrival of a new puppy, Abbie needed some peace and quiet so came to live with us. This means that on Saturday mornings I am on dog walking duty. The good thing about this is that she has always been walked down at Holme Pierrepont, so I am able to keep on birding my patch, whilst walking the dog too!

I don't fancy taking her on to the nature reserve as she'll only disturb the birds, and get bored when I stand around scanning the lake, so I'll conitnue walking her where she is used to, which is around the back of the watersports centre and the finger ponds. This is part of my patch I dont come to as regualrly, so it will be nice to get some birding done there and maybe see something different? Sadly the birdng isn't usually especially good round there, but it always seems like it has potential, with loads of scrub and waterbodies, as well as the river.

This morning I took her out and clocked up 39 species in just under 2 hours, including a patch year tick in the form of a Kingfisher and a few Feral Pigeon (get in!). 3 Little Egrets atop a tree near the viaducts opposite Netherfield lagoons were good too. There's some flooded rape fields there which are screaming out to be looked at, but aside from a flock of around 30 mute swans, the best it could offer otherwise were a load of canadas and greylags. 

Next up was a visit to Cotham Landfill, after dropping the pooch off home. I admit now that I am a beginner when it comes to gulling, although i've always had an interest. However this winter I've been reading up about them and perusing various sites, to get more used to identifying them. I ashamedly havent actually seen any of the 3 'scarce' white headed gulls (casp, iceland, glauc), so i'm attempting to remedy that.

Anyway, I arrived at Cotham at around 11:15 and there were quite a few gulls about, but the tip was closed for the day, so numbers were comparitvely low. I set about scanning, starting with a group on the far left hand side and within a few gulls time I clocked a 2nd winter Caspian. With my inexperience, I am still pretty wary when it comes to this species, but the posture of the bird, the head shape and long bill had me pretty convinced, especially as it was next to a load of herring gull and greater black backs for comparison, and it seemed to have a grey mantle, but with quite a few dark juvenile feathers still mixed in, hence my decision on a 2nd winter bird. After this a lot of the gulls disappeard so I focused in on the middle of the spoil heap where a few gulls were knocking about, and luckily, the first bird i focused on happened to be a 1st-winter Glaucous Gull. It remained there for a minute or so, before all of a sudden, all remaining gulls flew up and abandoned the site. I stayed for another 20 mins or so, but decided that must have been that, as I was looking at a gull-less dump. Upon reaching my car near the old railway bridge, I looked back and there seemed to be a load more large gulls flying towards the tip, but unfortunately I had to be back home... typical! Not a bad result though.