Friday, 29 August 2014

Discovery Park, Seattle, August 2014

My beautiful colleague, Jennifer, joined me for a late afternoon walk around Discovery Park to the northwest of Seattle and experienced one of the slowest starts to a bird walk, ever. No birds were seen on the journey, which started me worrying and we were still birdless 20 minutes after stepping from the bus in the park. The park can boast one of the highest species count in the area as it has mature woodland, meadows, scrub and the beach on Puget Sound, but they seemed reluctant to be spotted today..


We had taken the path that cuts into the deep, dark woods close to the bus stop at Google Earth ref; 47 39 52.30N 122 24 39.68W, hoping to find a Barred Owl for which the park is well known. Eventually a muted “dee, dee, dee” drew our attention to a Black-capped Chickadee and a small feeding flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Brown Creepers with a few Cedar Waxwings a little higher up.


In a small meadow at the top of the steps that lead down to the shoreline, another small mixed flock of chickadees teased me as I tried to get a photograph. A Red-breasted Nuthatch made up the bark-creeping element of this party.


We followed the steps down to the path that runs along the shore where a few more small flocks of chickadees included a Hutton’s Vireo in their number.


The waters of the bay were exceptionally quiet as well today with very little seen until we rounded the corner at the lighthouse on the point. White-crowned Sparrows fed, one drupelet at a time, from the wild blackberries that grow abundantly here.


A Caspian Tern passed us a couple of times and a Boneparte’s Gull tried to hide amongst a flock of Mew Gulls right on the edge of the bay. A couple of Common Mergansers took flight before we could get a good look.


I was especially surprised to see so few American Robins which didn’t show until the evening was drawing in and the light was fading. It wasn’t quite as dark as the sunset shot might suggest. This picture was slightly underexposed and shot with a cloudy white balance to warm it up a bit.


Bird list for Discovery Park;
Mallard 1, Common Merganser 2, Osprey 1, Bald Eagle 1, Boneparte’s Gull 1, Mew Gull 20, Glaucous-winged Gull 8, Caspian Tern 3, Northern Flicker 1, Western Wood-peewee 1, American Crow 30, Black-capped Chickadee 8, Chestnut-backed Chickadee 15, Bushtit 8, Red-breasted Nuthatch 2, Brown Creeper 4, Bewick’s Wren 2, Hutton’s Vireo 1, American Robin 5, Cedar Waxwing 6, Song Sparrow 4, White-crowned Sparrow 5.


Bus number 43 runs from 3rd Ave and Union in downtown Seattle. The fare costs $2.25 and the timetable/map can be seen here.

Visit the dedicated USA and Canadapage for more posts from Seattle, including; Montlake Fill and Bremerton Ferry.
Birdwatching, Birding, Seattle, WA.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

University of Ghana Botanic Gardens, Accra, August 2014

I reached the University of Ghana’s Botanical Garden in Accra after taking more than an hour to travel about 8 miles. There are better ways to do it, so check the logistics section at the bottom of the post.
It was quickly obvious that this was not the manicured version of botanical garden that I had pictured in my head. A row of Royal Palms may once have graced a grand walkway, but it was now overgrown and under-maintained. The road leading from the gate was rutted and a narrow strip of grass had been roughly mown to either side. The slightly unkempt look of the area encouraged me to think that it would be more productive for birds.
The loud throaty call of the Red-eyed Doves could be heard over the softer chuckling of Laughing Doves and a Rose-ringed Parakeet screeched over as we (I was joined by my taxi driver, Samuel) entered.


A Senegal Coucal rose from the grass and watched from a tree as we tried to track down a coarse, three-syllabled chirp which proved to be from a Yellow-billed Shrike.



There are no signs in the gardens and I was not sure where we had started from, so we just felt our way round. Google Earth shows a roundabout in the middle of the gardens, but it was not as obvious in real life. The Royal Palms walk is to the right (east) and now we headed west. We chose the right fork when we encountered a junction. A hot spot stopped us for a short while with Green-headed Sunbird, Double-toothed Barbet and Black-billed Wood-Dove coming in quick succession and a greenbul sp escaped identification.


Does anyone else see Audrey Hepburn?

After a short while we came upon a fence which enclosed a number of water reservoirs. They had the look of sewage settling tanks, but there was none of the other accoutrements or sensory offences associated with water treatment. We followed the fence around until we found an open gate. Samuel seemed fairly sure that we were allowed in, so we took a look.


Common Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers roosted on piers that jutted out into the largest reservoirs on the second tier. A view from above at Google Earth ref; 5 39 46.85N 0 11 35.29W shows 12 reservoirs with the third one down on the left (west) having a slightly lower level. This held true today and provided the most productive spot of the day.



Spur-winged Plovers and Senegal Thick-knees roosted on the paths but unfortunately they flushed before we saw them. At the edges were White-faced Whistling-Duck, Cattle Egret and a Black Heron.  A Little Grebe was caring for its brood of three chicks on the middle pond.



We returned via the experimental fields where the botany department of the university tests new strains of corn, and turned left along an avenue of what I took to be mango trees, but Samuel did not recognise the fruit. We returned to the roundabout and took the north exit which led us to a small pond that I had seen on Google Earth at ref; 5 39 56.84N 0 11 16.68W and had hoped to make the main focus of my walk.



There was a small Cattle Egret colony with young birds still not keen to fly. Reed Cormorant were seen fishing and a Malachite Kingfisher waited patiently on the far bank. This small section of picnic area and lake are separate from the gardens and are subject to a GC 5 fee. On my next visit, I will start from here as access may be had at any time and it is easily accessible for the taxi.


 Bird list for Ghana University Botanic Garden; 40
White-faced Whistling-Duck 8, Little Grebe 6, Long-tailed Cormorant 2, Black Heron 1, Cattle Egret 50, Striated Heron 1, Black Kite 1, Hooded Vulture 6, Shikra 1, Senegal Thick-knee 10, Spur-winged Plover 3, Common Sandpiper 8, Wood Sandpiper 3, Red-eyed Dove 8, Laughing Dove 25, Black-billed Wood-Dove 2, Rose-ringed Parakeet 1, Western Plantain-eater 5, Senegal Coucal 4, Mottled Spinetail 1, Little Swift 2, African Palm-Swift 2, Malachite Kingfisher 1, Green Woodhoopoe 4, African Grey Hornbill 5, Double-toothed Barbet 2, Black-crowned Tchagra 1, Yellow-billed Shrike 15, Piapiac 12, Pied Crow 40, Common Bulbul 25, Zitting Cisticola 1, Brown Babbler 3, African Thrush 3, Splendid Glossy Starling 12, Purple Glossy Starling 2, Green-headed Sunbird 3, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow 2, Black-winged Bishop 8, Bronze Manikin 6.


I started the day with no currency and the exchange desk didn’t open until 10.00am. So I had to visit a nearby hotel whose forex clerk was an earlier riser. Mind you, this was a Saturday morning. My first choice of entrance to the University grounds was blocked by a closed road and the second was manned by a guard who sent us back to the first. Eventually we entered via Freetown Ave. and stopped at the security post opposite the stadium. Here we sought permission to visit the gardens and it was readily given, but Samuel, my taxi driver, was not allowed to stop inside the university. I had booked him to wait for 2 hours, but he was not allowed to wait for me. We compromised and parked his taxi at the security point and took a security vehicle to the gate of the gardens. The security guard expected a small donation for this service, but he did come and pick us up again afterwards.

To avoid this rigmarole next time, it is possible (and my guess is that it would be much easier) to enter the gardens through the private entrance on Haatso Atomic Road, 1km west from the junction with Legon East Rd. This entrance opens onto the pond and picnic area and there are no barriers to the rest of the gardens. At some point someone will ask for 5 Cedis per person which equals about £1 at the time of writing.


Samuel is a taxi driver hailed from the street. We negotiated a price of 80 Cedis to get to the gardens and for him to wait for 2 hours. He was very helpful in talking with the guards and organising a lift from the security driver. He gave me a number to contact him if I wanted to visit the gardens again and I am sure he wouldn’t mind me passing it on;   +233 (0) 244 175232

Malaria exists throughout Ghana and you are advised to take precautions. Parmaceutical precautions are not 100% effective, so the best advice is to avoid getting bitten. Use Deet and cover up. 

Visit the dedicated Africa Page for more posts from Accra, including; The canopy walkway at Kakum National Park and Winneba Plains.

Birding, Birdwatching, Accra, Ghana.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Tyson's Corner, IAD, Virginia, August 2014

There are few things in life that can’t be fixed with a great look at a snake or an owl or even both. After a long day yesterday followed by a couple of beers, I was reluctant to rise for the lark and festered until almost lunchtime. It wasn’t a hangover as such, just a beery fatigue that seems to hit more often these days. I wasn’t expecting much from the pockets of woodland around Tyson’s Corner in the middle of the day, so I sauntered about not paying much attention, but I got a few surprises.


First, unfortunately, building has begun on the wild ground behind Tyson’s 2 Mall. With the arrival of the Metro train, land around the station is likely to be in high demand and the woodland pockets are being squeezed. For the first few minutes, all bird sounds were drowned out by construction noise from two sides. Even the strident “birdeep” calls of the Northern Cardinals were barely audible.
I moved on along Westbranch Drive and ducked back into the woods at Google Earth ref; 38 55 34.20N 77 13 21.95W, where the path leads down to a small pond. A Great Crested Flycatcher caught my eye from high up and at last I could hear a Carolina Chickadee with its fast call.


The outbound journey was so uneventful that I could hardly be bothered to look on the return leg, but a Spotted Sandpiper, teetering on a log before flying onto the shallow edge of the pond, had me reaching for my camera. This would be a state first and I wanted a photo just for the record.
As I was putting the camera back into my backpack, I spotted a long black shape in the shade beneath a tree. “Be a snake, be a snake”, I am sure you all know the mantra.


Sure enough, this turned out to be a Rat Snake. It wasn’t a very big specimen of a species that can grow to over 8 feet, but it was slow and photogenic. I am sad to say that it was probably heading for a warm spot in the sun when I noticed it and it had already spotted me as it turned slowly and sluggishly crept back into its tree.


I was pleased that I hadn’t taken the short cut home now and I was rewarded again on investigating a commotion a little further round. I had nearly doubled back on myself and wondered if the birds were alert to the snake, but they were calling from on high and about 30 meters from the snake’s tree. It had to be worth a look in the event that there might be an owl. I scanned the trees where the fuss appeared to be coming from, but couldn’t see anything. I put down my backpack and moved further in. I glanced to my left to check my footing on the slope and saw a Barred Owl looking back at me. 


The owl was half way up a tree that was half way down the slope which put us on eye-level with each other. After a few moments, I regained my composure (please note that at no time during the proceedings did the owl’s poise desert it) and moved slowly back to my camera. 


We were unfortunately in deep shade and there was a bit of camera movement on most of the pictures, but by fashioning a rest out of my camera bag and a tree stump, I managed to get a few usable shots before retreating.


I can't ever remember getting a better look at an owl. I was fortunate to be so close to the bird without it flushing before I spotted it and lucky again that it tolerated my movement as I backed away.

Bird list for Tyson’s Corner; 20

Mallard 3, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Spotted Sandpiper 1, Mourning Dove 3, Barred Owl 1, Northern Flicker 2, Great-crested Flycatcher 1, American Crow 4, Carolina Chickadee 1, Tufted Titmouse 1, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 1, American Robin 15, Grey Catbird 10, Northern Mockingbird 2, European Starling 1, Song Sparrow 3, Northern Cardinal 5, Common Grackle 1, Brown-headed Cowbird 1, House Sparrow 8.

There are more posts from Tyson's Corner at the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canadapage for more posts.

Birding, Birdwatching, Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, IAD, August 2014

A ribbon of mist followed the serpentine course of the Shenandoah River in the valley below the ridge of mountains that make up the Shenandoah National Park. It was a beautiful start to the day. The sun had risen to the east, but was still low enough to cast the shadow of the mountains across the valley. The many pull-outs allow motorists to stop and enjoy the tremendous views as farmland rolls away to the west and hills disappear into the distance on the other side.


My main focus for this drive was to find Black Bears. I had started early from Tyson’s Corner and arrived at the park gate just before six (this was the northern gate at Front Royal, Google Earth ref; 38 54 10.800N 78 11 33.20W ). 




White-tailed Deer are common around the entrance and were seen for much of the morning close to the road. I stopped at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center to take a look around the area and found Eastern Towhee, American Goldfinch and Chipping Sparrow.


The pull-outs gave good opportunity to find birds and brought Dark-eyed JuncoCedar Waxwing, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Red-headed Vireo. But mainly, I stopped hoping that a bear might be feeding in a meadow cut into the hillside below the pull-out.


The sound track for the day was provided by the Eastern Towhees and Eastern Wood-Peewees. There seemed to be one or both singing every time I stopped.


An Indigo Bunting stopped me with a flash of blue and I pulled in to a trailhead parking lot. A Hooded Warbler popped up and gave me my first look at a fully hooded bird. Short walks onto the Appalachian Trail brought Blackpoll Warbler, American Redstart and Worm-eating Warbler.
My plan was to stop at Elk Wallow and count up my tally of bears over a breakfast burrito, but Elk Wallow came and went with no sightings yet (and the breakfast burrito did nothing to enhance my bear-spotting capabilities).


I stopped in at the next picnic spot (Pinnacles) and took a walk down the trail for a short way and found myself in a bird storm. This was a feeding party that had picked up a full head of steam and was ploughing through the forest. Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Nuthatch, White-bellied Nuthatch and Black-and-white Warbler made up the bark pickers, while American Redstart, Red-eyed Vireo and Carolina Chickadee flicked about in the leaves.


Blue-headed Vireo kept low in the undergrowth with Northern Cardinal while Scarlet Tanager and Tufted Titmouse held the high points. All the time, American Robin and Grey Catbird kept  a-squeaking and a-mewing. It was hard to keep up.
At last, as I approached Skyland, I found my first bear. Even for one who was beginning to wonder if he would find a bear today, it was an unsatisfactory sighting. A small cub looking frightened had been separated from its mother and dashed anxiously through the roadside bushes and disappeared. I am sure his mother must have been close by and that they were reunited shortly afterwards, but it was not the wild experience that I had hoped for.


The bear in Big Meadow was far more interesting. It was a long way off across a very large meadow, but as a result, it was completely unconcerned and fed happily, head down. A family was walking in the meadow and didn’t appear to have seen the bear. Watching from a distance of over quarter of a mile, I was able to see the bear’s reaction as the family came closer. It was aware of their approach and looked up occasionally, but seemed unmoved until they came within about 70-80m. At this point the bear began to move away from them, continuing to feed as it went, but looking up more regularly to check that its flight distance was being maintained. The family took a left turn and moved away from the bear which settled down again to feeding in earnest.


This experience allowed me to judge what the bear would tolerate and I walked out onto the meadow to get a bit closer. At about 100m or so, the bear looked up to check on my progress and I decided that I was close enough to allow him to continue feeding without disturbing him.


It was now well into the afternoon and I decided to start for home. I had about 60 miles to cover along Skyline Drive to get back to the gate and I wanted to do it while there was still some light in the sky.
The verges that run along the roadsides were all filled with an array of wild flowers and these attracted the butterflies. I couldn’t resist a few moments spent on my backside watching them.


A third and then a fourth bear were seen on the way out, but I had changed my exposure settings for the bright, well-lit butterflies and forgot to change them for dark bears in the shade.
An exciting moment came as the sun dropped below the ridge and a large owl flew across the road in the half light. I pulled up and checked the roadside trees, but the owl saw me first and flew again. I saw just enough of it to say that it was a Barred Owl.


Bird list for Shenandoah NP; 37
Turkey Vulture 2, Mourning Dove 1, Barred Owl 1, Chimney Swift 6, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1, Downy Woodpecker 6, Hairy Woodpecker 1, Pileated Woodpecker 2, Eastern Wood-Peewee 15, Blue-headed Vireo 1, Red-headed Vireo 10, American Crow 4, Common Raven 2, Tree Swallow 6, Barn Swallow 20, Carolina Chickadee 2, Tufted Titmouse 2, Red-breasted Nuthatch 1, White-breasted Nuthatch 1, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 1, American Robin 8, Grey Catbird 2, European Starling 8, Cedar Waxwing 40, Worm-eating Warbler 12, Black-and-white Warbler 2, Hooded Warbler 1, American Redstart 3, Blackpoll Warbler 1, Eastern Towhee 8, Chipping Sparrow 18, Field Sparrow 4, Dark-eyed Junco 1, Scarlet Tanager 5, Northern Cardinal 5, Indigo Bunting 2, American Goldfinch 20.

Mammals seen;
Black Bear 4, Chipmunk 8, Gray Squirrel 10, White-tailed Deer 30.



Shenandoah NP is a little over an hour from Washington DC. It can be accessed at the north end through Front Royal on Route 66.
There are plenty of picnic sites, rest rooms and lay-bys. There are a few stops with food available at various points along the 105 mile Skyline Drive that passes through the park.
Park regulations require that you pull completely off the road if stopped. Maps, details of facilities and charges can be found at the National Parks Service website for Shenandoah.
If the weather has been bad, the park authorities may close the road. Check the website above before you travel.
The road is open as a public route so you may pass at any time provided that the gates are open. A $15 fee applies and is valid for 7 days.

Please also bring plenty of insect repellent if you visit during the summer months.

For a previous post from Shenandoah NP, see the link below;
Visit the dedicated USA and Canadapage for more posts.

Birding, Birdwatching, Shenandoah NP, Virginia.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Belle Isle Marsh, Boston, August 2014

The Boston transport system tried to thwart my attempts to reach Belle Isle Marsh by digging up my transfer station at Government Center and then truncating the Blue Line so that trains only reached as far as the airport transfer station. Shuttle buses took punters the rest of the way to Wonderland, stopping at the Blue line stations along the way. I am given to understand that planned work to Government Center will last for 2 years as of March 2014.


Anyway, I eventually reached the marsh which was very quiet for a Saturday afternoon. A few dog-walkers and a couple of joggers were the only other visitors for most of my time there. This morning, the birds had been very quiet at Boston Back Bay Fens and this continued into the afternoon at Belle Isle Marsh.


The path describes a circle around a slightly raised mound which was bursting with wildflowers on this early August weekend and the buzz of insects drowned out any bird noise. The insects in turn were over-powered by aircraft that passed over as they took off from Boston’s Logan airport very close by.


The tide was high and I hoped that a few waders might have been pushed up into the marsh. A few patches of water with muddy edges could be seen from the tower, but the only waders that were in evidence were spooked by a boat speeding along the distant channel. I would hazard a guess at Semi-palmated Sandpiper.


A Merlin flew over with a small bird clutched tightly and an Osprey was seen in the distance.
Back in the car park, a Cooper’s Hawk flew into a dead tree and stopped long enough for a photo.


Opposite the Blue Line’s Suffolk Downs Station is Leverett Ave. At the bottom is a small path that runs back into the marsh. It cuts through the reeds and a small patch of woodland until it reaches a platform that overlooks Rosie’s Pond at Google Earth ref; 42 23 18.94N 70 59 35.84W. This proved to be the most productive area of the visit with Warbling Vireo, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler and Eastern Kingbird seen here. A Grey Catbird followed me for nearly half the length of the path, scolding all the way.

Bird list for Belle Isle Marsh; 25
American Black Duck 1, Double-crested Cormorant 3, Great Blue Heron 4, Great Egret 7, Osprey 1, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Merlin 1, Herring Gull 35, Mourning Dove 25, Chimney Swift 6, Downy Woodpecker 2, Eastern Kingbird 3, Warbling Vireo 1, American Crow 1, Barn Swallow 5, American Robin 15, Grey Catbird 4, Northern Mockingbird 2, European Starling 80, Cedar Waxwing 8, Yellow Warbler 1, Song Sparrow 4, House Finch 1, American Goldfinch 6, House Sparrow 15.


Belle Isle Marsh is very close to the Boston Metro’s Suffolk Downs Station on the Blue Line. It only takes about 10 minutes from downtown Boston and costs around $2.25 one way.
There are no facilities apart from a bulletin board at the car park.

A tower and a jetty give good views out across the marsh.

For a previous post from Belle Isle Marsh, see the link below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from Boston, including Mount Auburn, Back Bay Fens and Pleasure Bay.

Birding, Birdwatching, Boston, Massachusetts.