Saturday, 26 July 2014

South Africa - teaser, July 2014

Logistically, this was a much more successful trip than my last visit to South Africa. We arrived in plenty of time, I didn’t get mugged, parks were open and roads were clear (except for the bit with the Leopard). It wasn’t as species-rich as some trips, but 110+ birds, including 2 life ticks, was a reasonable total I felt.

The red-letter birds, a White-backed Duck and an Ashy Tit, came from a drive around the circuit at Suikersbosrand. This time I was not time stressed and was able to enjoy an ant nest overflowing and bringing in the birds at the picnic site.

The large animals were reticent to come out and be seen. A whole morning in Pilanesberg NP passed without a single Big 5 sighting. There were 3 "lucky mongooses" so I was expecting a big day but the White Rhinos and Lions didn't come 'til later in the afternoon which gave the day a “quiet” feel.

The last morning was spent trying to get pictures of the Black (Verreaux’s) Eagles that are nesting on the cliffs by the waterfall in Walter Sisulu Botanic Gardens. The male (I was reliably informed by the eagle watchers) caught a Hyrax and ate it without offering any to the female or the chick back on the nest (yet the relationship persists).

It will take a little time to delete all the rubbish photos and find a few usable ones, but I will make links to the respective posts once they are published.
If you need any information in the meantime, visit the dedicated Africa page for details of sites in South Africa.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Olympic Forest Park, Beijing, July 2014

The Olympic Forest Park in Beijing turned out to be a treasure of green in the huge city. My colleague and I set off for the park together, but split up on arrival as he intended to run the 10 kilometer circuit round the park whereas I just wished to amble cluelessly through the green stuff looking for birds.

The Beijing Metro dropped us at the south gate of the park (Google Earth ref; 40 00 33.61N 116 23 10.04E ) where a large lawn swept down to a lake that is supposed to represent the head of a serpentine dragon that insinuates its way through the Olympic complex.

Black-billed Magpies were abundant and obvious while Eurasian Tree Sparrows kept catching my eye and diverting my attention. I wandered down towards the lake where a Coal Tit called and a Chinese Bulbul sat at the top of a willow. Then I heard the call of a Common Cuckoo. It was very unexpected and I really wanted to find it, so went back up towards the entrance to follow the call. I was feeling very pleased with myself after a distant look at the cuckoo at the top of a pine tree when a second call and then a third came from across the lake.

Cuckoos became the focus of the day after that and even a group of big cameras on the far side of the lake was deferred until later.

Perhaps there could have been as many as 15 Common Cuckoos calling and chasing each other around. Certainly there were at least 10, with 4 in sight at one time and others calling in the distance. It was a real cuckoo fest.

Part of the lake is fringed with reeds and large Oriental Reed Warblers were found there. A rope guide keeps hired rowing boats from coming too close to the reeds and Black-crowned Night Herons used it as a roosting and hunting perch. The group of photographers were taking pictures of the herons catching goldfish.

Google Earth does not give a good impression of the park. I guess that the satellite passed over during the winter. Most of the trees are leafless and the grass is brown. The margins of the lake look clear from reeds or any bank-side vegetation. The reality in this second week of July is a lush and leafy park, popular with the people, but not too crowded on a Thursday morning.

I was too taken with the cuckoos to venture very far around the park, but my colleague completed his 10K run and tells me that the northern part of the park has a more wild feel to it.

Birds seen at Olympic Forest Park; 17
Mallard 8, Little Grebe 4, Yellow Bittern 4, Grey Heron 1, Great Egret 1, Striated Heron 1, Black-crowned Night Heron 16, Eurasian Moorhen 4, Eurasian Collared Dove 1, Common Cuckoo 10, Common Swift 25, Eurasian Magpie 15, Barn Swallow 30, Coal Tit 1, Light-vented Bulbul 2, Oriental Reed Warbler 8, Eurasian Tree Sparrow 50.

The Olympic Forest Park is 680 hectares in two blocks separated by a motorway, but joined by an ecological corridor that bridges the road. It opens at 06.00 every morning and closes at 21.00 (please be out by 22.00) in the summer, an hour earlier (please be out by 21.00) in the winter. There is no entrance charge. There were restrooms and refreshment stalls at the entrance close to the metro station. Metro Station is Olympic Forest Park, South Entrance. Metro Fare is 2 Yuan.

Visit the dedicated Oriental page for more posts from Beijing and China.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Long Island, New York, July 2014

This blog has slipped so far behind that this entry refers to a time, way back, when England was still in contention for the World Cup in Brazil. It was a Long Island JFK and Corey came to pick me up from the hotel there. We headed out to the beach where a nesting colony of Black Skimmers, Common Terns and Piping Plovers on Nickerson Beach made for easy watching.

The nesting area is on the beach side of the dunes at Point Lookout. eBird is slightly cagey about the exact positioning of the colony, so I will follow suit and be discrete. This begs the question; why am I blogging about it? Redgannet is written to encourage people out into the open by telling them where to go and what they might see when they get there, so being a bit secretive goes against the grain. But look, I have all these pictures and need to offload them somehow.

Some of the Common Terns were feeding tiny chicks, while others were still sitting on eggs. Some inclement weather the night before may have disrupted a few of the families and adult birds called for chicks that did not reply. 

Hungry chicks, missing their own parents sought sustenance by any means. A displaced chick was chased off by an adult protecting its own part of the beach.

The Skimmers were not as advanced. They may have been on eggs further into the wispy beach grasses, but many roosted on the beach, showing little or no interest in reproduction.

A single Piping Plover flew up into the dunes. Here, their nests have been protected by wildlife rangers who cover them with a cage which allows the tiny plovers in and out but prevents Racoons from stealing eggs.
American Oystercatcher chicks were the furthest advanced and were almost as large as their parents. They were actively feeding or staying hidden amongst clumps of washed up seaweed.

The colony is in use from mid-April when the oystercatchers and plovers begin to arrive. The terns and skimmers wait for the warmer weather of May before they start to show.

 From here we went on to Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area. Corey was on a mission to find a life tick Saltmarsh Sparrow for me. A boardwalk passes out through saltmarsh that harboured a flushing Clapper Rail and a stalking Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

At the top of the path a pair of Osprey was nesting on a platform. As one bird watched the nest, the partner had been out fishing and came in with its catch as we approached.

Fleeting shapes in the grass eventually materialised into a Saltmarsh Sparrow as one popped up to be ticked. A subsequent bird sat long enough to get a record.

 Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from New York. .  

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, Houston, June 2014

I was caught on the back foot today when we rolled up outside an unfamiliar hotel on the edge of a freeway in Houston. First things first, I had to find my bearings and then decide where I could reach on a bike when the temperature was pushing 95F. I had hoped to visit Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, but my new starting point added 15kms to the round trip, so I saved myself ‘til the morning when the temperature would hopefully be more tolerable for a cyclist.
I arrived at 07.15, shortly after the timed gate self-opened. There is a feeder area around the log cabin and Blue Jays filled the top slot, bullying Northern Cardinals, House Finches and Red-bellied Woodpeckers from the hanging containers. The path leads to a small pond that serves as a dipping experience for children later in the day. A small Broad-banded Water Snake crossed the pool faster than I could unship my camera. The humidity would have spoiled the shot anyway, it was horrible today and my glasses continually fogged up if I stood still for too long.

A bridge crosses a tributary of Buffalo Bayou and gives access to the east side of the reserve.
Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Blue Jays provided most of the bird song today. Carolina Chickadees gave their quick “Chicka – dee,dee,dee,dee,dee,dee,dee” and a coarse-sounding “Kreeeep” made me look up to see a Great Crested Flycatcher.

The sanctuary is a mixed woodland, predominantly Loblolly Pine, but there are plenty of leafy oaks. A Great Horned Owl flushed from an oak beside the path ahead of me and I was able to follow it by listening for the frantic mobbing of the American Robins and Blue Jays.

It had landed in full view in one of the oaks and its eyes were wide open. Whilst this makes for a good picture, I have come to realise that this is an indication of an owl under stress, so I took the picture and moved on. I found the owl again (I assume it was the same one) a little later and the Blue Jays were still mobbing it. Despite being harassed by the birds, it saved most of its attention for me. I was 40 meters away and it was 10 meters up, so it obviously didn’t like people.
The protected area is only 17.5 acres, so it didn’t take too long to complete the paths and return to the log cabin which was now playing host to a couple of groups of school children. Dipping nets and plastic dishes had been positioned near to the small pond and I took a quick look before the classes arrived and disturbed the water. I was pleased to find another small snake and a few moments later, a third. The light was too poor to get a decent shot even though the snake (number 2) moved quite slowly and despite high ISO and wide aperture settings.

Birds seen;

Broad-winged Hawk (en-route) 1, White-winged Dove 2, Mourning Dove 2, Great Horned Owl 1, Chimney Swift 3, Red-bellied Woodpecker 3, Downy Woodpecker 1, Great Crested Flycatcher 2, Blue Jay 12, American Crow 1, Carolina Chickadee 3, Tufted Titmouse 1, Carolina Wren 5, American Robin 6, Northern Mockingbird 2, European Starling 1, Northern Cardinal 15, Great-tailed Grackle 3, House Finch 2, House Sparrow 2.

Terry Hershey Hike and Bike Trail is very close by and I took a few moments to see if I could find a Mississippi Kite. They can be seen hunting over the meadows here for dragonflies that chase above Buffalo Bayou. Instead I found a bird that I am more accustomed to finding on the other side of the Atlantic. Cattle Egrets were stalking the rough grass along the trail.

Birds seen;

Great Blue Heron 1, Cattle Egret 15, White Ibis 2, Turkey Vulture 1, Mississippi Kite 1, Chimney Swift 4, Blue Jay 3, Barn Swallow 5, American Robin 2, Northern Mockingbird 5, Great-tailed Grackle 4.

For a couple of Terry Hershey posts, follow the links below;

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary is open from 07.00 until 17.00 with electronically timed gates. There is no charge for entry and it houses the Houston Audobon Headquarters. The property and the log cabin were left to the society by Edith to protect it from development.
The ride along Memorial Drive was very pleasant, passing some high end real-estate on an easily navigable route. It took 45 minutes to ride the 14kms on a flat road with light traffic and plenty of overtaking space for passing vehicles. Stay on Memorial, head west and cross Sam Houston Tollway (Texas Beltway 8). Take the first left, Wilchester Blvd, after crossing the freeway and the sanctuary is signposted. It can be seen at Google Earth ref; 29 46 17.22N 95 34 14.28W.
Memorial Drive is unusual in that it does not describe a straight line, but meanders through the leafy suburbs. Bus 70 ($1.25 per ride, It runs twice an hour during morning and afternoon peak,but only once an hour through the late morning and early afternoon) plies the route and will accept a bike on the front rack. Leave the bus at Gessner, 3kms before the sanctuary.

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from Houston.
Birding, Birdwatching, Houston, Texas.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore, June 2014

It is hard to resist the lure of Singapore’s Botanic Gardens and in particular the Heliconia Walk. I am supposed to be exploring pastures new, but it’s hot and the gardens are cool. Why make life difficult?

The Metro station is just outside the gate at Google Earth ref; 1 19 19.22N 103 48 55.20E. From here, the gardens open out into the Ecopond area. Javan Mynas and Asian Glossy Starlings were seen immediately with a small group of Oriental White-eye shortly after passing through the gate.

A park worker was walking through the shallows of the ecopond which may have spoiled my chances of rails or Yellow Bitterns, but the Lesser Whistling Ducks still made good subjects. 

In the spirit of exploration, I took a path less travelled and found myself looking over a tiny pond with mosquito fish in the open water and a White-breasted Waterhen skulking around the edges keeping an eye on her chick.

Heliconia Walk was as delightful as ever. For a little while the sun stubbornly refused to cast any light on them, but the Olive-backed Sunbirds didn’t seem to mind. 

Once the sun cleared the trees though, it became too hot to stand still and my glasses steamed up for lack of a breeze.

No bitterns could be found in the Symphony Lake either, but a large Water Monitor Lizard was on the prowl for something to eat.

The remnant forest and the Ginger garden were similarly quiet as the day became unbearably hot. A Plain-throated Sunbird came to feed at a Cannia Lily near Swan Lake, but I had to call it a day after that.

On the way home a fine looking Red Junglefowl crossed the lawn ahead and an Ashy Tailorbird responded to a half-hearted “pish”.

Bird list for Singapore Botanic Gardens; 22

Lesser Whistling-Duck 18, Red Junglefowl 4, White-breasted Waterhen 5, Spotted Dove 8, Pink-necked Pigeon 15, Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot 1, Germain’s Swiftlet 30, Common Flameback 2, Common Iora 1, Black-naped Oriole 2, Pacific Swallow 5, Yellow-vented Bulbul 15, Dark-necked Tailorbird 2, Ashy Tailorbird 3, Oriental White-eye 5, Oriental Magpie Robin 5, Asian Glossy Starling 60, Common Hill Myna 5, Javan Myna 80, Plain-throated Sunbird 2, Olive-backed Sunbird 8, Eurasian Tree Swallow 6.

The park has two main access points. The gate at the northwest corner is served by the Botanic Garden Metro Station and buses 7 and 77 pass the gate in the southeast on their way to and from Somerset. Gates open from dawn to dusk and there is no charge for admission.

Visit the dedicated Asia page for more posts from Singapore, including; Paser Ris, Sungei Buloh and Fort Canning.
Birding, Birdwatching in Singapore