Thursday, 25 August 2011

High Resolution Images from July 2011

High Resolution Images from July 2011

The images in the main blog have been reduced in size to 600 pixels or less across to facilitate quick loading. It goes against all my sensibilities to reduce the resolution, so each month I shall select a few shots that warrant being seen in in hi-res.
These posts may take slightly longer to load, so please be patient.

Wot no birds?

This Blue-tipped Dancer was seen at Great Falls Park near Washington DC.

I was thrilled to get such a good look at this Northern Water Snake in Raglan's Wood

Leybourne Lakes was home to this Common Blue Damselfly.

The links will take you to the original post.

Other galleries can be found at the dedicated High Resolution page.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Concorde Race Track, Cairo, Aug, 2011

Within easy reach of the allocated hotel in Cairo is a stables and horse race track. It is a wonder that I have never been there before to see what it might hold, but I managed to rectify that oversight during my most recent visit. The entrance to the track is very close to the security guarded gate of the Concorde El-Salaam Hotel.

Barn Swallows perched, like musical jottings, on the telephone wires (These may be H.r. savignii, sometimes known as the Egyptian Swallow). A small sanded oval, which may be the parade ring for race days, has a few large trees in the centre.

A Little Green Bee-eater was hawking for insects from one, but a few of the workers from the stables were taking a nap in the shade so I left them in peace without checking the trees too diligently.
House Sparrows, Laughing Doves and Hooded crows, in that order, were the most common birds of the day. One of the crows stood for a picture on the home straight in front of the stand (Google Earth ref; 30 07' 13"N 31 21' 11"E), but generally, they did not allow a very close approach.

The track describes a big rounded rectangle with a lap distance of about 2.75kms, enclosing about 35 hectares of disused, dry, sandy ground in the centre. The far side of the track has fallen into disrepair, but is still used for exercising the horses and for joggers in the morning and evening when the temperature is cooler.

I had hoped that some larks or pipits or even a Cream-coloured Courser, might be seen amongst some light scrub or turned earth in the centre, but it was very quiet. A family of Common Kestrels were interacting on the ground, occasionally one would take flight and do a quick lap before returning to the group. A Southern Grey Shrike perched on a snag, watching, and some Common Bulbuls were waiting out the heat of the day in a dead tree.

There were a lot of Odonata in the grass on the far side and I spent a good while on my belly creeping up on some. The joggers and horse exercisers stopped and looked momentarily before riding or running off, shaking their heads and muttering about English madmen.

This one puts me in mind of a male Red-veined Darter, Sympetrum fonscolombii, though the red veins  are not as apparent as I would like.

This one above could very well be the female. With nothing to compare it with, this is a tentative identification only.

I feel confident in calling this one as a Broad Scarlet (Scarlet Darter), Crocothemis erythraea. Male above and female below.

I crossed back over the waste ground in the middle of the track and noted a Thick-knee scuttling along a small ditch. It was bent over to avoid detection. I looked in my field guide to check that I was looking at a Eurasian Stone-curlew as I first suspected that it was, but I found that there was a choice.

The Senegal Thick-knee lacks the white stripe on the wing, bordered in black, that characterises the Eurasian Stone-curlew. My camera was out of battery so I was unable to get a photo that evening. There were 4 birds that allowed me fairly close to get a good look in case the white stripe had folded up into the wing in the way of a duck's wing panel. As luck would have it, our pick-up the next morning was delayed and I was able to get back to the race course at 06.00, recharged. The birds were much less approachable in the morning, and flushed as I approached within 50 metres. This picture is a distant one, but the lack of white in the wing was notable when it flew.

In the early morning, the hedge that runs in front of the grandstand was alive with dragonflies. Compared to the dusty ones out on the far side of the course, these were spic and span.

Despite being so commonplace in the region, no trip would be complete without a Hoopoe.

Birds seen; 12

Common Kestrel 4, Senegal Thick-knee 4, Spur-winged Lapwing 1, Eurasian Collared Dove 1, Laughing Dove 60, Little Green Bee-eater 1, Hoopoe 4, Barn Swallow 50, Common Bulbul 15, Southern Grey Shrike 2, Hooded Crow 50, House Sparrow 200

Concorde Race Track, Cairo, Egypt, Aug, 2011

Friday, 19 August 2011

New York, New York, So good they sent me twice., Aug 2011

A double New York was rostered to me at the same time that Corey of 10,000 Birds was out of state. This is the fourth time that this has happened and I am beginning to think that he is avoiding me. Anyway, if Corey is not watching the birds, who is? Someone has to otherwise they will be un-watched and that would never do. I had heard that Central Park and other inland sites may be a bit slow, so I made Jamaica Bay my target. I visited the site out by the airport on both lay-overs, but to avoid repetition, I will blend the two visits into one post. A second reason could be that I was a bit hung-over during the first visit which made me very lazy and I missed a few IDs, so I had to return, sober, to rectify that.

The first bird was a Yellow-crowned Night Heron hunting along the mussel beds in the reeds just outside the town at Broad Channel. Laughing Gulls were common, but American Herring Gull and Ring-billed Gull were only seen in small numbers. In the car park at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Centre, I bumped into another birder named Anthony who invited me along and we headed into the western side of the reserve. A Yellow Warbler was trying to save water by bathing with a friend in a puddle on the path.

The weather was hot and sultry with storms predicted over the next couple of days. Ospreys were very evident and one screeched from the nesting platform as two others wheeled overhead. Grey-catbirds were very common this morning and there were a lot of ducks on the lake. Mostly they were American Black Ducks and eclipse Mallards, but an occasional Gadwall and Blue-winged Teal, also in eclipse plumage, could be seen.

The Terrapin Trail was closed, ostensibly to protect the terrapins' nests, but I suspect that it needs some maintenance and will not open again soon. I spent some time with another birder, Joe, with whom I stopped for quite a while trying to make White-rumped Sandpipers out of a couple of big Semipalmated Sandpipers. I almost managed to convince myself, but Joe was the voice of reason. A Greater Black-backed Gull flew over and put the small peeps to flight. There were no white rumps seen as they flew, so I had to assume that it was merely a size difference in the Semipalmated Sandpipers that we were observing.
Some Semipalmated Plovers were seen on the southern shore with a small group of Willet. Further across, where the Terrapin Trail would have allowed a better view if it had been open, American Oystercatchers were feeding and roosting. I was surprised to find that the oystercatchers required to be writ in red, but I have no record of having seen them before. If I had realised at the time I would have taken a picture, no matter how far away they were.

The tide was very different during both visits. It was high at the second outing and pushed the small waders up onto a little roost at the first view of West Pond. An interesting mix of Semipalmated Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs and a Spotted Sandpiper were hauled up here.

On the other side of the road from the visitors centre, is the eastern part of the reserve. There are a couple of access points and a few paths which all eventually lead to East Pond. An Osprey had caught a fish and looked annoyed to be disturbed as I passed beneath it.

A small shallow depression with a boarded approach path and a screen is known as Big John’s Pond. In the second week of August there were a few shallow patches of water left, with most of the small area given to water lilies. A Lesser Yellowlegs and a Spotted Sandpiper were picking through the exposed mud.

The yellowlegs was bolder, venturing into the open, but the ‘spotty’ stayed in the vegetation and only occasionally braved a sortie beyond the safety of the edges. I met Jack on both occasions in the blind at Old John’s Pond. He is a regular here, he tells me, and I was beginning to think that the birds of Jamaica Bay were being well-watched in Corey’s absence.

We enjoyed a power struggle between 3 Great Egrets. Although there seemed to be no doubt as to who was the king of the castle, the dominant bird was keen to display its superiority.
A Green-backed Heron stayed very still in the weeds close by, reluctant to be seen in case he should become involved.

In front of the hide, a few bare branches provided good perches for Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Grey Catbird, and Yellow Warbler. In the bushes, overhanging the muddy edges, was a face that looked familiar, but took a moment to place until it dropped down onto the damper, more characteristic habitat of the Northern Waterthrush.

East Pond stretches out of view in both directions from the lookout point near Big John’s Pond. Rumours of Marbled and Hudsonian Godwits could not be substantiated by this blogger, though someone had noted both in the sightings book at the visitor centre on my second visit. Mute Swans, Double-crested Cormorants, Lesser Yellow-legs and Glossy Ibis were seen on the water with Black-crowned Night Heron, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon flying over.

A birder named Shawi(?) very kindly pointed out some Stilt Sandpipers which were the first I had seen for 15 years. Doug had seen some White Ibis, but this had involved walking out around the edge of the East Pond which I wasn’t aware I was allowed to do. The water-level is high this year and wellingtons were needed. Even so, I think that I wouldn’t be comfortable doing this as it necessarily disturbs birds in roosting spots along the way.

Returning from the east side of the reserve I noticed a movement on the path ahead of me. I stopped just in time to avoid flushing an American Woodcock about five metres away. It allowed me to get a nice series of pictures, including some odd behaviour that is described in a post on 10,000 Birds. The behaviour seemed ritualistic, but I suspect that the strange attitude and cocking of the tail may have been a preparation for flight as it did suddenly take off while performing.

I returned along this path on the second visit, but unfortunately met the mowers coming the other way. Any thoughts that it may have been defending a nest will never be proven but the chances are that a nest on a well used path such as this would have been abandoned before long. One claim for the woodcock is that it will relocate eggs and or chicks if danger is threatened by carrying them between the legs and body. That is something I would love to see!

To reach Jamaica Bay, take the A Train from Manhattan. The line forks, so ensure that you step onto the train marked for Far Rockaway. The train passes over the water and good views can be had of East Pond on the right as the train approaches Broad Channel. Alight here. Turn right out of the station and right again onto the main road. The walk is 1.35 kms from the metro station (Google Earth ref; 40 36’ 29”N 73 48’ 56”W) to the visitors centre but birds may be seen along the way and the walk could take 30 minutes or so. Metro costs $2.50 each way. Depending on transfer times, the journey could take between 1 hour and 1 hour 30 mins from Lexington Ave and 53rd St.

Semipalmated Sandpipers

All told, I ended up chatting with about 10 different birders so I shan’t worry next time Corey goes away, the birds are being well watched.

Birds seen; 55
Double-crested Cormorant 12, Great Blue Heron 2, Great Egret 4, Snowy Egret 2, Green Heron 1, Yellow-crowned Night Heron 2, Black-crowned Night Heron 8, Glossy ibis 3, Mute Swan 120, Canada Goose 60, Gadwall 1, Mallard 30, American Black Duck 60, Blue-winged Teal 8, Osprey 3, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Peregrine Falcon 2, American Oystercatcher 15, American Woodcock 1, Semipalmated Plover 5, Short-billed Dowitcher 70, Lesser Yellowlegs 20, Spotted Sandpiper 1, Willet 3, Semipalmated Sandpiper 250, Stilt Sandpiper 4, Ring-billed Gull 2, Great Black-backed Gull 2, Herring Gull 6, Laughing Gull 45, Common Tern 20, Least Tern 25, Mourning Dove 6, Chimney Swift 8, Eastern Wood-pewee 1, Eastern Kingbird 2, Great Crested Flycatcher 1, Barn Swallow 25, Cedar Waxwing 2, Grey Catbird 25, Northern Mockingbird 2, Brown Thrasher 1, American Robin 15, American Crow 6, Common Starling 65, House Sparrow 5, American Goldfinch 2, Yellow Warbler 2, Northern Waterthrush 2, Common Yellowthroat 2, Eastern Towhee 1, Song Sparrow 6, Northern Cardinal 1, Red-winged Blackbird 1 Brown-headed Cowbird 5.

Yellow Warbler

For other posts from jamaica Bay and other sites in New York, follow the links below;
Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from the region.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Driving the Cape

Quite a bit of wildlife can be seen just driving around near the Cape. After visiting Paarl, I dropped back to the hotel to whisk one of my colleagues away to the African Penguin colony at Betty’s Bay. Many have been mentioned elsewhere in the trip description, but the some of the ones that get filed under "Cape Town, general and en-route to or from somewhere" are mentioned here.

On the way we saw the spouts from a couple of Southern Right Whales which approach the coast very closely during the astral winter and a Cape Rock Thrush.

On the return from Grootvadersbosch, a Bokmakerie delayed me for a few minutes. Despite being late already it was hard to resist this gorgeous shrike.

Various other birds seen en-route including Hamerkop, African Marsh Harrier and African Olive Pigeon, helped to bring my total for the trip to 76. Not a great score for 3 days of birding, but 4 lifers were found which makes for a very happy Redgannet.

Kelp Gulls

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Grootvadersbosch National Park, Cape Town, July 2011

The approach to Grootvadersbosch National Park is a view amongst views. In an area of stunning scenery the vista from the crest of the road is outstanding.

I was on the way to the forested area beyond Swellendam and had to stop to absorb the beauty of the landscape. This turned out to be fortunate as otherwise, I would have missed the Denham's Bustard strutting through the field across the road.

I was able to get an hour in the forest before the sun went down and I retired to my cottage which had been booked nearby. The night was cold and the mist rolled in again, but I was snug enough with the fire going.

During the quick visit in the evening, I had only just reached the edge of the forest when a soft tapping and a high pitched seeeeeeet caught my ear. An Olive Woodpecker was feeding on the first tree and a Grey Cuckoo-shrike flushed from the next one along. A short walk into the trees found a rustic hide built using the slope of the valley and looking out across the canopy. Not much was seen from here but Cape White-eye, Olive Thrush and Cape Batis were found easily in the forest.

Early the next morning, the mist was thick and some extravagant calls caught my ear from a stand of eucalyptus. At times like this I really envy birders who can identify birds through their vocalisations and don’t have to wait for the cloud to lift. The odd calls, it turned out, were made by Cape Crows, but I had to wait for a gap in the fog to get an eyeball on them.

The mountains create lots of micro-climates as we have already seen this week (Cape Town and Somerset West, on the lowlands near the ocean, were clear and bright for the whole visit), but I was not ready for the immediate change between the forest edges and the interior. I had held back until the light had improved before leaving the farm and venturing onto the mountain roads in the fog, but found that as soon as I entered the forest, the visibility was as clear as a bell. Possibly there is a phenomenon that maintains warmth in closed canopy forests and keeps the condensation from forming in the forest interior.

From the canopy hide, visibility was reduced to just a few feet as clouds, brought up from the valley, floated by on a slight breeze. From the foot of the hide, there was no sign at all of fog and I could see as far as the trees or the path would allow. 
Cape White-eyes and Cape Batis were common again this morning, but the hoped for Narina’s Trogon, Knysna Woodpecker and Knysna Warbler could not be found. A troop of Baboons trailed parallel to the path as if keeping an eye on the stranger in the forest. Grootvadersbosch (Grandfather’s wood) was quiet apart from the few parties of birds that I encountered. One such party was made up of Terrestrial Brownbul, Sombre Bulbul, Olive Woodpecker and Fork-tailed Drongos.

Another bird viewing hide caused me some embarrassment and I was pleased that nobody was around to witness my clumsiness. The hide is built as if for slim children to play in. Instead of steps to climb to the top, there are ladders with narrow openings to each level which are clearly not designed for the fuller figure. Imagine trying to climb a steep ladder into your attic with a rucksack on and carrying a tripod with a big camera mounted on it. This will give you some idea of the frantic wriggling and squeezing involved (Tip for next time, make two or more journeys).The mental picture you may have built up would only be fully complete if you have baboons that poo in your loft and habitually leave their droppings on the ladder rungs and around the access holes.

Having managed to get in, I stopped for a while waiting for a party of birds to pass. After a while a good sized feeding group passed through consisting of Cape White-eye, Cape Batis, Yellow-throated Wood Warbler and some Olive Thrush. Reluctant to put myself through the assault course to get down from the hide, but now seriously pressed for time, I took my leave of the forest to head home. I had only covered a very small part of it and felt as if I had cheated myself of the experience of a beautiful mountain forest and the birds that it held. On a subsequent visit, I may explore the forest first then concentrate on the lowlands on the next morning, ie do the same trip back to front. By the park gates, the office and the camp-site attracted Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Forest Canary and Fiscal Flycatcher.

From Cape Town follow the N2 eastwards through Sir Lowry’s Pass. Pass Caledon and Riviersonderend to Swellendam 165kms beyond the pass. On the eastern outskirts of Swellendam is a turn-off on the right for the Bontebok National Park entrance ( Google Earth ref; 34 01’ 24”S 20 27’ 55”E ). 8kms beyond this turn-off, still on the N2, is the BP garage and the turn-off for the road to Malgas. For Grootvadersbosch National Park continue past the Malgas turn-off and take the next left 1.5kms further on (Google Earth ref;
34 02’ 18”S 20 32’ 47”E). It is the R324, signposted to Suurbraak and Barrydale. 26 kilometers along this road take the left fork, then left again after 1.5 kms. This is the area in which the Stanley’s Bustard was seen. After a further 1.25kms take the left fork and Grootvadersbosch is at the end of this road. Accommodation at Honeywood Farm (Google Earth ref; 34 00’ 17”S 20 49’ 54”E check position manually) will be passed on this road, 1 km before the park gates which open between 08.00 and 18.00.

Bird species seen;19

Hadada Ibis 4, Red-eyed Dove 6, Olive Dove 7, Grey Cuckoo-shrike 2, Cape Bulbul 6, Sombre Bulbul 1, Terrestrial Brownbul 2, Olive Thrush 7, Cape Robin-chat 4, Yellow-throated Wood-warbler 2, Fiscal Flycatcher 2, Cape Batis 10, Malachite Sunbird 2, Greater Double-collared Sunbird 1, Cape White-eye 65, Fork-tailed Drongo 5, Cape Crow 6, Red-winged Starling 1, Forest Canary 1.

Mammals seen; 1
Baboons 25

Other trips from this locale and this visit can be found by following the links below;

More Cape Town posta can be found here;

Visit the dedicated Africa page for posts from South Africa and the dark continent.
Grootvadersbosch National Park, Cape Town, July 2011

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Bontebok National Park, Cape Town, July 2011

The mist still lingered as I approached the Bontebok National Park near Swellendam (Google Earth ref; 34 02’ 53”S 20 28’ 27”E). It was almost midday before the fog lifted and made a trip to the lookout point worthwhile. The dampness persisted and collected in droplets on the grass.

Just after the start of the circular route from the Visitor Centre, a track runs uphill to the right and affords a wide view of the plains and fynbos to the north. My purpose here was to find the Cape Mountain Zebra but the visibility was still too poor. On the high ground with me were Malachite Sunbird and some Red-eyed Doves.

Levaillant's Cisticolas  and Common Stonechat were the most regularly seen birds today, but the gloomy weather made them look sombre and depressed.

Bontebok and Red Hartebeast are common here and three sightings were had of Grey Rhebok.
The plains stretched away before me and looked rather desolate until the sun came out and the whole place was transformed. Suddenly birds were sitting up and singing and the day seemed to have found its purpose. Speckled Mousebirds were seen in a thorn bush by the road.

The River Brede marks the western boundary of the park and trails run along the bank where parking is provided for hikers and picnickers. Aloe plants were common again here and the sight of a Malachite Sunbird in one was stunning. The aloes lined the path as it leads down to the river. A ‘platform’ is mentioned here, but my inferred picture of a raised wooden structure failed to materialise. Instead I think that the reference is to a sandy bank overlooking the river. A Klaas’s Cuckoo was calling from the acacia scrub that is the dominant vegetation type in this part of the park.

The route continues up a steep hill and over a ridge. A Cape Grassbird was singing from the top of a flowering bush and the road eventually led back to the river at a delightful picnic and swimming area.

Verreaux’s Eagle and Jackal Buzzard were seen along this stretch and Yellow Canaries which had been common all morning, eventually sat for a photo.

One of the sought after endemics of the Cape region is the beautiful Black Harrier. A pair was hunting across the low, heathy fynbos on the ridge as I returned to the circular route. One after the other, they turned, inverted and dropped onto some unsuspecting rodent.

It was only as the route had almost completed a full circle that 3 Cape Mountain Zebra were spotted way off in the distance.

Bird species seen; 37

Southern Ostrich 8, Egyptian Goose 4, Yellow-bellied Duck 3, Black-shouldered Kite 3, Black Harrier 2, Jackal Buzzard 2, Verreaux’s Eagle 2, Lesser Kestrel1, Cape Francolin 15, Helmeted Guineafowl 20, Black-winged Stilt 30, Red-eyed Dove 6, Ring-necked Dove 12, Klaas’s Cuckoo 1, Alpine Swift 15, Speckled Mousebird 10, Plain Martin 20, Grassveld Pipit 1, Cape Wagtail 6, Cape Bulbul 15, Cape Robin-chat 4, Karoo Scrub-robin 6, Common Stonechat 25, Levaillant’s Cisticola 25, Karoo Prinia 4, Fiscal Flycatcher 6, Malachite Sunbird 8, Southern Double-collared Sunbird 2, Common Fiscal 8, Mossie 35, Cape Weaver 4, Southern Masked Weaver 15, Yellow Bishop 1, Common Waxbill 80, Cape Canary 4, Yellow Canary 30, Cape Bunting 1.

Mammal species seen; 4
Cape Mountain Zebra 3, Bontebok 25, Red Hartebeast 14, Grey Rhebok 12

Grassveld Pipit 

Follow the links below to find other posts from this locale;

More Cape Town Posts can be found here;

Visit the dedicated Africa Page for posts from the region.

Bontebok National Park, Cape Town,