Monday, December 31, 2007

Counting down the hours

In just 52 hours i'll be jetting off on what will hopefully be my best foreign trip yet. I'm going to be backpacking around India and Nepal with my old college mate Joe parkes for 2 months, yes 2 months. This isn't going to be one of those namby-pamby hire a driver and guide to take you everywhere, show you everything and pick the peppercorns out of your curry for you trips that seem to be so popular these days.
Basically we have absolutely nothing booked and once we arrive we'll just go where we fancy, when we fancy. Of course, we have a rough idea of the sites we want to visit, in order to see certain specialties of the region. Hopefuly we'll manage to make it to a few of these legendary places:

Thak Khola/ Jomsom trek in Nepal, for rare pheasants, Ibisbill, rosefinches and other high altitude stuff, hopefully getting as far as the Thorung La pass at 5000+metres (weather depending)
Chitwan NP in Nepal, for tigers, indian rhino, sloth bear and jungle birds
Corbett NP and Nainital, Northern India, if we fail to score in Chitwan
Harike wetlands in North-western India
Bikaner, and other desert sites in North-western India, for camel rides and desert rares
Sasan Gir NP, south Gujuarat for Asiatic lion
Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, more desert rares (including Grey hypocolious) and Asiatic Wild Ass/Onager
Goa, for Western Ghats Endemics and trance mash-ups on the beach

And if we have time at the end, maybe a brief visit to Keoladeo Ghana NP, better known as Bharatpur. Sadly bone dry once again this year, but may be worth a visit if we haven't managed to catch up with some dry country birds like nightjars, Sociable Plover and Tickell's Thrush.

Actually, reading back through that it looks like i've got it planned out pretty well, though, as a wise man once said "the devil fools with the best laid plans", so we'll probably get stranded in Chitwan by freak flooding for the whole trip, still, i can think of worse palces to spend 2 months (Portland being just one example).

Apparently India has a quite impressive array of Internet Cafes so ishould be able to provide plenty ofupdates along the way, if you don't hear from me for a few weeks, then assume i've copped it David Hunt stylee.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New toy!

Having spent the last 3 years whingeing about how crap my Sigma lens is, i've finally upgraded to a better model, a Canon EF 400mm 5.6 L USM, hows that for a mouthful.
It arrived this morning and after a quick visit to the doctors* I spent the afternoon out on the Top Fields and down at Portland Bill having a play with it.

The light was pretty shocking and there wasnt many birds around, but I managed to get a few shots off.

I'm pretty pleased with the new purchase overall. The faster and more accurate autofocus is the biggest difference. I probably wouldn't have got the magpie and stonechat shots below with the old lens. and its much sharper too.

Purple Sandpiper

Little Owl


Pied Wagtail


* There seems to always be some complaint about the inefficiency of the NHS in the news these days, and not having been to the doctors for some years now I wasnt particularly looking forward to getting my jabs for my upcoming Asian trip sorted out.
I finally got around to making an appointment to speak to a nurse today, I rung the local surgery AT 11:25, was offered an appointment at 11:45, and by 11:55 I was walking out the door, having had the necessary jabs (Hepatitis A and Typhoid) and not a penny poorer fot it. Bloody excellent service I thought, although my left arm has been numb ever since, which is an excellent excuse for the poor photos above, now that I can't blame my camera setup.

Unfortunately I didnt get vaccinated agianst the deadliest insect in the world, the Hepatitis B, or against the most dangerous ocean in the world, the Hepatitis C, boom boom!

N.B: The above endorsement of the NHS has absolutely nothing to with the fact that my Mum works for them.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Gale force nothingness

So, Portland has still been rubbish compared to its own high standards, but i've still managed two lifers since the last update, firstly a Leach's Petrel that flew past the bill a few weeks ago, and more recently 2 Siberian Chiffchaffs in the new crop fields opposite the obs, OK, its not technically a lifer, more a sub-lifer (if such a word exists, if it doesnt, well it does now, so there!) but we're really scraping the barrel this autumn for good stuff. Still, they were interesting birds and I spent a fair bit of time watching them, and managed to hear them calling a fair bit, which was most enlightening. Not in a spirtual way mind, it wasnt like I suddenly saw the light and became all calm, and started floating or any shit like that, though the floating bit could've been quite useful cos it was a right bastard trying to get through the field, all sorts of spiky plants that were grabbing my ankles and trying to pull my trousers down, not to mention the mist nets that were strewn throughout the place.
Anyhoo, enough on that, what else has there been, errrm, well, sod all to be perfectly honest. Some very gusty weather over the last few days looked like it might provide a few seabirds but it stayed a bit too westerly really, apparently its getting stronger in the week and going a bit more south-sou-westerly so we might be in for a few more Leach's.

Pretty much all i did manage in the weekends gales was this juvvy bonxie that hurtled through ferrybridge yesterday, the gale force winds were a handy excude for a shite photo

Tame goldcrest in the garden the other day

Grey Heron at Radipole a while back

And a Shovelbeak at the same time

Can you click 'em? Yes you can! I wouldnt though, they'll still be fucking awful

Saturday, November 10, 2007


This is getting tedious, Portland is still duff!

Well, i guess I cant complain too much, theres been more interesting stuff than most crappy inland sites have had, the best on offer being 2 Black brants at ferrybridge, though these two shoddy distant pictures both show the same bird.

And yet another Yellow- browed Warbler in my garden, the 5th or 6th this autumn!!!

We also had a nice Mealy Redpoll in the garden a week ago, a great garden tick!!

errmmm, what else, added Whopper Swan, Bearded Parrotbill** and Corn Bunting to my pathetic Portland list, and managed to get over to Studland in time to see 2 juv. Surf Scoters in the bay.

**No, not a new species for Britain, I simply refuse to refer to them as Bearded Tits, there is no way those things are tits, Parus montanus is a tit, Bernie Ecclestone is a tit, Panarus biarmicus is not, neither is it a reedling, what a fucking copout that is. Just take one look at the Parrotbills and, bloody hell, don't they look rather similar to beardies, same shape, same colour, even the same bills. they even live in Bamboo stands for christs sake, which basically are whopping great big reeds. Plus its the only way that anyone can ever(knowingly) see a Parrotbill (a wonderful group) in Europe without doing some gay cat. C listing trip to Northern Italy for those feral Vinous-breasted things.(anyone whos done that, shame on you!!)
So, next time your at some reedbed reserve and hear that delightful ping-pinging make sure you say "ooh look, Bearded Parrotbills", or be prepared to get your ear bent!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Continental Coal Tit

A nice pair of tits in the garden today, heres one of the 2 Coal Tits that stayed the afternoon, note the slate grey back, meaning its of the continental race ater. ooh, i love using italics, make me feel well sophisticated

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More Portland stuff

Portland has been appalingly quiet this autumn, part from all the cool stuff in me garden, heres a few bits and bobs from elsewhere on the island

A nice Ring Ouzel trapped at the obs

Turtle Dove

Northern (shame) Wheatear

Flyover Woodlark- tooloowee

My gardens, like, well good!

I photographed all these in my garden on Portland this autumn, how good is that!!!

Pallas's Warbler

One of bout 6 Firecrests

And 2 of 4 Yellow Browed Warblers!!!!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Le Seawatching en Francais


With strong North-Westerly winds forecast, Colin White, John Down, Kevin Lane and I decided it would be fun to try a Seawatch from the French Coast. Booking the previous night, we managed to get a return trip on the ferry from Poole to Cherbourg for Just £106 for the four of us and a car, bargain! We arrived in Cherbourg early in the morning and quickly headed out to Gatteville Phare, a headland on the Northern tip of the Normandy peninsula. It was still dark when we arrived and we set up scopes a little earlier than necessary. First bird through was a Sooty Shearwater, though to be honest, it was so dark that an Antarctic Fulmar would look like a Sooty Shear. Other birds soon followed as the light improved and we noticed the best feature of this site, the birds just came so bloody close, almost without exception, shearwaters and Skuas were passing by close enough to be identifiable with bins only. Birds continued to flow throughout the day and we recorded some decent tallies.

The count of 111 Balearics was apparently a record day count for the mainland side of the

Sooty Shearwater

Arctic Skua

Manx Shear

Part of the record-breaking numbers of Balearic Shears

T'internet, Yay!

Well, after a short absence, I’ve finally managed to get a degree of internet access back, and I’ve got shitloads of stuff to write up, so for starters here’s a trip report of a nice little boat trip into the Bay of Biscay.

Bored of the usual rubbish late summer seawatching off Portland, I joined fellow South Dorset birders John Down, Mark Forster, Dave Foot and Duncan Walbridge for a ‘mini-cruise’ on the Pride Of Bilbao, from Portsmouth out to Bilbao, in North Spain and back again over 4 days from the 5th September. We met at the ferry terminal on the evening of the 5th, and stood up by the bar on the back of the boat with the intention of counting the Navy ships in the harbour to send the details off to my pay-masters in Moscow, unfortunately the boat was a few hours late leaving and we had to make do with trying to watch Black-headed Gulls in pitch darkness with Johns sooper-dooper new binoculars.


Thanks to the late departure the captain proper hooned it down through the channel overnight to make up for lost time, meaning the boat vibrated like hell and nobody could sleep a wink, tosser. Still, we all made it up on deck for first light (though some sad gits were so excited that they were up bagging the best positions well before sun-up). First bird through was a Bonxie, and they proved to be bird of the day with 24 recorded. The Seabirds stayed pretty quiet, and apart from 3 adult Sabines Gull, there wasn’t much of any interest. A few passerines landed on the deck, including a Wheatear and a Redstart. Highlight however was a warbler sp. that zipped past before disappearing onto ‘Monkey Island’ the top observation deck reserved for tour operators. I was so desperate to see a decent bird that I vaulted the fence erected to keep us riff-raff out and legged it up the stairs to the viewing deck to look for the bird, only to be told that I wasn’t allowed up there and was hastily removed from the premises, much to the amusement of the gathered birders below. With the lack of seabirds, and once we were a decent distance down into the Bay of Biscay, we turned our attention to Cetaceans. The flat sea provided ideal conditions, and in the hours before it got dark I managed 3 Cetacean ticks, Fin Whale, the second largest mammal in the world, of which we had about 20, 3 Pilot Whale and 4 Striped Dolphin, well backed up with good numbers of Bottlenose Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise and masses of Common Dolphin, including one pod of several hundred. Also interesting were 2 Ocean Sunfish.

Fin Whale

Common Dolphin


We arrived in Bilbao harbour at dawn and quickly passed through customs, waved our bins at the nearest taxi driver and pointed at the big hill just inland from the port. Luckily the drivers are used to birders and knew exactly where to take us. 5 minutes and an outrageous 20 euros later, we halfway up the hill and in some decent looking scrubby habitat. Apart from a few Tree Pipits flying over, migrants were pretty thin on the ground but there was a good selection of resident birds, with several Red-backed Shrikes, a little group of Serin and 2 calling Sardinian Warblers, sounding like somebody firing a machine gun at us from the bushes. A flock of 12 Chough were unexpected, and I used my skills practiced at Portland the previous week to pick out a flyover Ortolan Bunting which landed and gave us good views on the deck, which was nice as all the Portland birds had been flyover only. Walking back down into town we picked up a couple of Melodious Warblers and a the last gasp, as we were actually in town, 6 Griffon Vultures drifted over with a single Booted Eagle tagging along.

We just got back onto the boat in time to leave at midday and hopes were raised by a Sooty Shear, a few Arctic Skuas and 2 Storm Petrels not long after passing the breakwaters, unfotunatley that proved to be just about all the seabirds for the day. It was to be an excellent afternoon for Cetacea though, with as many as 6 Sperm Whales that gave excellent views close to the boat, another cetacea tick for me, backed up with another 20-odd Fin Whales right up until dusk.


Usually on these trips, the last day steaming up the channel is the quietest day, but this proved to be the best, at least in the morning. Highlight was 4 Minke Whales seen early on, yet another new whale for me. Best birds were 24 Bonxies, 2 Stormies, 3 Sabines Gulls and 2 Balearic Shearwaters. The only other cetaceans were occasional Common and Bottlenose Dolphins and Harbour Porpoise. Around midday we hit a bank of murky weather and it was time to retire to the lower decks to watch some pathetic minor nations rugby team being hammered by the Aussies.
After docking there was just enough time to dip on the Wilsons Phalarope at Stanpit March on the way home.

Minke Whale

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


The title sums it up really, Portland has been pretty dire over the last few weeks with only a slight invasion of ortolan buntings causing any excitement. Ive mangaed to see 2, including one today and hear one more, they;ve not been easy to see on the ground at all. Also, a Wryneck, or possibly 2, or possibly 3 has/have been around the top fields for the past week and we got a brief sighting of one on the privet hedge this morning. I can guarantee however, that there will be a biigy on portland sometime between now and saturday as i will be on the pride of Bilbao watching acres of empty sea hoping for a few whales or maybe a few seabirds, conditions are looking good for cetaceans but shearwaters have been very thin on the ground (or sea?) over the summer, anyway, apparently the bars good!

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Well, you may have noticed that I haven't updated this blog for a while now. My internets been playing up and i've not been able to get properly online for the few weeks.
Anyhoo, since the last update, rather a lot has happened. I left my job in Spain a tad earlier than expected to come back to Portland where i'm working as assistant warden at the bird observatory.
The autumns been a bit slow so far, plenty of common migrants but a distinct and disapointing lack of any goodies, the recent highlights being a nice "in the hand " Wood Warbler and a flyover Honey Buzzard, hopefully that will soon change though. Oh, and I also managed to jam in on the Audoins Gull at Seaton (unlike the other 4 birders from Portland i travelled down with).
Its unlikely that my internet acess will improve for some time so check out the obs website for all the latest sightings and possibly a few of my photographs every now and again.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pico Pienzu

A nice walk up to the Pico Pienzu this morning, although the top was shrouded in fog there was still plenty of the usual stuff in the woods on the way up:

Crested Tit


And back to butterflies again

Long-tailed Blue

And a Sooty Copper at the hotel from a few days back

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Spanish Dross

A few bits ands bobs from around the farm over the last few days, oh and hours of sunshine and temperatures around 30 degrees for the last 2 weeks too.

Cirl Bunting (female)

Cirl Bunting (male)

Queen of Spain Fritillary

Red-backed Shrike (female)

Red-backed Shrike (juvenile), the pair thats been on the farm all summer have hatched 2 young this year

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fritillary Fest

A trip out to the very western border of the picos de europa yesterday to a little known spot along the Rio Dobra around the 1000m mark was very productive for wildlfowers and butterflies, along with a few of the usual birds; griffon vultures, rock bunting, chough etc.

We had an awesome 6 species of fritillary at the site, Queen of Spain, High Brown and Meadow which were all new for me, along with Silver-washed, Provencal and Spotted.
Also 3 species of orchid; Man, Bee and Heath Spotted, along with plenty of other good flowers.

Heath-spotted Orchid

Spanish Rusty Foxglove

Yellow Snapdragon

Purple Shot Copper

Queen of Spain Fritillary

Spotted Fritillary

High Brown Fritillary

Martagon Lilly

Provencal Fritillary

Bee Orchid

Biting Stonecrop

Western Grreen Lizard?

Heath Spotted Orchid close up, a very variable species!