Saturday, 24 January 2015

First Norfolk Visit of the year


Friday I was off to Norfolk, with Gill from Much Hadham. We were planning on a general wander around the more productive North Norfolk sites to get my year list up and running.
First stop, in temperatures around -5C was Thornham. Here we started off with brent geese and a party of 45 or so twite. The light was not too good, which led to poor photos. However, this rapidly improved for the rest of the day. The windscreen wiper on the car was covered in ice, consequently, failing to clean my very dirty screen.
twite in sub zero temperatures

sunrise

Robin that landed on my bonnet to warm itself

reed bunting and twite
From here we made the short journey to Titchwell. Wrapped up against the cold blast we headed to the beach, where the tide was in. On a bush at the end of the path were a party of mixed finches, linnet, twite and goldfinches. A marsh harrier soared over Thornham Marsh. On the beach we watched a solitary kittiwake, red throated diver and 6 goldeneye, 5 drakes. To their right were a pair of very smart red breasted mergansers whilst further out were a group of 5 wigeons. Gulls, ringed plovers, dunlin and turnstones could also be watched on the sand.
Lapwings on the frozen Freshmarsh

Mixed finch flock



gulls and ducks on the ice.
We headed back to the Parrinder hide, past redshanks, little egrets, reed buntings and black tailed godwits. Most, as usual, of the birds were on the Freshmarsh and were in silhouette. Lapwings, avocets, gulls and wildfowl all were noted before the cold had us off for a coffee. Before we got there a quick check for a recently seen male hen harrier. No luck, but a fast flying merlin shot across Thornham Marsh.
Black tailed godwit
After our coffee, we headed to Burnham Overy Staithe but no rough legged buzzard showed. We noted at least 5 common buzzards, 2 red kites and 3 marsh harriers before we moved on to Lady Ann's Drive. Regular fare here: pink foots, wigeon, curlew etc so along to Cley. A quick sausage roll and then a trip to the beach. Gill wanted a lifer in snow bunting. A scan along to the pill box produced none, so off to Salthouse beach road. Usual flock of turnstones and gulls but no snow bunts and all who were about said they had not seen any. From here, a walk down the East Bank. Grey plover on Arnold's Marsh but no snow bunts. A party of 30+ linnets gave us hope, but not to be. As we wandered back to the car a group of 3 bearded tits showed nearby, venturing from the reeds and on to the ground.
By now it was 2.30 so we returned to Burnham Overy Staithe and a walk along the path to the footpath on the sea wall. We had hoped for barn and short eared owls, but got neither. More geese, both in fields and overhead and a flock of 50+ curlews ended the day as we arrived back home before 7pm. A super day.
Species list:
red throated diver, little grebe cormorant, little egret, grey heron, mute swan, pink footed goose, greylag goose, canada goose, brent goose, (10 sp) shelduck, mallard, gadwall, shoveler, teal, wigeon, tufted duck, goldeneye, red breasted merganser, red kite,(20 sp) marsh harrier, common buzzard, kestrel, red legged partridge, pheasant, moorhen, coot, oystercatcher avocet, ringed plover, (30 sp) grey plover, golden plover, lapwing, sanderling, turnstone, dunlin, redshank, black tailed godwit, curlew, snipe (40 sp) ruff, black headed gull, herring gull, lesser black backed gull, greater black backed gull, kittiwake, wood pigeon, collared dove, skylark, meadow pipit, (50 sp) pied wagtail, wren, dunnock, robin, stonechat, redwing, fieldfare, blackbird, great tit, blue tit,(60 sp) long tailed tit, bearded reedling, magpie, rook, jackdaw, carrion crow, starling, house sparrow chaffinch, goldfinch, (70 sp) greenfinch, linnet, twite, reed bunting,

Pink foot goose

Sunset at Burnham Overy Staithe

brents and 1 greylag in the last of the light

colourful lapwing

The confiding bhg at Cley beach

male bearded reedling

wigeon flypast at Arnold's

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Sri Lanka Part 3: Negombo

So, after 5 nights at Galle we were on our way north to Negombo. A 3 hour drive with plenty of brahminy kites seen once again along the southern expressway as well as the regular birds associated with paddy fields. We were only going to be at the Jetwing Beach hotel for 2 nights and the reason for staying here was that it is handy for the airport, just half an hour away.  Upon arrival I found the resident hotel naturalist who organised a morning tour of Muthurajawela Marsh, some 20 minutes away, for the final morning of our holiday. Good way to finish the trip.
A wander around the hotel and beach area gave views of usual suspects. A pond opposite the hotel looked interesting. Out to see, terns and cormorants headed north and south and a white bellied sea eagle went directly over our balcony, too fast for me to grab the camera.
The following morning I was out by 7 and heading to the marshes. Upon arrival it was clear it was a good area, with herons, barbets, kites and cormorants all around. This area is good for stork billed kingfisher and pied kingfisher, both of which would be new birds for me.
Within 5 minutes of setting off in the motor boat we stopped and Hemantha, the hotel naturalist, pointed out a stork billed kingfisher. A shy bird, but nevertherless, excellent views. It flew over the canal and was lost to view. As we headed towards the lagoon a white bellied sea eagle came into view and numerous brahminy kites. Both indian and little cormorants were perched on every available stick whilst on the side of the canal, a purple heron. This was the first of about 10 that we encountered. We entered the lagoon and made our way around the mangroves, disturbing whiskered, common and little terns as well as a purple swamphen. The latter was very camera shy!
Brahminy kite

Indian pond heron

Canal, heading towards the lagoon

my 1st stork billed kingfisher!

Retiring purple swamphen

white bellied sea eagle
Other birds around the marsh were hard to see apart from the ubiquitous blue tailed bee eaters. Lesser whistling teal took off before I could get a photo as 2 more swamphens darted for cover and were lost from view. We stopped in the shade of the mangroves so that I could have my packed breakfast before another trip around the lagoon edges and back to the canal. Soon after we entered the canal a black and white bird rose in front of us. A pied kingfisher. Superb bird that alighted upon wires so we could get good views. Excellent. Also in the trees Asian koels, rose ringed parakeets and cattle egrets.
Second stork billed kingfisher

blue tailed bee eater

Indian cormorant

red wattled lapwing

whiskered and common terns

purple heron

pied kingfisher

another of this stunning bird

Business end of a purple heron
A second stork billed kingfisher was noted in the shade of the trees, so not easy to photo from a moving boat and also along the footpath, a red wattled lapwing. A superb purple heron posed above us in a palm tree before we arrived back at the Visitor's Centre. A most worthwhile trip. As we headed along the coast road into Negombo I noted a solitary whimbrel on the beach.
Wendy was happy on the beach, so I headed off to check out the pond opposite. Cormorants, bee eaters, red vented bulbuls were all present, before my attention was drawn to a small bird flitting in the bushes near the vegetable garden that supplies the veg for the hotel. A plain prinia, my final new bird for the trip
Indian cormorant

Plain prinia

Plain prinia
After an excellent buffet and a few gin and tonics, a final beach walk, it was time to retire as we had an early 7.30 start for the airport. Another packed breakfast and we were on our way with just enough time to get to the airport, without having to hang around too long. Well, that was the plan, but we hadn't factored in The Pope! He was travelling to visit Negombo in the morning and as we approached the main dual carriageway that links Negombo to the airport we joined a very long traffic jam, where engines were off and the occupants had left the car. Our driver managed to negotiate the randomly parked vehicles and we got to the front of the jam, with just a couple of 100 mopeds and motorbikes in front of us. There was no other route to take and time rapidly slipped by.Our flight was at 9.50 and it was now approaching 8.30, still no Pope!
I began to plan my letter to The Vatican, requesting reimbursement for the extra plane tickets we looked like having to purchase when a convoy of cars sped past, accompanied by endless police cars. We were first on to the dual carriageway, travelling past police who were stationed at every 100 yards along the road at speeds in excess of 100km/h. Time drifted on as we finally pulled up outside the airport and, with a porter leading the way, we joined the queue to check our bags in. Just time to get to the departure gate only to discover all was 15 - 20 minutes behind schedule.
room view

catamarans on the beach

Looking north

hotel entrance

local house crow
After a 4 hour flight to Dubai and then 7 hours to Heathrow, we arrived home at 8.30pm having had a superb 12 day break, seeing some great birds, eating fantastic food, meeting some very wonderful people and seeing some great sights. Excellent time.

Species for the "non birding" trip
Indian peafowl, lesser whistling duck, wedge tailed shearwater, asian openbill, yellow bittern, indian pond heron, grey heron, purple heron, cattle egret, great egret, (10 sp) intermediate egret, little egret, little cormorant, indian cormorant, common kestrel, brahminy kite, white bellied sea eagle, shikra, crested serpent eagle, changeable hawk eagle,(20sp) white breasted waterhen, purple swamphen, red wattled lapwing, whimbrel, heuglins gull, gull billed tern, common tern, little tern, whiskered tern, rock pigeon (30sp) spotted dove, orange breasted green pigeon, Sri Lankan green pigeon, rose ringed parakeet, alexandrine parakeet, Layard's parakeet, Asian koel, greater coucal, Asian palm swift, crested treeswift (40 sp) blue tailed bee eater, stork billed kingfisher, white throated kingfisher, pied kingfisher, brown headed barbet, Sri Lankan grey hornbill, lesser goldenback, brown shrike, common lora, Jerdon's leafbird, (50 sp) black hooded oriole, house crow, large billed crow, barn swallow, Sri Lankan swallow, White bellied drongo, Sri Lankan drongo , paddyfield pipit, red vented bulbul, white browed bulbul, ( 60 sp) grey breasted prinia, plain prinia, common tailorbird, green warbler, asian paradise flycatcher, yellow billed babbler, common mynah, oriental magpie robin, asian brown flycatcher, pale billed flowerpecker, (70 sp) purple rumped sunbird, Loten's sunbird, white rumped munia, scaley breasted munia, Sri Lankan hanging parrot 

For a non birding holiday, 75 species is a most pleasing total. Ones in bold are new birds for me, so also, a satisfactory total.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Sri Lanka Part 2: Galle



So, having spent 4 nights at the superb Estate House we were off to Galle in the South West, a drive of 3 hours, travelling through Horana and Avissawella to the Southern Expressway that takes you south. A good journey with Brahminy Kite, yellow bittern, white bellied sea eagle and plenty of egrets and herons noted from the car. We were greeted at the Jetwing Lighthouse hotel see here as old friends and offered a super room overlooking the ocean. Excellent stuff. However, it was election day and there was an alcohol ban throughout the country! Room service was still available, so the lad brought drinks to our room and we could have them on our balcony. This ban was until Saturday. Safe to say, first time I have had a meal with only water!!
We had stayed at this excellent hotel last year and there were a few areas that I wanted to revisit as they offered opportunities for good birds. We took a walk along the beach and into a coconut grove. Regulars like babblers, white throated kingfishers, house crows and common sandpipers were all on show and in the grounds, 2 red wattled lapwings and an indian pond heron that spent its entire day by the pool!
View from the breakfast table

Lighthouse dining room

Looking north from the hotel gardens


cattle egrets

red wattled lapwing

house crow

common sandpiper
After our first night and some arrak in our room, I was up for first light and wandered over the road to an area the locals call the jungle. Here, the tsunami in 2004 washed away many houses and thick vegetation, which was cleared to make a sports ground for the locals to play cricket. However, opposite was still a jungle area and whilst not full of lots of species, was a great area to photo more of the regular birds. It was also a superb butterfly area and one I revisited at some point each of the 5 days we were in Galle.
Black hooded orioles, brown headed barbets, white browed bulbuls, red wattled lapwings, scaley breasted and white rumped munias, Sri Lankan swallows, Asian palm swifts, a solitary crested treeswift and brahminy kites were all easy to find along with Asian koel and greater coucal. Just a wonderful place, some 3 minutes from the hotel room.
Sports ground that used to be jungle. Note house in background

Jungle area: good birds, butterflies and leeches!

Tsunami damage still all around.

brown headed barbet

Sri Lankan swallow

rose ringed parakeet

blue tailed bee eaters

juvenile scaley breasted munias

overhead red wattled lapwing

white browed bulbul
After breakfast we took a tuk tuk to nearby Hikkadua where we popped into a turtle hatchery. Here, the chap who ran the whole farm showed us around, explained what he was doing whilst also showing us turtles he had rescued that were injured. There was one with propeller damage whilst 2 others had lost flippers due to being caught in fishing nets. He ran this whole establishment on donations and entrance fees, no grants from the government or wildlife charities. He had rebuilt the hatchery after the tsunami which washed away the farm along with killing 6 members of his family, including his father who had originally set up the place.

Wendy with a one year old turtle


After a bit of shopping it was back to the alcohol free hotel and off for another local wander, this time back to scrub land to the north. Here, lesser goldenback woodpeckers, common mynahs, more blue tailed bee eaters whilst out to sea, gull billed, little and common terns. A large white bellied sea eagle came in off and headed inland.
red vented bulbul

Asian koel

brahminy kite

Indian pond heron

white breasted waterhen

rock pigeon

Hotel pond heron and palm squirrel
noisy white throated kingfisher

lesser goldenback, male

lesser goldenback, female
The next morning found me in a tuk tuk heading to Kottawa rainforest, some 30 minutes out of the city. I visited this excellent and protected habitat with the naturalist, Anoma, from the hotel last year. This time I was met by a local guide and off we went, having paid a couple of quid to enter. As with rain forests, the birds are noisy, the leeches hungry, lizards are fast and very little gets seen. It really is a question of "getting your eyes in." An Asian paradise flycatcher (white male) was noted as rose ringed and Alexandrine parakeets screeched overhead. A couple of the smaller, endemic Layard's parakeets were also seen, but impossible to photograph. A Sri Lankan drongo was the only bird I managed to get a very poor snap of. Kangaroo lizards hopped for cover as I removed more leeches from my feet. They clearly enjoyed the blood laced arrak that ran through my system as the guide, in flip flops had one leech for the whole 2 hours. Just a real privilege to see such an important habitat, to stand and listen to the cacophony of barbets, coucals, koels, hornbills, parakeets and macaques. Back to the hotel and a full leech check upon arrival.
Sri Lankan drongo through dense vegetation!

kangaroo lizard

close up

Kottawa rainforest

my guide, which you have to be with

Pesky leeches.
It was now Saturday and a check on the sea from the breakfast table gave views of 2 wedge tailed shearwaters. No camera!!  A beer by the pool in 35C seemed like a sensible idea, but not one for such activities for more than half an hour,  we were off for another wander to the local Buddhist temple. We chatted with the monk who lent Wendy 4 books to read, 2 of which she could keep, but 2 needed to be returned before we left. We met Nilantha and his brother Raja who invited us to their home. They told of the tsunami coming through their house, washing all away, a wall of water 6 feet high! I then played cricket on the sports ground with the local lads, who called themselves the Bad Boys and all wanted to have their photograph taken. Raja invited us to come along for a boat ride up river the following morning. Good opportunity to get to a place I wouldn't otherwise see.
My attempt to bowl a doosra.................

...................was disptached to the boundary

Wendy and Raja, check out the damage to the house behind!

Common mynah

Loten's sunbird, male

Buddhist temple

white throated kingfisher

Tailorbird
The next morning, Wendy had plenty of reading to do, so I headed off for the boat trip. Great fun with indian and little cormorants, whiskered terns, water monitors a plenty and a darter. The latter, apparently, not a common bird for the south west. Raja rowed and we chatted about the election result, his children and he told me, how 17 years ago his father drowned in the river and he had to sell his tuk tuk to pay for the funeral. His only source of income gone!
Raja offered this trip for free. Just proud of where he lived

darter

Little cormorant

Large (7 feet) water monitor

Another from the boat

Pleasing shot of a common sandpiper

Indian jezebel butterfly
The dinner that evening, as ever, was superb and made even more enjoyable as we could drink wine with it. Sunday dawned and another pre breakfast stroll over the road. More of the same but still brilliant. 3 black hooded orioles, 2 red vented bulbuls and 6 yellow billed babblers all in the same tree. A paddyfield pipit was new for the trip and I managed to get a few reasonable record shots of butterflies that I wasn't sure of their id.
paddyfield pipit

scaley breasted munia

Medus brown

White four ring

Pied parasol dragonfly

yellow billed babbler

Common sight

orange breasted green pigeon, female

black hooded oriole
Our last day, Monday, so another wander before popping over to see Raja and family as we had been invited to visit. We were greeted into their house and offered king coconuts to drink. He offered Wendy a present which we said we couldn't accept but both he and his wife were insistent. Wendy continues to wear the wonderful gift. I have a few plans to help this very peaceful and genuine man and his family of 4 children. In 2008 he got a job in Baghdad cleaning industrial ovens. He told of working all night in these and then spending the day in bunkers as bombs etc went off. After 15 months earning small amounts for his family back home, he returned and now gets occasional labouring work on building sites at night when it is cooler. He worked Christmas Day so the family had their Christmas dinner at 4.30 am.
We then walked to the river, via the temple to return the books, for any more birds and insects before returning to the hotel to pack ready for our move north to Negombo at 9 the following morning. It had been a very busy and utterly brilliant 5 days, with new birds noted, some Buddhist thoughts, wonderful locals and an excellent hotel. I suspect we shall be returning soon!
Fishermen on the river

Typical Galle sunset, from the hotel bar.



Loten's sunbird, male

Another brown headed barbet

amazing colours of  the blue tailed bee eater
None of the children had ever looked through binoculars.

This is me

This is me
At the end of another Norfolk Coastal footpath walk. 47 miles, 3 days 99 species of bird

Caley Wood view

Caley Wood view
sunshine through the canopy 29.05.08

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007
Best birds on this walk: black and middle spotted woodpecker and short toed treecreeper

About Me

My photo
A primary school teacher for 30 years, I retired from teaching in July 2009 to set up my own science enhancement and communication company. The Primary Works offers science clubs, workshops and staged science shows nationwide. I have always been interested in bird watching since my early years. Apparently my first tick was after inquiring about a chaffinch and then receiving the Observer book of birds. By the age of 9 I had moved on to Tory Peterson's collins guide and was now involved on YOC birding holidays to Northumbria, Essex coast, Slimbridge and Yorkshire. My twitching rule is that I will willingly travel 1km for each gram the bird weighs. However, I have had many rarities just by being in the right place. I have travelled widely throughout Europe and also visited Australia and Sri Lanka. Further European destinations are planned and a bigger trip to The Crimea was planned for 2014 but now not possible. so 2014: Sri Lanka in January, Poland in April, Madeira in June and The Camargue in July. So far 2015 has been Sri Lanka in Jan, Poland in Feb, Sri Lanka in April and The Camargue coming up in 1st week of September.

Grey heron

Grey heron
Over the allotment 28.09.08

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker
Ridge footpath 27.08.08

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)
Note the stripes, denoting a bird fledged this year.

common blue

common blue
Ash Valley G.C. 15.08.08

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)
River Ash

azure damselfly

azure damselfly
River Ash 28.07.08

marbled white

marbled white
Discovered at Westland Green 22.07.08

ruddy darter

ruddy darter
Bush Wood 21.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08
growing in hedgerow in Chapel Lane

cinnabar moth caterpillar

cinnabar moth caterpillar
Photographed on ragwort 19.07.08

Bittersweet

Bittersweet
Study of petals 11.06.08

male yellowhammer

male yellowhammer
08.06.08

common blue butterfly

common blue butterfly
06.06.08

River Ash

River Ash
looking south from the bridge at Hadham Ford

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)
in rape field 29.05.08

Caley Wood sunshine

Caley Wood sunshine
29.05.08

Millenium Wood fox

Millenium Wood fox
24.05.08

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)
06.05.08 banks of the River Ash

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)
flowers, leaves and fruit edible . Good in salad and pesto

April showers

April showers
Double rainbow 30.04.08

Caley Wood bluebells

Caley Wood bluebells
22.04.08

Yellow Archangel

Yellow Archangel
Chapel Lane (20.04.08)

sunlight 16.04.08

sunlight 16.04.08
looking south west from Bush Wood

snowy buds

snowy buds
06.04.08 in Bush Wood

Looking north west

Looking north west
05.04.08 evening shower approaching

Back Garden

Back Garden
Easter Sunday (23.03.08)

Brick Kiln Hill

Brick Kiln Hill
Looking east (23.03.08)

No play today

No play today
The 2nd hole at Ash Valley golf course

Teasel head

Teasel head
Bush Wood (21.03.08)

Reflections

Reflections
daffodils at Bush Wood pond (21.03.08)

Swollen River Ash

Swollen River Ash
The river at the bottom of Winding Hill 16.03.08

Daybreak over the chapel

Daybreak over the chapel
Thursday 13th March

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)
growing in Bush Wood

January snowdrops

January snowdrops
Banks of River Ash, north of Much Hadham

Good Moon

Good Moon
From garden 24.01.08

Village Green

Village Green
Looking east towards Acremore Street

Looking south before Hadham Ford

Looking south before Hadham Ford
rare January blue sky

Useful sites

The following are some useful websites that may interest readers of this blog.
Firstly, Bishop's Stortford Natural History Society http://bsnhs.webplus.net/

Fellow birder, Gary Whelan's blog. Gives reports from our trips out together plus reports from his trips abroad. http://hairybirders.blogspot.co.uk
http://www.hertsbirdclub.org.uk/ The official herts bird club website. Frequently updated, listing bird sightings around the county. Offers links to many other websites. Both of these sites also offer links to yahoo discussion groups.
http://www.birdforum.net/ An international site. You can enter as a guest but become a member( free) to post comments, bird sightings and just about anything to do with wild birds. Good news updates, classified section for binoculars, cameras etc.
http://www.guidedbirdwatching.com/ A new site set up where you can contact people worldwide who will help you find good birds in their country. UK section being set up presently.
http://www.britainsbirder.co.uk/
Fellow birders blog. Strtford resident, Graeme Smith regulary birds the area south of Stortford as well as around Spellbrook and the River Stort from Spellbrook to Twyford Locks. Some superb bird photography: Graeme uses a digital camera attached to his powerful telescope to get detailled images of the birds he sees. Well worth a browse.
Two local sites that may be of interest can be found at
http://www.thehadhams.com/ www.thepelhams.net/content/section/12/139/

South Easterly walk

South Easterly walk
black, normal, red extended walk

South Westerly route.

South Westerly route.
Black usual, red extended

North Easterly walk

North Easterly walk
black short, walk. Red, extended

North West Patch

North West Patch
black route regular. Red route the extended wander