Thursday, January 28, 2010

He's off again (again)

Well the roadshow staggers on, off to India in a few hours. Three days in KL was surreal, it is a city I spent a bit of time in a long, long time ago but how it has changed in 20 years. It was a bit like meeting a long-lost friend who had had a lot of plastic surgery. I enjoyed all the new stuff though; the excellent KTM commuter train network and the monorail being superb. Also upgraded my Lumix whilst I was in town, so the quality of the photography may improve... or maybe not. WiFi coverage in India is still poor in remote areas so expect nothing from me. If anyone wants to post Andy Murray's results in the Oz open on the right hand side of the blog that would be famous. Later.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day off at FRIM (KL) - 27/01/10

Four hours at FRIM, a forested campus area in the outskirts of KL produced 20 species of Odonates along the Sungai Kloh and an associated small wetland. The forest was pretty good, I even got a few leech bites for my trouble. A few bird year-ticks noted too; black-naped oriole and scarlet-backed flowerpecker.

Rhyothemis obsolescens - always great to see.

Paragomphus capricornis - a new species for me and worth the RM5 price of admission alone.

Another new species for me was Euphaea ochracea, favouring the more rapid sections of the small stream at FRIM.

Lathrecista asiatica - very like Agrionoptera at first glance.

Sabah round-up

Norfolk boy in the house!

My recent trip to Sabah was a roller-coaster ride. The trip was typified by appalling weather (four days of nearly non-stop rain at one point...), which meant some sites/activities were just not possible this year; the bird, dragonfly, butterfly and reptile lists all suffered. Despite this there were some great high points and the team put a brave face on it.

Leptolalax pictus - one of my favourite Sabahan frogs. The frog list was small this trip, but included two new species for me Megophrys baluensis and Chaperina fusca.

I still cannot get over the huge calling congregation of jade tree frogs (Rhacophorus dulitensis) we encountered during the wet weather at Poring. This file-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus) cannot believe it either!

This bronzeback (Dendrelaphis caudolineatus) was one of five species of snake identified during the trip. We found a 3.5 metre reticulate python at Tabin one night and the star snake was a king cobra crossing the road at Bukit Silam.

Fruity - this short-nosed fruit-bat (Cyanopteris brachyotis) was chowing down under the eaves of our accommodation at Sukau one night.

Borneo is the place to see wacky invertebrates, this curved spiny spider (Gasteracantha arcuata) though is a widespread SE Asian species. The dragonfly list was poor this year but included one new species for me; the splendid Camacinia gigantea in the mangroves near Lahad Datu.

Striated grassbird - a common species in open coastal habitat throughout Borneo. No new birds for me on this trip as usual but plenty of excellent encounters with some old friends.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Postcard from Sabah

The trip started fantastically with great weather during the day at Mount Kinabalu and then rain in the afternoon which encouraged some superb amphibian action during the night. This Kinabalu horned toad (Megophrys baluensis) was a much-wanted addition to my frog list.

We did well for Rafflesias in the first week with two different plants. Multiple flowering is rare, this plant is a product of artificial innoculation of the host vine, which may explain the number of simultaneous flowers. More than one plant may be involved.

The last four days of the trip have been dogged by persistent rain, which has put a dampener on things somewhat. The only taxa that seem to be enjoying it are the amphibians. We found a colony of over 75 jade tree frogs (Rhacophorus dulitensis) at Poring. Superb little things.

The chance to watch tree frogs breeding in big numbers is fantastic. Plenty of pairs in amplexus and here a jade tree frog female completes a foam nest hanging over an ephemeral, forest-edge pool. The eggs hatch inside the foam and the tadpoles drop into the water below.

A huge low centred over Sabah, but delivering rain throughout the region is really starting to get annoying. Perhaps a result of the cooler than average weather further north in China? We missed plenty at Poring Hot Springs, seeing very few birds, butterflies or dragonflies. We are now at Sukau and the water level is rising. Persistent rain makes travelling by boat unpleasant and the use of optics difficult. We have seen the Bornean pygmy elephants though so must not grumble too much!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Travel advice

Never, ever transit through Delhi airport. Spent the worst ten hours of my life there yesterday, stuck in limbo and not even allowed to check-in myself. I love India but Delhi airport needs a make-over. Could not see any birds through the smog either!

In the stunningly different KL International Airport at the moment, which puts most airports in the world to shame. Just changed my ticket and fly to Sabah for a lunch time arrival, so may get some birding in today.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Twenty years ago today

Sitting at Heathrow at the start of a fifty hour nightmare journey to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. I hate travelling but I like to get there! Here is something from 20 years ago, would love to revisit Australia sometime...

7/1/89 Hattah-Kulkyne National Park

Cath did it again, surprising a striated grasswren in amongst a flock of variegated wrens. I did not see it, having to be content with the regular white-fronted honeyeater. The afternoon session was more like it however, located 3+ striated grasswrens and had superb views of one male as Cath drove them along. Fantastic birds. As usual their call was familiar, also shy hylacola (1). Having succeeded we went back to Hattah Lake; blue-faced honeyeater (3) and pink cockatoo (4).

8/1/89 Hattah-Kulkyne National Park

Enjoying the place so much, decided to check out ‘Beesite 8’. An area where the traditional bee-keeping in the mallee persists despite it being in a National Park. It is a lucrative business apparently. More mature, taller mallee trees here with more leaf litter and less spinifex. Picked up yellow-plumed honeyeater which were common in this type of mallee. Also yellow-rumped pardalote (+).

Then came the big surprise, located a black-eared miner (1) a bird I was so convinced we would not see I was not even bothering. The bird showed a uniform grey mantle and rump, very little white in the tail, underparts paler grey, fading paler towards the vent. Overall impression was of a grey bird reminiscent of noisy miner rather than yellow-throated. Facial pattern more extensive on ear coverts than yellow-throated. According to my criteria, this proved to be a pure black-eared miner! Another could be heard nearby but was not seen. The bird showed no sign of shyness until pushed hard. Cath got a photo which will be interesting to see. Told the ranger who was quite excited, so gave him all the details to forward to researchers working on the birds. In his gratitude he told me where an ‘easy to find’ malleefowl mound was.

Located the mound eventually, couldn’t get the van up the track, so walked in and past the mound. When we eventually found it, watched it for four hours, hearing a male but not seeing it. We were however rewarded with two striated grasswrens right on dusk. One bursting with curiosity came out in the open to inspect us! You spend three days looking for a bird and then it comes and looks at you. Camped overnight on the track which was a bit naughty. I’d love to know what the bird that landed on the roof in the night was.

9/1 /89 Hattah-Kulkyne National Park è Vaughan Springs

An early morning stake-out did the trick, after a brief look at us, two birds came out and started work on the mound. However I think we disturbed them and they melted away into the mallee. So we left them to it and after thanking our ranger headed for Bendigo. Got there at 4 pm but could not raise our contact who lived nearby so we headed for Vaughan in the hills east of the Castlemaine-Daylesford Road. Nice to see fuscous honeyeater (+) and brown treecreeper (2+) again.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

He's off again

Might get a few posts in whilst away, two weeks in Borneo then two more in India. Enjoy the lovely winter weather.

Chilly birding - 07/01/10

Really chilly day today, NW Skåne is starting to look like Hokkaido in winter.

Last day on patch before my next big trip. Got out with the kids for fifteen minutes at Kattvik in the morning. They only lasted this long before the bitter wind started to compromise their life support systems. Ice forming offshore meant that most birds on the sea were distant, but included; great crested grebe (1), long-tailed duck (7) and a few tens of velvet and common scoter.

After lunch I nipped back to Ripagården for a crack at Lapland bunting again. Saw two easily and well this time with no fuss, mousing about amongst the yellowhammers. Fantastic birds. Also in the neighbourhood, a persistent male hen harrier, white-tailed eagle (overhead, 10m views), redshank (2), bullfinch (4) and as I drove home a single snow bunting in the yellowhammer flock.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Birding - 06/01/10

Took the family out to Ripagården. The heavy snow of the last 36 hours have transformed the landscape yet again. Still a little light snow falling in the morning as I peeled off for another crack at the bunting flock. The small part of the flock by the road quickly surrendered three snow buntings, 20 reed buntings and a group of six skylark. No sign of any linnets today but patient, thorough searching eventually produced a Lapland bunting on the deck. Mega!

Walked down the hill to meet back up with the crew. They were enjoying the snow and ice as usual and had had a close encounter with a grey heron. The harbour area held little grebe (1), coot (29), white-tailed eagle (1) and bullfinch (2).

After lunch I took Numbers 1 & 2 down to Båstad to feed the ducks. Offshore a reasonable selection of wildfowl including; little grebe (4), long-tailed duck (7), velvet scoter (25) and common scoter (75). The whooper swan flock has got to 44. On the way home we stopped off at Axeltorpsravinen, hoping for dipper, but we had to make do with five long-tailed tits (it took me until August to find them last year!).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Out-birded on the patch

Mrs B let me out of the house today, whilst the rest of the family did some socialising. It could have been a great day, but it snowed throughout and I was out-birded at every step by Mikael Olofsson! So I ended the day feeling somewhat frustrated.

Kicked off at Grytskaren, where a flighty water pipit flew south after I flushed it near the car park. I was hoping for shorelark but a walk south to Stora Hultstrand failed to find them. Plenty of brambling on the move though with 3000 south during the two hours along this stretch. A call from Mikael informed me that the shorelark were heading south towards me, in the company of 15 skylark. Sadly they never made it to me and we could not relocate them. Also here red-necked grebe (1), goosander (2), one purple sandpiper (on the closest island at Grytskaren), redshank (1), dunlin (29), redwing (12), fieldfare (250), starling (40) and parrot crossbill (5).

"I woke up one morning and my reedbed was gone. Oh no! Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep". It was a surprise to get to Ripagården and find the entire reedbed had been removed and was burning merrily on a fire. A harsh form of management.

Mikael then told me about a huge flock of yellowhammer at Ripagården, found on the 2nd, that included at least one Lapland bunting and some linnet. I headed that way but failed to locate the flock before heading down to the coast. Ripagården was quiet but produced little grebe (1), teal (2), redshank (1), coot (13), dunnock (1) and bullfinch (male).

Next stop was Flytermossen, where a brief look produced goldfinch (15) and redpoll (4). The phone then went and it was Mikael again. He had found the flock at Ripagården, so off I went back. How I missed the flock I will never know. There must have been 700 birds, mostly yellowhammers, but good numbers of tree sparrow (150), as well as reed bunting (15), brambling (15), greenfinch (1) and linnet (1). Had a glimpse of a possible Lapland bunting but the snow was appalling and my optics were soaked so I headed home for an early bath. Will try again tomorrow.

Monday, January 4, 2010

That grosbeak again

Not the best shot of this excellent bird but it is mine.

Team Benstead relocated back to a snowy NW Skåne today. We could not resist another go at the grosbeak at Vaggeryd on the way home though and this time half an hour was enough to secure the bird and get some record shots of it at the feeder. If only all journeys with the family could be so blessed. Great bird.


Yesterday during my snowy walk at Gunnarsö, I came across a mixed-flock of crested and willow tits. They were very excited and hopping about on the snow, closer examination of the the area of interest revealed an indentation where a moose had obviously laid up that night. Whilst I stood by the tits fearlessly examined the area minutely, presumably looking for parasites and other possible food items. It is not very hard-core, but encounters like this are why I go birding.

No mistaking the Scandinavian willow tits.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Swedish tick - black grouse!

If I get a colder dawn than this one this year I will be surprised.

A freezing (-13!) dawn greeted me at Tranebo, a lookout over the north end of the huge Dumme Mosse (peat bog), near Jönköping. I lasted just under an hour. Frost was forming on my telescope and my eyelashes kept freezing to my hat! But occasional scanning finally revealed a female black grouse feeding high in a distant birch tree - my target bird, in all its glory. Also here the feeder attracted a number of species including bullfinch (3), brambling (1), nuthatch (1), marsh tit (1) and jay (7).

Driving around to Gunnarsö, a fruiting rowan near Axamo produced three redwing and a mistle thrush, in amongst the more abundant fieldfare. There has been a black-throated thrush nearby recently, so any thrush flock is worth a check. Gunnarsö was hard work in the snow but I managed a 4 km walk. Plenty of crested and willow tits in the woods and a nice adult golden eagle over a large clearing was excellent. But sadly no sign of any capercaillies. Next time, perhaps.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Pine fresh flash

This morning I had a quick look for the shorelark on the patch before heading for another crack at the pine grosbeak in Småland. The shorelark at Grytskaren played hard to get, frustratingly a lark flew low north past me as I walked up the beach. It appeared to drop into dead ground just around the corner but I could not relocate it. The only bird of note here was a single Slavonian grebe. Driving out we had a superb close goshawk over the road near Västra Ljungby - my third this year and still no sign of a sparrowhawk!

Arriving late in the day at Vaggeryd was chancy, but it only took me 45 minutes to track the pine grosbeak down. What a bird, well worth the wait, you can check it out here. I think it is a first-winter male. I have seen grosbeaks before, but they never fail to impress. Also here the usual mass of bullfinches and fieldfares and a single redwing.

Typically the target of yesterday's abortive search (the steppe eagle) had plenty of visitors today and showed quite well... I will have to find the time for a crack at it again - and perhaps search for the nearby short-toed treecreeper too.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A steppe too far!

Tilting at windmills. Twitching at the moment seems to be a quixotic affair. Another dip racked up and so soon after the pine grosbeak debacle...

An enormous day for white-tailed eagles with 13 recorded in total. Most over fields inland south of Rönnen.

Met up with Terry again this morning. A very cold dawn greeted us at our rendezvous at Lund and we quickly made our way to the nearby area that has been frequented by a young steppe eagle this winter. Our strategy was that on New Years Day, there would be heaps of birders eager to get this rare on their year-list and we would benefit by a quick find by spotters who knew this bird and its habits and be on our way. We saw no-one for three hours! We also managed to miss the steppe eagle, having to make do with a couple of white-tailed eagles instead. However the area was not a bad place to kick off the year-list and we saw some nice birds including; white-fronted goose (8), taiga bean goose (4+), barnacle goose (175), goshawk (1) and common crossbill (15).

Leaving the area we drove north onto more familiar territory, the arable fields south of Rönnen, to hunt for golden eagle and perhaps the wandering gyr falcon. We had no trouble finding a golden eagle last time we tried here but we failed today. The good news though was that Terry spotted the adult gyr falcon perched just 50 metres from the road at Lönhult, no doubt his blog will feature the photos he managed from the car shortly (go look). The bird sat nicely for us for five minutes, moved to another perch further way and then did a huge circuit around us heading for Farhult. Fantastic encounter. Also on the circuit we had a 1K goshawk (our second of the day), rough-legged buzzard (2) and a few redwing.

In the last light of the day we checked Farhult quickly (two Slavonian grebe and a frozen bay) and then Rönnen (the last white-tailed eagle of the day). But after a brave struggle against sleep deprivation and the -8 degree temperature (with added wind-chill), Terry started to look a bit peaky; it was time to get him back on the train to Denmark! Another good day out.