Thursday, 31 August 2017

Madeira Pelagics

Its been a busy summer for Zoothera, with tours to Uganda, Lesser Sundas and currently Guyana. Add in family holidays and the British Birdfair and there's been very little time to post updates.....

I visited Madeira in early August as part of a family holiday and managed to sneak in two pelagics with the excellent Madeira Windbirds. I must admit its been several years since i've done any pelagics but these two trips brought back all of my old feelings for seabirds and it has definitely been way too long since i've done anything like this.

So our first pelagic focussed on finding Zino's Petrel and we had 2 different individuals and were able to watch them for several minutes on each occasion. It was fascinating to watch them and then go through the photos to see how light, angle, distance, background etc all played their part in changing the overall colour of the bird and also the bill shape. A thinner bill on Zino's than Desertas is one of the diagnostic features. Not being an expert on this, it was a steep learning curve for me. The accompanying photos aren't the best but show how the bill shape varies depending on the view. 

Zino's Petrel
The photos of the single Desertas Petrel (Pterodroma deserta) seen on this pelagic really highlight how the bill thickness seems to change depending on the angle.

Desertas Petrel

In reality, through binoculars it's pretty impossible to gauge accurately. The Zino's Petrel was far more elegant, with longer wings, whilst the Desertas Petrel had a more chunky body, darker 'eye' patch and shorter wings. It really is a bit easier really to focus on the wings, body and jizz....

I really enjoyed the close views of Cory's Shearwater, and a Long-tailed Skua was very interested in our frozen chum block..

Cory's Shearwater

Long-tailed Skua

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Alaska - New tour for 2018

Alaska's wild and beautiful spaces have long captivated birders and naturalists alike. With miles of unspoiled wilderness, unending layers of snow-covered peaks, rugged hillsides and tundra landscapes aside the Bering Sea, magnificent fjords of the craggy Kenai Peninsula, islands draped with seabirds of all shapes and sizes, glaciers calving into dark blue waters, impenetrable boreal forests and rolling tundra under the mammoth backdrop of North America's tallest mountain peak, it's easy to see why! 

Our 'Birding the Outposts' tour of Alaska offers a complete sampling of Alaska's birdlife as we visit Nome for breeding Arctic waders including Bristle-thighed Curlew, Barrow for Spectacled and Steller's Eiders, take a boat ride out into the Kenai Fjords and visit Denali National Park. 

A post tour extension to the spectacular Pribiloff Islands will be offered for those interested in visiting St. Paul Island's impressive seabird cliffs teeming with puffins, auklets and kittiwakes and we will have a 3-night stay here so we can fully appreciate the extraordinary birding opportunities that this island provides. 

Just a few of the other key target species: Emperor Goose, Harlequin Duck, Barrow's Goldeneye, Spruce Grouse, White-billed Diver, Rock Sandpiper, Aleutian Tern, Great Grey Owl, Boreal Owl, Snowy Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Gyrfalcon, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, Sooty Fox Sparrow, Smith's Longspur and more!

But it's the nesting seabirds that really make a trip to Alaska so special: Red-faced Cormorant, Brunnich's Guillemot, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Kittlitz's Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, Parakeet Auklet, Least Auklet, Crested Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Red-legged Kittiwake....

Take a look at our tour itinerary here: Alaska 2018

Spectacled Eider 

Spectacular Scenery

And more great scenery

Bristle-thighed Curlew

King Eider

Red Phalarope

Rock Ptarmigan

Sabine's Gull

Willow Ptarmigan

Aleutian Tern

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Boreal Owl

Great Grey Owl
All photos courtesy of Kim Risen, our co-leader for this tour.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Tangjiahe - Chengdu

With all major targets done and dusted we had no specific species to search for on our penultimate day so before breakfast a few of us walked up the hill across the river and just went birding! Great huh? We managed to find White-backed Woodpecker and Mountain Bulbul – both new trip ticks. After breakfast we met up with those of us who had enjoyed a lie in and walked along the river, where we added Crested Goshawk and White-crowned Forktail to our ever growing list that is now up to 320 species. 

White-crowned Forktail

We also saw another Spectacled Fulvetta that was in company with some Pere David’s Fulvettas, plus there was also Brown Dipper, Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler, Indian Blue Robin, Golden Eagle, Mountain Hawk-Eagle etc. After an 8km walk alongside the river we sure were ready for lunch…!

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

After lunch and a siesta we drove down the narrow road that runs parallel to the river and found some showy Alstrom’s and Sulphur-breasted Warblers, with the latter species being particularly obliging. But it was probably the Crested Kingfisher that was most appreciated by some as it was a lifer. We drove back at 5pm to shower, pack and get ready for an early dinner.

Yellow-bellied Tit

Alstrom's Warbler - note the relatively short tail, long bill and subdued crown pattern

On our final day we left the hotel early and drove outside of the park and tried for Chinese Hwamei, which only appeared briefly. We did add Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker to the list and also Dan and I had a very brief view of what must have been a Rufous Woodpecker as well. There was also Pere David’s Fulvetta, Yellow-bellied Tit, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Asian Koel, some showy Alstrom’s Warblers, Brown-breasted Bulbul, several Brown Dippers, Grey-headed Woodpecker and plenty more common birds.

Once done here, we set out on the 7 hour drive back to Chengdu where we had our final dinner together and a chance to reminisce about a great tour over a few beers. Oh we had a quick walk in the park to get House Swift on our list as well, and our trip list ended on 325 species seen. Not too shabby huh?