Sunday, 31 December 2017

Queensland 2016 No. 4: Daintree and Cairns

Great Bowerbird, Mount Molloy School
Donation box at the school where the Great Bowerbird can be seen.
Before I start rounding up 2017, here is the final instalment of Queensland from 2016.  It would have been a shame to not have finished the story, as some of the best birds came towards the end of our week in the Cairns area.  Here are some highlights. It really is a lovely area to visit, highly recommended - September is an ideal time to visit as it is not too hot.
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
Pale-yellow Robin

Australian Bustard
Blue-winged Kookaburra
This Blue-winged Kookaburra was is the garden along with many other birds at Hannah's Habitat, a really nice and affordable place to stay.

The next series of images are from the Daintree area, some taken during our Daintree Boatman river cruise.  We stayed at the excellent Red Mill House.
Azure Kingfisher (river cruise)
Great-billed Heron, juvenile (river cruise)
Sacred Kingfisher, Daintree NP

Large flock of Cattle Egrets, Daintree Village

Searching for the Southern Cassowary, a bird with a somewhat intimidating reputation, was near the top of my priorities in the Daintree National Park.  They live in the lowland rainforest, much of which has already been cleared, fragmenting the cassowary populations and bringing some of the birds into close contact with people.  And sometimes they are aggressive toward people, especially when looking after their chicks.  One of the best places to see them is the Jindalba Boardwalk trail.  I was lucky enough to spot a stripy cassowary chick on the path, then quickly realised there were two.  I peered upwards through the dense forest vegetation to see the male Cassowary towering above the chicks (and with him being up the slope, me too!).  One of those heart-stopping wildlife moments! Slowly, he led the chicks away from the path and I was able to continue along the trail and enjoy more views of the family group.  In cassowaries, it is the male that incubates the eggs and raises the chicks on his own.
Southern Cassowary, Jindalba Boardwalk Trail
One of the two chicks
The third and last of my main target birds for the trip, the Beach Thicknee, was the hardest to find.  It took three tries at different sites before I finally succeeded: at the Mossman River entrance (accessed from Newell Beach).  Even then, after a long search, I was literally about to close the car door and leave the site, when one bird flew into the muddy creek.  This bird was very relaxed and spent a long time preening, feeding and loafing around, gradually getting nearer and nearer.  I really couldn't have hoped for better views, just awesome.  This was also a great place to watch Ospreys fishing.

Beach Thicknee, Mossman River
Beach Thicknee
Comb-crested Jacana, Cattana Wetlands
Returning to Cairns there was just enough time for a walk along the famous Esplanade.  The light was fading fast but still delivered a great wader experience, including a flock of Great Knot, a few Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and this Eastern Curlew:
Eastern Curlew, Cairns Esplanade - what a bill!!

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Burton Dassett: Winter Random Square bird survey

This morning I spent two hours out and about around Avon Dassett, a few mile north of Banbury, participating in the BOS Winter Random Square Survey.  This involves spending 2 hours counting all the birds you can find in a 1km square.  Sometimes the two hours can drag a bit by the end, but this morning, in glorious sunshine, there were plenty of birds about, helped by a reasonable diversity of habitats within my allotted square - a leafy village, parkland, scrub, arable farmland, pasture and tall hedgerows.

Having spend a bit of time yesterday checking potential Hawfinch sites locally without further success, I was not particularly expecting to find any on the survey.  So it was a very pleasant surprise when, after about ten minutes, one popped up on top of a nearby tree, bathed in the morning sunlight, a great view but almost immediately it was off.... 

I managed to find a total of 38 species, including a pair of Ravens, a flock of about fifty Skylarks, five Yellowhammers and plenty of Redwings and Linnets.

Fieldfares have become noticeably more common in the past week or so, this bird was guarding an apple tree, fending off blackbirds when it could.

Fieldfare near Edgcote
Mute Swan, Wroxton College
Grey Heron searching for food in a field of winter wheat near Thenford
Edgcote Church and Yew trees

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Banburyshire: Hawfinches around the churchyards

Churchyards are turning out to be the place to look for Hawfinches at the moment.  There have been regular sightings at Thenford churchyard near Middleton Cheney over the past couple of weeks; I managed a brief view of a flock of six flying over last Monday morning. This afternoon I had a look around the tiny churchyard at Edgcote near Wardington, another promising looking site with a couple of fruiting Yew trees.  Quite a few Redwings and Greenfinches were siting in the top of several mature trees surrounding the churchyard, then suddenly a Hawfinch appeared and started calling, and I soon realised another was sat just below it.  Not great views high up in the tree and partly hidden behind smaller branches, but I pointed my lens using the point focus setting and captured a record shot!  Then they few off, not to be seen again (as, sadly, tends to be the case with them).  What these two churchyards have in common are mature fruiting Yew trees and being located next to parkland estates with plenty of mature trees.

Hawfinch record shot - Edgcote Church

Edgcote Estate
Edgcote Estate
I managed some better photos at Bicester Wetland Reserve in the morning, where an immature Water Rail showed very well early on right in front of the hide.  Two Cetti's Warblers were singing, one in the small reedbed and one in the scrubby willows along the path towards the cattle field.  A large flock of tits and goldcrests contained a Chiffchaff that was not giving the classic "Hweet" call but a "Swee-oo", I had heard this call a couple of weeks earlier but this time got a decent view and it was clearly a regular Chiffchaff.  I heard a second Chiffchaff making the same call while I was out for a run near Wardington around midday today - it was fly-catching in a sheltered sunny spot.  Again, my attention was drawn by the unusual call, then I spotted the bird (no binocs this time!).  Much has been written about Chiffchaff calls, for example, in Birding Frontiers
Juvenile Water Rail feeding in the small area of cut reed in front of the hide
Excavator at work last week, expanding the scrape habitat - a Redshank dropped in straight away
a Mute Swan family has moved in
Wrens often show very well just below the hide

Water Rail, Bicester Wetland Reserve

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Wroxton College - Hawfinch encounter

Autumn 2017 will be remembered as the "Hawfinch Autumn" I'm sure.  A remarkable influx of birds from the continent has enabled many birders to find this giant finches on their local patch and there has already been some great blogging on the subject.  Having stumbled upon my first local hawfinches at Tadmarton Heath a week ago, when I just managed to see two birds as they flew off and away, I was determined to get a better view. 

Hawfinches are notoriously shy birds, sometimes frequenting tree tops and often first located by their call, a sharp clicking "pix!".  They used to breed in Banburyshire - the last recorded nest was found in 1987 - nowadays there are very scarce visitors and seen less than annually.

I have focused my effort at Wroxton College, just west of Banbury, because clumps of mature trees around the grounds of the college are one of the most likely places to attract any passing Hawfinches.  The college, very kindly, allow access to the grounds during daylight hours, and it is a nice place to walk and enjoy the autumn colours. This morning was my third attempt to find Hawfinches at the college and I arrived reasonably early just as sunlight was starting to create a wonderful glow across the autumn foliage. After about 40 minutes I reached the bottom end of the park, below the main lake.  Looking up into the treetops, there they were: two very large finches with huge bills, looking quite settled, they then started calling, giving me time to capture a few record shots.  They dropped down a little bit into slightly better light, then down further into a large yew tree.  More calling ensued, then a flock of five Hawfinches burst out of the Yew and immediately flew off, not to be seen again that morning!
Hawfinch high up in the tree top
Two Hawfinches
This Hawfinch dropped down into better light for a brief moment
back lit Beech leaves
Beech tree
leaves floating in the lake
Raven calling
Mute Swan family (7 cygnets raised on the lake)
Yew berries (which Jackdaws were feasting on... until I pointed my lens in their direction)
Female Goosander on the lake today, also a drake Teal and Kingfisher
Female Green Woodpecker
Tadmarton Heath: bird feeders are up and the wild bird strip is starting to ripen, though maybe a bit late this year to produce much food so we are adding some extra seed.

Coat Tit approaching the feeders.
Bird food crop maturing
Corn Marigold still in flower
Wardington:  Still lots of Buzzards hopping around looking for worms
Bicester Wetland Reserve: Cetti's Warbler still singing from the reedbed though hard to see, also an eastern-race Chiffchaff heard then seen at dusk, hopefully this will stick around and better views gained.  Plus the usual flock of Teal, a few Shoveler and 8 Wigeon.
Bicester Wetland at sunset

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Wardington: a gathering of Buzzards

Common Buzzard
My birding highlight of the past few days has been the daily gathering of Common Buzzards in a large arable field known at "Top Dawkins", between Wardington and the A361.  My peak count in the past three days has been an incredible 33 birds, scattered across a large expanse of bare cultivated land.  Daily there are between 15 and 25, each bird waiting to pounce on anything that moves, presumable in most cases this will be an earthworm.  This event reflects the amazing success of Common Buzzards in our area in recent years, firmly establishing themselves as our most numerous raptor.
Five of the buzzards
Quite a pale individual this, but there is at least one bird that is much paler and a couple that are very dark chocolate-brown.
Golden Plover have also returned to this field - just three so far - hopefully more to come over the winter period.  I also saw my first Redwings of the autumn this morning. at Bicester Wetland Reserve.

Finally, a few images of my recent trip to a somewhat windswept Shetland: some birds that we can dream about possibly finding in our local area!
Yellow-browed Warbler
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Purple Sandpiper
Sea stacks at Eshaness