Friday, 25 September 2015

That gets the set.....

One of the classic migratory bird families in the UK are the phalaropes. These small waders occur mainly around the coast in Spring and Autumn. There are 3 we get in the UK - red-necked, which I got a Broom in the Spring, grey, which I got last Friday at Sidlesham, and Wilson's. This is the rarest of the 3 and I've only seen one before. So, when one popped up in Essex and seemed to be settled I worked out how I could get there. The only chance was a very early start so I could get back home by 9.30 for a work webcast.
Fortunately the M25 is pretty empty at 6.15 and I whizzed around. The bird was reported as being at Vange Marsh, which is  a small RSPB reserve near-ish to Rainham. The instructions took me to a housing estate which didn't seem right. I parked up though and followed the instructions to "go under the A13". That was a track over some rough-ground - worried about my camera gear, not a bit!! "go over the railway" - well that felt a bit better, at least there was some open-ground. "turn left to view". Finally I could see some water, a low marshy area with lots of birds on it.
I set up my 'scope and almost immediately got onto a small bird feeding vigorously on the water, which is classic phalarope behaviour! It was a long way off though, and you were kept back from the water by a large stream.

This above is a 500mm with a 2x converter on it!!

For the next 30 minutes or so I watched it as it move around feeding.

So what makes this a Wilson's as opposed to any other phalarope, especially in non-breeding plumage. Well, the main thing in that beak. The other two have much shorter, stouter, dagger-like beaks. The Wilson's has a much more rapier-like bill. The overall body shape is different as well, with a much longer neck giving a very different profile. It is also a bit larger, but without comparisons that's hard to tell.

It wasn't the only wader present. It was often in close company with a pair of green sandpipers which did give a good size comparison.

So, I managed to get the bird, and with the M25 clear I was back home in time for my webcast. It's got to be a good year when you can get all 3 phalaropes!!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Wildlife upside down 4: the red centre

We now headed away from the coast, about as far away as you can get, into the red centre. We were off to see the big red rock, Ayers rock or as it is now known, Uluru in the local Pintjintjara language.
I'm nor sure we knew what to expect. Basically, you are in the middle of nowhere, The town of Uluru is only really a tourist resort (as far as tourists are concerned anyway) with a few hotels and an airport. Our lodge, Longitude, was a bit out of town but did have uninterrupted views of Uluru from our bedroom.
You are only there to do one thing, go and see the rock. hat we didn't realise was there are two rocks - the noe you know and another group called the Olga's or Kata Tjuta. THese are more of a group, like many heads. You watch the sun come up, walk round the rocks, watch it go down. The colours are amazing and change amazingly fast. The photos hopefully give you a flavour if this. What you can't get is the scale!
This was basically the view from our room - not bad. This was middle of the day, so colour a bit bleached out.

and this is as the sun goes down and brings out the colour.

Of course what you don't see from distance are the indentations and patterns in the rock/.

The other rocks, Kata Tjuta, are totally different. this is a distant view of them at sunset from Uluru.

Close-up and the following day they \re probably more interesting than Uluru itself.

on our last day we had a helicopter fligt over both formations, which gave us a totally different and interesting perspective.

Generally there was very little wildlife around - too many people for too long for much to hang around. There were some birds around though.

These black-faced woodswallows were quite common around the camp.

This pied butcherbird has the most amazingly threatening beak.

Crested pigeons have a beautiful coloured wing-bar as well as a comical crest.

These yellow-throated miners were lurking about in a hotel garden,

as were these white-plumed honeyeaters

both of which didn't always get on.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Wildlife upside down 3: Daintree and the great barrier reef

After the top end and Darwin we continued on eastwards to Cairns. Our two destinations here were the Daintree forest and the Barrier reef, so two very different experiences.

Firstly though, we had a lovely scenic drive up from Cairns to Daintree. This takes the coast road, with spectacular views.

Not far out of Cairns we stopped at a shop selling opals but which more interestingly had a laughing kookaburra in the car-park!

There was also honey-eaters around including what I think is a brown-backed and definitely a white-throated.

First up was the land-based stuff. Our main trip was a whole day guided by Murray Hunt aka the Daintree boatman. He is a very experienced wildlife guide in the region and we were lucky to have a whole day of his time, partly on a joint river cruise with other tourists, then on our own.

As we started there was mist on the water making it very atmospheric and the still morning gave some stunning reflections on the water.
We didn't go far, probably only a couple of miles along the river and back but Murray knew all the spots was a genius at finding wildlife. Quite soon we left the main channel and entered much smaller waterways with a very different feel.

Quite soon we started to see some of the specialities of the region. This little kingfisher posed quite nicely for us albeit in deep shade so the picture is a bit grainy.

One the other end of the scale size-wise is this great-billed heron, the largest of it's family.

One bird I was hoping to see was a frogmouth and this pair of Papuan frogmouths were just sleeping quietly in a tree til we came along.

One thing I didn't expect to see, especially from a boat were snakes, but we came across tow different ones due to the excellent eyes (ad local knowledge) of Murray.

We saw many more birds including yellow orioles, Macleays honeyeaters, large-billed gerygones, double-eye fig-parrots and red-backed and sacred kingfishers.

After the river trip we stopped at a local hotel for breakfast where this white-lipped tree-frog entertained us from a bush by our table.

Replete with bacon, scrambled eggs and coffee we then set off again. There was no real set agenda, Murray just sort of drove around the area taking us to see some local areas some of which were totally surprising and were the sort of things you would never find on your own or get to on a "normal" tour.
The first stop was farmers field where Murray knew a pair of bush stone-curlews lived.

Next stop, and bizarre location number one, was a caravan site. We parked up and under the rather curious gaze of the residents found anothor pair of frogmouths in a tree.

We carried on our excursion, stopping every so often for some nice local birds such as the eastern curlew, with a quite whopping bill,

fairy martins on a farmers fence

and this crested hawk in a tree by a busy road.

We weren't only looking for birds though and Murray knew of a back-road where you could find pademelons, a small marsupial - they weren't very confiding though.

Once we stopped in a car park by a dried-out pond with lots of small birds in the trees, including this leaden flycatcher and a mistletoe bird.

This isn't a great photo but the bird is very interesting. We saw it make a small deposit on this branch. On inspection you could see it was a seed encased in guano. It feeds on mistletoe berries which itself is a parasitic plant. So, the seeds pass through the birds intact adn are passed out encased in a sticky coat which helps them stick to the branch and thus colonise another tree!!!
Our final stop though was amazing. Murray asked us if we wanted to see a bower bird - well, who wouldn't. I presumed it would be in a forest with a long and sweaty walk. No way! WE drove into a small town and parked up by a school. Out we got and strolled into the schoolyard. Now, the kids were in classes and we were toting binoculars and cameras with very large lenses. In the UK you would be on the local news that night. Here, Murray put  donation into a collection box and led us across the schoolyard to where there was a bowerbird nest!!!

This belonged to a great bowerbird, and this town apparently is famous for them. The owner of this one was waiting for us to go whilst looking crossly at us from a tree.

Close-by though was another bower wit a male in attendance making it look pretty for any passing females.

It was quite amazing being so close to a bird I didn't think we would see, although it was a bit weird when the kids all came out class.
These birds, a squatter pigeon and a red-winged parrot were also wandering around - we never had exciting things like this at my school!

The next day was totally different, in pace and location. We had a day going out to the Great Barrier Reef onboard the catamaran Aquarius.
Our destination was about an hour away, the aptly named Low Isles, which are barely above the reef at high tide.

The day was basically snorkeling, lunch, more snorkeling and a cruise back.

We also had the opportunity to view the reef from a glass-bottomed boat. There were many fish, beautiful corals and a good number of turtles, one of which was so tame I could actually stroke it under water!! Hopefully these photos might give a bit of an idea of what was there.

Our last day in the south east was a drive back to Cairns. We did stop though at a wildlife park where we joined in with the other tourists in getting up close and personal with a koala!! They are quite stout and this one seemed quite happy to do its part for promoting their cause!!

I also met a (non-venemous) snake!!