31 August 2010

Sunset on the Fly River (Papua New Guinea): June 2010

Returning to my June tour of Papua New Guinea. Our second day around Kwatu Lodge began painfully slow, with little to show for our hard work. Pre-dawn we chased around the recently rediscovered Starry Owlet-Nightjar that had been lost to the birding world until just a few years ago. Despite hearing it fruatrtingly close we just could not get it to come and land in our spotlight. Mid morning saw things pick up when we watched a glittering Hooded Pitta bounding along the forest floor. This bird glistens so brightly it genuinely evoked gasps from several of us. After lunch back at Kwatu we birded the forest near the lodge and finally caught up with a Red-bellied Pitta to bring us a brace of colorful pittas for the day.

As if that was not enough as we trundled back to the boats to head back to Kiunga we were distracted by a calling Blue Jewel-Babbler that was tempted across the track several times. One of PNG's legendary skulkers. The boat ride back was relaxing and also bought us two new birds, with a small flock of Lowland Peltops flitting around the treetops, and a Doria's Hawk that flapped lazily by. The day may have begun with little, but quite the tally of quality birds had been enjoyed by the end of the day when we got to enjoy a fantastic sunset over the Fly River just before we cruised into the port of Kiunga...

30 August 2010

Thames "Odyssey" (UK): 29 August '10

Another quick break from my PNG write up to give a more recent update from my holiday in the UK. On Sunday I spent the day in some of my old haunts in the UK. The Thames Estuary is an internationally important site for migrant shorebirds, and as this is the start of the shorebird season, when "waders" (as they are known in Britain) are on the move once again, we focused on them. I was out with two lifelong friends: Simon Buckell a hard-core wader-watcher if ever there was one, and Pete Alfrey, a driven Beddington birder turned conservationist, who is trying to get that London site made over into an urban nature reserve of note.

As it turned out sites alongside the Thames River this weekend were peppered with waders/shorebirds, including a few scarce ones in the mix. After A brief stop with a loaf of bread and a Ring-billed Gull down on the seafront in Southend-on-Sea, the bird having been regular on and off here for the last 8 years or so (third photo). The American was accustomed by more regular fare too like a number of Mediterranean Gulls too (top photo). The importance of sites that border the Thames has been highlighted in recent years by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds who have been buying up birding hotspots along the river. We started at one of these, and former regular birding patch of mine when I used to live in Essex: Vange Marsh, now an RSPB reserve, that seems to be coming onto the boil, with more than a few classy birds turning up there of late. We soon were locked on to their latest "treasure", a spinning Red-necked Phalarope, while a Eurasian Spoonbill seemed non-plussed by all the fuss over the phalarope, preening away in the middle of the marsh. A Little Stint fed away inconspicuously on one of the muddy islands too. Next up was Oare Marshes in Kent (on the other side of the Thames), where a large high tide wader roost held nothing "special" although held good numbers of Eurasian Golden Plovers, Northern Lapwings (second photo), Black-tailed Godwits, and a Curlew Sandpiper even came in to circle the pool briefly. Last stop was then RSPB Cliffe Pools, also in Kent, where the two headliners were a Kentish Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper. However, arguably the headline of the day was good numbers of Curlew Sandpipers on the move, with 7 at Vange, another at Oare, and a further 19 or so at Cliffe. A classic shorebirders day. In spite of all this tearing around criss-crossing the capital's river to visit a number of hot spots, we of course made time to stop in traditional British Pub, for a traditional Sunday Roast (bottom photo). The question is was the food or the waders the highlight of the day!!!

27 August 2010

Kingfishers "on tap" in New Guinea...(Kwatu Lodge): June 2010

Returning to New Guinea, after our morning of BOPs and Pigeons on way up to Kwatu Lodge we made the most of our afternoon around Kwatu itself. I believe this is one of the true great wilderness areas on Earth, the lodge is surrounded by a blanket of dense, rich rainforest that can only be accessed by way of a three hour boat journey. Frankly if the lodge was of a higher standard (which sadly it probably never will be) we would stay for days on end. There are sure to be more avian discoveries in this forest. Anyway back to what IS there. A lunch break in the steaming heat of the day at the lodge itself brought me a lifer in the "garden": Long-billed Cuckoo, that not that long ago was near mythical (then the call became known, the bird became a reality, and the rest is history). We then drifted down the Ketu River and made a stop in an area of swamp forest with kingfishers in mind. And one after the other they came: spectacular kingfisher after another. First up was the "carrot-billed" Common Paradise-Kingfisher, which proved a little easier than expected.

Then a Hook-billed Kingfisher piped up and called at close range. This species is near crepuscular in terms of calling habits and so I was expecting little return from trying to "duel" with it. Amazingly though a quick blast of playback of its own call bought the bird in really close, and before I knew our local man was pointing to it! As we ogled it repeatedly though the scope (see photo) I wondered back to my first trip in PNG where I chased it and was tormented by it relentlessly for what seemed like the whole three weeks! Sometimes they can behave.

As if that was not enough next up was another flashy paradise-kingfisher. Although this one the more inconspicuous Little Paradise-Kingfisher, that unsurprisingly led us a merry dance for a while before we managed to line it up in the scope for one and all (when I am sure it thought it was hidden behind a trunk, although through some inventive scope positioning and neck straining we solved this problem). The day was finished off (after a considerable period of hunting the bird down mind you), with a Wallace's Owlet-Nightjar blinking back at us in the spotlight.

26 August 2010

Giant News from Ecuador...(Tandayapa Lodge): August 2010

A quick respite from my New Guinea updates here to highlight a remarkable event "back home" in Ecuador (where I am supposedly living, although have not been much this year!) I returned from my long spell in the US, China, Australia, and Papua New Guinea to find my beloved Tandayapa Lodge had undergone a remarkable change: it had acquired an antpitta since I had gone. And what an antpitta at that, a super confiding Giant Antpitta. Since early July this young Giant Antpitta has been literally hopping right around the lodge, and regularly comes in to be fed worms within view of some of the rooms. Unfortunately, when I went to visit to take in this latest antpitta phenomenon the "room with a view" was unavailable (I guess the paying guests did have a right to a place in the front row!), so I had to make the 2 second walk from the lodge hummingbird balcony to go and see it. I think we waited all of 7 minutes before it appeared. I had been reading all about this bird while I was in PNG and had been hoping and praying it would stay around for me to see it, I mean this is almost my back yard after all! Imagine the shame if I had not seen it! Anyway the ease with which this young bird allows you to see it, I think my stress was a little unfounded. The bird was present on and off for the whole weekend. Nothing like watching dozens of hummingbirds buzzing around you while an antpitta looks lazily up at you for a handout! It's hard to believe that just a short time ago the word mythical was applied to this species! Long may this continue, a top notch wildlife experience.

19 August 2010

"Maximum Pigeon"...(Kiunga, Papua New Guinea): 26-28 June '10

After leaving the highlands of PNG we dropped into the lowlands, and the mining port of Kiunga. A distinct change in climate from the cool BOP-rich mountains, to the steamy jungle-filled lowlands. Beautiful forest spread out below as we dropped out of the clouds in our Dash-8 plane. A delayed flight saw us rushing to our first stop: a Greater Bird-of-paradise display tree on the edge of Kiunga. We made it just in time to see several males fluffed up and displaying in dramatic style. Magic.

The following morning dawned the absolute best day of this absorbing tour, and indeed one of my favorite tour days anywhere in the World. We begun watching a male Twelve-wired Bird-of-paradise displaying up and down his chosen "pole", then swiftly moved on to a scarlet-and-white male
King Bird-of-paradise climbing up and down his chosen display "stage": a rainforest vine tangle. As if that was not enough then we went after what became voted as the BEST BIRD OF THE TOUR: the largest pigeon ("maximum pigeon") on Earth, Southern Crowned Pigeon. The picture says it all, its masive but also impressive with its lace-like crest and deep maroon breast. A worthy winner (see photo). More from this single spectacular days birding to come soon...

16 August 2010

Do I not Like Orange...Kumul (Papua New Guinea): June 2010


Getting back to Kumul Lodge after feasting on the Blue Bird-of-paradise, we watched this corking male Brown Sicklebill wolfing down fruits on the Kumul bird table. This wonderful bird-of-paradise blows the picture away in the field guide, and ALWAYS makes the select list of birds at the end of the trip that are chosen for selection as best birds of the trip. The plumage is good enough, with iridescent green sheen running down the back, golden-tinged flank plumes, and that long, long tail. As if that is not enough it has a canary yellow gape, seen well when it is chucking large pieces of fruit down its throat at the bird table here (top photos). This alone was awesome, although we could not resist returning to look at the flame orange male Crested Satinbird in its favored fruiting tree. The fruit may have been waning, although the bird looked as spiffing as ever (bottom photo).

(For those of you who are not familiar with the title phrase here, it is used in reference to the orange Crested Satinbird, after a phrase made famous by the much derided England soccer manager Graham Taylor when his team was losing to the Dutch team who were dressed in orange)

13 August 2010

Down with the Blues at Kumul (Papua New Guinea): June 2010

A steep hike was needed to get us up a slope where pretty soon our quarry announced his presence loudly. The bold beeping call sound reminiscent of a reverse signal on a truck indicating a male Blue Bird-of-Paradise was perched up somewhere, advertising his considerable presence to surrounding females. Soon after a conspicuous streamered silhouette was picked out on a high dead limb: a magnificent male Blue Bird-of-Paradise, one of the undisputed treasures of Papua New Guinea. Almost all birds-of-paradise are spectacular but this one with its bold white spectacles and fancy "dangly bits" is just that little bit more special. Having said all that a pigeon beat it into first place when the bird of the trip votes came in at the end! (more of that later though)....

11 August 2010

Papua New Guinea Trip 1: June 2010 (Kumul Continued)

There are just too many garden and bird table birds at Kumul Lodge (in the highlands of Enga province) to mention in one post so here's another (with another to follow). As well as the marquee birds-of-paradise, White-winged Robins flitted on and off the legs of the table, pouncing on insects on the ground from their lofty perches (bottom photo); Rufous-naped Whistler, a strange terrestrial species that bounced regularly along the verge of the flowerbeds (top photo); and a flashy, noisy honeyeater, the Belford's Melidectes came in and gorged on the bird table fruit whenever they got a look in from the tiger-parrots and birds-of-paradise that have considerably more muscle!

10 August 2010

Papua New Guinea Trip 1: June 2010

Near the start of my first of 2 PNG tours this year we visited the now legendary Kumul Lodge in Enga province in the bird-of-paradise (BOP) packed highlands. On arrival at the lodge we feasted on the many birds in the garden and on their amazing fruit-filled bird table, that attracted immature male Ribbon-tailed Astrapias, top photo, and female Brown Sicklebills (both dramatic BOPs), middle photo. While watching the frenetic action we noticed a movement under the table where the normally shy Chestnut Forest-Rail (this one a polka-dotted female), bottom photo, was found feeding unconcernedly! Plenty of other avian morsels were on offer, although we could not resist a foray into the forest to pick up a flame-orange Crested Bird-of-Paradise (now renamed Crested Satinbird and classified within that new, 2-bird, family) that was seen at very close range: a truly shocking black and orange bird with a gleaming blue eye! A magical day that only Kumul, and indeed Papua New Guinea, can provide. Breathtaking.