27 August 2012

More Sokoke Specials...KENYA (25-26 Aug.)

Sokoke Forest was simply magnificent, with swathes of good birds, coming thick and fast in just a day and half there...

OK so it may have taken the good part of a day to find their famous pipit (appropriately named of course "Sokoke Pipit"), but this came after we had taken in a glorious male Four-colored Bush-shrike, and watched dashing Peter's Twinspots flitting on and off the entrance track. Our final morning there was a classic, opening with a wary roosting African Wood Owl, continued with another Mangrove Kingfisher (we also scored this the day before right behind the park office), and was headlined with a pair of Fischer's Turacos, which Nick commented looked rather like they were wearing gaudy eye make-up! On one of our many off path forays in Sokoke that morning we stumbled on to their flagship mammal, the distinctly odd Golden-rumped Elephant-Shrew. This bizarre creature is not a shrew or elephant-like animal at all, but unbelievably now supposedly related to the sea-dwelling manatees! In reality it looks like nothing else on the planet, with a large behind, splashed with striking golden-coloration, and an unwieldy looking, downcurved snout, this strange beast looks like it has just jumped out of the mind of the author of the Harry Potter wizardry books. After chasing the shadows of furtive greenbuls for a while we finished with another landmark moment, when Sokoke's champion skulker, the handsome East Coast Akalat (something akin to a yellow-breasted European Robin, sort of), hopped up into full glorious view to cap off our time at Sokoke with a final flourish; we did not get it all, but we were close, so very close! Oh and I almost forgot with so much to mention, but chasing down a rowdy flock of Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrikes finally led us to the oft-missed Clarke's Weaver, also on this final, memorable morning.

25 August 2012

Owling...Kenya-style...KENYA (25 Aug.)

Today was a really big day in Kenya. A full day was spent with the expert guides of Sokoke Forest, on the Kenyan coast, being whisked from one mega bird to another. Suffice to say, the guides were good, very, very good. And the result was that Nick and I had way too much to mention in a blog. However, some of the highlights included 64 Crab Plovers sprinkled around Mida Creek-a new family for yours truly-along with a heap of regional specialties, from the forest dwelling Sokoke Pipit (a rare pipit and unusual in that it likes shade on its back), while Four-colored Bush-shrike won the most colorful bird of the day, even if we are still trying to work out the four colors of the name! However, for me there was only ever going to be one winner today. I am an owl fiend after all, and so my visit to Sokoke was structured around their very own special owl, appropriately called Sokoke Scops-Owl, a tiny owl confined to this region of Africa, and only remaining in the few patches of coastal forest left there, of which Sokoke is the biggest tract. After drawing a blank at several roost sites, our guide finally hit the jackpot with this pair huddled together on a fragile looking rainforest vine. However, our guide seemed unhappy, despite our obvious state of ecstasy at seeing them, that we had not seen a rufous one! He put that right moments later, and I soon understood his frustration: it was clear when I locked eyes on this orange form, it really was the bird of the day!

24 August 2012

Into Africa....KENYA (21 August)

After landing in Nairobi, in Kenya, and very, very narrowly avoiding a serious robbery (it is nicknamed Nairobbery after all), Nick Athanas and I finally got out of the city and into the bush. We traveled east from Kenya's sinister capital, having to slow down for giraffes crossing the main Nairobi-Mombassa highway, and finally reached Sagala Lodge, just outside Tsavo East National Park. The grounds were packed with birds, and we soon enjoyed a brutal initiation into Kenya's birdlife. Some of the best birds, and lifebirds, were Golden-breasted Starling, Pearl-spotted Owlet, and the conspicuous White-bellied Go-away Bird...

Much more to come from Kenya, where the photo opps are never ending!

19 August 2012

Grin and Bear it...CHINA (May 2012)

I want to reflect on a landmark day on the Sichuan/Qinghai tour that I led this year for Tropical Birding...We begun at dawn looking over alpine meadows at the edge of spruce forest in Northern Sichuan. The temperature was low with the bitterly cold wind making it feel a dam sight colder. However, just moments after arriving we latched on to a regal pair of Blue Eared-Pheasants "grazing" in an alpine meadow. This warmed us up for a time, before we fled back to van where our local man Frank was waiting with a welcome cup of tea. We then underwent a long journey, cutting across the Tibetan Plateau as we traveled to the colorful Tibetan town of Maerkang. This brought us a ton of new birds, which were kicked off by a super White-browed Tit and a pastel-pink White-browed Tit-Warbler sharing the same scrubby area on the edge of the plateau. Other highlights included a majestic pair of Black-necked Cranes with a couple of bright ginger chicks in tow. However, the ultimate highlight was this shock Asiatic Black Bear by the roadside near Maerkang. On seeing it for the first time my brain could not comprehend what I was. my first EVER bear anywhere, and then once our van pulled us virtually on top of it my brain and mouth caught up with what my eyes were seeing and I shouted "bear" to the group. We were soon out of the bus ogling this magnificent beast, and were joined within minutes by a crowd of some 30 or so noisy Chinese, who had got word in miraculous time.

17 August 2012

On to REAL China...SICHUAN (May 2012)

After bidding farewell, rather impressively, to Taiwan with a Taiwan Blue Magpie as the very last bird of my short trip there. So after goodbyes to Keith Barnes, who like me was headed to mainland China for a tour, I landed in Chengdu. I wasted no time to get out in the field though, as after a midnight arrival, we were on the road the next morning to check out new sites in Sichuan, following the closure of one of the usual tour sites, Wawu Shan. After days in Longcanggou, picking up Buffy Laughingthrush, Golden Parrotbill, Sichuan Treecreeper, Emei Leaf-Warbler, and Emei Liocichla among a host of others, we headed to our next new site: Labahe. A crazy morning on the road there involved stopping the park jeep for first, "red chickens" AKA Temminck's Tragopan, feeding on the roadside, and then for "white chickens" AKA Lady Amherst's Pheasant, also using the road for a conspicuous feeding place. Days, and birds, rarely get better than this.

16 August 2012

Pheasanting in Taiwan...TAIWAN (May 2012)

I thought after months in exile from my blog I would get back on the saddle and take it for a ride again! So last time I was here I was updating from Taiwan...And so that is where I will begin again, as it would be a travesty to miss out some of the highlights there, which were a big part of this year for me. Even if it was a flying 2-day visit. 

Unluckily for Keith Barnes, who is my friend, and very generously offered to show me his new island home, I was dead keen to cram in as much as possible; problem was the weather was atrocious making mine and Keith's task all the more difficult. On top of that the areas in the park where they had been traditionally feeding the pheasants over the past few years showed precious little signs of food, and had a newly erected sign prohibiting the feeding of birds!

 My nerves jangled at the thought of missing our next big target: Swinhoe's Pheasant. Still, we rose pre-dawn, and headed to the foodless spot and waited. Of course my pessimistic side rose to the surface, only for two male Swinhoe's Pheasants to defy my dark mood and parade in the open, slipping me a piece of humble pie in the process...GREAT BIRD.