Thursday 31 May 2012

Iona with more great birds

So this afternoon after the morning at Staffa we headed into Iona.  The sun wasn't out in full glory, more a little overcast, but at least the rain held off all afternoon and there was no wind!  Even a little balmy!

Before we had even gotten everyone ashore Tony had found a glaucous gull, which has apparently been around for a little while.  Managed to get some great photos of it, so pretty happy with that, another new bird for the UK!. We the got everyone ashore and Tony and I staked out some corncrake spots.  The best place seemed to be the bottom of the St Columba Hotel garden where one was calling well, but after a while it shut up, and played hard to get.  It finally started up again and we got some ok head views of it in the grass and rank veg in the meadow.

As we were about to leave a small bird flew into a bush right beside us, and showing badly, then decided to fly out the back onto the fence.  It sat there for at least 30 seconds as if it didn't know what to do, letting us get enough detail on it to work out it was from memory either a lanceolated or grasshopper warbler.  Not being able to remember the finer details, I figured it was probably going to be a gropper, and when we eventually consulted the field guide back at the ship, that is exactly what it was.  So another great bird for the list, and only the second gropper I had ever seen, this one a lot closer than the first.

We then met up with the rest of the group, managed to show them brief views of a corncrake as it leapt from the grass in the same area, and then did a nice loop walk out through the meadows and along the shoreline.  We had brief views of another corncrake, but good flight views of a cuckoo (heard at least two different birds), a bunch of sedge warblers, lots of pipits and dunlin, ringed plover and common sand on the shoreline.

A pretty nice walk and yet another great day.  During dinner we had a few Manx shears go past in flat calm conditions and then after dinner a few more common dolphins and a couple of porpoise.  Awesome!

Glaucous gull

Taking off

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Staffa in Sunshine

So have been a little remiss in posting stuff to my blog lately so aiming to do a little better over the coming weeks.  The first couple of trips were good, and managed a few nice images, which I will post the best of into my Eco-Vista facebook page over the next 24 hours.

We had a great morning on Staffa, near Mull this morning.  A grey start that threatened rain turned into glorious sunshine.  Lots of wild flowers around and a few puffins coming and going from their burrows, but obviously a lot incubating and so not spending time just hanging about the cliffs.

We are now heading across to Iona for the afternoon there, so will hopefully catch up with some corncrakes.  Heard one this morning on Staffa, and the snipe were drumming also.  A few twite around the place and of course skylarks singing, with meadow and rock pipits being everywhere.

Greylag geese silhouette

Greylag geese silhouette two

Marsh violet

Photographer amongst the bluebells

Top of the columnar basalt formations

Herring gull with thrift

Mega in Ireland!

Just back onboard the MV Island Sky...after seeing Ireland's first record of COLLARED FLYCATCHER!  We have been in Tory all afternoon, with a landing and walks around the place.  Most of the time was spent wandering up around the spectacular cliffs of the eastern part of the island, seeing puffins, razorbills, etc as well as several pairs of choughs.  One pair were doing and awesome display flight.

Anyway, the local guide said there had been a 'black and white' flycatcher found, and we figured probably a pied flycatcher.  I did joke to Tony about it maybe being a collared, but didn't think to much of it.  Although I did spend a couple of minutes on two occasions looking into the bushes it was suggested to have been, but not seeing anything.

Back at the dock as the last passengers were heading back to the ship, three guys with bins and scopes got off the local ferry , and looking frantic headed up past us.  I asked if they were going to see the flycatcher, and they said was a collared!

Ended up dropping everyone back at the ship and racing back to the dock and up the street to the 'Magic bush' and they had found the bird which was showing reasonably well, but spending a lot of time really low in the bush and nettles underneath.  Great little bird though, a first summer male, and managed a few semi-decent photos.  Not only is this a first for Ireland, but a lifer for me! Thanks to the guys there and hope it sticks around for a few more birders, especially Craig Nash!

Friday 18 May 2012

Heading back to Portsmouth

Well the end of the first seven day 'Island Retreats' cruise is near, as we pound into the sea heading back to Portsmouth.  The cruise didn't start off too well, with two days alongside in Portsmouth due to the ship failing an inspection.  The crew worked hard and managed to rectify the problem that had been detected, and we sailed directly to the Channel Islands, missing a few stops which had been planned, but managing to put together a pretty good itinerary for the remaining time we had.

Not really a wildlife trip, this was more a visit to islands to see the way of life, and a trip into St Malo, France to see Mont St Michele, the famous UNESCO World Heritage site.  We had a day and a half on the Isles of Scilly, with a beautiful sunny day for our visit to Tresco and Bryher Islands yesterday.  And an overcast and slightly cooler day today with a morning visit to St Mary's.  I headed off on the birding/nature walk with Tony, and then split off and caught up with my good mate Bob Flood.  Always great to catch up with him and talk about whats new in the seabird world, and we wandered some of the local fields looking for a woodchat shrike that had been seen the night before.  This was the second attempt at finding woodchat shrikes here on Scilly with Bob...and we drew a blank on this one also!  Never mind found a couple of yellow wagtails, including what was probably a flava subspecies individual, and then to Bob's for a beaut piece of chocolate cake and a coffee.

Headed back to the ship just before midday, on the way spotting the male hen harrier that had been reported from Bryher earlier in the morning as it struggled across to St Mary's, being chased by a herring gull.  It was apparently refound on St Mary's a little while later after I called Bob.  But as luck would have it Bob phoned me about 1.5 hours after I had left to say he was standing watching a male woodchat shrike!  AHHHHH!  That's birding!

A few Manx shears as we left Scilly, but not a lot else other than a few gannets and fulmars.  A little bumpy, but the wind is forcast to drop.  The next cruise begins tomorrow afternoon and is far more wildlife focussed with some great stops planned - Lundy & Grassholm and Great Saltee amongst others.  Can't wait!

One of the few wildlife photos I took this cruise, a robin in Tresco gardens

Friday 11 May 2012

Jungle Rivers of South America and Trinidad bird list

Just a quick blog with a PDF of the species seen during the fantastic Jungle Rivers of South America trip I did with Zegrahm Expeditions back in April/May.  Total of 265 species seen during the trip, which included 154 lifers for me.  Pretty sweet!

Click here to see the PDF.

Portsmouth bound

So arrived safely into London yesterday after the long haul from NZ.  A hectic few days in NZ preceded events, with a night in Palmerston North, and morning spent at part of the Rena Oil Spill debrief for the Wildlife Response.  A lot of good information and discussion, and although the Wildlife Response came up trumps there was still a lot of good discussion on how things can be improve 'next time'.  It's safe to say that in an island nation like New Zealand, there will be a 'next time' (the recent incident in Timaru proves that), it is just a case of when and where.  It's great to know that New Zealand is so prepared for such things, and that there is such a great bunch of people ready to come together for a Wildlife Response!

Had a great night out in London last night, with Sue Flood, Alexa Rice and Cheli Larsen.  A lot of laughs and wise cracks - always fun!

So catching a train at midday to head across to Portsmouth Harbour, where the MV Island Sky awaits.  I have three cruises onboard with Noble Caledonia, with an Island Retreats cruise exploring parts of France, Channel Islands, and the Isles of Scilly.  Then a Birds, Bottlenose dolphins, and basking sharks trip which takes in a couple of the Channel Islands, Isles of Scilly, Lundy and the Saltee Islands (yay!), and a quick dash to France, followed by a Portsmouth to Leith (Edinburgh) trip with some great stops up through the Outer Hebrides, St Kilda, Shetlands and Fair Isle, and Orkney.  So all we need now is some great weather and we have the makings of some excellent trips!  Also nice to have some great friends working onboard as well, and will no doubt have some new ones by the end of our stint when we finish on 5 June.  I then get to catch up with Sue Flood up in north Wales for a night before a few days with my folks in the Forest of Dean.  Will be nice to spend some time there as always!

Then it will be off to Norway for a land based trip through the Fiords, before flying to Lonyearbyen on Svalbard for four awesome trips there with Lindblad.  I am really looking forward to these trips and getting back into this part of the World!  I was last there in 2008 and my camera gear has taken a little leap forward, as I suspect has my photographic ability (Sue, no comments please!).  Managed to get some great images last time, some of which have made it into my Nature Picture Library selection, and still more that I'm pretty proud of.  So fingers crossed it should be another excellent adventure!  More blog posts to come over the coming months.

A couple of nice images from my time in Svalbard in 2008 are below...

An Arctic fox yawns

Polar bear with the remains of a seal kill

A Polar bear on sea ice, the shrinking habitat of this species

Sunday 6 May 2012

Ticking down to UK and Svalbard

Well only a couple of days left at home and it is off to the Northern hemisphere again.  Seems the timing is perfect with the weather just starting to get a little cool in the evenings and mornings...seems to have been a relatively warm autumn, but things are starting to change now!  So although I have only been home just on two weeks, I leave again on Wednesday.

Have three cruises in the UK, France, and Channel Islands through to Edinburgh on the Island Sky, which should be great.  Let's hope for some nice weather and stunning wildlife along the way!  Then I have a night catching up with Sue Flood and a couple of days with Mum and Dad, before heading to Norway for a pre-extension and then Svalbard for four week-long trips on the National Geographic Explorer there.  Should be awesome, and can't wait to get back there.  The last time I was there was 2008, and I've been wanting to get back there ever since.  This time with a bit more in the way of camera gear, so should be able to hopefully maximise my photographic opportunities.

Meanwhile, during the two weeks back here it has been busy busy, catching up with friends and family, and getting some work done.  Couple of days bird monitoring out at the Cape Kidnappers Sanctuary, a few days helping friends out on their farm, a 40th birthday party (all weekend!), and progressing work on our house build planing...phew!  Plus of course the usual photographic imaging chores, summer season tour planning, etc etc.  Some exciting news was my first sales via Nature Picture Library in the UK.  It has been a long process having my images selected, submitted, displayed, etc, but very exciting to get some proceeds, and although a small step, it is a step in the right direction.  So very excited about that!  As far as imaging work here at home, I'm still trying to catch up and edit photos from the Antarctic over the January period, let lone stuff from the last trip Brazil to Trinidad!

I also put a couple of clips together, my first uploads to YouTube.  The first was a bit of a comedy clip of an interaction with a massive grasshopper on the ship in Tobago.  Caused a few hysterics!  The second uploaded today is a short clip of a male bearded bellbird calling at the Asa Wright Nature Centre.  This is a wild bird, and you can hear other males calling in the background.  What an amazing bird these are, and the call is just incredibly loud.  Sounds like a machine, and so unreal when you see this bird just slightly larger than a European starling making this incredible call.  Very cool.

So first up is the grasshopper clip...

And secondly the bearded bellbird...