Tag Archives: bird-watching

Andean Gull ~ Cusco Region, Peru

(birdingthedayaway; 15 March 2017)

I had convinced myself that this species was going to be fairly straightforward, well it wasn’t easy …
So the plan was that on route to Machu Picchu I would get a taxi to the train station from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and stop at lakes or whenever needed for the species ..
Errrrrr NO that’s not what happened !!
I sat out in the sun the previous day and paid the price with sunstroke, up most of the night being sick.
The taxi ride was challenging, I did have an emergency bag in my pocket just in case but managed to sleep for most of it ..
I did see two gulls from the train which boosted my straightforward theory ..
Two days at Machu Picchu was fantastic  but didn’t see any gulls even though the River Urubamba flows past Aguas Calientes where I was staying ..
After Machu Picchu I had pre-booked another night in Cusco but I cancelled this for another night at the lake, doubling my chances with the gulls ..
The train ride back and a few more gulls spotted ..
Taxi to the lake $80 yep take me !!
3 hours later and I’m at Lake Huacarpay not a gull in sight !!
But it gets worse the Hotel is closed and has been for 7 months ..
Thanks alot Booking(.)com
I then tried the surrounding area for another hotel but in the end had to return back to Cusco for the two nights.
The whole day wasted and a taxi fare of $160 for nothing ..
At this point my straightforward theory has got a slight crack in it !
Once at the Cusco hotel a car and driver were arranged for the next morning.
06:30am and the first stop is Lake Huaypo a gigantic lake which did have a few gulls but they just never came close ..
Next was Lake Piuray this was a humongous great lake and the tiny white specks never came close ..

My straight forward theory is shattered !!

Time for something to eat so the taxi driver took me to Chinchero an ancient city with ruins, after some food, the taxi driver stopped at the ruins from an elevated vantage point and flying past were two gulls which landed in the valley below ..
I gestured to the driver take me to the Blanco Aves ?
In the midday sun I managed a few shots just before they were flushed.
With one more lake to try we headed off towards Pisaq, the road just kept on going up and reached 3,870m ..
By now all the Inca Kola that I’d been drinking needed to come out so I asked the driver who did a u-turn and stopped outside what looked like a house but was actually a Textiles Shop, as I got out the car I could see a small lake behind the shop so grabbed the bins and looked over the fence, I was immediately rumbled and invited in by the owner.
The bins were dumped in favour of the camera and then I had to get rid of the Inca Kola and into the garden I went ..

I could not believe what I was seeing a pair of Andean Gulls with another circling overhead, I’m glad I got that Kola out or else I would of just wet myself there and then ..!!

The location was Lake Huayllarccocha and it was time to cash in my Karma points …

I had 15 minutes with the birds and went away happy giving the man some money for letting me in ..

We then went further up the road towards Pisaq but this nagging feeling ate away at me so after 90 minutes it was a return to the small lake which is when all the grass shots took place ..

Another 15 minutes and I gave the man $20 more …

If you want to just tick n run then any suitable habitat is straight forward ..

But if you want to photograph them keep your fingers crossed and wear your lucky pants !! 

Avian Gems of the Caribbean Foothills

(Patrick O’Donnell, 18 March 2017)

Want to know a good recipe for tons of different bird species? Mix high mountains with abundant water, add warm stable temperatures, throw in a pinch of dry areas, and blend it in a place where different evolutionary lineages meet. The end result is southern Central America and in terms of birds, we get a bonanza of literally hundreds of bird species in a pretty small place.

Whether volcanic, tectonic, or both, the mountains are a vital part of the species equation. The slopes catch or prevent water from falling and thus produce conditions for different habitats and continue with habitat generation by lifting land to different elevations with accompanying cooler temperatures. Microhabitats also come out of this situation for an extra dose of biodiversity, including transition zones that have their own suites of adapted birds. One of those transition areas is my favorite habitat in Costa Rica because it blends the richness of lowland avifauna with some aspects of the highlands along with a local set of restricted bird species. Although the prospect of rare and little known birds is always a draw, the slightly cooler temperatures and dripping mossy vegetation of foothill forests likewise make them an attractive place to visit, and in Costa Rica, another bonus comes into play for birding foothill forests. While steep slopes and heavy rains make these interesting transition areas tough to access in many other parts of the globe, the rare combination of good roads and protected areas makes them one of the easier places to access when visiting Costa Rica.

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Baby Ospreys Now!

( , 5 march 2017)
Ospreys, fish-eating raptors, are breeding now on Sanibel, FL. This female is delivering fish to her partially grown young. She ate some of the fish herself first, starting with the head,  then she began to feed the babies, pulling off very small bits of fish.
The Osprey nestling period is 50-55 days. Ospreys can have from 1-4 young and eggs do not hatch at the same time. The first egg may hatch up to 5 days before the last one. The oldest hatchling dominates its siblings and may monopolize the food brought. If food is abundant food will be shared and all the chicks will survive. Ospreys breed in parts of the West and northern U.S and across Canada, and live all year in FL and parts of the Gulf Coast. You can see them migrating through much of the country.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

(Redgannet; February27, 2017)

A Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew across the front of the hide and landed on the other side of a freshwater sluice, just a few meters away under the watchful eye of a Slender-billed Gull. A security guard who mans the hide had spotted it earlier and pointed it out, but at the time it was quite a long way off and in a small hollow, making it difficult to identify.

Not very many hides come with their own defence personnel. This one was at the Ras al Khor Sanctuary in Dubai where a “caretaker” is employed to ensure that visitors to the hide are safe, that they respect the birds’ refuge and don’t run off with the scope which is provided free of charge.

I had selected automatic white balance on my camera, but in review the first few pictures lacked colour and warmth. The day was well advanced and the bright sun was burning out the shots. I changed to a warmer temperature setting for white balance and compared the reviewed shots with the actual scene in front of me. They appeared to be much closer to reality than the AWB had achieved. Now that I see them on the computer, I doubt that the colours were as intense, but my eyes, much like my normal grip on reality, may have been unreliable. Anyway, back to the bird.

The Pin-tail Sandgrouse, Pterocles alchata, is a bird of the dry lands, inhabiting stony semi-desert and plain. The bird featured today is a female of the eastern race P.a. caudacutus which includes northern Africa and the Middle East within its range. It was introduced into UAE. The nominate form can be seen in Spain and southern France.

Much of the water at Ras Al Khor is brackish, pushed up by the tide, but at the mangrove hide, there is a freshwater outlet and it was for this that the bird had come. They are often associated with areas of cereal agriculture. They will eat new green shoots as available, but much of their diet is made up of dry seeds, so a reliable source of fresh water is important.

Something strikes me as I write….

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The Gawky Guillemot

(Jochen, March 5, 2017)

I guess we can universally agree that the colonial times were a rather selfish period of European history. There is indeed little good that can be ascribed in retrospective to this period, and the little good there is pales in comparison to the bad things. However, one of the little sweet candies Germany still enjoys today from its own disastrous colonial past is the Common Guillemot, or Common Murre.
Germany has only one high seas island it calls its own, the mighty (from a birding perspective) island of Heligoland. Heligoland is actually a small archipelago (comprising of 2 islands with a total area of 1.7 km²) in the German Bight, approximately 70 km off the coast of Germany. This location out at sea not only makes Heligoland one of Europe’s best vagrant traps for Siberian songbirds, its cliffs also hold Germany’s only seabird colonies, with gannets, fulmars, and – yes – alcids, namely razorbills and common guillemots.

However, these breeding colonies were not always German breeding colonies. Denmark frequently held posession of the islands from the middle ages to the 18th century. Then the islands’ masters frequently switched between Denmark and the Duchy of Schleswig (which would much later be part of Germany) until it was captured once and for all by Denmark in 1740. Well, “for all” lasted until 1807 when Heligoland capitulated to the British during the Napoleonic Wars. Surely the British cared little for the seabirds as they had and still have plenty of their own. This may explain why in 1890, they gave Heligoland away to the relatively young country Germany (formed in 1871) in a deal known as the Heligoland – Zanzibar Treaty. In this treaty, the Germans ceded control over some of their colonial territories in East Africa to the British in return for the Caprivi Strip (now Namibia) and, surprise, the island of Heligoland. This relatively recent affiliation to Germany even survived the Second World War and the – arguably understandable – attempt in 1947 by the British to destroy the main island with 6,700 tons of explosives in one of the biggest non-nuclear detonations the world has ever seen. The cliffs survived along with the rest of the island and are still manned by endless rows of Common Guillemots during the breeding season, offering German birders an easy way – the only easy way – of enjoying this iconic species.
Of course Guillemots can also be seen away from Heligoland on both coasts of Germany, the North Sea and Baltic Sea, but as with other species of alcids and other areas of coast, this requires searching far out at sea from shore with a scope, and settling for tiny black-and-white dots that dart just above the waves in the typical alcid whirlwind of wing beats. It was thus with a mighty amount of surprise and happiness that I found a Common Guillemot swimming in a deep-water channel just off the northern beach of Germany’s island Sylt in late December 2016 – only my second-ever satisfying sighting in Germany as I have yet to visit Heligoland. The bird negotiated the waters just 15 metres off the beach, where waves with small amplitude yet high frequency were the result of high winds and very strong currents around a veritable maelstrom that was formed by the receeding tide flowing around the tip of a sandbar. This made photography a challenge but was a charming reminder of the German name for the bird: Trottellumme, or Gawky (dopey, foolish) Guillemot.

The origin of the German word Lumme (guillemot or murre in English) lies in the old Nordic word “lom” and is likely onomatopoeic. But what is it about the species that makes the Germans think it is a bit dim-witted? Honestly, breeding on tiny ledges high up in cliffs doesn’t help in conveying a common-sense approach to life and reproduction, no matter what the pressure by predators. Especially so when you are barely able to fly. And having you young ones jump off those cliffs onto boulder slopes to meet their parents beyond the surf? Spending the winter far out at sea in the Arctic when you are a bird barely larger than a feral pigeon? Diving in murky waters infested with corkscrew killers? Yes, yes, those would all be justified reasons for being labelled in such a manner. But these insanities aren’t unique to the Common Guillemot, yet Germans consider the other alcid species to be non-stupid.

The secret to them being mocked with such a name is in their gait: in contrast to the Razorbill, which is the only other species of alcid commonly seen on land by German-speakers, the Common Guillemot does not walk on its toes (or feet as birders would call it). Instead, it walks on what we would describe as its knees, stretching its tarsus and feet forward. Which is just an awkward thing to do in general and particularly so on narrow rock ledges high up vertical cliffs. An alternative theory is that the Germans stole the term Trottellumme from the French, where it is called Guillemot de Troïl. However, that explanation isn’t nearly half as funny and also, this would suggest that Germans referred to the species as Trottelguillemot, not Trottellumme. And finally, the French word “Troïl” does not seem to exist outside the species’ French name and I am pretty sure many a French birder will tell you that Troïl was stolen from the German word “Trottel”. So there you go, and I’ll stick with the gait thing, especially as it once again proves the superiority of German bird names over the rather straight-forward English ones. And yes, that’s a challenge to prove me wrong in the comments below. But beware, you’ll likely go under like a guillemot.

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Birding Lakeview Drive Ponds, Paradise Island, New Providence, Bahamas

(Corey, March 6, 2017)

From 20 February through 25 February I was on a family-and-friends vacation on New Providence in the Bahamas. This was not a birding vacation but a beach-and-water-park vacation. Regular readers here at 10,000 Birds, however, will not be surprised to learn that I managed to see some birds in between riding water slides, lounging on the beach, and drinking rum.

I made the one-block walk to the ponds seven times, four in the morning and three in the evening, and totaled forty-three species on those visits. So, what birds did I see?

The obvious and easy-to-see stuff were waterbirds. White-cheeked Pintails, Common Gallinules, and American Coots (of the red-shielded form, not the white-shielded, Caribbean form) were in-your-face and impossible to miss. Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Green Herons were all seen on every visit. Neotropic Cormorants provided the best looks I had ever had of the species and Least Grebes, more common in the pond east of the road, provided me with my lifer look at them.

The reason for all of the waterbirds being so willing to come close was made clear to me on the first morning I was there when I was sitting on the wooden observation platform on the western pond and a woman pulled up in her car, walked over, and dumped out a bunch of grain for the ducks. She apparently does this almost every day and I somewhat doubt that she is the only one who feeds the birds. Whatever the reason, I was pretty stoked about White-cheeked Pintails displaying within a few feet.

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Sanetti Plateau…The World’s Best Commute?

(Duncan Wright, March 2 2017)

The Sanetti Plateau in Ethiopia is a one of Africa’s greatest birding locations. High above the great Rift Valley, endless treeless plains stretch out as far as you can see, holding birding (and other wildlife treasures). An eclectic mix of endemics, specialties and oddly displaced species, it is one of the most memorable places I have ever birded… and I never visited it as a trip. Every time I went there I was on my way somewhere else.

Last year I had the weird (deeply, deeply weird) honour of working on a TV show in Ethiopia. A friend of mine who was creating it asked me to go, and who was I to say no? I spent 3 weeks in Ethiopia, mostly in the Harenna Forest which is nestled on the southern slopes of the Bale Mountains, the range that the Sanetti Plateau caps. It wasn’t a birding trip and I didn’t see huge numbers of birds, but what I saw pretty special. And to get from the regional town of Robe (where we needed to go for supplies and flights) and our filming location, we had to cross the plateau. Happily, everyone involved was interested in wildlife, photography and generally chilling, so the trips were never fast and stopped to take in the sights. It was, as commutes go, pretty epic. Breathtaking too, in more ways than one. Stop and take a quick walk and both the diminished oxygen and cold leave you short of breath.

The primary reason birders go to Sanetti are the upper mountain endemics. As you begin to emerge from the trees impossibly bold Rouget’s Rails can be seen stalking around, and groups of Chestnut-naped Francolins are common too.  As you climb you can stop to see facinating species like the Blue-winged Goose, a strange species whose closest relatives are in South America. Smaller endemics include the attractive Spot-chested Lapwing, Ethiopian CisticolasAbyssinian Siskins and Moorland Chats. Larger endemics like Wattled Ibis and Thick-billed Ravens are found here too, but can also easily be found in less inhospitable climes. As you drive along you see plenty of mole rats too, if you like mammals. And the biggest staris also a mammal, the Ethiopian Wolf. Desperately endangered, they are reasonably easy to see here, and pretty much only here.

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