Monday, 31 December 2018

31st December 2018 Unst SW8 Showers

Being a wet and windy morning we didn't venture out but with a few dry spells this afternoon we took a drive round the island that produced a brute of an adult Glaucous Gull flying in off the sea at Burrafirth where it briefly joined a few Gulls gathered on the beach before flying towards Loch of Cliff. A few Fieldfares were present along the road to Westing. A small flock of Gulls was in the fields north of Easter Loch which included an Iceland Gull which was joined by a second individual as I attempted a few long range shots in the atrocious weather .

Adult Glaucous Gull at Burrafirth
Arriving in off the sea hot on the heels of a first-winter Great Black-backed Gull, it didn't linger long on the beach, before flying off alone inland

Iceland Gulls at Easter Loch

Thursday, 20 December 2018

20th December 2018 Thattakad

We drove to a nearby gorge birding the riverine forest and waiting for raptors to rise on the thermals. A Legge's Hawk-Eagle put in an appearance over a distant ridge. It soon became hot and activity died. Rather than continuing to bird for the afternoon, Jijo asked if I was interested in taking it easy and then making a 'do or die' all night effort to try and see Sri Lanka Bay Owl? As we had to leave the Hornbill camp for Kochi airport at 4am the following morning it was our last chance. It seemed like a good idea so I tried to get some sleep during the afternoon. Setting-off at around 6pm we first walked across a large pineapple plantation only to find there was a 6 foot Elephant-proof wall to scale at the far side in order to enter the forest! I found a loose spike and removed it from the top of the wall and managed to climb over. Not far into the forest Jijo found a hairy caterpillar on him that clearly caused some discomfort! It was a bright moonlit evening and we were making slow progress through the forest as there were no trails. Seeing a calling Jerdon's Nightjar had lifted our spirits but at around 9pm my legs got caught in a thorny rattan, and in trying to remove them, I ripped my thumb apart. Jijo told me to see that as a good sign, although at the time, I was finding it difficult to see how! But no sooner had he said it than we heard a Sri Lanka Bay Owl calling, and not too far from us - they are fond of rattans! We quickly crossed a rocky outcrop and entered the forest on the far side with the Owl still calling and now close. As we did so, Jijo turned to me and simply said 'disaster'! I was a little baffled as it seemed just the chance that we'd been waiting for, but at that moment, his torch had unexpectedly died. Fortunately I had a spare, but an hour or so later, with the Owl calling what seemed like all around us at times, we still hadn't found it. Then, second potential 'disaster', my torch began to dim... The Owl had fallen quiet and it felt our chance had gone. Jijo considered it too dangerous to continue for the rest of the night armed with just one torch, so said that if we were to continue, he'd dash off to borrow another torch. He did, by the light of his mobile phone, as he left me with the remaining torch telling me not to move! It was nice to be out in the forest alone, but not really alone, as there was a calling Oriental Scops Owl and a cacophony of insects for company. It almost felt a little cool at times and that was appreciated too! It was easy to think of JFC willing me on and I found myself asking Mark & Steve, to pull some strings, to give me a break with seeing the Owl!! I thought that if Jijo didn't return, I'd await daybreak and then find my way out, only to remember that wouldn't work, as we were due to leave at 4am!! It had taken Jijo longer than he'd anticipated but suddenly a torchlight broke the darkness and I guessed it was him. His beam scanned around and I heard him call a slightly concerned 'David'! I replied and he quickly joined me, shaking a little - he'd not previously broken sweat in the time we'd been with him - and he said that on not seeing me in the torchlight he'd become concerned that I'd wandered off with all of the implications that might entail! He asked if I'd heard the Sri Lanka Bay Owl in his absence, and on telling him that I hadn't, I could see his disappointment. But playback re-employed, and it called back immediately, Jijo moved forward, shone the beam of the borrowed torch, and there it was clinging onto a vine and looking at us - a simply brilliant finale to the trip. Whilst watching it, another called to our left, explaining how at times earlier in the evening it felt as if it had moved around us unseen. After it flew, job done, we enjoyed a brief but well-earned celebration and we headed back to Camp. We then said our farewells to Jijo, as after what was now left of the night, our driver would take us to the airport alone. 

It is hard to imagine a better guide or nicer person than Jijo to have been travelling with throughout the Andamans and south India. We'd managed to see 61 new species with him, that gave him (and us!) much pleasure, in being one more than we'd managed to see in Sri Lanka!

Indian Cormorant 1
Great Egret 2
Eastern Cattle Egret 60
Indian Pond-Heron 1
Crested Goshawk 1
Crested Serpent-Eagle 1
Legge's Hawk-Eagle 1
Black Eagle 2
River Tern 2
Whiskered Tern 2
Grey-fronted Green-Pigeon 3
Vernal Hanging-Parrot 6
Brown Hawk-Owl h
Oriental Scops Owl h
Jerdon's Nightjar 1
Great Eared Nightjar h
Indian Swiftlet 10
Indian White-rumped Spinetail 1
White-throated Kingfisher 2
Red-rumped Swallow 4
Grey Wagtail 1
Ashy Woodswallow 1
Grey-headed Bulbul h
Yellow-browed Bulbul 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher 1
Green Warbler 1
Lesser Hill-Myna 6

Our riverside tent appropriately named 'Frogmouth' at the Hornbill Camp

View from the veranda

Orchids at Thattakad

Grey-fronted Green-Pigeons at Thattakad

Black Eagle at Thattakad

Legge's Hawk-Eagle at Thattakad
Named after the naturalist who described the species to science in Ibis 1878 it was long treated as a subspecies of Mountain Hawk-Eagle but its taxonomic status was re-evaluated in 2008 recommending it should be treated as a full species. It's latin name is in honour of Kelaart a naturalist who described many plants and animals from Sri Lanka. Gjershaug (2006) recommended that this species be categorized as Near Threatened, but later predicted that it will probably be listed as Vulnerable, given its small population size, declining numbers, and requirement for large areas of primary rainforest (Gjershaug et al. 2008, Gjershaug et al. 2009). BirdLife International includes it as part of the widely distributed Mountain Hawk-eagle and does not assign it a separte conservation status designation.

An illustration of Legge's Hawk-Eagle by Keulemans from Legge's A History of the Birds of Ceylon published in 1878.

Jerdon's Nightjar at Thattakad

Sri Lanka Bay Owl at Thattakad

Jijo Mathew of Nest India Birding Tours

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

19th December 2018 Thattakad

We made an early morning drive to Thattakad reserve where we climbed a rocky escarpment for a view overlooking the forest and saw plenty of early morning activity, including a number of raptors circling-up on the thermals, and eventually some Indian White-rumped Spinetails. On returning to our vehicle we met up with one of Jijo's colleagues, Dhanesh, who quickly showed us a Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher and then a couple of Sri Lanka Frogmouths including a male sat on a nest. Dhanesh then accompanied us back to the town where he showed us a pair of roosting Mottled Wood Owls - superb. Late in the afternoon we again teamed-up with Dhanesh for an Owling session. Having walked a fair way into the forest along a track spotlighting an Indian Pitta as we went, and hoping to hear a Sri Lanka Bay Owl, we'd heard both Oriental Scops Owl and Brown Fish-Owl when we suddenly heard a Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl call... wow!... but rather distantly. A fast walk along a forest trail brought us closer, and then playback of a single call brought the Owl closer to us... Dhanesh made his way into the forest and floodlit a likely large tree and I picked it out sat on a low branch looking at us - stunning - an undoubted highlight of the trip. We returned to the main track seeing a calling Indian Collared Scops Owl. Failing to hear any Sri Lanka Bay Owls we drove to another site, where we soon heard one calling rather quietly, but frustratingly it fell silent before we'd had time to find it.

Little Egret 1
Great Egret 2
Eastern Cattle Egret 20
Indian Pond-Heron 2
Woolly-necked Stork 12
Lesser Whistling-Duck 200
Crested Goshawk 2
Oriental Honey-Buzzard 2
Crested Serpent-Eagle 2
Rufous-bellied Eagle 1
Black Eagle 1
Peregrine 1 of the resident form peregrinator 'Shaheen Falcon'
Bronze-winged Jacana 1
Common Sandpiper 2
River Tern 6
Whiskered Tern 20
Green Imperial Pigeon 15
Plum-headed Parakeet 1
Brown Fish Owl h
Indian Collared Scops Owl 1
Oriental Scops Owl h
Sri Lanka Frogmouth 2
Indian Swiftlet 20
Dollarbird 2
Stork-billed Kingfisher 1
Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher 1
Malabar Crimson-fronted Barbet 8
Indian Brown-capped Pygmy-Woodpecker 3
White-bellied Woodpecker 2
Indian Pitta 1
Dusky Crag Martin 2
Malabar Large Woodshrike 4
Black-headed Cuckooshrike 2
Orange Minivet 10
Small Minivet 10
Flame-throated Bulbul 4
Yellow-browed Bulbul 1
Asian Fairy Bluebird 2
Oriental Magpie-Robin 1
Verditer Flycatcher 2
Jungle Babbler 6
Green Warbler 1
Nilgiri Plain Flowerpecker 1
Thick-billed Flowerpecker 1
Purple-rumped Sunbird 1
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo 2
Grey-headed Starling 1
Malabar White-headed Starling 10
Lesser Hill-Myna 8
Indian Jungle Crow 6

View from the rocky escarpment at Thattakad

Male Crested Goshawk at Thattakad

Vernal Hanging-Parrots at Thattakad

Indian White-rumped Spinetail at Thattakad
Being the only Zoonavena in Asia (the others being in Africa) it was a species that I was particularly keen to see. Great wingshape!

Malabar Crimson-fronted Barbet at Thattakad

Indian Brown-capped Pygmy-Woodpecker at Thattakad

Green Warbler at Thattakad

Male Asian Fairy Bluebird at Thattakad

Malabar Large Woodshrike at Thattakad

Malabar White-headed Starling at Thattakad

Lesser Hill-Myna at Thattakad

Male Purple-rumped Sunbird at Thattakad

Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher at Thattakad

Female Sri Lanka Frogmouth at Thattakad

Male Sri Lanka Frogmouth sat on its nest at Thattakad

Lesser Whistling-Ducks at Thattakad

Mottled Wood Owl at Thattakad

Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl at Thattakad

Indian Scops Owl at Thattakad

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

18th December 2018 Periyar to Thattakad

We left Periyar early making several stops in the deep gorge alongside the large river as we approached the Hornbill Camp, Thattakad and were successful in finding several pairs of Ruby-throated Bulbuls. After the heat of the day, during which a River Tern had made a flypast along the river, we made a rather inauspicious initial foray into the area surrounding the Hornbill Camp. We then went Owling and had brief views of a Jerdon's Nightjar, but disappointingly the only Owl that we saw was a Brown Hawk-Owl, and only in flight.

Indian Cormorant 3
Little Cormorant 1
Indian Pond-Heron 1
Asian Openbill 1
Black Baza 2
Brahminy Kite 1
Shikra 2
Black Eagle 2
Grey Junglefowl 6
Red-wattled Lapwing 2
River Tern 1
Green Imperial Pigeon 2
Spotted Dove 2
Greater Coucal 1
Brown Hawk-Owl 1
Jerdon's Nightjar 1
Great Eared Nightjar h
Indian Swiftlet 20
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater 2
Grey Wagtail 2
Ashy Woodswallow 1
Red-vented Bulbul 2
Red-whiskered Bulbul 2
Jungle Babbler 8
Loten's Sunbird 1
Little Spiderhunter 1
Rufous Treepie 4

River gorge near Thattakad

Indian Cormorants near Thattakad

Indian Pond Heron near Thattakad

Asian Openbill near Thattakad

Juvenile Shikra near Thattakad

Female Grey Junglefowl near Thattakad

Ruby-throated Bulbul near Thattakad

Large spider near Thattakad

Little Spiderhunter near Thattakad