Wednesday, 28 July 2010


Yet another new place today, on the hunt for a new butterfly. Burnhill Nature Reserve, part of the Waskerly Way is a well known spot for SMALL PEARL BORDERED FRITILLARY, a butterfly I have never seen before. The weather was very cloudy and overcast when I got there, not great for butterflies. But in the odd flashes of sunshine, a few species were flying around which gave me a bit of hope. A few MEADOW BROWNS and RINGLETS were showing sporadically, along with a single COMMON BLUE, but then after about 25minutes the sun came out and all of a sudden something different came out of the foliage and landed on a thistle not too far from me. I quickly got my bins on it and sure enough it was the target species - SMALL PEARL BORDERED FRITILLARY! What a beauty this is. Another couple were also seen but the weather didnt really improve a great deal so after nearly an hour I decided to move on.

I went to another section of the Nature Reserve to try for a different Fritillary, Dark Green. Again the weather wasnt very helpfull, and I was unfortunate not to see one today, but I did see another couple of SMALL PEARL BORDEREDs. I also got a bird year tick, LESSER REDPOLL, flying over (190), and I also seen something which I'm astonished I'd never seen before!!! On the way back to the car, a small black ball of fur was scurrying along the path in front of me. When I knelt down to take a closer look I realised it was a MOLE! And what a little cutey it was too! Just goes to prove that anything can turn up when you're out.


Sunday, 18 July 2010


Now that I had the Dragonfly bug, I decided to try a place I'd never visited before - Kibblesworth Pond. I have since discovered that I parked at the wrong end, but to be honest I didnt mind cos it meant I had to walk through some gorgeous meadows to get to the Pond, which meant I kicked up quite a lot of Butterflies and Moths. The following were all seen; (Butterflies) MEADOW BROWN, GREEN VEINED WHITE, RINGLET, SMALL HEATH, SMALL SKIPPER, COMMON BLUE. (Moths) 5-SPOT & 6-SPOT BURNETS, SHADED BROADBAR, SILVER Y. When I got to the Pond, one of the first things I saw was a gorgeous EMPEROR DRAGONFLY, mainly cos its so big it stands out a mile! In total there were at least 5 of these around. As usual there were tonnes of COMMON BLUE and BLUE TAILED DAMSELFLIES, with a few LARGE REDS thrown in. At least 4 FOUR SPOTTED CHASERS were seen, along with a couple of BLACK TAILED SKIMMERS, one of which kept landing on the shore right in front of me. As good as this was, it turned out to be a great morning as I managed to see 3 new species for the year. First off, two COMMON DARTERS were hunting over the Pond quite close to the shore. Next while strolling around the edge of the water I noticed one or two EMERALD DAMSELFLIES sunning themselves on the long stems. It definately looked like they were newly emerged, and talking to a guy there he said he hadnt seen any the day before. The highlight of the morning though was an absolutely stunning male BANDED DEMOISELLE. As Dragonflies go this is a beauty. It came in off the Pond, hung around the shore for a minute or two then went over my head and kept climbing higher in the sky until I lost sight of it altogether. I'd only ever seen one before, when I was at Rutland Water two years ago, so was chuffed to see this little stunner. So for a first visit, it definately left a great impression!



Saturday, 17 July 2010


A nice early start saw me at Tunstall Reservoir at about 8.00am. This was just to be a quick visit as I got my two target birds reasonably easily. I parked up the north end near to the little farmhouses, then walked past the little nature reserve, through the wooden gates, and up the hill towards the big trees in the middle of the cow field. This is my usual spot for TREE PIPIT, and after about 15minutes one flew overhead calling. It landed in the main wooded area to the right of the field, but after just a few minutes relocated to the trees next to where I stood. This took my tally upto 188 for the year. 189 followed soon after! Leaving Tunstall behind, there is a small stone bridge just before you get to the main road at Wolsingham, and this is usually a good spot for SPOTTED FLYCATCHER. Sure enough, I parked the car and one was sitting on a low branch in full view. I didnt even have to get out of the car!!! My two targets got in less than 30mins.
From here I headed to Bishop Middleham Quarry, on a bit of a butterfly hunt. Conditions werent ideal, being quite breezy and overcast, but when the sun did come out so did the butterflies! Species seen were SPECKLED WOOD, RINGLET, LARGE SKIPPER, COMMON BLUE, MEADOW BROWN and SMALL HEATH, all in good numbers, but best of all was my first NORTHERN ARGUS of the year with double figures seen. I also saw my first 5-SPOT BURNET MOTH of the year. The one disappointment was the lack of any Dingy Skippers, as this would have been a lifer.
Martin rang me saying he was heading for Cowpen Bewley to look for dragonflies, so I decided to join him. The weather had improved and the sun was shining nicely, so we headed to the small ponds with a lot of hope. We werent disappointed. COMMON BLUE DAMSELFLIES were abundant, and in amongst them were a nice number of BLUE TAILED DAMSELFLIES. Alas we couldnt pick out any Azure Blues. We did see one or two LARGE RED DAMSELFLIES but nowhere near as many as the Blues. Then things started to get REALLY good. First up, a very impressive BROAD BODIED CHASER. I'd only ever seen one before, down at Rutland, so I was pleased to see one in the county. But then it got even better. My first ever FOUR SPOTTED CHASER. Four or them to be more precise. We then had a quick look on the main lake and got two fantastic EMPEROR DRAGONFLIES. On the walk back to the car we wandered through the fields and flushed a number of moths, most of which were my first of the year. Species seen were 5-SPOT and 6-SPOT BURNETS, SILVER Y, LATTICED HEATH, SHADED BROAD BAR and YELLOW SHELL.
We then decide to pop over to Dormans Pool to see if we could pick up a couple of different species. It turned out to be a great decision. 11 species of butterfly were seen, including my first GRAYLING of the year. Apparently this is a good place for this scarce species but we only seen one on this occasion. The other butterflies seen were SMALL TORTOISESHELL, LARGE WHITE, SMALL WHITE, GREEN VEINED WHITE, RINGLET, MEADOW BROWN, COMMON BLUE, SMALL HEATH, LARGE SKIPPER and SMALL SKIPPER. We also got a few species of dragonfly including more FOUR SPOTTED CHASERS and EMPEROR DRAGONFLIES, but best of all was a BLACK TAILED SKIMMER, another lifer.
Another excellent day, proving that when its quiet for birds theres always other things to brighten the day!

Saturday, 10 July 2010


This was the only full day of birding I had on this holiday, with a proper birding organisation, and I was ridiculously excited when I got picked up at 6.30am by Wolde, my guide for the day. I have to say, Wolde was fantastic. Extremely knowledgable, a great communicater, very patient, but most important, bloody good company. We had a really good time together all day. And the birds we saw were superb. A lot I had seen already, so in this post I'll focus on the new ones and the old ones that stood out. Our destination was the Bluefield mountains in the south west of the island, about 90 minutes from Montego Bay. And so we arrived around 8.00am and started out along the mountain trail. It was immediately obvious that this place was alive with birdlife. The common species were abundant, in particular the BLACK WHISKERED VIREOS. It seemed every single tree had one! The gorgeous JAMAICAN TODY was also abundant, and I didnt mind one bit. It didnt take long to get my first lifer of the day, a female JAMAICAN BECARD. The male quickly joined her. Wolde was pleased that I got it early cos they can be tricky birds to get. He need'nt have worried, we saw loads over the coarse of the day. After about 20 minutes we stopped at a clearing in the forest, which was extremely productive. First up was another pair of Becards. Then a SAD FLYCATCHER, shortly followed by its larger cousin, the RUFOUS TAILED FLYCATCHER. All the time we were accompanied by the sounds of OLIVE THROATED PARAKEETS. A flock of SMOOTH BILLED ANI'S flew over, shortly followed by some JAMAICAN CROWS. There were of course a lot of the common species too. Wolde then said we were taking a little walk up a side track, to try to get one of his target birds. Apparently this track was the best chance of seeing a WHITE EYED THRUSH, one of the hardest birds to see. He told me to get comfortable cos we could be in for a long wait! While waiting we enjoyed excellent views of the lovely ARROW HEADED WARBLER. This is a beautiful little bird, a cute black and white ball of fluff. Suddenly Wolde got excited. A Thrush-like bird flew past and landed in a large bush. We waited patiently until it came out revealing it as a WHITE CHINNED THRUSH. Nearly! After a further wait another Thrush turned up. Another White Chinned! Then a third!!! This was frustrating. He then tried calling one out. At first there was no response, but after 10 minutes he got a reply. It was further up the track so we quickly relocated to where we thought it was. He called it again. It replied. It was up the hill in front of us, but it had extremely dense foliage. He tried again, and again it replied. But it wouldnt come out. At all!!! We played the game for half an hour, without getting a single glimpse. And then, without warning, a flash shot out of the foliage and flew further up the hill. The Thrush was gone. We were so dejected. Wolde apologised (which was silly, it wasnt his fault!) and we begrudgingly headed back to the main track. When we got back to the clearing, we were met with an amazing sight. Quite ridiculously, an adult male WHITE EYED THRUSH was in the tree right in front of us, bold as brass and making a total mockery of its 'difficult to see' reputation. We both looked at each other and burst out laughing. We moved on cos apparently he had an even more special bird to show me. When we got to the spot, he told me to put my binoculars down and look at a large dead tree just a couple of yards away from the path. 'What do you see?' he asked. 'Erm, a dead tree!' was my confused reply. He smiled. He pointed at a particular branch, and said 'Look at that branch'. I did, but still didnt see anything. 'Ok, now look at it in your binoculars'. I frowned, but did as he said. I looked, then looked again. Wait a minute, I thought to myself, thats not a branch! My jaw dropped, and I let out a ridiculous little yelp. 'Oh my god, its a Potoo!!!!!' I said in astonishment. And it certainly was. A sensational NORTHERN POTOO. I was absolutely ecstatic. I had hoped I would see one but I truly didnt think I would. I hugged Wolde, who laughed at my idiocy. We then headed back to the car, to go and get some lunch. BUT! That wasnt the end of the morning. As we were walking back something big shot out in front of us and gave us the shock of our lives. We quickly ran to where we thought it had landed and searched. Before long we saw it moving in the background. It was a CHESTNUT BELLIED CUCKOO. An amazing bird, it was huge and loud and colourful, and after a few minutes came out and showed beautifully. Then another 2 joined it. This was an amazing end to an amazing morning.
We had our lunch at a local shack on the beach, enjoying the Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns offshore. We then walked to a small rock coming out of the sea, and watched CAVE SWALLOWS coming and going from the rock. Wolde told me the Swallows had been coming to the same rock for hundreds of years!
The birding after lunch was a great deal quieter, as is usually the case in very hot countries. However there were still quite a few highlights. We hiked up an extremely steep hill, in the hope of seeing a roosting Jamaican Owl. Alas it wasnt to be found, but we did see a small flock of a gorgeous little parrot, the GREEN RUMPED PARROTLET. They are so cute! At the same site we had 7 RED TAILED HAWKS circling above us which was a very impressive sight. We then went to another mountain trail, albeit a smaller one than the morning. Here I got a look at another RUDDY QUAIL DOVE, not on a nest this time but walking on the path just ahead of us. I also got a lifer here that I was surprised I hadnt gotten before now. I had read before I came to the country that the JAMAICAN VIREO was quite abundant, but this wasnt the case for me. In fact the 2 that I saw on this trail were the only ones of my trip! Bonny little things though! But I did get one more treat that WAS supposed to be hard to get. A bird that I was desperately unlucky to miss when at Rocklands a few days before. To end the day we were treated to terrific views of a pair of MANGROVE CUCKOOS. Well worth the wait!
This pretty much was the end of my birding for the fortnight. I ended the trip with a very modest 76 species, 42 of which were lifers.










About an hours drive west of Montego Bay is the coastal town of Negril. Here you will find the only protected area of mangroves on the island of Jamaica, the Royal Palms Nature Reserve. Its a big area, but only a small fraction is open to the public. But what is available is absolutely stunning. The Reserve basically consists of a reasonable sized lake at the visitor centre, and a boardwalk nature trail that takes you on a circular route amongst the mangroves. Without birding, you could probably do the walk in 30 minutes, but obviously when you're birding it takes a fair bit longer. I was probably there for 2 hours. I arrived at 9.00am (opening time), and was warmly greeted by the warden, Colin. He led me to the veranda overlooking the lake, which was one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen. Crystal clear water, gorgeous lush greenery, the bright sun beating down, it was a little piece of heaven. I was immediately in love with the place! We then started to note the birdlife that was around. ANTILLEAN PALM SWIFTS were fluttering and hawking and chattering conspicuously. A pair of GREAT EGRETS were in with a small party of CATTLE EGRETS. A total of 9 YELLOW CROWNED NIGHT HERONS were scattered around the lake, with a single BLACK CROWNED NIGHT HERON thrown in for good measure. On the far shore, a flock of 6 BLACK NECKED STILTS, and while watching them a GREEN HERON flew into the trees just behind them. Then right in front of us a small yellow flash darted away to a tree to our right. I looked at Colin, who was smiling, and he said 'its a YELLOW WARBLER, they're nesting in there'. Sure enough I checked through my bins and there was the bird sitting on the nest. Lovely! I was then distracted by a noise coming from the left, behind the visitor centre. Again Colin was smiling (Caribbeans do that a LOT!), and gestured for me to go have a look. It turned out to be the main reason most birders go to the Reserve, and my main target, WEST INDIAN WHISTLING DUCK. There were actually 5 of these endangered birds, lazing on the bank of the lake without a care in the world. They're not a particularly attractive bird, but are much sort after and I was delighted to get one of my biggest target species. On saying that, they were so easy to see it was a bit of anti-climax! But I wasnt grumbling. I then left the veranda and walked towards the boardwalk. As I did a stunning AMERICAN KESTREL flew past me and landed in a tree just above my head. The Jamaican subspecies of this bird is absolutely glorious. Its much whiter than its American equivalent and thus looks much prettier. At the start of the boardwalk, on the left hand side is a smaller pond with lots of reeds and lilies. Here there were tonnes of dragonflies in all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately I dont have a book on these creatures, so didnt have a clue what I was looking at bar 2 species - ROSEATE SKIMMER and BAND-WINGED DRAGONLET. The Skimmer is a superb dragonfly, one of the prettiest I've ever seen. I scanned the rest of the pond and saw 2 NORTHERN JACANA'S and a COMMON MOORHEN. Is it just me, or do these common as muck birds look much more colourful when you're abroad? Maybe it is just me! Anyway, just as I was about to leave I noticed a movement in the reeds at the back of the pond. I put my bins on it and was absolutely delighted to see one of my other target birds, LEAST BITTERN. Even better, after just a few minutes it came out of the reeds and started feeding in the lilies, completely in the open and completely unfazed. This I didnt expect! After a good 15 minutes, it eventually flew off into the reeds behind and I left with a warm feeling in my heart. In contrast, the nature trail was a slight letdown. Birds were few and far between, and whats more they were very difficult to see. The ones I managed to get were all the usual common stuff, KINGBIRDS, WOODPECKER, ORIOLE, BANANAQUIT, MANGO etc. In fact I only got 1 new bird for the trip (though not a lifer), SMOOTH BILLED ANI. And even these were extremely common. Mind you, the mozzies probably didnt help. They were a nightmare. Its just so difficult to enjoy yourself when you are constantly being bombarded by these annoying little sods. But overall, it was a fantastic morning, and one of the highlights of my trip. I would recommend it to anyone.








Monday, 5 July 2010


Up nice and early I arrived at Rocklands at 6.40am. Being a little early I decided to bird the area outside the property. The GRASSQUITS and BANANAQUITS were everywhere as usual, as were the KINGBIRDS. There were also quite a few COMMON GROUND DOVES and WHITE WINGED DOVES, and the STREAMERTAILS and MANGOS were buzzing around in small numbers. Fritz joined me just before 7.00am and we immediately headed off down a track at the back of the property. This path was pretty quiet for birds with only a SAD FLYCATCHER and JAMAICAN ORIOLE different to what had been seen around the house. At the bottom of the track Fritz stopped and listened intently. It didnt take him long to pick out what he was after. Deep in the undergrowth he told me to look at where he was pointing and there was the first star bird of the day, a JAMAICAN TODY. This is easily one of the prettiest birds I've ever seen. Bright green with a touch of crimson, I defy anyone not to fall in love with it. It was one of four birds in the same shrub, all eventually showing extremely well. I could have gone home happy just at that sighting, but there was still a lot more to be seen. As we headed off to a path on our right a noisy flock of OLIVE THROATED PARAKEETS flew overhead. Four of them landed in a tree just ahead of us, and we enjoyed great views. As we were stood watching the Parakeets a small bird whizzed past us and landed in a bush to our left. It took ages for us to locate it but eventually it came out and we saw that it was a JAMAICAN SPINDALIS (or Stripe Headed Tanager). Further along the track Fritz put me onto my third Flycatcher of the trip, a STOLID FLYCATCHER. In the same tree something was calling noisily just above it, a BLACK WHISKERED VIREO. This proved to be the first of MANY of this species. They were extremely common the whole morning. Many of the common species were seen along the track, including ORANGEQUITS and ORIOLES. Frustratingly, a number of JAMAICAN CROWS were raucously calling in the tree tops but were not coming out for us to see. The path then opened up into a bit of a meadow. Cattle were grazing, and CATTLE EGRETS were feeding around their feet. Then a bizarre noise came from deep in the foliage. Fritz immediately sprang to attention, 'MANGROVE CUCKOO' he said excitedly. Apparently they were quite rare in this area so he was desperate to see it. It was moving around a lot in the dense greenery, and despite our best efforts proved just a touch too elusive for us. And it certainly didnt help that the two of us were set upon by a swarm of huge ants . Their bites were absolute agony, and it took ages for us to get rid of them all. We beat a hasty retreat and headed back up the track, but not before a small flock of CROWS landed in a tree right in front of us. Suddenly the pain disappeared.
The next clearing on the path was a small orchard. This was a great place for birds. The most abundant birds were the JAMAICAN ORIOLES, they were everywhere. One bird appeared to be feeding a different bird. It was a SHINY COWBIRD, and I noticed it was a juvenile. It turns out that Cowbirds are parasitic egg layers, much like our Cuckoo, and their main hosts are the Orioles. I never knew that! Other birds seen here included MANGO'S, VERVAIN HUMMINGBIRDS, JAMAICAN WOODPECKER, ZENAIDA and CARIBBEAN DOVES, ORANGEQUITS and the almost annoying BLACK WHISKERED VIREOS. We also saw another brand new bird for me here, and another little stunner it was too. A small, subtle light blue coloured bird, the JAMAICAN EUPHONIA is a wonderful little thing. While enjoying watching the Euphonias, Fritz suddenly realised we'd been birding for over two hours. It was only meant to be a three hour trip! He just smiled, shrugged his shoulders and gave me a look of 'whatever'! We did agree though that it was time we headed back. But we had literally just turned to leave when Fritz heard something new. He quickly put me onto a female YELLOW SHOULDERED GRASSQUIT, a great find as these are very difficult to find. We hung around for a short while and were rewarded when a stunning male came and joined the female. As we were enjoying these birds I noticed two small birds to my right. 'They look like Mannikins' I said to Fritz. They then flew off, just before Fritz got onto them. He said 'I doubt they were Mannikins, I've been birding here for years and never seen them here'. Then the two birds immediately returned to the same spot and guess what, they were NUTMEG MANNIKINS! Fritz was absolutely ecstatic, and vigorously shook my hand. It was indeed the first time he'd seen this species on his patch and he enjoyed every minute of it. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from this amazing area, and we headed back the way we came. After about 25minutes Fritz heard something call and stopped dead. He studied the foliage for a few minutes, then pointed and smiled. It took me a few minutes to get onto it but suddenly it came into a view, the supremely cute ARROW HEADED WARBLER. This was a much wanted bird, and I had really hoped to see one on this trip and I wasnt disappointed. After a few minutes another one flew in and joined the first one. I was delighted. We had another quick look in the meadow, and we got yet another new bird , a JAMAICAN ELAENIA. Further along the track yet another new bird showed itself, a very handsome GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH. We eventually got to the track that led back to the property, but Fritz had one more surprise up his sleeve. We knelt down and he told me to look where he was pointing. I couldnt see a thing! He said 'be patient, it'll eventually move and reveal itself'. So I did just that, and all of a sudden there was movement. It was a gorgeous RUDDY QUAIL DOVE, an extremely difficult bird to see. I was buzzing! I really didnt think I'd see one of these, as I'd read lots of trip reports from people who had missed them. And the amazing thing about this bird was that it was actually sat on a nest! Absolutely incredible. This proved to be the end of an amazing morning. What should have been a three hour trip turned out to be four hours twenty minutes! But Fritz just smiled, as the Jamaicans tend to do. He'd had just as much fun as I had.