Saturday, 28 June 2014

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, Houston, June 2014

I was caught on the back foot today when we rolled up outside an unfamiliar hotel on the edge of a freeway in Houston. First things first, I had to find my bearings and then decide where I could reach on a bike when the temperature was pushing 95F. I had hoped to visit Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, but my new starting point added 15kms to the round trip, so I saved myself ‘til the morning when the temperature would hopefully be more tolerable for a cyclist.
I arrived at 07.15, shortly after the timed gate self-opened. There is a feeder area around the log cabin and Blue Jays filled the top slot, bullying Northern Cardinals, House Finches and Red-bellied Woodpeckers from the hanging containers. The path leads to a small pond that serves as a dipping experience for children later in the day. A small Broad-banded Water Snake crossed the pool faster than I could unship my camera. The humidity would have spoiled the shot anyway, it was horrible today and my glasses continually fogged up if I stood still for too long.

A bridge crosses a tributary of Buffalo Bayou and gives access to the east side of the reserve.
Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Blue Jays provided most of the bird song today. Carolina Chickadees gave their quick “Chicka – dee,dee,dee,dee,dee,dee,dee” and a coarse-sounding “Kreeeep” made me look up to see a Great Crested Flycatcher.

The sanctuary is a mixed woodland, predominantly Loblolly Pine, but there are plenty of leafy oaks. A Great Horned Owl flushed from an oak beside the path ahead of me and I was able to follow it by listening for the frantic mobbing of the American Robins and Blue Jays.

It had landed in full view in one of the oaks and its eyes were wide open. Whilst this makes for a good picture, I have come to realise that this is an indication of an owl under stress, so I took the picture and moved on. I found the owl again (I assume it was the same one) a little later and the Blue Jays were still mobbing it. Despite being harassed by the birds, it saved most of its attention for me. I was 40 meters away and it was 10 meters up, so it obviously didn’t like people.
The protected area is only 17.5 acres, so it didn’t take too long to complete the paths and return to the log cabin which was now playing host to a couple of groups of school children. Dipping nets and plastic dishes had been positioned near to the small pond and I took a quick look before the classes arrived and disturbed the water. I was pleased to find another small snake and a few moments later, a third. The light was too poor to get a decent shot even though the snake (number 2) moved quite slowly and despite high ISO and wide aperture settings.

Birds seen;

Broad-winged Hawk (en-route) 1, White-winged Dove 2, Mourning Dove 2, Great Horned Owl 1, Chimney Swift 3, Red-bellied Woodpecker 3, Downy Woodpecker 1, Great Crested Flycatcher 2, Blue Jay 12, American Crow 1, Carolina Chickadee 3, Tufted Titmouse 1, Carolina Wren 5, American Robin 6, Northern Mockingbird 2, European Starling 1, Northern Cardinal 15, Great-tailed Grackle 3, House Finch 2, House Sparrow 2.

Terry Hershey Hike and Bike Trail is very close by and I took a few moments to see if I could find a Mississippi Kite. They can be seen hunting over the meadows here for dragonflies that chase above Buffalo Bayou. Instead I found a bird that I am more accustomed to finding on the other side of the Atlantic. Cattle Egrets were stalking the rough grass along the trail.

Birds seen;

Great Blue Heron 1, Cattle Egret 15, White Ibis 2, Turkey Vulture 1, Mississippi Kite 1, Chimney Swift 4, Blue Jay 3, Barn Swallow 5, American Robin 2, Northern Mockingbird 5, Great-tailed Grackle 4.

For a couple of Terry Hershey posts, follow the links below;

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary is open from 07.00 until 17.00 with electronically timed gates. There is no charge for entry and it houses the Houston Audobon Headquarters. The property and the log cabin were left to the society by Edith to protect it from development.
The ride along Memorial Drive was very pleasant, passing some high end real-estate on an easily navigable route. It took 45 minutes to ride the 14kms on a flat road with light traffic and plenty of overtaking space for passing vehicles. Stay on Memorial, head west and cross Sam Houston Tollway (Texas Beltway 8). Take the first left, Wilchester Blvd, after crossing the freeway and the sanctuary is signposted. It can be seen at Google Earth ref; 29 46 17.22N 95 34 14.28W.
Memorial Drive is unusual in that it does not describe a straight line, but meanders through the leafy suburbs. Bus 70 ($1.25 per ride, It runs twice an hour during morning and afternoon peak,but only once an hour through the late morning and early afternoon) plies the route and will accept a bike on the front rack. Leave the bus at Gessner, 3kms before the sanctuary.

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from Houston.
Birding, Birdwatching, Houston, Texas.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore, June 2014

It is hard to resist the lure of Singapore’s Botanic Gardens and in particular the Heliconia Walk. I am supposed to be exploring pastures new, but it’s hot and the gardens are cool. Why make life difficult?

The Metro station is just outside the gate at Google Earth ref; 1 19 19.22N 103 48 55.20E. From here, the gardens open out into the Ecopond area. Javan Mynas and Asian Glossy Starlings were seen immediately with a small group of Oriental White-eye shortly after passing through the gate.

A park worker was walking through the shallows of the ecopond which may have spoiled my chances of rails or Yellow Bitterns, but the Lesser Whistling Ducks still made good subjects. 

In the spirit of exploration, I took a path less travelled and found myself looking over a tiny pond with mosquito fish in the open water and a White-breasted Waterhen skulking around the edges keeping an eye on her chick.

Heliconia Walk was as delightful as ever. For a little while the sun stubbornly refused to cast any light on them, but the Olive-backed Sunbirds didn’t seem to mind. 

Once the sun cleared the trees though, it became too hot to stand still and my glasses steamed up for lack of a breeze.

No bitterns could be found in the Symphony Lake either, but a large Water Monitor Lizard was on the prowl for something to eat.

The remnant forest and the Ginger garden were similarly quiet as the day became unbearably hot. A Plain-throated Sunbird came to feed at a Cannia Lily near Swan Lake, but I had to call it a day after that.

On the way home a fine looking Red Junglefowl crossed the lawn ahead and an Ashy Tailorbird responded to a half-hearted “pish”.

Bird list for Singapore Botanic Gardens; 22

Lesser Whistling-Duck 18, Red Junglefowl 4, White-breasted Waterhen 5, Spotted Dove 8, Pink-necked Pigeon 15, Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot 1, Germain’s Swiftlet 30, Common Flameback 2, Common Iora 1, Black-naped Oriole 2, Pacific Swallow 5, Yellow-vented Bulbul 15, Dark-necked Tailorbird 2, Ashy Tailorbird 3, Oriental White-eye 5, Oriental Magpie Robin 5, Asian Glossy Starling 60, Common Hill Myna 5, Javan Myna 80, Plain-throated Sunbird 2, Olive-backed Sunbird 8, Eurasian Tree Swallow 6.

The park has two main access points. The gate at the northwest corner is served by the Botanic Garden Metro Station and buses 7 and 77 pass the gate in the southeast on their way to and from Somerset. Gates open from dawn to dusk and there is no charge for admission.

Visit the dedicated Asia page for more posts from Singapore, including; Paser Ris, Sungei Buloh and Fort Canning.
Birding, Birdwatching in Singapore

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Pulau Ubin - The other way, Singapore June 2014

I have been handicapped in the 10,000 Birds year list. For a bird to qualify on the list, it must be seen from a site that I have not visited before, or for at least 5 years. The idea being that I was becoming set in my ways and needed a push to explore beyond my comfort zone. When the handicap was introduced, it wasn’t made clear whether I could count birds from a new site if I went back for a second look. I was revisiting Pulau Ubin after a trip in March and so as to stay within the spirit of the thing, turned left instead of right and explored the north end of the island this time.

Crikey it was hot and sticky – even for Singapore! The cool relief as the bumboat cut across the channel from Changi Pier only made the stifling heat worse when we pulled onto the island.There are few facilities on Pulau (Singaporean word for island) Ubin (Singaporean word for ubin) and those that do exist are mostly to be found in the small village where the bumboat pulls up to the jetty (at Google Earth ref; 1 24 6.03N 103 58 13.32E). Bicycles can be hired and there are a couple of restaurants and tea houses. Beyond here, facilities are sparse.

First things first, I turned right for a moment to check the picturesque ponds beyond the village, hoping for a Watercock or an exciting rail or two. No such luck, but the hornbills were making an awful racket and a White-breasted Waterhen scurried back into the lotus pond as I approached. A Zebra Dove and a Nutmeg Mannikin were new birds for the year, but will not count as I was covering old ground until I passed back through the village. Blue-throated Bee-eater also misses the cut.
Four White-bellied Sea-Eagles and two Brahminy Kites soared above me and a Grey Heron flopped slowly over.

Back at the village, I headed out to break new ground to the north, but was quickly stopped by a flock of Oriental Pied Hornbills. They were feeding from a stand of fruiting trees and were just above eye-level. Eventually they moved to my side of the grove and gave me some superb views as they gobbled down the fruits. As I waited for them to come to me, a Lesser Coucal dropped into some damp vegetation nearby and an Oriental Magpie Robin serenaded me from the fence of the quarry.

The quarry is flooded now and provides a roost for lots of Grey Herons. A quick count reached 70 birds on the first pass. Pacific Swallows rested briefly and a White-throated Kingfisher dropped down to gather up an unsuspecting dragonfly.

There were a few cyclists on the island today, but they were very polite, passing behind me if I was in the middle of the road, or stopping short if they wanted to ask what I was looking at. They all carried durian fruits which they picked up as they went along. Always looking for new experiences, I found a fallen fruit and broke it open to try it. The smell is said to be awful, but I found it merely sickly sweet. It is supposed to be luscious and delicious, but mine was dry and tasteless. I am not convinced that I was eating the right thing! Note to self; don’t eat strange things that you find lying on the ground and can’t accurately identify.

I had passed into some forest now and found a few Pink-necked Green Pigeons, Olive-winged Bulbuls and Dark-necked Tailorbirds along the road. But these were birds that I had already seen this year and were not furthering my cause. Beyond the forest section was a creek flooding into the mangroves. Ashy Tailorbird was seen here and at last, a score for the year list in the shape of a Pied Fantail.

The return journey brought Common Iora, White-rumped Shama, Yellow-bellied Prinia and Eastern Crimson Sunbird. The hornbills were still feeding and drawing a crowd of cyclists who stopped to see.
This time a Plain-throated Sunbird sat up for me as I waited for a Hornbill to pose.

Bird list for Pulau Ubin; 32

Grey Heron 75, Brahminy Kite 3, White-bellied Sea-Eagle 4, White-breasted Waterhen 2, Little Tern 1, Spotted Dove 1, Zebra Dove 2, Pink-necked Pigeon 6, Lesser Coucal 1, Germain’s Swiftlet 50, White-throated Kingfisher 1, Collared Kingfisher 1, Blue-throated Bee-eater 1, Oriental Pied Hornbill 9, Common Iora 3, Black-naped Oriole (many heard only), Pied Fantail 1, House Crow 15, Pacific Swallow 8, Yellow-vented Bulbul 8, Olive-winged Bulbul 5, Dark-necked Tailorbird 3, Ashy Tailorbird 2, Yellow-vented Prinia 1, Oriental Magpie Robin 6, White-rumped Shama 1, Asian Glossy Starling 60, Javan Myna 40, Plain-throated Sunbird 3, Olive-backed Sunbird 6, Eastern Crimson Sunbird 2, Nutmeg Mannikin 1.

Bumboats leave from Changi Pier (Google Earth ref; 1 23 27.37N 103 59 15.32E) on the mainland, starting at 05.30 if the demand is there. They do not have a scheduled service, but run when a full load of 12 punters are ready to go. This is obviously more frequent and likely to start earlier at weekend, but on a Friday morning at 07.00, I waited for 20 minutes to make up a 12. The crossing takes 10 minutes and costs S$2.50. The return boat operates on the same basis. If you are impatient to be going, or fear that you may get stuck on the island, a boat can easily be chartered by paying 12 times the fare, ie S$30 (@£1 = S$2.1) or by paying the balance for any empty seats.
To reach Changi Pier take the MRT to Paser Ris at the end of the Green, East West line and take a taxi the rest of the way. It cost S$10 this morning and took 5 minutes. A taxi all the way from the city would be substantially more.

For a previous post from Pulau Ubin, follow the link below;

Visit the dedicated Asia page for more posts from Singapore, including; Central Catchment Area and Paser Ris.
Birding, Birdwatching in Singapore.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Corniche, Jeddah, June 2014

There are not many opportunities for bird watching with our schedules into Jeddah, but at least we stay close to the waterfront and can walk along the Corniche at Google Earth ref; 21 36 19.51N 39 6 26.19E. It is best, in the morning as the sun comes from behind.

 There are a few gulls, notably the White-eyed Gull which is a Red Sea specialist. Luckily this is quite a striking bird and can be identified easily. Strictly speaking, binoculars and cameras are not to be used in Saudi Arabia, so a bird that you can call with the naked eye is a blessing. The similar Sooty Gull may occur, but the heftier yellow bill with its black and red tip should stand out.

White-eyed Gull, Immature.

The Corniche is paved for about 5kms of seafront. The water is very shallow at the shoreline, but suddenly drops away about 50-100m out. A three-headed pier allows fishermen to cast into the depths and takes birders closer to terns that patrol the drop-off. Lesser Crested Tern was seen today with a few White-cheeked Terns.

Carefully positioned rocks at Google Earth ref; 21 36 47.36N 39 6 25.44E provide a breakwater and good roosting spots for the terns, gulls and Striated Herons. Little piers allow the watcher to get closer, though the piers are often used as picnic sites in the evening.
Feral cats are abundant amongst the rocks and probably live off scraps from the nightly picnics. Just to the north of here, a restaurant complex hosts a Rueppell’s Weaver colony.

Birds seen from the Jeddah Corniche;

Striated Heron 2, Black-winged Stilt 3, White-eyed Gull 20, White-cheeked Tern 12, Lesser Crested Tern 1, Feral Pigeon 100, Laughing Dove 2, House Crow 6, White-spectacled Bulbul 1, Common Myna 30, House Sparrow 8, Rueppell’s Weaver 3.

Ladies are allowed to walk alone on the Corniche, but must remain demurely dressed at all times. Ankles, arms and head should be covered to maintain respect for local customs. Gentlemen should also dress conservatively with long trousers and long sleeves being preferred.

Cameras are not allowed, yet almost every person I saw was happily clicking away or videoing with a phone or tablet. Luckily I have some library pictures of cats and White-eyed Gulls. Binoculars are also frowned upon, but I am not sure why.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Reserva Ecologica Vincente Lopez, Buenos Aires, June 2014

Reserva Ecologica Vincente Lopez is a small park on the shore of the Rio Plata/South Atlantic Ocean, to the north of the city of Buenos Aires. It includes lawns looking out across the water with a lightly wooded area in the north. The main attraction is a fenced area that contains thicker woods surrounding a small lake with a short boardwalk through its marshy top end.

I arrived here today in the late afternoon hoping that the gate to the fenced sanctuary would still be open. It opens at 09.00 until 17.00, every day. I took a clockwise route quickly totting up birds including Rufous-collared Sparrow, Rufous-bellied Thrush and Blue-and-Yellow Tanager.

The lake was completely covered with weed. Greater Kiskadees, Rufous Horneros and even Cattle Tyrants fed from the floating vegetation. A single Wattled Jacana must have felt that it was on very solid ground. 
The bridge that crosses a corner of the lake has fallen into disrepair, but it can still be partially used to get out over the water for a good view of the lake. Today, it was so choked that any ducks or water-birds would have moved on to find clearer water elsewhere.

The trail passes through a ribbon of thick woods that surround the lake. A pair of Grey-necked Wood-Rail was seen through the fence before the trail drops down onto the short boardwalk. This proved to be the hot-spot of the evening.  Sayaca Tanager, Masked Gnatcatcher, Black-capped Warbling-Finch, Tropical Parula and Small-billed Elaenia were all noted here in a frantic few moments.

By the time I reached the gate to go home, it was nearly 17.00 but the gate was already closed and padlocked. I was just about to shimmy over the top (it would have probably looked more ungainly than “shimmy” might suggest) when I took a second look at the mechanism. Though locked, the padlock was not engaged in the locking bar and I was able to escape in a much more dignified manner than might otherwise have been the case. 

Bird list for Reserva Ecologica Vincente Lopez; 26

Southern Caracara 1, Chimango Caracara 2, Grey-necked Wood-Rail 2, Wattled Jacana 1, Kelp Gull 2, Pale-vented Pigeon 2, Picazuro Pigeon 40, Nanday Parakeet 15, Monk Parakeet 4, Gilded Hummingbird 1, Green-barred Woodpecker 1, Rufous Hornero 5, Small-billed Elaenia 3, Cattle Tyrant 2, Great Kiskadee 10, House Wren 4, Masked Gnatcatcher 6, Rufous-bellied Thrush 20, Chalk-browed Mockingbird 6, European Starling 5, Tropical Parula 2, Blue-and-yellow Tanager 2, Greyish Saltator 1, Black-capped Warbling Finch 1, Rufous-collared Sparrow 6, Variable Oriole 2.

This reserve is only very small and would be unlikely to keep a keen birder occupied for more than a couple of hours. It is a good follow-on site if you are visiting Ribera Norte, just up the road (or a good alternative if Ribera Norte is closed due to flooding as is sometimes the case). The entrance is across the tram lines at Google Earth ref; 34 2925.54S 58 28 52.19W. Follow the path around to the right to find the fenced sanctuary beyond the running track. There is no security provision at Vincente Lopez. 
The railway runs from the main station Retiro in Buenos Aires city to Tigre. Get off at La Lucila Station and continue north for 4 blocks and turn right at the underpass onto Av. Parana. The reserve is 1.25 kms east from here.

For a previous post from Vincente Lopez, follow the link below;
Visit the dedicated Central and SouthAmerica page for more posts from Buenos Aires including Costanera Sur and Ribera Norte.

Birding, Birdwatching in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Ribera Norte, Buenos Aires, Jun 2014

Ribera Norte is a small gated reserve to the north of Buenos Aires. It is occasionally closed due to flooding, but there are quite a few common birds in the local area if access is denied. Spot-winged Pigeons can often be seen from around the edges of the sanctuary.

A reserve to the south, Reserva Ecologica Vicente Lopez, is a good fall-back if Ribera Norte is closed.
Today, it was late to open and I feared the worst until the gates were unlocked at 09.10. 

Perhaps these things happen for a reason as I arrived at the open patch of water just as a Rufous-sided Crake came out onto the floating weed. It was very shy and ducked back in when it saw me, so I sought cover in a small hide there. As I waited for the crake to reappear, a second bird emerged from behind a lump of hyacinth. This had been my target bird for the visit, so two and a horrible picture set me up for a great day.

I had been slightly disappointed at such a fleeting glimpse of a Plumbeous Rail on the previous day, so was thrilled to notice a movement as I scanned the edges of the reeds. The red and sky-blue patches at the base of the bill are great field marks when the bird is looking towards you. It was preening under an overhang of vegetation and I managed to wriggle into a small space that allowed a clear shot.

A House Wren took a rest in the sun, obviously enjoying the warmth after a cool start to the morning.
Railway sleepers, laid side-by-side lengthways, line the path as it passes through the wettest part of the reserve beyond a metal bridge. This is an upgrade since my last visit that may allow Ribera Norte to stay open and navigable during times of higher water-levels.
The trail describes a circular route around the reserve and continues past the marshy area into woodland. The calls from Nanday Parakeets, Monk Parakeets and Picazuro Pigeons marked my progress along the path. A red-hot hot-spot came at the intersection with the trail that leads down to the river. Notably, a third rallid species in the form of a Grey-necked Wood-rail was seen. Three rallids in a day is not so unusual (yesterday had been a 5-rallid afternoon), but there were no coots or gallinules to dilute the effect this morning.

This was followed quickly by a pair of Diademed Tanagers feeding in the tall rank vegetation that the trail passes through on its way down to the river. Solitary Caciques split the stems of plants close to the path by thrusting their sharp bills in and prising them open. The ripping, cracking sound would have been very eerie if I hadn’t known what was happening. It sounded like a huge creature trying to move stealthily through the bushes. 

A couple of Masked Gnatcatchers flitted about in the same plants, a Narrow-billed Woodcreeper chased between the trunks of willow trees and a Black-and-rufous Warbling Finch sat well for a picture.

In the same location a Variable Oriole, Yellow-chinned Spinetail and a Yellow-browed Tyrant were seen; not to mention the Picazuro Pigeons, Pale-vented Pigeon and Rufous-breasted Thrush.
A White-throated Hummingbird sat still for a moment and was easy to identify.

Towards the end of the trail, a raised wooden walkway takes the visitor through the reeds to complete the circuit. I stopped to take a photo and noticed a lot of droppings on the planking. A second look revealed a pellet with tiny indigestible bones poking out. A third look, upwards, revealed an empty tree with no owls or anything at all like that.

The droppings looked quite fresh and I wondered if I had unknowingly flushed an owl when I had stopped.
The area around the reserve should be explored while the opportunity is there. If the reserve is flooded or the visitor still has a bit of time, the area beyond Ribera Norte may add a few species to pad a list. To the north are a few horse paddocks, playing fields and an opening onto the river at Google Earth ref; 34 27 47.86S 58 29 46.72W . 

A pair of White-tipped Plant-cutters was the notable addition seen here today, but Campo Flicker, Cattle Tyrant, Southern Lapwing and Shiny Cowbird were also added from here.

Bird list for Ribera Norte; 44
Neotropic Cormorant 15, Cocoi Heron 3, Southern Caracara 1, Rufous-sided Crake 2, Grey-necked Wood-Rail 2, Plumbeous Rail 1, Southern Lapwing 3, Kelp Gull 6, Picazuro Pigeon 200, Spot-winged Pigeon 6, Eared Dove 2, Nanday Parakeet 25, Monk Parakeet 20, White-throated Hummingbird 3, Green-barred Woodpecker 3, Campo Flicker 3, Rufous Hornero 12, Yellow-chinned Spinetail 2, Narrow-billed Treecreeper 5, Small-billed Elaenia 3, Yellow-browed Tyrant 1, Cattle Tyrant 4, Great Kiskadee 25, White-tipped Plantcutter 2, House Wren 6, Masked Gnatcatcher 6, Rufous-bellied Thrush 50, Chalk-browed Mockingbird 12, European Starling 4, Tropical Parula 1, Golden-crowned Warbler 1, Sayaca Tanager 1, Diademed Tanager 2, Greyish Saltator 1, Black-and-rufous Warbling Finch 1, Grey-throated Warbling Finch 2, Saffron Finch 1, Yellow-billed Cardinal 2, Rufous-collared Sparrow 12, Bay-winged Cowbird 6, Shiny Cowbird 1, Variable Oriole 4, Solitary Black Cacique 5, House Sparrow 20.

Ribera Norte can be seen north of the city of Buenos Aires at Google Earth ref; 34 28 12.24S 58 29 46.72W.

It is gated and opens at 09.00 ‘til 17.00. On very wet days, or maybe during days of spring tides, the reserve may close due to inundation. This number (47476179) was left unanswered last night when I phoned to check if the reserve would be open this  morning, but it is the only one I have. Perhaps it is only manned if the park is flooded. It would be interesting to know whether the reserve closes because of flooding by too much rain or from high spring tides. There is a lot of litter close to the river which makes it look as if it is brought in by high tides and left behind as the water recedes. In case of flooding, Reserva Ecologica Vincente Lopez is approx 2kms south from here and can provide an entertaining couple of hours.

Yellow-browed Flycatcher

I had the use of a bicycle today and was able to stow it in the last carriage of the train from Retiro to Tigre. A one-way ticket costs 3 Pesos. 10 minutes pedalling from Acassuso (Google Earth ref; 34 28 37.65S 58 29 51.80W) found me at the reserve by heading generally east (ie from Retiro, cross the track and continue straight). To walk, it has taken me about 35-45 minutes. From the Tigre end of the station take Peru St. east. At the main road turn right and find Peru St on the left again. Continue on Peru down the hill and cross the coastal tram lines. Turn left and continue 300m before turning right and following the road around. Ribera Norte Municipal Reserva will be on your right.

Greater Kiskadee

Previous posts from inside and outside of Ribera Norte can be seen at the links below;
Visit the dedicated Central and SouthAmerica page for more posts from Buenos Aires including; Costanera Sur and Vincente Lopez.

Birding, Birdwatching in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, June 2014

It is hard to know which moment to pick as the highlight of this post. It could have been the long-awaited Great Grebe or the surprise Plumbeous rail. After looking at Red-fronted Coots all morning, it came as a shock to find that they qualified for the red-pen too. The Guira Cuckoos performed as usual and at last I remembered how to work my camera. So it was a good day all round.

Compared with previous visits, the list was slightly low at 44, but I put much of that down to birds migrating north, though in truth I have no clue about the migratory habits of the Argentinian avifauna. The list made it past the 40 mark by virtue of the waterfowl that had come to enjoy the flooded Lago de Los Copios along the inland promenade.

I was only able to cover a limited area of the reserve today as I had come straight from the flight and therefore had a late start. I checked the promenade and the southern trail.
I started by moving north to south along the promenade which was already quite busy on a Sunday morning. Personal security was at the front of my mind for much of the day and I tried to be as discrete as possible with my camera, but this area comes under the watchful eye of the Navy and they have a reputation for dealing firmly with miscreants. So the crime rate here is lower than in other parts of the city, but nevertheless, it doesn’t do to flaunt these things.

I waited until I could access the lower walkway that drops to level with the water along the southern third of the promenade (It is usually gated, but the catches are in poor condition and an inquisitive tug will usually result in the gates swinging invitingly open). Work has been going on here to drag much of the weed from the water. Small roosting islands have been built from heaps of the weeds and White-faced Whistling Ducks were using them to roost. A closer look revealed Brazilian Teal, Ringed Teal and a single Rosy-billed Pochard. Despite the Ringed Teal being written in red, I am quite familiar with them as they feature in a local wildfowl collection. The Rosy-billed Pochard was the first one that I had seen since finding them here as a life bird over 18 years ago.

The edges of the reeds and the open water were frequented by gallinules and coots. Common Gallinules greatly outnumbered the Spot-flanked Gallinules, but it was the latter that I lavished attention on. Red-fronted Coots were easy to see and I didn’t realise that I was trying to look past this life bird to find the other coot species that are common here.

As I was trying to make a Red-gartered Coot into a White-winged Coot, a movement in the reeds caught my attention and a rail darted across an open spot. Red and sky-blue patches at the base of the bill were easily visible which gave me the ID for a Plumbeous Rail.
Two Coscoroba Swans roosted at the edge of the reeds and Silver Teal fed, shoveler-like from the surface of the water. Red-gartered preferred the southern end of the open water.

The Laguna de Los Copios is not always wet and has had almost no water at all during my last couple of visits, so the waterfowl are not a permanent fixture here, but a real pleasure when they are on site.
The southern entrance to the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve is at the end of the promenade at Google Earth ref; 34 36 59.64S 58 21 23.23W I wanted to walk the southern loop, but the reserve was very busy and the bird numbers were low.

A steady stream of people was heading towards the picnic area that looks out over the coast (Google Earth ref; 34 36 23.12S 58 20 47.08W). It seems that watching the sunset from the beach is a popular attraction for the local Buenos (although of course the sun sets inland, not over the water). A Southern Caracara took refuge at the top of a tall metal structure. This structure has proved productive in the past with American Kestrel and Chimango Caracara.
 I pulled off to the right halfway along the path towards the picnic area and looped round the southern section of the reserve. Even so the paths were still very busy and did not give up much bird life, though a Small-billed Elaenia popped up for a moment in response to a “pish” and a Hooded Siskin ventured out onto a thin branch during a lull in the traffic.

A small flock of Bay-winged Cowbirds fed from the characteristic plumes of Pampas Grass that can be seen around the reserve. Picazuro Pigeons were very common and many were seen flying over as they began looking for roosts in the early evening. This one was found at the picnic site and looked as if it had come to take in the party atmosphere.

I was about to take a quick snap of the crowds on the shore when I noticed a movement on the water beyond. I replaced the Canon with the Bushnell’s and was delighted to see a Great Grebe, just off the rubble beach.

This was a bird that I have hoped to see on each of my visits here, but up until now had been unlucky. It is not a rare or difficult bird, but it was at the northern extent of its range and I was at the southern limit of mine, so this is the only place that our paths are ever likely to cross.
The grebe was fishing close in to the shore and allowed me to sit on a chunk of rock on the water’s edge as it went about its business.

I returned to the south entrance and found the promenade packed with people. They had come to shop at small stalls laid out on the pavement and to eat and drink at the small parrillon cafes. It would have been virtually impossible to bird along the promenade in these conditions, so bear this in mind if you are here on a weekend. The morning and early afternoon had been quiet enough, but the evening was extremely busy.

Bird list for Costanera Sur; 44
White-faced Whistling Duck 12, Coscoroba Swan 2, Ringed Teal 4, Brazilian Teal 15, Silver Teal 8, Rosy-billed Pochard 3, White-tufted Grebe 2, Pied-billed Grebe 1, Great Grebe 1, Neotropic Cormorant 15, Cocoi Heron 1, Great Egret 3, Southern Caracara 4, Chimango Caracara 2, Plumbeous Rail 1, Common Gallinule 60, Spot-flanked Gallinule 3, Red-gartered Coot 7, Red-fronted Coot 25, Southern Lapwing 1, Wattled Jacana 3, Kelp Gull 20, Picazuro Pigeon 140, Eared Dove 1, Nanday Parakeet 25, Monk Parakeet 30, Guira Cuckoo 8, Green-barred Woodpecker 2, Rufous Hornero 5, Small-billed Elaenia 1, Spectacled Tyrant 3, Great Kiskadee 25, Blue-and-White Swallow 10, House Wren 1, Rufous-bellied Thrush 5, Creamy-bellied Thrush 1, Chalk-browed Mockingbird 15, European Starling 8, Golden-billed Saltator 2, Black-and-Rufous Warbling Finch 1, Rufous-collared Sparrow 10, Bay-winged Cowbird 6, Hooded Siskin 5, House Sparrow 3.

A quick visit on the morning of our return flight added a few birds to the list and brought another lifer in the form of a Long-winged Harrier. The light is against you early in the morning as you walk along the promenade and even at daybreak there were joggers and a few left-over revellers from last night. A Harris’s Hawk flew across the low weeds at the northern end, betraying the presence of a few ducks, including a couple of Yellow-billed Teal.
I reached the southern gate just after 08.00 and it was punctually open. A Rufescent Tiger-heron stood in the deep shadow and a Chequered Woodpecker obligingly made itself obvious in a dead tree. The north gate was open on this occasion (Tuesday morning at 10.00), but I cannot vouch for its opening times.

Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve consists of a large area of reclaimed land on the shore of the Rio Plata/ South Atlantic Ocean, close to the docks area of Buenos Aires. The reclaimed area has annexed the once magnificent promenade from the big water of the coast. The promenade, though still magnificent in its faded glory now looks out onto reedbeds and freshwater wetland (Lagos de Los Coipos). There is open water at the southern end depending on the recent rains and the vigilance of the park workers who were raking out a lot of weed this weekend.

It is a popular spot for joggers and cheap cafes cater to the less energetic. This area becomes extremely busy on weekend evenings. It is accessible at all times with a low wall separating the 2km public walkway from the Lagos de Los Coipos.

The main body of the reserve is the reclaimed area. A good path runs all the way round the inside of the reserve with a couple of short cuts through the centre. A complete circle is about 8kms. Two large lakes have pretty much been clogged with reeds and in my four visits have never had any visible open water, just a wide expanse of reeds. Most of the interest comes along the paths which are lined with woodland, scrub and pampas.

The reserve has a gate at the southern end of the promenade (Google Earth ref; 34 36 58.45S 58 21 18.90W. It opens at 08.00 and closes at dusk. A gate at the north end of the promenade is not as reliable. I believe that it is only open at weekends. If you are on foot, it is easy to skip the fence here if necessary.
The reserve is also popular with joggers and walkers who will often greet you amicably as they pass.

For previous posts from Costanera Sur, follow the links below;

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Birding, Birdwatching, Buenos Aires, Argentina