Monday 21 February 2011

Kalindi Kunj Crescent.

Kalindi Kunj Crescent is a made up name for a spit of land, shaped like an agricultural hook, protruding upstream from the dam across the river Yamuna in New Delhi, India.
Things are never as easy as they should be when hiring taxis on the sub-continent and the problem on this occasion was that the bridge crossing the dam led out of New Delhi and into Uttar Pradesh State. Taxis are not allowed to cross state lines without a special licence, under pain of fine and my driver refused to embark on such a disreputable act. It was easy enough to walk the 600m to the crescent and birds were apparent straight away. Birding from the bridge might have been productive, but cyclists and pedestrians thronged the narrow walkway making it impractical, if not downright dangerous.
Once on the crescent, the noise of the traffic died away and I didn’t see another person until I returned to the bridge. One of the early birds was a small flock of Jungle Babblers. Out on the river, floating mats of weed held Purple Swamphens and Indian Pond Herons. Islands have formed and provided roosting opportunities for European Spoonbills, Black-tailed Godwits and plenty of waterfowl.
G.L. had mentioned Bar-headed Goose from his recent visit here. They did not show today, but were made up for by Greylag and Ruddy Shelduck. The ducks included Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal and Spot-billed Duck.

In the early morning, the crescent allows a good view of the islands to the west, but without the scope, I wouldn’t have picked out the Ruff, River Lapwing or the White-tailed Lapwing.
The crescent itself is a raised path lined with trees and bushes. For the first 300 m or so, the west side has reeds and rank vegetation alongside. I imagine that the appearance of this changes with the seasons and the river level. Google Earth shows huge mats of weed, as much as 200m wide, held back by the barrage. Today, the weed was minimal in comparison.
There is a low wall with a metal fence which shows that the spit is supposed to be here rather than just being an island formed by an agglomeration of weed over the years. This Indian Robin and a Bluethroat favoured the wall and the railing as somewhere to hang out.
In the lower trees were Lesser Whitethroat, Common Tailorbird and Yellow-bellied Prinia. A tiny Phyloscopus sp kept me busy for a while until I decided upon Greenish Warbler.
House Crows are always abundant in New Delhi, and the crescent seemed to have its fair share. They were very noisy this morning and appeared to be following me and calling to mark me out as a threat.
A Spotted Owlet flushed from a low tree ahead and distracted the attention of the crows for a while. The owl looked very discomfited to be attracting so much fuss and dropped onto one of the crows in an effort to shoo it away. Asian Pied Starlings joined in with the mobbing as did a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and a Three-striped Squirrel.
Yellow-bellied Prinias were common all along the length of the spit and were quite confiding and accomodating  in response to a pish.
 About half way along its 700m length, the crescent begins to hook around to the right (east).  A pair of Black Ibis flushed from the water’s edge. Towards the end of the spit, another island has formed and held Grey heron, Glossy ibis and Wood Sandpiper. As I turned around, a large dark shape in a tree caught my attention. It was a Crested Serpent Eagle, which gave me another short respite by taking the noisy crows with it as it flew.
I retraced my steps to get back to the bridge, heading home. As I passed the spot where the owls had been earlier, I stopped to watch the warblers and try to get a few more pictures. An Orange-headed Thrush suddenly appeared in a nearby bush and just as quickly, it was gone.
The river here is quite smelly and the crows were intrusive into what would otherwise have been a very pleasant morning. The birding was productive with over 60 species seen. I had asked my driver to wait for me at the car park at the end of the bridge. This involved a walk of 1.2kms in order to find him again, which was a bit of a drag. It cost IR700 for the return journey and 4 hours waiting.
There were other taxis and tuk-tuks that crossed the bridge as I was walking. In future, if my taxi does not hold the required licence, I will just get him to drop me and use one of the other cabs to get across the bridge.
Downstream, a few sandy islands wallowed in the river like a bather in a bubblebath. From my biology field-trip to a sewage farm at the age of twelve, I recall that foam at the outfall is an indication that the water is clean. There must have been a qualifier to that but I don't remember what it was. The islands held a few River Lapwing and were reported to harbour Small Pratincole further downstream.

Bird species; 63

Great Cormorant 1, Little Cormorant 3, Grey Heron 15, Purple Heron 2, Great Egret 1, Intermediate Egret 3, Cattle Egret 1, Indian Pond Heron 30, Painted Stork 1, Black-headed Ibis 1, Indian Black Ibis 8, Glossy Ibis 15, Eurasian Spoonbill 2, Greylag Goose 40, Ruddy Shelduck 8, African Comb Duck 6, Eurasian Wigeon 500, Gadwall 20, Eurasian Teal 12, Spot-billed Duck 12, Northern Shoveler 500, Black Kite 150, Crested Serpent Eagle 1, White-breasted Waterhen 1, Purple Swamphen 80, Common Moorhen 6, Common Coot 400, Black-winged Stilt 300, Pied Avocet 14, River Lapwing 8, Red-wattled Lapwing 25, White-tailed Lapwing 2, Black-tailed Godwit 15, Common Greenshank 1, Wood Sandpiper 4, Common Sandpiper2, Ruff 60, Yellow-legged Gull 2, Black-headed Gull 2, Eurasian Collared Dove 2, Rose-ringed Parakeet 1, Greater Coucal 2, Spotted Owlet 2, White-throated Kingfisher 3, Hoopoe 3, Plain Martin 8, Red-vented Bulbul 3,  Orange-headed Thrush 1, Bluethroat 1, Indian Robin 2, Yellow-bellied Prinia 8, Common Tailorbird 3, Lesser Whitethroat 6, Blyth’s Reed Warbler 1, Greenish Warbler 1, Red-breasted Flycatcher 2, Jungle Babbler 5, Purple Sunbird 2, Black Drongo 3, Rufous Treepie 2, House Crow 200, Common Myna 8, Asian Pied Starling 12.

Mammal species; 3

Three-striped Squirrel 8, Nilgai 3, Common Mongoose 1.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Bang Pu Mai, Bangkok, Thailand

What would I do without G.L to keep me in fresh new ideas for places to see and things to do while nursing a hang-over? It was not his suggestion that Alexandria Mills, Plurimusdecorus inorbis, be entrusted to my care for the evening, but we managed to make up for that oversight and the normal beer per lifer applies for the rest of the post.
His latest recommendation was hardly a good second best to an evening with the reigning Miss World, but I have a blog to write so I took his suggestion for a morning at Bang Pu. 
Bang Pu Mai is a nature education centre south east of Bangkok which attracts roosting birds who might otherwise be feeding on the estuary of the river (Google Earth ref; 13 31' 02"N 100 39' 18"E). Facilities include a pier which attracts people who enjoy the spectacle of hundreds, nay thousands, of Brown-headed Gulls and gulls which enjoy the spectacle of people throwing free food.
Occasionally a Pallas’s (a much bigger dark-headed gull) or Heughlin’s Gull (large, classic gull) might put in an appearance, but I was not prepared to put in the effort or attention to detail required until the beery feeling from the late night had worn off.
A mangrove and shoreline restoration project is ongoing there. Bamboo pilings have been set into the mud to help the silt to settle and mangrove spears have been planted in anticipation. The gulls use the bamboo on both sides of the pier as roosts and Little Egrets stumble along the in-shore line of defence.
Back on land, through a gate to the left as you approach the pier, a sea defence protects a sanctuary of mangrove with ponds, paths and hides. The tide is allowed to sweep in and out and as I arrived this morning, it was approaching its high mark.
A hide overlooking a scrape looked like a fine place for a nap until I noticed the sloughed snakeskin hanging from the rafters above me. Once my eye was in, I began to notice more skins, five altogether and began to sober up a bit. The only sign of live reptiles were the large Geckos, but I couldn't help glancing up now and then.
Waders and herons were abundant with Black-tailed Godwit making up a large proportion. Dense flocks had come to roost and were joined on the mud scrapes by Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilt. Pacific Golden Plovers were more widely dispersed among the salt grass.
The mournful, sibilant, descending phrase of the Flycatcher is easy to imitate and the bird responds well to it. Also known as the Golden-bellied Gerygone, it was simple to tempt the little bird out of the mangroves for a look, but photographing it proved more tricky.
Another call (one that put me in mind of the introduction to ‘Boogie Wonderland’ (Earth Wind and Fire, 1979, just in case you haven’t heard this pop milestone which peaked at no. 4 in the UK single chart)), came from the Mangrove Whistler. The call was easy enough to imitate, but the bird did not respond (so perhaps it was not as easy as I thought). One was calling from a small patch of mangroves behind the visitors centre. I saw movement from the apparent source of the song, but by the time I got the Bushnells trained on the spot, he was gone. There were some Pied Fantails in there with him and that was enough to sow doubt and so I have to decline this one.
The observation tower and part of the board walk are out of service at the moment. The remainder of the boardwalk has not been well maintained and I wonder if it will be reinstated. There is groundwork underway to improve drainage and facilities, so hopefully a new and improved mangrove experience is around the corner.
Close to the entrance is a dry area with a vegetable garden and a small meadow with wildflowers. Zebra Doves fed from the ground as Streak-eared Bulbuls called from the acacia-like trees.

There were dragonflies here too. A nice selection will be added to my life list just as soon as I figure out what they are.
This damselfly, I believe, is the orange form of the Common Bluetail, Ischnura senegalensis, but I have yet to find an ID for this fine fellow below. For want of anything better, I shall call him a Dancing Dropwing, Trithemis pallidinervis which I have seen before in Singapore and looks very similar. They were very common along the sea defence wall on the seaward side.
A few Crimson Darters, Crocothemis servilia were about, but did not allow me as close as the species above. They preferred the mangrove side of the sea defence.
The species below I have no idea about and cannot find anything as a suitable match. I will have to consult the experts and I hope that I will be able to come back to confirm the identities. It has a number of features in common with the darter, but niether its thorax, nor abdomen carried any markings and its appendages are quite different.
The salt extraction ponds of Pak Thale offer day-long feeding opportunities, so the birds are less tide dependent than most waders. The tide at Bang Pu Mai obviously has more of a bearing on the birds’ feeding habits. By mid-morning, the high tide had started to recede and small exploratory flocks of godwits were making sorties from the scrapes to see if any fresh mud had been revealed. They would return shortly afterwards and wait for a few minutes before taking another look. By the time I left at about 11.30, the traffic was all one way. Tide times may be critical as the mud banks of the estuary are off the reserve and not visible. There is plenty of mud beneath the pier, but the big numbers of birds spread out quickly and the sun will affect your view.
Bird species; 25

Little Cormorant 25, Grey Heron 20, Great Egret 60, Intermediate Egret 3, Little Egret 50, Chinese Pond Heron 20, Painted Stork 28, Black-winged Stilt 250, Pacific Golden Plover 25, Black-tailed Godwit 2500, Common Redshank 30, Marsh Sandpiper15, Common Greenshank 15, Common Sandpiper 3, Brown-headed Gull 2000, Spotted Dove 2, Zebra Dove 10, Black-capped Kingfisher 2, Collared Kingfisher 1, Pacific Swallow 25, Streak-eared Bulbul 4, Oriental Magpie Robin 4, Dark-necked Tailorbird 1, Pied Fantail 8, Golden-bellied Gerygone 10

Monday 14 February 2011

Lumphini Park, Bangkok

Lumphini Park in Bangkok City was not part of my planned day as I set out, but after 4 taxis who couldn’t find their own bottoms with both hands, we drew alongside it and I bailed out before it got dark. It turned out to be a pleasant park of about 100 hectares and obviously well loved by the Bangkok populace.
I came in through the entrance guarded by the imposing figure of Rama VI, opposite the Dusit Thani Hotel by the Siam Station of the Metro (Google Earth ref; 13 43' 48"N 100 32' 16"E).

A small canal to the right of the gate held a Little Egret and and a Pied Fantail extravagantly chasing down tiny evening insects. The canal led along the park railings and was the only place in the park that looked a little unkempt. A very common Asian Amberwing, Brachythemis contaminata was keeping guard over a female that was depositing eggs on a saturated log floating in the water.

The lawns are dotted with trees and a few common species such as Asian Pied Starlings and White-vented Mynas can be found there.

In bigger trees along the paths, Black-naped Orioles and Streak-eared Bulbuls were seen.

The lakes in the park are all surrounded by concrete banks. I had hoped to do a little dragonfly watching, but the habitat was not very conducive to perching odes. The Bangkok public can avail themselves of the paddleboats that are for hire, but there were no birds at all on the water.

A huge monitor lizard which easily measured 6 feet long has made a lair beneath one of the bridges that criss cross the connecting canals.

I trip, trip, tripped over the bridge to a hot-spot near a little pagoda behind the sound stage. Here were, Yellow-browed Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Brown Shrike, Scarlet-backed Flower-pecker and Coppersmith Barbet.

At 6 o’clock a public address system counted down to the National Anthem. Such is the esteem with which the people regard their King, that everyone from joggers to canoodling couples stopped what they were doing and stood in reverence. I joined in for fear of appearing disrespectful to their monarchy. Even the Large-billed Crows, that appeared to be flocking in from the surrounding metropolis to roost for the night, quietened.

Lumphini Park has a visible security presence and everyday people were doing everyday things. It seemed to be a safe and enjoyable place to be and a nice place to spend a couple of hours close to the city centre.

Birds species; 18

Little Egret 1, Spotted Dove 2, Zebra Dove 1, Pacific Swift 15, Coppersmith Barbet 3, Streak-eared Bulbul12, Oriental Magpie Robin 6, Yellow-browed Warbler 1, Asian Brown Flycatcher 1, Pied Fantail 2, Scarlet-backed Flower-pecker 3, Black-naped Oriole 1, Brown Shrike 1, Large-billed Crow 200, White-vented Myna 60, Common Myna 100, Asian Pied Starling 10, Eurasian Tree Sparrow 12

Friday 11 February 2011

Royal National Park, Sydney, Yomping.

A short fingernail of a moon hung low in the eastern sky between Venus and the faint glow of morning on the horizon. There was just enough light to silhouette the fruit bats as they returned to their day roosts. I was on a train travelling south from Sydney to a small town called Waterfall. It is a ride of just over an hour on the Illawarra Line. It is the perfect place to walk either east into Royal National Park, or west into Heathcote. It was forecast to be another scorching day, but just before the train pulled in, a mist rose from nowhere and blanketed the area One bird that you can always rely on to be noisy and conspicuous is the Rainbow Lorikeet, even in the fog.
My thought processes went a bit like this; by pushing east into Royal National Park while the mist prevailed, I would be well placed to return with the sun behind me when the fog burned off. By heading into Heathcote, I would have to return into the sun.

From the ramp that exits the station, I turned left and accessed Royal National Park via the Olooru Trail. There are two ways to do this, either by cutting through the station car park where a sign points down a short flight of steps into the bush, or, follow the road round and cut into the bush just beyond the school. Either way you will come to a big open patch of grass known as an oval and the trail continues at its eastern edge through a gate (Google Earth ref; 34 08’ 16”S 150 59’ 58”E)
The habitat is medium height gum woodland mixed with heathland and tiny meadows of tough grass by the roadsides. Unknown to me at the time, there is a swamp to the left (north), of the track. The road is built for access by parks vehicles, but the gate at the oval prevents public access.

Apart from a couple of Laughing Kookaburras, Black-backed Australian Magpies and some Superb Fairywrens, there was not much to kick start a list. The mist hung around and dampened all activity, so I pressed on into the park trying to make as much headway as I could.
As I passed from the woodland at the start of the trail to the first patch of heathland, a flock of New England Honeyeaters flew across the road and the grunting and cackling calls were finally pinned down as those of the Brush Wattlebird. The other distinctive sound of the south-east Australian Bush is the dramatic call of the Eastern Whipbird. The male follows a soft gurgling build up with an emphatic “whip” finish to which the female murmurs a soothing reply. They can sometimes be difficult to see, but one flashed across the road in response to a “pish.”
Eventually the mist began to lift and a party of birds immediately came to the road’s edge. A Leaden Flycatcher was feeding a hungry fledgling and an assorted bag of honeyeaters flitted through the eucalyptus. White-faced Honey-eater, Yellow-gaped Honeyeater and an Eastern Spinebill with a recent fledgling were in the upper storey, while from low down, a White-browed Scrubwren scolded me. A flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, hissing and wheezing and generally making very eerie calls added to the sudden pandemonium. They landed in a dead tree just beyond a tiny gap to see them clearly through.
By now, I had covered a fair distance and made the decision to carry on to Olooru Waterfall, just over 6kms from the train station. I figured I was probably more than half way and you never know, there may be dragonflies there. There were a couple of considerations to take into account; it was heating up very quickly now that the sun had burned off the mist, and the track was predominantly downhill now. The gradient was slight, but with temperatures predicted to reach 40C, it would be uncomfortable on the way back.

A pair of Red-faced Firetails added to a growing list and the New England Honeyeaters and Eastern Spinebills were padding their part. An opening to the left gave out onto a view over the eucalypt forest to the northeast. A raptor was soaring on the first of the thermals. It could have been a Little Eagle, but the rising currents were strong and it was up and gone into the sun before I could get a good look.
At the top of a steeper slope, I stopped to reconsider my position. I had brought provisions so I indulged myself with some carrot cake while I pondered. There is nothing a chap can’t do given an adequate supply of carrot cake, but I was beginning to doubt my sense of distance and the heat was becoming uncomfortable. It occurred to me that despite horrific flooding to the north, the Sydney area had been quite dry and the likelihood was that the waterfall would be dry too. The thought of pushing on to a dry rock face and making the return journey longer and steeper into the bargain seemed pointless. But I felt sure that I must be nearly there, so fortified with carrot cake, I committed to 15 minutes more. At the bottom of the slope, I crossed a dried up stream and realised that my walk had been in vain.
Just for the hell of it, I wanted to see if any water was held in pools at the top or bottom of the falls. The trail was now a single file path and it led over a concave splashback that must have seen a lot of water over the millennia, but none recently. A small bush camp just beyond it gave out onto the top of a high cliff which would have been the site of the sought after Olooru Falls (Google Earth ref; 34 06' 29"S 151 02' 18"E). It was a beautiful setting and there was indeed water in some shallow pools and there were dragonflies.  
Fiery Skimmers that I had first seen yesterday in the Botanical Gardens were recogniseable, a very common species of predominantly green dragonfly was not. I cannot find an acceptable identity for this chap, though a Western Island Hunter looks quite close. Another large ode escaped me and the camera without being identified. I waded through a couple of the pools taking pictures, but the thought of the return journey kept nagging at me.
I didn’t stop for long. Old Man Time had pushed the sun high into the sky and I steeled myself for the yomp back. As I returned through the bush camp a small brown bird on the ground by some rocks caught my eye. It was a Rock Warbler, or Origma.
Occasional patches of shade gave me somewhere to stop and get a break from the heat. During one stop, some firetails came down to the edge of the track. I was mostly ignoring the birds now, but these looked slightly different, so I had a quick peek and noticed the blue eye of a Beautiful Firetail.
The hike back was all that I feared. It was hot and uncomfortable, but from about a kilometre away I could see the station and knew that the drinks machine there would well chilled in the Australian fashion.

The walk out took 3 ½ hours and 1 and ¾ on the way back. The Illawarra Line passes through Sydney downtown and on to Bondi. Martin Place is a good station to access it from. The first train leaves from Martin Place heading south at 05.06 (weekday) and the return fare is Aus $12 (@ Aus$1.60 = £1). The journey takes just over an hour each way.

Bird species; 25

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo 3, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo 4, Rainbow Lorikeet 80, Crimson Rosella 2, Laughing Kookaburra 3, Welcome Swallow 5, Willie Wagtail 1, Grey Fantail 1, Leaden Flycatcher 6, Superb Fairywren 4, Rock Warbler 1, White-browed Scrubwren 1, Brown Thornbill 4, Striated Thornbill 2, Yellow-faced Honeyeater 1, White-eared Honeyeater 1, New Holland Honeyeater 35, Eastern Spinebill 12, Red Wattlebird 8, Brush Wattlebird 12, Australasian Magpie 2, Australian Raven 2, Common Myna 2, Beautiful Firetail 6, Red-browed Firetail 15.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Sydney Botanical Gardens

Our arrival into Sydney, Australia was delayed by enough to disrupt my plans for the day. The temperature was already high with threats that it might reach 4OC. I postponed my trip to Waterfall and took an easy trip to the Botanical Gardens instead to look for Tawny Frogmouths and dragonflies.
In a tiny pool by the tropical glass houses, some Fiery Skimmers, Orthetrum villosovittatum, were chasing each other around. They were very approachable and allowed me to get closer than the macro focusing facility on my Nikon P100.
A Magpie Lark came down to a rock to bathe and get some relief from the heat which was really beginning to build now.
The Australian Emerald, Hemicordulia australiae, wouldn’t stop for a moment in its frenetic chasing, so it had to be taken in flight. This one was found over the little stream that feeds into the twin ponds. It occasionally hovered in a patch of sunlight between the deep shadows, which gave me somewhere to shelter from the sun as I watched and which set up this nice effect.
On the Main pond, above the mullet and the eels, a Common Glider, Tramea loewii, another restless ode, patrolled its area with diligence and vigour. I was not able to translate it into a digital code of zeros and ones. The damselflies here however were static enough for pictures as they sat on the floating weed. The Blue River Damsel, Pseudagrion microcephalum, is also known as a Blue Sprite in Asia. There is a P. australasiae which is almost identical in the male pattern, but which does not reach Australia I understand .If anyone can confirm this ode I would be grateful. Please note the blue bar across the back of the head which causes me some doubt.
In a conifer style tree a pair of Noisy Miners were making even more of a fuss than usual. A quick investigation, hoping to find an owl or perhaps a snake, revealed their brood of fledglings.
The Common Bluetail, Ischnura heterosticta, was a fourth outing for the red pen today. This is probably not surprising as I have not looked for odes in Australia before. If anyone would care to confirm these for me too, I would be grateful, particularly the lower ones.
I don’t have a field guide and am relying on internet surfing to find something to make a reasonable match, but without an exhaustive guide for comparison, it is difficult to be certain.
G.L. as usual had given me a couple of prompts. He had given me directions to find Tawny Frogmouths and Powerful Owl in the gardens. At one of his predictions for the frogmouth in a Swamp Mahogany tree by the wall, there was no sign of the bird, just an old piece of carpet. The Powerful Owl roost remains in potentia as I was not able to find anything there today.

Bird species; 14

Little Pied Cormorant 4, Australian White Ibis 14, Australian Wood Duck 1, Pacific Black Duck 8, Buff-banded Rail 1, Dusky Moorhen 15, Masked Lapwing 4, Silver Gull 8, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo 8, Rainbow Lorikeet 20, Tawny Frogmouth 1, Noisy Miner 15, Magpie Lark 1, Pied Butcherbird 1.

Odonata species; 5

Common Bluetail, Ischnura heterosticta 4, Blue River Damsel, Pseudagrion microcephalum, Common Glider, Tramea loewii 1, Australian Emerald, Hemicordulia australiae 12, Fiery Skimmers, Orthetrum villosovittatum 10.