Tuesday 29 May 2012

Lemon Hill, Philadelphia, May 2012

Another attempt to find some of the fancy wood-warblers migrating up the eastern side of the USA has met with almost complete, abject failure. Philadelphia has not figured largely on Redgannet up until now and I had hoped to be able to bring some of its treasures to life, but apart from a few Warbling Vireos, the migration has passed me by.

Fairmount Park is a great spot to spend a couple of hours, warblers or not and I concentrated my search around Lemon Hill Google Earth ref; 39 58 17N 75 11 17W. My plan was to find a feature that might draw the warblers in. A small wooded hill beside the river seemed to be just the thing, but what do I know?

Canada Geese were parading their chicks as they fed on the grassy patches close to the Museum of Art and House Sparrows chipped from every bush as I cycled the path that runs alongside the Schuykill River. I made the journey twice, once on the Sunday evening on arrival and again on the Monday morning, but I will try to blend them together as one post. The Sunday evening was very busy with bands playing in the cafes near the river and Monday morning was naturally much quieter.
Lemon Hill is a subtle mount with its steeper slope rising from the river side. Once up on the top, the most obvious feature is the Lemon Hill Mansion. Roads describe a circular route of nearly a mile if you keep turning right while walking clockwise. American Barn Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows were common and occasionally stopped for a break and a pre-nuptual tidbit.

There are plenty of Black Locust trees which I have always associated with Black and White Warblers. Despite a thorough scanning of the deeply furrowed trunks and branches, there was not a B&W to be seen. The season was being observed however and plenty of American Robins were out on the lawns collecting nesting material.

Brown-headed Cowbirds were getting into the spirit of spring, displaying with great enthusiasm.

Despite my complaining about the warblers, there were a few other migrants that had waited around to greet me in Pennsylvania. There were half a dozen Baltimore Orioles compared against only one Orchard Oriole. A few sightings of a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher were probably of the same bird and Eastern Kingbirds were fairly common on exposed snags.

Down on the river, a birdy area just above the weir produced more Warbling Vireos, a Green Heron and the Red-winged Blackbirds. Oh and don't forget the Philadelphia Eagle.

Birds seen; 38
Canada Goose 40, Wood Duck 1, Mallard 6, Double-crested Cormorant 9, Green Heron 1, Red –tailed Hawk 1, Ring-billed Gull 2, Mourning Dove 15, Chimney Swift 20, Red-bellied Woodpecker 2, Downy Woodpecker 1, Northern Flicker 4, Eastern Kingbird 6, Warbling Vireo 8, American Crow 3, Northern Rough-winged Swallow 40, Barn Swallow 60, Tufted Titmouse 1, Carolina Wren 2, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 1, American Robin 60, Grey Catbird 15, Northern Mockingbird 2, European Starling 60, Cedar Waxwing 35, Chipping Sparrow 3, Song Sparrow 1, Dark-eyed Junco 1, Northern Cardinal 5, Indigo Bunting 1, Red-winged Blackbird 10, Common Grackle 40, Brown-headed Cowbird 10, Orchard Oriole 1, Baltimore Oriole 6, House Finch 4, American Goldfinch 3, House Sparrow 150.
To see more posts from Philadelphia, follow the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada Page for more from the North American continent.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Woodbridge tour, Newark, May 2012

It has been a disappointing week’s warbling on this B-t-B. First Newark, where I followed my well trodden path along Gill Lane, past the graveyards and on to Merrill Park, finishing at Roosevelt Park behind Menlo Mall at Google Earth ref; 40 32 59N 74 20 29W. My first port of call was a tiny copse just before the railway bridge on Gill Lane at Google Earth ref; 40 33 39N 74 18 49W. American Robins were easily found with Common Grackles and Northern Cardinals. A ‘witchety witchety witchety’ call alerted me to the presence of a Common Yellowthroat. This one was singing from on high in a dead tree, rather than from a low shaded spot where I more normally find them.

The spare earth area for Mount Lebanon Cemetery, I am sure that all graveyards have them, is further along the road and easily seen at Google Earth ref; 40 33 50N 74 19 15W. This proved to be the most productive spot of the day, as is often the case.
Barn Swallows swooped across the short grass in the unused section of the cemetery, close to the road, and landed at the spare earth tip to collect mud for their nests. A Warbling Vireo called with its distinctive song ending in an urgent, upward inflection. Orchard Oriole and Baltimore Oriole moved from the willow at the southwest to the trees at the northwest corner. They were closely followed by a Scarlet Tanager female. Red-winged Blackbirds scolded from beyond the rank weeds while a small flock of Song Sparrows skipped about in the foreground.

I moved on to a small field with a line of trees on the bank of the little river at Google Earth ref; 40 34 04N 74 19 16W. A Banded Kingfisher flushed from his perch at my approach. A Tropical Parula and a Blackpoll Warbler called from the far bank. I was hoping to find the warblers showing a stronger presence, but the going was a little slow, so I moved on to Merrill Park and followed the path along the top of the bank on Chain ‘o Hills Road. There is a steep, wooded slope here (Google Earth ref; 40 34 34N 74 18 35W) and the path elevates the viewer in relation to the trees, putting the birds closer to eye-level and concentrating them along this stretch, That, at least, was what I was hoping for. At last I found a small wave consisting of a few American Redstarts and Blackpoll Warblers, being harangued by a pair of Carolina Wrens. A Common Yellowthroat sang from its more accustomed place, in the damp and dark. The photo below was lavishly over-exposed to get the shot.

Retracing my steps back past the end of Gill lane, I continued on to a small patch of woodland with a swampy heart at Google Earth ref; 40 33 25N 74 20 18W. A Green Heron and a Great Blue Heron were finding rich pickings in the choked water.

I finished the morning at Google Ref; 40 32 59N 74 20 29W, more commonly known as, Roosevelt Park, a leafy, well maintained public park with very little understorey. More Warbling Vireos were seen along with a Red-eyed Vireo sporting its obvious eye-stripe. The day was turning hot now and the birds were playing hard to get with only the Barn Swallows showing any real sign of activity.

In case you have noticed the extensive use of Google Earth co-ordinates, you will be pleased to know that there is a good reason. I have recently been using eBird more frequently and noticed that there is a big blank patch around the Iselin area as though no birds had ever been seen within a mile of the Woodbridge mall. Therefore, I have made a number of little lists that can now be seen at the flagged markers.
Birds seen; 44
Canada Goose 12, Mallard 8, Great Blue Heron 1, Great Egret 1, Snowy Egret 1, Green Heron 1, Turkey Vulture 1, Red-tailed Hawk 2, Kildeer 1, Mourning Dove 25, Belted Kingfisher 2, Red-bellied Woodpecker 2, Downy Woodpecker 1, Northern Flicker 1, Eastern Phoebe 1, Warbling Vireo 1, Red-eyed Vireo 1, Blue Jay 40, American Crow 4, Northern Rough-winged Swallow 2, Barn Swallow 15, Tufted Titmouse 5, Carolina Wren 3, Swainson’s Thrush 3, American Robin 150, Grey Catbird 6, Northern Mockingbird 4, European Starling 60, Northern Waterthrush 1, Common Yellowthroat 3, American Redstart 4, Northern Parula 2, Blackpoll Warbler 6, Chipping Sparrow 1, Song Sparrow 12, Scarlet Tanager 1, Northern Cardinal 10, Red-0winged Blackbird 10, Common Grackle 200, Brown-headed Cowbird 1, Orchard Oriole 1, Baltimore Oriole 2, American Goldfinch 3, House Sparrow 40.
 More posts from the area can be found at the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada Page for more from the continent of North America.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Safa Park, Dubai, 2012

The heat in Dubai was intense and I was unable to reach Safa Park before 10.00 when the sun was already very high and casting short shadows. On a fiercely hot Sunday morning, nobody was seen in the park and none of the refreshment stalls were open. Bring your own water. Most of the birds had sensibly tucked themselves away in the shade and gone quiet.

Hoopoes could still be seen picking in the lawns and tossing their prey up to catch it in their long decurved bills. Beautiful flame-flowered trees line the paths, but they looked washed out in the harsh sunlight.

A pair of Asian Pied Starlings, an introduced species, had made a messy nest from grasses and kite strings in one of the flame-flowered trees that line the paths. I was heading towards the waterfall in the centre of the park. This had proved to be a productive area on my previous visits.

Acacia-type trees here held Purple Sunbirds and some White-eared Bulbuls. It was a relief to be out of the sun for a short while, but the dragonflies quickly tempted me back out into the light. This one above, I think is a Green Skimmer, Orthetrum Sabina.

I base my guess on field guides of surrounding areas, but if anyone knows of similar odes to be found in the Middle East, I would be pleased to hear from them. The individual sitting out on the lawns is probably a Violet Dropwing, Trithemis annulata.

A Spotted Flycatcher gave me cause to look twice. It appeared to have an outsize bill and a very big eye. Again, I would be pleased if anyone can tell me a little more about it.

I was unable to narrow this one down to a species. I take it to be a reed warbler. It was seen a couple of times in the acacia trees near the waterfall

Don’t be tempted to catch the bus from the train station to speed things up. It may save a few minutes walking, but it drops you at the top end of the park, then you have to cross a main road and back-track to the gate. The few moments saved were lost by the bus waiting for 10 minutes before departing.

Crested Lark

Birds seen; 21
Mallard 3, Red Wattled Lapwing 15, Black-headed Gull 30, Eurasian Collared Dove 25, Laughing Dove 6, Rose-ringed Parakeet 4, Pallid Swift 4, Green Bee-eater 2, Indian Roller 4, Eurasian Hoopoe 12, House Crow 80, Crested Lark 3, Red-vented Bulbul 8, White-eared Bulbul 3, Graceful Prinia 2, Spotted Flycatcher 1, Common Myna 120, Asian Pied Starling 4, Purple Sunbird 12, House Sparrow 30, Nutmeg Mannikin 4.

For more posts from Safa Park follow the links below;

Visit the dedicated Middle East Page for more from the area including; Mushrif Park and Ras al Khor

Saturday 12 May 2012

Oare Marshes, Kent, May 2012

Something was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it straight away, but something was different. It took a while, but then it suddenly occurred to me that the rain had stopped. Could Britain’s wettest drought since records began be over? The sun appeared momentarily and the sound of lawn mowers began almost immediately after. The Great Outdoors beckoned and I followed, choosing Oare Marshes which has recently been hosting a Grasshopper Warbler according to the Kentos website.

I arrived too late in the day to stand a real chance of seeing the warbler but just in case, I hung around for a while by the scrub along the path leading to the West Hide. There were plenty of Common Whitethroats as well as Linnets and Chaffinches. The Grasshopper Warbler has a distinctive song, said to be like the sound made by a fishing reel, but sadly it kept itself to itself today and was not seen.

A pair of Eurasian Coot had two chicks which followed the parents around and kept me entertained while I waited.

The West Hide can be found at Google Earth ref; 51 20 40N 00 53 04E . A Whimbrel had flown over as I approached and it was standing right in front of the hide as I opened the shutter. On a small island in the lake overlooked by the hide was a Eurasian Oystercatcher and a pair of Common Shelduck preened on the bank. The only Northern Lapwing of the day was seen to the west of the hide.

I had returned to the road and started to walk in a clockwise circle around the East Flood. A Little Egret landed very close and began to fish without being worried by my proximity.

The tide was at its lowest point so most of the waders that had not been struck by the urge to move north would have been out on the mud of the estuary. A few Black-tailed Godwit in their summer finery remained on a small spit reaching out into the water.

The Phragmites reed beds along the shore path were alive with Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers singing and a Cetti’s Warbler popped out of a bramble thicket behind the seawall hide to swear at passers-by.

A brisk wind across the east side of the flood kept the birds low in the reeds and only a Sedge Warbler in the shelter of a small dog rose was seen clearly.

The Reed Warblers proved to be very camera shy, staying down amongst the cover so that the auto focus could not catch them.

Birds seen; 48

Graylag Goose 25, Mute Swan 4, Common Shelduck 40, Gadwall 2, Mallard 6, Northern Pintail 3, Common Pochard 8, Tufted Duck 10, Ring-necked Pheasant 1, Great-crested Grebe 1, Great Cormorant 7, Grey Heron 3, Little Egret 5, Common Buzzard 1, Eurasian Kestrel 2, Eurasian Hobby 1, Eurasian Moorhen 1, Eurasian Coot 8, Northern Lapwing 1, Eurasian Oystercatcher 6, Pied Avocet 16, Common Redshank 3, Whimbrel 3, Black-tailed Godwit 45, Black-headed Gull 35, Herring Gull 4, Common Tern 7, Common Wood-pigeon 15, Eurasian Collared-dove 3, Common Swift 6, Green Woodpecker 1, Eurasian Magpie 5, Rook 2, Carrion Crow 30, Barn Swallow 15, Common House Martin 4, Cetti’s Warbler 2, Sedge Warbler 3, Eurasian Reed Warbler 4, Greater Whitethroat 7, Northern Wheatear 2, Eurasian Blackbird 4, European Starling 35, Reed Bunting 6, Chaffinch 5, European Greenfinch 1, Eurasian Linnet 10, House Sparrow 5.

There are more posts from Oare Marshes at the links below;

Visit the dedicated UK page for more posts from the area, including, Mote Park and Harmondsworth Moor.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, Bangaluru, India, May 2012

If you use leading questions or Pavlovian prompts in India, you may fall foul of a charming, but confusing cultural tradition. Questions such as “Am I going the right way for…….?” or “will the grounds of Bangaluru Palace be open at 06.30?” invite the answer “Yes”.  Phrasing the question as if you are seeking confirmation rather than information leaves the respondant with no option but to answer in the affirmative. To do otherwise would be impolite. Thus you are more likely to get confirmation of what you hope is true rather than what is actual fact.

Just so that you know, the grounds of the Bangaluru Palace are not open to the public until 10.00, so I had to do a quick about turn and head to Lalbarg Botanical Gardens instead. This misdirection had cost me about an hour and a half and the gardens were already very busy.

I entered from the northern Gate (Google earth ref; 12 57 14N 77 35 07E) and headed south past the floral clock towards the lake. Black Kites, House Crows and Common Mynas are gimmes in most Indian cities and Bangaluru (Bangalore), Karnataka, is no exception.

The first bird inside the gardens posed me some questions. Most accipiters seen on the Indian sub-continent will be Shikra, Accipiter badius, but this one appeared much darker than usual with a darker orange eye than I am used to seeing.

The light mottling on the back was unusual too. I put that down to ruffled feathers, but it flew across to another branch and settled, maintaining the ruffled look. The lack of barring on the tail left me with no other feasible options, so I will plump for Shikra, but would be interested to hear from anyone with more southern Indian accipiter experience.

The whole city of Bangaluru resonates to the rich, low trill of the White-faced Barbet and they seemed especially at home in the gardens. The density of calls meant that they sometimes coincided or overlapped and I could not decide whether a pair was singing in duet or two rivals were trying to disrupt each others’ claim to territory. I could not uncover any evidence or anecdote for either practice, so again, if there are any south Indian specialists out there……..

A small troupe of Bonnet Macacques lazed in a stand of bamboo, hoping for handouts from the Bangaluries(?). Just beyond, steps lead up to the big feature of the gardens, Lalbargh Lake. The banks have been shored up with a stone finish, but Indian Pond Herons and a Little Egret stalked the edges of a few unfinished stretches.

Great Cormorants and Little Cormorants fished in the deeper water or basked in the sun, wings spread wide. Woodland to the side of the lake in the south-western-most part of the gardens is usually quite productive and I found a White-faced Barbet nest here today. An adult visited regularly and another bird popped its head out from time to time as if impatient to know when the next visit might be.

A western lobe of the lake is very shallow and was almost dry in this second week of May. Lotus covers much of the area with thick reeds on the far side. Purple Swamphens tended their chicks among the lotus while a White-throated Kingfisher watched from the trees alongside.

Another familiar sound of the gardens is the hysteria of the Asian Koel. They were very common and obvious today even as midday approached. A female was being courted by a male who brought her gifts of red berries to match her eyes.

Birds seen; 25

Great Cormorant 8, Little Cormorant 6, Grey Heron 1, Purple Heron 1, Little Egret 1, Indian Pond Heron 6, Black-crowned Night Heron 1, Black Kite 120, Brahminy Kite 4, Shikra 1, Purple Swamphen 15, Eurasian Moorhen 2, Red-wattled Lapwing 1, Rose-ringed Parakeet 35, Asian Koel 25, White-throated Kingfisher 1, White-cheeked Barbet 25, House Crow 200, Large-billed Crow 60, Jungle Myna 30, Common Myna 50, Purple-rumped Sunbird 1, White-wagtail 1. 

Seen on walk to palace; Red-whiskered Bulbul 1, Yellow-billed Babbler 2,

Lalbagh Botanical Gardens consists of 240 acres of lush woodland, lake and landscaping close to the city centre. A metered tuk-tuk cost IR60 from the centre of the city, but expect a small surcharge for heavy traffic on the return journey.

Other posts from Bangaluru can be seen below;

Visit the dedicated Indian page for more posts from the area.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Matheson Hammock Park, Miami, Apr 12,

Proposed new legislation may allow companies to redirect their property portfolios to help shore up their under-performing pension funds. Administrators at APS and NAPS have been quick to see the potential for reducing their deficit.

The Miami skies were laden with dark, heavy clouds and I had delayed my adventure as a dawn shower passed through. I was returning to Matheson Hammock, but this morning, I wanted to explore the inland part to the west of Old Cutler Rd. SW 52nd St cuts off from North Kendall Rd and access can be had through a small barrier that denies access to unauthorised persons (Google Earth ref; 25 41 10N 80 16 36W ). The barrier is universally ignored, especially by dog walkers who gathered in large numbers this Saturday morning. A reedy pond can be found on the right immediately beyond the gate and would be worth a look after the dogs finished swimming. In the distance peacocks were calling and parrots screeched from the tops of palm trees. Another palm tree by the road hosted an Eastern Screech Owl.

This individual appears to have quite a long, wry overbite. Is this normal in Eastern Screech Owls? Common Starlings and a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers shared the palm trunk and all made their home within easy reach of each other. .

I was still hoping to find some migrants after the disappointing show yesterday evening and was pleased to see a Great Crested Flycatcher on the utility lines. Across the road, another GCF was chasing a vireo through a leafy tree. Anywhere else, I would have assumed that it was a Red-eyed Vireo, but in Florida, there is the chance of the very similar Black-whiskered Vireo. The bird was driven off by the flycatcher and I didn’t get a good chance to see the ‘whisker’ needed for a confident identification. Rather gallingly, it probably was a Black-whiskered as they are more commonly seen in Florida at this time. Most Red-eyed reports appear to come from birds returning south in the late summer and autumn.

Mourning Doves were seen in the woodland here and Eurasian Collared Doves were common along the roads. A track leads east towards a marshy corner of the park. After rain there was half a chance that some snakes might be out to catch some sun and I had to tread carefully through the long grass to get close to a Golden-winged Skimmer.

A flock of Cedar Waxwings had flown over a couple of times and now I found them settled into the bare branches at the top of a dead tree. Another path leads out from the park towards Old Cutler Rd. and emerges opposite the Fairchild Tropical Gardens. The flashlights on the wing of a Black-throated Blue Warbler showed up in the gloom of the understorey.

Now I was back on familiar ground and hoping to find more birds than yesterday, but only the Northern Cardinals called from the picnic area and a Black Vulture was seen in the distance. An American Great Egret stalked the edge of the Alligator pond and caught a small fish.

The road leads through the mangroves and a Racoon crossed ahead of me. A booth takes fees for parking, but bicycles and pedestrians pass for free. A road to the right leads to Matheson Hammock County Park which I must explore on my next visit. There are a lot of reports from this area on eBird. Continuing straight past the booth brings you to the car park. A Laughing Gull was begging for scraps from people in their cars.

As yesterday there were no birds out on the banks or in the grassy shallows. A kite surfer was standing out on the bank with the water up to his thighs. Perhaps the height of the tide or the presence of the surfers could have something to do with the lack of birds.

Sea grass has been washed up along the shore by the car park and the Ruddy Turnstones were feeding here with a few Semipalmated Sandpipers. 

This is the first time that I have been able to see their semi-webbed feet as they stepped across the sea grass. It was interesting to note that the webbing is not apparent when the bird lifts its foot and is sometimes more obvious when the webbing stretches across a grass stem with a toe either side .

Birds seen; 

Horned Grebe 1, Brown Pelican 8, Double-crested Cormorant 15, Great Blue Heron 1, American Great Egret 2, Green Heron 1, Black Vulture 1, Ruddy Turnstone 12, Semi-palmated Plover 3, Laughing Gull 6, Eurasian Collared Dove 6, Mourning Dove 15, Eastern Screech Owl 1, Chimney Swift 8, Red-bellied Woodpecker 20, Great Crested Flycatcher 4, Cedar Waxwing 250, Northern Mockingbird 6, Blue-Jay 4, Fish Crow 6, Common Starling 25, Black-throated Blue Warbler 1, Northern Cardinal 6, Boat-tailed Grackle 40.

Also seen, but away from Matheson Hammock

Common Gallinule 1, Eastern Kingbird 1, Least Tern 1,
The Common Gallinule is marked in red as this is the first I have seen since I realised that it had been split from the Common Moorhen.

For other posts about Matheson Hammock, follow the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA page for other posts from the area