Friday 30 November 2012

Mushrif Park, Dubai, November 2012

Bill Oddy used to enter “None” into his birding diary if he saw nothing at his local reservoir and Corey Finger can eke three posts out of not seeing a Virginia Warbler. So I hope you will forgive me for writing up a post in which I visited Mushrif Park and failed to see a Pallid Scops Owl.
Hundreds of doves, mostly Eurasian Collared-doves, were flying in to roost in the tops of the trees that line the approach road. Grey Francolins were calling from the areas beyond the fences on either side.

An Oriental Honey-buzzard circled above me as I passed the gate and paid my 3 Dirhams entry fee.
Most birds were preparing for the night, but a few Green Bee-eaters were taking advantage of the dying light to pick off a few insects that had been drawn out by the dusk.

The sun had dropped surprisingly quickly from the sky this evening and caught me on the hop. I had arrived at the turn-off to the park to hear the evening call to prayer as I alighted from the taxi at around 17.00. I had hoped to see an Arabian Babbler this evening, but the darkness was falling fast that my prime focus became the owl.
I made my way to the lawns opposite the mosque where the Pallid Scops Owl is said to hunt for insects by the lights of the toilet block. A group of British and Canadian birders were already in place with a similar intent, but none of us saw nor heard the owl.

Gray Francolin10, Oriental Honey-buzzard 1, Eurasian Collared-dove 400, Laughing Dove 50, Rose-ringed Parakeet 12, Pallid Swift 40, Green Bee-eater 10, White-eared Bulbul 6, Common Myna 6.

I caught the train to Rushadiya, beyond the airport and grabbed a cab from there. I had to rely on a lift back from the park as there is no taxi rank there. The turn in for the approach road Google Earth ref; 25°13'49.52"N 55°27'3.30"E is from a main, multi-carriageway road (Al Khawaneej Rd) with a central reservation. Catching a cab from here, without crossing 6 lanes of fast traffic in the dark, means hailing one driving in the wrong direction. There is a roundabout less than a mile along the road to make a turn.

For a previous visit to Mushrif Park, follow the link below;
Visit the dedicated Middle East Page for more posts from Dubai including Safa Park and Ras al Khor

Thursday 29 November 2012

Ras al Khor, Dubai, November 2012

I rushed to Ras al Khor straight from the flight in an attempt to get there just before high tide. The published time for high tide at Dubai Creek was 09.30. As it turns out, it takes an extra 45 mins to an hour for the tidal surge to reach the top of the creek and percolate through the mangroves. I arrived about 20 mins after the predicted high to find the water’s leading edge creeping past the hide. Even at its height, the water was not deep enough to reach the flamingos’ knees, but Kentish Plovers and Little Stint had to flee before its seeping approach.

The Greater Flamingos were clustered tightly together when I arrived, heads down, feeding about 20m from the hide. I realised that food had been put out for them and wondered if this is why they stay so faithful to this area. Despite this, I have no reason to suspect that they are not wild, free-flying birds.

After feeding, they split into 2 groups with a few striking out on their own, or in small groups. Immatures are only about half the size of a full grown bird, but there was also a big disparity in size between the adults.

In front of the hide, a causeway juts out into the shallow water and the two halves of the flock arranged themselves on each side. Some continued to feed with the traditional flamingo style, but most curled their necks over their backs and took to snoozing as the day warmed.

A scope is provided for the use of visitors to the hide and I used it to pick out some Whimbrel and Redshank on a distant Sandbank. A few Grey Heron and Great Egret were seen close to the hide, but better numbers were seen beyond the mangroves.

The causeway pushes about 250m (towards the east) out into the shallow water with the hide sited about 100 meters from the end. As the tide approaches, the small birds are pushed past the hide then tempted back as the water recedes. Viewing is better from the left (north) side in the morning before the sun passes through midday. Tide times could be important as the water recedes back past the mangroves. Birds chasing the freshly exposed mud will be out of range at low water. Get free tide predictions for around the world at Easytide.

Apart from the flamingos, numbers were quite low and fewer species were seen compared to a previous visit. I may have missed a raptor passing through as the flamingos suddenly stood alert, but relaxed once the threat was gone.

Two Common Redshanks caught my eye. Elsewhere and at a different time of year, I might suspect that one was a youngster begging for food from an increasingly impatient parent.

Great Egrets may be smaller than the Greater Flamingos, but they stand higher in the pecking order. Pink gave way to white as the egret passed through the flock looking for small fish and crabs. This individual may feature in an upcoming 10,000 Birds post.

Birds seen; 20

Gray Francolin 1, Greater Flamingo 800, Gray Heron 3, Great Egret 6, Black-bellied Plover 3, Kentish Plover 15, Common Ringed Plover 2, Common Sandpiper 3, Common Greenshank 2, Common Redshank 8, Whimbrel 8, Eurasian Curlew 3, Little Stint 40, Curlew Sandpiper 10, Eurasian Collared-dove 10, Laughing Dove 4, Crested Lark 2, Red-vented Bulbul 1, White-eared Bulbul 4, White Wagtail 2.
Black-bellied Plover

The  Flamingo Hide is on the southeast-bound carriageway of the Oud Metha Rd. The taxi will have to go past and turn back at the intersection with Muscat St.

(Shortly after the Emarat Petrol Station on the right, there is a large intersection. Ask driver to continue to the next junction and pull off onto Muscat St. The northwest carriageway of Oud Metha Rd. can be accessed from here.)
Getting a taxi for the return may be difficult. The Flamingo Hide is located at a lay-by on the motorway (Google Earth ref; 25°11'32.03"N  55°18'37.89"E). Very few empty taxis pass by here. On both of my visits I have had to rely on a generous driver offering me a ride to the nearest taxi rank or train station. For a quick visit (the flamingos can be seen and appreciated in 10 minutes assuming the tide is right), ask the taxi driver to wait.

 Follow the link below for a previous post from Ras al Khor;
Visit the dedicated Middle East Page for more posts from Dubai, including Safa Park and Mushrif Park
White-eared Bulbul

Sunday 25 November 2012

Xochimilco, Mexico City, November 2012

A taxi from the tren ligero station at Xochimilco disqualifies this trip from the 10,000 Birds Year List, but I am feeling confident that the race is all sewn up, barring a late rush from Duncan. My colleague, JP had joined me again in a more demure outfit and was astonished to see our first Vermillion Flycatcher of the day. But then, Vermillion Flycatchers are astonishing birds especially when you see them for the first time. Maybe they should be written in red for every sighting.

There was cause for the red pen today as JP pointed out a brown bird disappearing into the reeds. He found it again and we were able to identify it as a King Rail. 
We started by the Visitor Centre and racked up a good number of birds before popping in to pay our entrance fee. (25 Pesos @20 Pesos = £1). I obtained a free permit which must be displayed at all times when carrying an obtrusive camera. Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Common Yellow-throat were seen by the water’s edge of the big lake on the right. House Finch and Canyon Towhee fed from the ground in the rose garden between the entrance gate and the Visitor Centre.

Behind the Visitors’ Centre, a path leads onto a wooden walkway that heads out across the reed-lined lake. Most of the day’s herons, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret and Green Heron, were found along the edge of the reeds in small numbers. On the second walkway, we had to wait for a Snowy Egret to move along before going across and enjoying a close look at a Pied-billed Grebe.

The Blue-faced Darner Aeshna multicolor were flying in lower numbers today than I had seen previously, but they hovered conveniently, just long enough to allow me to get focus.

Vermillion Flycatchers were obvious and common as were the Cassin’s Kingbirds that hawked from perches overlooking newly cut meadows.

We encountered an opossum as we came back round to the road, but only now I find that there are many forms in South and Central America, so I will have to come back to you when I have reduced it to species level. I tried to circle round and get a photograph that avoided tarmac as a backdrop at which point the animal keeled over and died.

We were exploring the grass and looking at hoppers and spiders when JP pointed out a brown bird which had flushed from nearby and was disappearing into the reeds by a small bridge. It looked exciting and we left the insects to have a look. JP found it again, creeping slowly through the tangle of reeds and we were able to discount Virginia Rail and identify it as a King Rail.

We didn’t quite close the circle back at the Visitor’s Centre, but turned up towards the barge quay. Gaily painted barges take trippers out onto the main lake and we were ruing the clock today as our time was limited. The lake was very active with a large flock of waders, plenty of ducks and herons in greater numbers than the rest of the reserve.

The waders were Long-billed Dowitchers (but I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without prejudice) with a couple of Black-necked Stilt and Killdeer thrown in. Ducks included American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Cinnamon Teal. A Vermillion Flycatcher continually dropped onto the water hyacinth in front of us to pick insects from the floating weed.

An Osprey flew over in a clumsy attempt to catch fish. Its approach was text-book with talons extended, but the plunge appeared to be inexperienced as the bird ended up deep in the water each time and had to fight its way back into the air. Perhaps its intended prey was deep beneath the surface.

A Peregrine added to the excitement across the lake. Clouds of American Avocet and Black-winged Stilts rose from the shallows as the falcon made passes across the lake. It spotted a bird with a weakness and returned time after time, skimming across the surface trying to catch it, but all the action was very distant and we could not see whether it was successful. In the confusion, some peeps were flushed, but they were too distant for me to identify. I suspect that they were Least Sandpipers.

A trip out on the barges would have brought us much closer to where the birds were resting, but I could not say whether our approach would scare them off (there is a tourist area of Xochimilco Town where barges carry trippers around the canals accompanied by mariachi bands. I assume that these barges, despite their bright colours are more discreet). Given more time, it would have been possible to have circled around the barge lagoon and found a better vantage further up the lake, but the clock was running down and we had to start making tracks towards home. A Buff-bellied Flycatcher sat well in a bank-side willow.

We followed the edge of the lake for a while before cutting back to the path with the arches that leads back to the main gate.

Some taxi drivers seem unsure of exactly where the Parque Ecologico de Xochimilco is. The odd tower near the gate can be used to confirm that you have arrived at the right place.
We took the Metro train to Tasquena (3 Pesos each) at the end of the Blue Line. From there we caught the Tren Ligero to its last stop at Xochimilco (also 3 Pesos one way).

On our return, we crossed the road using the footbridge (here we found another odd tower very similar to the one at the entrance to the parque, but it is unlikely to be confused) and caught a taxi that took us to Tren Ligero station, Periferico. It is closer to the park, but a taxi rank was not obvious at Periferico station. Taxis cost between 40 and 60 Pesos.

Birds seen; 44

American Wigeon 40, Cinnamon Teal 10, Northern Shoveler 15, Green-winged Teal 20, Ring-necked Duck 1, Pied-billed Grebe 8, American White Pelican 5, Great Blue Heron 8, Great Egret 10, Snowy Egret 4, Green Heron 2, Black-crowned Night Heron 2, White-faced Ibis 3, Turkey Vulture 4, Osprey 1, Red-tailed Hawk 1, American Kestrel 1, King Rail 1, Common Gallinule 15, American Coot 100, Killdeer 6, Black-necked Stilt 120, American Avocet 40, Long-billed Dowitcher 150, Mourning Dove 4, Inca Dove 4, Buff-breasted Flycatcher 2, Black Phoebe 1, Vermillion Flycatcher 15, Tropical Kingbird 1, Cassin’s Kingbird 15, Marsh Wren 3, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 1, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1, Curve-billed Thrasher 2, Common Yellow-throat 1, Yellow-rumped Warbler 12, Wilson’s Warbler 3, Canyon Towhee 4, Song Sparrow 4, Red-winged Blackbird 2, Great-tailed Grackle 6, House Finch 25.


Other posts from Xochimilco can be seen at the links below;

Visit the dedicated Central and South American Page for more posts from Mexico including UNAM Botanical Gardens and Bosque de Tlalpan

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Desierto de Los Leones, Mexico City, November 2012

My colleague JP joined me today for a trip to the pine/oak forests of Desierto de Los Leones in the mountains above Mexico City. It was a quiet day in the forest, but I cannot say whether an exciting earthquake early that morning had dampened the birds’ appetites, or J’s hi-vis shorts had scared them off. Red warblers still proved to be reliable and were seen in each party along with Mexican Chickadee and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The number of parties was much reduced from my previous visits and each feeding flock was smaller with fewer species.

It was cold when the taxi dropped us at a mountain hut approximately 2.5kms along the road (Google Earth ref; 19°18'18.83"N 99°18'29.80"W), but less than a kilometre southeast across the valley from the Carmelite convent. The sun was just touching the tops of the trees across the valley, but the road remained shaded and gloomy. Our priorities were set by being chilly and underdressed.

The first party, with the Red Warbler, Mexican Chickadee and Ruby-crowned Warbler stalwarts, was augmented by a Hairy Woodpecker and a Brown Creeper. The distinctive call of the Brown-backed Solitaire jangled back and forth across the valley, but the birds could not be seen. I had assured J that they were fairly common and we would probably find one later, but despite hearing it numerous times, we never managed to pin one down.

A stream passes under the road and we were surprised to find the area quite devoid of bird life. We had reached a section of road blessed by the weak morning sun and we were able to stop for a while as J’s flip-flopped toes came back to life. We reached the convent as one of the cafés opened for business and we stopped to warm up for a while. I should have learned my lesson from last time when a large breakfast reduced my capacity for lung expansion in the thin atmosphere at 3000m, but having Sherpa J along to carry the brick-like field guide was a big help.

A path leads uphill from the convent, past the hermitages, for about 1km before meeting an unmade road. The sun had a chance to light some of the birds here which were feeding in lower branches. Even so, they remained aloof and photos had to be taken through the leaves and branches. A Slaty-throated Redstart proved to be the most accommodating of them all.

We returned to the convent and continued downhill via a path to the left of the building as we approached it. This area often gives up a Green-striped Brush-finch as it did today. Further down a small party included a Crescent-chested Parula and a Golden-browed Warbler.

The path eventually leads down to a village and a junction with a road on which a taxi can be readily found. Keep to the right at the first junction and go straight across onto the cobbled road at the stream crossing. The village and neighbourhood at the bottom of the hill did not give us cause to fear for our safety, but the descent is remote and lonely. It took approximately 3 hours from the convent by the time we stopped for a bowl of soup at a café on the lower slopes (Google Earth ref; 19°19'51.20"N 99°18'6.24"W).

If a visitor elects not to follow the path down from the convent, then they will have to arrange an alternative way home. Taxis pass through during the day, but not regularly and it would be as well not to have to depend on one chancing by. 

Birds seen; 13

 Acorn Woodpecker 2, Hairy Woodpecker 1, Mexican Chickadee 12, Brown Creeper 3, Golden-crowned Kinglet 1, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 12, American Robin 6, Crescent-chested Warbler 1, Golden-browed Warbler 3, Red Warbler 10, Slate-throated Redstart 4, Green-striped Brush-finch 1, Yellow-eyed Junco 8

For a previous post from Desierto deLos Leones, follow the link below;

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Autumn in Old England

While the leafers are singing the praises of New England in the Fall, let’s not forget Autumn in Old England.

Top billing in New England goes to the Acers with the Sugar Maple struck in lights, while the mighty Beech reigns supreme in the UK.

No country house of note would be without its Beech-lined drive for spectacular effect at this time of year.
The autumn leaves along the approach to Mote Park in Maidstone, Kent, showed beautifully with a low-slanting November sun.
Just beyond the end of the drive is the lake and since this is a bird blog after all, I took a moment to fulfil my obligation with a quick visit to see the Black-headed Gulls.

There are more links to Mote park at the links below;

Friday 16 November 2012

Parque Ecológico do Tietê, Sao Paulo, November 2012

Parque Ecológico do Tietê and a whole day were at my whim. A nagging feeling about my personal safety was the only thing that prevented me from actually skipping (that and the tripod-mounted camera). It is difficult to be discrete with a big lens and throughout the day I kept wondering whether it was worth carrying all my gear and making a potential target of myself. Seeing the results of my photographic endeavours, the answer must be a resounding “No!”

I turned left at the roundabout just inside the gate and headed for the picnic area by the boating lake at Google Earth ref; 23°29'32.04"S 46°31'23.56"W. On my last visit, this had been the hot-spot and it proved to be so again.

Agoutis, Coatis and Black Cappucchin Monkeys were found just behind the museum. At the forest edge, House Wren, Creamy-bellied Thrush and Crested Cardinal were quickly noted. On the ground, a pair of Masked Water Tyrants were collecting nesting materials and appeared to have chosen a spot to build in an bush overhanging the water.
Yellow-chinned Spinetails were further along with their project, but the materials they were using were much more rigid. The nest has a characteristic pattern and the birds use consistently sized twigs in its construction.
An emergent dead tree was popular with flycatchers. The distinctive silhouette of a Fork-tailed Flycatcher was easy, but a couple of other birds took a bit of looking at in the poor light. One was an Epaulet Oriole, another proved to be a Tropical Kingbird.
I recalled that a line of Bottlebrush Trees had been in flower on my previous visit (August 2009) and had been seething with Bananaquits and Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds. Without the blossoms, they were far fewer and further between.
Beyond the boating lake is an area of playing fields, mostly football pitches. Southern Lapwings were plentiful here and were joined in lesser numbers by Southern Caracara, Cattle Tyrants, Ruddy Ground-doves and a few Masked Water Tyrants. The trees between the pitches held another Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Tropical Kingbird. A small browny-yellowy-greyy, finchy bird, managed to evade identification.
The furthest pitch had lights and a small stand of concrete seating. It looked as if it doubled as a running track. The woods at the top end turned out to be another hot-spot. My first lifer of the day came in the shape of a Variegated Flycatcher. Campo Flicker, Smooth-billed Ani, House Wren Rufous-bellied Thrush and Orange-headed Tanager were also seen.

From here, it is possible to cut through to the marshy edges of the river. I was disappointed to see that the grass had grown high and that it was difficult to make out anything at all. I moved along the road a short distance to the left and found an opening onto the Rio Tietê. Common Gallinules, Picazuro Pigeons and Southern Lapwings could be seen upstream on a bank of mud and detritus.
There are maps along the path that describe the circular route. They also recommend that an anti-clockwise direction is followed. I had started out going the wrong way and took the decision to continue.  A few joggers, walkers and cyclists were conforming, but the park was quiet. Mostly patrons were lone joggers with a few family groups or couples. None of them looked as if they would be a threat, but since I was going against the flow, I was able to size them up as they approached and no-one was following me from behind.
I had been disappointed not to be able to see anything in the marsh, but a patch opened out as I reached the intersection at 3.5kms (Google Earth ref; 23°29'23.22"S 46°31'31.25"W). White-faced Whistling Duck, Rufous Whistling Duck, Brazilian Teal, Wattled Jacana and plenty of Common Gallinule were easy to see here. Closer inspection brought Smooth-billed Ani in the higher vegetation behind and Ruddy Ground-doves on bare patches.
Passerines could still be found in the trees and bushes lining the road. Greater Kiskadee and Yellow-chinned Spinetail were especially common along this stretch. An opening to the river revealed a family of Capybaras wallowing and sunbathing on a mudbank. A couple of youngsters were playing in the filthy water.
One looked as if he was suffering from a gunshot wound, but he was still keen to chase a flirty female until she sought out a more senior male and he chased off the wounded animal. As he watched the smaller male retreat, the master of the mud-bank clicked his teeth together as a parting gesture. A startling red and black Brazilian Tanager flew through as I watched.
Another open patch of marsh was found at the 2.5km mark as the road bends sharply. A Wattled Jacana came close. A loose gathering of dull-legged Lesser Yellowlegs fed with a side-swiping action that I had not noticed before, but I am reasonably confident of the ID. Masked Water Tyrants were common in this area.

There is an intersection here. I was travelling clockwise, so I kept to the right to stay on the main circular route. Most people conforming to the correct anti-clockwise direction would bear to the left. This took me southeast, away from the river. The trees were taller, in broader swathes and the birds became more foresty. A flock of Plush-crowned Jays passed through with Ruby-crowned Tanager, and a female Chestnut-vented Conebill. A bench gave me the chance to stop and watch White-spotted Woodpecker, Eared Dove and Chestnut–collared Sparrows feeding by the roadside.

A Neotropic Cormorant had caught a fish that would just not go down. Its neck was distorted by the meal but it didn’t seem at all concerned.

A daring foray down a side path brought a pair of Spix’s Spinetail and a second Furnariid that I was not able to reduce to species level. Smooth-billed Anis posed for the camera on a dead snag and at last gave me reason to be pleased that I had brought it with me.
A Snail Kite was perched on a dead tree in a roadside lake. I suspect that this may have been the bird of prey that had flown over earlier. Small pink blobs of snail eggs should have alerted me to the possibility.
I had now come full circle, but had perhaps an hour before I needed to head home, so I had another quick look at the hot-spot picnic area and added a few more species including Red-shouldered Macaw, Yellow-bellied Elaenia and Saffron Finch.
Black Capuchin Monkey
Birds seen; 54
White-faced Whistling Duck 11, Fulvous Whistling Duck 2, Brazilian Teal 30, Pied-billed Grebe 2, Neotropic Cormorant 20,Great Egret 5, Snowy Egret 5, Striated Heron 5, Black Vulture 60, Snail Kite 2, Southern Caracara 6, Common Gallinule 80, Southern Lapwing 60, Wattled Jacana 5, Lesser Yellowlegs 4, Picazuro Pigeon 30, Eared Dove 2, Ruddy Ground-dove 25, Red-shouldered Macaw 9, Guira Cuckoo 9, Smooth-billed Ani 25, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird 6, Amazon Kingfisher 1, Green Kingfisher 4, White-spotted Woodpecker 1, Campo Flicker 2, Rufous Hornero 10, Spix’s Spinetail 2, Yellow-chinned Spinetail 25, Yellow-billed Elaenia 3, Masked Water-tyrant 15, Cattle Tyrant 5, Great Kiskadee 20, Variegated Flycatcher 1, Tropical Kingbird 4, Fork-tailed Flycatcher 4, Plush-crested Jay 4, Blue-and-white Swallow 40, House Wren 8, Rufous-bellied Thrush 10, Creamy-bellied Thrush 7, Bananaquit 10, Orange-headed Tanager 3, Chestnut-vented Conebill 3, Ruby-crowned Tanager 3, Brazilian Tanager 3, Sayaca Tanager 30, Double-collared Seedeater 1, Saffron Finch 2, Red-crested Cardinal 6, Rufous-collared Sparrow 8, Shiny Cowbird 10, Epaulette Oriole 1, House Sparrow 6
Please be aware of the poverty that exists close to this site. Violent robbery is not uncommon in Sao Paulo and it would be wise to make personal security a prime consideration when visiting Parque Ecologico Do Tiete and at any time on public transport. A taxi would be safer, but there is no taxi rank close to the parque. A pick up for return must be arranged in advance.
It is possible to get back to the city by train from Eng Goulart station nearby. This is for information only in case of emergency only or taxi failing to show.
From the security gate at the parque, pass through the tunnel under the main road and turn right. Turn left after 400m. After 100m pass through the tunnel under the tracks. Turn left and the station, Eng Goulart, is 300m. There is not a taxi rank here. The line runs into the city and terminates at Bras Metro Station.
 Guira Cuckoo
A previous post from Park Ecologico do Tiete can be found at the link below;