Saturday 29 June 2013

Moraletakloof, Johannesberg, June 2013

Jeannie du Plessis and the Friends of Moraletakloof have spearheaded a project to open up Moraletakloof Nature Reserve to disabled people by campaigning and fund-raising to install wheelchair friendly facilities including toilets and a bird hide.

The new amenities were opened recently and Jeannie is justifiably proud of her efforts, but tells me that there is still a lot of work to do. The hide is currently accessed along the tarmac road, but Jeannie wants to improve the grade of more trails to make the approach more interesting and open up more diverse habitats to those with restricted mobility.

A Kurrichane Thrush joined us as we sat in the hide and Jeannie explained her plans to keep the reeds in check and to try and expose some open water. A Red-breasted Flufftail is occasionally heard here, but wouldn’t perform for us today.

We walked the trail that runs behind the hide as far as the dam. A Southern Boubou was seen and heard while Zebra, Springbok and Blesbok grazed on the slope opposite.

Thick-billed Weavers were common in small flocks and a Grassbird called as we passed.

The mammals here have become acclimatised to human presence and a small herd of Zebra allowed us a very close encounter.

As the light began to fade, we made our way back towards the car park, noting a small stand of Spotted Thick-knees on the way. I tried to get close for a picture in the dim light, but disturbed 2 of the birds which flushed to join the others further back and gave an intriguing tail display as they landed.

I can’t find a reference to a tail display in Spotted Thick-knees who more often use their contrasting wing patterns to show off.

Birds seen; 18
Ostrich 1, Cattle Egret 3, Sacred Ibis 35, Hadeda Ibis 15, Spotted Thick-knee 4, Crowned Lapwing 4, Red-eyed Dove 30, Ring-necked Dove 5, Grey Go-away-bird 6, Black-collared Barbet 2, Southern Boubou 2, Southern Fiscal 1, Pied Crow 4, Common Bulbul 8, Cape Robin-chat 6, Cape Wagtail 2, Cape Sparrow 5, Village Weaver 1, Grosbeak Weaver 25.

Previous post from Moraletakloof can be found at the links below;

Visit the dedicated African Page for more posts from Johannesberg including Tswaing Crater, Pilanesberg and Marievale.


Friday 28 June 2013

Close encounters in Johannesberg. June 2013

The most recent trip to Johannesberg brought some delightful close encounters with birds and mammals, or both at the same time.

Moraletakloof Nature Reserve is 92 hectares of wildlife sanctuary near Pretoria. I had visited to see the new disabled access hide there and was charmed by the Zebras which are very complacent to human visitors and allowed a very close approach.

In Pilanesberg, these White Rhinos appeared very relaxed and fed within 6 feet of my car. They were accompanied by Red-billed Ox-peckers and Fork-tailed Drongos. At the hide overlooking Mankwe Dam, Pied Kingfishers and Malachite Kingfishers showed off at very close quarters.

Most of the lapwings on the lawns of Walter Sisulu Botanic Gardens, to the west of Johannesberg, were a bit wary, but this Crowned Lapwing had chosen to sit close to a noisy picnic and didn’t seem at all bothered when I passed.

I will make links to the relevant posts as they are published.
Visit the dedicated Africa Page for more posts from Johannesberg.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Century Park, Shanghai, June 2013

Opinion differs about the opening hours of Century Park in Shanghai. Confusion may occur as the times vary according to the season (see below) and paid up members are allowed access before the public gates are open. I made a special note of the times but, as if there were some strange conspiracy, have misplaced the piece of paper. I recall that it opens at 07.00 between March (15th?) and November (15th?) and an hour later during the winter. It closes at 18.00 between March and November and an hour earlier during the winter.

I arrived just before 07.00 and the park opened shortly after I had paid my 10Yuan entrance fee. I watched the tai chi session as the local early risers brandished their swords in ritualised exercise and secretly wished that I had brought along my light-sabre so that I could have joined in. Century Park surrounds a canal and a lake in about 140 acres with a “Nature Reserve” in the middle. Birds were plentiful but the number of species was low. Most obvious were Light-vented Bulbul, Azure-winged Magpie and the hulking, local form of Eurasian Blackbird.

I took an anticlockwise route around the lake, starting from the entrance at Century Avenue at Google Earth ref; 31 12 47.97N 121 32 46.85E. The park has matured since I first came here and the military planting appears to have relaxed somewhat as the trees have filled out. Even so, there is still a structured, plantation feel. The bank-side vegetation has grown and softened the edges of the lake in the southwest corner, though the kerbstones marking the high-water mark remain. Most of the birds were very wary and close approach was difficult. Only a Long-tailed Shrike stopped long enough for a close-up.

A few dragonflies were up early and this one tempted me out onto a precarious rock to get a better view.  It looks like a Golden Flangetail, Ictinogomphus pertinax. If anyone cares to venture an opinion, I would be pleased to hear from you.

This section of the park was quite productive with Great Tits and Eurasian Tree Sparrows seen in the trees, Vinous-throated Parrotbills flushed from the reeds and Common Moorhens in the margins.

The Amphitheatre at the westernmost edge of the lake brought a few species, with White Wagtails and Red-billed Starlings adding to the list.

I followed the lake around until I reached the “Nature Reserve”. This area supposedly existed as a sanctuary for wildlife. Signs banned fishing, yet a fishing management office within the reserved area sold permits to fish here and threw their waste into the water behind the office. A sign revealed that aspirations were low in that “over a dozen” species of bird had been recorded on Bird Island.

Odonata were common here with Pied Skimmers, Pseudothemis Zonata, making up the bulk of the sightings. The males with the white face and white saddle jockeyed for position along the water’s edge while the females, with the yellow markings, preferred to stay higher up the bank.

The Asian Amberwing is a common species here and flies for much of the year.

There was a concession from the structured to the natural in a small wildflower meadow. Actually, the wildflower meadow was contained and managed, but just for a few moments as I passed through the charming feature, I was able to escape the controlled ranks and rows of plantings and enjoy an apparently spontaneous outburst of colour.
Birds seen; 15
Little Grebe 3, Little Egret 1, Chinese Pond Heron 1, Black-crowned Night Heron 3, Eurasian Moorhen 3, Spotted Dove 8, Long-tailed Shrike 8, Azure-winged Magpie 20, Great Tit 5, Light-vented Bulbul 40, Vinous-throated Parrotbill 4, Eurasian Blackbird 30, Red-billed Starling 13, White Wagtail 3, Eurasian Tree Sparrow 25.
There are a few entrances dotted around the perimeter of the park. I used the one on Century Avenue opposite the Century Park, Shanghai Metro Station on Line 2. As discussed earlier, there is a conspiracy to keep the opening times secret, but  I recall that it opens at 07.00 between March (15th?) and November (15th?) and an hour later during the winter. It closes at 18.00 between March and November and an hour earlier during the winter.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Doubletree by Hilton, Shanghai, June 2013

The gardens at the Doubletree Hotel by Hilton are small enough that it is possible to see from one side to the other without being obscured by the smog……Well, almost. They are picturesque in that bridgy, fishy, oriental style, but the birds preferred the rougher wasteland and allotments over the wall beyond the tennis court at Google Earth ref; 31 12 43.68N 121 31 49.83E.

Long-tailed Shrikes hawked from deliberately placed bamboo stakes and Chinese (Light-vented) Bulbuls warbled from the reeds near the vegetable plots where the road curves at a right angle. The plots are not shown on Google Earth, but an adjacent construction project has workers living on site and I suspect that they are taking advantage of a bit of spare ground to grow their own.

A small lawn in the gardens had attracted some Azure-winged Magpies and a huge Eurasian Blackbird. The local form of Turdus merula is the mandarinus race and is much bigger and shyer than the nominate which is singing outside my window as I write. More Chinese Bulbuls were seen in the gardens. They are the most commonly seen bird in the area.

I was about to pack up when a movement caught my eye and a Yellow-billed Grosbeak popped up from the undergrowth. I was surprised to see one as I had assumed that they were winter birds in this area. On checking (in case of eBird questions), it appears that they are, according to “A Field Guide to the Birds of China” (MacKinnon and Phillipps), a summer visitor to Shanghai.

Birds seen; 5
Long-tailed Shrike 3, Azure-winged Magpie 5, Light-vented Bulbul 6, Eurasian Blackbird 1, Yellow-billed Grosbeak 1.

The Doubletree Hotel by Hilton can be found in the Pudong District pf Shanghai.

Friday 14 June 2013

Terry Hershey Bike and Hike Trail, Houston, Texas, June 2013

The Terry Hershey Bike and Hike Trail (also known as the Buffalo Bayou Bike Trail) passes beneath Route 8 at its eastern end, opposite Briar Hill Drive, Houston (Google Earth ref; 29 45 46N 95 33 26W). It runs west for about 10 kms, but I only managed about half of that today before stopping to watch some Mississippi Kites hunting for flying insects along the bayou.

The paved trail follows the north bank of Buffalo Bayou, crossing over a couple of bridges that span incoming streams and under some main roads running north/south. On the north side of the trail are meadows and lightly wooded spots. I could hear plenty of Northern Cardinals, but none actually popped up to be counted. Blue Jays were heard more often than seen. Some of the meadows had been mown, but others had been specially allowed to grow with signs deploring the picking of wild flowers.

The first Mississippi Kite was seen as it perched in a dead tree by the trail bridge at Google Earth ref; 29 45 57.60N 95 35 5.39W. A second and third bird were gliding back and forth apparently keeping close to the course of the stream where they were catching flying insects. I took it that they were hunting for dragonflies, but closer inspection of the photos showed that the wings of the prey were much too short and blunt. One photo showed long antennae, so more likely, they were catching Katydids.

Usually, I would save a gallery-type post like this for 10,000 Birds, but they appear to be well catered for with at least two picture-rich posts, so I am keeping this one for Redgannet.

I took a lot of photos, but was generally disappointed considering the opportunities that I was given. 

One of the three was a young bird. It was showing its barred tail and patterned underside, indicating that it had been hatched during the previous year and was looking forward to its first full summer.

The dead tree here proved to be a productive spot, mind you, I stayed there for some time enjoying the kites. A Red-bellied Woodpecker made me look twice, the yellow staining on its face making me hope for something erstwhile unknown to science. A Great Crested Flycatcher dropped in and disputed perches with one of the Blue Jays that were keeping watch on the kites.

Further along the trail (beyond Dairy Ashford Rd.), I found two more kites gliding across the meadow and along the bayou, so I stopped and took even more pictures. I am guessing that these were different birds as the young individual was no longer present and Mississippi Kites are very tolerant of each other. They don’t defend territories and often nest in colonies so it would not be unreasonable to assume that there could be a few in the area. 
A fellow velocipedal Limey stopped to say “Hello” and told me that the kites are frequently seen along the bayou and that they breed south of the city. The kites I had been seeing today had returned recently and he had been seeing them regularly, which agrees with the eBird pattern of sightings for the area. 

I have had to delete a huge number of the shots. Mostly they were blurry and out of focus. Occasionally, the kites would power dive to catch an insect and I was unable to keep up with them. The contrast against a sunny sky was difficult to avoid, but that didn’t stop me enjoying the spectacle of the hunting birds as they caught prey and ate it on the wing. I still prefer to stop and see one bird well than have a long list at the end of the day.

Birds seen;
Great Blue Heron 1, Great Egret 2, Little Blue Heron 1, Cattle Egret 15, White Ibis 8, Turkey Vulture 8, Mississippi Kite 5, Cooper’s Hawk 3, White-winged Dove 8, Mourning Dove 7, Chimney Swift 35, Red-bellied Woodpecker 4, Pileated Woodpecker 1, Olive-sided Flycatcher 1, Great Crested Flycatcher 1, Loggerhead Shrike 2, Blue Jay 5, American Crow 1, Barn Swallow 8, American Robin 5, Northern Mockingbird 7, Great-tailed Grackle 30, House Sparrow 10.

For a previous post from Terry Hershey Bike and Hike Trail, follow the link below;

Visit the dedicated USA Page for other posts from Houston including George Bush Park and Houston Arboretum.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Maidstone Cemetery, Maidstone, Kent, June 2013

Last week I had occasion to visit Maidstone Cemetery and couldn’t help but notice that it might be interesting to take a walk in different circumstances. It is an old graveyard, with headstones dating back to the mid 1800s, set in around 200 acres to the south of Kent’s county town. The main entrance is from the Sutton Road at Google Earth ref; 51 15 20N 0 31 57E.

The cemetery does not actually include bird watching on its menu of services and the gate opening times reflect this, but it does provide a very quiet location to enjoy a walk among mature trees and the grass has been left long with quite a selection of wildflowers growing there. Without visiting regularly, I cannot say that the plots are allowed to grow like this throughout the season, but today there was a real meadow-like feel to it.

And there were birds. Woodpigeons and Blackbirds were very common. Some of the lawns around the entrance had been mown and proved popular with Song Thrushes.

Chaffinches and Greenfinches sang from the tops of trees, Coal Tits foraged in the manicured Yew bushes and a Green Woodpecker showed briefly on a headstone.

Birds seen;
Black-headed Gull 1, Herring Gull 2, Stock Dove 5, Common Woodpigeon 40, Eurasian Collared Dove 2, Green Woodpecker 1, Eurasian Magpie 2, Carrion Crow 5, Coal Tit 3, Great Tit 1, Eurasian Blue Tit 1, Eurasian Wren 1, Eurasian Blackbird 12, Song Thrush 3, European Starling 4, Dunnock 1, Common Chaffinch 4, European Greenfinch 2.

Friday 7 June 2013

Central Park, New York, June 2013

By chance, Mrs Gannet was in New York this week. Her enthusiasm for shopping is such that the Association of Fifth Ave Retailers club together to fly her over at least once a year and her visit coincided with my working trip to the city. When she is in town, sightseeing, wining, dining and shopping trump bird watching, so my visit to Central Park had to wait. After an edgy stand-off, she reluctantly gave way to the “Celebrate Israel Parade” and popped back to the hotel for a nap.

It was a hot day, way above the predicted highs from the BBC Weather page. I arrived into the park at noon on a Sunday towards the end of a parade, so the park was not at its birding best. It was very full of people, but birds were scarce. A Great Egret stalked the shallows at The Pond in the southeastern corner of the park.

I decided to explore beyond my normal area today and pushed past the reservoir, through North Woods as far as Harlem Mere. A small bridge crosses a shallow stream that is fed from the reservoir and American Robins joined European Starlings for a cooling splash.

Rangers were offering free canoe hire at the mere and I would have been tempted out onto the water to get closer views of the dragonflies along the edge of the reeds, but they were just about to pack up for the afternoon.
North Woods was a very pleasant area to walk in. On a hot, busy afternoon such as this, children and dogs splashed in the stream joining The Pool to Harlem Mere. On a quieter day, the Loch Walking Path might be a very birdy stretch. A Baltimore Oriole was seen flying up to its nest. A Warbling Vireo nest hung from the fork on a slender branch. From this angle it looks as if it is resting above the branch.

Other nesting birds noted today included Starling, American Robin and Red-tailed Hawks.

I was told that the hawks have three chicks in their nest on 75th Ave & 5th St. this year. Two were perched up on the rim, looking out across the park, looking as if fledging day was fast approaching. We were able to return on the Wednesday (June 5th) and watch for a while. An adult bird was sitting on a railing a couple of blocks to the north and was showing very little interest in the chicks’ behaviour. We might have been exceptionally lucky and seen them fledge, but they didn’t seem keen today.
Birds seen; 22

Canada Goose 45, Mallard 25, Ruddy Duck 1, Double-crested Cormorant 18, Great Egret 1, Red-tailed Hawk 3, Ring-billed Gull 6, Herring Gull 85, Greater Black-backed Gull 15, Mourning Dove 5, Chimney Swift 2, Northern Flicker 1, Warbling Vireo 3, Red-eyed Vireo 1, Blue Jay 4, Barn Swallow 3, American Robin 30, European Starling 50, Northern Cardinal 8, Common Grackle 40, Baltimore 2, House Sparrow 200.

See the links below for more posts from Central Park;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from New York.