Saturday 27 July 2013

Parque Nacional de Tlalpan, Mexico, July 2013

It was Saturday morning and the Parque Nacional de Tlalpan was likely to get very busy. Even at the crack of dawn, there is great activity on the jogging track here, but one can usually leave that quickly behind by heading uphill. The rarified air of Mexico does not incline me to jog and it would appear that most people prefer the flat track at the park entrance. The higher elevations were a test for me at walking pace and a few hardy runners made it up the slopes, but on the whole, it was much quieter.

The Grey Silky Flycatcher had eluded me so far on this trip and I was hoping to catch it here, but it was not to be found. I veered right, (that’s mostly west) at the entrance and headed up the main road. Very soon there is a sharp bend in the road with a small garden and a kids’ playground.

A Rufous-backed Thrush was my first bird. It looked like a young one. It was quickly followed by a dashing White-eared Hummingbird. A family of Bullock’s Orioles lured me into the bushes on an obscure track which came out by a small shrine. Curve-billed Thrashers and Canyon Towhees were seen here before I found myself back on the road and heading uphill again. A track leads right from the next junction and can often be productive. This morning it brought a Black-headed Grosbeak. 

 The trail turns down a slope, then a left turn continues the climb. The excitement came from a song that I could not place. The bird was being awkward and staying out of sight, but was singing confidently close by. It started with a couple of scratchy peeps then tumbled down the scale (thanks to  for allowing me to use the recording as a link). After what seemed like ages, I finally tracked him down and was rewarded with a lifer in the form of a Rusty-crowned Ground-sparrow .

 Just beyond this a Blue-throated Hummingbird gave me a good view and another excuse for the red pen. This came as a shock as I am sure that I have seen them before. Bewick’s Wrens were common and vocal today and the Rufous-capped Warblers still respond well to a good pish.

A slightly hysterical call alerted me to an Acorn Woodpecker (thanks again to

The roller coasters were running today and the Bewick’s Wrens appeared to have incorporated the sound of the ratchet pulling the cart up the first incline into their song.

The track follows the wall of the Six Flags Amusement Park, but I decided to cut back down a path that leads back to the main road. An area that looks as if it may once have been an orchard (Google Earth ref; 19 17 38.63N 99 12 3.93W) gives a fine view back over the city and brought a Cinnamon-breasted Flower-piercer, more Rufous-capped Warblers and a Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

 Further down a Rufous-capped Brush-finch put in a very shy appearance.

Back at the bottom of the hill a patch of bougainvillea brought another flower-piercer, and a great view of a Berylline Hummingbird feeding from the flowers.

Birds seen; 22

Blue-throated Hummingbird 1, Broad-billed Hummingbird 5, Berylline Hummingbird 3, White-eared Hummingbird 2, Acorn Woodpecker 1, Western Scrub-jay 2, Barn Swallow 8, Bushtit 3, Bewick’s Wren 12, Rufous-backed Robin 1, American Robin 1, Curve-billed Thrasher 3, Rufous-capped Warbler 6, Cinnamon-breasted Flower-piercer 2, Rufous-capped Brush-finch 3, Rufous-crowned Sparrow 1, Rusty-crowned Ground-sparrow 1, Canyon Towhee 10, Black-headed Grosbeak 2, Bronzed Cowbird 3, Bullock’s Oriole 6, House Finch 6, House Sparrow 1

Take the subway to Universidad and take a 5 minute (Pesos 20) cab from there. It is worth having a mental map of the area as some taxi drivers cannot find this very popular park. Ask for the intersection of Zacatapetl and Calle Camino Santa Teresa.

For previous posts from Tlalpan, follow the links below;

Visit the dedicated South and CentralAmerica Page for more posts from Mexico.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Desierto de los Leones, Mexico, July 2013

Judging by the popularity of the name around here, my money is on Carlos for the new heir to the throne. Unlikely, I grant you, but not out of the question.

The taxi driver, Carlos, dropped me short of the convent on this visit to Desierto de los Leones. I had no idea how short; nor did he, as neither of really knew where we were. I managed to pinpoint the location on Google Earth when I got home and found that it was less than a kilometre away (cut and paste these coordinates into Google Earth  99°19'3.77"W 19°18'31.74"N).

A small bird had flown across the road in front of us and the mountain shelter at the sharp bend looked like a good place to jump out. Birds were apparent immediately with calls and songs ringing through the misty forest. A Spotted Towhee was the first bird seen followed closely by an Olive Warbler and a Mexican Chickadee.

I back-tracked along the road for a short way and a party of birds came down to investigate my pishing. They are very responsive here. There was a steep, bushy bank on the upper side of the road and the party spent 15 – 20 minutes working their way along, gleaning insects from the underside of leaves as they went, seemingly unperturbed by the closeness of the large vehicles that brushed by.

Bushtits made up the bulk of the flock, but the stars were the Golden-browed Warbler and of course, the Red Warbler. The Golden-browed Warbler above looked rather tatty and dishevelled. It struck me that he wore the wide-eyed staring expression of new fathers everywhere.

The Red Warbler was not entirely red across its back. It appeared to have a bit of olive and cinnamon mixed in. I saw a juvenile bird later on with an all-over ginger look and grey cheeks.
These were two of my main target birds for the day. Both were inquisitive and responded very well to pishing. I was able to approach quite closely and took most of these pictures from the middle of the road. I had to set priorities between missing the opportunity of close encounters with these beautiful birds and getting knocked down by the traffic.

I usually mug up on the subtleties of identification during a break on the plane ride, but had forgotten to bring my field guide on this occasion. I tentatively put down a Tropical Parula, which I have seen here before, but once I got back to the book, the eyebrow very clearly made it a Crescent-chested Warbler. Actually, it was a relief not to have to carry the bulky book around at the dizzying altitude of nearly 10,000 ft.

The jangly, descending call of the Brown-backed Solitaire (another target species) was heard all morning, but they can be tricky to see amongst the pines. One was singing full voice from very close to the road and I spent a long time trying to find it, eventually tracking it down to a very high perch, almost into the low clouds.

The sun came out occasionally and made life very pleasant, but the morning had been quite chilly. I would definitely recommend a warm top at any time of year up in the mountains during the early hours.

At the convent, restaurants have sprung up to serve traditional Mexican fare. Carlos, the waiter, led me to a table from which I could see Yellow-eyed Juncos feeding in the grass.
The first roll of thunder came as I started up the trail above the convent. For those with a low haemoglobin count, or a restricted lung capacity, horses are for hire in the car park.

A ranger, Carlos, approached and warned me of the dangers of walking in the forest during a storm and advised that I stay out until it was over. I decided to head back down the mountain. My plan would have been to walk down the path that leads downhill from the left side of the convent, but that would take me through a different forested area with the same dangers during the storm. Not wanting to take any more risks, I waylaid a couple of student film-makers who looked as if they were headed for town and scrounged a lift from them. They very kindly dropped me in Mexico City where I was able to find my own way home.

Taxis do occasionally pass the convent and an irregular bus heads to the villages at either end of the road, but getting back home from Desierto de los Leones can be a little uncertain at times.

Birds seen; 14

Mexican Chickadee 10, Bushtit 60, Brown Creeper 4, Golden-crowned Kinglet 4, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1, Brown-backed Solitaire 1, White-throated Thrush 1, American Robin 2, Olive Warbler 5, Crescent-chested Warbler 3, Golden-browed Warbler 8, Red Warbler 6, Spotted Towhee 4, Yellow-eyed Junco 3.

Visit the dedicated South and Central American page for more posts from Mexico including Xochimilco and ParqueNacional de Tlalpan

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Parque Ecológico de Xochimilco, Mexico, July 2013

Here we are almost at the end of July and not a single post for the month yet. That’s what happens when birthdays, The Ashes and a new series of Breaking Bad coincide to take me away from the blog. Just as I think I may have a spare morning, I have to nurse Mrs Gannet through a hangover in celebration of the new Royal baby (“it’s a boy”, she tells me through tears laced with Chablis). I have lagged three trips behind and must be brief to catch up before another prince is born.

A visit to Parque Ecológico de Xochimilco allows a chap to have a relative lie-in as it does not open until 09.00. This morning I arrived at 09.15 and found the gates still firmly shut. After calling to a guard, he let me in and a sleepy gate attendant appeared and slouched across the forecourt to relieve me of 25 Pesos (@20 Pesos = £1). The visitor centre staff was more alert and quickly presented me with my complimentary camera permit which needs to be displayed in the park and returned before leaving.

I began by exploring the lake behind the visitors centre; Lago Acitlalin. A Great Egret hunted around the edges, Mexican Mallard floated in the middle and a few Ruddy Duck made a small raft on the far side.

Bridges cross little bays, but are beginning to show signs of age. From the first bridge, I saw a Green Heron on the bent over reeds, carefully watching for small fish.

The second bridge provided a nice perch for a Great Egret with a Pied-billed Grebe close in.

Lesser Goldfinches were common and obvious throughout the reserve, matched in numbers only by the House Finch and the Great-tailed Grackles.

A few Bronzed Cowbirds were seen and this one was startling with his red eyes and his hackles raised to greet a female flying in.

I made a quick circuit of the lake and noted many of the common species such as the Vermillion Flycatcher, Canyon Towhee and Song Sparrow, then headed up the path that runs along the bank of the larger lake (Google Earth ref; 19 17 45.82N 99 5 40.79W).

A Broad-billed Hummingbird chased around the blossoms of the trail-side shrubs before settling and allowing me a shot.

The large lake is known as Lago Huetzalin and many herons and egrets are usually seen here. Today, some White-faced Ibis and a Tricolored Heron added to their numbers.

A Great Egret had caught and was struggling with a large fish as a Black-crowned Night Heron looked on. I got the feeling that the night heron was aggrieved by the egret and wondered if it had been dispossessed of the fish. Once the egret managed to get the fish down its throat, the night heron returned to the spot to see if anything was left, but was disappointed. The egret looked full and smug.

Common Yellowthroats were seen around the marshy areas, a pair of Blue Grosbeaks passed quickly through and Curve-billed Thrashers were seen patrolling the edges of open spaces. 

I returned to the visitor’s centre via Lake Acitlalin and noted a few flycatchers on the way. A Sociable Flycatcher may be slightly beyond its normal range and may provoke the local eBird arbiter to shoot off an email, but the Tropical Kingbird and the Cassin’s Kingbird shouldn’t trouble him. A small concession sells cool drinks and spicy snacks. I stopped for a moment on the veranda to take a drink just in time to see a Broad-billed Hummingbird alighting on the showy plants (irises?) there.

Birds seen; 40

Mexican Mallard 8, Ruddy Duck 8, Pied-billed Grebe 5, Neotropic Cormorant 1, American White Pelica
n 3, Great Blue Heron 1, Great Egret 30, Snowy Egret 8, Tricolored Heron 1, Green Heron 5, Black-crowned Night Heron 6, White-faced Ibis 6, Common Gallinule 12, American Coot 40, Black-necked Stilt 15, American Avocet 8, Mourning Dove 2, Inca Dove 2, Monk Parakeet 2, Broad-billed Hummingbird 4, Beryline Hummingbird 5, Vermillion Flycatcher 10, Social Flycatcher 1, Tropical Kingbird 2, Cassin’s Kingbird 2, Barn Swallow 30, Bush Tit 2, Bewick’s Wren 7, House Wren 1, Curve-billed Thrasher 4, Common Yellowthroat 3, Canyon Sparrow 8, Song Sparrow 20, Blue-grosbeak 2, Red-winged Blackbird 10, Great-tailed Grackle 60, Bronzed Cowbird 6, House Finch 50, Lesser Goldfinch 50, House Sparrow 15.

Visit the dedicated South and Central America Page for more posts from Mexico including; Desierto de Los Leones and El Jardim Botanico.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Walter Sisulu Botanic Gardens, Johannesberg, South Africa, June 2013

Mrs Gannet is a shopper and she is able to intensify her pleasures by sending me on little errands “to keep me out of mischief”. Vicarious shopping: Does she not realise that any moment spent in Africa, but not in the bush is time poorly spent? Anyway, I had to keep a close eye on the time during a quick visit to Walter Sisulu Botanic Gardens. I arrived shortly before opening time and took a quick sweep of the car park.

Laughing Doves, Red-eyed Doves and Ring-necked Doves made up the usual Streptopelia hat-trick. An African Olive (Rameron) Pigeon brought a bit of Colombidae variety.

The lawns just through the entrance gate were notable for bringing the common Vanellus threesome with Blacksmith Lapwing, Crowned Plover and African Wattled Lapwing living crown by wattle. Is there not competition for the same nesting and feeding resources between these species?

They seemed aloof from each other, yet tolerant of each other’s presence. Mind you it is the winter season in South Africa at the moment. If you have any plover experience, it would be interesting to know how well these species get on in close proximity during the breeding season.

The Sasol-sponsored hide can be found overlooking a small dam at Google Earth ref; 26 5 5.25S 27 50 36.68E. A brick path leads over the bridge and through the scrub, leading towards the hide. I stopped to look at some Speckled Mousebirds and allowed the quickstrap-style shoulder sling to take the weight of the camera for a moment. There was a sudden, sickening loss of pressure on my shoulder followed by a crunch as the camera hit the bricks. The UV filter saved the day by taking the force of the blow and protecting the lens glass, but smashed and buckled into the body of the lens in the process. It is time to give up on these magic rings. The shoulder sling has a locked karabiner on the strap clipped to a closed ring screwed tightly into the camera body. It should be secure but has failed on a couple of occasions now and I am a loss to explain how they come apart. It is like the magical split rings trick, but more expensive.

The camera was still useable and an African Darter sat up well and nicely lit at the hide. Weavers fed in the reeds close by and I am putting them down as Village Weavers, though I had become slightly pre-occupied with camera and could not be bothered to give them too much attention in their winter garb.

The one pictured above is possibly a Golden-crowned Bishop. Given the streaky crown and yellowish buff supraloral stripe, that is my best bet. A tiny Malachite Kingfisher warranted far more notice when it came to perch in the shade of the hide, just below me.

The gardens are noted for a delightful waterfall and a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles that nest on the cliff there each year. The eagles were not seen today, but the nest can be seen to the left of the waterfall. A camera sponsored by Africam watches the eagles during their nesting cycle and can be viewed at this link. The eaglecam is offline during the winter but there are other cameras strategically placed at waterholes that regularly host large mammals and bush radio to help hone your bird sound recognition skills if you are planning a trip to South Africa.

There were more lapwings on the lawns around the waterfall including a young Blacksmith Lapwing. Kurrichane Thrushes were also seen pulling worms and insects from the ground softened by regular sprinkling.

The exit takes you through a small botanical nursery that is called home by a Bokmakerie  which was easy enough to spot on the bricked path without its clear whistling call. Thank you to for their permission to embed the recording.

Birds seen; 28

Helmeted Guineafowl 8, Little Grebe 1, African Darter 1, Hadada Ibis 1, Gabar Goshawk 2, Blacksmith Plover 6, Crowned Lapwing 4, Wattled Lapwing 5, Rameron Pigeon 3, Red-eyed Dove 4, Ring-necked Dove 8, Laughing Dove 3, Grey Go-away-bird 2, Speckled Mousebird 14, Malchite Kingfisher 1, Crested Barbet 1, Black-collared Barbet 1, Cardinal Woodpecker 1, Black-backed Puffback 2, Bokmakerie 1, Common Fiscal 5, Pied Crow 9, Common Bulbul 15, Cape Robin-chat 2, Kurrichane Thrush 3, African Pied Starling 4, White-breasted Sunbird 2, Cape Sparrow 15.

Cape Robin-chat
For a previous post from Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, see the following link;

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

Sunday 7 July 2013

Pilanesberg NP Part 2, Johannesberg, South Africa, June 2013

I am having trouble with Blogger and wonder if the original Pilanesberg post is too big. So I have cut it into two parts hoping that the text and photos can live together in harmony rather than trying to push each other off the page.

 This is Part 2.
Part 1 can be found at this link and contains the bits about the close encounter with White Rhinos and a visit to the hide at Mankwe Dam.

I had enjoyed a glorious couple of hours at the hide at Mankwe Dam before reluctantly moving on to the Pilanesberg Centre. There is a restaurant and gift shop at the old colonial building in the centre of the park. A salt lick and a small waterhole make this an attractive spot for animals to call in too. This morning the air was filled with dust from an active Wildebeeste herd.

A strong fence is designed to keep the Elephants from getting too close and damaging  the building or perhaps a diner. It makes a good perch for many birds including the Marico Flycatchers which were making the most of the flies often to be found in the proximity of Wildebeeste.

Fork-tailed Drongos and Yellow-billed Hornbills also found the cable to be a fine place to perch for a while.

Out on the short grass and dust in front of the verandah, Kalahari Scrub-robins shared space with Sabota Larks.

Red-faced Mouse-birds kept watch from a low acacia bush as Giraffes approached from the distance.

From mid-morning, the excitement slowed a little. A highlight was a bone-sucking Giraffe. Was this an attempt to increase its calcium intake *(see below)? Porcupines need a lot of calcium to produce their spines and are known to gnaw bones to get it. A second giraffe was salivating spectacularly and appeared not to be able to close its mouth. I suspected that it was also chewing a bone and was concerned that I might have to step in with the Heimlich manoeuvre at any moment.

*Nicely hedged huh? if in doubt ask, a rhetorical question that no-one knows the answer to.
After a few minutes on the internet it became clear that the answer was not as obvious as one might think. Many people went with Calcium deficiency, but a few insisted that the giraffes were in search of Phosphorus.
Giraffes need the two elements to build their unique skeleton. It is especially important for young giraffe as they grow, but there is also a daily requirement that must be fulfilled. The Calcium needs can be mostly achieved through browsing, but it is unclear where the giraffes find enough Phosphorus to maintain the required levels. Osteophagia was assumed to be the answer, until....

"Can Osteophagia provide Giraffes with Calcium and Phosphorus?" - A study by Bredin Skinner and Mitchell, 2008.

In their study, Bredin, Skinner and Mitchell assessed how much Calcium and Phosphorus could likely be obtained by sucking and ingesting bones. They concluded that the amount of minerals that may be digested into the system was negligible. So I ask the question again, "why were they sucking bones? 

A Springbok stood for pictures along the northern shore of the dam.

It is winter in South Africa at the moment, but the day still reached a respectable 20C. The nights are chilly, but the warmth of midday was enough to encourage the animals to seek a little shade and a few moments rest. I passed around the northeastern part of the park and was returning towards Mankwe Dam along the main road from Manyara Gate.
Capped Wheatear
A Black-tipped Mongoose crossed the road. Since I was introduced to the superstition in India, I have held that a mongoose sighting will bring good luck. A second mongoose a few moments later promised an exciting afternoon, if you believe that kind of thing.
I wanted to follow the winding road that passes through some likely looking kopjes; great Leopard habitat. It was still early afternoon and the chances of finding Leopards at this time of day were slim, but I was hoping that my mongooses might swing things in my favour.
I scoured the kopjes around the first two bends and was almost put off at the third when the road became very rough and I wondered if it would be passable.

 With a bit of a run-up, I made it up the slope just as the Leopard stepped off the road on the next curve. I was thrown into a quandary. Should I stop and watch, or drive closer and risk spooking it? I took a rotten shot through the windscreen as it moved across the corner and headed out of sight.
It took a cursory look over its shoulder as I caught up, then crossed a tiny patch of sunlight before melting into the bushes and rocks of the kopje.

Suddenly the road condition was unimportant and I quickly reversed. The rutted, winding road doubled back on itself and I hoped to see the cat again as it came out of the kopje on the other side. I waited quietly for ages and checked the dust in the road for prints. Nothing. I was the only car to have passed this way for about 30 minutes, so her tracks would have been obvious in the deep dust. She must have decided that it was too early to be up and settled down in the shade of the rocks for a nap.

Timing is everything. On safari as well as when you are birding a moment taken here or there can put you in the right place at the right time through no skill or knowledge on your part, just luck.
Was a Leopard worth 2 mongooses, or did I still have one to use up?

If I had not stayed for a while hoping to see the cat again I would have sailed past Sheena and her tiny baby before they came into sight over a rise. The herd of Elephants were feeding on their way to the dam. The large female with the radio collar is known as Sheena and her baby had been born just one week earlier.

It looked very confident for such a young age and played excitedly with the other calves. His mother appeared very relaxed and they nonchalantly passed my car within a tail’s swish.
While the older calves used their trunks to throw dust over their backs, the tiny one had not yet mastered control of his trunk and was unable to follow their example. Instead, he launched himself into the drift of dust at the side of the road and wriggled. That was worth his weight in mongooses.

A researcher arrived and told me the family history and pointed out various members of the herd.

The rest of the evening could not live up to the afternoon, except for watching from the Eagle’s Nest picnic site (on the hillside at Google Earth ref; 25 16 10.92S 27 7 35.85E) as the elephants continued towards the dam, meeting up with a few more as they went.

Some Zebras became very bold as the sun sank behind the hilltops in the west and the light began to fade.

It was dark by the time I reached the Bakubung Gate again at 18.00. It was only then that I realised that I had not ventured to the west of the road at all. The whole day had been to the east and I had not even covered half of the park.


Birds seen; 78

Ostrich 1, White-faced Whistling Duck 4, Egyptian Goose 8, Spur-winged Goose 3, African Black Duck 5, Yellow-billed Duck 2, Helmeted Guineafowl 12, Crested Francolin 20, Natal Francolin 8, Little Grebe 25, White-breasted Cormorant 20, Long-tailed Cormorant 10, African Darter 4, Hamerkop 1, Grey Heron 3, Great Egret 1, Little Egret 1, Sacred Ibis 200, African Spoonbill 1, Osprey 1, African Fish-Eagle 3, Brown Snake-Eagle 1, Verreaux’s Eagle 3, Black Crake 2, Blacksmith Plover 10, Three-banded Plover 7, Black-winged Stilt 3, African Jacana 1, African Snipe 2, Red-eyed Dove 15, Ring-necked Dove 6, Laughing Dove 4, Grey Go-away-bird 35, African Palm-swift 2, Red-faced Mousebird 20, Malachite Kingfisher 2, Giant Kingfisher 1, Pied Kingfisher 7, Lilac-breasted Roller 2, Eurasian Hoopoe 1, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill 2, Black-collared Hornbill 1, Cardinal Woodpecker 1, Crimson-breasted Gonolek 2, Fork-tailed Drongo 6, Pied Crow 5, Sabota Lark 5, Pearl-breasted Swallow 5, Common Bulbul 40, Rock-loving Cisticola 2, Tawny-flanked Prinia 2, Rufous-vented Warbler 4, Arrow-marked Babbler 7, Marico Flycatcher 7, Kalahari Scrub-robin 3, Red-backed Scrub-robin 3, White-throated Robin-chat 5, White-browed Robin-chat 3, Stonechat 2, Familiar Chat 2, Capped Wheatear 1, Groundscraper Thrush 1, Kurrichane Thrush 3, Common Myna 2, Cape Glossy Starling 15, Red-billed Oxpecker 8, Cape Wagtail 6, African Pied Wagtail 1, African Pipit 1, Golden-breasted Bunting 5, Yellow-fronted Canary 25, Cape Sparrow 15, African Petronia 1,  Southern Grey-headed Sparrow 4, Village Weaver 5, Common Waxbill 20, Blue-breasted Cordonbleu 6, Green-winged Pytilia 1.

Mammals seen;

African Elephant, White Rhinoceros, Leopard, Brindled Wildebeeste, Impala, Zebra, Steenbok, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Springbok, Black-tipped Mongoose, Baboon, Warthog, Ground Squirrel, Dassie, Reedbuck, Waterbuck, Eland, Kudu, Mountain Reedbuck.

For previous posts from Pilanesberg, follow the links below;