Monday 18 April 2016

Rose-ringed or Ring-necked Parakeets

April 14 2016 Walton-on-Thames Surrey UK

I left Gloucestershire (pronounced Glostershire) for Surrey and made my way to the upscale town of Walton-on-Thames. Walton is south of Heathrow airport and within commuting distance of London and home to some pricey real estate. $500,000 might get you a 2 bed apartment and for a cool million a semi-detached home could be yours. Most detached homes are in the $2-7 million range and it gets more expensive downstream the nearer one gets to the capital. However the upside is that the River Thames runs through it and there is an abundance of green space, riverside pubs and for the adventurous Canal Narrow boats. to rent. 
Note* I don't have any affiliation with aforementioned link. From London a network of canals spread across the UK, a narrow boat is one of the best ways to experience the UK.

During the 19th century the population of great-crested grebe, the largest of the grebe family dropped to 42 pairs, partially due to the trade of their head plumes. Recently five thousand pairs have been recorded during annual UK bird counts. I saw just one pair and single bird along the river.

Great-crested Grebe
Indeed there were more Egyptian geese than grebes, Originally introduced from Africa in the17th century but nowhere as common as the parakeet. The Egyptian goose related to ducks more than geese, breeds in tree holes and in old crow nests.
Egyptian Goose and goslings

Long-tailed tit.

One of the most unusual inhabitants of the town and for that matter the whole region and increasingly the whole of the UK is the rose-ringed parakeet. Originating from S. Asia and Africa the species now numbers into the tens of thousands.

Rose-ringed or Ring-necked Parakeet.
It seems so odd to be looking at a robin or a blue tit one moment and then watching a flock or twenty or more parakeets darting across the sky the next. You can hear them before you see them and it seems almost every willow tree along the river has a nesting pair. The colourful and exotic looking birds find the British climate just right, so much so that they have become a pest. Farmers are beginning to tire of them, in some fruit growing areas large flocks descend on orchards and strip the crop bare in one sitting. Not only that, in some locations thousands roost in the same trees every night, homeowners describe the squawking noise they make as a 'dreadful din'  One roost at a nearby rugby club in Esher contains up to 7000 birds each night. Cavity nesting birds like woodpeckers are losing out too.

Greater Spotted Woodpecker
Cavity nesting species like the greater spotted woodpecker have suffered most from the parakeet population explosion.

Yesterday, my first day after my tiring journey saw me up bright and early. Luckily for me the local park is just behind my son's home. First sighting was a greater spotted woodpecker gouging out a nest site in a maple tree. There were very few birds around and no warblers anywhere just a smattering of jays, magpies, wood pigeons, heron, jackdaws, wrens, chiffchaff, dunnock, long-tailed, blue and great  tits but little else. As full list is at the end of the blog. I find it surprising considering the time of year, the amount of insect life and the budding trees. However, there were plenty of parakeets to keep me interested. Whoever released the first pair into the wild could have never realized the far reaching effect the birds would have on indigenous species. They have even out nested the starlings and that's no mean feat.

A female parakeet exits a nest site while the male surveys his domain from above.  

As I was setting up to photograph a woodpecker an elderly gentleman approached me and related a story about the 1951 movie African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart. Sorry to spoil the illusion but the river scenes were shot not in Africa but on the Thames at nearby Shepparton Studios. After the movie was wrapped-up, some bright spark decided it was a good idea to release six pairs of parakeets into the wild.
Even so, as far back as the nineteenth century parakeets were documented wild in London but never to the numbers now encountered. Lately parakeets have been spotted as far north as Edinburgh Scotland. Stories about the birds abound, even guitarist icon Jimi Hendrix got into the act and is reported to have released several parakeets into wild, he must have been stoned!


A lucky shot.

As I walked along the banks of the Thames it is clear that birds have left their mark on local culture (see below) the other pub is if course, yes you guessed it...The Swan.

Even the local pub has got in on the act.

Below is a link to blog about London's parakeets by somebody who can actually articulate their thoughts rather than one who wishes they could!


Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, GB
Apr 17, 2016 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
3.0 kilometer(s)
37 species

Graylag Goose  12
Canada Goose  4
Mute Swan  34
Egyptian Goose  4     5 gosling
Mandarin Duck  1
Gadwall  2
Mallard  12
Great Crested Grebe  3
Great Cormorant  1
Gray Heron  1
Common Buzzard  1
Eurasian Coot  5
Black-headed Gull  6
Herring Gull  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  5
Common Wood-Pigeon  22
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Great Spotted Woodpecker  1     Building nest hole over 3 day period
Rose-ringed Parakeet  13
Eurasian Jay  3
Eurasian Magpie  6
Rook  22
Carrion Crow  1
Common Raven  1
Barn Swallow  1
Eurasian Blue Tit  4
Great Tit  6
Long-tailed Tit  4
Eurasian Wren  3
Common Chiffchaff  1
Eurasian Blackcap  3
European Robin  4
Eurasian Blackbird  4
Song Thrush  2
Dunnock  1
Common Chaffinch  3
European Goldfinch  3

John Gordon
BC Canada

Birding the Vale of Ewyas

Birding April 11 2016 Llanthony Priory and Gospel Pass, The Black Mountains, Gwent, Wales

This map shows the the location of the priory.
         I left Tintern at 7.00 am passed through Raglan and made my way to Abergavenny. A few miles along the Hereford Road I turned off the duel carriageway and toward Llanthony. Just like the Scottish Highlands the narrow country roads meant backing up to let other vehicles pass. I arrived an hour later to find the priory deserted. The sun was beginning to warm the air and the jackdaws already busy collecting twigs and other materials to build nests. There seemed to be nest building activity in every nook and cranny.

A Jackdaw sits outside its nest at the old priory.

Llanthony Priory
The Augustinian priory was founded in the 12th Century. It was completed around 1230 and was closed three hundred years later by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries. Later a house and now a hotel was built amongst the ruins where monks once lived and worshipped. At the top left of the frame you can spot the modern hotel structure. The commonest residents these days apart from the tourists are the white wagtails, jackdaws, wood pigeons, goldfinch and house sparrows.

A pair of white wagtails take a break from their courtship display. The female bird appeared to be larger than its male counterpart.
I left the priority and continued past sheep farms and woodland. As I climbed the hills the roads narrowed and the potholes deepened.

My destination is on the other side of this hill. Although the village goes by its Welsh name note the bi-lingual signs.

The village of Capel-y-finn with its four small cottages even had its own red phone box, how quaint is that! Cel coverage is non-existent. The climb onward began to get steeper, the green fields were replaced by bracken ferns and gorse. 
As I climbed higher I finally arrived at a spot where I had been told I might find a wheatear or if very lucky even a ring ouzel, both birds would be lifers and target birds for the day. There might even be a chance of a red kite but I didn't want to push my luck. Three lifers from the Welsh hills would really make my day.
I was advised to check out the boulders for wheatear.
I stopped the car, got out, zipped up my anorak, raised my bins and scoured the scree laden hillside. At first I could hear but not see any birds. Finally after trudging up the hill for a closer view I spotted a movement on a rock, a female wheatear, my first lifer since arriving in the UK. I never did get too near to any of the birds even with the Nikon 200mm-500mm. I was happy enough just watch their antics as they hawked insect after insect from the air.
Wheatear (male)
One of the world's great migrants.
The entire population winters in tropical Africa but breeds in Alaska, Greenland, right across Europe and Asia 
About half an hour into my climb to photograph the wheatears I realized my trouser pocket, where I normally keep the car keys was wide open. Normally I make sure it's secured. Next came an awful sinking feeling as I thrust my hand into my pocket, there was nothing. I wondered if I had left them on the dash of the car or worse had they fallen out of my pocket as I clambered over rocks and boulders. Could I jump start an automatic? How would I get home? How far is the nearest farmhouse or was this a dress rehearsal for an another episode of An Idiot Abroad!
I took a deep breath and as any good birder would do continued birding. An hour later I had arrived back at the car and as I opened the door there were the keys, still in the ignition. Phew, another crisis adverted!

Not the type of place to loose a set of car keys.
As I sat in the car I can't tell you how relieved I was, so much so that I almost missed the sudden appearance of a red kite soaring over the bluff. As I grabbed my camera, my cheese sandwich which I had just began to eat fell from my hands between the handbrake and seat. To make things worse the camera strap got wrapped around the gear shifter, despite it all I managed to fire off this distant ID shot. A second lifer for the day and a most welcome sight after the stressful episode with the keys.

A view of a hunting red kite shot from the car.
Persecuted to near extinction in the 19th century there are now two thousand pair of red kite across the UK.

Meadow Pipit I think? 
Back in the car I finished off my sandwich and Jaffa cakes when I notice a movement in the short grass. I knew it's a pipit but which one. Later I photographed another pipit in a tree and counted it as a tree pipit but the one (above) has much more yellow. Below is the other bird for comparison but colouration could just be a trick of the morning light. I think they probably both are meadow pipits? Is there anyone out there who like to correct me if I am wrong!

Tree Pipit further along the road.

I continued along to the highest point called Gospel Pass where a few scraggly trees held a small flock of chaffinch and highland cattle grazed amongst the sheep. While admiring the view and the sunshine, a rare commodity in April a movement on the hillside caught my attention. At first I though it was a carrion crow but as I clambered up the hillside for closer view I realized it was a ring ouzel, the third lifer of the day. I couldn't get nearer than fifty metres before it took off. The ring ouzel is the mountain version of a blackbird which breeds on moorland and steep-sided valleys. The white band on the chest is a giveaway for ID purposes. Too bad I could get a clearer shot, the best time is when the birds arrive or depart on migration when they can be found almost anywhere and are more approachable. Check local birding forums for locations. On the mountainside the birds are cautious to the extreme. 

Ring Ouzel.

As I clambered down to the car I came across another mountain bird, the stonechat, its names derived from the sound it makes which is similar to two stones being hit together

It was almost noon and I had achieved my goal and seen all three 'target' birds plus a few others as an added bonus. It was time to go home. The mountains and valleys that had been shrouded in fog earlier in the morning were now bathed in sunshine. I think i'll stop off in Raglan for some fish and chips doused in copies amount of salt and malt vinegar!

Until the next time

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Friday 15 April 2016

UK Garden Birds

April 4-10 2016 The Wye Valley Brockweir. Gloucestershire UK.

Female Blackbird
This is a selection of common garden birds that can be found in most gardens and parks in the UK. Other species noted were nuthatch, jay, magpie, carrion crow, jackdaw, rook, great and long-tailed tit, dunnock, common buzzard, mistle thrush and blackcap. The most unusual sighting were a pair of Hawfinch, a male and female which as soon as I opened the back door flew off never to be seen again.
Male Blackbird. 
The blackbird is probably along with the blue tit the commonest of British garden birds.

Springtime birdsong in the UK is reckoned to be the loudest anywhere. The first song would wake me up at 5.30 a.m and would continue way past sunset with the blackbird still singing at night. No need for an alarm clock.
This robin began to make a nest in a stone wall just outside my bedroom window.
I watched this robin everyday of my brief stay. It would come every 10 minutes or so with various items for the nest. It was very aware of my presence and would wait until I retreated into the house before re-entering the small crevice in the wall where it was building a nest. This image was shot through a small crack in the front door. 

I was looking at another bird when this robin perched near the woodshed. Ever inquisitive, it stayed long enough for me to swivel around and capture this frame. The dark background is the woodshed which is cast into shade. I particularly like this shot and composition and goes to prove that no bird deserves the moniker "dirt bird"

Shot from the car window this siskin appears more vivid than its North American cousin.

Song Thrush
As a child I remember a song thrush bashing the living daylights out hapless snails. There was always a pile cracked shells next to one particular stone. Their UK numbers have sadly declined since my childhood as the use chemicals and especially slug bait in the garden proliferated. Other members of the thrush family include blackbird, ring ouzel, mistle thrush, redwing and fieldfare.

The Forest of Dean
This mixed forest is a wonderful place to photograph forest birds in the springtime. The romans mined the area, the kings of England hunted here and millions visit the area every year.

A view of the River Wye from Yat Rock.
Atlantic salmon migrate annually to spawn and unlike their Pacific cousins return to ocean to grow and repeat the process.

In recent years peregrine falcons have nested here as well regular sighting of Goshawk and Hen Harrier attract birders and photographer alike.

On the edge of the garden is the Hudnalls National Forest, an ancient woodland untouched by humans for hundreds of years. Beech, oak and wild cheery attract all kinds of species including this chiffchaff, one of the first warblers to arrive in the spring from North Africa. Later in April other warblers and flycatchers will also arrive to feast on the plentiful supply of insects. I watched this particular bird for hours before setting myself up quietly in the shade for a shot  Finally after it had been hawking insects and accepted my presence it came close enough for a decent shot.

Blue Tit
A few days in an English garden wouldn't be complete without a picture of a blue tit, probably the Uk's favourite garden bird. Tomorrow I have one more day when the weather forecast looks safe enough to make one hundred mile round trip to the Brecon Beacons National Park. My goal is to find some lifers, namely ring ouzel, wheatear and if lucky a red kite or two. Until then!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Monday 11 April 2016

Birding downtown Puerto Vallarta

Mar 19-22 2016 The Old Town

 Puerto Vallarta Jalisco Mexico.
Puerto Vallarta is an excellent place for bird watching due to its geographic location, as there are more than 350 species of birds in the area, including aquatic, land and marine birds.

On the Beach

A sense of place. Puerto Vallarta's old town beach. Nikon P100
Laughing Gull

Puerto Vallarta is a Mexican beach resort city situated on the Pacific Ocean's Bahía de Banderas.
Magnificent frigate bird with a fish it has just stolen from an elegant tern in mid-air.

Magnificent frigatebirds.

These frigate birds were taken in the downtown area on the famous Malecon promenade, a beachfront attraction that draws thousands of visitors during the day and pounds with the sound of music at night. Despite it all there is some really good birding right along the beach.

Birds of suburban creeks and parks. 
Yellow-crowned Heron

There are numerous small creeks running into Banderas Bay that attract a host of species including herons, egrets, pelicans, sandpipers, black-necked stilts and the odd eight foot long crocodile. Tread carefully when stalking birds as one never knows what could be lurking underfoot!

This crocodile was patiently waiting for a hapless bird or iguana to drop its guard. The beach was only a hundred metres downstream but only becomes a concern after rainfall and the creeks overflows into the beach area. They don't mention that in the travel brochures!
White ibis and tri-coloured heron in the background.
Green Heron.

Tri-coloured Heron.

Black-bellied whistling duck.

    In the trees were White-winged Pigeons, orchard and streak-backed orioles.The whistling ducks on the local golf club shot from distance through a fence.

White-winged pigeon.

Tropical Kingbird

Orchard oriole feeding on guamuchil seeds.
Inside the pod and covering the bean or seed is a white material the birds eat. The tree is not native to Mexico probably introduced by the many migrants from Asia and the Orient who have settled in the area.

A brightly coloured Streaked-backed Oriole.

Streaked back oriole( dull adult)
 The streaked-back is the most common resident oriole in thorn to tropical deciduous forest and lower pine-oak zone. 
Bourganvillia and streaked-back Oriole.
 I also photographed Bullock's in the mountains and hooded at the coast.

Hooded Oriole
This ends an exiting ten days in Mexico, my first ever birding excursion outside of Canada. It looks like it won't be my last!  

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada