Thursday, 28 March 2013

Gresford Flash mega!

With the lighter evenings and a bit less snow on the ground I managed to nip in at the flash after work. 17shoveler, good few tufties and 7 great crested grebes were good counts, but the highlight was a cracking adult winter little gull dip feeding on the water. A patch tick for me and only the second site record I believe. Flew off to roost but will hopefully return.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

4 Lifers in one day!

Well yesterday (26th march) I had a full days birding around Gwynedd and Anglesey with my old school mate Peter who traveled up from Shropshire.
We started at 8am in Bedmanerch Bay with only a handful of birds most notable where the Brents but they where low numbers as it was high tide.
Then a drive up to Llandulas to show him the Scoters and he was gob smacked at the amount of birds ,but due to the choppy seas it was hard to see if there where any other notable birds.
Next we dropped in to Rhos on sea and with the very high tide the Turnstones and a couple of Purple Sands where showing extremely well on the top of the rocks at number 43 you could view them perfectly from the top path!
Onto Caerhun and Llanbedr in search of the Hawfinches but unfortunately we dipped out on them but we where given a lovely show off a Red Kite flying above us in the snow BLIZZARD!
Time for a warm up so down to RSPB Conwy after a quick coffee and a piece of BaraBreth we walked the reserve but it was  very quiet most notable where Grey wagtail,Peregrine and Sparrow Hawk.
A quick drive back along the A55 took us to Abergwyngregin  in search of a Dipper,but again we dipped on these first time I've failed to see one here? Having said that we where honored to have a beautiful show off a Goldcrest at soem points we thought it may land on us next, fantastic little bird.
After a quick bite to eat it was back onto the 55 and down to the Spinnies boy where we in for a treat! we had a quick look in the small hide and had brilliant views of a snipe feeding in the shallows and then we walked to the estuary hide. On the way as we approached the white gate we could hear an alarm type call sounded similar to a Blackbird but also similar to a Greater Spotted Woodpecker??? I was coming from the small clearing in front of us so we walked toward sit as we couldn't see anything THEN! A Short Eared Owl flew up from the ground right in front of Peter what a surprise!! It proceeded to fly over the trees in the direction of the Lagoon!
So off we rushed to the hide, there where two people sat there unfortunately looking out of the estuary side so they hadn't seen the Shortie, so we opened the lagoon side windows and wasn't long Peter spotted the Shortie fly up from the edge of the water and perch in the trees in front of us FANTASTIC!! It stayed for sometime so we managed to show it to the couple who where there and they where amazed at the views through the scope of this magnificent bird.
Next on the list of locations was Red Wharf Bay in search of the Snow Buntings and within a few yards after getting out of the car there they where feeding happily on the grass next to the parking bay brilliant views second to none.
It was getting on so we decided to head back towards Pentreath to scan the huge gathering of Gulls which where on the fields which had been sprayed by the farmer,but unfortunately no White Wingers.
Back to Holyhead to try for the Black Guillemots and we managed to find one in the rough water in the fish dock.
The day drew to a close with me dropping a VERY HAPPY Peter off in Trearddur Bay at 6pm after manageing to find him 4 Lifers in a day and on the way home i nipped into South Stack to add Razorbill and Guillemot to the day list which ended with us seeing a total of 80 birds, Happy days :-)

Little ringed Plover Conwy

A Little ringed Plover at RSPB Conwy from Carneddau hide, Julian W. posted by Alan and Ruth

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Snow Buntings

Two Snow Buntings at Cemlyn today along the shingle ridge - David W. Alan and Ruth

Monday, 25 March 2013

One Smew or two Smew?

A redhead Smew seen again in Bangor Harbour this morning - Nick Davies, then David Wright had a redhead Smew early afternoon on the pool at Penmon, east of the point. One highly mobile bird or two? Sandwich Tern off Bardsey BO, Bardsey Island today. In case you missed the news - male and female Osprey back at Pont Croeso, Porthmadog yday. Alan and Ruth recently up dated with Spanish trip report.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

A week in The Gambia: Last Bit

Day 5: Downriver to Tendaba via Wassu

All too soon it was time to leave MacCarthy Island but before we left the Baobolong Annexe we had an early walk around the Bird Safari Camp area.  Highlights included Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Northern Puffback, Stone Partridges, Mottled Spinetails, more Four-banded Sandgrouse on the deck and, best of all, a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle Owl wondering which one of us to eat first!  Small passerines included Western Olivacaeous Warblers, Oriole Warbler (very elusive despite their loud colours and song) and Black-rumped Waxbills.

 African Golden Oriole (wish ours showed like this more often!)

 Four-banded Sandgrouse

Verreaux's (Milky) Eagle Owl 

Yellow-eared bats

Today’s final destination was the infamous Tendaba camp, which we planned to reach that evening after a combined journey of sailing back down river and a road stint including a stop at Wassu stone circles.  Highlights of the first leg of sailing included a Black Stork (which Ebrima was really chuffed with as they’re quite rare in The Gambia, usually preferring more eastern wintering grounds), a fly-by Spur-winged Goose and a pair of Beaudouin’s Snake-eagles to accompany the Brown and Western Bandeds.  The top bird for us though was a magnificent male Bateleur soaring high over the northern bank showing its distinctive broad-winged, very short-tailed shape; they do occur in The Gambia but can be very hard to pin down so we were pleasantly surprised to encounter this beauty.  This leg also provided plenty of non-bird highlights including at least 8 Hippos (and getting grunted at by the male in a family group of 5), good views of 4 Nile Crocodiles hauled up (with one relaxing next to a huge Hippo in what seemed like a stalemate between the two behemoths) plus Red Colobus and Callithrix (Green) Vervet monkeys.

 Fancy a swim?!

 The road stint through the northern savannah was especially productive.  At Wassu stone circles Dan found a smart Temminck’s Courser coursing across some parched ground – a really smart bird, resembling a smaller, darker Cream-coloured.  Eventually two distant flying Bee-eaters landed in a closer bush and after a short walk we were enjoying our target bird; a couple of salmon-pink Northern Carmine Bee-eaters.  While here we also logged Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks, Bruce’s Green Pigeons, Namaqua Dove and a very smart male Vieillot’s Barbet – with its scarlet-splattered face showing well in the sun.  With all these exotic birds on offer it was a bit of a reality check to see a few Northern Wheatears in their winter plumage, one bird with a dark throat looked good for Seebohm’s.

Wassu stone circles

Another stop at Kaur was fruitless for Egyptian Plovers but did at least produce 4 Greater Painted-snipe, including a bright female, and brief views of a Lesser Moorhen which soon pegged it from sight.  The highlight of this road leg was stumbling across a foraging group of 4 Abyssinian Ground Hornbills – these massive birds were feeding in the shade of a tree but took off when a cyclist went past allowing great flight views.  We made another sudden stop for a breeding-plumaged male Exclamatory Paradise Whydah flying over the savannah – the huge tail on such a small bird really was exclamatory and it’s unusual to see them like this in February as most are in non-breeding plumage until the rains arrive later in Spring.   

Back on the river, now much wider, we cruised on down to Tendaba - arriving at sunset.
 Arriving at Tendaba

Day 6: Tendaba area

Today involved an early morning boat trip up a creek on the opposite side of the bank to Tendaba (Finfoot being the main target) followed by a walk around the wider Tendaba area afterwards before sailing back down river to the coast for the final leg of the trip.

We had good views of a Little Swift colony under the jetty and a jet black Marsh Mongoose foraging on the shoreline before crossing the Gambia river to the creek.  The plan was to get here around high tide so that we could cross a smaller creek and return via a different route, maximising our Finfoot chances.  As we entered the creek a smart Grasshopper Buzzard flew low overhead and a group of around 10 Pied Kingfishers perched on a dead shrub.  We also saw our first lucidus Great Cormorants, with striking white breasts and underparts.  The creek gave up the usual mix of herons and egrets as well as some more familiar Palearctic migrants including Whimbrel, Greenshank and Marsh and Common Sandpipers. 

Little Swift nests under Tendaba jetty

Pied Kingfisher - easily the commonest member of this family seen

Travelling slowly on a small boat allowed us to get close to the birds and we had great views of Malachite and Blue-breasted Kingfishers.  Several Mouse-brown Sunbirds flew across the creek and we eventually managed to see one foraging in a mangrove (though it was about as underwhelming as the name suggests!)  At the head of the creek a huge Goliath Heron stood on the bank but flew off as the boat approached, and a male Montagu’s Harrier quartered the marsh.   It soon became clear that we had been given some ‘duff gen’ by the boat’s owner as high tide wasn’t as early as he had told Ebrima.  This resulted in us not being able to cross to the second creek - and hence no Finfoot!  Despite this big disappointment we still managed to connect with some other great birds to ease the pain including Yellow-billed and Woolly-necked Stork, African Hobby, White-throated Bee-eater and more Beaudouin’s Snake-eagles.

Malachite Kingfisher

Blue-breasted Kingfisher

 Yellow-billed Stork

 Woolly-necked Stork

Back at the camp, the others in the group opted for a rest before lunch - but we were in The Gambia and could rest when we were home so we set off through the village for a wander around the surrounding area.  On the outskirts of the village we had stunning views of a perched Dark Chanting Goshawk, with 10+ European Bee-eaters hawking the skies overhead along with a few nominate Black Kites (up until now we’d only seen the African Yellow-billed race).  Three Red-rumped Swallows of the African domicella race also hunted over the village huts.  An enticing hand-painted sign led us down a track to explore further.  Here Jon pulled out a small roving group of White Helmetshrikes while we also saw an African Spoonbill and 2 Yellow-billed Oxpeckers that were appropriately attached to a cow in a herd that walked past us.

Yellow-billed Oxpeckers doing their thing

 Abyssinian Roller

After another Bearded Barbet and displaying Beautiful Sunbird in the camp ground it was time to head down river and back to the coast.  The jetty produced a White Wagtail along with 4 obligatory Ruddy Turnstones (surely the world’s most cosmopolitan wader?!) Along the river a Redshank looked out of place and 3 Grey Plover flew by.  A small pod of Bottlenose Dolphins gave  an incredible display, somersaulting clear out of the water as though they were in a theme park.  Terns and gulls came to the fore again and we logged 2 winter-plumaged Little Terns with 1 Common while Royal and Caspian Terns were abundant.  Several Lesser Black-backed Gulls also appeared along with an adult Kelp Gull.  Ospreys were also back in force and 15+ Great White Pelicans dwarfed the Pink-backeds once again while 2 Eurasian Spoonbills were less expected.  En route to Footsteps Ecolodge (our stay for the final two nights) Ebrima pulled out a Long-crested Eagle perched in a dead tree at dusk - a great way to end the day.
 Dolphin shenanigans

Day 7: Around Footsteps

Our plan for today had originally been to get in a pre-booked taxi at 8 and visit Kartong Bird Observatory, where we had arranged to meet Colin Cross the warden.  However, a couple of things conspired against us.  Firstly, and fittingly for our first night sharing a hut and compost toilet, we had all come down with the notorious ‘Tendaba Tummy’ the previous evening.  Some were worse than others - I appeared to escape lightly and somehow slept right through the carnage of Jon’s all-night spontaneous combustion and Dan’s ‘mishap’ and consequent need for an impromptu shower.  Waking early it was obvious that today was going to be a struggle, but we had made plans so headed off to wait for the taxi.  After a good half hour of waiting it was clear that no taxi was coming so we took it as a sign and decided to cut our losses and recuperate by exploring the local area instead.   


A walk around the surrounding tracks soothed us with great views of Long-crested Eagle perched in the same bush as a Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.   Some top gen from Gosney’s guide proved to be still valid by leading us straight to a tree in which a Striped Kingfisher was still perched after all these years, looking a bit like a scruffy Kookaburra as it scanned for reptiles and insects.  Plenty of passerines were in evidence including Snowy-crowned Robin Chat, African Thrush, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow and Melodious and Western Olivacaeous Warblers along with a Common Wattle-eye.  It was also good to see Western Red-billed and African Grey Hornbills again along with Rose-ringed Parakeets and Blue-bellied Rollers.  Sunbirds were everywhere and included Pygmy, Scarlet-chested, Beautiful, Variable and Splendid.

Long-crested Eagle

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater

 Western Red-billed Hornbill
 Pied Crows

With Jon completely drained of energy following his experience the previous night we returned to Footsteps for a spot of rest.  I wasn’t feeling too bad though so, while the others got some much-needed kip I set off to explore the local woodland, which held Northern Black Flycatcher, Red-winged Warbler (Prinia) and Grey-backed Camaroptera.  A return to the ecolodge’s sheltered freshwater paddling pool was required for mid afternoon – not to cool off our feet but to wait for a Pygmy Kingfisher to appear.  This little gem had been turning up like clockwork every afternoon, usually around 4pm.  While waiting we checked the finches drinking from the natural filtration system and had our first Orange-cheeked Waxbills along with Yellow-throated Canaries and Red-billed Firefinches.  A smart Northern Crombec (think tail-less Nuthatch) also fed in some nearby pines.  It soon became clear that the larger than normal number of people hanging around were keeping the Kingfisher away, especially the loud Dutch party playing cards right next to the pool.  However, hopes were raised after Dan clocked it perched on a tree briefly around the corner but it didn’t hang around for long. Thankfully it returned to the pool a few times allowing us all to get some good if brief views.  Another bonus here was a flamboyant Red-bellied Paradise-Flycatcher that arrived after the Kingfisher had left.

Northern Crombec

Yellow-billed Shrike

Red-bellied Paradise-flycatcher

With everyone’s strength returning and the heat subsiding we decided on an evening walk around the surrounding area.  Out in the open grassland we had good views of Grey Kestrel, Senegal Eremomela, Black-crowned Tchagra and Little Weaver.  The main highlight though was during a final walk through the woods just before dusk when a superb African Pied Hornbill perched up in a dead tree to complete the set for our trip.  Stone Partridges fled from our feet and the other guys managed to catch up with Northern Black Flycatcher.

 African Pied Hornbill

Day 8 (Final Day): Kartong

Before flying home in the afternoon we had managed to re-arrange our visit to Kartong Bird Observatory ( where we met warden Colin Cross and two other birders to be escorted around the reserve.  This small patch of wetland and scrub habitat on the coast near the Senegal border is an absolute gem but under threat from encroaching agriculture and drainage.  The habitats provide winter refuge for several familiar UK migrant species like Reed and Sedge Warblers, while Nightingales winter in the coastal scrub.  Colin works hard to keep it going and it’s well worth a visit on any trip to The Gambia.

 Birding at Kartong

As we waited for our taxi a strange raptor displaying above us was confirmed as a Red-chested (African) Goshawk – its display consisted of rapidly flapping its wings while flying slowly and uttering sporadic yelps.  Walking to the Bird Obs HQ (Colin’s house) we enjoyed Black Crake, White-faced Whistling Ducks and Purple Swamphens.  With mugs of tea on the go we watched Sedge and Reed Warblers flitting above African Jacanas and Black Herons, with a Sedge practicing some singing in readiness for its return north.  An African Crake had been seen previously but not on the morning we were there.

  White-faced Whistling-ducks

Colin gave us a guided tour around the wetland part of the reserve, but if you have longer it’s possible to explore further afield.  The marshes held 100’s of White-faced Whistling-ducks, umbrella-ing Black Herons and 3 capensis Little Grebes.  On the other side of the path a series of flooded fields held various wading birds including Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Green and Wood Sands, Greenshank and Marsh Sandpiper plus Purple and Squacco Herons.  We’d been surprised to hear Colin announce that an American Golden Plover had turned up two weeks earlier and was still showing on and off, only the 2nd or 3rd for The Gambia!  We were in luck as it dropped in close to the path and fed among the Whistling-ducks.  Presumably this had made landfall on this side of the Atlantic in the autumn and was spending the winter in West Africa like many other northern waders.  Another highlight here was great views of Greater Painted-snipes, especially a female that gleamed in the sunlight as she fed alongside a Wood Sandpiper.

AGP with White-faced Whistling Ducks!

Female Greater Painted-snipe with Wood Sand (like phalaropes the roles are reversed and the males bring up the young and hence have the drabber plumage)

 The path ended at a viewing mound, peppered with Long-tailed Nightjar droppings from the large dusk gatherings here.  Condensation on the ground kept the Black-faced Quail-finches away but as the morning warmed up we logged some top birds including Gabar Goshawk, African Hobby and Bearded Barbets.  A high-flying group of 20+ Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters dropped lower and lower until they started drinking from the pools, giving great flight views in the scopes.  Checking the hirundines overhead revealed 2 House Martins, 5+ Common Swift and Barn Swallow, but best of all at least 2 stunning Mosque Swallows, which reminded me of giant Red-rumpeds as they cruised overhead like small falcons.  The walk back gave good views of an Abyssinian Roller as it hunted a cricket that had fallen of a passing donkey cart and an inquisitive family gang of Piapiacs.

Scanning from the mound produced some decent birds

Abyssinian Roller 


All too soon it was time to head back to Banjul and fly home.  Both the people and the place really left their mark on me and I definitely hope to return again.  As well as the ease of getting here (only 6 hours direct from the UK) and the plethora of exotic birds and other creatures on offer, I was also struck by the many familiar Western Palearctic migrants that winter here and it really brought home to me just how far they have to travel and the serious threats they face along the way.

Most birders visit The Gambia between November and February as this is the driest and least humid time of year and there is also the added bonus of various Western Palearctic winter migrants.  To have the best chance of seeing Egyptian Plovers, it’s safest to go before February though as they tend to head back to nesting sites after January.  However, if you’re not obsessed about seeing these February is probably the best time to visit.