Saturday, 26 May 2018

Scotland 17th May to 20th May

Thursday 17th May – Little Glen Shee

It took us most of the day to drive to Perth as we hadn’t started early. After tea we decided to visit Little Glen Shee. It’s a short drive from Perth being a small glen with low summits holding a small grouse moor. We parked and walked up past the game keepers cottage with the sound of Red Grouse ringing in our ears. A Red Kite drifted over the hillside whilst the stream held a Dipper which quickly disappeared around the bend in the burn out of sight.

We walked a good way down the glen as it was a fine evening, we saw what we expected on the bird front with lots of Red Deer on the skyline. A couple of Short-eared Owls provided us with entertainment as did a pair of Whinchat, we didn’t stay long but it was a good start to the week.

The view down Little Glen Shee

Friday 18th May – The Angus Coast

We had originally wanted to go climbing today but we were both tired so we decided against it and choose a little birding along the Angus Coast instead. We started at West Haven, Carnoustie where unfortunately the tide was a good way out, so we continued to Red Head picking up Puffin and other Auks plus a Peregrine was seen hunting along the cliff edge. A singing Corn Bunting and a good number of Tree Sparrows were both new birds for the year.

On the journey back we popped into West Haven again where we saw upto five Whimbrel, plus a few commoner waders. Just as we were leaving a couple of Sandwich Terns were seen up on the rocks by the car park.

Saturday 19th May – Meall Tairneachan and Farragon Hill

Today we were well rested and travelled the short journey from Perth to these two Corbetts, which stand around ten miles north of Aberfeldy. We parked opposite the track to the a Baryte Mine that lies between the two peaks and started the march up through the forest following the track to the mine, and although steep we were soon out of the forest and approaching the base of Meall Tairmeachan in little over an hour. From the road it was little more than a quick 15 minute slog to the summit, where the views were extensive with Farragon Hill looking worryingly distant.

The summit of Meall Tairneachan
The summit of Meall Tairneachan
Meall Tairneachan
We dropped down to reach the road which eventually led over a ridge to the Baryte Mine which was deserted, I assume due to it being the weekend and not the fault of the Royal Wedding! The track led over another ridge and then the view ahead was filled with the bulk of Farragon Hill. We headed up the slope to the south following a break in the heather then traversed along to reach the base of the hill.

It was then a steep climb to the summit avoiding a few crags, soon we were sat at the summit admiring views and eating our lunch.

The summit of Farragon Hill

Meal Tairneach with the Baryte mine the visible scar below the summit.

The summit of Farragon Hill

The final slopes of Farragon Hill

We followed a faint path off the summit and were soon lost a lot of height, we looked back to see two other walkers standing at the cairn the first people we had seen all day. Like buses another walker met us coming the other way. We soon covered the rough ground and rejoined the track and past the mine, then over the ridge to Meall Tairneach and then back through the forest and the car..

Bird wise there were good numbers of Willow Warbler near the start in the conifers and a Hen Harrier flew overhead, but as a general rule apart from Meadow Pipit it was devoid of birds.

Friday 27th April

Not working today, so Joy and I though the Reservoir would be quiet due to the heavy rain that was falling. We arrived approximately 8.30am and proceeded to walk around. There was a single Common Tern that passed straight through, plus a single Common Sandpiper.

There was @ 20 to 30 hirundines the majority of which were Swallow although I did add House Martin the Reservoir list for the year. The rain brought out at least Song Thrush which were seen feeding at different locations. A single male Shoveler was unexpected but apart from c.50 Tufted Duck and six Gadwall there was little of note.

This afternoon I visited Wishaw area where I saw a single Wheatear, a couple of Yellow Wagtail and a selection of commoner birds.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Sunday 13th May

Have been over quite a few times recently but it has been quiet as a whole, as it has across the Midlands generally. I have had up to three Common Sandpiper but passage has been really poor.

Thursday – Cannock Chase
Joy and I saw plenty of Tree Pipit, Cuckoo plus Redstart and Pied Flycatcher.

Thursday – Shustoke Reservoir
Thursday there was a good number of Swift with @300 present with @200 hirundines, although there was no Hobby to take advantage of the situation.

Friday – Middleton RSPB
I took Joy and her sister to Middleton RSPB where we saw a good number of species including a Grey Plover (very difficult), Greenshank, Snipe and a couple of Yellow Wagtail. However, we missed a Temminck’s Stint which was unfortunate, but I did see rather a lot of them in India.

Saturday – Middleton RSPB
We went over later in the day to avoid the crowds, and although the Temminck’s Stint had not been seen we thought we would go anyway. In the two visits we recorded over 70 species which for the Midlands is good. There were a couple of Common Sandpiper and Ringed Plover which we didn’t see yesterday. Plus the Snipe was on the west scrape again, which is late!

Sunday – Shustoke Reservoir
I got over about 8.30am hoping to avoid the crowds but the Reservoir was very busy so I dropped down the bank and made my way over the river to work the fields between the Reservoir and Hogrill’s End. I heard plenty of Blackcap and Whitethroat plus a few Chiffchaff and a couple of Willow Warbler, but I haven’t come across Lesser Whitethroat or Garden Warbler so far this year. I saw a single Yellow Wagtail and a pair of Grey Wagtail. The highlight for me was a Kingfisher that flew past carrying food.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Wednesday 25th April

I has been apparent to me and everyone who listens to my rants that Shustoke Reservoir is a shadow of its former self. It has been a great disappointment for me as I regard it as my favourite and still local patch. Quite why it has become a bit of a birding desert is probably more complex than I can comprehend, also I think it is a combination of factors plus some that I haven’t thought of.

Disturbance is probably a key factor with the Reservoir becoming increasingly popular for recreational use, especially dog walkers. The problem is caused in the main by the circular route being against the skyline, plus when the water level is high there is little distance between the walkers and the birds. Also when dogs run loose they invariably run along the edge or even enter the water. Over the last ten or so years the numbers of waders each year has decreased alarmingly. Also the shoreline has little in the way of open areas as Willow and a variety of shrubs have become well established, especially the once favoured south shore which is the only area with no public access.

The Sailing Club activity has always been a factor and little has changed there, apart from the organised removal of pond weed in the summer. I think this removal has had a detrimental effect on the aquatic life. For me this may well be the reason that most Terns, Gulls, wildfowl and waders no longer use the Reservoir as a staging post on migration. In addition Wildfowl numbers over the last few winters have been nothing short of disastrous from a birding perspective. Even the hirundines and Swifts that used to gather in huge numbers in the Spring and Autumn have largely bypassed the Reservoir.

An average visit in the past would normally result in between 50-60 species in the last couple of years I have been lucky to register over 40 species in an average three hour trip.

I would value any ideas or thought that anyone has, plus if anyone has the ear of Severn Trent or indeed the Sailing Club I would be happy for my thoughts or any others to be passed on.

Since my return from India I have made a couple of visits with the latest being today (Wednesday). It was poor again, the sky is usually full of hirundines etc at this time of year, today I saw 1 Sand Martin, 4 Swift, 4 Swallow. No Gulls, no Terns and just two Common Sandpiper which where clinging onto the only patch of shore line in the South-east corner, but a dog put them up and I didn’t see them again!

There were three singing Blackcap, two singing Chiffchaff and a single displaying Skylark. Also I saw my first Mallard ducklings of the year. There was also a Nuthatch calling so hopefully they have bred. I again searched for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but I haven’t seen them since they deserted a couple of years back through the attention of photographers.

On my way home I stopped again at Little Packington where the Ring Ouzel was showing really well and is now into its fifth day.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Day 16 – Tea Gardens then Guwahati

A quick trip around the Tea Plantation at 5.00am prior to heading to Guwahati for our plane to Delhi yielded two more ticks in the form of Greater necklaced Laughingthrush and Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher. Despite the presence of another local guide on the walk we again failed to connect with Blue-naped Pitta.

After breakfast we boarded our mini bus and headed for Guwahati for another finger chewing driving experience. Soon we stopped for lunch at Beeparbhal Lake where we added five more species bring the group total to 445 for the holiday, personally I managed to see 433 including 150 new species which is a phenomenal total for 16 days.

Apart from missing a few of the targets, the most painful of which for me was Himalayan Monal it was a tremendous trip. The company was good making new friends is aways a satisfying experience and as a group we gelled well with no problems. The accommodation was the best available and the camps, which we were all a little apprehensive about were above our low expectations whilst the food provided in them was better than the hotel at Dirang which remained a slight disappointment.

The two guides were excellent and India Nature were their usual well organised selves, leaving nothing to chance from start to finish. We had all the relevant information from the moment we arrived at the airport until we left all our needs were catered for, leaving us to concentrate on birding. I can heartily recommend them.

The food at times was a little bland but I didn’t go for the culinary experience. Also being a carnivore a little more choice would have been nice, especially in the hotels, but on the whole I was expecting to have vegetarian only meals in the camp so I was prepared for it. On the positive side I lost 8lb in weight which was a welcome bonus!

We had our last meal together in the hotel in Delhi before saying our goodbyes, we went a little earlier than we needed as we joined Nick and Raj in the minibus to the airport. We were that early that we couldn’t book in our baggage for a further hour. We then found Nick and Raj in the departure lounge to say our goodbyes.

Keith and I boarded our flight which was stopping at Amritsar, we had aisle seats with a gap between us which was taken by a Chinese lad with a face mask, he pushed past me sat down then went straight to sleep, he then lent on me and Keith and only woke twice, once to say he didn’t need breakfast and second to get off at Amritsar.

Sleeping Beauty.
On arrival at Birmingham Airport we had the usual wait for our baggage, this must be one of the countries worst! After waiting nearly 45 minutes our baggage trundled out and Joy was waiting to pick us up. The Captain had a quick cup of coffee then he left to complete his journey to sunny Scarborough! I see more of him abroad now than in this country!

Day 13 to 15 – Kaziranga – 6th to 9th April

Day 13 – Kaziranga – 6th April
am Kaziranga, Central Range – pm Kaziranga, Eastern Range

All the birding in Kaziranga was from the back of Jeeps or Gypses and the Indians call their models of Jeep! We had a good mornings birding but it wasn’t easy from the back of a Jeep. On entering the park we stopped to scan for birds when a thundering noise erupted from our left, we turned to see a large Bull Rhino being chased by an even larger Bull Rhino! Our driver got the Jeep moving pronto, with the two beasts crossing the road just about where we had originally stopped!

The rear of the hotel
Bird wise new species were starting to dry up with just Blossom-headed Parakeet and Striated Babbler added this morning. At lunch a group from Cardiff and Bristol took great delight in relaying tales of the three Tiger they had been watching all morning. On hearing this Leo changed our plans and we headed for the Eastern Ranges where the Tigers had made a kill.


Bloody Large Spider, with nearly 10 days of veg only I didn’t know whether to run or barbecue it!

The numbers of birds was quite staggering and we recorded well in excess of 100 species during the course of the day. We added Slender-billed Vulture to my new species list, as it and several Himalayan Vultures sat in attendance of an unfortunately carcass that lay in an open area and was attracting a hoard of scavengers.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

Oriental Turtle Dove

Asian Barred Owlet

Blue-bearded Bee-eater

After an hour or so it was starting to get late, no-one had any idea of where the Tiger were, but a Rhino across the way from us stopped and sniffed the air, then a head popped up, then another and that was Tiger in the bag. The female then walked towards its kill, which was being snaffled by a Wild Boar who’s head was deep inside the carcass. The Tiger could not have been more than 100 yards from it when the Wild Boar, realising the danger he was in bolted! The Tiger didn’t seem bothered, walked up sniffed the carcass then moved off!

One of the near full grown cubs sat sunning itself in full view and as night time drew in we left them in peace.

Day 14 – 7th April
early am Tea Plantation – am Kaziranga, Central Range – pm Kaziranga, Western Range

There was a Tea Plantation within walking distance of the hotel so after a coffee we walked there and birded for an hour or so, the target was Blue-naped Pitta, but unfortunately we didn’t connect but I did add the new species: Indian Cuckoo, Tickell’s Leaf Warbler and Rufous-necked Laughingthrush plus in addition a couple more to the holiday total.

Then we headed to the Central Range at Kariranga for the rest of the morning where yet again the birding was good but no new species were seen.

This was a fruitless afternoon with the only species being added being Swamp Francolin which we saw first in flight before pinning two down at a distance of 200 yards. We searched for Finn’s Weaver and Himalayan Rubythroat without success. We devoted the rest of the day searching areas of grass for Pied Harrier and any other Harriers we could find, unfortunately we couldn’t find any.

Day 15 – 8th April
am Kaziranga, Easter Range – pm Kaziranga, Central Range

Our proposed visit to the Tea Plantation was abandoned when rain stopped play, we sat on the veranda as a group drinking coffee and having a good natter. After breakfast we tried another site for Blue-naped Pitta but all we got was bitten by Mosquito's.

In true Indian tradition, I give you a “Selfie”

The mighty Bhramapurta
Asian Elephant
One-horned Rhino

Green-billed Malkoha

The birding was very similar to the previous days and we were struggling to add new species with just Tytler’s Leaf Warbler being added. We paid a visit the might Brahmaputra River which was impressive, with the Bionic Swede picking a pod of Ganges River Dolphin.

We saw a Common Woodshrike feeding fledged young, it then became apparent why the birding had been difficult with few birds singing. Most birds had begun breeding a few weeks early this year, which accounted for the lack of activity and the muted response we were receiving when playing tapes.

Day 12 – Eaglenest to Kaziranga – 5th April

Day 12 – Eaglenest to Kaziranga

A 5.45am breakfast meeting again and after loading up and taking in the views for the last time we headed downhill to the site of the “Bugan” where we enjoyed a good hour of birding adding a couple of new species. Unfortunately the “Bugan” were not playing ball so the views from the other day would be our lot.

In an attempt to catch up with Ibisbill we took another route that took us west then south along the border with Bhutan. We searched, what looked like an ideal river for Ibisbill but it wasn’t to be. Driving in India is nerve racking experience at the best of times, but on these road perched above large drops it is especially scary. To make matter worse our driver missed the first bend, taking it way to fast, fortunately he just managed to keep it on the road. You would think he would have learnt his lesson, but no on the next bend he did exactly the same, only this time there was another car! Everyone let out a scream and through their arms into the air – quite how that would have helped I don’t know, but we all did it. Somehow, more through luck than judgement the cars didn’t collide – words were said!

The rest of the day was hard, the roads were good but it was hairpin bend after hairpin bend, as we descended out of the foothills onto the plains of Assam. We eventually stopped for lunch at @3.00pm, I for one was an emotional and physical wreck, lack of sleep and hard days in the field are not good preparations for meeting your maker!

We eventually got the the hotel in Kaziranga just as it was getting dark for a welcome coffee, then to our rooms where we all showered and shaved for the first time in six days. I had at this point a 7 day beard which looked better than I thought it would, I decided that I would only feel clean if it came off, part of me wishes I hadn’t.