Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Beast from the East

This was exactly what I needed to help me recover from the Dorset dip. Snowy Owl in Norfolk! If Ross's Gull was just about at the top f my most wanted list, Snowy Owl was there too. Mark and Amity are with us for the weekend, so it made all sense yesterday to spend the day on the beach at... Titchwell! From there it was a short walk to Thornham Point, where we joined the most family-friendly twitch ever. After first views Mark and I could breathe again. Phew. We positioned ourselves as close to the bird as possible, but still a good 400 meters away from it, so no matter how much noise my kids made, all was good. And we were surrounded by friends and other good people, the beach was large enough for everyone - just perfect. So nice to celebrate a much-desired lifer with my family and close friends. From a photography point of view it was nasty - distant, crap light and howling wind, but I didn't really care (until I saw Justin's video and the amazing photos from today at Snetisham...). The bird wasn't doing much. Sat around, preened, stretched, jumped up a couple of times. What a bird!

These were taken through my phone and Swarovski ATX95:

Check those legs!

These were my best efforts using the camera:

After we had enough of the bird and disturbed other twitchers sufficiently, we enjoyed the walk back very much - lots of birds! The sea was good with Scaup and Long-tailed Ducks. A confiding Snow Bunting was feeding at the dune's edge. And the amount and diversity of wrecked marine stuff on the beach, blown in by last week's storm, was simply incredible. Expertly identified by Living Seas Mark.

Sunstar and Starfish

Snow Bunting

As always, I really enjoyed Titchwell. Lovely reserve. The second white owl of the day treated us to its fab display over the meadows.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Dipedeedooda dipedeeyay

What to do when you dip? Ignore the dip and move on without mentioning it ever again? Or celebrate, masochistically, the birds that were seen other than the one wanted bird? I choose option B of course.
Yesterday was, as James well defined it, 'the best dip in ages'. 
We set off in the middle of the night towards Dorset - a group of busy middle-aged men. We arrived at Ferry Bridge right on time for the Ross's Gull daily appearence. The temperatures were truly Arctic, but the bird did not do what it was supposed to. We were so bored standing around. I started photographing common birds there.

Not a Ross's Gull

Not a Ross's Gull

Not a Ross's Gull

Not a Ross's Gull

There were quite a few Red-breasted Mergansers and summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebes in the bay, and a couple of Shags, but nobody gave a %$£&. Still I photographed them, and Chris typed them into eBird, because we had nothing better to do.

We then spent the rest of the day in pinky's other favourite haunts, without success. RSPB Radipole Lake carpark was a clear gull hotspot, but the little bugger wasn't there either.

Not a Ross's Gull

Not a Ross's Gull

Certainly not a Ross's Gull

Radiploe, and Lodmoor, held nice numbers of Med Gulls. Not as beautiful as White Angel Ross's Gull, it still is a pretty neat beast.

YAA2 (from Serbia probably)

Lodmoor Med demonstrated well how we felt like

Lodmoor held BIG numbers of Snipe - the largest number we saw at one time was 180 birds, flying around in tight flocks like Dunlin. On a normal day I'd be quite chuffed about this.

Lodmoor was quite alright (see our eBird checklists, religiously typed in by Chris, morning and afternoon). I like this reserve, but prefer it when it actually hosts rarities.

The better end of a Teal

Oh Ross's Gull. I dreamed about you since childhood, when I got Peter Grant's first gull book. The obsession grew bigger with every time I saw the Dutch Birding logo.This was one of my main targets in the UK. I had three previous opportunities to twitch this bird, but I didn't go for various good reasons. How much I regret those responsible decisions now.

Many thanks to Mike (who drove most of the way), Chris and James; despite the painful dip, it was a fun day. Certainly a dip to remember.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Mammals of Kruger Park

In my last post from South Africa, I will share some photos of mammals and reptiles we encountered in Kruger Park. Even though we did not find any surprising animals, it was exciting to see large numbers of common mammals. After the low densities we had experienced in Hluhluwe, Kruger Park felt like the Real Africa.
Kruger Park's main attraction is big cats, and in that front our mission was accomplished. About 30 minutes after driving into the park from Malelane Gate we chanced upon a Leopard. It was laying down in the tall grass, and as soon as we stopped it walked off into the bush. Too quick for a photo but a breathtaking start.
Then, near Satara, Big Cat Central, we had intimate experiences with lions, and also we found a pair of beautiful Cheetahs, just south of Satara. They were typically lazy. The male was snoozing in the grass; the female as well but quite obscured by the vegetation. We waited around with them for about an hour until the kids lost patience and we moved on. During that hour the most they did was wag a tail, and once the male even sat up for a couple of seconds (!), before crashing back down to sleep again. He was too quick and I screwed up the photo.

Wagging my tail

Look at me - I am so pretty

Back to sleep

Spotted Hyena are another prominent predator in Kruger. We saw quite a few in several locations. We had this playful pair in the very early morning, splashing around in puddles after the previous night's rain.

Interesting photo effect here - just playing


Black-backed Jackal - common and neat

I was most impressed by the big numbers of Elephants we saw. Kruger Park holds 13,000 of these huge beasts - Hopefully the war against poaching will be successful here.

We saw only one rhino, this is a Southern White (AKA Square-lipped) Rhino. BTW, the name 'White Rhino' probably comes from the Afrikaans word 'wijd' (wide), and does not describe its colour.

Good numbers of Wildebeest were present. No huge migration here like in the Mara - Serengeti system, but still nice to see these impressive ungulates roaming free on the Great Plains.

Among the many antelope we saw, I especially liked the dainty Steenbok:

Hello Baboon!

Banded Mongoose - raiding the rubbish bins at Tshokwane

Dwarf Mongoose

We didn't see too many reptiles. This Blue-tailed Sandveld Lizard is pretty:

After the rain, many Leopard Tortoises dangerously walked on the road:

And that's that. To summarize, wildlife watching in South Africa was brilliant. In a very short time I saw just short of 300 bird species (297, though my brother ticked a few more after we had parted) and 34 mammals - not too shabby. There are many special birds I did not see, so there's a good reason to return to South Africa for a proper birding trip!
As always, this trip would not be possible without the help of some good friends, especially Trevor, to whom I am thankful. My travel companions - my boys, my brother and his family, and my dad, all made the trip so special and enjoyable - thank you!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Cats and vultures - Kruger Park

On our last full day in Kruger Park (February 16th) we spent some quality time with a pride of Lions not far from Satara, along the famous S100 track, by a waterhole. When we got there a few cars had already assembled, but it wasn't too bad. I managed to maneuver myself into a good position. The pride, that contained two large, old males, two lionesses and three cubs, had killed the night before. Judging from the amount of skulls and skeletons around the waterhole, my guess is that their hunting technique is ambush around the waterhole. Anyway, when we got there the lions were very full and very sleepy.  Even the cubs were too tired to do anything. This male was huge and very impressive, though obviously very old and beaten - check all those scars:

The dominant lioness, mother of the three cubs, had a scratch or two on her too - she must be a fierce killer:

Life is so good with a full full tummy and a super mummy

The kill itself was behind a small slope and we couldn't see it. One lioness was snoozing by the kill, so the many vultures assembled on the trees around and on the ground kept their distance. Several Hooded Vultures were sat on the ground like hens - funny birds.

As soon as the lioness went for a drink and left the kill, the vultures charged in.

The huge Lappet-faced Vultures dominated the scene. The smaller African White-backed Vultures knew their rank in the hierarchy and kept their distance.

After a good meal it's time for a drink:

Also by the water, when the boss walks up, all the teenagers make way:

BTW, note the distinctive pattern of axillaries and belly feathers on the young vulture to the right of the lappet-faced. Same pattern as my Spanish bird.
While the boss was drinking, a young African White-backed Vulture jumped into the water just in front of her, and started bathing and splashing like a little kid. She had that look, as if thinking to herself "What's this stupid kid doing?":

After all the big vultures had enough to drink, also the miniature Hooded Vultures got a chance to hydrate a bit:

But then - terrible panic! The male Lion walked, or rather limped towards the water for a drink. All the vultures started screaming and scrambling and behaving quite pathetically, to be honest. Make way to the real king!

Oh no! God help us! He's coming!

He's going to eat us all up!

Everybody look at my cahonas!

What takes him so long?

Is he done yet?

Then the king went back to sleep, the vultures returned to fight over the food remains and drinking space, and we drove off to look for some more stuff. Nice to see a good concentration of vultures - this is becoming a rare sight anywhere in the world.
Driving along, we found another majestic lioness not too far away:

My next post will be the final one from South Africa. Watch this space!