Sunday, 25 November 2012

South India & the Andamans Day 3

The day got off to a flyer this morning with our first Andaman White-headed Starlings posing on a dead snag high up in the canopy, but it was pretty good views through the scope. Birds then kept coming at a steady pace throughout the morning and we continued with the first of many Black-naped Orioles seen today, followed by more Andaman Drongos, Andaman Bulbul, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, and our first and very obliging Andaman Shama

Andaman Shama

A pair of huge Andaman Woodpeckers were rather obliging and came in to the call and perched nicely in a large tree right above us, whilst the first of three Andaman Serpent-eagles posed very obligingly. 

Andaman Serpent-eagle

Andaman Woodpecker

At an open area with lots of dead trees an Andaman Flowerpecker was working its way around a clump of Mistletoe, 3 Violet Cuckoos were chasing each other, and as we watched them noticed a Black Baza perched quietly nearby. 

Black Baza

Then an Andaman Cuckooshrike was spotted and we had really nice looks at several of these endemics. Further on, and a pair of Andaman Treepies joined a mixed flock and were teed up nicely in the scope. Plenty of other common birds were seen this morning including White-bellied Swiftlet, Vernal Hanging-parrot, Long-tailed Parakeet, Collared and White-throated Kingfishers, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Black-naped Monarch, both Scarlet and Small Minivets, and a not-so-common and all-too-brief Forest Wagtail. So we drove a short distance further along the road and parked up right beside a fruiting tree which held several Green Imperial-pigeons and Andaman Green-pigeons. We then spent the rest of the morning searching for Andaman Crake, and although we didn’t see one, we heard one calling from inside the forest at some distance away. Whilst searching here a few of us had an Andaman Coucal skulking on the forest floor. So after lunch at the lodge we returned to the same forest in the afternoon and again found the birding to be quiet at this time of day, but we did spectacularly nail Andaman Woodpigeon with great views of a pair alongside the forest road. But apart from that all we really had were Red-breasted and Long-tailed Parakeets perched side-by-side, Asian Brown Flycatcher and not a lot else. 

Hume's Hawk-owl

We tried the nightjar again at dusk, but this time only heard it, although had prolonged perched views of Hume’s Hawk-owl – so leaving us just 5 endemics to get. And when a pair of Andaman Scops-owls called from close by we thought we’d knock off one more endemic, but try as we might we just couldn’t find them in the dense foliage.

South India & the Andamans Day 2

After a short transfer to the airport we took off pretty much on time on the flight to Port Blair in the Andamans, passing over numerous forested islands on the way. Upon arrival we headed straight to our accommodation, at the rather wonderfully named Megapode Nest Resort where we found all of the rooms to contain just the one double bed. A bit of a problem if you have two guys sharing! After a bit of creative logistics it all worked out in the end though! So after a nice lunch we set off at 2.30pm to a nearby forest where we walked along the road and notched up our first endemics in the shape of Andaman Drongo and Andaman Green-pigeon, to add to the Andaman Coucal a few of the group saw in the gardens of the lodge. Flocks of Alexandrine and Red-breasted Parakeets were flying over the canopy, and we also had several pale-headed Brown Shrikes of the Lucionensis race and a Dollarbird. But the birding was rather slow, that was until the sun set and we managed to see an Andaman Nightjar flying overhead. 

Andaman Hawk-owl - record shot

Walden's (Oriental) Scops-owl

Andaman Hawk-owl

Then we called in a Hume’s Hawk-owl which didn’t stay very long, totally opposite to the Andaman Hawk-owls we had perched on telegraph wires at a couple of places. We finished with a Walden’s Scops-owl (one of these Rasmussen splits from Oriental Scops-owl) accidently picked up in the spotlight when searching for another hawk-owl. What luck! So a great end to our first day on the Andaman Islands indeed.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

South India & the Andamans Day 1

Following an overnight flight from London via Dubai we landed in Chennai and were picked up in a small coach and made our way to the interestingly named Hotel Velacity, arriving late in the morning. After a good lunch and a quick look at our first Yellow-billed Babblers, and both Purple-rumped and Loten’s Sunbirds in the garden, we decided to head out and try and find somewhere to go birding for a few hours and after a tip-of about Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary it seemed like a good idea to go there! Not knowing anything about the place, except that it was apparently a forest, off we went. Of course, after a 90 minute drive we discovered that it was a wetland reserve with pride of place going to a huge colony of Spot-billed Pelicans and we estimated around 300 pairs were present. Amongst this colony were hundreds of Asian Openbills and Black-headed Ibis, a few Eurasian Spoonbills and Glossy Ibis, and numerous Little Cormorants and Indian Shags as well. We could view the area from a concrete tower hide and it was very pleasant to be able to look down on all these birds and just watch all the action. Overhead, lots of Asian Palm Swifts were present, as well as flotillas of openbills and pelicans continually streaming over. An immature Montagu’s Harrier drifted past a few times, whilst a large flock of Green Bee-eaters and a few Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were seen in the distance. A pair of Indian Spot-billed Ducks showed well amongst the islands of vegetation below us, but a flock of Northern Pintails and Lesser Whistling-ducks were a bit more distant. Walking along the bund back towards the coach produced 4 Yellow-wattled Lapwings amongst a load of Wood Sandpipers in some recently flooded rice paddies, whilst an Indian Golden Oriole showed nicely and at least three Coppersmith Barbets posed nicely in a leafless tree. So not a bad little session, although rather unexpected, and we headed back into the city eventually arriving back at the hotel a little later than expected due to the crazy traffic!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Lake Titicaca

So this was our last day and what a place to be huh? But we started with an abortive attempt for Berlepsch's Canastero - because the local villagers had blocked the approach road to our site over some damn dispute. So we did get a few birds down at a little lake, with more Andean Geese and a few Giant Coots.

Andean Goose

Giant Coot

Then we spent the rest of the day at Lake Titicaca and quickly found the endemic Titicaca (Short-winged) Grebe.

Titicaca Grebe

There were also lots of Andean Gulls, Andean Ruddy Ducks and Andean Coots, as well as Wren-like Rushbird and Yellow-winged Blackbirds in the reeds.

Andean Coot

Andean Gull

Andean Gull

Andean Ruddy Duck
We then moved on to a different arm of the lake and found Many-coloured Rush-tyrant and Plumbeous Rail, as well as a flock of Black Siskins. All that remained was a little bit of phaffing, some shopping and then we drove back to the hotel for an early finish. Job done!

Black Siskin

Posing at Lake Titicaca

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

La Cumbre Pass & Coroica Road

We visited La Cumbre Pass just after dawn which at 4650m or thereabouts was just a little bit chilly – believe me!

La Cumbre Pass

It was a slow start with Plumbeous Sierra-finch and Variable Hawk the only noteworthy sightings, until we crossed over the pass and stopped to scan the lake. A pair of Andean Goose looked really nice but there was else new here so we dropped down and took a lane off into a side valley. 

Andean Goose

This area proved to be a goldmine and was full of birds, starting with flocks of Ash-breasted Sierra-finches, Andean Flicker, and a pair of White-fronted Ground-tyrants. We took a slow, steady walk around the area and had really cracking views of White-winged Diuca-finch, Cinereous Ground-tyrant, several Andean Hillstars, Peruvian Sierra-finch, and a Puna Ground-tyrant

We birded this road just below the pass

A flock of Black Siskins flying around looked quite spectacular and were even better when perched on a mossy stone wall, whilst D’Orbigny’s Chat-tyrant was totally overshadowed by the sighting of a Short-tailed Finch that flew in and landed on the wall right in front of us. 

White-winged Diuca-finch

Andean Hillstar

Peruvian Sierra-finch

White-winged Cinclodes

Short-tailed Finch

So leaving here we drove down the road and walked a short trail where a Diademed Tapaculo was called in for a brief view, a Violet-throated Starfrontlet was perched up nicely and Sierran Elaenia showed very well. Then we headed down the famous Old Coroica Road (better known as the road of death!) – but it’s much safer now. Unfortunately, as with any cloud forest if you have clear blue skies and sunshine it simply kills bird activity. And this was us! 

Coroica Road

But we started off with the endemic Orange-browed Hemispingus skulking in the roadside vegetation and then spent the next couple of hours walking down the road, driving a few kilometres lower and then walking again. It was slow going. So we had lunch and saw a few birds during the expected ‘quiet time’ of early afternoon such as Grass-green Tanager, Cinnamon Flycatcher and Common Bush-tanager

Cinnamon Flycatcher

Common Bush-tanager

Then we finally got some response to the pygmy-owl tape when a bunch of Three-striped Warblers  appeared. All of their commotion attracted a Slate-throated Whitestart, and then a Mountain Wren and Slaty-capped Flycatcher popped up for a look. 

Three-striped Warbler

A Grey-breasted Wood-wren then gave itself up for unusually prolonged views before we drove down several more kilometres. With welcoming clouds obscuring the scorching sun things then took a very different vain and all of a sudden the valleys and hillsides were full of birdsong. When a superb male Blue-naped Chlorophonia flew into a nearby bush, we then saw a calling Golden-crowned Flycatcher over the road and an immature male Long-tailed Sylph fed on flowers right in front of us. 

Long-tailed Sylph

Some Dusky-green Oropendolas had decided to nest just 10 feet off the road and as we walked by cold hear young inside. Another short drive took us even lower and we spent the next couple of hours here as birds just kept appearing. When a family party of White-throated Quail-doves walked across the road, I kind of thought we were on for something good! 

White-throated Quail-dove

Then an incredible kaleidoscope of feathers turned into a male Versicolored Barbet which just kept on asking to be watched, followed by a pair of Bar-bellied Woodpeckers, Saffron-crowned Tanager,  and finally a female Crested Quetzal

Versicolored Barbet

Crested Quetzal

Saffron-crowned Tanager

Of course it had to hammer down with rain which then gave us an excuse to turn around and drive back to the hotel. I would have stayed but it was 4pm and we had a 3 hour journey….! 

And the rain came...!

Anyway, approaching the top of the road I saw a Sword-billed Hummingbird fly close past the bus and shouted for the bus to stop. But it must have kept on going and I felt a bit silly, but then a raucous call from the forest above the road had me thinking it must be White-collared Jay so everyone jumped out of the bus and sure enough there were a pair of jays working their way across the hillside. More bird calls and movement in the misty treetops delayed us further and careful scrutiny revealed the stunning image of a Golden-collared tanager. It was in a flock consisting of Chestnut-bellied and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanagers, Blue-backed Conebill, Citrine Warbler, Ochraceous-breasted Flycatcher and Superciliared Hemispingus, with an Amethyst-throated Sunangel joining in the fun as well. Wow! As if that wasn’t mind-blowing enough we then had the icing on a very good cake, with a Plushcap posing nicely for a few seconds on a bare bamboo stem. So that was it and we dragged ourselves away and finally reached the hotel in downtown La Paz around 8pm.