Thursday, 29 August 2013

Getting the Hump in California

Birding opportunities have been limited on my family holiday for one reason or another, but today we took a short 3 hour boat trip out of Monterey Bay. It was very misty early morning, as is usual on the mid-upper California coast. 

California Sealions in the mist

I love the Brown Pelicans sailing by in the mist

A number of California Sealions were around, and we also saw our first Sea Otter as well, along with lots of Jellyfish and a few Ocean Sunfish (Mola Mola).

California Sealions were out in large numbers feeding on huge Anchovy shoals

The fog bank continued as we sailed 45 minutes across the bay and headed for an area of water where we could see large numbers of Sealions feeding on a shoal of Anchovies. All of a sudden a Humpback Whale broke the surface of the water right behind the Sealions. 

Humpback Whale

Over the course of an hour we saw maybe 7 Humpback Whales and the views just got better and better and in the end we had 4 animals passing right in front of our ship. Great views indeed.

Grat views of Humpback Whales in Monterey Bay

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Flukes in California Part 2

So the Blue Whales were amazing and to round off a fantastic display we even had some whale poo! A first for me...!

Blue whale and poo...!

The return journey was a little slow to start with but up ahead there was a lot of activity with some gulls and Sooty Shearwaters hanging around one area directly in front of us. 

Sooty Shearwaters
Splashes ahead.....

And yes, there was also some splashes which had to be dolphins, and sure enough as we got closer they turned out to be Common Dolphins, at least 200 in fact, and some came in to bow ride and showed amazingly well. 

Common Dolphins

Returning to the harbour some California Sealions were loafing on a buoy, Heermann's Gulls and Brown Pelicans were giving close views and the sun was still shining.

California Sealions

Brown Pelican

Heermann's Gull

What a trip this had been and looking forward to Monterey Bay already in a few days..... 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Flukes in California Part 1

Well it is summertime and indeed time for a much needed holiday. So leaving the delights of Malibu, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood & Universal Studios behind for a while I managed to get out on a boat into the Pacific Ocean (sort of) and indulge in my other great passion - cetaceans. Long Beach, California was the starting point and the pretty harbour held a surprise (for me at least) in the shape of this Elegant Tern. A white trailing edge, long, droopy bill and splodge of black on the nape all didn't add up to a Royal Tern, so I was quite happy with this, as have done zero homework on the birds here and not seen anything this elegant for many years!

Elegant Tern

Brown Pelican

Other birds around here included lots of Brown Pelicans, they maybe very abundant but I love seeing them flying overhead in small flocks. Great! Lots of Heermann's Gulls, California Gulls and a few Western Gulls were around, 5 Black Oystercatchers flew past and some Pelagic Cormorants were also here.

We left the harbour and made it out into the bay and steamed out towards the open ocean for maybe 40 minutes and it was quite choppy with lots of white water around. Not ideal viewing conditions and it was more like a fairground ride for a while but it calmed down a bit and we were able to pick up several huge blows straight out in front of us.

There were two Blue Whales feeding quite close to each other and we had distant views to begin with.... Before getting closer....

And closer....

And then much closer with the full monty of spouts, visible blow holes and that huge long, pale grey back...

And then we had the classic tail fluke action as these two huge beasts dived...

To be continued......

Thursday, 8 August 2013


To finish off my story we spent a travelling day as we flew from Flores to Bali and then got caught in a major traffic jam that resulted in a 5 hour drive to our luxurious lodge set amidst superb forest at Bali Barat National Park. Along the way we had a whole bunch of Savanna Nightjars flying around us when we stopped at a small shop to buy some water, and quite a few White-headed Munias roosting in a tree bordering the car park here as well.

Java Sparrow - this is one of the best places to see real wild birds.

One last push the following morning as we had a 4.30am breakfast and then drove for one hour to a small quay where we boarded a small boat for a forty minute crossing to the site where we would search for a couple of very special birds. With lofty mountains, volcanoes, forested islands and a lovely clear blue sea it certainly was a beautiful crossing and as luck would have it we spotted our first major target bird from the boat, with a Black-winged Myna riding the back of a Timor Deer on an open hillside. We found a couple of others later as we zigzagged our way across the volcanic and rocky hillside – with a pair teed up nicely in the scope. There was also Black and Ashy Drongos, plenty of Java Sparrows, a Changeable Hawk-eagle on a nest, and 3 Black-thighed Falconets.

Black-thighed Falconet - see the black.... thighs?

The highlight for me was a pair of Beach Thick-knees we scoped on a distant sand spit – I’ve wanted that baby for a long time! But we were struggling for Bali Myna – only a handful survive as free flying wild birds, but there is a reintroduction programme with captive birds being released on a frequent basis. Eventually we found one in the mangroves of all places and had great views of this stunningly beautiful bird. In fact there were several more free-flying ringed birds around the release pens that also gave great views. So that was it and we set off on the boat trip back to the mainland and a veritable feast for lunch.

Bali Myna - a nice looker!

In the afternoon we visited the forest and had Fulvous-chested Jungle-flycatcher responding well to the ipod, both Blue-eared and Rufous-backed Kingfishers, Black-naped Monarch and at least 6 calling Javan Banded Pittas at dusk.

Sunda Scops-owl

Oh and we nailed a roosting Sunda Scops-owl here as well.

So that's it, more or less! Quite a successful tour despite being stuffed over flight schedules and a lost day on Timor. We saw around 244 species and could have easily bumped the list up with some wader watching, but we decided to concentrate on the endemics really. it was a pretty tough tour and, I must admit, without such a wonderful group it could have been a lot harder. Their good humour, willingness to get up early every day, and being ok with some 'dodgy' accommodation made my life so much easier. I always feel privileged to have so many loyal people who repeatedly come along on our tours, so I cannot thank them enough. So a huge "THANK YOU" to you all.

And that's it for 4 months. My first long break in something like 13 years of leading tours. But we're still travelling to California for some whale watching, making a quick visit to Sumatra, more whale watching in the Maldives and finally a long-awaited holiday in Ethiopia before getting 'back on the horse' again. So stay tuned.....

Friday, 2 August 2013

A Day with Dragons..

This was the day we had all been waiting for – a visit to Komodo Island and its dragons. We left Labuanbajo at 6am and sailed out through many beautiful islands in a speedboat. It was a stunningly impressive hour long ride, albeit a little bumpy once we hit deeper water. 

Komodo Island
A few Lesser Frigatebirds were seen, along with a probable Christmas Island Frigatebird, Great Crested and Black-naped Terns and unfortunately a very brief and unidentified storm petrel that crossed in front of us and just vanished into thin air. But I think it must have been a Wilson’s Storm-petrel –the most likely species in these waters. 

Yellow-crested Cockatoos
On approach to Komodo we saw 3 Yellow-crested Cockatoos perched in the treetops near the quay, and upon arrival we had a brief talk by the park rangers, trying to ignore the Barred and Island Collared Doves in the process. Then we set off on the long walk which produced several awesome Green Junglefowls (for a chicken..!), an Orange-footed Scrubfowl for some, Wallacean Cuckooshrike, Yellow-bellied White-eyes, and some really great looks at more cockatoos. Must admit, I was really taken with these birds - full of character, loud and noisy, and this pair I photographed were obviously an item!

Komodo Dragon
Then we had an incredible hour with the Komodo Dragons near the beach and had several walking around and posing for us, with a hulking 10-footer male that bellowed out a loud hiss at another dragon that got too close to him. I must admit they were very impressive for a non-bird! A lovely snorkelling session followed with many fantastic brightly-coloured fish and was a very relaxing way to spend a few hours, especially as the water was crystal clear. To cap off a great day, the owner of the boat took us to their private resort for drinks and snacks. What a great day..

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Flores Clean-Up Part 2

We reached the Flores Monarch site at Puarlolo at daybreak, after another early, early start and following a nice picnic breakfast of banana pancakes and coffee walked into the forest. For once, it didn’t take us long to get the target bird when a cracking Flores Monarch flew right in above us and flitted about the canopy. In fact we had 3 birds in total and everyone had really nice views of them. As we were watching these a Chestnut-capped Thrush started singing and we walked deeper into the forest and began a game of cat-and-mouse with this bird over the next couple of hours. In the beginning all we were getting were flight views as it skipped around us repeatedly without settling. So we sat down in the leaf litter and waited and waited and in the end a few of us had brief perched views of this most-wanted species. Giving it up after what seemed a lifetime of trying we checked out another area and had a pair of Crested Dark-eyes which meant everyone had finally caught up with it. Leaving here we drove to a fine hotel in Labuanbajo, had a short rest and lunch before driving up into the hills. Another more obliging Chestnut-capped Thrush was found, along with Green Imperial-pigeons, Short-toed Eagle and other common birds. Quite excited tonight as we are off to Komodo tomorrow….