Sunday 21 July 2024

Tanzania - Eastern Arc Mountains Tour Day 1

 Well, here I am in a nice little hotel at Same, at the base of the Pare Mountains. It's been one hell of a ride to get here, starting on Friday back home in the UK when I woke up to the news of a global IT meltdown. Airports were closed, flights cancelled, banking systems down.... Somehow, we dodged the bullet and flew to Dar-es-Salaam without a hitch and took a domestic flight up to Kilimanjaro Airport, seeing a flock of Mottled Spinetails & Little Swifts over the airport.. 

Pre-tour drinks in Dar-Es-Salaam

Our local guide Abdul was there to meet us and we arrived at our hotel in Arusha around 9.30pm, absolutely knackered I have to admit!

So today (Sunday 21st July 2024) we left after breakfast and drove to Nyumba Ya Munga to bird the dry thorn scrub habitat. it took around 3 hours to reach the site, but this is Africa and roadside birding is brilliant! I don't particularly like drive-by birding but it was quite pleasant seeing Trumpeter & Silvery-cheeked Hornbills, African Palm Swifts, Northern and Long-tailed Fiscals, Hammerkop, Black-winged Kite, a Crowned Hornbill for Peter, and quite a few Superb Starlings

Our main roadside stop for a quick pee then turned into an excellent session as we had Rock Kestrel and Gabar Goshawk perched up on trees across the road. Our first Grey Wren-Warbler then appeared, along with African Grey Flycatcher, a pair of Tawny-flanked Prinias and a Variable Sunbird. A confiding Spotted Palm-Thrush was stunning, and certainly overshadowed the Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus, non-breeding Vitelline Masked Weavers, and White-browed Sparrow-Weavers! Driving further we screeched to a halt for a Rufous-crowned (Purple) Roller and our first Northern Grey-headed Sparrow in a large tree right beside the road. 

it was around 10.30am by the time we reached Nyumba Ya Munga and turning off the tarmac road onto dirt road suddenly turned the heat up birdwise, despite the cool, overcast conditions. We were targeting Pringle's Puffback and Scaly Chatterer, so drove slowly with the roof up and side windows fully out as well. So we used the safari vehicle as a hide and turned up a feast of great birds, with a group of 7 Scaly Chatterers eventually coming in very close and hanging around for the most brilliant views and certainly the best ever view i've had of this species. 

Scaly Chatterer

At our first stop we also had a pair of gorgeous Green-winged Pytilias, Pin-tailed Whydah, White-browed Scrub-Robin, a group of Blue-capped Cordon-bleus, a lifer Tsavo Sunbird for everyone, a pair of Red-billed Quelea, several Purple Grenadiers, Yellow-spotted Bush-Sparrow,  a few Fischer's Starlings, D'Arnaud's Barbet, White-bellied Canary and a Northern Crombec

Tsavo Sunbird

The next stop overlooking some old corn fields was another fab stop, with African Grey Hornbill, Brubru, another D'Arnaud's Barbet, Red-and-yellow Barbet, Slate-coloured Boubou, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, African Bare-eyed Thrush, Black-necked Weaver, Chestnut Weaver, Reichenow's Seedeater, a pair of huge Southern Grosbeak-Canaries, Black-faced Waxbill, another Tsavo Sunbird and a superb pair of Somali Buntings

Rosy-patched Bushshrike

Somali Bunting

We also came across a pair of much-wanted White-headed Mousebirds that lingered beside our vehicle, a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle flew overhead and a few Northern White-crowned Shrikes were seen in a field.

Purple Grenadier

We also walked along a side track after the ever elusive Pringle's Puffback - a bird that would continue to elude us. But we enjoyed fine views of many Southern Grosbeak-Canaries, another Grey Wren-Warbler, Klaas's Cuckoo, Namaqua Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, singing Pink-breasted Lark, a confiding Slate-coloured Boubou, and at least 2 pairs of Pygmy Batis. Wow!

Southern Grosbeak-Canary

We eventually reached the lodge at Same at nearly 2pm, so we scoffed fish & chips or Chicken & chips quickly and had a little look around before leaving at 3.15pm. We had nice views of Wire-tailed Swallow, many Reichenow's Seedeaters, African Pied Wagtail, Hunter's Sunbird and surprisingly a group of Pale White-eyes. And then we were off on the hour long drive up into the South Pare Mountains for the endemic and very localised South Pare White-eye. We made one stop on the way up for a Striped Kingfisher and a pair of Trumpeter Hornbills but didn't hang around as time was ticking....

Looking up to the South Pare Mountains...

Well the South Pare White-eye duly obliged, despite the group of Southern Yellow White-eyes that caused a distraction to begin with, but the broad white eye-ring and grey bellies really stood out amongst the all yellow of the 'other' white-eye! If you get my meaning? The forest if really degraded and only remnant patches of what was once a magnificent forest remained and boy was it quiet up here. There wasn't one bird singing.... 

Great forest, or what is left...

Until a Bar-throated Apalis began calling and this skulker only gave glimpses to a couple of us. A Hartlaub's Turaco showed a little better, as did African Dusky Flycatcher, African Stonechat and Baglafecht Weaver. A pair of White-necked Ravens flew over and just before we left, a pair of Usambara Double-collared Sunbirds appeared. 

African Goshawk

Driving back down the mountain, an African Goshawk was perched beside the road and a Brown-hooded Kingfisher posed nicely on a bare branch to round off a really, really good first day's birding in Tanzania. We celebrated with quite a few bottles of the local brew... Kilimanjaro beer.... Cheers!

Saturday 20 July 2024


For my last day on Hokkaido  i went in search of Sakhalin Grasshopper Warbler and after checking suitable habitats on Google Earth and looking at eBird reports I had a few sites I thought worth checking. Sure enough I found a cooperative bird and heard another in a different area, so I understood the habitat requirements..... it likes tall grass, possibly wet areas adjacent to woodlands and even in the forest itself as long as the vegetation is tall and makes seeing it near impossible. Anyway, hearing it is no problem. Seeing it is another matter and it requires a great deal of patience. The bird I saw took maybe 45 minutes to actually get a tickable view of. I could see the grass and small bushes moving as it came in to playback, but it certainly didn't want to be seen easily. Yet I managed numerous brief views, with the last one a belter as it perched for maybe 3 seconds in a tiny bush amidst the tall grass. 

The track i'd drove along went into nice woodland and bordered a marsh, where several Middendorff's Grasshopper Warblers proved to be quite obliging. 

Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler

Japanese Bush Warbler

There was also White-bellied Green-Pigeon, Japanese Bush Warbler feeding young, Eurasian Wren, another Masked Bunting and a pair of Amur Stonechats. nearby, another Red-crowned Crane patrolled the shoreline. I was particularly pleased with the views of this Latham's Snipe perched on a telegraph pole beside the road....

Latham's Snipe

So we headed over to the harbour. Once again I couldn't get on to a boat trip and felt pretty stupid I had failed to book in advance. The nearby bay held 8 Stejneger's Scoters, 2 Black Scoter and a pair of White-tailed Eagles

So I decided to drive an hour up to Cape Nosappu and did some seawatching. Thee was plenty going on with numerous Rhinoceros Auklets flying by, and I also picked up Tufted Puffin too. Result! A few Black-tailed Gulls were around, along with Japanese & Pelagic Cormorants, Japanese Wagtail and some commoner species.

The drive back to Furen Lodge was fruitful as we had our closest Red-crowned Crane in a field close to the road.

Red-crowned Crane

And what a stunning bird. But there was still a few hours of daylight left, so I swung by another area. And this was a great move as this long track we drove along took us through woodland and out onto some marshes, and provided a really good list of species. There were several Middendorff's Grasshopper Warblers singing away, Siberian Long-tailed Rosefinch, Amur Stonechats, Latham's Snipe, a few Black-browed Reed Warblers, and more common species. It was a really good site. 

Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler

And that was my birding finished in Hokkaido and Japan. The next day we drove to Kushiro and flew back to Tokyo and overnighted in a nice hotel. We'd had our flight with BA cancelled again and had to buy new tickets with Etihad to get back to the UK, so we're not Ba's greatest fans! 

Anyway, i'm writing this last Japan post sat in Dubai waiting for my flight to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. And another adventure awaits.

Thursday 11 July 2024


Even though I'd returned to the hotel after the owl experience at a really good time last night, I still had a lie in this morning before waltzing down to breakfast at a sterling 8am. The kitchen staff had done us proud with a great dinner last night and this morning's breakfast didn't disappoint either - NO FISH AT ALL!! Result! A short while later we were on the road up to Shiretoko Pass, another site for Japanese Accentor if needed (which I didn't), but I was more interested in Grey Bunting. I spent quite a while either side of the pass without hearing one at all, but seeing several Masked Buntings, and not a lot else apart from a Coal Tit, an Eurasian Nuthatch, hearing a few Japanese Bush Warblers and an incessantly calling Oriental Cuckoo - and that was it. The habitat was superb and i'd imagine at first light would be choc full of birds and a lot less annoying traffic too! 

Masked Bunting - split from Black-faced Bunting

On the return journey I stopped when I heard an odd call and sure enough it proved to be a Grey Bunting singing, but it was in such a dense area of dwarf bamboo that I couldn't see it. And it didn't respond to my payback either. And on top of that it never sang again after the first few times I heard it. Bugger! So I drove back down to Rausu and tried to get on a boat trip, but everything was full (serves me right), then we decided to head south to Kiritappu, as that's where my last chance of a lifer was. 

It's only a 2 hour drive and the road pretty much follows the coast and passes through some really nice habitat. After an hour I stopped beside a lagoon where a few Greater Scaups were present. A bit of scanning of the area produced a pair of Amur Stonechats beside a track on the other side of the road. On further investigation I found a Siberian Long-tailed Rosefinch, several Masked Buntings and after a little wait, a cracking Siberian Rubythroat popped up and began singing. 

Siberian Rubythroat

I watched it for a while and managed to get some decent photos. It's a fabulous bird and one you just cannot get enough of or ever tire of seeing and it was thoroughly enjoyable to spend some time with it. Just then, something began singing out in the vast grassland and it took my brain a little while to recognise the song as a Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler. This would prove to be a reasonably common bird in this part of Hokkaido and I had several decent views of two individuals that were attracted to my iPod. I also saw a Black-browed Reed Warbler, Japanese Wagtail, and had a close Japanese Bush Warbler. Not a bad little haul eh?

By 5pm we had reached Furen Lodge, quite a famous place to stay amongst birders and is in a prime location on the edge of Lake Furen and the adjacent Shunkunitai Nature Reserve. As we approached the lodge, 4 Red-crowned Cranes flew behind the lodge, so once we had introduced ourselves to the lodge owner I hot-footed it up to the nearby bridge and relocated the crane family feeding in a marsh. I spent a good hour watching them feeding, firstly through the scope and then I crept closer and closer until I dared not get any closer. A large bush was between myself and the marsh they were feeding in, so I sat on the floor and fired off loads of photos. 

Red-crowned Crane

I even managed to ignore the singing Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler right next to me! Eventually they made their way down to the beach and continued to feed along the tide line before I crept back to my car and drove back to the lodge, with the light fading fast. But not before getting my closest views of Japanese Wagtail....

Japanese Wagtail

Saturday 6 July 2024


 I was glad to finally leave the cruise ship and get over to Hokkaido, where it's much less humid. The cruise hadn't really panned out as i'd of liked, despite being a month later than i'd want to do it next year. My expectations were, I believe, not high My hopes of recreating a Pacific version of our Epic Cape Horn Cruise had failed but Japan is a blast and i've found it fascinating. So i'm definitely putting on a tour next year but i'd like to do something a little different...... You'll need to see the Zoothera website in a few days to see what i've come up with. 

Anyway, we reached Hokkaido in the early evening and got to a sort of weird hotel in Kushiro at around 7pm. As you know, i'm not a fan of fish or seafood in any way, so we bought some sandwiches and other snacks and took them to our room for dinner. 

The following morning I was up at 4am, about 15 minutes after sunset, and out the door a short while later on the 20 minute drive to Kushiro Forest Park. On arrival a White-throated Needletail was flying around the car park - nice start! Walking up into the forest along a wide track it took a while to get anything good, but for most of my visit I could hear a White's Thrush singing away from deep inside the forest, which was really cool. I really wanted to see Japanese Robin but for the first hour I didn't hear any singing. However, once the sun began to hit the trees in the valley a few birds began singing. I could hear various tits, Narcissus Flycatchers, a few woodpeckers and then suddenly the robins began to sing. I heard something like 6 different birds but all pretty distant. So I decided to take a narrow trail uphill and sure enough I had two different birds competing with their distinctive song either side of the trail, I sat down beside a big tree and waited to see what would happen, every so often playing  a snippet of song. Sure enough, the robin came closer and closer but I couldn't see it. I didn't want to move as by now it was damn close but decided to move my position slowly around the big tree to look down into the valley to my left. And there it was! 

Japanese Robin

It proved to be a rather confiding bird, and I watched it for ages as it moved between various dead branches and stumps singing its heart out. After a good half an hour at least I left this bird in peace and walked several more trails. A White-backed Woodpecker was my next good bird and it showed very nicely in a bare tree where it was joined by a second bird after a few minutes.

White-backed Woodpecker

I was loving just watching birds and not having to rush from species to species and in such beautiful surroundings. The forest was so lush and vibrant, and each tree had a subtly different shade of green. So next up was Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, another key target species on Hokkaido. It's a split from Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and as such I was looking for it in the undergrowth or lower part of the canopy. But the bird I saw was calling overhead and took some finding in the leafy canopy but eventually it showed really well. I also saw White-bellied Green-Pigeon, a flyover Oriental Cuckoo that had been calling all morning, a Brown-headed Thrush feeding on the path, Marsh, Willow & Japanese Tits, a very white-bellied Eurasian Nuthatch and a few Eastern Crowned Warblers. The latter's song proved to be in every wooded area I visited on Hokkaido. 

Narcissus Flycatcher

On the walk back to the car I finally had a close view of a singing Narcissus Flycatcher - another common sound in forests here. So, on my 20 minute drive back to the hotel I took a slight detour to Harutori Lake, just to check it out. It was a good move as I had my lifer Masked Bunting on the path down to the lake, as well as Black-browed Reed Warbler, several Oriental Greenfinches and not a lot else.

I made it back to the hotel just in time for breakfast - hotels in Japan are really punctual...! Anyway, from here we drove just over two and a half hours up to the Shiretoko Peninsula and the small seaside town of Rausu, where we were to stay for the night. Whilst Mrs B was in the supermarket I sea-watched from across the road and saw 200+ Rhinoceros Auklets, single Black-legged Kittiwake and Black-tailed Gull and many Slaty-backed Gulls. We were staying nearby and this hotel proved to be excellent. But boy I was a bit knackered, so once checked in I totally crashed out for an hour. This hotel had a policy of a 6pm dinner, but made an exception for me and I had mine at 5pm as I had an appointment with a certain owl tonight and had to be in the viewing hide well before sunset. As it turned out the owl site was just outside town, literally 5 minutes away and once there I was shown to my seat in what was more like a cabin than a hide. Several other people were already here, and I settled in for a long night. As the European Championships were in full swing I was scrolling through the football news when a Blakiston's Fish Owl flew in the first time at 19:40. Damn! I had a quick look in the bins before firing off a few shots with my trusty Nikon. And then it flew upstream and was gone. Luckily, it returned within minutes and spent a much longer time feasting on the fish that are put out for it every night. 

Introducing the fabulous Blakiston's Fish Owl

And what a bird this is. I know it's a regular feature of every Japan tour and as such 'old hat' to many world travellers, but I was extremely excited to see it. It's meant to be one of, if not THE largest owl in the world and it certainly was a brute. When it disappeared the second time I made my exit and was back in the hotel room by 8.15pm at the latest. What a day this had been.

Tuesday 2 July 2024


Well, i'd like to start off by saying these 2 days at sea as we sailed north from Okinawa back to Yokohama were full of potential. On paper. In reality, it's the wrong time of year (probably at least a month too late in the season) and on top of that, I don't think the ship sails far enough out into the Pacific Ocean to connect with the really good stuff. In fact, it's pants! Too many hours were spent gazing at a birdless sea. The first day out from Okinawa produced 7 distant Black-naped Terns, 4 Bulwer's Petrels and around 60 mostly distant Streaked Shearwaters. We had one mad hour when a really scraggy-looking moulting booby with a white head flew past and it did get my pulse racing. As a little while later a different white-headed bird flew past. Surely they had to be immature Red-footed Boobies but the white head set alarm bells ringing for a bit. A quick scroll around the internet confirmed they weren't Abbott's Booby - well, one can dream! And a little later a really obvious Red-footed Booby appeared. All the while we had around 9 Brown Boobies circling the ship. And that was it..!

This was the 3rd Red-footed Booby today - shame it hasn't got a dark tail!

A classic Red-footed Booby - the 2nd one today

What a mess.... The 1st Red-footed Booby today

Buoy oh Buoy..!!

Lots of flying fish were disturbed by the ship and the BB's took full advantage

More BB's

Brown Booby with Amami in the background

One of the 4 Bulwer's Petrels from today

You know, the last day at sea was awful. No Short-tailed Albatross, in fact no nothing. Just a single Streaked Shearwater seen all day, but I did spend a large chunk of it drinking cocktails!! And that was the cruise done! 

So what did I think.... Well, the days on Ishigaki and Okinawa were great. Taiwan is always fun. But the cruise doesn't work as an entity in its own right. So I won't be repeating it next year. Instead, i'm in the process of sorting a really great epic Japan tour for next May to include Ishigaki, Okinawa & Amami, as well as Honshu & Hokkaido. With a little bit extra thrown in. I'm back in the office next week and will update the website as soon as I can. But I have to tell you, all this sushi, soup for breakfast and the crazy fascination with fish & seafood over here isn't for me. Myself and Mrs B have been spending quite a lot of time looking at different hotels and restaurants that can cater for people, who like me, can't stand fish! Oh and Mrs B is vegetarian and has worked out a pretty good non-meat, non-fish, non-seafood diet that's to her liking! So if the food situation in Japan has deterred you from coming here, fear not! And I don't mean any disrespect to the Japanese catering and food industry in any way.... It's just not for me!

Anyway, onwards and upwards. Off to Hokkaido we go....