Champions of the Flyway!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What's the collective noun for Blackcaps?

Let's go with shitloads for now, at least until somebody comes up with something a little more evocative and poetic. They're everywhere - in every bush, tree, hedge, patch of weeds and alleyway. We're seeing three figures per day just in and around the village, with flocks of up to 20 on favoured shrubs (flocks of Blackcaps - quite a novelty).


That they're often concentrated around fruiting shrubs (Ivy and several other common species are at their berrying peak presently) may go someway to explaining their abundance in the area at the moment. When we were here a few weeks ago, there were only a fraction of these numbers present, and it's tempting to speculate that they've timed their arrival to coincide with the bounty, and spend perhaps a week or two staging here before heading north.


Provence, Feb / Mar 2012 (1)


 Cirl Buntings

With apologies for another interruption to the round-the-world trip journal (of which, only the last few weeks now remain to edit and upload). We're presently about halfway through a month's getaway in the small village of Caumont-sur-Durance, near Avignon, ostensibly to kill time while we wait for the cards to fall on our next move. As a place to hole up for a while, it could be a great deal worse.

male Black Redstart in the garden

Very little birding so far - although there's been some pleasing collateral while out and about locally - and although I'll be getting out more over the next fortnight, the intention is to stay focused on various writing projects while the opportunity remains, and before real life eventually kicks back in.

female Black Redstart

Of birds? Well, as I write, a male Sardinian Warbler is rattling in the hedge, a pair of Black Redstarts are darting in and out of neighbouring gardens, Serins are singing cheerfully in nearby conifers, and Blackcaps and Chaffinches are, of course, everywhere (see next post); a reasonable distillation of what's around in the immediate area, although there's more to be found a little further afield.

 male Serin

On the rocky, largely undisturbed hillsides and ridges just beyond the edge of the village, the habitat varies from dwarf scrub and low herb growth to scattered oak and pine stands, all on the sandy soils typical of the area; the views are stunning, and the natural aromas (including wild sage and rosemary) intoxicating.

there's a (?) on the wall of a 12th century chateau in this picture - good luck (click to enlarge)

Birds here include Firecrests (with the odd Goldcrest tagging along - a nice role reversal from the usual back home), Dartford Warblers, and occasional Short-toed Treecreepers; add to the overall cast a scattering of Cirl Buntings, Chiffchaffs, Common Buzzards, Ravens, more Black Redstarts, Sardinian Warblers & Serins, and occasional flocks of Redwings in the hedges, and that's pretty much the works thus far.

The weather is generally beautiful - sunshine and clear, deep blue skies by day, and clear, star-and-planet-studded skies by night. The latter are generally pretty cold, and the fireplace is still getting a lot of use; but daytime temperatures are climbing all the time, with several pushing twenty degrees (including today). As usual, conditions are ruled entirely by the Mistral, which ebbs and flows as it pleases. This usually results in a cycle of several days with wild, battering winds, fading steadily into several with abating and ultimately still conditions.

Leps so far have included a scattering of Red Admirals, a Wall, several unID'ed whites, and most surprisingly a Hummingbird Hawk-moth (above, on the 25th Feb). How long before the first Wheatear or hirundine? Fingers are crossed, at least when not incessently tapping this machine....

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Parakeets & Bee-eaters - Thattekad, Kerala

We'd seen Malabar Parakeets - a beautiful endemic species confined to the Western Ghats - previously and for the first time at Periyar; but for blinding, close-up views in the midst of a stunning landscape, it had to be The Rock, naturally....


....right alongside (amongst another few dozen multi-coloured species) Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. An explosion in a paint factory sprang instantly to mind.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Jungle Bird Homestay - Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, Kerala

The last seven or so posts have come from the very wonderful Thattekad Bird Sanctuary in the Western Ghats, Kerala (as will the next three or four), and a week here was well spent to say the least, allowing us to take it easy and soak up the local flora, fauna and culture at the perfect pace.


The fact we were able to do so was entirely due to our basecamp - Jungle Bird Homestay - within the reserve itself, occupied by four generations of the same lovely family (two of whom were very into their birds), with quality birding from the balcony and beyond, great company, mouth-watering home-cooked food, and in an idyllic setting that's hard to beat.


We made good friends here, too - as well as our host family, we spent quality time with two other birding couples, Faith & Tom, and Barbara & Andrew (thanks for your company guys), and Sudeesh, a very gifted and passionate local bird guide (more of him in the forthcoming Munnar post). We can't recommend the place enough - see the website for more details.

Sudah - an amazing woman with a life story that's worthy of a book - and many fine hours were spent chewing the cud or birding together

 more bird shots from Thattekad to follow....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

For those about The Rock

Flame-throated Bulbul

 Green Warbler

The last few posts from Thattekad Bird Sanctuary in the Keralan Western Ghats have all made reference to a place we all came to know as The Rock - a hidden clearing / hill in the reserve's unspoilt, forested interior, created by swirling lava flows, long since solidified and blackened, and providing an unrivalled vantage point across a stunning panorama.


Gireesh, our always enthusing and effervescent host, was consistently on the money with where to find pretty much everything (see forthcoming posts) - but in the Rock he held the show-stopper, reached through a drive along an obscure track to a small rubber tree plantation, and then a hike up through the forest, and unknown and unavailable to pretty much anyone else.

The Rock provided the ideal clearing by which to catch 360 degrees of forest birds, and the unique habitat mix (flowering and fruiting shrubs and trees, grassland, thorn scrub, thickets, etc) at the forest edge attracted a killer roll-call of local specialities amongst many commoner species. Gireesh often proudly exclaimed "this is the best place to birdwatch in India, yes Mark?", and it has to be said, it was hard to disagree.

By getting in position just before the sun rose, all we had to do was kick back and enjoy the parade for the next three hours or so; or at most, wander a few metres in any direction down the lava streams for a little variety. Some of the best birding hours of the whole eight-month trip were enjoyed here - and along with the homestay, we very highly recommend (see forthcoming post for full details).
More avian highlights from here and the rest of the reserve to follow.

Barbara, Andrew, Gireesh, a happy author and Amity

fresh elephant dung (we heard the perpetrators close by in the jungle around us here several times, but thankfully never too close)

White-cheeked Barbet


Crested Goshawk 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Black Bazas - Thattekad, Kerala

Birding rarely gets better; I'd never seen Black Bazas before our fantastic five days raptor-watching on Khao Dinsor, peninsula Thailand (see here, here and here) at the end of October and the start of November, where we were treated to thousands upon thousands of them, migrating above, alongside and below us.

But none were perched, or indeed anywhere near as close as the birds pictured. Again, The Rock provided (see previous, and especially the following, post), and having wandered off to try and get better shots of various Bulbuls in a roving flock, these birds appeared from the forest and landed in the tree right next to me.


A nervous pause followed, during which I fully expected them to take one look at me and sod off over the ridge - on the contrary, they decided on the unexpected and extremely novel choice of completely ignoring me and tucking into their freshly-caught breakfast (see about-to-be-crunched preying mantis in some of these shots).