Tuesday, 23 December 2014

My North Wales Highlights for 2014

Having spent the first 6 weeks of the year away on our Amazon cruise it was March before I got out and about locally.
A visit to Rhos Point to check out the over wintering Purple Sandpipers is always worth the effort... if you can find them !
Purple Sandpiper 2014-03-01
Which at least I managed. Having had a dreadful winter of rain and floods it seems the Short Eared Owls over in Rhyl were not to be seen last winter.A big disappointment .
Ah, well, by March the weather had brightened up considerably and I was out and about at Conwy RSPB reserve and had some wonderful views of Grey heron fishing.
Grey Heron 2014-03-09
A few days later I was down in Llanberis at what must be one of the best sites in the UK for Goosander.

Goosander 2014-03-12
They are a really difficult subject to get the right exposure on which is why I keep going back to try and achieve the perfect shot. That will never happen but I am getting better.
March was proving to be outstanding with excellent views of Dipper
Dipper 2014-03-17
and Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail  2014-03-19
Both had been on my wish list for some time but not as high as Mr Fox was ! I see one quite often in the garden but they are very quick to spot you and even from my hiding place in the house they are off no matter how quietly I try to open the window.
This one I found down at Conwy reserve again.
Fox 72014-03-28
April saw me venturing a little further from home, a trip in to Shropshire and Mid Wales where the highlight were the Siskins at RSPB Vyrynwy.
Siskin 2014-04-04
Locally out on the Great Orme the Stonechats were showing well.
Stonechat 2014-04-09
but the highlight was a close Kestrel encounter at the same location.
Kestrel    2014-04-09
At the end of April I managed a quick week's holiday over in Lesvos on a cheap last minute deal... intended as a treat for Claire as I was off to Bulgaria at the end of May.
Trips to the Little Orme were rewarding for Cormorant shots
Cormorant 2014-05-14
and back at my Dipper site it was obvious that the eggs had hatched !
Dipper 2014-05-16
With June in full swing it was back to Conwy RSPB to try capturing some flight shots of Swift
and of course, a trip out to Cemlyn Bay for the Terns is an annual pilgrimage.
Common Tern
Not sure why as they are cause for much frustration too !
Sandwich Tern
At home in the garden the new generation were starting to appear.
We are lucky to have a big enough garden to hold quite a few breeding species.
Long Tailed Tit
Long Tailed Tit  juvenile
Great Tit
Great Tit juvenile
are just a few of the youngsters we might find. Sadly, for the first time in many years it appears the local Tawny Owls did not breed and in fact they are rarely heard now so my fear is they have moved away. We do have these little cuties though
Bullfinch juvenile
and they were very successful this year with at least two broods visiting my feeders.
Another major annual highlight which failed to materialise this year was the "Stoatfest" at Conwy RSPB when the young Stoats come out to play and make fantastic watching and photo opportunities.
In all probability the winter floods had destroyed their previous nesting sites so they may well have gone elsewhere. Still, the House Martins were an alternative challenge.
House Martin
With July under way I was lucky to get invited on a pelagic trip out of Liverpool again. Once again the Gannets were a prime target, you never tire of photographing them.
but this year they were outshone by a pod of Bottlenose Dolphin that swam alongside us for a good 45 minutes of pure magic.
Bottlenose Dolphin
Things in the garden were getting a bit quiet so aided with a few props I looked to make things happen. Great fun with the Bank Voles.
Let them eat cake
but just now and then the unexpected occurs. The peace was shattered by a screaming Peregrine that reappeared over the house with it's catch.
Over our house
For once I was ready and armed with my camera !
September marks the arrival of one or two passage migrants heading south after a local stop over, often on the Great Orme.
Wheatear Conwy RSPB
but my very favourite and my local "bird of the Year" was this delightful Grey Phalarope.
Grey Phalarope
I spent 3 days at close quarters with this very confiding bird. I was trying to capture an image of it catching flies as it darted around the little pool it favoured. Eventually I came pretty close to what I wanted but I hate to tell you how many shots it took to get it.
Grey Phalarope
Whilst some birds fly south for the winter, some actually move in to the area.
My first shot of a Common Kingfisher at reasonably close distance in many a long year in the UK. This one down at Conwy RSPB and for me a nice birthday present.
Kingfisher Conwy RSPB
Over in Colwyn Bay the regularly seen Mediterranean Gull was back too.Seen here in a sandstorm and no wonder I had to spend ages cleaning my kit afterwards !
Mediterranean Gull
It was a pretty quiet autumn overall and to be honest there were times when I was frustrated by the lack of opportunity here at home.
With November spent in the Far east I shouldn't complain as I was lucky enough to fit in visits to 25 countries over the last 12 months so opportunities abroad were plentiful however, I'm always pleased to return to the stunning countryside we are lucky to live in.
Snowdonia walk
We have some fantastic scenery
Snowdonia walk
to match the best in the world.
Snowdonia walk
And if you go looking there is always a new challenge just waiting around the corner.

Kestrel      Great Orme
So my 2014 wasn't too bad a year after all and now I'm looking forward to what 2015 brings.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Phuket,Thailand and some local patch birding !

If you have followed my Cruise blog from the beginning you will appreciate that this was never meant to be a birders holiday but rather a compromise with more to interest my non birding wife Claire.
Our flight to Phuket was uneventful, our pre arranged transfer was ready and waiting and we were soon on our way to our hotel in Karon Beach. We had had no influence or choice on where we were staying as it had all been part of a package. Some research on Trip Advisor suggested it would be OK but as we drove the length of Phuket Island I did wonder what we would find. To my relief it wasn't too bad at all. A birding website of Thailand suggests that there isn't any decent birding in Phuket so I wasn't expecting too much, my impressions en route were that the place was very over developed, too much building, too many people but as we approached Karon there was evidence of a lot more greenery.
Our hotel, a Best Western, was your typical 3*. Perfectly adequate, clean and with decent facilities. A bit of a concrete sprawl and quite a walk from the top floor to the ground but that would have an advantage later on ! Behind the hotel was a largely undeveloped wooded hillside.
2014-12-01 at 09-41-51
To the front of the hotel we overlooked an in land lagoon which had a tarmac track around it, and off there another footpath that took you alongside a stream leading down to the beach about 400 yards away. This was to be my local patch.
2014-11-29 at 02-20-39
We had decided we had done enough travelling and from what we had seen of Phuket Island there wasn't anywhere we wanted to go. Karon Beach would do nicely. The town centre has a good variety of restaurants to choose, a few shops selling the usual tourist stuff and a beach. That would do nicely for now and easily fill our 4 day R&R break.
Our first morning I was up and out with my camera to see what was about and I was delighted that one of the first things I spotted was a Collared Kingfisher, very much a target species. I have seen them in India but never managed a decent photo. Today would be the same and sadly over the following days I didn't manage another sighting.
2014-11-29 at 03-14-33 (1a)
I was soon to discover what was about on a daily basis though.
Common Myna were plentiful and I noticed someone was feeding them on a regular basis too.
2014-12-0Common Myna Thailand
Along with the Mynas, Tree Sparrow were plentiful too. These were taking advantage of a Hindu shrine and an offering to the Gods I presume.
2014-11-29 at 09-51-55
Quite the most magnificent bird table you could imagine !
On the lagoon Chinese Pond Heron were quite numerous.
2014-12-02 at 02-20-42
And they were joined by a pair of Pacific Reef Egrets, a first for me.
2014-11-29 at 02-54-36
They seemed very reluctant to come down from their perch whenever anyone was about and despite my efforts, they remained an unsatisfactory capture !
2014-12-02 at 01-45-06
Another species I never got close to was the Cormorant, there was a pair regularly fishing the lake between sunning themselves on top of the trees.
2014-12-02 at 02-30-48
In this shot you can also see my only sighting of a White Throated Kingfisher. I'm not 100% certain about the Cormorant, it was too fine to be Great Cormorant and looked very much like an Indian one.
Another bird that gave me the run around was a Common Kingfisher. I found a favoured perch and this shot is a huge crop.
2014-11-30 at 09-19-03
After getting much closer I spent some time waiting for it to return on a couple of occasions but with no luck. Instead an unidentified Dragonfly to keep me occupied !
2014-11-30 at 09-37-21
One bird I did get lucky with was this Shrike.
2014-12-01 at 01-16-07
I'm pretty certain it's a Brown Shrike
2014-12-01 at 01-18-28
but in the same vicinity I had this one too.
2014-12-02 at 02-42-28
In deep shade the lighting after some Photoshop treatment might give the wrong colouring but it's either a juvenile Brown or Burmese Shrike. I'm guessing the former. Grey backed Shrike has also been suggested but I have doubts.
A single Little Egret was another permanent resident, spending time in the lagoon, stream and beach.Quite the versatile hunter.
2014-11-29 at 03-30-22
Also skulking around was a single Common Sandpiper 
2014-11-29 at 03-23-45
and a Grey Wagtail
2014-12-02 at 01-54-46
Back in the hotel grounds I had a Yellow Vented Bulbul sitting on the (free!) Wifi receiver.
Light Vented Bulbul,Thailand
An Olive Backed Sunbird ( or is it Purple Rumped ?) was regularly dashing from potted plant to potted plant but I got lucky when it actually stayed still for quite a while on our neighbouring balcony.
2014-12-01 at 06-44-38
At the top of the hotel I was closer to the overhead Swiftlets, in this instance Black Nest Swiftlet.
2014-12-01 at 10-36-46
Another first for my life list.
We also had Chestnut Headed Bee-eater but I didn't manage anything worth sharing on that account.
Seen many times previously but never photographed, at a distance the Geckos didn't dash for cover.
2014-11-29 at 11-33-29
So that was something else for my image collection too as was my first ever Pacific Swallow.
2014-11-29 at 03-52-34
There was more than enough to keep this wannabe wildlife photographer happy, my only frustration being that I had left my 500mm lens at home for purely practical reasons.
Never mind, I had had a lot of fun, my daily morning and afternoon walk was a welcome change from a sunbed. The challenge always there.
I almost got lucky on my last walk when the elusive Kingfisher popped up a few yards away however, surrounded by albeit bare branches it was another frustrating encounter.
2014-12-02 at 02-40-51
There are worse ways of spending your winter days though.
Still, it was time to go home and we looked forward to it as always. It's a long journey home via Dubai and this time there was a sting in the tail too. After travelling overnight, with a 3 hour stop over in Dubai we were welcomed home to a huge queue at immigration with only two officers to take on 500 passengers ( a wait of 30 minutes there) followed by the awful realisation that I had a flat battery waiting for me in the car park. Still, the RAC were pretty efficient and had me on the road within 90 minutes of calling them out.
On a stunning winters afternoon we also got to see our plane leave on it's return journey to Dubai too.
What a monster !
2014-12-03 at 14-51-19

Hope you have enjoyed the read, gleaned a few facts and given an insight in to this kind of holiday.
I hope you fulfil your own travel dreams in the not too distant future.