A great morning to be out and about in Wells woods, lots of birds about and a scent of rare in the air. A Pipit flew up into tree, a branch across its head but it was green, black-spotted on the front and wagging its tail. I fumbled getting the scope on it, it flew around the corner out of sight. Arrgh! That was surely an Olive-backed Pipit! I then had to figure out where it had gone, and persisted by walking twice around the group of trees where I thought it had gone, just about to give up when it popped up, wagged its tail and looked at me. It took another half an hour to get a snap, remaining hidden for most of that time.
A rare blog post to celebrate finally achieving a major life goal – finding a daytime roosting European Nightjar on my local heath, and photographing it at leisure. That is something I have spent years trying to find, always scanning and peering myopically at suitable roosting sites in a forlorn attempt to locate one of these cryptic mothmen. It is also partly a test for the eyes and the skills – if I can find one, that will surely arrest the aging process for a while…
It all started on Monday evening. I decided it was time to stop lolling about and get out to Marsham Heath to look for Nightjars. It was a gorgeous calm warm evening, and I took up position overlooking a salient branch that last year one of the Nightjars was using regularly soon after leaving its roost. At 2127, I heard a low churring from the forest edge, then along flew a male Nightjar and promptly sat on the branch! I had to move to get a clear shot, and was only able to take an unfocussed digi-shot through the scope before two birders emerged along the nearby trail and flushed the bird. Bah! They then came and stood next to me, one of them wearing a white coat! Grrr! Anyway, after some great (though more distant) views of two male Nightjars slowly circling around each other calling, they left. Good. The Nightjar however didn’t return to the branch, but it did serendipitously pose on a pole, in alignment with the new moon rising behind it. Ramadan Mabruk!
Tuesday, and another gorgeous evening. I had to go back again, to try and snap the bird on its magic branch. I took an off-piste route towards the branch, slowly scanning suitable open areas where a Nightjar might be resting…
There it is
Blimey! I’ve found a Nightjar roosting in the open! Er… freeze… slowly pull out camera and get some record shots, then carefully back up to get the scope on it. I was able to photograph it for a whole 30 minutes, before leaving it in peace. After another five minutes it began churring, and flew along the treeline, landed on the magic branch and began churring. So fantastic.
Black-bellied Dipper at Thetford 6th January 2013
Happy New Year! Lets hope all this years birds are this good.
In the Bumthang valley at 2600m in central Bhutan, a stampede of horses across a boggy pasture puts to flight a Quail. We stalk the Quail and acquire close views. Its either a Common Quail or a Japanese Quail female or non-breeding male. I need the latter. The picture is further clouded by winter records of Common Quail in this valley, and a breeding population of Japanese Quail in summer. ID very difficult unless they are calling or breeding plumage males. Any suggestions? I suspect Japanese (coz I need it) because of the heavily marked breast, and possibly spikey feathers on the throat. And it looked rare.
An awesome encounter, with one that crossed the road in front of our car, pausing at the roadside then scuttling up the bank, only to sit down and look at us from c.10m away! This picture was taken by me using Helen’s camera, after some expert yogic contortion through the car window. She remained in situ for 10 minutes or more before we moved and so did she. Stunning views indeed, then the following morning Keith and Helen saw another along the road. In the evening we tried to see Ferruginous Wood Partridge at this exact place, and when we had walked away, she obviously had been watching us, moved back in to her place at the roadside. As we drove past again we nearly ran her over, Reg letting out a yelp as she was within inches of the car, scuttling away up the same bank! She didn’t stay this time, but as we drove in pre-dawn the next day, there she was walking along the roadside! Four sightings in four days! Outrageous! In eight visits in 14 years, this is my first Cat encounter at Kaeng Krachan, clearly due to the large dollop of good luck provided by Klangers & Helen, who seemed to attract mammals like storm-petrels to chum, on this their first visit to Kaeng Krachan!
Everyone needs a bogey-bird – one that frustrates you through multiple misses and failed pursuits, so much that it begins to become something of a joke among peers who have had no such difficulty in seeing the bird. Mine was Oriental Bay Owl. From my first encounter at Pasoh in Malaysia in 1990 when I had an untickable glimpse, I have had numerous encounters with calling birds that refused to be tape-lured and wouldn’t leave the dense jungle thickets that were calling from. As recently as last year, a calling bird in Southern Thailand wouldn’t come in to view, and with a grumpy group of customers wanting their supper I had to walk away, returning alone the following night to a silent forest, no Owls to be heard whatsoever.
Which brings us to the present. A visit to Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand in February 2012, where a night spent camping at Bang Krang campsite provided yet another unsuccessful contact – a distant bird called for a short time and could not be lured closer. Returning to the campsite a week later, there was magic in the air. Having just had crippling views of a Leopard sat by the road, Dave Willis, Reg Land and I rolled into the camp, ate rice and curry, and prepared our tents for the night. The Brown Boobooks appeared in the camp soon after dusk, and a little tape-playing of Bay Owl at the forest edge suddenly provoked a strong response from the bird – seemingly almost in the camp! Of course it wasn’t, it was in the dense thicket across the stream, so little by little I sneaked towards it, heart in mouth, off trail and into a jungle well-known to be packed with large animals, especially at night! Having had the foresight to drink a couple of Singha beers before this nocturnal expedition, I was primed with dutch courage and drenched in sweat as I blundered closer to the songster. It seemed it was just a few metres from me, but when I scanned with my torch, I just couldn’t find it! The bird moved back and forwards, I crashed about cursing, determined that this time I wasn’t going to fail, but it wasn’t looking like I was going to be able to see it! It certainly sounded like a ghost, maybe it was also invisible! I jumped out of my skin when a Muntjac thumped the ground closeby and barked, and I was on the point of throwing in the towel when a shape like a massive moth floated by at close range, then perched nervously on a branch. There it is! Bay Owl! You beauty! That had taken more than an hour and a half, but what a joy, and what a great-looking bird. It flew off so I had to find it again, which didn’t take long, and soon I was able to drink in its facial pattern, with black mascara and a heart-shaped face, little black spots dotting its orangey plumage.
Back on the forest edge, Reg had gone to sleep, Dave was still spotlighting by the stream, so I took him in to re-find it, and we had a stunning view of it sat low down, singing its eerie song. Dave then decided to go and get his camera, so he went in again, while I headed for my bed and slept happily…
When Dave returns to Norwich, maybe I will be able to post a picture of it. Meanwhile..
Click here for some audio of the beastie..
A late decision short holiday to Kaeng Krachan for 9 days with a couple of days on the Petchaburi coast – some much needed jungle time. Highlights – three sightings of Leopard, Oriental Bay Owl ( – my bogey-bird, finally laid to rest!) a pair of roosting White-fronted Scops Owls, Ferruginous Wood Partridge, 8 Grey Peacock Pheasants, Ratchet-tailed Treepies, Maroon-breasted and Rufous-winged Philentomas and many other southern species at KK, and on the coast 6 Spoon-billed Sandpipers, Asiatic Dowitcher, Grey-tailed Tattler, White-faced Plover, Chinese Egret, Indian Nightjar, and hordes of other birds
A big flock of Jackdaws that contained several contenders for Nordic types, one really stood out with an almost white collar, accompanied by another bird in the video that lacked any obvious collar but had a very pale head. Other birds present looked more like spermologus intergrades with silver side collar patches. Couldn’t get any decent stills, and flock was very flighty, dispersing after I got a short bit of video.
Stopped off to have a look/sound record what was about at this excellent site just west of King’s Lynn, found one of these lurking in the flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese in the channel. Also Merlin and a male Hen Harrier hunting out on the saltmarsh, and a Barn Owl along the sea wall. Nice