Saturday, 29 May 2010

On Safari in Northern Tanzania

This year's Avian Adventures tour in Tanzania followed the now familiar itinerary that includes Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Familiar it might be but it’s an absolutely wonderful area and once again we had a great tour with plenty of birds and huge numbers of mammals. Without any doubt this is one of the world's top wildlife destinations.

If I were write about it in detail I would probably have to repeat much of what I wrote last year so this time I will keep it brief and just share a few photographs.

White-headed Buffalo-Weaver - a common species in Tarangire and the Serengeti.

Black-faced Sandgrouse - regularly found in pairs along the roadside in Tarangire.

Lilac-breasted Roller - very common but always popular.

African Spoonbills - there were hundreds at Lake Manyara. Maybe one day we'll find one in the Algarve!

This Lion did his best to frighten us...

...but he obviously had other more important things to do!

Capped Wheatear - numerous along the road through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Zebras head-resting

Mwanza Flat-headed Agama - the field guide says they are 'quite wary...and often reluctant to allow humans to approach closely'. This one was very much an exception - an impressive beast! They are reported to have become popular as pets because of their resemblance to Spider-Man.

Auditioning for a place in Trafalgar Square? Rocky outcrops like this one are popular resting places for Lions.

Rufous-naped Lark - particularly common in the Serengeti, singing from bushes and termite mounds, but what a monotonous song.

A personal favourite - Double-banded Courser

Long-crested Eagle - if only all raptors were so obliging and easy to identify!

White-backed Vulture - the commonest of the vultures...

...and Lappet-faced, the largest

Little Bee-eater - widespread and usually seen in pairs. In the Ngorongoro highlands we also saw the similar but much larger Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater.

Rufous-crowned Roller - somewhat eclipsed by its much more numerous and brightly-coloured cousin.

Bateleur - another easy to identify raptor. The name "Bateleur" is French for "tight-rope walker", referring to the bird’s characteristic habit of tipping the ends of its wings when flying, as if to keep its balance.

Serval Cat - our attention was drawn to this one in the Serengeti by several very alarmed and noisy Helmeted Guineafowl. Servals hunt in the long grass and can be difficult to see, so we were pleased the next day when we came across another one in Ngorongoro Crater.

Ngorongoro Crater seen from the rim, some 600 metres above.

Tacazze Sunbird - a garden bird at the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge.

White-naped Raven - this is a seriously big bird - check out that huge bill!

One of the very approachable Yellow-billed Kites that frequent the Ngoitokitok picnic site in Ngorongoro Crater.

There was more water in the Crater this year than I've seen before and as a result more wetland birds. Ducks included Cape Teal, Hottentot Teal and these Red-billed Teal.

We watched for several minutes as this Black-headed Heron wrestled with a snake and was finally able to swallow it.

If only Great Bustards were as approachable as Kori Bustards!

Cheetahs were hard to find this year but eventually we had close-up views.

Finally, a sunset! Huge old baobab trees like this one are a feature of Tarangire.

Once again thanks go to our local driver/guide, Peter Loishiye Laizer and Roy Safaris for their contributions to making our birding safari the undoubted success that it was.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


I'm just back from Arizona, my 17th visit to my favourite 'Grand Canyon State'. It was another tour for Avian Adventures and followed the now familiar itinerary: Tucson, Portal, Sierra Vista, Green Valley, Sedona and then the Grand Canyon itself.

What made this trip different was the weather! This must have been the coldest late-April in Arizona in living memory. There was really late snow and as it began to melt, rivers and creeks were flowing that I've only been used to seeing completely dry! To give an example of how cold it was, the temperature in Sierra Vista on 30th April reached a high of only 57° F when the average for this date is 80° F. You might think that 57° isn't really cold but it was so unexpected and what made it worse was the wind, really strong wind that on one or two days made birding extremely difficult. Fortunately, we also had several more typical baking-hot Arizona days.

With the spring being late some of the migrant birds were hard to find but there weren't too many surprises and the total bird list fell only just short of 200 species. There was only one of these that I hadn't seen before in Arizona: Red-necked Phalarope - two birds at Sweetwater Wetlands. The total included 11 different hummingbirds and 'Flameboy', the unpaired male Flame-coloured Tanager that has returned for the eighth consecutive year to Madera Canyon.

'Flameboy' on his favourite feeder

Broad-billed Hummingbird - common in the Huachucas and elsewhere

Greater Roadrunner - 'Beep, Beep'

Desert Spiny Lizard - one of several reptiles seen

Great Horned Owl - seen here on its usual perch at Whitewater Draw

The Grand Canyon - one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World

Zone-tailed Hawk - a Turkey Vulture mimic

California Condor - re-introduced to Arizona - a face only a mother could love

Painted Redstart - always on the move

American Robin - according to the IOC the only Turdus to remain a Robin.
Maybe it should be called North American Lawn Thrush

Gambel's Quail - flying the flag

Spotted Owl - one of the Miller Canyon birds

Mexican Duck - soon the be a separate species?

Western Tanager - heading for the jelly jar

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Photo practice

To say that I’m dangerous with a camera is an understatement so when our friend (and professional photographer) Ray Tipper suggested a trip to Spain to photograph Red-knobbed (Crested) Coots in breeding plumage I thought I’d tag along and just watch the birds. But with Peter in Arizona and his Canon 10D and 300mm lens here, it was the perfect opportunity for me to at least try and take a photograph that (a) contained the intended subject and (b) was even slightly in focus – a tall order indeed!

We arrived at the Marismas del Odiel just about an hour after leaving Tavira. The sun was shining but the biting northerly wind soon had us donning our fleeces. Our target was spotted as soon as we left the car and we quickly set up our gear. We spent a very pleasant few hours waiting for the Coot to come close enough for us to photograph it, which it did several times, but only briefly, and it was never still. Ray photographed flyover Pallid Swifts, Spoonbills and Purple Herons and we watched a male Montagu’s Harrier as it quartered the nearby saltpans putting up flocks of small waders. We could see Greater Flamingos, mostly adults, feeding in a more distant pan and at least two Great Reed Warblers were singing close by but alas it was too windy for them to sit high in the reeds and sing.

The Coot didn’t come as close as I would have liked and the gusty wind caused some problems but I think I got a passable shot.