Thursday, 30 July 2015

Red-footed Falcon(s)

In May this year we saw Red-footed Falcons in both the Algarve and the Baixo Alentejo, birds that were part of an unprecedented influx of this species into Portugal.  We reported here on the first ones that we saw near Faro after a tip-off from Thijs Valkenburg.

It was difficult when the birds were so mobile to know for sure how many of them there might have been in total.  One estimate put the number at more than 100.  Previously there had been only a handful of accepted records in Portugal so this was quite an event.

Castro Verde, Portugal; May 2015

Red-footed Falcons winter in southern Africa and migrate north to breed in eastern Europe, west and central Asia.  Clearly something went seriously wrong this year during their northward journey as exceptional numbers were also seen in France, Switzerland, Spain and several other countries; some birds even reached the Canary Islands.

 In the UK it’s not unusual for a few overshooting birds to be seen in the spring, to the point that the species is no longer officially a rarity.  With so many birds occurring this year in central Europe an influx into the UK was perhaps to have been expected but in the event it didn’t happen.  However, there have been a few birds including one, a first-summer male, that was first reported on 9th July at Chatterley Whitfield in Staffordshire.

Chatterley Whitfield; July 2015

And Chatterley Whitfield is where we went this morning!  It’s only 25 miles away, the sun made a rare appearance and there was the promise of another local ‘rarity’, a Black Restart.  It was more than we could resist!

With the falcon having been present in more or less the same spot for three weeks we were surprised when we arrived to find so many people there watching and photographing it.  It seemed amazingly unconcerned by the presence of these people and completely undisturbed by cars passing within just a few feet as it perched on roadside posts and power cables.

Chatterley Whitfield; July 2015

Apparently during the early part of its stay some birders provided locusts for it to eat resulting not just in a lot of controversy and debate about whether this was acceptable/advisable but also in an array of notices advising against such practices.  If the motive was to entice the bird nearer for the purposes of photography, then based on today’s performance it was totally unnecessary.

 Police protection for the Red-footed Falcon!

This is only the fourth record of Red-footed Falcon in Staffordshire and the eighth in the West Midland Bird Club recording area.

The Black Redstart appeared to be a juvenile, perhaps one that has been bred locally.  

Monday, 27 July 2015

Tanzania - Serengeti

Here are some more photographs from Tanzania, these from our three days (four nights) in Serengeti National Park where we stayed at the Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge.

The Serengeti region covers 30,000 square kilometres and extends into south-western Kenya.  In the time available we could, of course, visit only a small part of it.  The Kenyan part of the Serengeti is known as the Maasai Mara.  In the Maasai language Serengeti means “endless plains”, a description that fits very well.

Although our main focus was on the birds we also devoted plenty of time to the mammals, particularly the cats.  One day we thought we had done well to see 22 cats of four different species (12 Lions, 2 Leopards, 7 Cheetahs and a Serval) but the following day we saw twice as many!  The Cheetahs were an adult female with six young cubs that were going to be a serious challenge for her to feed and keep safe.

 Our room at the Serena Safari Lodge

The plains are studded with isolated granite outcrops, known as kopjes

Lions - lying in the shade

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse - one of three sandgrouse species that we saw

Yellow-throated Longclaw - that really is a yellow throat!

Zebras - thousands of them

Sharpe's Starling - a fruit eater

Spotted Hyaena - they always look a bit menacing

African Fish Eagle - this one was remarkably confiding

Eland - the largest of the African antelopes

White-bellied Bustard - a male of the subspecies erlangeri

Serval Cat - its long legs enable it hunt in the long grass

Cut-throat Finch - only the male has a red band across its throat

Hippopotamus -  one of the most dangerous large animals in Africa

 Hildebrandt's Starling - an East African endemic

Usambiro Barbet - possibly just a subspecies of d'Arnaud's Barbet

Another Lion - we saw more than 80 of them during the tour

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Avian Adventures in Tanzania

We’ve recently returned from another very enjoyable Avian Adventures tour, this time in Northern Tanzania.

The itinerary included Tarangire, Lake Manyara and Serengeti National Parks and Ngorongoro Crater and was a repeat of previous tours that we have blogged about in the past here, here, here, here and here.  On this occasion our local driver/guide was Allen Kweka.

Once again we had a great time with plenty of birds and huge numbers of mammals. Without any doubt this is one of the world's top wildlife destinations.

 Writing about it in detail would involve a great deal of repetition so instead we’re just going to share a few photographs, starting with some from Tarangire.

Maasai Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi), the largest subspecies of Giraffe

 Baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) - the upside down tree

 Breakfast in the National Park - bacon, sausage, egg, yoghurt, fruit and more

 Tarangire Sopa Lodge - our accommodation for two nights

 The Tarangire River

 Our transport - a Toyota Land Cruiser safari vehicle

 Northern White-crowned Shrike (Eurocephalus rueppelli) - seen almost every day

 Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus) - another everyday bird but always appreciated

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) - particularly numerous in Tarangire but elsewhere in Tanzania suffering badly at the hands of poachers
Scarlet-chested Sunbird (Chalcomitra senegalensis)  - common in Tanzania and widely distributed in much of sub-Saharan Africa