Saturday, 23 November 2019

Kenya 3-15 November 2019. Amboseli, Tsavo W & E. Watamu





Elephants in Amboseli NP

Enjoyed my third trip to Kenya earlier this month with Lynne. This was not a full-on birding trip, but a more paced photographic tour. I did a full-on birding trip in 2013 and saw about 600 species in 16 days. This trip was more about going at our own pace and stopping to take photographs.

Kenya really has everything going for it. Climate-wise, much of the country is on a high plateau. Nairobi is at 1,600 metres. Even though Kenya straddles the equator, the climate is pleasant. Nairobi is often downright cool, especially in the evenings. It gradually gets hotter as you travel down towards the coast, which is hot and humid.

In terms of wildlife, Kenya has many National Parks and reserves, many of them very large. It is possible to see most or all of the large game and many other mammals without too much difficulty. Birds abound, with Kenya's total bird list at about 1,100 species.

Our route was Amboseli National Park, Tsavo West National Park, Tsavo East National Park and finally, Watamu on the coast, just south of Malindi - see map below.




Amboseli is one of the smaller national parks although it is still quite large. There is a lot to see and, with frequent stops, we often didn’t go too far on some outings. Amboseli is known for its elephant population, and we certainly saw very many of them. The elephants spend the night in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Every day they walk to the swamp in Amboseli and return to Kilimanjaro in the evening. That's quite a trek.

The big attraction of Kenya is that, as well as birds, it also has big game and many other mammals. For this reason, my wife, Lynne, agreed to come on the trip with me and she is glad she did!

The good thing about camps and lodges in places like Kenya, is that the grounds of the lodges are often very attractive to birdlife. Many of the sightings were in the grounds.  Here are a few birds seen in the grounds of the lodge (Sentrim Amboseli) :


White-bellied Go-away bird

Spotted Morning Thrush

Green-winged Pytilia

Beautiful Sunbird

Hunter's Sunbird

We also saw some birds just on the way to the park entrance:


Yellow-collared Lovebird - a type of parrot

Lilac-breasted Roller. Common, but lovely!

In the park there was a good selection of birds and mammals. We saw only one lion on this trip and that was in Amboseli. If you want to see plenty of lions, you need to go to the Masai Mara or to Samburu. 


Lion. He looks old and battle-scarred.
There was so much to see, that we often spent much time just on the first 1-2 km of the main track. 


Kori Bustard, the heaviest bird that can still fly!

Dik Dik. A really tiny antelope. Like a life-sized Bambi (OK, without the spots)

Long-tailed Fiscal. A type of shrike. They all have a slightly hooked bill.

Savanna Elephants with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background. Every day, the elephants walk from the foothills of Kilimanjaro (in Tanzania) to the swamp in Amboseli. Every evening, they tramp back again to roost. It's a long way!


African Hoopoe (usually pronounced Hoopoo). It has a crest that it can raise when it wants to attract a female.

Crowned Plover

Thompson's Gazelle. There are
several species all named after blokes. 
Yellow-throated Francolin. A very noisy bird - I love noisy birds!


African White-backed Vultures. Don't you just love vultures?

Sometimes there was a little action to see. This young Tawny Eagle was happily sitting in the nest.  


Suddenly, an adult (presumably it's parent) flies in and throws him out. 


The juvenile is thrown down from the nest. We lost him from sight temporarily.
Down he goes!



Later, we find him again on the ground, looking rather forlorn!
He's homeless now.










The evening march of the elephants is impressive. They stop at nothing and advance surprisingly quickly.
Resting under a tree during heavy rain.


*   *   *   *   *

More action from everyday life. This African Harrier Hawk is on a mission:

I can see food.


He jumps up to the nest of a Red-billed Buffalo Weaver (quite a large Weaver) and attacks, hanging by his talons! The weaver flies off!


*   *   *   *   *

Soon, it was time to move on to the next park, Tsavo West.

The drive took us through terrain containing a large lava tube  from Kilimanjaro. It's a long streak of lava several kilometres long. Some of it it buried, but sometimes it is starkly exposed.



Lynne on the lava 'tube'

During our visit, there had just been quite a lot of rain. There was also quite a lot of rain while we were there. This rendered the landscape beautifully green. It also meant that water was plentiful. Animals which normally sought out the waterholes in the dry season had no reason to go there now. Most guides rely on finding animals at the watering holes. This explains why we didn't see many big cats - only one lion, but no cheetahs or leopards.


Tsavo East is an open camp. There are no fences and we stayed in glorified tents. These are large tents with some walls for the bathroom, electricity sockets, etc.  Animals roamed freely through the camp, usually at night or early morning. After dark, we had to call for a guard to escort us to and from the restaurant / lounge areas.

Did we get eaten by a hyena?  Find out in the next episode!!













Friday, 1 November 2019

Isles of Scilly,19-26 October 2019


I spent a week on the Isles of Scilly from 19-26 October 2019 with David Campbell, Ian Jones, Magnus Andersson and Paul Goodman. We rented the same house high on a hill overlooking Hughtown on St Mary's. From the house we had a good view of both sides of the isthmus whatever the weather.

The Isles of Scilly are about 50km west of Lands End, here:

79980cde57046efe7835ab8246faefe9f0cdb0f2 cornwall and the isles of scilly

We were lucky enough to enjoy very good weather until the Friday, when a severe storm set in. 

Before Friday

On Friday
Until the storm, we were able to enjoy the delights of St Mary's, St Agnes, Tresco and St. Martins. Being islands, travel on foot is easy, as no island is more than four or five kilometres long.


Rarities.

At this time of year, birds are migrating. They stop off at the Isles of Scilly to rest, before continuing their journey South. In addition, some migrating birds from further afield may get blown a lot further than they bargained for. They end up way off course on the Isles of Scilly.


Here are a few rarities which we saw:

Lapland Bunting in a field with cattle

Spotted Crake - a normally elusive water bird. This one was quite confiding.

Red-throated Diver. In Penzance Harbour.

Blue Rock Thrush. I know it doesn't look blue in this photo.

Spotted Sandpiper - A vagrant from America.

Citrine Wagtail - Also in a field with cattle. They rely on the livestock to disturb insects, which the birds then eat.

Subalpine Warbler. This one is a juvenile and looks quite like a Lesser Whitethroat!

Yellow-browed Warbler. A vagrant from the Far East. At this time of year they are relatively common, with a few hundred records countrywide.
The migration attracts a good number of birdwatchers and twitchers. For those of you unfamiliar with the difference: 

A birdwatcher is someone who likes birds and usually visits somewhere for an afternoon or a day to see which birds are present, and what turns up during their stay.

A twitcher is a birdwatcher who usually has a pager, and gets news of rare birds reported around the country. If one appears that they have not seen before, they drop everything (if they can) and travel to wherever the bird is. Sometimes, they see it and sometimes not. If they see it, they can add it to their list. Twitchers aim to see as many birds as they can in their own country.

Going to the Isles of Scilly is a mixture of both birdwatching and twitching rare vagrants that happen to turn up there. Most twitches are, however, only a boat ride and a short walk away!


The night sky and the lack of light pollution.

The Isles of Scilly are quite isolated from the mainland. Light pollution is virtually non-existent. In consequence, on a clear night the stars are easily visible. The Milky Way, our galaxy, is visible to the naked eye. Through binoculars, literally thousands of stars are visible.

The Milky Way - taken last year on St. Mary's

Other Birds.

As well as the rarities, there are also many other common birds on Scilly. Here are some. Many will be familiar to UK readers. This hen harrier was flying along when it saw a female pheasant. This is what happened:


Hen harrier - "Aye, aye, what have we here?"

Whatever it has seen, it makes straight for it!

The pheasant realises it's in danger and makes a 'run' for it!

The Hen Harrier gives chase. He was ultimately unsuccessful. The pheasant got away!

Shortly after, the Hen Harrier is worried by a Raven. There's no peace if you're a raptor!

There were one or two unusual birds this time. This Blackbird has a white head!


Blackbird with white head

The dark bill on this blackbird indicates that it is from Scandinavia. Normally, the bill of the male Blackbird is orange - see photo above.

Here are three our our smallest birds.

This Wren, one of our most common birds, is enjoying a juicy slug!

The Firecrest (with the Goldcrest, our smallest bird) prefers mixed woodland.
The Goldcrest, being so small, is rather flighty and difficult to photograph. It prefers conifers, but is here in deciduous woodland.

Wheatears are fairly common on migration.  They often sit on the top of rocks.

Siskin. A lovely lemon bird. They sometimes come to bird feeders.

This Spotted Flycatcher was hunting from the roof of the Parsonage.
Starlings are underrated in my view. Close up, they are very attractive, with interesting markings.

Black Redstarts can often be seen perching on rocks, fences or buildings. They whisk their tails often, displaying their red undertail.

There is plenty of water in and around the Isles of Scilly. The shores, lakes and marshes are home to many aquatic species.  Here are a few.


Oystercatcher. Who knows if they actually catch oysters. They are one of our most easily recognisable birds.


Sanderling. A small wader, usually feeds by racing around in the surf as the water laps in and out. They are very active and mobile while feeding.
Snipe. Often hard to see with their excellent camouflage. They probe for small creatures in soft mud. This bird was seen at dusk in very poor light.
Water Rail. Even more skulking and elusive than the Snipe. This one also appeared well after sunset. Their call is like the squeal of a piglet.

Tresco is probably the second most visited island outside St. Mary's. It is an interesting place, with large lakes, an Abbey and a well laid out garden. It is home to red squirrels. 


After taking this photo, this red squirrel came so close that it was too near to photograph. I couldn't get my phone out quickly enough!

Here is one of our favourite birds. The ubiquitous Robin never fails to please. It's song is everywhere.


The Robin - our national bird.

Unlike last year, when the ferry was delayed for two days because of the weather, we managed to leave on the right day! The storm on Friday delayed it's departure from 15.30 until 17.00 to give the wind a chance to die down. Even so, the crossing was 'interesting', with quite a high swell and some exciting pitches and rolls. It didn't seem too bad while you were sitting down. It was when you got up to go to the bar or walk to another deck that the rolling of the ship made it really difficult to move about.

We arrived in Penzance at about 20:00, collected the car and were back home in our beds by about 02:45 on Sunday morning. Luckily, the clocks went back that night, so we had an extra hour of sleep! Aah!