21 May 2019

15 May 19 - A Is For Alexandrine

I was having a final look at the recent Durlston Bee-eaters, before heading home, when three silent Parakeets flew high over the Durlston Long Meadow field. I had a quick look at them with the bins & was surprised to see one was noticeably larger & longer-tailed than the others. It looked large for a Ring-necked Parakeet & so I picked up the camera to take a few photos. They circled the field once before flying back towards Swanage. Locally, Ring-necked Parakeets are a regular, but erratic sight, ever since an ex-publican of the Bankes Arms in Studland released about a dozen or so individuals when he left the area in the early 1990s. I had a quick look at one of the photos on the back of the camera. I saw two were juveniles & the long-tailed individual was an adult. It still didn't feel right, but they were only Parakeets & I assumed perhaps it was an oddly long-tailed individual, being accentuated by the two youngsters. I made a comment about the ages & thought I would have a proper look when I got home. In the end, I had forgot all about them in the few minutes it took me to get home. The following day, I saw a tweet from the country recorder, Marcus Lawson, about an Alexandrine Parakeet at Durlston & it immediately made sense. I hadn't considered other Parakeet species. When I looked at all the photos, I found a photo of the upper wing & the large red wing patch. Clearly, an Alexandrine Parakeet had been released or escaped & joined up with the local Ring-necked Parakeets.
Alexandrine Parakeet: Flying above a juvenile Ring-necked Parakeet
Alexandrine Parakeet: Alexandrine Parakeet is larger, long-tailed & heavier billed than a Ring-necked Parakeet
Alexandrine Parakeet: Had I looked at this photo, the red patch on the wing coverts and heavy red bill would have been immediately identifiable as an Alexandrine Parakeet
Alexandrine Parakeets were named after Alexander the Great. Apparently, they first brought back to Europe as exotic pets following his conquest of the Northern India.
Alexandrine Parakeet: A perched individual from Chiriyi Tapu, Andamans (22 Dec 13)

19 May 2019

15 May 19 - B Is For Bee-eaters

I was working at home on Wednesday, when I saw a message at lunchtime of seven Bee-eaters at Durlston: the excellent Dorset County Council reserve at the Southern side of Swanage. I couldn't head up quickly due to work. I could afford to be laid back on this occasion, having been lucky enough to have seen a flock of six Bee-eaters at Durlston on 31 May 97 & a single exactly fifteen years later to the day. Maybe I should pop up on 31 May 27? They were still present when I finished for the day, so it was time to grab the camera & pop up to Durlston. I could see a few parked cars just outside the park entance & a small huddle in the field on the Eastern side of the entrance road. As I walked up to the small gathering, I saw Peter Moore lift his camera: clearly, they were still here. For the next hour they regularly flew over the fields on both sides of the entrance road. I've now seen eighteen good Birds at Durlston: a Red-footed Falcon, a Red-flanked Bluetail, a Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler, a self-found Bluethroat & fourteen Bee-eaters. A bit more variety would be nice!
Bee-eater: They really are too bright for the British countryside
Bee-eater: They are even better on the upperside
Bee-eater: Doing what their name suggests
Bee-eater: An unidentifiable Bumblebee: one of a number of species with a yellow band on the body
Bee-eater: This individual with a lop-sided tail moult and a notch in the inner primaries on the right wing was the most photogenic
I left about 20:00 as the light levels were starting to drop & I didn't think I was going to get any better shots. They must have headed off within the next thirty minutes, as one of my mates arrived about 20:30 & failed to see them. Presumably they roosted locally, but they didn't return to Durlston the following morning. Hopefully, the Dorset Spring isn't over yet.

12 May 2019

25 Feb 18 - Colombia: Punks On The Paramo

It was a very early pre-dawn alarm call as we had to up at the paramo at first light: we only just made it. The plan was to be at some roadside cliffs looking for the endemic Rufous-fronted Parakeets. We had only just got out of the minibus when four flew out of their roost on the cliffs. Fortunately, we saw another thirteen in flight towards the end of the morning, but I didn't manage to get any worthwhile photos.
Rufous-fronted Parakeet: The light was too poor for any photos, so here is a photo from the park sign board
With the endemic high altitude Rufous-fronted Parakeet seen, we were back in the minibus to continue to the park entrance gate at over 4000 metres. It was a cold, overcast & misty morning, but the heavy duty down jacket I had bought for the initial part of the Atlantic Odyssey proved perfect.
The Nevado del Ruiz park entrance
The park entrance
There was a nice flowery garden outside the main office: Unfortunately, there was also an awkward jobsworth who was just as annoying to his colleagues as he was to us & who objected to us looking at the Hummers using these flowers
One of these would have been very nice: We did spend some time looking on hillsides, but with no success
It didn't take long to find a male Buffy Helmetcrest. But it did take some time to get some good photos, but it was worth the effort.
Buffy Helmetcrest: This must be one of the best looking of the Central Andean Colombian endemics
Buffy Helmetcrest
Buffy Helmetcrest
Buffy Helmetcrest: Superb
Brown-backed Chat-tyrant: Another Andean species which occurs from Colombia & Venezuela to Peru & Bolivia
Stout-billed Cinclodes: This species occurs in the Andes of Colombia & Ecuador
Stout-billed Cinclodes: There were a few around
Stout-billed Cinclodes: Most of the Cinclodes species have wing bars
Plumbeous Sierra-finch: Male. They occur from Colombia & West Venezuela along the full length of the Andes to Chile & Argentina
Glossy Flower-piercer
Rufous-collared Sparrow: A very widespread Neotropical species. But looks like somebody is studying this local population, given the rings
Paramo lake: We had a quick look on this Paramo lake before we left. There were a few Andean Teal & Andean Ducks, but not much else
Finally, we had had our fill of the Buffy Helmetcrest & it was time to drop down in elevation. We had time for a final walk along the road, where the highlight was good views of a Red-crested Cotinga. We had seen a couple of distant individuals at Cerro Guadalupe, so, it was good to get better views.
Red-crested Cotinga: No prizes for guessing how it gets its name
Viridian Metaltail
Plain-coloured Seedeater: This species occurs from Colombia & Venezuela along the full length of the Andes to Chile & Argentina
It was time to move on for lunch & early afternoon treats at our next hotel: the excellent Hotel Thermales del Ruiz.

8 May 2019

24 Feb 18 - Colombia: Andean Pygmy-owl & White-capped Tanager

While the other four Birdwatchers were having their lunch at the accommodation block, there was time to photograph some of the Hummingbirds that were arriving for their lunch. Although the reality of lunch for many Hummingbirds is probably an extended breakfast which starts soon after they leave their roost site & finishes just before they head off to roost. Finally, it was our turn for lunch.
Long-tailed Sylph: Another widespread South American species which occurs from Colombia & Venezuela to Ecuador, Peru & Bolivia
Collared Inca
Collared Inca: It is always good to have an easy to identify Hummingbird
Buff-tailed Coronet: The buff in the outer tail feathers & the bend of the wing help to identify this species
Fawn-breasted Brilliant: This species occurs in the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador & Peru
Lunch over, we headed back into the upper forest.
The forest looked excellent
Another forest view 
Streaked Xenops: The Xenops group are some of the smallest of the 300 or so Ovenbirds & Woodcreepers family
The afternoon was good for Tapaculos with Ocellated Tapaculo, Spillmann's Tapaculo & Blackish Tapaculo seen & Ash-coloured Tapaculo heard. Tapaculos are one of the trickier Neotropical families to figure out. About 75% of the family are small, dark grey or black species with a few having a hint of white on the forehead & maybe a patch of chestnut around the vent. They are incredibly skulky & generally scurry around on the ground like Mice in the darkest of ground vegetation. Their one saving grace is they can be enticed to investigate recordings, when they will sometimes show close to the forest edge. It's then a matter of luck if you catch a movement & they pose briefly in a more open area for a photo. Thanks to Janos's knowledge of their calls & ability to pull them out with recordings, I managed to see thirteen species of Tapaculos on the Colombia trip.
Ocellated Tapaculo: This is the exception in Colombia to the rule of non-descript dark grey or black Tapaculos. It's a big & bulky species with obvious white spots with a bright rufous face & rump. It's a pity I wasn't in the right place when it showed clearly without vegetation in the way
Blackish Tapaculo: This is fairly typical of the rest of the Tapaculos in Colombia
One of the species that we saw that afternoon was my first Andean Pygmy-owl. This is a small, dirurnal forest Owl that occurs in the Andes of Colombia & Venezuela to Ecuador & Peru.
Andean Pygmy-owl
Andean Pygmy-owl: To confuse predators, they have these obvious white markings on the nape
Masked Trogon: There are 29 species of Neotropical Trogons & Quetzels. It's important to note the head & belly colouration and undertail pattern. The red belly with the white separating band & broad white patches on a black tail confirm the identification
Masked Trogon: Trogons can be really tricky to figure out from the back
The other big highlight of the afternoon was my first White-capped Tanager.
White-capped Tanager: They are a very large & distinctive Tanager
White-capped Tanager: They occur from Colombia & West Venezuela to Ecuador & Peru
One of the interesting things about wandering around in tropical forests is some of the bizarre species you sometimes bump into. I try to avoid touching trees or plants before looking at them first, to reduce the chances of leaning on trees with large Ants or other invertebrates on them. Likewise, I'm checking plants for those with spikes or thorns.
Fly: This looked like a normal looking Fly, until I looked a bit closer to see the heavy defences
A leaf best avoided
However, not everything in the forest was worth avoiding as the following photos show.
Flower sp.
Pink Orchid sp.
Orange Orchid sp.
Although we hadn't been allowed to arrive till after first light, there didn't seem to be a problem staying in the reserve until dusk & so we were on the main track at dusk when a White-throated Screech-owl & a Rufous-bellied Nighthawk provided some final Nightbird entertainment. Soon after we were back in the minibus at the main accommodation block to head back to hotel in Manizales. The Rio Blanco reserve had been a good place to visit.