Saturday, 8 August 2015

Spain Trip Report: Iberian Lynx and Birds

In April this year I had an excellent (and successful) week or so over in Spain (Andaulsia) looking for Iberian Lynx and a range of quality birds. On my return I put a brief blog post together HERE about some of the highlights from the trip, which included views of two Iberian Lynx and a lot of birds.

This really was an enjoyable scouting trip for Birding Ecotours. I've finally got round to writing my trip report up and it can be found below.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Australia Trip Report

Well, I've finally got round to completing my trip report for my Australia Birding Trip from November 2014. I was in South Australia for 17 days and then Queensland for 12 days. It was a seriously great trip as anyone who's spoken with me since I got back will know. I really loved it over there.

I recorded 435 species of birds and over 40 species of mammals and 40 species of reptiles. The whole natural experience was incredible - all set in some very impressive landscapes with some great friends. For quick reference to go with this trip report (which contains a lot of photos) here are the quick links to the pages of photos I've previously added (just click on the bullet point):
I'll be heading back to Australia this October and November to lead an exciting Birding Ecotours trip so very much looking forward to seeing lots of this amazing wildlife again! Details of Australia Tours here - a couple of places left for 2015 or how about joining me in 2016!

The 2014 trip report is below, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to drop me an email:

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Australian Bowerbirds and their Bowers

I've been meaning to put this post together for a while now but have not had the time until today. Last year I was lucky enough to spend a month (November) in Australia, and am incredibly excited to be heading back over there again later this year to lead a Birding Ecotours trip. Details of thetrip can be found here (there are a couple of places left). Whilst on the Queensland leg of my previous trip I saw my first ever Bowerbirds (Family: Ptilonorhynchidae). There are currently considered to be 20 species of Bowerbird across New Guinea and Australia, mainly found in rainforest and drier sclerophyll habitats.

Bowerbirds are medium-sized, compact, robust passerines, mostly with stout and powerful bills. They feed on fruit, berries, leaves, insects and invertebrates. The majority of Bowerbirds are incredibly sexually dimorphic. Adult males have strikingly diverse and often colourful plumage, while the females are generally much duller – presumably because the females are the ones responsible for the nesting duties. Males have an incredible vocal range and are great mimics.

Regent Bowerbird © Seabamirum
(Basically Turdus merula with a bit of added yellow!)

Bowerbirds are famous for the construction of bowers where courtship displays and mating take place and this was something I was really keen to observe whilst over there and I didn't leave disappointed! There are two main types of bowers in Australia and I saw samples of both:
  • Avenue bowers: a double avenue of twigs/grass, secured on a platform of sticks on the ground (Satin, Regent, and Great Bowerbirds); and
  • Maypole bowers: tall single or double columns of sticks built around adjacent saplings, and partly filling the gap between them (Golden Bowerbird).

The male bowerbird deposit natural or artificial objects within the bower, these objects are usually of similar colour, or reflectively, to the bill, eyes or plumage of their own species. During display, the bower ‘owner’ frequently pecks at, and moves around the objects, often appearing aggressive towards them, as if they were intruding males! It is thought that the males display at the bower helps stimulate and synchronise the development of the pairs’ sexual organs for successful reproduction.  The bowers also act as a shop window for females to observe males and select the superior bird to pair with (a bit like Manakins lekking in the Neotropics). Male Bowerbirds are polygamous so will mate with a range of females that visit the bower. Females do all of the nest building, incubation and feeding of young.

Whilst at Lamington National Park, southern Queensland I was able to watch a Satin Bowerbird (of the violaceus race) actually attending to its ‘avenue bower’. The Satin Bowerbird is a large (27-33 cm) glossy blue-black bird, with a pale bill and a bright blue eye. He had an area that looked like a bit of a clearing next to a tree fall that formed the backdrop to the bower, there was one tuft of ‘grass’ in front of the branches, the edges of the grass were flattened down and in front of that was an incredible array of bright blue objects that the male had collected and added on top of the flattened down vegetation. Blue bottle tops (drinks bottles including ‘Sprite’, and washing/fabric conditioner types), blue pens, blue plastic sweet wrappers, blue paper, even a blue Oreo packet was identifiable. Basically any blue litter was collected by this bird to decorate his bower! There were a few bluish leaves and flower stems added to give a bit of a natural look to all of the plastic. This was my first ever bower, and I was seriously impressed, but luckily he didn't try to mate with me, though he was making some interesting noises!

Satin Bowerbird (male) © Andy Walker 2014

Satin Bowerbird (male) and its 'Avenue Bower' © Andy Walker 2014

Satin Bowerbird 'Avenue Bower' © Andy Walker 2014

In northern Queensland I had brilliant views of the Great Bowerbird attending its ‘avenue bower’. A bird of the drier habitats it is not as impressive in colouration as the two species above, or some of the ones further down this post, being a mix of greys and browns. It is a large bird, 32-38 cm, with a short, stout bill. What this bird lacks in colour it certainly makes up with its seriously impressive bower – which is huge!  The particular male I came across was busy raiding a vegetable patch at a school yard. He had a taste for chili peppers!

The bower was a classic ‘avenue bower’, and the entrance was a mat of twigs, covered in mainly pale objects such as stones and snail shells, drinks can ring pulls, and with the ubiquitous plastic bottle tops – this time white or clear ones, he even a couple of coins in the mix! A splash of colour was provided in the form of pencil crayons, chili peppers and flowers.

Great Bowerbird (male) © Andy Walker 2014

Great Bowerbird 'Avenue Bower' © Andy Walker 2014

Great Bowerbird 'Avenue Bower' © Andy Walker 2014

One of the other Bowerbirds I was incredibly impressed with in northern Queensland was the Golden Bowerbird – now this one did have some pretty impressive looks, and even more interesting was its vocalisations – a series of rattles, frog-like croaks and mimicry. It made a sound like it was having an electric current passed through it – very odd noises!  As the name suggests this bird (well the male) is golden, with some olive tones on the face and back, and a bright yellow eye. A bird of rainforest, this bird builds a huge vertical ‘maypole bower’. Sometimes up to 3 m tall! The bird I came across had a decent sized bower, it was way over a metre, and looked like it had been there for some time, though I didn't get too close to this one as he seemed a bit skittish and I didn't want to disturb him – hence the grainy/blurry photos taken in the near dark!

Golden Bowerbird © Andy Walker 2014

Golden Bowerbird © Andy Walker 2014

Golden Bowerbird 'Maypole Bower' © Andy Walker 2014

I saw a couple of other Bowerbird species, such as the glow in the dark Regent Bowerbird mentioned right at the beginning of the post, but didn’t get any decent photos of that one. I also saw the Tooth-billed Bowerbird, this one had a bower with an assortment of leaves, all of which were face down on the ground within the bower, exposing their blue-grey underside. But it was quite dark so I didn’t get any decent photos of these etiher.

Tooth-billed Bowerbird © Andy Walker 2014

Also members of the Bowerbird family I had both Green Catbird and Spotted Catbird. Although Bowerbirds, they do not build bowers and males are not polygamous, instead they are monogamous (pair with one female), defend an all-purpose territory and assist with feeding their offspring. They have amazing calls, sounding just like cats – as you’d expect from the name! Green Catbird was busy hiding in the tree tops at Lamington National Park, while Spotted Catbirds were a bit more cooperative and lower in the vegetation around Cairns.

Spotted Bowerbird © Andy Walker 2014

For a chance to come and look for these interesting birds, and many more besides, check out the exciting Birding Ecotours 2015 and 2016 Australia and New Guinea tours here

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Michigan Bird Photos - inc Kirtland's Warbler!

The final leg of my three-state tour took me up through Michigan. My main reason for heading here was to connect with Kirtland's Warbler, a species I'd studied at University and was very keen to see. There was also the added bonus of getting in on some owl ringing (banding) which wasn't an opportunity I wanted to miss.

Trip report will follow when I get time.

Kirtland's Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Kirtland's Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Magnolia Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Northern Saw-whet Owl © Andy Walker 2015

Black-throated Green Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Black-throated Green Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Part of an impressive Blue Jay passage © Andy Walker 2015

Clay-coloured Sparrow © Andy Walker 2015

Common Nighthawk © Andy Walker 2015

Common Yellowthroat © Andy Walker 2015

Dark-eyed Junco © Andy Walker 2015

Eastern Bluebird © Andy Walker 2015

Eastern Wood-Pewee © Andy Walker 2015

Golden Eagle © Andy Walker 2015

Great Northern Diver © Andy Walker 2015

Hairy Woodpecker © Andy Walker 2015

'American' Long-eared Owl © Andy Walker 2015

Osprey © Andy Walker 2015

Ovenbird © Andy Walker 2015

Philadelphia Vireo © Andy Walker 2015

Pine Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Piping Plover © Andy Walker 2015

Red-breasted Merganser © Andy Walker 2015

Ruby-throated Hummingbird © Andy Walker 2015

Sandhill Cranes © Andy Walker 2015

Sandhill Crane © Andy Walker 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse © Andy Walker 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse © Andy Walker 2015 

Trumpeter Swan © Andy Walker 2015

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher © Andy Walker 2015

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker © Andy Walker 2015

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Ohio Bird Photos

Here are a few pictures from my c2 weeks in Ohio for The Biggest Week in American Birding. It wasn't non-stop birding, most mornings I was guiding, sometimes guiding most of the day, then working on the Birding Ecotours stand all afternoon into the evening. We were based at Magee Marsh, on the shore of Lake Eire.

Saw some cracking birds, the highlights being the American Wood Warblers all in their stunning summer plumage. To be part of an impressive spring passage was also great fun. More on The Biggest Week later. For now some photos. Again Trip report will come, eventually!

Acadian Flycatcher © Andy Walker 2015

American Redstart (female) © Andy Walker 2015

American Robin © Andy Walker 2015

Baltimore Oriole © Andy Walker 2015

Bay-breasted Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Black-and-White Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Blackburnian Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Canada Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Cedar Waxwing © Andy Walker 2015

Cerulean Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Chestnut-sided Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Eastern Kingbird © Andy Walker 2015

Eastern Screech-Owl © Andy Walker 2015

Grey Catbird © Andy Walker 2015

Henslow's Sparrow © Andy Walker 2015 (Phone-scoped)

Hooded Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

House Finch © Andy Walker 2015

Lark Sparrow © Andy Walker 2015 (Phone-scoped)

Palm Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Red-breasted Nuthatch © Andy Walker 2015

Red-headed Woodpecker © Andy Walker 2015

Rose-breasted Grosbeak © Andy Walker 2015

Scarlet Tanager © Andy Walker 2015

Veery © Andy Walker 2015

Virginia Rail © Andy Walker 2015

Warbling Vireo © Andy Walker 2015

White-breasted Nuthatch © Andy Walker 2015

Wood Thrush © Andy Walker 2015

Yellow Warbler © Andy Walker 2015

Yellow-throated Vireo © Andy Walker 2015