Grassy Key Waders

   The next port of call was Lake Edna on Grassy Key.  The book calls it a lake but I would say it is more of a gravel pit left to its own devices after extraction had finished.  Either way it was full of water so I was hopeful as I pulled up and parked.  Straight away I could see a small party of Least Terns loafing on some rough ground to the side of the main pool.  As I approached nearer I could also see three small plovers.  After looking through the Sibley guide I am reasonably happy that these were Semi-palmated Plovers, usually present in small numbers during the summer.  As I walked to a different viewing area I could see and hear another plover putting on a distraction display.  It led me quickly away from where I was heading and I assume away from its nest or chicks.  It had a huge bill compared to the Semi-palmated and again after consultation with Sibley, I am happy that is was a Wilson’s Plover, a year round resident of the Keys.

Least Tern, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11

Semi-palmated Plover, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11

Wilson’s Plover, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11

   A small party of Black-bellied Plovers was next on the list.  We know them as Grey Plovers, but when in America.  Eight birds were together on a shallow pool just off the main lake.  Not quite sure if these were early returning, late leaving or just over summering birds.  The last wader of the visit was a Black-necked Stilt; the bird flying in from a small island in the middle of the main lake.

Black-bellied Plovers, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11

Black-necked Stilt, Grassy Key – 15 Jun 11

   After I left Grassy Key I headed to Marathon to check out a couple of Burrowing Owl locations mentioned in the guide book.  Unfortunately it seemed like they had long gone from Key Colony Golf Course and sombrero Beach. 

Steve Copsey

Florida Keys: Great Crested Flycatcher on Long Key

   After a good breakfast at Mangrove Mike’s Diner I headed towards Long Key.  The guide book stated that a nature trail there was worth a visit as it passed through a Mangrove area on a boardwalk and then out into a more scrubby area.  I was still after the Mangrove Cuckoo and Black-whiskered Vireo so it seemed a good place to head for.  Before driving away from the motel I had a single Grey Kingbird on the wires outside my room. 

Grey Kingbird, Upper Matecumbe Key – 15 Jun 11

   After arriving at Long Key State Park, I started along the boardwalk and I could hear several Red-winged Blackbirds in the mangroves, but that was pretty much it, other than a few Vultures overhead.  The walk into the scrub was more successful and I immediately came across Common Ground-doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and my first Great-crested Flycatcher of the visit.  Like the Kingbird another summer migrant to Florida.  The only other bird of note was a single Reddish Egret.  In winter I am sure the area would be full of wintering Warblers and waders but as with most places in Florida it is not at its best in high summer for birds. 

Common Ground-dove, Long Key – 15 Jun 11

Great Crested Flycatcher, Long Key – 15 Jun 11

Reddish Egret, Long Key – 15 Jun 11

Steve Copsey

Florida Keys: Osprey on Indian Key

   I was up bright and early on Wednesday morning and before I popped over to the diner for breakfast I spent an hour or two working along some of the quieter keys nearby.  I had already seen the two Ospreys at the Blue Pool and several more perched on the bridges and roadside pylons.  However, as I was driving back to the motel on Indian Key, I could see an individual perched on a telegraph pole through the trees; that had recently been on a successful hunt. I parked up nearby and made my way over.  The Osprey was aware of my presence but made no attempt to fly off as I took a few snaps.  

Osprey, Indian Key – 15 Jun 11

Osprey, Indian Key – 15 Jun 11

Osprey, Indian Key – 15 Jun 11

Osprey, Indian Key – 15 Jun 11

Steve Copsey

Key Largo – Heron, Ibis, Egret, …..

   I arrived back on the Keys with an hour or so of daylight left so I called in at the Florida Wild Bird Centre.  This is basically a rehabilitation centre on Key Largo and while it was interesting to see what was in the rehab cages, I knew from the guide book that after a short walk away from the cages you come across an open saltwater pool surrounded by Mangroves.  The owners of the centre had erected a platform and screen from which to view the pool.  I could immediately see several Great and Snowy Egrets.  At least a dozen White Ibis were loitering at the back of the pond and several Black-necked Stilts were wading around in the shallows.  Better still was a single Roseate Spoonbill perched up in the scrub which after about twenty minutes dropped down to the main pool to preen.

Reddish and Snowy Egret, Roseate Spoonbill and White Ibis, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11

White Ibis, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11

Black-necked Stilt, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11

Roseate Spoonbill, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11

   As I watched for about 45 minutes a Great White Heron dropped in, closely followed by a Reddish Egret and two Tri-coloured Herons.  At least one Green Heron was working its way through the branches of the Mangroves overhanging the shallows.  All together a fine collection of birds and if you are ever passing well worth a visit.  When it came to leave the place I found a rather confiding Great Egret perched on my hire car. 

Tri-coloured Heron, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11

Great Egret, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11

Steve Copsey

Everglades National Park – Alligators and Turtles,

   Birds were a little thin on the ground in the heat of the day but there were other creatures to be seen.  The American Alligator is pretty difficult to miss on any trip to Florida and this was no exception.  I had already seen a couple at the Blue Pool on Big Pine Key but here in the Everglades they were rather more common.  Without really trying I came across 10 or so in a short space of time.  The population is doing very well in recent years after a period of over hunting.

Alligator, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11

Alligator, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11

   I also came across a few species of Turtles, the Florida Softshell and the Florida Red-bellied.  I am pretty happy with the id’s but as ever they could be wrong.  

Florida Softshell Turtle, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11

Florida Red-bellied Turtle, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11

   Two species of butterflies were seen, actually quite a few more were seen but these were the only two photographed.  I am reasonably happy with the Viceroy but the ragged looking Blue; I’m assuming it is some species of Blue will have to remain a mystery.  I am pretty sure the fish is a Gar.  Not sure how many species of these there are in the Everglades, but I seem to remember from some programme or other that they can get pretty large.  I guess they fill the niche of the British Pike.  Absolutely no idea with the Grasshopper/Cricket species but it was quite a size. 

Viceroy Butterfly, Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11

Butterfly sp., Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11

Gar (?), Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11

Grasshopper / Cricket sp., Everglades NP – 14 Jun 11

Steve Copsey

Everglades National Park – Great White Heron

   Later on Tuesday afternoon I drove off the Florida Keys and onto the mainland.  The intention was to spend the evening and the following morning in the Everglades National Park.  Unfortunately my guide book to finding the birds of Florida (printed 1996) had forgot to tell me that in the year 2000 the motel I was going to stay in had been demolished due to a Hurricane.  So in the end I just spent the afternoon in the park and then drove back onto the Keys.  To be fair most of the birds in the park occurred on the Keys as well.  Even with the short visit I picked up some good trip birds and a life bird in the form of Great White Heron.  This is basically the white morph of the Great Blue Heron and is quite common in a limited range around the Everglades and the Keys.  Not sure if it has been split into a full species as yet. 

Great White Heron, Everglades National Park – 14 Jun 11

   I also came across my third Kingbird species for the trip; Eastern Kingbird is one of the few summer visitors to Florida, so I was not too surprised to pick one up.  Both Turkey and Black Vultures were common over the park but I was pleased to find a small flock of Black Vultures sheltering from the scorching sun not far from the main path.  The odd bird was out in the sun but most seemed sensible.  The only other birds of note were a few American Crows, Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds.  However I did have two Common Nighthawks over-fly the car as I drove back towards the Keys. 

Eastern Kingbird, Everglades National Park – 14 Jun 11

Black Vulture, Everglades National Park – 14 Jun 11

Black Vulture, Everglades National Park – 14 Jun 11

Steve Copsey

Key Deer on Big Pine Key

   I spent Tuesday morning on Big Pine Key, an excellent area for birding with several good areas to work.  I was up early and drove back up towards Watson Hammock Reserve and the Blue Pool.  It was around Big Pine Key that I encountered the endemic sub-species of the White-tailed Deer the Key Deer.  These are smaller that the nominate race and I would say they are roughly the size of a Roe Deer, possibly a little larger and chunkier. 

Key Deer, Big Pine Key – 15 Jun 11

Key Deer, Big Pine Key – 15 Jun 11

   The early mornings were a good time to see the species before the traffic hit the roads in force and the sun got too strong.  I believe it was only sixty or so years ago that the Key Deer was down to the last twenty or so individuals but I am glad to report that now the population stands at around the 600 mark.  Collisions with vehicles are still the number 1 killer of the Deer.  All around Big Pine are warning signs about the species.  They roam principally in among the dry pine flatwoods but I also came across several down on the beach feeding on washed up seaweed.  A very young Key Deer was also photographed just behind the beach as I was looking for Mangrove Cuckoo’s.  I never did find the Cuckoo!!

Key Deer, Big Pine Key – 14 Jun 11

Key Deer, Big Pine Key – 14 Jun 11

Key Deer Fawn, Big Pine Key – 16 Jun 11

Key Deer Fawn, Big Pine Key – 16 Jun 11

Steve Copsey

Florida Keys – Turkey Vulture, Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker, …

   HMS York arrived off Key West very early in the morning on the 13th June, so early in fact that we had chance to watch the sunrise as we sailed into the naval base.  As we sailed in we had numerous Least and a few Common Terns out hunting for breakfast.  Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds were also to be seen.

Key West sunrise – 13 Jun 11

   Once work was over I headed to the airport and picked up a hire car and headed up the Keys.  I had not driven for a few months and I was on the right side of the road so I took it easy for the first few hours.  Over the first evening and following morning, I picked up the commoner birds of the Keys.  Double-crested Cormorants were perched on every bridge.  Grackles, Cardinals and Red-winged Blackbirds were in every patch of scrub.  I popped in quickly to the Blue Hole on Big Pine Key before finding a motel for the evening.

Northern Cardinal, Big Pine Key – 14 Jun 11

Red-winged Blackbird, Florida – 14 Jun 11

Red-bellied Woodpecker, Big Pine Key – 16 Jun 11

   Turkey Vultures were pretty much a constant overhead and a couple of Ospreys perched nearby were a bonus.  One problem soon encountered was steamed up optics.  Either when leaving the air-conditioned motel room or the hire car and stepping out into 90 degree heat with high humidity caused the camera and bins to fog.  The only solution was to drive around with the windows open as I did some early mornings.  It was never an option to turn off the chiller in the motel room!! 

Turkey Vulture, Key Largo – 14 Jun 11

Osprey, Big Pine Key – 14 Jun 11

Steve Copsey

Caymanas Golf Club: Jamaica – Jamaican Woodpecker

   The ship paid a brief visit to the Caribbean Island of Jamaica on passage to Key West.  I managed to spend the afternoon in the company of the ship’s golfers as they played a round at the Caymanas Country Club.  The weather was scorching and as the golfers played I just meandered around the course exploring the nooks and Crannies.  I was rewarded with 15 new species for the trip list of which eight were ‘life’ birds including one endemic.  Common Ground Doves and Zenaida Doves were common around the course as were Greater Antillean Grackles.  However the most conspicuous species was Grey Kingbird as they chased each other as well as the Grackles and Mockingbirds being very vocal with it. 

Common Ground-dove, Jamaica – 10 Jun 11

Grey Kingbird, Jamaica – 10 Jun 11

   Two Olive-throated Parakeets and several White-crowned Pigeons also found their way into the notebook.  A family of American Kestrels also caught the eye as they zipped around the course.  I was very pleased to come across a Purple Gallinule with three well grown youngsters walking around feeding from large lily pads on one of the course ponds.  Another well grown immature was seen later on another pond.  I also came across several large Toads by the ponds sheltering in the welcome shade.  

American Kestrel, Jamaica – 10 Jun 11

Purple Gallinule, Jamaica – 10 Jun 11

Toad Sp., Jamaica – 10 Jun 11

   After a few hours I decided to cool off in the clubhouse pool with a beer.  Just before I slipped into the cooling waters I heard the tapping of a woodpecker.  After a few minutes search I came across the endemic Jamaican Woodpecker doing its best to take out a telegraph pole.  I watched it for a few minutes but by then the pool and another Jamaican endemic, a bottle of ‘Red Stripe’ was calling louder. 

Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaica – 10 Jun 11

Steve Copsey

Panama City – Yellow-crowned Night-heron

  

   Unfortunately HMS YORK transited the Panama Canal overnight, so all the hoped for Toucans and Macaws will have to wait for another day.  I did manage to pick a few species up before darkness fell and they were; White Ibis, Tropical Mockingbird, Large-tailed Grackle and Yellow-crowned Night-heron.  The latter was a new life bird for me so at least a bit of good news, even if the photo is dreadful, but a life bird is always worth a shot. 

White Ibis, Panama – 6 Jun 11

Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Panama – 6 Jun 11

   Whilst waiting to take our turn to transit we anchored just off Panama City and I have to say it looked good.  The majority of the ship’s company hoped we would call in but alas we did not.  The odd storm passed through while we waited and the city still looked good under the dark skies.  At anchor I did pick up a few new seabirds in the form of Magnificent Frigatebird, Neotropic Cormorant and Brown Pelican. 

Magnificent Frigatebird, Panama – 5 Jun 11

Magnificent Frigatebird, Panama – 6 Jun 11

Panama City – 6 Jun 11

Panama City – 6 Jun 11

Steve Copsey

Galapagos birds from passing HMS YORK

   Our last few days in the Pacific provided a few more birds worthy of note, many which breed on the Galapagos Islands which we passed quite near to on our Port side.  The first of these was Swallow-tailed Gulls.  These Gulls are rather more pelagic than most so I was not surprised to see a few this far out.  Probably around thirty were seen over the last three days.  Two birds landing on the ship; the bird photographed below was a particularly scruffy looking Gull.  It flew in and landed on top of the 4.5” gun turret.  It then spent an hour preening before roosting for the remainder of the day.  I was not sure if it was in moult or had been hit by a train, but it was gone the following morning.  

Swallow-tailed Gull, Central East Pacific – 4 Jun 11

Swallow-tailed Gull, Central East Pacific – 4 Jun 11

   A single Galapagos Petrel flew by on the 3 June along with several Blue-footed Boobies and on the 5 June it was the turn of the Galapagos Shearwater.  Hundreds of birds were encountered as we narrowed into the Panama Canal anchorage area.  Often flocks of 50 or more were sitting on the surface until disturbed by the YORK steaming through their midst.  

Galapagos Petrel, Central Eastern Pacific – 3 Jun 11

Galapagos Shearwaters, Central Eastern Pacific – 5 Jun 11

Galapagos Shearwaters, Central Eastern Pacific – 5 Jun 11

    Lastly there was a great sighting from HMS York’s Flight Observer and Pilot.  As we sailed from Lima on the 2 June we were in company with a Peruvian Naval ship the MONTERO.  Our Lynx helicopter was taking pictures of the event when they overflew a large Whale.  The Flight Observer managed to take a couple of great shots of the whale and posted them on the ship’s system.  A cracking animal; I just wish I’d seen it, but I thought it was well worthy of inclusion on the blog; hope you agree.  

(Blue?) Whale, Eastern Pacific

Steve Copsey

Cinnamon Teal and Garganey at Titchfield Haven

   Last weekend I visited Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve in the hope of connecting with the drake Cinnamon Teal that has now been resident there for a number of weeks.  Although classified as an escaped bird, I was still keen to connect with the bird because it is a species that I hadn’t seen before.  On my arrival though the bird wasn’t initially on show.  However, a drake Garganey did appear as I looked out over the scrape at the Spurgin Hide. 

Drake Garganey, Titchfield Haven – 10 Jun 11

Drake Garganey, Titchfield Haven – 10 Jun 11

   Eventually the Cinnamon Teal did show on the South Scrape and Graham Barrett was kind enough to walk back up to the Spurgin Hide to let me know.  After getting my first glimpse of the bird from the Pumfrett Hide I headed to the Meon Shore Hide for a closer view.  Unfortunately, when I got there the duck had swam off towards the Pumfrett Hide!  It did swim back and at one point it even looked like it was going to swim directly in front of the hide.  Unfortunately though, whilst obscured by the reeds, it turned round and headed back around the edge of the scrape the way it had come. 

Drake Cinnamon Teal, Titchfield Haven – 10 Jun 11

Drake Cinnamon Teal, Titchfield Haven – 10 Jun 11

Drake Cinnamon Teal, Titchfield Haven – 10 Jun 11

   Another escapee that was on show was the now long term resident Fulvous Whistling Duck in front of the Sand Martin wall. 

Fulvous Whistling Duck, Titchfield Haven – 10 Jun 11

Good birding,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) Geosci (Open)

 

A day out in Malta

   A Mid-deployment break allowed my wife to visit me on the lovely island of Malta.  Although beautiful in many ways it is far from a haven for birds as you can read if you visit here:  http://www.birdlifemalta.org/   .  Gruesome reading but it makes you glad we live in a country that greatly appreciates the variety and spectacle of the wildlife around us.  As anyone who’s been to Malta will testify there aren’t a great deal of birds.  I didn’t see a single Gull, there are no Collared Doves, unlike the rest of Europe and those you do see are Feral pigeons and Spanish Sparrows.  I did manage a day out to one of our favourite bays.  Paradise Bay is next to the Gozo ferry and is a beautiful place for Sun, Sea and Sangria.  Here there was a Fan-tailed Warbler zipping around and a walk around the surrounding cliffs produced Clouded Yellow, Small White and Common Blue butterflies.  A Western Whip Snake slithered into the sun until it saw me and swiftly disappeared.  Also here and first noticed by its beautiful song was Blue Rock Thrush.  I would guess there were probably 3 or 4 birds within 200 metres either side of the bay.  Alas none sat up for a picture. 

   On the way back we stopped at Ghadira Nature Reserve, which unfortunately was closed.  This can be found on the western edge of Mellieha Bay in Northern Malta.  A walk around the edge provided very little apart from a couple of Little Ringed Plover and a Black-winged Stilt that came up calling and warned me off twice as I passed by. 

Black-winged Stilt, Ghadira, Malta – Jun 11

   Other than this our day was spent visiting archaeological sites (and of course Popeye’s Village!) which although scenic provided little wildlife. 

Mark C

Pacific Storm-petrels

   By the end of our time in the Pacific I had added several new species of Storm-petrel to my life list.  Whilst in more southerly latitudes it was only Wilson’s Storm-petrels that were to be seen, but as we reached northern Chile and southern Peru I was glad to come across my first Hornby’s Storm-petrel.  This large Storm-petrel also known as Ringed Storm-petrel is quite distinctive and was easily identified and was quite a common bird from northern Chile up to Ecuador.

Hornby’s Storm-petrel, Central East Pacific – 2 Jun 11

Hornby’s Storm-petrel, Central East Pacific – 2 Jun 11

   In a similar range was Markham’s Storm-petrel; again quite a large bird but this species is all dark,  making identification relatively easy.  The same cannot be said for Elliot’s (White-vented) Storm-petrel.  This species is very similar to Wilson’s possibly a little darker on the upper-wing crescent but the white vent is very difficult to see at sea.  Fortunately I was rattling off lots of images and even though I knew at the distances involved they would not be up to much quality wise, for id purposes they were perfect.  I would have found these birds nearly impossible to id without the camera.  

Markham’s Storm-petrel, Central East Pacific – 2 Jun 11

Markham’s Storm-petrel, East Pacific – 28 May 11

Elliot’s Storm-petrel, Central East Pacific – 2 Jun 11

   Lastly I had Wedge-rumped Storm-petrel, the large white rump of this species is a straight forward aid to id but that is fine in a book when you can see it next to Wilson’s and Elliot’s.  At sea not so easy (for me anyway) but after a while the eye gets trained on subtle differences and although this bird is similar in size to Wilson’s it appears longer and darker winged which at distance was easier to discern than the white rump.  Then there was White-bellied and White-faced Storm-petrels to contend with to add spice to life. It has been really interesting to catch up with so many Stormies over these past months. Hopefully one more to go; Madeiran. 

Wedge-rumped Storm-petrel, Central East Pacific – 2 Jun 11

White-bellied Storm-petrel, Eastern Pacific – 25 May 11

Steve Copsey

Peru Miscellaneous Montage

   The last entry for my Peru trip is really just a selection of images that I could not fit in anywhere else.  The piles of stones high up in the Andes are called Apacheta.  The guide explained to me that people build these as an offering of sorts to the mountains.  The couple were just two people I passed while walking around the village of Huachupampa.  I asked if it was alright to take a photograph as I had with the lady in the bar, and was rewarded with two great images.  The hotel is also in the village as was the art work.  Unfortunately there was no electricity in the hotel room or a toilet seat come to think of it.  However, the shower had hot water by the bucket load.  It was just a shame it had no cold, so after twenty seconds I had to depart hastily to avoid being scalded.  That said though the hotel was clean, friendly and the owner served up a great dinner.

Apacheta, Andes

Apacheta, Andes

Couple in Huachupampa village, Andes

Hotel in Huachupampa, Andes

Street Art in Huachupampa, Andes

   The flowering cactus caught my eye near the Polylepis Forest.  Julio took the photo of me overlooking Puna Lakes that held Giant Coot, Andean Duck and Silvery Grebe.  I had last seen Silvery Grebe in the Falkland Islands a few feet above sea level.  Here it was in the Andes on lakes approaching 5000 metres in altitude.  The Harris Hawk was taken during a short break, whilst driving back into Lima on the central highway.  This highway connects Peru and Brazil across the Andes and is a driving experience and a half.  Certainly not for the faint hearted, it was a tad scarier than driving on the mountain dirt roads. 

Flowering Cactus, Andes

Puna Lakes, Andes

Harris Hawk, Andes Foothills – 1 Jun 11

Steve Copsey