Red-footed Booby in the Indian Ocean

After leaving Tanzania we headed north with the ultimate destination of the Seychelles. Over the next week we weren’t inundated with birds but I did enjoy a few good sightings. On the 17th a Wedge-tailed Shearwater was banking and twisting in front of the ship but I was unable to get any usable images. A few days later a Great Frigatebird and a Red-footed Booby whizzed past and once again they were only identified by some grainy images, in the case of the Frigatebird by its underwing.

The next day we were on the upperdeck for “Row the Suez”. Eighty-one members of the ship’s company had to do 2000 metres each in the quickest possible time. Although I do train a lot, rowing is not my strong point, so I was pleased that my time came somewhere in the middle. We didn’t break any records but it was good fun never-the-less.

Rowing 230515 247

‘Slasher’ Mark Cutts-HMS RICHMOND-18 May 15

A few more days past which were all birdless (unfortunately I have to do some work so can’t be on the upperdeck all the time) when I received a call telling me that there were 6 birds overhead following the ship. These turned out to be Red-footed Boobies. I imagine they were enjoying the updraft from the ship as they soared lazily above us.

R F Booby 260515 014

Red-footed Booby, Indian Ocean – 26 May 15

Red-footed Booby, Indian Ocean – 26 May 15

Red-footed Booby, Indian Ocean- 26 May 15

My last sighting was another Booby with two Wedge-tailed Shearwaters veering away from the ship as we broke through the waves. That was it until one morning when I walked out onto the upperdeck and was greeted with the island of Mahe, part of the Seychelles, but more of this tropical paradise next time.

Mark C.

Bordered White moth New For Fareham Garden

Due to an early start on Saturday I opted out of the Fareham Mothing Group outing on Friday to Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve.  However, I still ran my moth trap overnight in the back garden.  I was rewarded with a female Bordered White which was ‘New For Garden’.  It is a species of native pine woodland (particularly Scots Pine) and plantations.  The nearest suitable habitat is around the Peel Common Sewage Treatment Plant a kilometer away.  It provided me with an ideal excuse to test my recently purchased 105mm Nikon Micro Lens.

Bordered White (female), Fareham Garden – 26 Jun 15

Also in the trap and ‘New For Year’ was a single Snout.

Good mothing,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Chough on Marloes Peninsula, Skomer and St David’s Peninsula, Pembrokeshire

As I walked up to the Observation Hut during the recce of Martin’s Haven and the adjacent Deer Park I spotted what I suspected was a Chough with its fingers outstretched flying along the southern cliffs of the Marloes Peninsula.  However, the only corvids present when we eventually got round to that particular area were Carrion Crow and Jackdaw.  The following day though, after we had purchased our tickets for the 1000 boat to the island of Skomer, we headed back to the southern cliffs and almost immediately I heard a Chough call overhead.  I looked up to see not just one but two birds drop down and quickly disappear out of sight beyond the cliff edge.  I soon relocated the birds that were foraging for food on a steep grassy slope and I captured my first record images of the species as they slowly worked their way up the slope.

Chough, Marloes Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 16 May 15

Chough, Marloes Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 16 May 15

The first boat to Skomer at 1000 was absolutely wedged with fifty passengers.  I hoped for further sightings of Chough on the island, and although I had to wait until after Mich and I had circumnavigated the island in an anticlockwise direction (opposite to the majority of the other visitors), I wasn’t disappointed.  From an outcrop of rock located above and behind the island office building we sat down to enjoy the view across South Haven and The Neck under the clear blue sky.  A couple of Jackdaw moved purposefully between the Puffin burrows below although it wasn’t obvious what they were actually after.  I then noticed two corvids circling above The Neck and to my delight they were Chough.  The birds drifted closer and closer and eventually landed below us on the grass at the back of the office building.  Finding it hard to believe my luck I snapped away and ended up taking literally hundreds of images as the two individuals kept moving closer and closer.  Fantastic.

Chough, Skomer, Pembrokeshire – 16 May 15

Chough, Skomer, Pembrokeshire – 16 May 15

Chough, Skomer, Pembrokeshire – 16 May 15

The following day Mrs T and I checked out of the B&B and drove to St David’s – the UK’s smallest city.  After we had visited the Cathedral and walked around the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace we walked to the ruins of Non’s Chapel (birth place of St David) to walk another stretch of coastal footpath.  I connected with my first Rock Pipit of the year and several Feral (Rock) Dove before I picked up three Choughs in flight that passed in a westerly direction.  Unfortunately, they flew on to the end of the Peninsula where they were joined by another two birds in the distance.  On the return leg I opted to remain on the coastal footpath instead of crossing back through the field that contained the ruined chapel.  It turned out to be a good decision because we encountered two more Chough feeding amongst the wild flowers on the cliffs immediately below us.  The encounter provided me with even better views of the stunning glossy black, red-legged and red-billed species of corvid.  As well as the Chough I spotted Fulmer (three on cliff edge), Rock Dove, Stonechat (pair), Buzzard and cronking Raven during the final 150m stretch to the St Non’s Retreat Centre.  It was a superb finale to our short stay in Wales.

St David’s Bishop’s Palace, Pembrokeshire – 17 May 15

Chough, St David’s Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 17 May 15

Chough, St David’s Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 17 May 15

Chough, St David’s Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 17 May 15

Chough, St David’s Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 17 May 15

Good birding,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Birding Tanzania – Mikumi National Park Day Two – Mammals

Animal wise, day two started in a similar vein to the end of day one. Impala and Zebra were in big groups with Marabou Storks goose stepping serenely between them.  There was a collective “Aaaaaah” when someone spotted a Zebra foal as it ran up to its mother and proceeded to drink milk from her teet.

Plains Zebra and foal, Mikumi NP – 14 May 15

As we drove along we spotted some baboons in the tree but they were all well camouflaged. Nearby we could see a Cape Buffalo. This is one of the “Big Five” so named for the difficulty and danger involved when hunting them in the days of the “Big game” hunters, the term, has now been adopted by the Eco-tourist fraternity. That said our guide indicated that of all the wildlife in the park, he respected and feared this animal the most. With this in mind we were happy to stay a fair distance from all the buffalo we saw.

Cape Buffalo, Mikumi NP – 14 May 15

A single wildebeest followed with more Cape Buffalo lounging in a muddy pool. We studied Oxpeckers as they fed on Zebras and more Wildebeest roamed slowly through the grass.

Wildebeest, Mikumi NP – 14 May 15

Our last stop was at the ‘Hippopotamus Pools’. These did not disappoint and gave brief but good views of Hippos surfacing to take in air.  This visit was far too brief and as we drove off Jodie spotted a Nile Crocodile next to the bank.

Hippopotamus, Mikumi NP – 14 May 15

NIle Crocodile, Mikumi NP – 14 May 15

That was it for Mikumi NP. After that we left the park and headed back for Dar es Salaam. We hadn’t gone far when we came across a “Troop” of baboons in the middle of the road. These were Yellow baboon, one of two species in Tanzania, the other being Olive. More cries of “Aaaah” as the young were spotted clinging lovingly to their mothers.

Yellow Baboon and infant, Mikumi NP – 14 May 15

Yellow Baboon and infant, Mikumi NP – 14 May 15

Yellow Baboon, Mikumi NP – 14 May 15

Two good days of birding but in particular the fantastic experience of seeing African mammals in the wild, definitely something that should be on everyone’s “bucket list”

Mark C.

Wall Butterfly ‘lifer’ in Pembrokeshire

My two year assignment to HMS PROTECTOR confirmed my preference for observing species in their natural environment.  Consequently, I flew home from Madeira intent on arranging the occasional short break to connect with the scarcer UK native/migrant species of bird.  Corncrake is the one species on the list that would be a ‘lifer’, but that particular ‘tick’ will probably have to wait until a trip to Islay next spring.  For my first leave period I planned a trip to Pembrokeshire, somewhere I had always wanted to visit and a known hotspot for my first target species – (Red-billed) Chough.  I had only encountered the species once before at South Stack, Anglesey during a family holiday back in Oct 05, where I witnessed several birds perform spectacular aerial acrobatics in the stiff offshore breeze.

Mrs T and I arrived on the Marloes Peninsular well before the 1500 B&B check-in time so we headed off to Martin’s Haven to conduct a recce, prior to our booked ‘Evening Safari’ boat trip around Skomer that evening.  Highlights of a very pleasant stroll around the Deer Park, located at the end of the peninsula, included Raven (2), a Hobby in off the sea, scores of Auks and Gulls in Jack Sound, drifts of Sea Thrift and Bluebells in flower and my first encounter with the Wall Butterfly.

Picture 1 M Peninsula-16 May 15_2 orig

Deer Park, Marloes Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 16 May 15

Picture 2 Marloes Peninsula-16 May 15 orig

Weather Station, Marloes Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 16 May 15

Over the three days we spent on the Marloes and St David’s Peninsulas we spotted several Wall and Small Copper Butterflies.  Ticking off all the UK species of butterfly is another ambition that I’ll hopefully achieve over the next few years.

Picture 3 St D Peninsula, Wales-17 May 15_2 trim

Wall Butterfly, St David’s Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 17 May 15

Picture 4 St D Peninsula, Wales-17 May 15 trim

Wall Butterfly, St David’s Peninsula, Pembrokeshire – 17 May 15

Picture 5 Skomer, Wales-16 May 15_2 trim

Small Copper Butterfly, Skomer, Pembrokeshire – 16 May 15

Picture 6 Jacks Strait-16 May 15 orig

Jack’s Sound (Marloes Peninsular in foreground and Skomer in the background), Pembrokeshire – 16 May 15

Good wildlife watching,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Small Elephant Hawk-moth new for Fareham garden

The last few days have seen a welcoming significant increase in the number of moths contained within my 40W Actinic Heath Trap.  There’s no way of telling what I will find inside each morning but today as I carried my trap to the greenhouse a Poplar Hawk-moth was visible hanging from one of the egg cartons inside.  After I removed the lamp and funnel I found a second Poplar Hawk-moth and singles off Buff Ermine and Lychnis that were both ‘New For Year’.  However, it was the much smaller but far more colourful Small Elephant Hawk-moth that stole the show being ‘New For Garden’.  However, I had already encountered the species from several outings with the Fareham Mothing Group.

aPicture 1-21 Jun 15

Small Elephant Hawk-moth, Fareham Garden-21 Jun 15

aPicture 2-21 Jun 15

Small Elephant Hawk-moth, Fareham Garden-21 Jun 15

aPicture 3-7 Jun 13_2

Small Elephant Hawk-moth, Roydon Woods-7 Jun 13

The highlight from Friday night was a Miller.  It was only my second garden record the first being in 2014 slightly later in the month.

12 Longfield Ave-19 Jun 15_3 trim

Miller, Fareham Garden-19 Jun 15

Good mothing,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Birding Tanzania – Mikumi NP – Day 2, Plovers & Widowbirds

We set out on day two of our safari buoyant after a hearty breakfast and the sounds of birds in the canopy still in our ears. Marabou storks were patrolling in the grass by the side of the track and Impala and Zebra were all around.

Marabou Stork, Mikumi NP, 14 June 15

Marabou Stork, Mikumi NP, 14 May 2015

We stopped to look at our first Buffalo and Lucy said “What’s that lump to the left” (I have mentioned her keen vision previously !) I rattled off a number of shots and zooming in found this to be a Crowned Plover.

Crowned Plover, Mikumi NP, 14 May 15

Crowned Plover, Mikumi NP, 14 May 2015

Moving on we stopped when a number of small birds were flying to and fro across the road. These turned out to be White-headed Mousebirds. Also here was a Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, a couple of female type Fan-tailed Widowbirds and a White-browed Coucal.

White-browed Coucal Mikumi NP 14 May 15

White-browed Coucal, Mikumi NP, 14 May 2015

A red bird caught our eye and immediately knew it was a Bishop. A look at some grainy images gave me great pleasure as I later identified this as a Zanzibar Red Bishop, a new species for me. Jodie then spotted the Male Widowbird as it flew a wide circle around our transport.

Fan-tailed Widowbird Mikumi NP 14 May 15

Fan-tailed Widowbird, Mikumi NP, 14 May 2015

A little later and we could see a Vulture high in a tree. This turned out to be a Palm-nut Vulture. There very well could have been carrion around as on the other side of the road were a couple of White-backed Vultures sunning themselves and in the distance was a solitary White-headed Vulture

Palm-nut Vulture, Mikumi NP 14 June 15

Palm-nut Vulture, Mikumi NP, 14 June 2015

White-backed Vulture -Mikumi NP 14 may 15

White-backed Vulture, Mikumi NP, 14 May 2015

White-headed Vulture, Mikumi NP, 14 May 15

White-headed Vulture, Mikumi NP, 14 May 2015

A few (as yet) unidentified Cisticolas came next followed by a Common Bulbul and Lesser-striped Swallow at a comfort stop. While we waited a Green Wood hoopoe sang its haunting lament from the trees. Passing some Zebras we spotted Oxpeckers. The guide said that both type were present but I could only find Red-billed amongst my images.

We then travelled to the Hippo pools and I could straight away see a Grey Heron and about twenty Water Thick-knee around the edge.

Water Thick-knee, Mikumi NP 14 May 15

Water Thick-knee, Mikumi NP, 14 May 2015

I was disappointed we didn’t spend more time here but a close-up view of a feeding Hamerkop was a good finish to the day.

Hamerkop, Mikumi NP 14 May 15

Hamerkop, Mikumi NP, 14 May 2015

The next blog will be more on the animals I saw that day
Mark C.

Birding Tanzania – Mikumi Day One – Nocturnal Mammals; Civets and Bush Babies

We were all booked to stay at the Vuma Hills tented camp and it turned out to be a very nice place indeed. Ollie and I slummed in together while the girls took the other tent.
We were fine but they didn’t sleep much after seeing a Gecko on the shower wall and imagining spiders crawling on them as they slept.

Olly Mikumi two 130515 1055

Ollie and Jodie, Vuma Hills Camp, Mikumi. 13 May 2015

But before this we spent a pleasant evening with a bottle (or two) of Kilimanjaro some nice food and then the company of some nocturnal mammals. Our host, Sabine had set up a feeding station below the raised bar area; and straight away could see four Honey Badgers feeding on the fruit.

Honey Badger Mikumi two 130515 1056

Honey Badgers, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

A little later a Civet appeared and both it and the badgers seemed to feed together in peace.

Civet Mikumi two 130515 1064

Civet, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

Sabine called us over and began to chop up a banana on one of the tables. Immediately a bush baby appeared and then three more. I managed to get some images but didn’t want to use flash directly in front of their eyes.


Bush Babies, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

Bushbaby Mikumi two 130515 1060

Bush Baby, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

This rounded off a fantastic day of animal watching and set us up nicely for Day two.

Mark C.

Bordered Straw (macro moth) new for Fareham garden

I left HMS PROTECTOR for the last time via a Boat Transfer off Funchal, Madeira on Saturday 18 Apr 15, just a few days before the ship returned to the UK from its eighteen month deployment.  Although my twenty-five month assignment to the ship had provided me with countless wildlife spectacles in the Southern Ocean I was very much looking forward to spending a prolonged, and long overdue, period at home based in Portsmouth.  One activity I was keen to indulge in was ‘mothing’ that throughout my time onboard PRTR, and prior to that HMS IRON DUKE, was an extremely inconsistent activity at best.  My re-assignment enabled me to trap in my Fareham garden week in and week out for the first time since I took to ‘mothing’ back in 2010.  My efforts have already been rewarded with several species (Purple Bar, Pale Tussock, Iron Prominent and Bordered Straw) that have been New For Garden (NFG).

Picture 1-21 May 15 trim

Purple Bar, Fareham Garden – 21 May 15

Picture 2-25 May 15_3 trim

Pale Tussock, Fareham Garden – 25 May 15

Instead of clinging to one of the egg boxes within my 40W Actinic Heath Trap I found the Iron Prominent clung to the internal electrical cable in typical ‘prominent’ style.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it was NFG until after I had released it.

Picture 3-1 Jun 12_2

Iron Prominent, Shirrel Heath – 1 Jun 12

I first encountered Bordered Straw, an immigrant species, during a Friday outing with the Fareham Mothing Group when two individuals pitched up at my sheet.  However, Mrs T pointed out a dead moth in a spider web in the back garden a couple of days later.  Although NFG I was much happier with a live specimen that I found inside my trap on the morning of 14 Jun 15.

Picture 4-5 Jun 15_2 trim

Bordered Straw, Brownwich Cliffs – 5 Jun 15

Good mothing,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Birding Tanzania – Mikumi N.P. Day One Mammals; Lions, Elephants and Giraffes


The reason I was so excited about visiting Tanzania was not for the birds but for the mammals. In my naval career I have visited Kenya twice. The first time I spent two weeks in a hotel and saw a swimming pool and the bottom of a bottle of Tusker. The second time, determined not to waste the visit, I climbed Mount Kenya and saw a few distant Zebra and Giraffe from the Mombasa to Nairobi train. So to summarise I had never been on a safari.

As we pulled up at the National park, we all jumped out to stretch our legs (read previous blog entry for details of journey from hell) and Ollie soon spotted a distant Giraffe. I had done some research and knew this to be a Masai Giraffe, one of two species we might see there.

Giraffe, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15 (2)

Masai Giraffe, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Giraffe, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15 xxx

Masai Giraffe, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

We drove into the park and could immediately see large groups of deer, these all turned out to be Impala. A small, graceful deer, it was great to see them “rutting” together and jumping high in the long grass.

Impala, Mikumi NP 13th May 15

Impala, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Impala, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15 (2)

Impala, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Impala, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Impala, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Using my bins I spotted movement a little way off and was pleased to see a family of Warthog. Even the guide called them “Pumba” and this turned out to be fortunate as this was the only sighting throughout the two days.

Warthog, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Warthog, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Further on and we could see large herds of Impala and amongst these we spotted our first Common Zebra

Common Zebra, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Common Zebra, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

A little later and suddenly Lucy shouts “Lion”. I wish I had her eyes as after reversing we could just see the top of a male lions head. This was a young male and we all watched fascinated as he stretched and yawned in the long grass.

Lion, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15 (2)

Lion, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Lion, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Lion, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Lion, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15 (3)

Lion, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Moving on, a Savannah Monitor, a large iguana type lizard, crossed our path and then another lion is spotted this time, it’s an old female with a cub. The female is in a bad way as she appears blind in one eye and other groups tell us later that she is seen limping on one leg.

Lion with cub, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Lion with cub, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Trying not to upset the mother we move off and the guide soon cries out “Elephants”. This is a group of around 15 elephants, varying in size. One of the mothers flaps her ears, raises her trunk and trumpets loudly, to warn us from approaching her calf but the guide didn’t seem over concerned, although Jodie was extremely happy when, as a group, the elephants moved off.

Elephant, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

African Elephant, Mikumi NP, 13th May 15

Elephant, Mikumi NP, 13th Nov 15

African Elephants, Mikumi NP, 13th Nov 15

Our last new (daytime) mammal of the day was Wildebeest, only seen in singles or pairs compared to the images of huge herds that we see often on documentary TV.

Wildebeest, Mikumi NP, 13th June 15

Wildebeest, Mikumi NP, 13th June 15

A great day and exactly the experience that I would have wished for before we left.
Mark C

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear at Acres Down

With just being home at weekends, I don’t like to disappear too much in search of birds; but I had organised a few hours free this afternoon to pop over to Pagham Harbour (hopefully) for the Hudsonian Whimbrel. That was until I received a text from Andy J letting me know that a Black-eared Wheatear had been reported from Acres Down. Thanks Andy. When I got back home from “shopping” I checked the web to see the bird had been noted as an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear. This bird, with which I was not familiar with has a range from Southern Italy eastwards into Turkey and the Middle East.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear 1a, Acres Down, 13 Jun 2015

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Acres Down, 13 June 2015

Needless to say the Whimbrel was temporarily forgotten about (there is always tomorrow) and I headed to Acres Down. After parking up I followed the path out from the car park to an open area of heath, where a number of birders were already congregated. I was pretty much on the bird straight away and what an absolute stonker it was. There is something special about Wheatears in general, but to have this bird in the optics in the middle of Hampshire was just outstanding. The bird was busy feeding, flitting between favoured perches as it did so, occasionally even partaking in a bit of fly-catching.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear 2b, Acres Down, 13 Jun 2015

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Acres Down, 13 June 2015

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear 3a, Acres Down, 13 Jun 2015

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Acres Down, 13 June 2015

Many thanks to the finder of this great bird and nice as always to bump into local birders in the form of Dave R, Ash H and Dan H.


Steve C

Birding Tanzania – Mikumi N.P. – Day One birds, Hornbills and Rollers

We had booked a two day safari at the Mikumi National Park, apparently a four hour drive from Dar es salaam. We were to be picked up at 08:00, which turned into 09:00, anyone who has been to Dar es salaam will know that the traffic is dreadful and the people will never be on time.

We then spent an hour in traffic trying to get the offices of the safari company, this had the sole purpose of picking up mineral water. What followed was torturous as we spent the next 6-7 hours on the road heading for the park. We did stop for lunch at a roadside shack and here I saw Pied Crow, a Hamerkop in flight and a distant Grey-headed Sparrow.

Eventually we came to the entrance to the park and we saw our first Giraffe but more on the animals later. The first two birds we saw were Marabou Stork, sinister but majestic as they walk slowly amongst the Impala and a group of Southern Ground Hornbill hiding in the grass.


Marabou Stork, Mikumi, 14 May 2015

Ground Hornbill Mikumi two 130515 080

Ground Hornbill, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

White-browed Sparrow Weavers were in the nearby trees as were Splendid Starlings and Ring-necked Doves flew from the road as we approached.

Splendid Starling Mikumi two 130515 278

Splendid Starling, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

On the road the occasional Red-necked Spurfowl/Francolin would scurry off into grass after waiting for us to draw close by.

Francolin Mikumi two 130515 866

Red-necked Francolin, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

As we headed into the park a group of five Crowned Plover flew over our heads calling. My three companions, Jody and Lucy, the two girls who work for me and Jody’s boyfriend Ollie are not birders by any means but they were all delighted when we saw our first close up Lilac-breasted Roller.

LB Roller Mikumi two 130515 328

Lilac-breasted Roller, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

A little later I called the four x four to a halt and made him reverse to look at a Yellow-throated Longclaw, a bird I hoped to see during the trip. More Rollers followed before I spotted a distant Grey Kestrel, a bird I knew from our trip to Gambia in 2014.

Longclaw Mikumi two 130515 346

Yellow-throated Longclaw, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

Grey Kestrel Mikumi two 130515 363

Grey Kestrel, Mikumi, 13 May 2015


More Spurfowl and then a party of Helmeted Guineafowl stopped us in our tracks. A Hornbill flew across the road and this turned out to African Grey Hornbill, one of four or five I saw that day. Distant views of White-backed Vultures and Little Bee-eaters followed until we saw our first Long-tailed Fiscal, nowhere near as common as I expected it to be.

Fischal Mikumi two 130515 823

Long-tailed Fiscal, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

Greater blue-eared Starling gave a nice show but that was the last new bird of the day with Rollers, Spurfowl and Splendid Starlings all sighted on our way to the accommodation.

G B E Starling Mikumi two 130515 843

Greater Blue-eared Starling, Mikumi, 13 May 2015

The next entry will be the day one animals followed by the story of the overnight accommodation.
Mark C

Birding Tanzania – Grave Island

We were the first Royal Navy ship to visit Zanzibar for over 50 years and I was delighted when I heard the news. I knew that it wasnt amazing for wildlife but it represented somewhere completely new for me. On the second day I volunteered to help clean up a Military graveyard which was located off the coast on the appropriately named Grave Island.
We had to pick up boats to get there and as we approached a Long-tailed Cormorant flew by and I could see Cattle Egrets flying to and from the island. As we drew nearer I could see the Egrets at one end of the island and Cormorants in the trees near the jetty.

 090515 138

Long-tailed Cormorants, Grave Island, Zanzibar, 9th May 2015

The following gives some information on who is buried there, the first being a German
sailor in 1845, before it was handed over for all european burials in 1879. The image is pretty much still how it looks today. This is reproduced from the The Naval History Collectors and Research Association website

Just before sunrise on the morning of 20 September 1914 in the opening weeks of the First World War, the British cruiser H.M.S. Pegasus was anchored off Shangani Point, undergoing repair, when the German cruiser S.M.S. Königsberg appeared and opened fire. Within eight minutes the devastating fire from the enemy warship had disabled the Pegasus and its Captain, Commander John Ingles, had no option but to put up a white flag and surrender. The ship sank later that day and today the broken remains lie in ten metres of water about a mile away from the island. Thirty eight men died in the action and fifty five were wounded out of a complement of two hundred and thirty. Twenty-four sailors were buried that afternoon in a mass grave behind the main cemetery, which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission based in England.

A walk around the cemetery will show numerous graves with a number only. In many cases these are Royal Navy graves with a number being African crew recruited from the Kroo tribe in West Africa. Known as Kroomen they served the navy well for many years up to the end of the 19th century and in many cases were given strange names like King George. Tom Toby and Bottle of Beer.

We set to work on the Graves, removing debris, sweeping them off and generally making the place look spick and span. This took us all morning but was hugely satisfying. As we worked I look out for small birds but apart from a few distantly calling I couldnt pin an ID on anything. Hermit crabs were all around and I let the smaller ones grip my fingers until this beast took a large chunk out of me. They are actually Coconut crabs and the same species I had come across in Diego Garcia many years ago.

Hermit Crab Graves 2 090515 330

Coconut Crab (Birgus latro), Grave Island, Zanzibar, 9th May 2015

Before lunch I managed to grab 30 minutes to walk along the beach, I quickly saw a distant Dimorphic Egret, some treat these as a race of Little Egret and nearer the shore was a Striated or Green-backed Heron feeding in the shallows. The only other birds were three sitting Lesser Crested Terns and the odd House Crow.

Gree-backed Heron Grave Island 090515 297

Striated Heron, Grave Island, Zanzibar, 9th May 2015

Back with the group we carried out a memorial ceremony to the lost and headed for lunch.

Graves 2 090515 416

Memorial Cross and wreath, Grave Island, Zanzibar, 9th May 2015

Whilst all the rest ate lunch I headed for the west tip of the island where I had seen the Cattle Egrets fly to. As I did passed a colony of exremely noisy fruit bats but could not get close enough for any images. A shame as these were probably Pemba Fruit-bats (Pteropus voeltzkowi) endemic to the island to the north of where we were.
I also passed some Helmeted Guinea-fowl, possibly wild but more than likely just kept for their meat by the resident locals.
I kept on the jungle path until I saw my first Egret.After that there were many more, at different levels in the canopy. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any other herons amongst them.

Cattle Egret Graves 2 090515 367

Cattle Egret, Grave Island, Zanzibar, 9th May 2015

Cattle Egret Grave Island 090515 396 (1)

Cattle Egret, Grave Island, Zanzibar, 9th May 2015

Cattle Egret 4 Graves 2 090515 400

Cattle Egret, Grave Island, Zanzibar, 9th May 2015

It was then time to return to shore with our final treat a pair of Indo-pacific Bottle nose dolphins swimming near our boat but by then my camera was safely stowed in my rucksack.
Mark C

Corn Buntings and Stone Curlews on the Wiltshire Downs

I am working up in Wiltshire now, so on my way home yesterday evening; I called in at a local beauty spot in the Wiltshire Downs and had a scope around. Corn Buntings were in good voice in several locations and I managed to photograph the bird below by using the car as a hide. As I watched the Bunting, I had two Grey Partridge fly over; possibly flushed by a dog walker behind me and slightly further away I picked up two Red-legged Partridge. Swallows were also zipping around the grass tops but I did not see many butterflies.

Corn Bunting 1, Wiltshire Downs, 4 June 2015

Corn Bunting, Wiltshire, 4 June 2015

Corn Bunting 2, Wiltshire Downs, 4 June 2015

Corn Bunting, Wiltshire, 4 June 2015

I was also pleased to pick up the familiar shape of a Stone Curlew against the skyline in a recently tilled field. Again using the car as a hide, (and staying in it) I got to within a hundred yards or so. I then noticed a second bird lower down in the same field. Both birds were rather distant for the camera, but the scope views obtained were superb. A number of Lapwings were in the same field and numerous corvids were also feeding nearby.

Stone Curlew 3, Wiltshire Downs, 4 June 2015

Stone Curlew, Wiltshire, 4 June 2015

Stone Curlew 1, Wiltshire Downs, 4 June 2015

Stone Curlew, Wiltshire, 4 June 2015

Whilst I watched; a Brown Hare broke cover from the edge of the field and trotted inwards allowing a shot when it stopped for a few moments. A very pleasant hour or so and something I hope to repeat on journeys home in the future.

Brown Hare 1, Wiltshire Downs, 4 June 2015

Brown Hare, Wiltshire, 4 June 2015


Steve C

Commerson’s Dolphins playing in the surf at Bertha’s Beach

As I was photographing the terns and gulls on the rocks just off Fox Point we picked up several Commerson’s Dolphins moving past the rocks towards the beach. They disappeared from view so I continued photographing the terns. A few moments later Tony gave a call that the Commerson’s had started to jump out of the water around a hundred yards down the beach. I looked up to see a couple of them in mid-air, so for the next few minutes I just snapped away at the dolphins as they breached the surface. Given the distance, I knew they would not be the best shots, but overall I was pleased with the results.

Commerson's Dolphins, Bertha's Beach, 24 Feb 2015

Commerson's Dolphins, Bertha's Beach, 24 Feb 2015

Commerson's Dolphins, Bertha's Beach, 24 Feb 2015

Commerson's Dolphins, Bertha's Beach, 24 Feb 2015

The species is named after Philbert Commerson who noted them as he transited the Straits of Magellan in 1767. There are two distinct populations of this mammal. The first is the Southern South America and Falkland Islands population; the second is around Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean, over 5000 miles to the east. As you can imagine I have seen Commerson’s Dolphin on numerous walks around the Falkland coast line often surfing in the waves, (see below). Though this was the first time if I remember right, that I have seen the animals clear out of the water. A quite spectacular sight.

Commerson's Dolphins, Bertha's Beach, 25 Oct 2014

Commerson's Dolphins, Bertha's Beach, 25 Oct 2014

Steve C