South Africa Birding: Swift Terns in Cape Town Harbour

After a very pleasant August at home, I flew to Cape Town in early September to re-join Protector. The ship was undergoing a three week maintenance period and although I was kept quite busy, I did enjoy a few birding days. Swift Tern, Sterna bergii also known as Crested Tern was common in the harbour and in the region of twenty birds were often seen feeding in close proximity to the ship. On the afternoon of the 6th I spent an hour or so photographing the birds in action. The birds would circle and then briefly hover before plunging in after a fish. The success rate appeared to be high. The bird ranges from South Africa up the Indian Ocean to the Arabian Gulf and past India and the South China Sea into the Pacific Ocean. The bird is relatively easy to id given its large size and banana like bill.

Steve C

Unknown macro moth onboard HMS PROTECTOR in Tema, Ghana, West Africa

HMS PROTECTOR berthed alongside Tema, Ghana on the morning of 5 Aug 14. I was unable to step ashore on day one of the visit because I was Officer Of the Day. However, I was able to tick off a couple of ‘lifers’ in the form of Pied Crow and Long-tailed Cormorant from the Bridge Roof as the ship came alongside before I assumed my duty. However, the most impressive sighting of the day was a large moth that settled on one of the rear port bridge windows mid-morning. I have absolutely no idea of its identity, although to be found within a busy dockyard it is presumably an extremely common species. Unfortunately the moth settled on the window just minutes before my presence was required at the gangway for the departure of the Commanding Officer on official calls ashore. However, after the CO had been ‘piped’ ashore I grabbed a small plastic container and collected the moth and took it to my cabin. During a lull in my responsibilities of military command of a Royal Navy warship I took a record photograph of the moth with my DSLR lens stood on the couch, to get the subject on the cabin table in focus with my telephoto lens, dressed in full tropical uniform, as you do. Satisfied with the result I resumed the daily battle rhythm of Officer Of the Day.

Moth sp., Tema, Ghana – 5 Aug 14

Good mothing,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Santiago Island, Cape Verde birding: Common Quail regularly encountered around Praia Airport

In celebration of the commissioning of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth the Commanding Officer of HMS PROTECTOR honoured the order issued to all RN Units to ‘Splice the Main Brace’ whilst the ship remained alongside in Cape Verde. The occasion also provided the ideal opportunity for a Ship’s Company photograph in tropical uniform. After the formality of the Ship’s Company photograph followed by Departmental and individual Mess photographs everybody mustered on the Main Deck from where, with a generous tot of rum in hand, the Commanding Officer offered a toast to HMS Queen Elizabeth and in the age old tradition of the Royal Navy of ‘Splice the Main Brace’ we necked our rum.

Once secure had been piped Steve and I headed back to the airport scrub for our second and final session of birding in Cape Verde where we optimistically hoped to connect with Raso Lark and Cream-coloured Courser. Our efforts proved fruitless but as the taxi drove off and we readied our binoculars and cameras a Helmeted Guineafowl appeared beside the roadside vegetation. It was the first of several encounters with what was an alert and evasive species and one we didn’t see at all during our previous visit to the site.

Helmeted Guineafowl, Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14

Helmeted Guineafowl, Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14

The typical habitat that surrounds the airport (carefully framed to omit piles of fly tipping and bushes smothered in ensnared plastic bags. The amount of litter was at least an order of magnitude greater at PRTR’s next port of call)

Common Quail was the next most abundant species seen. On several occasions we almost trod on a bird before it burst into flight. Most appeared to be paired up because each time one bird was flushed a second would eventually follow. Consequently, once a Quail was flushed we stopped and eagerly searched for the second bird but despite the proximity its presence only became apparent once it took flight. Frustratingly, by the time we brought our cameras to bare the bird would be well on its way to nearby cover where it would disappear.

Common Quail, Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14

Common Quail, Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14. Photographed by Steve Copsey

Common Quail, Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14

Other noteworthy sightings included Alexander’s Kestrel, Alexander’s Swift, Cattle Egret, Black-crowned Finch-lark, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Iago Sparrow and Spectacled Warbler.

Iago Sparrow (male), Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14. Photographed by Steve Copsey

Despite failing to connect with the target species we had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. Back in town we sought out another outdoor street restaurant and enjoyed well deserved local cuisine and alcoholic beverages where we discussed the pelagic species tomorrow might bring – Cape Verde Shearwater, Maderian Storm-petrel, etc on the passage to West Africa.

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Sanderling on migration – North Atlantic

Still out in theNorth Atlantic and yesterday was areal bird fest. Initially I hadn’t been on the upperdeck but then I received a few reports of birds around the flightdeck. As soon as I got up there I could see that a juvenile Wheatear was close to the hangar and wasn’t really moving when people were wandering close. This is usually a bad sign and indeed I found the bird dead later that afternoon. Closer inspection showed that the bird had absolutely no fat or muscle, its breast bone was like a scythe

 

 Also present through the day were two Pied wagtails and Two Meadow Pipits. All were extremely active and kept coming into land before being flushed by passing sailors.

 

 My last “passenger” was a single juvenile Sanderling. Again I feared for this bird as it wandered up and down the “wastes”, the two side passageways along the upperdeck. It seemed not to fear people as it came precariously close to their feet. It remained all day but I didn’t find its corpse that night. I would like to think it carried on its migration successfully, but I doubt it.

 

Hopefully more visitors soon
Mark C.

North Atlantic Vis Mig

It’s been a while since I have submitted a blog entry for various reasons. Three weeks in the US with my three sons and constantly away at sea have combined to limit my opportunity to relate my birding adventures. That said, I am still at sea, exercising in the North Atlantic. A few days ago I had the usual phonecall “There’s a bird in the hangar”, my favourite sound. The bird was pretty active and I straight away realised it was a wayward
Pied Wagtail.

Even though birds have no problem flying in the hangar, they often struggle to get out, with the majority of the time the door nearly fully open. This was no problem for the wagtail as eventually it just walked out. Another land bird that visited the ship was a female Peregrine.
I had no camera this time and it was getting towards dusk. She did a few loops of the upperdeck, tried to land to no avail and eventually flew off to the North.

Other than that this area has been really good for Cory’s and Great Shearwaters with Short-beaked Common Dolphin regular and the odd sighting of Long-finned Pilot Wales.
Mark C

House Sparrow resurgence in my Fareham Garden

I saw a photograph on the HOS website recently taken by Peter Milinets-Raby. It showed a large flock of House Sparrows on his shed roof. It spurred me on to knock up a quick entry regarding the species in my garden. When I first moved south back in 93 I saw very few House Sparrows in my Fareham Garden. Greenfinches were by far the dominant species at the feeders. In the last few years the roles have been completely reversed. I hardly see a greenfinch nowadays, however House Sparrow numbers have been creeping up for the last four or five years. I returned from overseas a couple of weeks ago to find more House Sparrows than ever using the feeders. I regularly see up to fifty birds zipping around the garden, moving from shrub to shrub before arriving at the feeders en masse, as you would expect with a great deal of bickering and scuffling. The flock contains males, females and a good number of juvenile birds.   I say around fifty but the chances are there is more likely to be double the numbers involved over a prolonged period. The birds have obviously enjoyed another good breeding season. Long may it continue? The only surprising thing is the lack of a local Sparrowhawk taking advantage of the seasonal abundance. All the images below were taken this morning in my garden.

Steve C

Madeiran and Wilson’s Storm Petrel in the Gulf of Guinea

Like I mentioned in the last entry, birds can be rather thin on the ground in the Gulf of Guinea. However, two Storm Petrel species did make it onto the ‘condensed list’. As we left Cape Verde Islands we had a couple of sightings of Madeiran Storm Petrel, and although rather distant we were happy with the id. We then had several more sighting over the next week or so. Unfortunately the birds never came overly close to the ship usually preferring to give the bow a wide arc as they passed. Only on the 23rd did any birds come within record shot distance so I was grateful for that at least. Apologies for the poor quality of the images, but the weather was very grey and overcast for the entirety of our stay in the region. It could be down to the West African wet season or my ability as a photographer, you choose.

Madeiran Storm Petrel, Gulf of Guinea, 23 July 2014

Madeiran Storm Petrel, two of four, Gulf of Guinea, 23 July 2014

When we got a little further south, nearer to where we came across the Whales the Madeiran sightings petered out and we started to see Wilson’s Storm Petrel instead with a peak count of around twenty birds on the 29th July. The majority of the Wilson’s seemed to have a very direct flight as if they were in a rush to get somewhere and this threw us at first as we were both more used to birds pattering in the ship’s wake, but we got there eventually. As we headed back north towards Ghana the reverse happened. The Wilson’s were replaced once again by Madeiran. The flap flap glide style flight of the bird becoming more noticeable the more we saw them.

Wilson's Storm Petrel, Gulf of Guinea, 31 July 2014

Wilson's Storm Petrel, two of thirteen, Gulf of Guinea, 30 July 2014

A brief stop just off the island of Sao Thome produced a pair of distant White-tailed Tropicbirds as well as eight Yellow-billed Kites, a sub species of Black Kite. Although we were anchored a few miles off land several off the Kites passed the ship as they headed out into the nearby anchorage, where they could be seen foraging in the vicinity of a container ship picking up morsels off the surface .

Yellow-billed Kite, Sao Thome, 2 Aug 2014

 

Steve C

Humpback and Killer Whales in the Gulf of Guinea

Protector spent a period of time towards the end of July in the Gulf of Guinea. I had last traversed the GOG back in 2012 en route to St Helena and it was pretty much a wildlife free zone. Glad to report this time it was marginally better, but still not exactly setting the world on fire. Tony and I spent many hours watching dark seas under grey skies for little reward on the whole.  Humpback whales did make appearances on several dates, usually they were quite distant but on the 28th we had a family group a little closer to the ship allowing a few images. One whale in particular was doing a lot of tail slapping which was quite impressive.

Humpback Whale, Gulf of Guinea, 28 July 2014

Humpback Whale, Gulf of Guinea, 28 July 2014

Humpback Whale, Gulf of Guinea, 28 July 2014

Two days later a broadcast from the bridge alerted the ships company to the presence of two Killer Whales passing near to the ship. I raced up to the bridge roof, grabbing my camera on the way.  I managed to grab a few snaps of one of the whales as it passed by the bow, before both went deep and surfaced around 100 metres off the stern a few minutes later. I rattled a few more shots off before the pair disappeared into the distance.

Killer Whale, Gulf of Guinea, 28 July 2014

Killer Whales, Gulf of Guinea, 28 July 2014

Killer Whale, Gulf of Guinea, 28 July 2014

Steve C

Santiago Island, Cape Verde birding: Black-crowned Finch-lark and Alexander’s Kestrel around Praia Airport

The third and final location on our first day of birding was the grassy scrub located between Praia Airport and the nearby sea.  Unfortunately many areas of the extensive habitat were strewn with litter and fly tipping and consequently plastic bags were snagged on many of the bushes.  Birds were surprisingly few and far between as we strolled around for approximately an hour and a half.  The most regular species was the endemic Cape Verde Swift with single or small groups of birds occasionally flying effortlessly overhead.

Praia Airport scrub

Cape Verde Swift, Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14. Photographed by Steve Copsey

Although we dipped on Bar-tailed Lark we did connect with two small flocks of Black-crowned Finch-Lark that showed a preference for feeding along the various bare vehicle tracks that criss-crossed the area.  The majority of the birds were male but there was the occasional much plainer brown female amongst them.

Black-crowned Finch-lark (male), Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14. Photographed by Steve Copsey

Black-crowned Finch-lark (female), Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14. Photographed by Steve Copsey

At least two Alexander’s Kestrel provided the opportunity to capture a few record shots of what is a sub-species of Common Kestrel.  A flushed Common Quail was another noteworthy record being a species I have only encountered the once back home in Hampshire at Martin Down.  It was a species we flushed regularly on our second visit to the airport scrub three days later.

Alexander’s Kestrel, Praia Airport scrub, Cape Verde – 11 Jul 14. Photographed by Steve Copsey

After giving our taxi driver a generous tip Steve and I enjoyed a well deserved local tuna dish washed down with a couple of local beers at a quiet outdoor street restaurant in Praia.  It was an enjoyable end to a good day of birding.

Good birding,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Tortola, British Virgin Islands Insect Identification Challenge

Below are a few images from the visit to Tortola back in June. I have browsed the web without success for the correct identification of the spider and butterflies and possibly a moth. Any comments on the id would be most welcome.

By the way did I mention the Pusser’s Rum Bar !!!

Spider sp, Tortola, 25 June 2014

Butterfly sp 1, Tortola, 25 June 2014

Butterfly sp 2, Tortola, 25 June 2014

Moth/Butterfly sp 1, Tortola, 25 June 2014

Lastly the lizard below was seen in Antigua at the back of the Coconut Grove Beach Bar. Possibly an Anole species, any ideas welcome.

Lizard sp, Antigua, 9 June 2014

Steve C

Long-tailed Skua: East Beach, Church Norton to Selsey

I am now back in Hampshire for a few weeks and after visiting parents in Lancashire and Yorkshire over the mid-week period, I asked my wife if she would fancy a drive over to Church Norton. I explained how picturesque the church is and that Pagham Harbour looks lovely at this time of year. Not forgetting the wonderful shingle beach stretching down to Selsey Bill. “You want to see the skua don’t you” was the reply. Of course she is an avid reader of the blog, so she was well aware that I had seen Long-tailed Skua just a few months back in the Pacific with Tony, and also back in 2012 when I had had several off the West African coast on migration. So after explaining that I needed the skua for my British List we set off East, diverting to the local Tesco for a picnic.

We parked up at Church Norton and headed down to the beach, passing by the church on the way. We walked along the beach to the line of cottages and Jo decided now was the time to have a picnic. I was thinking we might be here for a few hours so best hold off on the food. So needless to say we sat down and enjoyed lunch. An immature Peregrine flew along the beach as we ate and sat on the shingle quite close to the water. It called continuously but no adults were seen. It then flew off in the direction of Pagham Harbour.

St Winifred's Chapel at Church Norton

East Beach

We then walked a little further along the beach arriving at the promenade just as the Long-tailed Skua flew into view. The bird came in from the west and flew low over the groynes towards where we watched. Very glad to report that the bird then settled on the beach pretty much in front of our position. We were joined here by the Tindales; nice to see Tony up and about and also taking his wife for a pleasant stroll along the West Sussex coastline (aren’t birders thoughtful). The bird gave great views as it preened for a while and eventually settled on the shingle.

Long-tailed Skua, East Beach, 15 Aug 2014

Long-tailed Skua, East Beach, 15 Aug 2014

Long-tailed Skua, East Beach, 15 Aug 2014

Long-tailed Skua, East Beach, 15 Aug 2014

 

After about 15 minutes the bird then suddenly took off and chased an unfortunate tern which I believe was a Common Tern, which appeared to give up it meal rather quickly. That said in the terns favour it then flew off and was left in peace. The skua dropped to the surface to pick up its prize before returning to the beach slightly to the east. This procedure was repeated several times over the next hour.  The bird obviously feeding well during its stay on the South Coast. As we walked back towards Church Norton we caught a last glimpse of the bird as it chased another tern nearer to the harbour entrance.

Long-tailed Skua chasing Common Tern, East Beach, 15 Aug 2014

Long-tailed Skua chasing Common Tern, East Beach, 15 Aug 2014

Long-tailed Skua chasing Common Tern, East Beach, 15 Aug 2014

Interestingly when the bird first flew onto the beach in front of us I captured a few images of the bird walking, almost stalking along the beach for a few paces. When I enlarged the images I could see the skua was feeding on Sandhoppers of some description. See below.

Long-tailed Skua in stalking mode, East Beach, 15 Aug 2014

Long-tailed Skua with Sandhopper, East Beach, 15 Aug 2014

A little closer

Steve C

Santiago Island, Cape Verde birding: Barragem de Poilao Reservoir – American Golden Plover and Greenshank

After an hour at the Botanical Gardens and with two endemic species (Iago Sparrow and Cape Verde Warbler) ticked off Steve and I headed back to our taxi.  Our next intended stop was the Barragem de Poilao Reservoir located back towards Praia but it was evident that our driver didn’t understand where it was we wanted to go.  However, after several stops for directions, one of which added Alexander’s Kestrel (a sub-species of Common Kestrel) to the trip list, and turning down an offer of buying a live rabbit from a group of young lads, we eventually arrived at the small car park above the dam.

Barragem de Poilao Reservoir, Santiago Island, Cape Verde – 8 Jul 14. Photographed by Steve Copsey

Cattle Egrets were immediately conspicuous in the branches of dead trees that stuck out of the water on both sides of the flooded valley.  Amongst them was a single Great Egret and at least two Little Egrets, whilst Common Moorhen paddled amongst the branches and beyond.  However, it was a group of waders on the far side of the reservoir that caught our attention, specifically a single wader amongst a group of six Black-necked Stilts.  Our initial identification of Common Greenshank was proved to be correct as we walked across the dam and got closer to the birds.

Greenshank and Black-winged Stilt, Barragem de Poilao Reservoir, Santiago Island, Cape Verde – 8 Jul 14

Unfortunately, once we reached the other side of the dam the group of waders was hidden from view behind shoreline vegetation.  Our efforts to covertly skirt around the obscuring flora enabled a few record shots to be taken before our proximity resulted in the birds taking flight over the water.  However, an eighth bird that we hadn’t previously noticed was less concerned by our presence and remained beside the edge of the water.  It was obviously a species of Golden Plover and I knew the abrupt ending of the white margins on either side of the black neck and chest was a significant distinguishing feature.  Back onboard a little homework confirmed that it was in fact an American Golden Plover, a species that is a vagrant to the Cape Verde island of Santiago.  Although it wasn’t a ‘lifer’, unlike the endemics (Cape Verde Swift, Iago Sparrow and Cape Verde Warbler) we had seen earlier it was our most significant sighting.

American Golden Plover, Barragem de Poilao Reservoir, Santiago Island, Cape Verde – 8 Jul 14

American Golden Plover, Barragem de Poilao Reservoir, Santiago Island, Cape Verde – 8 Jul 14. Photographed by Steve Copsey

The walk back across the dam to the taxi added an additional two species.  The first was a thirty plus strong flock of Common Waxbills that actively searched for food on the ground beside the track.  The second was a pair of very elusive Spectacled Warbler that we spotted flitting between the scrub as we admired the Waxbills.

Common Waxbill, Barragem de Poilao Reservoir, Santiago Island, Cape Verde – 8 Jul 14. Photographed by Steve Copsey

Spectacled Warbler, Barragem de Poilao Reservoir, Santiago Island, Cape Verde – 8 Jul 14

Good birding,

Tony T   BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

West Indies Birding: Pearly-eyed Thrasher and American Kestrel on Tortola

The ship paid a brief visit to the island of Tortola for two days back at the end of June. Work commitments allowed me just the one day off but I took a trek from the town up into the hills and found a few birds. American Kestrels are relatively common on the island and sure enough I came across several. The first being perched on a street light on the edge of town.  Then two further birds together in a dead tree.

American Kestrel, Tortola, 25 June 2014

American Kestrels, Tortola, 25 June 2014

As with the kestrels Scaly-naped Pigeons are classed as common and again I came across several birds. Each time they were perched on overhead lines; a popular perching spot for many birds. A small party of fly over Smooth-billed Anis were a new bird for the trip list as was Pearly eyed Thrasher; again I had several birds on the walk with a particularly confiding bird in a garden as I dropped back into town.

Scaly-naped Pigeon, Tortola, 25 June 2014

Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Tortola, 25 June 2014

The evening consisted in part of a visit to the Pusser’s Rum bar in Tortola main town. The Rum cocktails are well worth a try and you even get a free mug.

Painkiller Please !!!

 

Steve C

West Indies Birding, British Virgin Islands: Caribbean Martins

Caribbean Martin is classed as a fairly common breeding resident of the West Indies, although it is thought to migrate to South America between October and December. We had several birds on the jetty at Antigua but I never got around to photographing them. Whilst we surveyed around Tortola; the ship was constantly visited by birds from the island. Usually several birds would congregate around the ship and they would chase each other around as well as appear to be feeding. A few of the birds even alighted in drain holes in the side of the ship. As I peered over the ship side from the f’csle, I could see perched birds looking back at me from below, whilst others flew close by chattering as they went. The second image below is taken looking down on one such bird. The birds do nest in crevices on sea cliffs so perhaps they felt quite at home on the red cliffs of Protector.

Caribbean Martin, British Virgin Islands, 17 June 2014

Caribbean Martin on HMS Protector, British Virgin Islands, 17 June 2014

Caribbean Martin, British Virgin Islands, 17 June 2014

Caribbean Martin, British Virgin Islands, 17 June 2014

Caribbean Martin, British Virgin Islands, 17 June 2014

Steve C