Saturday, May 23, 2015

Expedition Cruising

I've just returned to Somerset having spent the last 3 weeks working as an ornithologist guide and zodiac driver on 2 expedition cruises around the UK for Noble Caledonia, aboard the MV Sea Explorer

Sea Explorer off Hirta, St Kilda
The first cruise took us from Portsmouth down to Guernsey and Sark, along the channel to Tresco, up to Bantry Bay in Co.Cork, along the Cliffs of Moher and in to Inish Mor, Tory Island and then North to St Kilda and finally Mull before finishing in Oban. After a passenger changeover here we headed to Stornaway, and out again to St Kilda. We were then supposed to go to the Faroes but the tail end of tropical storm Ana would have made this seriously uncomfortable, and even downright dangerous so we berthed in Kirkwall and explored Orkney for 2 days, then returned to plan and visited Mousa, Foula and Fair Isle, ending with North Ronaldsay and Copinsay and ended in Aberdeen. As you would expect from such a list of epic places I had an incredible time and saw a load of great wildlife, here's a little taster:

Moltoni's Warbler on Fair Isle


Crossbill on Foula


Sea Eagle


White-beaked Dolphins

Arctic Skua

Great Skua

Pomarine Skua

Red-throated Diver

Scottish Primrose


Snow Bunting

(St Kilda) Wren
I'll be returning to action with Noble Caledonia in June for a 10 day circumnavigation of Iceland, and hopefully many more expedition cruises in the future.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Indonesia 4: Sumatra

The final leg of the trip was on the island of Sumatra:

I started with Bukit Lawang, a very touristy village on the boundaries of Gunung Leuser NP. The only way into the jungle of the National Park was to go with a guide, so I joined a group for a day of 'jungle trekking'.  Mammals were the stars here, with Thomas's and Silver Leaf Monkeys, White-handed Gibbon and of course Orangutan all giving super views.
White-handed Gibbon
 The experience of watching the Orangutans was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that some were 'semi-wild' having been released into the NP having been made homeless or orphaned elsewhere in Indonesia, but nonetheless it really was a privilege to look into the eyes of such close cousins.

 While having lunch, a male Great Argus Pheasant stepped into a clearing and started picking up scraps left by previous groups. Although I had seen plenty of pictures, I wasn't quite prepared for how incredible this bird was, with its long, wavy tail like some sort of tropical fish, and enormous secondaries covered with eye-spots, crazy. This photo was taken with my phone!

Great Argus Pheasant

Thomas's Leaf Monkey

Before flying out from Padang I spent a few days at Samosir Island and Bukitinggi. Samosir has lost most of its forest, and a small wetland at Amarita provided the best birding, and was pretty much the only freshwater wetland I visited all trip. As soon as I stepped off the road into the paddies, a Watercock flew up, which was a a very unexpected lifer. Pallas's Grasshopper and Oriental Reed Warblers were more predictable and showed well after pishing til I was blue in the face.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler
A group of feral dogs roaming the marsh saved me the hassle of getting my feet wet by flushing up Painted and Pintail Snipe and Ruddy-breasted Crake, and White-headed Munia and Baya Weavers were bombing around all over the show.
Painted Snipe
On one day I took the boat from Samosir back to the mainland and a short bus ride down the highway to Taman Eden 100, a nice patch of protected forest. As seems to be standard procedure for rainforest birding, I went ages without seeing a thing, and then suddenly hit a feeding flock containing class birds like Long-tailed Broadbill, Blue Nuthatch, Fire-tufted barbet, Speckled Piculet, Golden Babbler and Black and Crimson Oriole.

At Bukitinggi I had a look around the Rafflesia Flower reserve at Batang Palupuh. Sadly, no flowers were in bloom, but Sumatran Green Pigeon, Blyth's Hawk Eagle, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Blue-winged Leafbird and Black-browed Barbet made the trip worthwhile. Amazingly, after watching the barbet feeding high in a fruiting tree for a few minutes, I turned around and almost stepped on a Sumatran Peacock Pheasant on the path behind me!! I really hadn't expected to come anywhere near this tricky endemic and was almost as surprised as the bird, which quickly hopped into the thick vegetation and disappeared from view.

Sumatran Green Pigeon

Tiger Shrike

Blyth's Hawk Eagle

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Indonesia 3: Java

Apart from a frustratingly distant Tropbicbird, the crossing to Java was completely uneventful, and after a short bus ride I reached Baluran National Park where I stayed 2 nights. The HQ and accommodation are located 15km into the park form the entrance, a cheap motorbike taxi ride away, and I saw Green Junglefowl and Green Peafowl while hanging on for dear life. Exploring on foot the undisputed highlight was a stunning male Javan Banded Pitta in the small patch of 'rainforest' along the main track, giving its soft 'churrr' call while bouncing through the leaf litter. 
Black-backed Kingfisher


Black-winged Starling

Crested Serpent Eagle

Crimson-winged Woodpecker

Green Junglefowl

There's a joke here somewhere

Green Peafowl

Grey-rumped Treeswift

Small Blue Kingfisher

Wooly-necked Stork
After Baluran I packed the binoculars away for a trip up to Gunung Bromo, an active Volcano. Birds were almost completely absent here, save for a few singing Javan Bush Warblers, one of which was coaxed out briefly, and Paddyfield Pipits which were strangely abundant. The scenery and atmosphere more than made up for this though.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Indonesia 2: Bali

From Flores I flew to Bali where the main area I wanted to check out was the highlands around Bedugul. The easiest site to visit was the Botanical Gardens there, an overly manicured National Trust style gardens, but surrounded by good quality mossy forests, with plenty of trails to explore.
New birds were plentiful, with Flame-fronted Barbet, Lesser Shortwing, Yellow-throated Hanging Parrot, Crescent-chested Babbler and Blood-breasted Flowerpecker, plus those photographed below being the stars.
Indonesian Honeyeater
Javan Whistling Thrush
Long-tailed Shrike
Siberian Thrush
Sunda Warbler

The south of the island, where most of the tourist infrastructure lies is a bit lacking in forest cover and coastal birding is the order of the day. A visit to the lagoons at Pulau Serangan was a bit of a distaster as I foolishly went on a weekend, when half of Bali and their families were there picnicing and fishing. This did mean though that I was able to slip past the check-point un-noticed in the crowds and take my camera onto the island, which is usually frowned upon.
Though I may have visited on the wrong day, I managed to time it right with the tide, and found a causeway with roosting waders and other bits and bobs flying low overhead as they were pushed off a lagoon by the rising tide

Assorted Sandplovers

Sunda Teal
Malaysian Plover
Beach Thick-knee
Gull-billed Tern

I then took a bus to Gilimanuk at the far west of the island, the departure point for ferries to Java.