Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Kenya Aberdares National Park

In October I had the opportunity to make the visit of a lifetime to the safari lands of Kenya, ever since my youth I have been reading about these places and watching every TV program made about them.  So it was with some excitement that the day to fly there arrived. 

Our trip took us to Nairobi and from there north to the Aberdares National Park where we stayed at the Treetops hotel.  This was originally a treetop hide for watching wildlife at a nearby waterhole which was gradually developed over the years.  Guests reside on the top 3 floors and can watch the waterhole from their rooms, bar, restaurant or special viewing platforms.  The rooms are pretty good but in reality the stars of the show are the animals.The hotel's main claim to fame is that Princess Elizabeth was staying there when her father king George VI died, thus becoming Queen Elizabeth II.
 On arrival guests are informed of a buzzer system located in every room, overnight if any of the big 5 come through the staff buzz the room and if you want you can get up to watch (you can also turn it off ).  They mentioned, Rhino may show, as might Leopard both of which I really didn't believe would.  However, about 1am a pair of Rhino appeared and a little later a Leopard.  We only managed to get a photo of the Rhino as the cat was too far off in the poor light.  And yes the buzzer did go off :)
 Also in the twilight I managed to get a (bloody awful) photo of the Blacksmith Lapwing (plover)
 The second photo of the Blacksmith Lapwing but at a great distance.
 Fairly common around the waterhole were Egyptian Duck, we spotted these most places we stayed during our travels.
 The Water Buffalo were regular visitors to the waterhole while we were there, they came down from the hill in a heard of about 45 animals with a good few juveniles along with them.  They are fairly cranky and there were constant fights within the heard.
Warthogs were also very common grazing out in the grassy areas beyond the waterhole.
On our way to the Treetops we stopped for lunch at the Outspan Hotel about 15km from the treetops site and I spent an hour or so birding around the gardens.

The hotel has a small house in the grounds where Baron Baden-Powell lived out his final years and ultimately died.  In addition to having a distinguished military career, Lord Baden-Powell was one of the founders of the Scout movement.
 Wandering around the grounds I came across this beauty, a White-Eyed Slaty Flycatcher which posed nicely for photos.  These sparrow sized birds are endemic to East and Central Africa.
 Speckled Pigeons are pretty common all over central Keyna.
All around the grounds were little flocks of Speckled Mousebirds, these are a beautiful little bird and very active in the bushes and trees.  The guide describes them as drab brown but I think that does them a dis-service.

Cute Huh :)

The bird below is a Streaky-Seed Eater which I managed to get a quick photo of before he vanished.  A largish brown canary.
The Mountain Thrush (Turdus abyssinicus) below was very common around the area.
The bird below doing gymnastics under a child's trampoline is female Black Bellied Sunbird, I think. 
I have been through the guidebooks a dozen times and am fairly sure of this and so far Birdforum has not provided any better ideas.  I will update if I get any more definitive identifications.

Still trying to identify this little fellow.  He is about sparrow sized and a seed eater but so far I have not managed to identify him. 
A few African Green Pigeon along with a Rameron Pigeon (Olive Pigeon).  There were a dozen or more of the African Greens roosting in a nearby tree.
Cape Turtle (Ring Necked) Doves were also about in good numbers
I could never get a good photo of these guys but there was a small colony of Little Swift nesting in the rafters of the hotel.
A bird that I expect I will find all over the world, or at least its been everywhere I have been to date is the Grey Heron.
These curious birds are found almost everywhere in Kenya, the Helmeted Guineafowl can sometimes be found in fairly large flocks although at this site we only saw 6 or 7.
The Greater Blue Eared Starling were very common about the area and flocked in largish groups.
The Baglafecht Weaver at a distance.  I really struggled to get a good photo of this bird as it kept disappearing into the tree about 30 yards away :(
Also spotted some Common Bulbul and Barn Swallos but I did not manage to get usable photos of these.  This is an amazing place for birds and unfortunately I only had one evening there so did not get out into the surrounding areas, some day I will return.

© Bernard Bracken

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

First visit to Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to travel to Fairburn Ings in Yorkshire (SE451278) to spend some time at the nature reserve there.  The trip was planned by my good friends at the East Lancashire Ornithologists' Club ELOC (, Facebook ) and a group of 6 or 7 arrived for the walk.  The weather was blustery with some very heavy rain showers so a bit of time was spent in the hides on the reserve.  We first went to the western end of the reserve to the Lin Dike hide and had some nice views of a perched Osprey in the distance and a little later observed it being harassed first by crows and then by a single Peregrine as it flew off to the west.
 Unfortunately my photos were very distant or the one below which was almost direct into the sun.
However, there are a few better ones on the clubs Facebook page.
 Also as I passed along the path I spotted a Pheasant in the distance, he was huddled down clearly not liking the weather much either.
 At the far end of the Moat were three Cormorants sitting on some poles
 and a couple of Little Grebe fishing in the lake.
Towards the middle of the lake there were a number of Shoveler Ducks feeding in the shallows and a pretty large number of Greylag Geese resting around the shallows.  Other ducks on site included Gadwall, Mallard and some Tufted Duck.
Scattered across all the lakeside edges on site were number of Lapwing,  I think we counted around 50 in total.
 There were also a couple of Mute Swans on site.

 Just beside the visitor centre we were watching a little flock of Tree Sparrows at the feeders when we noticed this little guy popping in.  There are a number of Bullfinch on site according to the warden but this juvenile was the only one we saw.
 At a hide close by the visitor centre we got slightly better views of Moorhen
 Grey Heron
Blue Tit and Great Tit although the Willow Tit and Bearded Tits which I understand are on site alluded us on the day.
 There were quite a few Little Egret all across the site.  Funny how these are now reasonable commonplace when a few years ago spotting one in the UK, especially the north, would have been cause for celebration.
I spotted a number of Greenfinch on site too but struggled to get any photos until this guy decided to do a little posing. Lovely little birds.
As are the Chaffinch which were also not particularly easy to photograph either.  Other birds I was quite excited to spot included a pair of fighting Green Woodpeckers and a small flock of Swift.  There were a large number of Barn Swallow about feeding frantically above the lakes.  I guess they are fuelling up for their trip south.  Along the edge of the lake we also spotted a Ruff and a single Common Sandpiper but my photos of both were terrible.

I really enjoyed my trip out to Fairburn Ings.  Unfortunately it was cut short by some very heavy rain which caught me out and left me soaked through but it is definitely a place I will revisit.

© Bernard Bracken

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Foulridge Reservoir

Took a walk down to my local patch at Foulridge yesterday 7/8/17.  The weather was a bit grey and there was the odd shower but we are used to those in Lancashire.  There were not vey many birds around the area but its always a nice walk.  As usual there were a lot of dog walkers about so any shy birds were highly unlikely to be easy to spot.  That said there is always something to catch the interest.

As with virtually all waterways around here there were a large contingent of Mallards

I think I counted about 30 in all across the lake.  Most of the Males have now lost their luxurious green heads and are looking a little drab at the moment but the females are still very pretty.  There were two Canada Geese way out in the middle of the lake so did not get particularly good photos of these;
 As always there were a good number of Great Crested Grebe around and a couple of young ones.  The juveniles were swimming together but a good distance from any adults so I guess they are being left to their own devices.

As I walked around the other side of the lake I found a small flock of 6 Coot feeding among the weeds;
 And among some more Mallards was a single female Mandarin Duck.  These guys are fairly rare around these parts but I generally see one (not sure if it is the same one) on most walks around the lake.  There was no sign of a male but I did see a pair in the spring and a couple of years back there was a female with 4 juveniles, I think I posted that here earlier.
In addition to these there was a Gull (Herring I think) with a couple of begging juveniles
Overhead there were a good number of Swallows and around the side of the lake were a number of Blackbirds, Wren, Magpie, Wood Pigeon, some Carrion Crow and Robins but I did not manage to get useful photos of these.

I moved up the road to the wood at Alkincoats and took a short walk around there.  There were a good few Blue and Great Tits at all of the feeders and a couple of Dunnock.  However, these had to grab what they could between visits from a couple of these guys;
They were very adept at taking food from the feeders, even those designed to prevent them from doing so :)

As I had the chance to get some photos of a couple of butterflies too I thought I would share them;

 This is a Speckled Wood (Parage aegeria).
and this one is a Green Veined White (Artogeia napi), Although I am open to correction on these :).

A very nice couple of hours out and about.

© Bernard Bracken