Weald Amphibian Survey

Wildlife Wander

A few weeks back I joined the Essex Amphibian and Reptile Group on a survey of ponds in the Weald Country Park near Brentwood.

Led again by the awesome Graham Hart we met at 19:00 to lay down transects of traps at one location before making our way to another to survey the sides of the pond by torch. A group of fallow deer on the horizon, eyes reflecting the torch light, were a welcomed reminder of life after dark. As were the active mandarin ducks on the pond as we arrived.

We soon had our first smooth newt caught by net and checked. Next up were a couple common toads and a few more smooth newts.

Then the big guys put in an appearance: the great crested newts. Two were caught by the group to be recorded and then released. Such a privilege to be so close to these…

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North Yorkshire Cliffs

Wildlife Wander

I finally managed to get up to the seabird sites of North Yorkshire in May, over 25 years since my last visit. Perhaps a few metres less to see thanks to coastal erosion 😉 but was great to be back.

We started at Bempton Cliffs where thralls of gannets, razorbills, kittiwakes and guillemots clung to the sides in a gravity defying manner. Several birds landed within metres of us, collecting grass and nesting materials.

Whilst here, we had to see one species in particular – the Atlantic puffin. After a few surveys of the cliff we caught up with the first couple of the day. These birds, clowns of the sea, are just as charismatic as you’d expect.

Whilst at Bempton we were also treated to two peregrines and a hunting barn owl. Corn buntings and tree sparrows littered the cliff top walk beyond the RSPB reserve.

A visit to…

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Shanghai, China – June 2019

Wildlife Wander

Another business trip with the brick company took me to Shanghai recently. Luckily, I managed to get away for a few hours on my first and last day, and I decided to concentrate on Century Park. Craig from Shanghai Birding very kindly recommended the spot for visits on limited timescales as you can typically see between 20-30 species in a couple hours. Challenge accepted.

Walking into the park from the Science and Technology Museum end, things got off to a pretty cool start. I dropped into a dark, forested area, not unlike forests in Spain and soon after saw the first hoopoe of the trip, bouncing between the trees and stopping on the ground long enough for me to get a few record snaps. Spotted doves, Japanese tit, Chinese blackbird and light vented bulbuls made up the rest of the list in that spot. A good start!

I soon got…

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Sensing a bit of home wherever we go

Roadkill Crossing

Catskill farmstead.
My wife and I enjoy traveling.

Planning for travel sometimes takes longer than the trips themselves. We prioritize the places we want to see, activities we want to do, and connect with any friends we can visit along the way.

We leave plenty of room for flexibility. Spontaneity spices up every trip. We also try to include some downtime, opportunity to recharge and reflect. As much as we travel, I never know when and how that time will arrive.

For me, travel is a multi-task opportunity. I bird, photograph, explore, meet the locals, and record the highlights. Occasionally, like on this trip, bad weather interferes with the plans we have made. We adjust accordingly.

Steady rain and low-hanging clouds obscured the mountains around us, which kept me inside. We were in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where we caught up to spring’s emergence. Coltsfoot and lady slippers bloomed.


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Spontaneity spices up every trip

Roadkill Crossing

I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better than this. I was wrong.

Over the years, my wife and I have found one travel tip to be uniquely useful. As much as you plan, leave room for spontaneity.

We didn’t read that any place. We learned it when traveling with our parents. Both families tended to go in the same mode. Too often, they had precious little time or money for vacations. When they did take one, they each drove from point A to point B regardless of what was in between.

When Neva and I began to travel as a couple, we tried to always leave room for the unexpected. It’s a habit we have happily maintained.

We do a lot of planning for our trips. We research places we want to see in the areas where we are traveling. That includes leaving time for discovery along the way…

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Any air travel can be exhausting.  Discomfort, unseen danger, turbulent weather, strange places and faces, unpredictable food quality. Even if you never have to check luggage or go through security shoeless.  Even if you have no shoes. Exhausting.  Especially if you have to flap your wings all the way…eve napThis guy had winitered in South America and was recently returned to Malheur…a trip of over four thousand miles in many cases…often they are seen passing through Ecuador, on the way further south…this is a bird that weighs just over 2 ounces, that’s one-eighth of a pound, that’s roughly one-fourth of the weight of the ordinary Norwegian rat that shares cities with humans the world over and never has to fly or travel far for food.  This fellow has to catch all his own food on the wing.
Here are two more at ease at Malheur Field Station, one just plunked…

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One of the most exciting moments for spring birders at Malheur: your first annual sighting of Bobolinks.  In May we missed them entirely.  This population in Harney County may be the most westerly breeding Bobolink population on earth.  So we made them a priority on our first day of the June trip.  And at P Ranch they showed off and taught us a bit about bobolinkage.

Look closely at this sequence of two males facing one another.  The display of the velvety golden crown is clearly a masculine dominance performance.  The male showing off his nape ended up with the female Bobolink flying after him. Both males gave us some song.

Two days later we were in Diamond Canyon and with help from our own Bob we found the Bobolinks there, as well:

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