Sunday 31 December 1978

The 1970s: Kenya, Scotland (twice), a Scilly weekend and Thailand in 1978

Another dive into the distant past, more unreliable memories backing up notes pretty much restricted to species lists. Worst of all I can’t now remember who some of the day or weekend trips were with. Most of the latter were with some or all of Richard Bosanquet, Andrew Moon, Pete Naylor and Nigel Redman while Richard Kelly, Martyn Kenefick and Brian Short were local birders who I got to know as the year progressed.

I started 1978 in Kenya with Mark Chapman, Chris Heard and Pete Walton (see, returning to the UK on the 21 January. I’d given up my job as a trainee accountant to go to Kenya and on my return signed on while deciding what to do next. The following weekend was spent in mid Wales with London friends seeing the Black Vulture which had taken up residence near New Radnor. It looked very impressive over a Welsh valley, at one stage while snowing, but was never accepted as a wild bird despite extensive enquiries finding none had escaped from captivity in the UK. We also saw 4 Red Kites, Hen Harrier and Barn Owl at Cors Tregaron and 15 Goosanders and a Dipper at Talybont Reservoir.
me in Southern Kenya, January 1978
from Cotteridge & Vinicombe's Rare Birds of Britain & Ireland: A Photographic Record (1996)
Andrew Moon had some time off in early February and suggested going up to Islay. It was somewhere I’d not been and could be fitted in between my fortnightly signing-on so I was keen to go. Andrew hadn’t been with us to see the Black Vulture two weeks earlier so we went via Wales. Before leaving London news of a Killdeer at Pwll near Llanelli had us heading first to South Wales. We arrived in the afternoon and found it quite easily, there being no others looking. We drove to Tregaron where we camped, seeing 2 Red Kites in the morning but not the Black Vulture at New Radnor on 10 February. We later learned it was last seen on 8th. We continued driving up to Scotland camping in Northumberland one night and by Loch Lomond the next. Snow coming off the North Sea covered the fields beside the A1 and in atrocious weather we estimated 1000 Sky Larks were feeding on the road as we crawled along it. It took another day to reach the Mull of Kintyre, seeing 5 Goosanders, 4 Black Guillemots, Dipper and Snow Bunting on the way. We saw 2 Red-necked Grebes and 200 Greenland White-fronted Geese before we caught the ferry to Islay and 2 Red-throated, 5 Black-throated and 20 Great Northern Divers from it. We had four nights camping on Islay. Andrew had a booklet on the Birds of Islay which suggested one could see 100 species in a weekend which gave us a target to see what we could. Despite much effort we fell short seeing 99 (and hearing Tawny Owl) during our visit and that included 3 seen from the ferry in Islay waters. Islay was a brilliant place and the highlights of our very enjoyable visit were 10,000 Barnacle, 1000 Greenland White-fronted, 2 Pink-footed and an adult Blue Snow Goose, 2 Whooper Swans, 500 Scaup, 1200 Eider, a Long-tailed Duck, at least 3 Hen Harriers, 2 Golden Eagles, 4 Peregrines, 2 lekking Black and 3 Red Grouse, 10 Woodcock, a Greenshank, a first-winter Iceland Gull, 5 flocks of Chough (2, 3, 17, 31 & a very impressive 81), a Dipper and 60 Twite. We caught the ferry back to the mainland and headed home seeing a Tawny Owl in the headlights somewhere in SW Scotland. We camped at Murray’s Monument and saw 3 male Black Grouse nearby the following morning. We called in to the Solway seeing more geese (2000 Barnacles with an albino, 500 Greylags, 3000 Pink-feet and 200 Greenland White-fronts) and 230 Scaup and it was then a long drive back South. The following weekend I went up to Norfolk with London friends. On the Saturday evening news broke of a Wallcreeper in a quarry at Cheddar. A quick change of plan had us there soon after dawn enjoying excellent views with many others. The month finished seeing the Serin found in Rustington by Richard Grimmett and 100 Tree Sparrows.
Paps of Jura
dawn at a Black Grouse lek on Islay

First-winter Iceland Gull on Islay
Whooper Swans on Islay
Barnacle Geese on Islay

me on Islay
In March I twice went to St. Nicholas at Wade in East Kent to see a Great Bustard. The first was by public transport and included a visit to Stodmarsh where I saw the Glossy Ibis and 10 Bearded Tits. The second, 5 days later, was with my dad who dropped me there while at a meeting nearby. During the month I started agency work at a Building Society in Hove, it was rather mindless involving being given a list of files to collect and later re-file. At least it was only temporary as I had been accepted on an MSc in Operational Research starting in October at the University of Sussex. I had been sent there as an auditor the previous year and had learned of the course then. My only notable sighting in Sussex was a pair of Cirl Buntings in the Cuckmere on 31st.

In many ways the highlight of April was the Sussex Ornithological Society’s AGM, held in Brighton on the 8th. Alan Kitson spoke and showed exotic slides of his ground-breaking six-month ‘exchange’ visit to Mongolia. That it was delivered in full Mongolian costume only added to the impression it made on me at the time. Asia was suddenly the place I most wanted to visit, although vague hopes of getting last year’s Morocco crew together, or a subset of them, for a trip to Iran failed to develop. An early start the following morning with Brian Short saw us at Portland Bill where we saw the Alpine Accentor, Puffin and Firecrest but little else. I didn’t fancy doing the agency job for long and was on the lookout for something better. British Gas advertised three assistant out-of-hours telephone operator positions. It seemed worth trying for one as it paid better and sounded more interesting than filing so I applied. The competition must have been pretty poor as I was offered one. Perhaps telling my interviewer how important it was to take down accurate directions for rarities was the clincher? The job was only for six months as British Gas were then reorganizing their emergency cover from Blackrock to Crawley. This fitted in very well with the start of my MSc course although the job sounded a bit unnecessary as the three existing operators had been doing the job perfectly well on their own for years. I started few days later and for a couple of weeks was doing both jobs. Nine to five at the Building Society in Hove and then a shift at Blackrock. Our shifts provided 24/7 coverage outside office hours ad entailed answering emergency or five-star service phone calls. Evening calls were about gas escapes which required immediate attention or more often re-lighting of boilers. The phones were attached to alarms and about half our night shifts were untroubled between 1-5am allowing plenty of time for reading or dozing. On 29th while walking back home along the seafront I saw 6 Swifts, 10 Swallows, 20 House Martins and 2 singing Reed Warblers with 2 Sedge, 4 Willow Warblers and a Whitethroat the day after but that was as good as it got for migrants. I hadn’t twigged that one didn’t need to be at a headland to make it worth looking out to sea at this time of year.

I hardly went out locally in May seeing a Tawny Owl in St. Anne’s Wells Gardens one night, 4 Nightingales in the Cuckmere and a Whinchat and 2 Spotted Flycatchers on separate trips to Wolstenbury while dad was looking for orchids. On 16th I went to Canterbury by train (seeing 7 Turtle Doves on the way) and walked to Stodmarsh for Britain’s first Pallid Swift. There were only two other birders there and it took a bit of picking out amongst 500 Common Swifts feeding over the Lampen Wall. One told me he was from Brighton (as I had him) and kindly offered me a lift home. It turned out that Richard Kelly was actually from Hove (as was I).
from Cotteridge & Vinicombe's Rare Birds of Britain & Ireland: A Photographic Record (1996)
I was a bit more active in June and met Martyn Kenefick, a friend of Richard Kelly’s and another keen Sussex birder of about my age. I saw a drake Garganey, Black Tern and 15 Bearded Tits at Stodmarsh on 3rd and Hobby, Nightjar, 4 Wood Larks and 4 Dartford and 5 Wood Warblers in the Beaulieu Road area of the New Forest on 6/7th. A few days later we heard rumours that there had been Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole and Great Reed Warbler at Rye Harbour although it sounded as though the first two had gone. We went on the 11th and arrived to find the Ternery Pool hide almost full. On entering I heard someone say ‘it had just walked behind a tussock’ which sounded odd for aGreat Reed Warbler and a couple of minutes later out walked a Black-winged Stilt. A Nightingale at Lullington on 23rd was my only other notable sighting in June.

In mid-July I went up to Scotland with Andrew Moon and Richard Bosanquet. We left London on 13th making it into Scotland and camping near Yellowcraig. The following morning we briefly stopped at Aberlady Bay before crossing Skye and catching the ferry to Lochmaddy. On the crossing we saw Great Northern Diver, 40 Storm Petrels, 8 Manx Shearwaters and the 4 expected auk species. We spent a day and a half on South Uist seeing the male Steller’s Eider, 2 Whooper and 362 Mute Swans, 2 Hen Harriers, immature Little Gull, Short-eared Owl, Redwing, Hebridean Song Thrushes, Hebridean Wrens and 10 Twite. The Steller’s had hardly moved from where I’d seen it on Vorran Island the previous year but although only two weeks later in the year it was showing signs of eclipse and no longer looking pristine. We drove back up to Balranald on North Uist hearing about 10 Corncrakes without seeing any. Having a tape that wasn’t audible more than six feet away probably didn’t help. We did see 2 Whooper Swans, Hen Harrier, male Red-necked Phalarope and 2 Short-eared Owls. We heard 2 Corncrakes the following morning before heading back to the ferry, seeing 2 Storm Petrels and 38 Manx Shearwaters on the crossing. We headed east towards Inverness seeing 16 Slavonian Grebes, male Hen Harrier, 2 Red Kites and 50 Twite before camping in the Cairngorms. The 18th was a brilliant day with a male and 2 female Capercallies and 7 Crested Tits in Rothiemurchus, 3 more Crested Tits, a female Osprey with 3 young and 4 Scottish Crossbills at Loch Garten and 3 Ptarmigan and a male and 2 female Dotterel on Cairn Ban Mor. On 19th was saw 2 more Capercallies and a Hen Harrier at Badan Dubh, a Crested Tit at Loch Morlich and the female Osprey with 2 visible young at Loch Garten, a Dipper at Nethy Bridge and 4 Woodcock at dusk on the road to Carn Ban Mor. We left Cairngorm on 20th and drove to Aberdeen to catch the overnight ferry to Lerwick. On the way we stopped at Spey Bay where we saw over 250 Common, 150 Velvet and a male Surf Scoter. We arrived on Shetland and drove across Mainland, Yell and Unst to Burrafirth, seeing a superb summer plumage Great Northern Diver on the final section. We walked out to the Saito outcrop on Hermaness where the lonely Black-browed Albatross (Albert) was standing in his usual place in the Gannetry, a sixth year hoping to find a mate there. On Hermaness we also saw 500 Fulmars, 5000 Gannets, 100 Great and 20 Arctic Skuas and 400 Puffins although didn’t have time to walk around and soon headed back to Belmont where we caught the ferry to Odsta seeing 50 Black Guillemots on our crossing to Fetlar. On Fetlar we saw the female Snowy Owl and Red-necked Phalarope before an evening climb up to a cliff where between 22:30 and 00:30 the following morning we saw about 20 Storm Petrels returning to their burrows and as we were leaving heard a Manx Shearwater. A magical experience. We saw 2 Red-necked Phalaropes and the Snowy Owl again before leaving the following morning, twitched a smart but likely escaped male Painted Bunting on Yell and caught the overnight ferry back to Aberdeen. It was then a long drive back south. I saw the Tawny Owl in the park again on 28th.

August was a very quiet month for me with the Tawny Owl in the park on 8th, 23 Turtle Doves on the Downs behind Shoreham on 10th, 3 Greenshank in the Cuckmere, 2 Redstarts at Beachy, 3 Spotted Redshank at Pett and 4 at Rye and a Black-necked Grebe, Little Gull and 2 Black and a White-winged Black Tern at Dungeness. The month ended as it started with the Tawny Owl in the park on 31st.

September also started with the Tawny Owl, in the park again on 2nd. I then had a week in Norfolk seeing 12 Pink-footed Geese, 123 Little Stints and a 39 Curlew Sandpipers at Wisbeach on 12th before basing myself at Cley. It was to be a quiet week, the highlights being an escaped Purple Gallinule on 12th, Spotted Crake and at Weybourne adult Glaucous Gull on 13th, Bittern, a different adult Glaucous Gull and a Wryneck on 14th, 15 Little Stints on 15th, 18 Arctic and 2 Pomarine Skuas on 16th, a Leach’s Petrel and 2 Manx Shearwaters and near Snettisham a Quail on 17th, a Pomarine Skua and 25 Bearded Tits on 18th and a Garganey and 7 Curlew Sandpipers on 19th. On 24th I saw 2 Firecrests at Beachy, 10 Curlew Sandpipers, 5 Little Stints and 6 Spotted Redshank at Pett and a Sooty Shearwater and 2 Pomarine Skuas off Dungeness.

I started my MSc on 2 October, seeing a Pectoral Sandpiper at Weirwood Reservoir beforehand and Common and Black Redstart in our garden after. A long weekend on Scilly started well with 3 Tawny Owls, a Little and a Barn Owl seen on the drive down and a Honey Buzzard and immature Sociable Plover on the Hayle on 13th. The Scillonian crossing on 14th was uneventful and we headed straight to St. Agnes where we saw Britain’s first Semipalmated Plover on the beach at Periglis as well as Red-breasted Flycatcher and Little Bunting. Back on St. Mary’s we saw a Long-billed Dowitcher on Porth Hellick and the next morning a Hawfinch by Newford Duck Pond. An afternoon trip to Tresco produced the Black Duck with several hybrids and an Ortolan Bunting. We left a very quiet Scillies on 16th seeing a Firecrest before doing so. About three miles out from St. Mary’s Steve Whitehouse and a couple of other birders started pointing excitedly at what looked like a massive Great Black-backed Gull sat on the sea not far off to port and slightly ahead of us. Looking at it through binoculars my shocked mind was taking in that it was an adult Black-browed Albatross when Steve started shouting. It just sat on the water as we steamed past. It was accepted as being different from the Shetland bird although I did wonder if they might have been the same bird as my future best mate Nick Preston, who I’d not actually met at that stage, had seen it off the Scillonian in late September and ‘Albert’ was last seen on Shetland in early September. After docking in Penzance we just had time to call in at Worth Maltravers to look for an Isabelline Shrike. It had been present and easy to see for a few days but had been trapped that morning and became much more secretive. I only saw it in flight. Early the next morning we drove up to Norfolk seeing 2 Barn Owls on the way. Our target was a superb male Desert Wheatear which fortunately was still on Blakeney Point. We also saw 4 Shore Lark and 8 Snow Buntings in the area, 2 Willow Tits at Holkham and another Barn Owl on the way home.
Semipalmated Plover, St Agnes October 1987. Photographed by David Hunt and published in Cotteridge & Vinicombe's Rare Birds of Britain & Ireland: A Photographic Record (1996)
the long staying Black Duck, probably not photographed in October 1978, from Cotteridge & Vinicombe's Rare Birds of Britain & Ireland: A Photographic Record (1996)
Desert Wheatear on Blakeney Point (photo: Andrew Moon)
In November I saw a Little Stint at Pagham on 5th, arboreal Dusky Warbler at Sandwich Bay on 12th, a Tree Sparrow on the Downs behind Falmer on 23rd and 40 Little Grebes on the ox-bow lake in the Cuckmere on 26th.

Walking in the woods behind the University on 5 December I saw a greyish Tawny Owl. A trip to Pagham on 10th to look for a reported Kentish Plover turned out rather better than we’d hoped. We were surprised to see some of the Sussex ‘old boys’ present, they had clearly got wind that it might be something good. It was, Alan Kitson and Richard Porter were identifying Britain’s first Greater Sand Plover as we arrived. An identification I concurred with, having seen Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers on the Kenya coast less than 12 months earlier. Our presence might also be the reason the news made it onto the grapevine although as it stayed to the end of the month it probably would have done so eventually. Also at Pagham were a Merlin and 8 Avocets. That evening I heard there had been a Ross’s Gull at Whitley Bay in Northumberland, probably my most wanted bird in Britain at the time, but I wasn’t able to find out much more about it. The following evening I made enquiries and after an agonizing wait – for a Teeside birder to come out of the bath, an episode of Fawlty Towers never seemed so long – I heard it had been seen that afternoon. That was enough for me, I dashed down to the station and bought a train ticket with my Student Railcard, only realizing I’d been sold a ticket to Whitby instead of Whitley Bay when I was on the train. Fortunately nobody noticed. I arrived at King’s Cross at about midnight having missed the last train to Newcastle so went instead to some northern city (Leeds?) where I had to wait three or four hours for a connection. From Whitley Bay Station it was a two mile walk to St. Mary’s Island where I arrived soon after 11:00, disappointed to find nobody there watching it. I didn’t have to wait long for the Ross’s Gull to appear, seeing it fly round and land on the grassy football field in front of me – I’d probably overlooked it until then as it spent most of its time sitting on the grass with the other gulls, asleep with its head under its wing. It flew at regular intervals when the other gulls were disturbed. Landing on its feet it immediately sat down and went back to sleep. I watched it for three hours, the last half hour feeding while walking through the grass quite quickly. It came to within 20m of me and at one stage flew directly at me barely clearing my head by six feet. Also seen at Whitley Bay were an adult Mediterranean Gull and a Short-eared Owl. The Ross’s Gull was absolutely superb and even better than I had expected making the 700 mile round trip very worthwhile. I’d missed our course’s Christmas Lunch which didn’t go down too well the next morning but I had tried to let one of the girls know. Out of respect I’ve been pretty successful at missing work Christmas Lunches ever since. On 14th I went back to Pagham and saw the Greater Sand Plover again as well as 6 Avocets and a Barn Owl. On 17th Andrew Moon, Pete Walton, Steve Whitehouse and I flew to Thailand (see I was missing the family Christmas Lunch too.
extract from my notebook
probably about the only one I'm prepared to share!
me in Northern Thailand, December 1978
[blogged May 2020]

Sunday 24 December 1978

THAILAND December 1978: the south

Introduction.  I was fortunate to be invited on a trip to Kenya over Christmas 1977 (see  It was very successful, if a rather eye-opening experience, and one Peter Walton and I were keen to repeat the following winter.  In Kenya Chris Heard captivated us with several tales of his time in Thailand the previous winter and it seemed the ideal destination – it was relatively cheap, safe and had plenty of exotic birds including several sought after Siberian species that wintered there.  Andrew Moon was very keen on the idea as was Steve Whitehouse and the four of us booked flights and assembled what information we could.  This blog is taken from an old report I recently found and a few surviving slides taken on the trip, some which have aged less well than I have in the intervening years.

17 December 1978.  We landed at Don Muang airport about 08:00 after a comfortable Thai airways flight from Heathrow.  I didn’t have to wait long for my first new bird, seeing Black Drongo from the plane as we taxied towards the terminal.  We collected our bags, changed money and got a taxi into Bangkok where we stopped outside the first Car Hire firm we came to (Bangkok Car Rental in Wireless Road, there were none at the airport).  We hired a white Toyota Corolla for the incredible price of £50 each for a month.  Sorting tout the paperwork was interrupted by seeing Brown Flycatcher and Indian Roller, much to the locals amusement.  Andrew drove down the road to Lumpini Park where I saw 12 new birds in two hours including Brown Shrike, Shikra, Common Iora and Zebra Dove.  Also 10 Yellow-browed Warblers.  We then drove through Bangkok towards Bang Poo making several roadside stops on the way.  We spent the rest of the day at Bang Poo seeing lots of waders including Lesser Sand Plover and Red-necked and Long-toed Stints on the saltpans, Brown-headed Gulls from the pier and nothing during a venture into the mangroves.  Back at the car the key broke in the padlock of a security device attached to the brake pedal.  Various attempts to undo it failed, it was now dark and we were being bitten by mosquitoes – not the finish to the day we’d hoped for.  Andrew considered the car was drivable, although with only limited use of the brakes as the lock was still attached to the peddle.  We decided to head towards Bangkok, at least until we reached the first place big enough to have a garage.  We spotted a hardware store in the first town and after much hassle managed to saw the padlock open.  We continued through and north of Bangkok, intending to camp near Chang Rak, but took a wrong turning and ended up near the airport with the police looking us over.

Brown-headed Gulls at Bang Poo

mangroves at Bang Poo, perhaps my least favourite natural habitat

18 December.  I was up at dawn but that was still ten minutes after Steve.  Wandered around the marshy area where we’d camped seeing Black-browed Red Warbler and Siberian Stonechat.  We drove back into Bangkok stopping at a temple on the way in.  We went to the Tourist Office to find out how to get to Old Custom House Lane where we hoped to meet Dr Boonsong, to whom we had written of our visit.  We met some Australian birders there who told us they’d seen a Koel in Bangkok Zoo but that Dr Boonsong was away until that evening.  We went to the zoo seeing the Koel and a few other nice things.  Nothing compared to Orange-headed Ground Thrush and Banded Pitta in one of the cages, very gripping.  We tried again to find Chiang Rak but got it wrong again despite it being daylight.  We stopped at an area east of Rangsit after seeing Pied Harrier and Bronze-winged Jacana from the main road.  In a marshy area around some paddyfields a few warblers were flicking around so we put up a mist net.  It seemed to no avail but as the sun was setting Steve shouted ‘male Rubythroat’.  Amazingly the first bird we’d caught.  We took some photos in the car headlights and released it.  We headed back to take the net down when Peter walked up saying there appeared to be a cisticola in the net but it was too large and in torchlight my suspicions were confirmed - a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler.  Back at the car we identified it as being the central Asian race as it had grey fringes to the crown feathers.  When released it ran off along the ground, an amazing finish to the day.  We returned to Bangkok to see Dr Boonsong and spent a very rewarding 90 minutes with him getting lots of useful information on where to go and what to look out for.  He also very kindly gave us an introductory letter to smooth our way.  The only down side was him telling us we had no chance of seeing any pittas as they were very secretive and were silent at this time of year.  We drove south, down the peninsular, until the early hours and camped by the road.

Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Indian Prinia
19 December.  The first couple of hours around the camp produced five new birds including the excellent Little Green Bee-eater but when we were ready to move on the car wouldn’t start.  Increasingly desperate attempts culminated in Steve really revving the engine and blowing off the oil filter.  We were towed to the nearest garage where, after about an hour of trying various filters and wasting a lot of oil, the best they could do for us was to put back the old filter and tighten it up.  At least the car now started.  We drove to the next down with a few stops of roadside birds (Ashy Wood Swallow being best).  Here we repeated the oil filter procedure and eventually a replacement was found.  At this stop we tried some Thai food but not liking anything spicy I couldn’t get on with it at all – really bad.  We continued driving south with a few stops, the longest north of Prachuap Khiri Khan produced an amazing day roosting Brown Hawk Owl.  We continued driving south after dark, breaking for a meal.  We eventually stopped to camp at about 02:00 about 20 kms south of Ranong.  The heat was amazing although it wasn’t until we got out of the car that we realised how hot and humid it was – the car’s air conditioning must have been working overtime.  The sounds from the jungle at night were amazing too.

20 December.  We were up before it was light enough to see anything, intrigued by the array of calls.  I saw 17 new birds in 3-4 hours including Red-wattled Lapwing and our first malkoha, leafbird and minivet.  We continued driving south stopping in suitable habitat and seeing lots of new birds including the stunning Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker (as colourful as an American warbler), Fairy Bluebird and Greater Goldenback (by my reckoning my 1000th species).  We explored some dense jungle south of Khuraburi seeing White-rumped Shama but were probably making so much noise crashing around that anything else was long gone.  Our first Great Hornbills were amazing and further south (just north of Phuket) we saw Pintail Snipe and Grey-headed Lapwing by the road.  The latter was much further south than Boonsong’s Bird Guide of Thailand suggested it normally occurred.  Here I also rather carelessly flushed three plovers, two were Pacific Goldens but we couldn’t identify the other leaving lingering doubts that it might just have been an Oriental Plover.  We ventured into a rubber plantation but it was very poor and saw a Greater Coucal from the road (the alternative name of Crow-Pheasant seemed quite apt).  After dark we drove south onto Phuket Island.  We stopped at a local Police Station where Peter got directions to Klong Nakong National Park.  One of the rangers was still about, or our approach had woken him and he’d come to investigate - it wasn't much after 20:00!  Peter showed him our letter of introduction from Dr Boonsong and when asked where we were staying told him we had tents.  Asking what that was Peter replied that ‘a tent is like a little house’ and we camped on the edge of a rubber plantation by the National Park entrance.  In hindsight I think we misunderstood the offer of accommodation – at this stage we didn’t fully appreciate how powerful Dr Boonsong’s letter was!  Unfortunately Andrew lost his camera rather putting a dampener on the day.

21 December.  I saw two new phylloscopus warblers in the rubber plantation where we'd camped, but little else and we quickly drove back into the National Park where we spent all morning.  I found it very hard work with spiderhunters shooting all over the place unidentifiably.  Highlights were wintering Eye-browed Thrushes and a brilliant view of a Black Baza at the top of the park, a stunning raptor and not a family that usually impresses me.  We drove south stopping on the coast to the east of Phuket town where on a muddy beach we saw a good selection of waders including 30 Terek Sandpipers.  We arranged a boat trip off shore from Rawai Beach for a couple of hours and saw Lesser Frigatebirds and a White-bellied Sea-Eagle for an exorbitant fee.  We left Phuket and continued south towards Krabi camping on the roadside 45km north of the town.
Lesser Frigatebirds over our boat off Rawai Beach

22 December.  We woke to find we were outside another rubber plantation. It was as birdless as the others although we managed to see Abbot’s Babbler.  Andrew sussed out a couple of new prinias while I was taking down the tent.  Further south we spent 2-3 hours on a jungle track about 20 kms north of Krabi.  This was excellent with a superb Red-bearded Bee-eater, Streaked Wren-Babbler and a white male Asian Paradise Flycatcher.  Krabi itself was pretty grim although good for scavenging Brahminy Kites.  There was a furious rainstorm while we were lunching.  We then found the sea west of Krabi by taking some rough tracks.  Here the scenery was amazing and we saw Greater, Lesser and Malaysian Sand Plovers.  We borrowed an old canoe to cross a river and after an hour’s birding returned to find it had gone.  It was not particularly surprising as we’d ignored a guy shouting at us when we were nearly over – it had appeared to be abandoned, honest.  Luckily some fishermen a few hundred metres down the beach had a motorboat and gratefully received 10 baht (25p) to run us back across.  We saw Large-tailed Nightjar at dusk in the car’s headlights and drove back north, camping by the road about 15km north of Krabi.
Spotted Dove
road west of Krabi.  Note bamboo poles, ideal for mist nets but a bit of a pain to carry.   We found one and Steve obtained the other from a young boy who was carrying it.  I hope he wasn't too traumatised by the experience.
me on a beach west of Krabi
the mouth of the river we crossed (at a much narrower point I hasten to add)
Malaysian Plover
sand plovers

23 December.  After the first half hour around our campsite we spent all day in the jungle we’d previously visited about  20 kms north of Krabi.  It was reasonably pleasant on the track in the jungle but a ride cut for pylons was like being in an oven it was so hot.  We saw lots of good birds, the best being Raffle’s Malkoha, White-whiskered Tree-Swift, Dark-throated Oriole and Tickell’s Niltava.  The lure of northern Thailand and hopefully wintering Sibes was, however, proving too much for us.  At 19.30 we left and started the long drive north, continuing all through the night.
approx 20 kms north of Krabi
24 December.  We'd reached Prachup by dawn and continued driving north pretty much continuously all day and night.  We stopped by the road at a good looking wader area south of Bangkok and some marshland to the north.  Otherwise we only stopped to change money at Bangkok Airport, drivers and for fuel.  I saw two new birds including Jerdon’s Starling while we were travelling at 70 mph.  A bad but necessary day.

Common Myna
saltpans south of Bangkok
Lesser Sandplover
Long-toed Stint
Red-necked Stint

Friday 20 January 1978

KENYA January 1978: Masai Mara, Kakamega & Lake Turkana

9 January 1978.  All day was spent in the Masai Mara National Park, entering from the east soon after dawn and leaving at dusk from the north-west.  Time was spent at Keekorok Lodge, driving around and in the northern corner.  It was easily the best reserve for animals that we visited and we saw Cheetah, Wart Hog, Giraffe, Elephant, Spotted Hyena, Olive Baboon and assorted antelope, although not in the numbers often seen on TV.  Birds included Caspian and Wattled Plovers, Narina’s Trogon, Bare-faced Go-way-bird, Woodland Kingfisher, White-browed Robinchat and Red-collared and Yellow-mantled Widowbirds.

wintering Caspian Plover, seen soon after entering the Masai Mara
Topi and Thompson's Gazelle
Thompson's Gazelle
Grant's Gazelle
Olive Baboon
10 January 1978.  We drove to Lake Victoria in region of Kendu where we birdwatched in marshy areas on the lake’s edge and also at an inland pool several miles to the west.  We then drove around the lake to Kisumu, stopping in paddyfields on route.  Finally to Kakamega where the last few hours of daylight were spent in forest.  Best birds included Black & White Casqued Hornbill and Ludher’s Bush-Shrike.

Hadada Ibis
Hammerkops at Lake Victoria
Pied Kingfishers in Papyrus at the edge of Lake Victoria
11 January 1978.  Whole day spent in Kakamega, mainly in area of streams on road midway between Kakamega and Kapsabet road.  Best sightings were Black & White Colobus, Red-tailed and Blue Monkeys, Sabine’;s Spinetail, Grey-green Bush-shrike, Equatorial Akalat, White-tailed Ant-thrush and Red-headed Malimbe.

12 January 1978.  Again all day spent in Kakamega, mainly in area of sawmills then back to the river and finally the area nearest to Kapsabet.  Drove overnight to Kitale.  Best birds for me were White-spotted Flufftail, Emerald and Red-chested Cuckoos, White-headed Wood-Hoopoe and Abyssinian Hill Babbler.  Chris saw Orange-starred Bush-Robin which was very gripping.

Long-crested Hawk Eagle, one of the more distinctive eagles, at least in adult plumage
13 January 1978.  We drove from Kitale to Kongalai spending most of the day on the side of hill on the escarpment.  From there we drove to Kapenguria where we arrived shortly after dark.  After waiting several hours for petrol and asking about roads we set off north getting halfway to Ortum where we camped.  Best birds were Pallid Harrier, the stunning Ross’s Turaco and Hemprich’s Hornbill.

Kongali Escarpment
view into Uganda from Kongali Escarpment, with Idi Amin in charge a shortcut didn't seem like a good idea and we turned back
Curly-crested Helmet-Shrike
14 January 1978.  We slowly travelled north towards Ferguson’s Gulf stopping in suitable habitat en route.  We arrived with an hour of daylight left which we spent on the shore of Lake Turkana.  At dusk we drove 10 miles back into the desert to camp.  Lots of excellent birds seen today including Swallow-tailed Kite (10), Bataleur, Secretary Bird, Cream-coloured Courser, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove (including 40 sheltering from the sun under a small bush), Star-spotted Nightjar, Abyssinian Roller, Darnaud’s and Red & Yellow Barbets and Cut-throat.

Dark Chanting Goshawk
Bataleur, a very impressive and powerful looking eagle
15 January 1978.  Early to mid morning was spent in desert where we camped, the first part warming up after a clear cold night.  We returned to Ferguson’s Gulf and birdwatched for an hour on the shore of Lake Turkana, failing to find anywhere else to access the lake.  We went to Elye Springs in the afternoon where the car got stuck in the sand for an hour.  Back to Lodwar as dusk was falling.  Two flat tyres so we camped outside Lodwar.  Best birds seen were thousands of both flamingos, Swallow-tailed Kite, Cream-coloured Courser, White-winged Black Tern (500+), Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Alpine Swift (1000+) and Abyssinian Roller.

sunrise in the desert
White-headed Vulture
eyeing me up, it had been cold at night but we weren't ready to succumb just yet ...

Ring-necked Dove
Abyssinian Roller
16 January 1978.  We drove slowly from Lodwar south to Kapenguria stopping infrequently.  The last hour of daylight was spent in woodland just west of Kapenguria.  After dark we drove to Kitale.  Best birds included four species of vulture, Grey Kestrel, Cream-coloured Courser, Ross’s Turaco, Abyssinian Roller, Double-toothed Barbet (one I’d missed earlier in the trip), Snoy-headed Robinchat and House Bunting.

White-backed Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
Lappet-faced Vulture, altogether more sinister looking
17 January 1978.  We started the day birding in Kitale Forest Nursery.  Next we stopped at a roadside dam north of Eldoret and then spent time in the Northern Tinteret Forest.  From there we drove south to Nakurua and Gilgil, the last part in darkness, and then overnight to Naivasha.  At one stage of the journey the road seemed to disappear in a section of roadworks.  Mark asked one of the workers where the road was and was told ‘not to worry it will be along in a minute’.  A few bulldozes later it was!  Best birds were Spotted Eagle Owl, Ross’s and Hartlaub;s Turacos, Black-throated Wattle-eye and a white male Paradise Flycatcher.

18 January 1978.  The first part of the day was spent in the Crescent Island area of Lake Naivasha.  From there we drove on to Hell’s Gate and finally round to the northern part of the lake where access was obtained by walking across fields.  We drove overnight towards Magadi stopping about 60 miles short.  Best sightings were Lammergeyer, Verreaux’s Eagle, African Rail, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers and a White-tailed Mongoose.

Lammergeyer (bottom rightish) at Hell's Gate
19 January 1978.  We drove down to Lake Magadi with few stops.  Once there we spent time on lakeside and in surrounding scrub.  Returned to Nairobi where last hour spent in grounds of Hillcrest Secondary School.  Spent night on Ray Moore’s floor in the Karen area of Nairobi.  Best birds were Kori Bustard, Chestnut-banded Plover, Giant Kingfisher (another catch up for me), White-throated Bee-eater, five species of wheatear and Red-throated Tit.

campsite on the Magadi Road
me on the Magadi Road, it is tempting to suggest that the Chestnut-banded Plovers were at the foot of the rainbow.  Having been mistaken for Jesus (and thanked profusely for appearing as a vision), albeit by a drunk, while sitting in a car outside a cafe a couple of days earlier anything was possible ... 
20 January 1978.  Early morning in the garden in Karen where I was asking Ray Moore how frequently he saw Giant Kingfishers, something I'd missed and was very keen to see.  Almost before he could say not very often Chris picked up one as it flew past.   We then drove into Nairobi National Park negotiating muddy roads to reach the Hippo Pools for the rest of the morning.  We then drove to the airport, returned the car somewhat the worse for wear and had time for a quick look around the airport area (not seeing much) and museum before flying home.  Best birds were Ostrich, Long-crested Hawk-Eagle, Shelley’s Francolin, Peter’s Finfoot and Giant, Malachite and Pigmy Kingfishers.

A superbly eye-opening trip with me seeing just over 600 species in 4 weeks, of which about 500 were new.  Not a patch on what can be seen now but a reasonable total with little information, very poor literature, a somewhat erratic itinerary and no recordings.  Needless to say I'd seriously got the bug for long haul birding and have pretty much never looked back.  Many thanks to Chris, Mark and particularly Pete for inviting me along.

[blogged December 2012]