Wednesday, 31 December 1980

THAILAND December 1980 (part 1)

This blog recounts my second visit to Thailand.  I took few photographs of the country, having visited a number of the sites on the previous trip and my camera and other things were stolen when our car was broken into towards the end of the trip despite us sleeping by it.  Sometime after I got back I then lost my field notebook so this blog is a bit thin, based on unreliable memories and my written up notes only.  It was still a great trip, with excellent companions.

I had very much enjoyed visiting Thailand over Christmas in 1978/79 and was keen to return to see more of the country and some of the birds I had missed.  That was a familiar feeling for me after most trips although with so many other places I would like to go it is often an unjustifiable luxury!  Frank Lambert and Richard Grimmett had done a long overland trip to India in 1977/78 and were very interested in visiting Thailand too, as was Colin Winyard, and we started making plans.  It looked like being an all Sussex affair but Dick Filby got wind of our trip and came along too.  Five in a car would be a bit of a squash but we managed quite well. 

We booked the cheapest flights we could find, Bangladesh Biman via Dacca with Big Sam’s Travel, a London bucket shop.  With under a week to go the tickets had not arrived despite much chivvying on my part and several empty reassurances that they were on their way on theirs.  With 48 hours to go they still had not come.  I was promised motorcycle delivery the next day but rather than risk it further I said I’d travel up to London to collect them.  Big Sam’s Travel was two people in what seemed like a large cupboard, although they both had desks.  I told them who I was, expecting the tickets to be in an envelope all ready, and initially got a blank look!  A desperate search followed with said tickets eventually found in an envelope in the bottom of a half empty draw.  All 5 tickets were there and for the right dates but anxieties weren’t completely over ...

8 December.  Colin’s dad kindly drove him, Frank and me from Brighton to Littlehampton where Richard’s dad took the four of us up to Heathrow to meet Dick.  On the way the car died and it took a while, and the help of a passing motorist, to coax it back to life.  We made it just in time for check-in, to find the flight had been delayed, all that worry for nothing!  We finally left Heathrow on a Bangladesh Biman Boeing 707 flight to Bangkok via Dacca.

9 December.  We arrived in Dacca at dawn but there was to be no connecting flight.  After some hanging around and reclaiming our baggage we were taken to a hotel in town.  Concerned it might be a long wait we returned to airport to bird along the perimeter (no apparent security, few planes) and in an adjacent area where we attracted the attention of local kids.  It became ever clearer that we would not be leaving that day and we returned to hotel.  Birds seen included Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, 2 Citrine Wagtails, Blue Rock Thrush and a very dull Bay-backed Shrike.

Black-shouldered Kite at Dacca Airport
10 December.  A Cinnamon Bittern was the best bird seen in couple of hours around Dacca airport before our flight, which finally left mid-morning.  We landed in Bangkok early afternoon and hired a car from Bangkok Car Rent but were given a temporary one for a day while a more suitable one was being serviced.  We headed across the bustling city to Bangpoo where good views of a Nordman’s Greenshank amongst the usual waders was a surprise, and my first new bird of the trip.  We returned to Bangkok, visited Dr Boonsong and got a room for 5 in a seedy hotel in Bangkok.  It was very hot as the air-con didn’t seem to work very effectively, if at all.  Someone opened a window and loads of mosquitoes came into the room although as we were all suffering from jet lag we probably wouldn’t have slept well under any conditions.

11 December.  We had a quick look around Lumpini Park before Bangkok Car Rent opened and we could change the car.  We returned to Bangpoo mid-day and back across the city to Rangsit for the late afternoon.  3 Yellow Bitterns and a White-rumped Shama were my best sightings and after dark Frank started the long drive north. 

12 December.  We kept driving through the night, eventually stopping about 60km S of Chaing Mai in the early hours and sleeping out by the car.  We were up at dawn to find we were in quite a nice area of low hills.  Between us we started to see a few interesting birds and ended up spending all day birding there although the site really came to life in the late afternoon.  I saw 7 Siberian Blue Robins, Thick-billed and 2 Stub-tailed Bush Warblers, male Hainian, male Tickell’s and 3 Hill Blue Flycatchers and 3 Spotted Babblers.  We ‘named’ the site Doi Sai Bleu and drove on to Chang Mai where we slept out in a shop porch near Doi Suthep temple.

13 December.  We spent most of the day on trails around Doi Suthep, unfortunately in heavy rain and low cloud.  A Black-backed Forktail and 3 Black-throated Laughingthrushes were my highlights.  We then drove to Doi Chaing Dao, seeing a Spotted Owlet on the way, and spent the night in a hotel there.

14 December.  Doi Chaing Dao was disappointing and we left early driving in daylight to the brilliantly named Fang and spending the last light in the paddyfields there.  My highlights were 4 Grey-headed Lapwings, 5 Yellow-eyed Babblers, a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and 3 Streaked Spiderhunters.

15 December.  We attempted to visit Doi Ang Khan but the road was too wet and muddy so we had to abort.  We revisited to the paddies at Fang seeing  22 Grey-headed Lapwings, 4 Pintail Snipe, Wryneck, Bluethroat and a male Chestnut-eared Bunting.  We then headed back south to Chaing Mai, calling in at Mae Sa Waterfalls where we saw 2 Black-backed and 3 Slaty-backed Forktails and 3 Plumbeous Redstarts.  After a meal in Chaing Mai we drove to Doi Pui and camped half-way up.

Plumbeous Redstart at Mae Sa Waterfalls
16 December.  We spent all day on Doi Pui, walking from our campsite half-way up to the summit and back and often splitting up.  I saw Goshawk, 2 Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, 15 Olive-backed Pipits, female Daurian Redstart, 2 White’s Thrushes, Radde’s Warbler, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler and 5 Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babblers.  We returned to same campsite and put the tents up for a second night. 

17 December.  A second full day on Doi Pui seeing Barred Owlet, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Speckled Piculet, 2 Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrushes, a Pallas’s Leaf and 40 Yellow-browed Warblers, 20 brilliant Grey-headed Parrotbills, 4 Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babblers, 2 Chestnut-vented and 5 Velvet-fronted Nuthatches and 6 Scarlet Rosefinches.  After returning to Chaing Mai for a meal we drove to Doi Inthanon and bluffed our way through the checkpoints to the summit where we camped out.  It was very cold.

18 December.  A day at Doi Inthanon, mostly around the summit.  Some ex-pat museum collectors were operating there which our soft sensibilities did not approve of although we were hypocritical enough to stay with them, photograph some of their catches and tap them up for information.  I saw 3 Rufous-throated Hill-Partridges, Woodcock, male White-browed Shortwing, 3 Red-flanked Bluetails, Dark-sided and 6 Eye-browed Thrushes, 2 Slaty-bellied Tesias, 8 Orange-barred and 7 Ashy-throated Leaf Warblers, 8 Red-headed Laughingthrushes and 3 Yellow-browed Tits.  Also some condemned Chestnut-tailed Minlas and other birds.
Green-tailed Sunbird
Chestnut-tailed Minla

Yellow-browed Tit

Ashy-throated Leaf Warbler
sad to see any bird being collected, more so one as smart as this
a lucky Orange-barred Leaf Warbler, this one was 'rescued'
19 December.  A day on Doi Inthanon around the second checkpost and particularly in the ravines which were best worked on one's own.  I saw Mountain Hawk Eagle, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Speckled Piculet, Bay Woodpecker, 60 Black and 30 White-headed Bulbuls, 2 White-browed Shortwings, a condemned Red-flanked Bluetail in a collectors hand, Chestnut-headed and Slaty-bellied Tesia, 2 Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Snowy-browed Flycatcher and 3 Spectacled Barwings but sadly no White-gorgetted Flycatchers.  We spent a second night with the collectors who might have been responsible for that.
male Grey Bushchat at Doi Inthanon

female Grey Bushchat at Doi Inthanon

20 December.  For our final day at Doi Inthanon we concentrated on the lower elevations seeing Lanceolated, a probable Milne-Edwards’ and 4 Radde’s Warbers, 4 White-browed Scimitar-Babblers and a Chestnut Bunting.  We then drove to Tak, seeing 2 Indian Nightjars on the road, and then to Nam Nao where we slept in a drink stall.
on the way to Nam Nao

21 December.  All day on the trails and in the ravines at Nam Nao.  I saw Barred Owlet, 2 Red-headed Trogons, 8 Brown Hornbills, Bamboo Woodpecker, 6 Silver-breasted Broadbills, male White-tailed Robin, Slaty-backed and White-crowned Forktails, male Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Radde’s Warbler, 4 Red-billed Scimitar-Babblers and a White-hooded Shrike-Babbler.  Most of the time we had split up and sadly I missed Silver Pheasant which two of the others saw but the Orange-headed Ground Thrush was as superb as I was expecting and something I was really hoping to see having missed them on my previous trip and in Nepal.  Our sleeping out had been noticed and park officials insisted we camped for our second night.

22 December.  We spent the morning at Nam Nao covering the same areas as before.  I saw Barred Owlet, 2 Red-headed Trogons, 3 brilliant Blue Pittas (2 males and a female), 2 Slaty-backed and 3 White-crowned Forktails, 2 Red-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Eye-browed Wren-Babbler, 4 White-crested Laughingthrushes, and 2 White-hooded Shrike-Babblers.  I missed Silver Pheasant again but seeing the Blue Pittas (a bird it had taken me 4 days to find on my previous trip) was good compensation.  We left at lunchtime and started driving south.  There was a fuel curfew and we stopped in a town looking for petrol.  Richard, an excellent artist, drew a sketch showing a car being filled up at a petrol pump and went into the police station to seek assistance.  He’d written on it ‘Do you no where we can buy some petrol’.  He came out a bit sheepishly, the police chief spoke better English than we did and had corrected his ‘no’ to ‘know’.  But we found out where to fill up and continued south seeing 9 Avadavats on the way.  We arrived at Rangsit late and slept in a bus shelter.

23 December.  We spent the morning at Chang Rak seeing 2 Cinnamon Bitterns, Watercock, 15 Bronze-winged Jacanas, 4 Blossom-headed Parakeets, Stork-billed Kingfisher, 2 Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers, 3 Black-browed Reed Warblers and a Pegu Sparrow.  We spent the afternoon in Bangkok (I can no longer remember why!), leaving early evening to drive to Khao Yai.  We arrived late but the park gates were open so we continued seeing a male Elephant on the road inside the park.  As was becoming our norm we slept out on a drinks stall.

24 December.   All day at Khao Yai in the Headquarters area sleeping again on the drinks stall.  I saw 5 Great Eared Nightjars, a stunning male Heart-spotted Woodpecker (Heart-stopping more like), 2 female Blue Pittas, Radde’s Warbler and White-crested Laughingthrush.  One of the blue Pittas I watched for 40 minutes – magical.  Taking four days to find one at this site two years previously was now a distant memory.

25 December.  Most of the day on the long trail across the river at Khao Yai.  I saw 2 Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagles, 5 Scaly-breasted Hill Partridges, Emerald Dove, Brown Hawk Owl, 13 superb Brown Needletails, 30 Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Wreathed and 11 Great Hornbills, Silver-breasted Broadbill, a male Blue Pitta briefly, male Hainain Blue Flycatcher, 13 Abbott’s Babblers, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, White-crested and 2 Black-throated Laughingthrushes and a Green Magpie.  We also heard Mountain Scops but no end of crashing around after dark failed to produce more than a fleeting shape.  We slept again on the drinks stall. 
Abbott's Babbler at Khao Yai
Rufous-bellied Hawk Eagle over Khao Yai

26 December.  We spent the morning around the restaurant at Khao Yai where I saw  Grey-faced Buzzard, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Long-tailed Broadbills, Forest Wagtail, Blunt-winged Warbler, 20 White-crested and a Black-throated Laughingthrush, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker and a Green Magpie.  We left in the afternoon to drive east to Nathon Nayak and Khao Soi Dao.  We arrived late in the evening and found another drinks stall to sleep on.
27 December.  Frank and I wandered a long way down it the main track at Khao Soi Dao, retuning in the afternoon to find that Richard had found and Colin and Dick seen a pair of Eared Pittas along a section we’d now twice walked past.  We rushed back and fortunately they were still in the same area.  I also saw Blue-bearded Bee-eater, 8 Rosy (including 3 grey ones) and 2 Ashy Minivets, male Siberian Blue Robin and White-browed Scimitar-Babbler.  Another night on the drinks stall after an excellent but tiring day.
28 December.  A rather disappointing day along the main track at Khao Soi although I did see 5 Great Eared Nightjars, Orange-breasted Trogon, Black & Buff Woodpecker, male Hainian Blue Flycatcher and a male Crimson Sunbird.  We left late afternoon and drove to Rangsit where we arrived late and slept in another bus shelter.
29 December.  We spent the early morning at Rangsit where I saw 2 Baillon’s Crakes, Koel, Lanceolated Warbler and 30 Yellow-breasted Buntings.  We stopped in Bangkok and then started driving south birding at roadside saltpans south of Samut Sakhon before dark.  Here 26 Broad-billed Sandpipers and 400+ Red-necked Stints were the highlights.  We continued driving south after dark to Pranburi where we stayed in a hotel!

30 December.  We left Pranburi early and drove to Khao Sam Roi Yord for the morning.  There we saw a Booted Eagle (new for Thailand?), 2 Great Knot, 2 Nordman’s Greenshank, 50+ Broad-billed and15 Terek Sandpipers, 62 Crested Terns and 8 Red-throated Pipits.  In the afternoon we continued driving to Ranong and in the evening to Phuket where we found the inevitable bus shelter to sleep in.
Great Knot on the beach at Khao Sam Roi Yord
Nordman's Greenshank on the beach at Khao Sam Roi Yord

31 December.  We spent the morning at Phuket Town beach seeing 2 Pacific Reef Herons, various waders including 2 Broad-billed and 30 Terek Sandpipers and 2 Grey-rumped Tree-Swifts.  At mid-day we arranged a 3.5 hour boat trip off Rawai Beach which produced a female Greater Frigatebird and 200+ Bridled Terns.  It was hot with no shade and we got a bit sunburned.  We finished the day at Naihan Beach where a Little Green Bee-eater was my highlight.  We then drove on to Krabi and slept in a bus shelter.  Nothing like seeing in the New Year in style!


Wednesday, 10 December 1980

The 1980s: India, Canada, Scillies and Thailand in 1980

Revisiting the distant past with unreliable memories and a few dodgy/borrowed photos backed up (or not) by notes pretty much restricted to species lists. Embarrassingly I can’t remember who some of the day or weekend trips were with. I was still some years away from learning to drive so most trips out of Sussex started with me catching a train up to London where Andrew Moon was usually driver and I was often with Pete Naylor and Rupert Hastings. Richard Kelly and Martyn Kenefick on more local ones. I was still some years away from learning to drive. 

On 1 January 1980 my very enjoyable trip to Nepal was coming to an end but I still had a week in Northern India, primarily to visit Bharatpur, before returning home. Being out of touch with news I was unaware that Russia had invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Day until I was in Delhi on 3rd. This caused me some anxiety as I was flying home with Arian Afghan with a night in Kabul (see I arrived home just before midnight, phoned Richard Kelly, who I knew usually stayed up that late, and was asked if I wanted to go twitching in two hours time. Silly question. On 12th he and Brian Short took me to Cannock Chase to see a male Two-barred Crossbill. We saw it well with 15 Common Crossbills although I wasn’t really with it for much of the day. At least I noted that it often crept around tree trunks like a Nuthatch. On 14th I caught the overnight train from Paddington to Bodmin Road Station, arriving just before first light on 15 January. I’d borrowed my sister’s bike with the intention of cycling to Wadebridge. I’d not ridden for years and leaving the station made very hard work of the first hill, nearly being taken out by a passing lorry. I returned to the station, chained up the bike and waited an hour for the first bus. At Wadebridge it took me three hours of walking along the river before I finally found the Belted Kingfisher. A stunning bird despite only seeing it for 5 minutes, at 75-100 years range before it flew off downriver and out of sight. I had not really believed it would hang on for my return which made it all the better, it was also the 1500th bird I’d seen worldwide. Also along the river were Goldeneye, Green and Common Sandpiper and 2 Common Kingfishers. There was a Little Auk wintering in Portland Harbour, another new bird for me, so I returned to Bodmin Road Station and caught a train to Yeovil Junction where I realised the Weymouth train left from Yeovil Pen Mill, arriving early evening. At least having the bike enabled me to make the last train to Weymouth. In Portland Harbour on 16th I saw the Little Auk very well (for 30 minutes at a range of 30-50 feet), Great Northern Diver and 2 Red-necked Grebes. On 26th I was back in Weymouth looking unsuccessfully for a Pied-billed Grebe at Radipole when news broke of an Ivory Gull on the rocks at Portland. Those I’d come with had gone to find some breakfast and I was left on my own as everyone else piled off. Fortunately my wait was a short one and we were soon watching the juvenile Ivory Gull sitting on distant rocks. I returned to Weymouth with Andrew Moon on 30th and saw the Pied-billed Grebe and then had much better views of the Ivory Gull at Portland. Most of the time it was sitting on rocks from which it had considerable difficulty in taking off due to what appeared to be a deformed or damaged leg. It took rapid flaps to regain its feet, then a bit of hovering and it was off. Once airborne it was superb but it continually moved it head this way and that as if it was nervous. Five new birds in January was a blinding start to the year.

leaving Kabul - 11 January 1980

A Slavonian Grebe off Church Norton was my only notable sighting on 3 February while on a trip to Kent on 9th we saw male Ferruginous Duck, 8 Goosanders, 4 Smew and a Glaucous Gull at Dungeness and 2 Glossy Ibis and 2 Hen Harriers at Stodmarsh. Back to Kent on 16th produced 2 Bean Geese, Long-tailed, male Ring-necked and the Ferruginous Duck, 8 Goldeneye and 5 Smew at Dungeness and 7 Hawfinches and 25 Bramblings at Bedgebury. My only other recorded birding during the month was seeing 50 Stock Doves, 50 Redwings and a Marsh Tit on 21st around Falmer, where I had embarked on a research degree at the University of Sussex.

Lunchtime walks around the University produced Marsh Tit and Treecreeper on 3 March and 5 Stock Doves and 2 Goldcrests on 4th. News of Britain’s first Forster’s Tern in Cornwall had me being driving down to Falmouth overnight on 14th seeing 2 Barn Owls on the journey. On 15th we, with hundreds of others, saw the Forster’s Tern at Swanpool, moving on to see the Belted Kingfisher again. It was found quickly at Polbrock, about 2km upstream of where I’d eventually seen it in mid-January. That evening we saw a Barn Owl near Kingsbridge with a Long-eared Owl and 2 Long-tailed Ducks at Slapton, 3 Cirl Buntings and 4 Slavonian Grebes at Dawlish Warren and a Wood Lark at Beaulieu Road the following day. The last week of March I seawatched from Hove beach for about an hour each morning before going into the University. Winds were mostly from SW and I didn’t see much. Highlights were a Slavonian Grebe flying west like a rocket, a Sandwich Tern and 60 Common Scoter on 25th, a Sandwich Tern on 27th, 5 Eider, a Whimbrel and 2 male Wheatears on 28th. Also a superb Firecest in our Hove garden on 30th.

Firecrest in our garden - 30 March 1980

I saw another male Wheatear on Hove beach on 1 April, 2 Treecreepers at Falmer on 2nd and 9 Brent Geese past Hove on 3rd. A trip to Selsey and Pagham on 4th produced a female Scaup, 5 Eider, Short-eared Owl, male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, 3 Black Redstarts, 20 Wheatears and 2 Willow Warblers. A Grey Heron was best off Hove on 5th with 20 Common Scoter and 9 Red-breasted Mergansers on 6th while a quiet Pagham on 7th produced the female Scaup and 5 Wheatears. Seawatching at Hove finally produced some reward on 11th with 2 Velvets amongst 35 Common Scoter with a Treecreeper in Falmer Woods later that day. The wind turned to ESE on 12th when 6 hours of seawatching off Hove produced 1330 Common Scoter, 30 Red-breasted Mergansers, 3 Goosanders, 430 Sandwich, 5 Commic and a Little Tern. I saw 6 Eider (5 males), 290 Common Scoter, 335 Sandwich, a Common and a very early Black Tern on 13th, 60 Common Scoter and 133 Sandwich Terns on 14th and 30 Common Scoter and 105 Sandwich, 5 Common and an Arctic Tern on 15th. At and around Falmer I saw a Marsh Tit on 14th, Grey Partridge on 16th and on an extended walk on 21st Turtle Dove, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, 3 Marsh Tits and a Treecreeper. Seaford and the Cuckmere on 26th produced 330 Bar-tailed Godwits, Whimbrel, Greenshank and 3 Spotted Redshank, 2 Common Sandpipers, Little Owl, 2 Yellow Wagtails and 6 Wheatears while highlights of a visit to Pagham on 27th were Avocet, Ruff, male Redstart and male Pied Flycatcher. Despite a lot of seawatching, or at least some seawatching on a lot of days, I’d seen no skuas off Hove.

I saw a Wood Warbler and male Pied Flycatcher in Stanmer Park on 1 May and off Hove in E/NE winds a pale morph Pomarine Skua and 2 Little Terns on 2nd and 16 Black-tailed and 1300 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Whimbrel, a Little Gull, 1050 Commic, 27 Little and 9 Black Tern, 12 Yellow Wagtails and 3 Willow Warblers on 3rd. A trip to Dungeness on 4th produced 5 Pomarine Skuas, Little Gull, 6 Little and 2 Black Terns, Cuckoo, Redstart, Whinchat and 50 Wheatears with 100 Bar-tailed Godwits, 8 Little Terns, 3 Yellow Wagtails and 10 Wheatears at Rye. On the way to Fleet Ponds with Brian Short on 5th I saw a Hawfinch from the car by the A284 just north of Arundel but whatever it was we went for we didn’t see. We saw a Marsh Harrier there, Hobby and Dartford Warbler at Thursley and Temminck’s Stint at Arundel on the way home. A male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was watched drumming in Falmer Woods on 7th with a Redstart in our Hove garden later that day. Seawatching off Hove was quiet with 4 Little Terns on 8th, 2 on 9th and 6 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Garden Warbler on the way there on 10th. Later on 10th I flew to Canada with 7 friends (see Back home, after a great time in Canada, I went to Worthing on 25 May to look for a dark petrel seen offshore a couple of times by Brian Short and others. No luck although I did see my first Arctic Skua of the year. While we’d been in Canada a Scops Owl had been found in Hampshire, on the edge of the village of Dummer. I heard it on a pre-dawn visit on 26th, having a poor flight view that evening. I was back in Hampshire on 31st where I heard and had a flight view of a Great Reed Warbler at Fleet Pond then heard and had two flight views of the Scops Owl at Dummer. All very unsatisfactory.

me at Niagra Falls - 24 May 1980

I went to the Denny Wood/Bishops Dyke area of the New Forest with Richard Kelly on 7 June seeing 2 Honey Buzzards, 3 Hobbies, 2 Cuckoos, 4 Tree Pipits and a Dartford Warbler and hearing a Golden Oriole. I saw Turtle Dove, Spotted Flycatcher and 5 Corn Buntings on the Downs behind the University on 12th while a Hobby and 3 Cuckoos were the highlights of a visit to Pagham on 21st. An evening seawatch off Hove in a strong SW wind on 23rd produced just 4 Sandwich Terns while I saw another Spotted Flycatcher at Flamer on 26th. On 29th I saw an escaped Cattle Egret and 2 Cuckoos near Slimbridge (not sure what the attraction of that was!) with a Little Owl near Marlborough and 2 Spotted Flycatchers back at Dummer where I finally managed to see the Scops Owl through my binoculars, just getting onto it on one of three flight views. Still not great but I’d had it with that bird. 

A successful trip to Titchwell for a Gull-billed Tern on 12 July was made even better with my first ever Sabine’s Gull, an adult in partial summer-plumage at Sherringham. We also saw Bittern, 2 Velvet Scoter, 3 Marsh Harriers and a Grasshopper Warbler at the former. We returned via Cley (14 Avocets, 2 Little Ringed Plover and 3 Ruff), Weeting (2 adult Stone Curlews with a chick), Lakenheath (2 Cuckoos) and Wandlebury SE of Cambridge (singing Icterine Warbler). The following morning Brian Short phoned to tell me he’d seen a Black Kite that had overnighted on the Downs near Washington. I was less understanding than I should have been as Brian had been told to keep it quiet although there seemed to be no reason why, which was about par for the course in Sussex. A nine-hour vigil failed to find it (I later learned that it was seen in the New Forest that afternoon). I walked to Chanctonbury and back from Shoreham on 16th seeing 70 Swifts, 10 Sand Martins, a juvenile Wheatear and 6 Spotted Flycatchers. The following day a Lesser Whitethroat was in our Hove garden remaining for four days. The 26th produced a selection of commoner waders and 9 Black Terns at Farlington and a Pectoral Sandpiper at Pagham while delivery of a new Optolyth telescope had me seawatching at Hove on 28-30th, paying off with a moderately close Sooty Shearwater on 30th.

I saw Spotted Flycatcher and Treecreeper at Falmer on 4 August with Great Spotted Woodpecker the best there on 8th. A selection of commoner waders at Pagham on 9th included 5 Avocets, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, 8 Ruff and 12 Common Sandpipers with Kingfisher and Spotted Flycatcher also seen. A trip to North Kent on 10th produced a male Montagu’s Harrier, Little Stint and 3 Curlew and 7 Wood Sandpipers at Cliffe and a different male Montagu’s Harrier, Black-winged Stilt, 25 Spotted Flycatchers and 5 Wood Sandpipers at Elmley. At Pagham on 17th 25 summer-plumaged Grey Plover outshone single Curlew, Green and Wood Sandpipers while 2 Spotted Flycatchers were seen at Falmer on 18th.A trip to Kent on 25th produced 2 Arctic Skuas, 20 Black Terns and 30 Lesser Whitethroats at Dungeness and 5 Ruddy Shelduck and 8 Whinchats at Sandwich Bay. Fifty Commic Terns past Hove in an hour on 26th when a Spotted Flycatcher was seen at Falmer with another in Hove on 30th where an Arctic Skua flew east during a seawatch.

Five Spotted and a Pied Flycatcher were seen in the woods at Falmer on 3 September. I went up to Castle Hill in an extended lunch-hour to successfully see a juvenile Montagu’s Harrier on 4th returning that evening with Martyn Kenefick. We failed to see the Montagu’s but I found a £5 I’d lost earlier. There was a Redstart in our garden on 5th and one at Castle Hill with 14 Whinchats, 5 Wheaters and Sedge and Garden Warblers on 8th, another garden Redstart on 12th. On the 14th a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper was found at Littlehampton West Beach by Richard Grimmett and gave superb views feeding around a puddle in the edge of a pig field. Also there were a Little Ringed Plover and 15 Wheatears. A Wheatear was my best sighting on the Downs near Falmer on 16th while news of a Semipalmated Sandpiper at Stithians Reservoir had me heading down to Cornwall with Tony Pym from Reading. On 17th we saw Semipalmated and Pectoral Sandpipers at Stithians, another Pectoral Sandpiper at Marazion and a distant Wilson’s Phalarope at Chew Valley Lake and a Sabine’s and 5 Little Gulls in Weymouth Bay on 18th. On 21st Beachy Head was the place to be with one of its best days ever – I saw male Marsh Harrier, Hobby, 4 Turtle Doves, Little Owl, 9 Swifts, 50 Sand Martins, 2000 Swallows, 500 House Martins, 6 Tawny Pipits (5 in the field opposite Belle Tout and the other behind Hodcombe), 10 flava Wagtails (one a male Blue-headed), 7 Redstarts, 250 Whinchats, 200 Wheatears, 6 Ring Ouzels, commoner warblers, 2 Firecrests and 16 Spotted and 3 Pied Flycatchers. On the Adur on 23rd I saw a Kentish amongst 150 Ringed Plover, 2 Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Black Tern and 3 Wheatears. There was a Pied Flycatcher in our Hove garden on 24th and I had another good day at Beachy with Martyn Kenefick on 25th seeing a Tawny Owl on the way over then Turtle Dove, Hoopoe, 500 House Martins, 2 Redstarts, 19 Whinchats, 7 Ring Ouzels, 60 Whitethroats, 120 Blackcaps and 5 Spotted Flycatchers. We went on to see Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper in the Cuckmere. I went down to Penzance on the overnight train and crossed to St Marys on 26th seeing a Great Skua but little else from the Scillonian. I put up my tent (expecting to move into a flat at a later date) and headed for the Golf Course to see 3 Buff-breasted Sandpipers and a Tawny Pipit. Also 45 Wheatears, 2 Spotted and 3 Pied Flycatchers and a Snow Bunting. I saw the 3 Buff-breasted Sandpipers again the next morning before visiting Tresco to see another on Castle Down (but not a Sardinian Warbler) and a Lesser Yellowlegs and 2 Pectoral Sandpipers on the Great Pool. Also on Tresco was the long staying female Black Duck, 2 Ravens, a Continental Coal Tit and a Lapland Bunting. There seemed a lot of birds on St Marys on 28th and although nothing of particular note I saw 4 Turtle Doves, 32 Whinchats, 130 Wheatears, 5 each of Pied and 4 Spotted Flycatchers and 2 Snow Buntings. Quality improved on 29th with 2 Yellow-browed Warblers at Lower Moors and a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling on the Golf Course while Tresco was much the same before with a Curlew Sandpiper replacing one of the Pectorals and still no Sardinian Warbler for me. I stumbled across a Red-backed Shrike on Peninnis on 30th and saw Richard’s Pipit and Lapland Bunting on the Airfield before visiting St Agnes for a Red-headed Bunting, also seeing a Red-breasted Flycatcher and 4 Lapland Buntings.

from Cotteridge & Vinicombe's Rare Birds of Britain & Ireland: A Photographic Record (1996)

The best on St Marys on 1 October was a Yellow-browed Warbler still on Lower Moors although late in the day a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was found in the Parsonage on St Agnes. While I’d been on Scillies the previous autumn most of my friends had seen one at Portland. The possibility of a quick grip-back only added to my anxiety and I was on the early boat the next morning but the cuckoo hadn’t been seen. Most crowded into the Parsonage but I stayed outside and after an anxious half an hour picked it out in moving rather sluggishly the canopy. As well as good views of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo I saw a Lapland and the Red-headed Bunting on Wingletang and returning to St Marys the Yellow-browed Warbler and a Red-backed Shrike on Lower Moors. The Red-backed Shrike was my best sighting on 3rd and 4th with Ring Ouzel on St Marys and Ring-necked Duck, the Lesser Yellowlegs and a Lapland Bunting on Tresco on 5th. I returned to St Agnes on 6th seeing the Yellow-billed Cuckoo again (looking rather wet), Red-breasted Flycatcher and 4 Firecrests with another 6 on St Marys. A different Lesser Yellowlegs was on St Marys on 7th when gale force winds and heavy showers made small birds hard to find, I managed single Redstart and Pied Flycatcher. The gales lessened a bit on 8th and as well as the Lesser Yellowlegs I saw Wryneck, Barred Warbler and Yellow-browed Warbler on St Marys. A Bluethroat was on Lower Moors on 9th and I saw the Lesser Yellowlegs again and another Yellow-browed Warbler there on 10th - nice but not really what I was hoping for. The 11th was heading the same way with a Melodious Warbler and flight views of a Scarlet Rosefinch until news of a Red-eyed Vireo had me dashing to Porth Hellick House where it showed well off and on in a pittosporum hedge. A very welcome new bird for me. On 12th the Lesser Yellowlegs had moved to Porth Hellick where it was joined by a Wood Sandpiper. I improved marginally on my Scarlet Rosefinch views and visited St Agnes for an Isabelline Shrike on Gugh seeing again the long staying Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a Yellow-browed Warbler. A day on St Marys on 13th produced a Red-eyed Vireo on Lower Moors, Richards and Red-throated Pipits on the airfield, Rose-coloured Starling at Porthloo and the Scarlet Rosefinch again at Salakee. The vireo was considered the same as the Porth Hellick House bird despite being present at both sites on several days, just never at the same time, and nowhere in between. It wasn’t a good American year but surely two vireos were involved? I returned to St Agnes on 14th for a Booted Warbler seeing the Isabelline Shrike again on Gugh. Best on St Marys were a Jack Snipe and 4 Snow Buntings. Scillies was relatively quiet while a Yellow-browed Bunting (found it turned out by Alan Kitson) was present on Fair Isle for its third day.

I was asleep when Andrew Moon and Rupert Hastings returned from the pub telling me there was a Pine Bunting on Fair Isle as well as the Yellow-browed and they were planning on leaving for it in the morning with Steve Webb, depending on finding one or two others to share costs. I was interested and with Dick Filby making five we left on the Scillonian at noon on 15th. Not knowing if either birds were still present we waited anxiously in a cafĂ© outside Redruth for news, learning at 19:00 that they were. Steve drove overnight to Aberdeen airport, five in a VW Golf wasn’t the most comfortable way to travel but it was effective. Morning phone calls from the airport to Fair Isle Bird Observatory failed to ascertain whether either of the buntings were still around, all birders were out looking but none had returned. With the only flight that would enable us to connect with a charter to Fair Isle departing at 11:45 Steve made a final call to the observatory at 11:40 to say we’d not risk coming with no news and hope for better tomorrow, wondering to ourselves if we’d made a big mistake coming. Steve’s money ran out before finishing the call and redialing the phone was picked up by warden Iain Robertson who announced ‘Brunnich’s Guillemot in the North Harbour’. We panicked, rushed around to the check-in desk and almost elbowed someone approaching it out of the way. They had half an hour before their flight, us less than five minutes and we were quickly processed by the disapproving check-in staff and just made it. We bussed from Sumburgh to Lerwick and on to Tingwall where it was touch and go if the weather would allow a landing on Fair Isle. Fortunately it did and Steve arranged a taxi to meet us off the plane and take us north to the Bird Observatory. No one was about so we dumped our stuff and headed for the North Harbour to find no guillemot and no birders. Steve ran back to the Observatory, learned it had moved to the next bay and quickly rejoined us. We had excellent views of the Brunnich’s Guillemot but daylight was running out and we dragged ourselves away, still not knowing if either bunting was still around. The taxi took us to the centre of the island and we headed to the potato field favoured by the Yellow-browed Bunting. We walked along the top of the field and virtually all the way down the other side with an increasing sinking feeling that it wasn’t there when I saw a sparrow like bird with a yellow brow hop across a furrow. My immediate reaction was ‘White-throated Sparrow’ until the penny dropped that I’d seen the Yellow-browed Bunting. It showed very well but with the light starting to go we headed for the south of the island seeing a lone birder walking around an isolated croft half a mile away. We headed over there to find it was Franko and he’d just seen the Pine Bunting. We soon racked it down and had reasonable views. Three new birds in a day, at the time Britain’s first Yellow-browed Bunting (although a bird in Norfolk in 1975 was subsequently accepted), second live Brunnich’s Guillemot and sixth Pine Bunting. What a complete turn-around of emotions from earlier in the day. Also on Fair Isle I saw 10 Eider, 2 Long-tailed Duck, 2 Merlin, 15 Fieldfares, 5 Hooded Crows, 15 Twite and 8 Snow and a Reed Bunting. We stayed overnight in the Bird Observatory and spent the following morning birding on Fair Isle. The Pine Bunting had gone but we had more leisurely views of the Brunnich’s Guillemot (although it was looking weaker dragging one wing in the water and later died) and Yellow-browed Bunting. Also 500 Fulmars, 3 Greylag Geese, 190 Eider, 2 Merlins, a first-winter Glaucous Gull, Rock Dove, Fair Isle Wren, Whinchat, 30 Fieldfares, 20 Redwings, 7 Chiffchaffs, 6 Hooded Crows, 5 Ravens, Tree Sparrow, 3 Bramblings, 40 Twite and 3 Lapland, 30 Snow and a Reed Bunting. Dick was staying on Fair Isle but the rest of us left that afternoon, Chris Heard arriving on Fair Isle as we left. He had hitched up from Scilly, the only other birder to twitch from Scilly. Chris stayed on Fair Isle for at least a week and while there found another Pine Bunting. Arriving in Shetland the police were waiting for us, having apparently been tipped off that we might be carrying drugs, we weren’t. It was a long drive back south to Penzance, regularly stopping for news. At the last stop Steve, who was hoping to break the UK year list record, was keen to divert to Spurn (which we were now well south of) for a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler. I shared Andrew and Rupert’s view that it might not stay (it did) and there was more chance of seeing something better on Scilly (there wasn’t). We continued down to Cornwall and the following morning saw American Golden Plover at Drift and Lesser Yellowlegs at Marazion before catching the helicopter back to St Marys. Steve wrote the trip up as a chapter in Best Days with British Birds (Ogilvie & Winter 1989) and was clearly still annoyed we’d not gone to Spurn! Whether we’d been to Spurn or not was put in context learning when back on Scilly that there was a Tengmalm’s Owl on Orkney while we were away. Had we known about that when back in Aberdeen …

Brunnich's Guillemot on Fair Isle (photo: Iain Robertson

 Pine Bunting on Fair Isle (photo: Iain Robertson

 Yellow-browed Bunting on Fair Isle (photo: Iain Robertson) Add caption

Lesser Yellowlegs at Marazion (photo: John Johns, from Cotteridge & Vinicombe's Rare Birds of Britain & Ireland: A Photographic Record (1996))

We were back on Scillies soon after midday on 18 October seeing the airfield Richards Pipit and an Ortolan Bunting on St Marys. On 19th the Richard’s Pipit was still around and I also saw Icterine Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher in Holy Vale. Both were seen in Holy Vale on 20th too as well as Red Kite and Yellow-browed Warbler while the Lesser Yellowlegs was still at Porth Hellick, a second Scarlet Rosefinch at Salakee and about 1000 Chaffinches on the island. A visit to Tresco for an Olive-backed Pipit on 21st was successful and I also saw the male Ring-necked Duck but failed again with the long-staying Sardinian Warbler. A disappointing seawatch in strong winds on 22nd produced 410 Gannets and an Arctic and 3 Great Skuas with the Yellow-browed Warbler in Holy Vale the best in the bushes. The Icterine and a different Yellow-browed Warbler was in Holy Vale on 23rd with a Red-rumped Swallow seen at Porth Cressa at dusk. I had better views of the Red-rumped Swallow the next morning and saw a small sylvia warbler on Peninnis that was subsequently trapped and found to be a Subalpine (no real surprise there although we’d hoped it might be Spectacled). After several misses I also saw the male Sardinian Warbler on Castle Down during an afternoon trip to Tresco. Little change on St Marys on 25th with Red-rumped Swallow, and Subalpine and Yellow-browed Warblers while best from a trip to St Martins were Short-eared Owl and 210 Sanderling. Eighteen Black Redstarts on St Marys on 26th was a noticeable arrival, otherwise I saw the Red-rumped Swallow, Subalpine Warbler, Scarlet Rosefinch and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers. The 27th was very similar with Lesser Yellowlegs, Red-rumped Swallow, Subalpine Warbler, Scarlet Rosefinch and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers while on 28th a brighter Olive-backed Pipit was at Bar Point and I also saw the Lesser Yellowlegs and Scarlet Rosefinch. On 29th I saw 2 Turtle Doves and a Yellow-browed Warbler before leaving Scillies on the Scillonian which produced Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel and two late Puffins. Walking around Falmer Woods at lunchtime on 31st I saw Sparrowhawk, Marsh and Coal Tits and Treecreeper. 

I saw a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler at Sandwich Bay on 1 November, hopefully Steve Webb had added it to his year list by then. Calling in at Beachy Head on the way back there were 2 Firecrests with about 20 Goldcrests in Belle Tout Wood and 8 Tree Sparrows flew over. I was back at Beachy on 9th seeing a roosting Little Owl, 2 Firecrests, Great Grey Shrike and 270 Linnets, 7 Redpolls and 230 Goldfinches flying east. A stop at Newhaven at high tide on the way back produced 2 Eider, 14 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Kingfishers. I saw an adult Mediterranean Gull at Widewater and 58 Ringed Plover and 78 Dunlin on the Adur on 16th, 2 Fieldfares, 2 Coal Tits, Treecreeper, 6 Tree Sparrows and a male Brambling during an extended lunchtime walk from Falmer to Blackcap and Ditchling on 18th. A morning around Shoreham on 23rd produced 3 Eider, 10 Common Scoter, 300 Lapwings, 100 Ringed Plover, 300 Dunlin, 66 Redshank, the same adult Mediterranean Gull and a Kingfisher before an afternoon dash to Newhaven Tidemills for a Grey Phalarope. During a lunchtime visit to Falmer Woods on 25th I saw 15 Redwings, Marsh and Coal Tits, Treecreeper and 5 Tree Sparrows. A slightly different circuit on 28th, the last half in the snow, produced Little Owl and Willow Tit.

In Stanmer Park on 3 December I saw a Firecrest, 8 Goldcrests, 6 Coal Tits, Nuthatch, 2 Treecreepers and a/the male Brambling. On 4th I went up to London to collect airline tickets from Big Sam’s Travel. I didn’t want to risk a promised motorcycle delivery the next day as several reassurances that our tickets were on their way had proved false. Our tickets were found, eventually, in the bottom of a half empty desk draw. I also saw 3 Mandarins on St James Park. A walk round Stanmer Woods on 5th produced Goldcrest, 50 Blue Tits including a flock of 30 feeding on the ground, and a Treecreeper. On 8th Dick Filby, Richard Grimmett, Frank Lambert, Colin Winyard and I flew to Thailand via Dacca with Bangladesh Biman (see

Richard Grimmett, Dick Filby, Frank Lambert, me and Colin Winyard in Thailand

[blogged August 2020]

Saturday, 24 May 1980

CANADA May 1980 (part 2)

This blog finishes recounting a two week trip to Ontario in May 1980 with Graham Armstrong, Richard Bosanquet, Maurice Chown, Rupert Hastings, Graham Hearl, Andrew Moon and Pete Naylor.  All were really great companions.  Rupert, Graham H and Pete are very sadly no longer with us but are rarely far from my thoughts.  It is based on old, fairly uninformative notebook entries, memories of varying reliability and digitised slides

18 May.  A quick look around Point Pelee convinced us it was time to move on.  Down to 18 species of warbler including a stunning male Prothonotary, 2 Parulas (including the one seen the previous day), Cerulean, 13 Blackburnian and 6 Bay-breasted.  We crossed into USA at Detroit with little delay and drove to the Haehnle Sanctuary west of Ann Arbour in Michigan.  There we saw a female Hooded Merganser and 4 Sandhill Cranes (2 of them were dancing). We then drove north to Marion where we camped after dark.

19 May.  After a look around Marion where we saw 10 Prairie Chickens, American Bittern and 2 Henslow’s Sparrows before driving on to Grayling where we had an appointment with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  This was the most accessible site for Kirtland’s Warbler but before we were taken to see them we had to sit through a 30 minute film about what was being done to protect them.  Fair enough but we would have enjoyed the film a lot more if we had seen the birds first, especially as it stressed that they were hard to see when not signing and only sang early morning.  At about 10:00, although it felt more like noon(!), we were taken to a stand of conifers of appropriate height and there without too much trouble we had good views of a singing Kirtland’s Warbler.  I was worrying unnecessarily!  At Grayling we also saw 2 Sharp-tailed Grouse and 3 Upland Sandpipers.  We continued north to Wilderness State Park where we saw Piping Plover, Black-capped Chickadee and 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches.

20 May.  We drove from Sault St. Marie (back in Canada) east to Algonquin seeing a Sandhill Crane (S of Sudbury), Ruffed Grouse, 2 American Woodcock, Hermit Thrush, 2 Veerys and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

21 May.  All day around Algonquin where I saw 4 Great Northern Divers, 2 Hooded Mergansers, 4 male Spruce Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Killdeer, 2 American Woodcock, 5 Belted Kingfishers, Golden-crowned Kinglet, 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches, 2 Blue and 7 Grey Jays, distant small bright yellow bird (Evening Grosbeak) and 10 species of warbler including Chestnut-sided, 2 Magnolia, Canada, Wilson’s and 2 Overbirds.  Mosquitoes were starting to become a problem.  It seemed strange seeing locals out in their gardens in full bee-keeping headgear but as I’d not thought to bring any insect repellent I started to look at them quite enviously.
Spruce Grouse at Algonquin

American Red Squirrel
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle

American Swallowtail
22 May.  A morning at Algonquin before heading back towards Toronto.  We saw American Bittern, 3 male Spruce Grouse, 3 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Boreal Chickadee, 3 Blue and 4 Grey Jays, another distant small bright yellow bird and 9 species of warbler including Pine and Blackburnian.  Richard Bosanquet had been in contact with a friend from his old school who lived in Guelph and he had very kindly offered to take us out for a day.

Beaver Lodge
Great Northern Diver
Tree Swallow

Grey Jay


23 May.  An enjoyable day being guided by David Brewer around various sites near Guelph, just west of Toronto.  We’d not seen Loggerhead Shrike which was soon put right when we visited a territory where a pair were in residence.  During the day we also saw 2 Hooded Mergansers, Nighthawk, Eastern Phoebe, 100 Cliff Swallows at a colony, 18 Cedar Waxwings, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds at a nest box, Chestnut-sided and 2 Bay-breasted Warblers, 3 Ovenbirds and a Northern Waterthrush and 10 Bobolinks.  Both Rupert and I had not seen Pileated Woodpecker during the trip and felt that our best chances had gone although we were still on the lookout for one.  One of the more open sites we visited had a very wide ride going down one side of a valley and up the other.  Rupert and I had lagged behind the others a bit, Rupert more so than me.  As I started the climb I saw something flying across in front of me.  I lifted my binoculars and don’t now recall what it was, other than not being at all notable.  Rupert, who was behind but higher than me, saw me looking and something and lifted his bins to see what it was.  He quickly caught me up.  ‘That was a bit of luck’ he said to me.  I looked at him rather blankly.  ‘The Pileated Woodpecker you were looking at?’  Rupert had got onto a different bird that either I hadn’t been sharp enough to spot or was just over the brow of the hill for me.  Rupert was one of the very best birders it has been my privilege to have been birding with but my reply on that occasion was probably unprintable!  Although if I had seen the bird I very much doubt I would have thought much more of it.  Now it still feels like an open sore but is one of many great reminders of Rupert.

24 May.  On our final morning we visited Niagara on the Lake and St. Catherine’s.  David Brewer took us 4 at a time to see a Red-shouldered Hawk at a nest, quite tense as if it flew those going into the wood to look at it were likely to miss it whereas those waiting outside should not.  Fortunately it performed.  After David made some enquiries we then twitched 2 House Finches on a feeder.  Niagra was quite impressive but rather too urban an environment and a bit commercialized for a natural wonder.  A quick look around one of the car parks suggested it might be the best place outside the USA to collect a full set of State number plates.  To be thinking such things it was clear the trip was over and we headed back to Toronto Airport.  It had been a very enjoyable time, made so by having such excellent companions, many thanks to all.  The locals at Point Peele felt it had been a far from classic spring but for us it had been very successful.  Numbers and variety might have been down but seeing over 100 American warblers in a day was amazing.  In our two weeks I had seen just over 210 species of which 146 were new, excellent value at a cost of about £260 all in.

Niagra Falls
me at the falls.  We  wouldn't have fancied the pleasure boat below even if it had been free

[blogged February 2014]