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2010-09-30

South Africa (ZA)   Winter in South Africa  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 05:42:02 pm

Winter birds, Gauteng, South Africa

I escaped the oppresive heat of Kuwait at the end of July and joined by family in South Africa for a well deserved 10-day break in the highveld winter. Images by Mike Pope


In between catching up with family and friends there was little to no time for any local birding. However, one morning and in between taking action shots of my son during his tennis coaching I managed to capture a few local birds in our park inside Kyalami Estates in Midrand. Fiscal Shrike are common all year round and are opportunistic predators

Fiscal Shrike

Grey Loeries have adapted to urban environments where they were not quite as common 10-years back

Grey Loerie

Indian Myna's are found all over South Africa - unfortunately. They can be quite aggressive with other garden birds, often chasing them out of their garden patches

Grey Loerie

The Hadeda Ibis or more affectionately known as the Goliath Sunbird, as it has also habituated urban environments

Hadeda Ibis

A Streaky-headed Seedeater or Canary, dong just as it's name suggests

Streaky-headed Seedeater

Mallards are classified as invasive species and are creating havoc by interbreeding with our indeginous ducks. I believe it is legal to cull them

Mallard

We spent a morning at the Monte Casino Bird Garden in Fourways and enjoyed the bird show. The show is predominantly designed to create awareness about pollution, protection and conservation of our biodiversity and specifically birds. Local and other birds are used to substantiate the objectives of the show. This juvenile Ground Hornbill is one of the Big 5 birds

Ground Hornbill

One of the more powerful Buzzard species, Jackal Buzzard

Jackal Buzzard

Spotted Eagle Owls can be found in gardens with big trees and palms

Spotted Eagle Owl

The Barn Owl was used to raise some cash for the bird show with children having their pictures taken with the Owl

Jackal Buzzard

This comical Toucan didnt always co-operate

Toucan

One of the many Scarlet Ibis in the one of the large outdoor avairies

Scarlet Ibis

2010-01-21

South Africa (ZA)   Phuket, Thailand  -  Categories: Asia, Thailand  -  @ 04:55:22 pm

Christmas and New Year December 2010, JW Marriott Resort and Spa, Phuket

A 10-day Christmas break was exactly what we needed after the year that 2009 was. We couldnt have chosen a better country to relax, chill and re-charge and it was with heavy hearts when left to return to Kuwait after New Year. All we can say, is that we will be back. Also heartening was the fact that this is one of the first destinations where I have stepped off the plane and seen an indigenous bird first and not some introduced exotic which is always the case. Images by Mike Pope


A new country creates a buzz for any birder, as most birds seen would be lifers and Phuket was no exception. As I have done on other family holidays, I was up before breakfast every morning to walk the hotel grounds which is a mix of exotic/introduced and indigenous habitat, secure our loungers at the pool and then rouse the family for the sumptious buffet breakfasts. Our room was right next to a small lake with water lillies and good habitat and was good for a number of normally secretive birds. The most common was Chinese Pond Heron, but the challenge I had was getting up early meant low light and challenging photographic conditions, so I had to expirement with flash on a few occassions - with mixed results, this one was particulary successful.

Chinese Pond Heron

The amount of white in the wings is always surprsing when these herons take flight

Chinese Pond Heron

I managed to catch this one in the soft afternoon light and we can use it to compare to Squacco and Indian Pond Heron which occur in Kuwait

Chinese Pond Heron

On my second morning I flushed a Cinammon Bittern that was a little too far for the reach of the flash, but no question on the identification

Cinammon Bittern

An added bonus was also finding Yellow Bittern at the same lake

Yellow Bittern

I was really fortunate on one morning when I caught both Cinammon and Yellow Bittern in the same thicket, with the Cinammon trying to devour a rather large fish with a bemused Yellow Bittern looking on

Yellow and Cinammon Bittern

White breasted Waterhens were seen feeding across the Lilly pads

White breasted Waterhen

When the Waterhens and Pond Herons took flight, it was normally because of a cruising Brahminy Kite - this taken with flash in the pre-dawn light

Brahminy Kite

Normally more skulking (at this hotel anyway), this Oriental Magpie Robin stopped on the bridge before disappearing into the thickets on the side of the lake

Oriental Magpie Robin

The most common birds around the pool area, as expected are introduced species, like this Zebra Dove

Zebra Dove

The bigger Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove

Not to forget the Common Myna which you seem to find everywhere

Common Myna

Eurasian Tree Sparrows were numerous around the breakfast buffet each morning, boldly stealing food with the Mynas

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

After dinner one night, my son found this frog near the pool which we still have to identify

Frog

Walking through the quieter parts of the garden and the casarina trees along the beach produced other species, the Black naped Oriole's call every morning started becoming quite familiar

Black naped Oriole

Toward the end of our stay, large numbers of Black Drongos were seen in the casarina trees, this one illuminated with flash in the backlit high trees

Black Drongo

Common Tailorbirds were not easy to get onto where they were heard calling from the undergrowth

Common Tailorbird

On one occassion I came across a first winter Brown Shrike. I now have a reference image to check for this species occuring as a vagrant in Kuwait

Brown Shrike

Brown Shrike

Hawking around the top of the tall casarina trees were Asian Palm Swifts

Asian Palm Swift

with the odd Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Interspersed with Pacific Swallows

Pacific Swallow

Yellow vented Bulbul was the only bulbul seen in and around the hotel, a good looking Bulbul

Yellow vented Bulbul

Yellow vented Bulbul

Venturing out of the hotel and finding some more natural bush gave species not seen in the hotel, Large billed Crows were seen patrolling over on of th entrance roads

Large billed Crow

Little Cormorants were normally seen early morning on their way from their roosting site

Little Cormorant

A Black Baza was seen on 2 mornings from the same spot at the same time

Black Baza

I saw a Dusky Crag Martin only on one occassion, hawking over the hotel entrance

Dusky Crag Martin

Indian or if split Burmese(?) Roller was seen most mornings

Indian/Burmese Roller

Dollarbirds used the overhead power lines to hunt from

Dollarbird

The Olive backed Sunbird was not at all obliging

Olive backed Sunbird

The larger Brown throated Sunbird was a little more obliging, this is male

Brown throated Sunbird

and the drabber female

Brown throated Sunbird

I had a large influx of Paddyfield Pipits on my last day out

Paddyfield Pipit

On my day trip to Phang Nga I saw Scarlet backed Flowerpecker, but was not able to photograph it - at the hotel I was more fortunate

Scarlet backed Flowerpecker

Showing why it is so named

Scarlet backed Flowerpecker

One of the many new butterflies also seen, this is a Chocolate Pansy

Butterfly

I arranged a day's guided birding through Dave Williams of Paddle Asia (paddler@paddleasia.com) who specializes in Birding Tours in Phuket. I had a 5:30 pickup with my excellent guides for the day - Games Phetsri and Ian Dugdale. Ian is a special guest who accompanies Games on most guided tours. We headed out in the dark to our first location of the day - Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary for some really good forest and canopy birding as the sun peeped over the mountains. After too much time in the deserts, I had forgotten the challenges of canopy birding as well as the associated neck and eye strain of canopy birding. This didnt deter my enthusiasm as we picked up one new bird after another, often with just fleeting and tantilising glimpses.The other challenge in the low light conditions was photographing with flash, I persevered with mixed results. So, the following images is to give a flavour of what can be found on a guided day out. One of the first birds seen up in the canopy was a Grey breasted Spiderhunter, it reminded me of a sunbird on steroids

Grey breasted Spiderhunter

As the sun started hitting the tops of the canopy, the forest slowly wakened and birds slowly became active, many enjoying the warmth of a new day before feeding. A few Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrikes were seen

Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike

A poor image of the brilliant looking Blue winged Leafbird

Blue-winged Leafbird

The fantastic colour of a Verditer Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher

and the wonderful looking Black crested Bulbul

Butterfly

In the mid-stratum, birds also started appearing - but these were way more difficult to get onto for any length of time. This Common Tailorbird caught with flash foraging for breakfast

Common Tailorbird

The Buff-vented Bulbul is quite a skulker

Buff-vented Bulbul

Buff-vented Bulbul

As was the Hairy-backed Bulbul

Hairy-backed Bulbul

A large bird moving quickly through the undergrowth turned out to be a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha. Again I marvelled at the colours of this forest dweller

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha

A dimunitive Blue-throated Flycatcher was seen gleening through the canopy

Blue-throated Flycatcher

Followed shortly by a Mugimaki Flycatcher which created a lot of excitement from Ian

Mugimaki Flycatcher

The brightly coloured male Orange-breasted Flowerpecker was caught by flash, busy gathering food for its young

Orange-breasted Flowerpecker

A Spectacled Bulbul was briefly seen

Spectacled Bulbul

Scanning the treetops we found the amazing and cool looking Whiskered Treeswift

Whiskered Treeswift

Whiskered Treeswift

Flying overhead we also had the larger Grey-rumped Treeswift

Grey-rumped Treeswift

Also causing some excitement a Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift

Fork-tailed Swift

Fork-tailed Swift

The only raptors seen soaring high overhead were Oriental Honey Buzzard

Oriental Honey Buzzard

And Crested Serpent Eagle

Crested Serpent Eagle

Sadly we had time constraints to ensure we got to the other locations, before leaving saw this Forest Crested Lizarad in the leaf litter, the expression on its face reminding me of some animated character from a Disney movie

Lizard

We tried another location on route to lunch and not too many new birds added. At lunch next to the water, watched a few fish patrol below us and saw a Striated Heron

Fish

After an enjoyable local lunch, we stopped in the Mangroves near Phang Nga town, it was too early for Mangrove Pitta - but we did pick up Arctic Warbler, another taken with flash

Arctic Warbler

Some movement alerted me to the odd Gliding Lizard that literally jumps and glides from one tree to another

Gliding Lizard

The mangroves hosted a few interesting butterflies, this is a Clipper

Butterfly

and a Spotted Black Crow

Butterfly

On the way back to our van, we found 3 White-rumped Munias feeding on seeds on the roadside verge

White-rumped Munia

Ian stopped at one of the main intersections in Phang Nga town where there is a breeding population of Black Nest Swiftlets - not easy to photograph from the busy sidewalk and overhead telephone lines

Black Nest Swiftlet

We then had a long drive to Thai Muang which used to be golf course and is no longer used as one, resulting in the re-growth of natural vegetation. This is also a superb site and holds a lot of promise if we had no pressure of time. It was best to walk the old fairways and explore the water holes. First bird up was Black Drongo

Black Drongo

We flushed a flock of Lesser Whistling Ducks

Lesser Whistling Ducks

Germain's Swift is the common swift in Phuket

Germain's Swift

At one of the waterholes we flushed Yellow and Cinammon Bittern and this Watercock getting away

Watercock

At another, a few Paddyfield Pipits and Pacific Golden Plovers

Pacific Golden Plover

and a pair of River Lapwings that departed as soon as they saw us - but a satisfying sighting, not so with the photograph. Perhaps the new 7D would have handled this picture very differently

River Lapwing

After the departure of the Lapwings a small Plaintive Cuckoo landed nearby

Plaintive Cuckoo

On the fringes of the course, we picked up a flock of Myna's and Rosy Starlings, the Starlings a good sighting for Phuket

Rosy Starling

More elusive were the Chestnut-streaked Starlings high up in a casarina tree

Chestnut-streaked Starling

By now, the sun had started to touch the horizon and we were fortunate to have a flock of Orange breasted Green Pigeons fly in to roost for the night.

Orange breasted Green Pigeon

As we were about to leave, I saw two birds fly in and land behind a mound, I suspected Grey headed Lapwing and crept up behind the mound and managed this image before they fly further away in the fading light. A great bird to end what was a fantastic day out with Games and Ian

Grey-headed Lapwing

During our stay on Phuket, we arranged an excursion to James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay which is North East of Phuket. Not many birds at all seen on this day trip. We had Pacific Swallows on the pier of the harbour before we departed

Pacific Swallow

After James Bond, we explored some islands on canoe's through caves in the limestone walls. On one of the inner lagoons our paddler pointed out a pair of Hornbills which turned out to be Oriental Pied.

Oriental Pied Hornbill

In the same lagoon, the primarily arboreal Crab eating Macaques watched us with curiosity as we did them

Crab eating Macaques

On the last day of 2009, we arranged a days snorkelling excursion to the spectacular Similan Islands where the water is as blue as swimming pools in the South African summer. Again, not many birds seen on the 2-hour speedboat ride to the islands. I did get Pacific Reef Egret and White bellied Sea Eagle. We stopped at Island # 4 for lunch and saw huge numbers of roosting Flying Foxes in the canopy above us

Flying Foxes

However, the avian highlight of Island # 4 is the rastafarian looking Nicobar Pigeon. Unfortunatley at luch time they are all roosting after having finished their foraging in the early morning. The large number of people also kept them in the trees. After some intensive searching in the short window of time that I had, I eventually located a lone roosting Nicobar Pigeon - not an ideal view, but I was elated

Nicobar Pigeon

Our last snorkel provided another highlight when we had the privelege of swimming with a Turtle, what a magnificent creature and my son Jaden was so excited even though he was in 15m of water. Whilst everybody dozed off on the 2-hour trip back to the hotel, I took up a personal challenge in trying to photograph a Flying Fish while standing at the back of the speedboat with three 200HP V6 Yamaha's flat out across the Andaman Sea. I am personally thrilled with the result of what was a difficult and challenging personal photographic assignment

Flying Fish

2009-08-15

South Africa (ZA)   Salalah, Oman  -  Categories: Around Middle East  -  @ 10:33:20 pm

Weekend getaway to Salalah in Oman - July 2009

My family had migrated south for the summer and we had an unexpected holiday in July, so I found a cheap air ticket, rented a 4 x 4 and packed my camera, birding gear and headed to Salalah in the southern part of Oman. It was not the best time of year because it was still too early in the khareef (monsoon) season, but that did not deter me. Images by Mike Pope

I arrived at the Arabian Sea Villas after sunset in mist and drizzle, a welcome relief from the heat of Kuwait. I split my trip into 2 parts - Friday exploring the desert north of the Dhofar mountains and the Saturday the eastern coastal sites. It was an early start in the dark, rain and mist and as a result very slow going. First stop was Wadi Rabkut where it was really windy (from the khareef being pushed over the Dhofar mountains) but clear. I found one of the target birds, Stone Partridge but could not get close enough to photograph. This image gives an idea of the habitat
Wadi Rabkut

From here I continued north to Al Balid Farm, a pivot field project with irrigated crops that provide food and water for birds. After asking permission I could drive freely around the farm. The first birds I encountered were scattered flocks of Crowned Sandgrouse - a male and female together.
Crowned Sandgrouse

A small mixed group.
Crowned Sandgrouse

A male in liftoff.
Crowned Sandgrouse

Black crowned Finch Larks were all over the farm - males, females and juveniles.
Black crowned Finch Lark

I found a small flock of 8 Turtle Doves feeding in one of the pivot fields.
Turtle Dove

As I got closer to this Blue throated Agama - he changed from a bland pale and displayed his blue throat.
Blue throated Agama

Next stop was Qatbit, but by this time it was really hot - almost every bush providing shade around the hotel had 5 or 6 Brown necked Ravens sittng under them trying to escape the heat. The only other bird seen here was a Hoopoe Lark
Brown neck Raven

After filling up, it was time to try and get to the oasis at Muntasar - but solo this proved difficult. It is signposted from the main Muscat road, but after driving into the desert for 15km the tracks faded and I decided to call it a day.
The 'road' to Muntasar

I was now 300km north of Salalah and it was a long drive back in a headwind. I stopped at the little village Thumrayt for a flock of 15+ Fan tailed Ravens and had the locals come and investigate what I was doing as I drove around trying to get a decent photograph - this was the best I could do in the wind and poor light.
Fan tailed Raven

Here you can see the fog of the khareef being pushed over the Dhofar mountains on the trip back to Salalah - it was very slow going back down the mountain in the rain with a few accidents seen.
Dhofar mountains

Saturday it was time to explore the east and I had another early start. First stop was East Khawr, but not much seen here. Ayn Hamran was next and I struggled with humidity and fogged up lenses on camera and binny's. Ayn Hamran was a special site at the base of the Dhofar mountains and had many familiar african species.
Ayn Hamran

An early arrival here is essential and as a result I had the whole place to myself. I felt at home with the many familiar calls from the african species which can be found at this site. At the base of the mountains I found a few flocks of Arabian Partridge - a smart looking bird
Arabian Partridge

Ruppells Weavers were seen vying for females attention around their nest sites.
Ruppells Weaver

I got onto Bruces Green Pigeon, but a fogged up lens prevented me getting what would have been a great image. Later I was able to photograph one of the many and active Grey headed Kingfishers - so good to see birds with colour.
Grey headed Kingfisher

Tritrams Grackles were numerous.
Tristrams Grackle

The White breasted White-eyes took a little more work to find.
White breasted White-eye

Singing Bush Larks were everywhere, but mostly seen calling on their aerial display. I did find a few singing from perches and feeding.
Singing Bush Lark

Singing Bush Lark

Many of these frogs were seen in the puddles of water from the rain, on the road.
Frog

In the flat rocky areas on the way out of Ayn Hamran African Rock Buntings were seen - this is a female.
African Rock Bunting

I could have spent a few more hours at this site, but had limited time - next stop was Taqar on the coast, where the mist was still rolling in over the sea. I found a large mixed flock of gulls and terns - predominantly made up of Sooty Gulls
Sooty Gull

Sooty Gull

and a handful of Swift Terns.
Swift Terns

A lone Heuglins Gull amongst the Sooty's and Swift Terns.
Heuglins Gull

I drove along the reedbeds in the hope of finding Yellow Bittern, no luck - but I did find a few Indian Pond Herons.
Indian Pond Heron

Indian Pond Heron

Kentish Plovers with young were seen along the road.
Kentish Plover

I drove to Wadi Darbat, but as I ascended the mountain the mist descended and we were down to 5m visibility which meant I couldnt get to Tawi Atayr (the limestone sinkhole and home of isolated population of Yemen Serin) nor Wadi Hanna (home of Baobab trees and Golden winged Grosbeak). Whilst contemplating where to go next, this Blackstart landed in the gloom next to my car.
Blackstart

The only option was Khawr Rawri on the coast. I stopped first to scan the cliffs the plunge into sea for Red tailed Tropicbird - not today.
Cliffs

No mist at sea level later in the day did allow birding. Khawr Rawri has a lot of archeological interest with its 4th century BC pre-Islamic settlement called Sumhuran
Sumhuran overlooking the Khawr

I would love to see some of these signs in Kuwait as part of a drive to protect the few critical sites that harbour resident and migratory birds.
Protect our wildlife

Down at the Khawr, some Common Terns were seen roosting on the bank.
Common Terns

Spoonbills feeding along the fringes.
Spoonbills

A poor shot of a Lesser Whistling Duck.
Lesser Whistling Duck

A female Shining Sunbird sheltering from the wind.
Female Shining Sunbird

A few Common Kestrels were seen on the way out of the reserve.
Common Kestrel

Driving back past Taqar I found a soaring Honey Buzzard.
Honey Buzzard

All too soon I had to head back to the airport - even though there was still much to explore and many species not yet seen - it certainly means a return trip toward the tail end of the khareef season. At the airport I saw a male Shining Sunbird
Male Shining Sunbird

and a few Yellow vented Bulbuls.
Yellow vented Bulbul

2009-07-07

South Africa (ZA)   Hot Springs and Dead Sea, Jordan  -  Categories: Around Middle East  -  @ 09:14:45 pm

Evason Ma'In Hot Springs and Spa, Jordan - March 2009

My family and I had a 3-day break to Ma'In in Jordan staying at the newly opened Evason Ma'In Hotel, situated 260m below sea level. This was a weekend to revitalise the soul, with time spent in the Spa and a day at the Dead Sea and I can say emphatically that it worked. Images by Mike Pope

As with any visit to a new location and country the urge to get out birding more than you should is difficult to control. I was up before breakfast most mornings to stroll around the hotel gardens and hot springs which pour out of the surrounding sandstone mountains. It is an excting time, as most birds seen could be new, the diversity around the hotel was limited but I enjoyed it nevertheless. African Rock Martins hawking over the hotel rooftop was a familiar species.
African Rock Martin

I was quite surprised to find a breeding pair of Blackbirds
Blackbird

Yellow vented Bulbuls were pretty common in the gardens
Yellow vented Bulbul

I was lucky to catch a large flock of migrating Cranes as they passed overhead - not a great image, but a good tick for me.
Crane

A walk down to the Spa produced a single Blackstart
Blackstart

Palestine Sunbirds were attracted to flowering plants in the gardens, this is the drabber female
Female Palestine Sunbird

and the unmistakeable male
Male Palestine Sunbird

The view of the Spa further down the sandstone valley from our window to give an idea of the tranquility of this hotel
Evason Ma'In Spa

South Africa (ZA)   Exploring my neighbourhood, Midrand - South Africa  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 08:45:33 pm

Midrand, Gauteng - South Africa - December 2008

After a relaxing 10-days in Mauritius we headed back to South Africa for Christmas with family and friends. At the same time it was really enjoyable to get re-acquainted with some birds not seen in Kuwait and enjoy the dawn chorus from my bed every morning. Images by Mike Pope

We stayed with my father-in-law in Midrand which funnily enough is situated midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. The usual suspects were seen most days in and around the garden, the male Masked Weaver was in breeding plumage
Masked Weaver

The Cape Robin is a great bird, but can be a skulker in and around undergrowth
Cape Robin

Olive Thrushes tend to whizz about between houses, not stopping for very long
Olive Thrush

Speckled Pigeons roost on the roofs of houses overnight
Speckled Pigeon

Crested Barbets are synonomous with the bush and suburbia and their call is unmistakeable
Crested Barbet

It is quite strange to see a bird as big as the Hadeda Ibis strolling around the garden probing for food and they make a hell of a noise when disturbed
Hadeda Ibis

Another noisy bird that has colonised gardens is the Grey Loerie, made 'famous' in the movie "The Gods must be Crazy"
Grey Loerie

Overhead I saw Greater striped Swallow with material to complete its nest building
Greater striped Swallow

I saw Little Swift early most mornings as they stretched their wings after roosting for the night before dispersing into the thermals for the day
Little Swift

I have been stung by one of these wasps and I can tell you they pack a punch
Wasp

I took a morning to visit two bird sanctuaries in the Midrand area - the first being Beaulieu Bird Sanctuary situated in the heart of Beaulieu suburb where Sacred Ibis was the predominant species
Sacred Ibis

Grey Heron also used the big eucalyptus to roost and build their nests
Grey Heron

As did Black headed Herons
Black headed Heron

Wattled Plovers are normally present on the mud bank of the dam and they didnt disappoint today
Wattled Plover

Crowned Plovers were seen on the manicured lawns at the entrance of the reserve
Crowned Plover

Heading out of the reserve an Ovambo Sparrowhawk dashed between the trees
Ovambo Sparrowhawk

I headed to Glen Austen Bird Sanctuary which is a perenial pan situated on the edge of Glen Austen suburb but with open grasslands on two boundaries. On the way I picked up Fiscal Flycatcher on the telephone line
Fiscal Flycatcher

African Pipit was seen singing from the top of a fence
African Pipit

The pan had some water and I found White faced Duck
White faced Duck

And Yellow bill Duck
Yellow bill Duck

One of the reasons for coming to this site was to find Yellow crowned Bishop, I found a large flock feeding on the grass seedheads, this is a female
Female Yellow crowned Bishop

and the much more brightly coloured male, this bird resembles a giant bumble bee as it zits around trying to attract a females attention
Male Yellow crowned Bishop

Red eyed Doves were seen on the telephone lines
Red eyed Dove

and overhead
Red eyed Dove

Followed by a Turtle Dove, for comparison
Turtle Dove

That brought a nostalgic end to my mornings birding, on the way home I found Red Bishops in reedbed also doing their best to attract any females attention
Red Bishop

I knew it was worth stopping at an open grassland just before home for Southern Black Korhaan. I could hear them calling, but finding them on foot was another challenge as they are very cryptic on the ground and only flush if they have to
Southern Black Korhaan

Last bird of the morning outing was an obliging Fan tailed Cisticola
Fan tailed Cisticola

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