Sunday 31 March 2024

Thirty Years Ago - March 1994

12th March:

Neil, Simon and I picked up a very inebriated Adrian W from Cambridge [Eds: yet another important University function for Dr W] and set off north to Pennington Flash in Greater Manchester. We arrived at 7am to find ourselves at the tail end of a huge queue for the UKs first Black-faced Bunting that had taken up residency at the site. 

[Eds: My notes make no mention of how the twitch actually worked.  There was a small area from which to watch for the bird from a track through some planted scrub so only about 20 people could view at once.  It was however, not always on view and there was no way of moving people out once they had seen it.  Those in the know had brought step ladders and were holding position at the back of the micro-huddle. It took over four hours to get to the front but thankfully it did show well when we eventually got there as it fed with Dunnocks, Brambling, Goldfinches and Reed Buntings.  There is also no mention of the gleaming Bullfinches and bull headed Willow Tits that I can clearly remember seeing while we waited]

Its shuffling behaviour and general plumage was actually very Dunnock like. It was my 400 UK species and there was some debate about its credentials but I was not going to stand in a line of birders all day and not tick it!  [Eds: I have always had such fluid ticking morals].  With no Ross’s Gull further north we took the scenic route home.

1w male Black-faced Bunting #400

Black-faced Bunting - apologies but I do not know who took either pic that I had in my notes

Black-faced Bunting queue...

Nearly there

18th March:

It ad been a typical night down the bar at Uni – playing pool and having a laugh when I was suddenly summoned to the bar and asked to hone home urgently.  ‘Wander says that there is  a Bufflehead in Notts.  Be at his by 12.30’ was Mum’s message. [Eds: It would appear that I used the uni bar as my own Nancy’s CafĂ© but oddly I do not remember them having a phone!  Of course way back then no one had a mobile phone either.  Thankfully I was not a drinker and was always safe to escape if need be!]

The drive to Cambridge was atrocious as I had a terrible headache and was so tired that I had to wind down the window and shout at myself to keep awake.  After a couple of hours restless sleep on the sofa we joined two other Cambridge birders and dashed in a large Merc to Colwich Trout Farm.

By 6.30 we had this stunning drake in view as he fished the lake with some Goldeneye relatives. Another dodgy duck? He turned up with Goldeneye at the time of a national influx [Eds: not sure that this was ever relevant unless they all came from the USA!] and at the same time as previously accepted records.  He was fully winged and un-ringed and on my list in no time at all. – shameless.

23rd – 27th March:

Our Uni Glaciation Fieldtrip started in south Wales in the Brecon Beacons where the weather fluctuated from driving atrocious rain to glorious sunshine but as with all fieldtrips I had a great time. Raven, Peregrine, Buzzard and two Red Grouse were the southern highlights before we moved north noting three Red Kites on our way to Bangor [Eds: where I sampled my first Dublin Guinness from the student bar in the Uni where they imported their own direct!].  Peregrines were again seen and a great flock of Chough were feeding on top of the till section on Dinas Dinelle beach.

Dinas Dinelle

I do love a terminal moraine

Saturday 16 March 2024

Sri Lanka with Bird's Wildlife & Nature - Day 1: 16th March 2024

Our flight out from Heathrow on Sri Lankan Airlines yesterday evening went smoothly and after a trouble free and comfortable flight we touched down just over ten hours later at 1pm local time.  A wiggle through security and with bags in hand we met Saman, our guide outside in sweltering sunshine but even as we waited for the bus to pull round he was showing us our first singing Asian Koel (pronounced coil in case you were wondering) in the car park with a glossy black male and barred female.  Spotted Doves and ubiquitous Rock Doves were in the gardens where Indian Palm Squirrels (they look like Chipmunks) scampered.  House Crows called from the buildings and as we pulled away we saw our first Common Mynas and a Little Cormorant in a small river.

Just a few short minutes later we were at the Tamarind Tree Hotel in Katunayaka, our base for our first night.  We were warmly greeted by staff and birds alike and Saman offered to take us for a walk as soon as we liked.  With Gloria now in tow too (she arrived earlier) we reconvened and set out on a walk around the grounds.

It was one of those typical first sessions in a new birding environment with almost every single bird seen being new to most of us. Big, front heavy Brown Headed and smaller multi coloured Crimson Fronted Barbets (endemic #1) were noisily singing along with the Koels and many Common Mynas while a Greater Coucal was heard but not seen.  Southern Hill Mynas were more tricky to see but even noisier than their smaller, browner cousins.  

Asian Koel looking like some skinny Capercaille

Common Mynas

Common Myna

Crimson Fronted Barbet (endemic #1)


One of the gardening team beckoned us over as she wanted to show us a Indian Scops Owl.  It glared at us for a while before shuffling further in.  The lady was so pleased to have helped us out and swiftly followed it up with some Black-hooded Orioles!

Iandian Scops Owl - it was well tucked away in the dark so we was pleased to see it so well

Gangs of inquisitive Yellow-billed Babblers fossicked in the short grass and planted shrubs, all the while keeping vocally in touch with each other.  They actually have slightly scary pale blue eyes.  The Palm Squirrels often seemed to be in close proximity of them but I could not work out who was following who.

Yellow-billed Babbler

Yellow-billed Babbler and Palm Squirrel

Palm Squirrel

There were curved billed Loten’s Sunbirds and gleaming Purple Rumped Sunbirds and the even tinier Pale Billed Flowerpecker which Saman told us was the smallest bird in Sri Lanka. Red-vented Bulbuls were moving round in pairs and familiar Ring-necked Parakeets whizzed through along with a single much larger Alexandrine while a large dove grey Pigeon revealed itself to be an Imperial Green with iridescent wings.

Red-vented Bulbuls 

Spotted Dove

Imperial Green Pigeon

Imperial Green Pigeon

House and larger Indian Jungle Crows moved through the palms and a couple of Shikra were noted while up above we picked up our first Painted Storks, Spot-billed Pelicans and a Brahminy Kite along with several Barn Swallows and an Alpine Swift.  An Eastern Cattle Egret posed in a palm and I was surprised at how much bigger the bill looked and an Indian Pond Heron also flew over.

Jungle Crow

Eastern Cattle Egret

Ring-necked Parakeets - Bananas for provenance purposes

Giant Hart's Tongue-type Fern - and yes Antony, I did look under the fronds

Very high Spot Billed Pelican!


We were shown around the vegetable garden with a White-breasted Waterhen was striding around before having a good bath in a blue tub.  A Forest Wagtail was less obliging but easily identifiable at close range in flight and we found a Red Wattled Lapwing sitting tight on eggs in the middle of the lawn and never moved all afternoon.  She was completely exposed and looked most uncomfortable.  We saw several Butterfly species including Common Jezebel, White Four Ring and Common Sailor along with the nests of the Red Tree Ants and Termite tunnels at ground level.

Red Wattled Lapwing

White-breasted Waterhen

White-breasted Waterhen

Common Sailor

White Four Ring

Ant nest

Termite tunnels 

White-bellied Drongos caught flies from the wires and lower branches and stunning Oriental Magpie Robins were feeding young at nest hole and would perch with tails vertical above their backs which was exactly how we saw the Common Tailorbirds – in fact they looked tailless from underneath. 

Oriental Magpie Robin

White-bellied Drongo

The vaguely Redstart like Small Minivet was popular with everyone with its contrasting black, grey and orange plumage but I think that the two favourites for the crew were the vibrant turquoise White-throated Kingfisher and ridiculously vibrant Sri Lankan Red-backed Woodpecker (endemic #2) which is the country’s newest (and 34th) endemic. Both species were quite obliging with a little patience.

White-throated Kingfisher 

Sri Lankan Red-backed Woodpecker (endemic #2)

As the light fell the Yellow-billed Babblers became even more active and noisy and both Crow species headed off to roost.  We lingered long enough for some of us to see Indian Flying Foxes flapping overhead.  I have never seen a Bat that big!  There were some little ones higher up too while Indian House Geckos started to appear under all the eaves of the lodges and their soft ‘woofing’ could be heard. I currently have one in my room but I have seen nothing for it to eat – yet.

Indian House Gecko

Yellow-billed Babbler - their plumage is very loose and the feathers seem overly big

And so ended our first beginners guide to Sri Lankan birds and we all retired to freshen up before a very fine dinner, musically accompanied by a man on a wooden flute who performed a very good rendition of El Condor Pasa by Simon and Garfunkel…

My body tells me that is half past four and I should be feeding the cats but also that I should really be going to bed soon as we will be having a pre-breakfast jaunt at six.