Member’s Trip Reports 2020

Scilly Memories ( Not strictly 2020 but a lovely nostalgic item) By David Knight.

Some sixteen years ago – Thursday 30th September 2004 to be precise – Val and I were spending another holiday on the Isles of Scilly, staying on St.Mary’s. We were on our last full day before heading back to Penzance. The weather was fine and bright, and we had decided to go to St. Martin’s. The noticeboard at the Pilot Gig reported a Cream-coloured Courser was about, but we had no plans to go chasing birds; we wanted a quiet day strolling around St. Martin’s. However, when we went to catch our boat it was obvious something big was going on, as our boat was full of birders, and we only just found a couple of seats. All the talk was about the Courser, which had now been seen again, this time on St. Martin’s. One group of birders coming down from the Midlands the day before, when it was first reported, had turned back for home when they heard the bird hadn’t be seen for some time, only to turn back for Scilly as they reached Exeter to hear the news that it was now showing again! We learnt that this bird was an extremely rare vagrant to the UK from the Middle East. The bird would be the highlight of many a birder’s year, and it had performed extraordinarily well on St Mary’s golf course earlier before, flying off only to be relocated on St Martin’s. It was the first to be recorded in the UK for 20 years, so when our boat landed at Lower Town we got caught up with the enthusiastic crowd and my pace quickened as I stepped ashore. Val, with a shrug of the shoulders, followed in my wake. We didn’t need to know exactly where the bird was, we just followed the crowd. It turned out the bird was reported to be in a sheep field near Turfy Hill towards Higher Town. After nearly half an hour of rapid walking we reached the spot where a wall of birders where all looking over a stone perimeter wall to the said field – and there it was. My, and I guess many of the watcher’s, first view of a Cream-coloured Courser. We joined the crowd where we could find a gap and enjoyed great views as this completely sandy coloured plover-like bird strutted around the field. Only when it flew into an adjoining field did it reveal its black underwings and black fingertips to the upperwings. What a great tick!

I tried to digiscope it but the perimeter wall was just that bit too high, so I had to be content with some poor record shots with my old Canon Powershot A570is. The two pictures below show some of the crowd (with Val in the foreground). After taking our fill we continued with our planned quiet walk heading towards Chapel Down and back to our boat at Higher Town Bay. On arriving back at St. Mary’s we heard that a Death’s Head Hawkmoth had been trapped the previous night and was on view at Longstones -but that’s another story.


Bird Count 2020 – the casual approach. By Carole & Alwyn Jackson.


As we were not able to participate fully in this year’s WVBS Bird Count we decided that we would take a casual approach by doing some counting whilst motoring around the local lanes during the morning.
We made a late start at 9.30am but just before we departed Carole noticed that there was a Kestrel perched in one of our garden Birch trees. Through the bins we could see that it was devouring what we thought was a small bird. This was a first for the garden in 42 years so got us off to a promising start.
Our first stop was around the corner at Elsing Bridge. We managed to find the male Stonechat that had been present for a few weeks but didn’t see the Kingfisher which is seen fairly regularly. Next stop Bylaugh Sewage Works and churchyard. We failed to find a Grey Wagtail or Chiffchaff but as a consolation Carole spotted a Treecreeper in the churchyard.
Our next stop was Slad Lane at Billingford where we could get a reasonable view of the Swanton Morley fishing pits. We added Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Tufted Duck and Egyptian Goose to our list. On the adjacent field there was small flock of Bullfinches in the hedgerow and seven Stock Doves feeding on the ground.
Worthing Mill was our next stop and to our delight we enjoyed excellent views of 25 Redwing searching for food on the river meadow. Another bonus was the distinctive song of a Mistle Thrush perched in the tree top nearby.
We decided to make our leisurely way along the Broom Green to Great Ryburgh road pausing for a coffee and a bite to eat at the old Raptor Watchpoint. No new species were added here so we moved on to the Gateley Road near Great Ryburgh. From this view point we noticed a flock of 200+ Linnets flying over and around a field in the Great Ryburgh direction so we decided to move nearer to get a better look. Here we met up with two other teams and together we enjoyed the spectacle of an estimated 1000 Linnets forming dark avian clouds over the roadside field.

We were told that there was a flock of Fieldfare near Gateley so decided to go and find them. We failed to locate the flock but did find a Green Sandpiper on a wet muddy area near a muck heap just a few metres away from our car. It must have spotted us as it soon took flight and was lost from sight as it headed in the direction of Bintree Mill. Nearby was a flock of c200 Lapwing.
At this juncture it was time to return home for a bite of lunch and a rest before making our way to the log call at Great Witchingham Village Hall. We enjoyed a cup of tea and a piece of cake in convivial surroundings, a pleasant way to round off the day.

Footnote: It was interesting to learn about one member who had participated in the Count by walking and cycling round his local patch. He is to be congratulated on finding a “greener” form of transport than we did. It is food for thought for future years.

Mopping up in East Norfolk  February 2nd 2020 by Paul Riley.

We were birding the Brecks on the Saturday as our usual Sunday birding day was forecast for heavy rain until early afternoon at least. Although we were complaining, some of the Breckland specialities were found despite the hard going. “Perhaps we should’ve done east Norfolk instead” I said and started writing a list of sites and exact details of where the best birds had been seen. The list looked quite impressive and with a few year ticks to be had. “Sod it, lets go out Sunday as well, I’m driving”, Chris said. Between the four of us we added more sites and birds with Chris at the end of the day saying he would work out a tour by the time we met up in the morning. At 07.30 Chris was driving Ian, Richard and I in the pouring rain to our first stop for Ring-necked Parakeets. We parked at the ring road end of Hellesdon road in the city to check the tall trees by the Wensum. A party of Long-tailed Tits trickled by. “They’re not in the trees where we saw them last year”, Richard said. We split up with Richard and Chris following the river towards the city while Ian and I went the opposite way towards the Marl Pit. Their call soon gave them up, seven of them, Ian picking them up first, we called the others over. It was then a 200m sprint in the still pouring rain back to the car. Chris soon got us up to Wroxham broad. Two carloads of birders were already scanning the broad and we didn’t need to speak to them to realise the Slavonian Grebe hadn’t been seen. It was still raining hard and we were reluctant to get out of the car. “When is it going to stop?” Ian moaned. The car was steaming up quickly and we wound down the windows just enough to peer over the lead-grey broad. I could see Mute Swan, Great Crested Grebe, Coot, Mallard on the broad, then Coal Tit, Great Tit and Blue Tit on the feeders. “I think I’ve got it!” Ian shouted. He was sitting in the front of the car and desperately craning over Chris’s shoulder and peering through the three-inch gap above the steamed up driver’s window. We all jumped out of the car with the other birders asking directions. Ian commandeered one of their scopes and confirmed it was there, on the far side of the broad against the bank. Despite its frequent diving we all managed to see it. The other birders soon left, they were already soaked, and we quickly followed. Next stop was Billockby near Acle bridge. Chis pulled up in front of the barn letting us out while he turned the car around. It was muddy underfoot. Richard and Ian went one side of the barn while I squelched along the other. I immediately saw three Cranes nearby and rushed back to see Richard holding up three fingers confirming the sighting. Still raining too hard to use the camera or get the scopes out, we all got back into the car. Several Common Gulls were in the field opposite as we drove out. Ludham airfield is generally best viewed from the road that runs behind the bottled gas compound. We were reminiscing the possible Smithonianus type Herring Gull and big female Peregrine we found while looking for the swans on our last visit. This time the swans were distant, 25 Egyptian Geese, Stock Dove, 2 Mute Swans and Buzzard were closer. Chris took us around the back roads where we had better views of 70 mixed swans. We didn’t bother getting out of the car because of the rain and to say there were probably more Whoopers than Bewicks was a better option than trying to count them. Not far away was Potter Heigham and its little grey Robin with the red tail. Chris parked the car at Lathams. We sat in the car not wanting to get out because of the rain. “When’s it gonna stop Paul?” Richard said. I looked at my phone and said, “Well it says we’re due 84% rain but should then get better”. We put on our already wet coats and crossed the road to the boatyard. 50 Cormorants flew overhead, and two or three Grey Herons were flying close by between the moored boats, a Herring Gull was worm charming on the lawn. We split up and searched but still couldn’t find it. Other birders joined the search in the 84% rain. A Kingfisher flashed across the moorings with a small fish in its bill and was chased by a posse of gulls. Pied Wagtails were flitting around the carpark, next a call went up “Black Redstart!”. It flew past me and settled on a wooden flower tub by the boatyard sales office. We all got to see it well. “Time to get out of the rain, time for breakfast” Chris said. It was a lovely breakfast from the café next to Lathams and we chipped in to pay for Chris’s. By the time we had finished the rain had stopped. Time to have another quick look at the Black Redstart and maybe take a couple of photos, we agreed. We were told by other birders that two Barn Owls had been seen from a nearby bridge. We investigated but could not find them. A Kestrel and a very bright male Marsh Harrier were seen. I said to the others “Check out the Egret by the cows in the distance”. It was then joined by another. “Bet they’re Cattle Egrets” claimed Ian. Another birder photographed them, blew up the pictures and confirmed it. A nice bonus I thought. We scanned Hickling Broad from the Pleasureboat Inn. “I can see clearly now the rain has gone” Richard sang and immediately found the pair of Scaup we had hoped for. Pochard and another Marsh Harrier were seen also. Chris had planned the day so we would be walking out to Horsey dunes after the rain and he was right. While he was parking the car, we were pocketing our sandwiches for the walk out. I traded a plum for one of Richards Wagon Wheels (good deal I thought) he also offered a swig of his blackcurrant drink. We set out along the Nelson Head track to the dunes. On the way out we saw Pinkfeet, Lapwing, Stonechat, GBB Gull, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Once at the dunes we walked south to the second beach ramp to view the fields. We heard bugling of Cranes and Chris soon had two of them located by the barns in the distance. 8 Bewick Swans flew over and a fox was seen before Chis picked up the Hooded Crow and then the Raven. It took time, but they were now in the bag. The Hoodie put in a later appearance flying close overhead. Golden Plover were seen on the walk back to the car. As Winterton was only down the road it seemed rude not to have a peek for the Eagle Owl. I picked it up right out in the open, in the now bare trees approx. 100m west of the church by a white poly tunnel. It even called several times for us. It was now late afternoon and time for one last site on the way home. We were now birding the marshes between Halvergate and the old Stracey Arms pub for Short-eared Owl. We couldn’t find one but knew two were seen in this area in the morning. We kept looking, scoped a Merlin low down in a bush and watched it fly off. Saw 3 Grey Herons, 3 Buzzards, 3 Kestrels, 3 Marsh Harriers and 3 Barn Owls but no Short-eared Owl. Chinese Water Deer were everywhere. Richard picked up another Merlin flying to a gate, we all had good views as it flew off. It was now getting dark and time to go home. Chris made one last stop midway along Branch road. “Got a Shortie!” I screamed out. It was perched on a gate quite close and on my side of the car. Chris had already packed his camera away and was scrambling to the boot to fetch it. Richard was straining to see it over my shoulder as I was trying to photograph it. We were too scared to get out of the car in case we flushed it. My camera couldn’t focus on the bird because it was so dark, and I think Chris had the same problem. Well, it’s not every day you go out and see everything you set out for. We had been to nine sites and seen everything I had listed the previous day. Cattle Egrets and Merlins were unexpected bonuses. We were lucky. We thank all birders for sharing their information to enable us a superb winter’s day birding. “You could say we mopped up”, Chris said.


Isle aux Aigrettes, March 2020 by Keith Walker

Before the World closed down, Mary & I managed to sneak off to Mauritius for two weeks. I was assured that this was not a birding holiday and given the small number of bird species on the island, it did seem a reasonable prospect.

To be fair we did relax for many of the days, but inevitably there was an endemic crusade that was compulsory.

This was to visit a misnomer, the so-called Ile aux Aigrettes, which translates from the lingua franca Mauritian Creole, as Island with Egrets. Ile aux Aigrettes is a tiny coral island (25 hectares) just off the coast of the town of Mahebourg. The island has been declared a nature conservation site and today is being preserved by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. The island is accessed by boat and is less than five minutes from the mainland.

Ile aux Aigrettes conserves the World’s only remaining piece of “Mauritius Dry Coastal Forest” – a once plentiful vegetation type. It is therefore home to a large number of extremely rare or endangered species of plants and animals.

Over several hundred years, indigenous flora and fauna was devastated by logging and invasive species. In this sense, the islet shared the same fate as the rest of Mauritius. The Dodo and the indigenous species of Giant Tortoise became extinct; as did many species of plant. Dutch & French colonists would take the huge tortoises aboard vessels for fresh meat and rats and other predators were inadvertently imported, which killed off mammals and birds, including the Dodo, Broad-billed Parrot, the Red Rail, and Blue Pigeon which are all now sadly extinct. The Egrets colony was also wiped out!!

The island of Mauritius has one of the highest population densities of wildlife in the world; many of the surviving endemic species are still threatened with extinction, with little protection and great loss of habitat.

Thankfully a Nature Reserve was established on the Isle aux Aigrettes in 1965, and we were fortunate to see endemic plants. including those which had evolved where red veins grow on the leaves until the plants are c 4 metres high as this discourages the past and current Tortoise inhabitants from eating them. The large tortoises now evident are Aldabra, which have been introduced from The Seychelles. Endangered endemic reptiles were also seen on our visit, including Guenthers Gecko (fifth largest in the world), Ornate Day Gecko and Telfair Skink.

Our main hope was to see three species of bird on the island, and we were fortunate to see our endemic targets, which were MAURITIUS FODY, the formerly critically endangered PINK PIGEON which was down to 10 individuals in 1991 and critically endangered MAURITIUS OLIVE WHITE-EYE.

The day out was a fascinating break from the Mauritian Rum and squally rain, which regularly sweeps in to Mauritius from the Indian Ocean.



We only went for a holiday!        By Colin and Susan Smith

Way back in 2002 my wife Susan and I travelled to India in the hope of seeing a wild Tiger.
We stayed on the Sariska Tiger reserve in Rajasthan. At the time Sariska was suffering from
poaching and unfortunately we didn’t see a single Tiger. I understand they have now been
reintroduced, but that’s another story.
Our tour included a trip to see the fantastic Taj Mahal. During our four hour journey, we travelled through a town where we came upon the unfortunate sight of local people dancing Sloth Bears as so-called “entertainment” for the tourists. As you can imagine, we were very upset and closed the curtains on our coach in protest, we felt helpless to do anything else. On our return to the UK we were reminded of this incident when we found an article in one of the Sunday newspapers. It was about a rescue centre which had been setup in the very same area of India in an attempt to get the bears off the streets and in a safe place. They provided a home for the bears and retraining for the people. Dancing the bears was a way of making a living for some very poor people known as Kalandar Gipsies. It had been part of their lives for many years so the retraining was very important to discourage them from returning with another bear and to break the circle. This gave us an opportunity to try and help in some way.
The centre was being organised jointly by an Indian charity call Wildlife SOS and a UK based charity called International Animal Rescue who did the fund-raising. We managed to directly raise some money with sponsored walks, cycle rides and some other activities. For seven years we helped IAR raise money and awareness on a stand at the Rutland Birdfair.
The charities managed to rescue over five hundred Bears from the streets of India to which we were able to make a small contribution.

In 2007 Susan and I went back to India and spent a couple of days volunteering at the centre. We were accompanied by Sue and Jim Ovens who worked for IAR. In 2009 we were told that they had been able to remove all the Dancing Bears from the streets of India which was very satisfying to hear. There is still a need to support the rescue centre in India as there is an on-going need to care for the bears as they are long-lived. The centre is also being used to support similar efforts in other counties.
If you feel you would like any more information please visit the International Animal Rescue website

After our visit to the rescue centre we went to Bharatpur for some great birding and then on to Bandhavgarh National Park where we managed to see eight wild Tigers!

It just goes to show that you never know what you will see as you travel the world.


A Bastille day trip to Frampton Marsh                 By Cath Robinson


Is July 14th too early to go to Frampton Marsh for migrants? Not according to Alan Hughes and the other
birders who were there with their ‘scopes and hopes high. It was a hot sunny day with high tide at 2ish,
so we planned to walk around the reserve and then go to Freiston Shore for more waders.
It’s a good reserve to visit in Corona time as, although the visitor centre and all but one of the hides
were closed, there is a good pathway all around the reserve with some higher points which are good
for teeing up a telescope and so you can get reasonably good views of most of the area, albeit a bit
distant sometimes.

We started off well in the carpark as there were many Swallows skimming overhead and at least one
nest under the roof of the visitor centre. For both of us it was the most swallows we’d seen in one place:
are we the only ones to think that swallow numbers are down this year while swift numbers seem to be
buoyant? (all personal observations and no scientific basis at all).
Our first stop next to the hide where we got a view over the undergrowth (I could really do with a few
more inches in height) was productive. Some juvenile Little Ringed Plovers, a couple of Common
Sandpipers, 3 Spoonbills on the far side, a Ruff but most strikingly, many Black-tailed Godwits in
beautiful full breeding plumage. Alan spotted a Curlew Sandpiper also sporting its brick-red breeding
plumage reminding us both of the many glorious ones we saw on the saltpans of Sanlucar in Spain last
spring. Reluctantly we moved on: we’d only gone about 10 yards so a long way to go!

We saw and heard Reed (1) and Sedge (several) Warblers as we walked around the west end of the
reserve: We felt sure that the Sedge Warblers must be singing territorially as they seemed to set each
other off. I wonder when you stop defending a territory when you have to leave it to migrate south before
too long: I suspect right up to the end! [We’d heard a cuckoo calling on June 26th at Hickling Broad; the
BTO tagged birds left the UK in the first week of July].

There was a single Whooper swan in a flock of Godwits half of which were still in summer
plumage and half moulted to winter plumage. We chalked up more waders although not the wished for Spotted Redshank ideally in summer plumage. But as we were scanning the distant scrapes I
pointed a bird out to Alan “near all the grey mud”. I can’t remember the bird as we gradually twigged
that all the grey mud was thousands of Knot. As we got much nearer we could see that some were
still in summer plumage while others were the more familiar grey. Do any other birds pack quite
so closely together?

Freiston Shore was 30 minutes by car but only just across the Witham river from Frampton. We walked
along the bank out towards the shore to a breach in the old sea wall for maybe 200 metres or so putting
up clouds of meadow browns and small skippers. Common Terns were flying over us bringing fish back
to nests on an island in the lagoon. The tide wasn’t very high but we saw a few clouds of waders and
scattered Curlews on the shoreline and several enormous seals hauled up. There was no one else
there to share it with us and looking out over the Wash, I certainly felt immersed in nature.
So’ July 14th isn’t too early: If there are early migrants they may well be in breeding plumage. [Although
maybe that is a sign of failed breeding? Is it a sign of climate change?]
The real answer is that there is always something to see; just not quite what you might expect.

Photo credit to Cath Robinson


A Kenyan Wader Wonder-lust and a Few Animals Too! Part 1                 By Paul Jeffery

Kenya emerged onto my radar many years ago with the BBC bringing the world’s most spectacular
mammal migration from the Massai Mara to the Serengeti into my front room. It was some years later
that it became apparent to me Kenya was one of Africa’s premier birding locations too, animals and
birds what a cocktail. Kenya was firmly placed into the bucket list but for more reasons than I care to
count it stayed in the bucket for over 25 years, time to come out.
I felt the sun was becoming closer the horizon of my world birding activities so I researched my options
and after quite some time I opted for three weeks instead of two. I also decided upon a private tour
instead of a standard tour company. In the early part of 2016 I had booked through Birding Ecotours
based in Cape Town for a September departure. It has been over six years since a major trip in an
African country as South America had taken precedence in recent years.
September 2016 duly arrived and on Friday the 9th of September I took the short drive to Norwich
Airport. At 14:10 I departed bound for Schiphol Amsterdam and then an overnight flight to Nairobi
Kenya. I cannot say the flight was a good one as very little sleep was obtained, nevertheless the plane
landed in Nairobi at 06:00 local time just as it was beginning to get light. I soon found my guide Titus
who soon had me away to the Jacaranda Hotel in the city. Here I checked in and was treated to my first
African breakfast, this was most welcome as the flight food had been left wanting. With breakfast over,
we were soon out on the road again, African Palm Swift, Pied Crow and Yellow-billed Kite were seen
along the way to a nearby forest. Here there was a ringing station, most of the ringers here Titus had
trained, birds in the hand was a nice surprise. Yellow-whiskered Bulbul, Grosbeak Weaver and
Whitestart Robin were all ringed and I was allowed to release the Grosbeak Weaver, with a bill similar
to a Hawfinch the bird didn’t linger in my hand very long.

Whitestart Robin

We walked the forest trails and along the nets rides where a few more birds were seen, Cinamon-breasted Bee-eaters, White Bellied Tits and Grey-headed Kingfishers brought some colour to the
proceedings whilst overhead an impressive Silvery-cheeked Hornbill took to flight. It was a low key day
to start the trip and I was back in the hotel room by late afternoon, nevertheless I had seen eight new
Sunday September 11th and the trip really started today with a 05:00 get up for breakfast and a 06:00
get away with a packed lunch. We meandered our way out of the city onto the Mombasa Highway, this
is the road that links Uganda to the coast needless to say there were plenty of heavy goods vehicles
on the move. After two hours we entered the Great Rift Valley and began heading southwest. Two hours
later the tarmac ran out, the rest was a bumpy track, very bumpy in some places and progress became
slow. After six hours of travel we arrived at the main gate, the entrance to the Maasai Mara NP. This
was stuff of legend, this is what I had seen on TV in my front room and now I was here.
Wildebeast, Plains Zebra, Thompson’s Gazelle and Impala were numerous. A Bare-faced Go-away-Bird was the first notable bird then a superb Martial Eagle gave us the eye as it flew past at very close
quarters before alighting in a nearby tree, magnificent bird. Sooty Chat was a new bird too but it was
quickly evident they were plentiful. We soon encountered our first Lions, two young males.

It wasn’t long before we encountered two female Lions too with a Zebra Kill, one seemed content to look on
whilst the gorged herself on the meat pausing to look up, her face was bloodied all over.



Giraffe grazed on some Acacia trees and a small heard of Elephant pass by, all this excitement we
seemed to be lost in time, the day was fading quickly. The skies were blackening and rain fell for a
while, I didn’t have rain on the schedule. Nevertheless, as we approached the Mara Serena Safari
Lodge and sandwiched between the inky clouds and the horizon the sun was going down in a golden
blaze like a fanfare to a magnificent day.

Maasai Mara sunset

The following morning the alarm sounded at 05:20 and just after 06:00 the sun puncture the horizon
illuminating the Maasai Mara plains as far as the eye could see, Plains Zebra and Wildebeast were
everywhere a truly magnificent vista. Venturing out into the Maasai Mara after breakfast a female Lion
had drawn a few admirers but as the crowd grew she became camera shy and disappeared into the
grass. The vehicle for the trip was a 4×4 ten-seater van with a pop up roof complete with two CB radio
or so I thought it was CB. In finest Swahili I was corrected, it wasn’t CB radio but a Bush Telephone!
Whatever it was the airways had been crackling and there was news of a possible animal migration
across the Mara River today. On arrival at the river there were over fifty vehicles already in position, the
Wildebeast and the Zebra were on the move but very little was happening. There were several Nile
crocodiles lurking in the water which perhaps had put them on edged and enforced a prolonged stand


Wildebeast and Plain Zebra crossing The Mara River

Cutting our losses, we moved on, further down the river we encountered 45 Hippo’s all bunched
together and nearly seventy along a three hundred yards stretch of the river, I had never seen so many
so close together. The heat of the day was rising so too were the Vultures, out on the Maasai Mara you
didn’t have to look far to find a dead animal, this in turn had twenty or thirty Vultures around it. It is hard
to find an argument to say that they are not ugly, but huge impressive and successful they are and a
very important part of the ecosystem. White-backed Vulture and Hooded Vulture were the norm whilst
Lappet-faced and Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures were often present in small numbers. Our attention had
been drawn to two superb Temminck’s Coursers, the first interesting wader of the trip. Magnificent birds
but the Bush Telephone was coming into play. We were soon heading back to the Mara River post
haste. A lot of the Wildebeast and Zebra had crossed by the time we arrived but several hundred did
cross while we were there and a patient Nile Crocodile did get its reward.
Lunch was taken back at the safari Lodge followed by some down time. The lodge was built in 1973
and it certainly didn’t look its age, a wonderful place to stay indeed. Over lunch Holub’s Golden Weaver
was a new bird, Red-rumped Swallow and Blacked Headed Oriole were seen. Birding resumed at 15:30
and we set off in a different direction than in the morning. A wet area with many small pools was viewed,
here White, Yellow-billed and Woolly-necked Storks along with African Spoonbill. The pools had waders
too, African Jacana, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint. By 16:30 the blacken clouds were yielding rain
for the second day in a row, peering out of the top of the van looking at a Little Stint in the rain seemed
a bit like home, but it wasn’t cold. The weather made the next two hours difficult birding so we headed
for the Safari Lodge early, just before we arrived a Coqui Franklin was beside the track rounding the
damp afternoon off.


Photo credit to Paul Jeffery


A Kenyan Wader Wonder-lust and a Few Animals Too! Part 2         by Paul Jeffery

After two nights at the Mara Serena Safari Lodge it was time to leave, but slowly as we
meandered back towards the main gate where we first arrived and today had several surprises.
After a while birding in the bush we came across a concrete obelisk with a line down the middle
and someone had casually sprayed a T one side and a K the other. I failed to spot the
significance of all this until Titus explained we had been inside Tanzania for twenty minutes. I
will except a country tick no matter how it comes along, no official had seen my passport!
Moving on we found four lions in the shade of a large tree lazing around. The Bush Telephone
had been at work again but all communication was in Swahili so I was not aware of what was
going on. Driving into the open we were beside a huge expanse of controlled burnt area and in
the middle and perhaps a mile from the nearest bush or tree, two magnificent Black Rhino’s.
We watched them for ten or fifteen minutes, in which time they didn’t bother to move. Eventually
we moved off leaving them where they were, a memorable moment.

Black Rhinos – Maassai Mara


It was 13:30 by the time we eventually exited the main gate of the Maasai Mara. There was a
long way to go, indeed we had a long way to go before we found tarmac again too. The rest of
the day was travelling, we didn’t stop for our packed lunch that was eaten on the move. We
were heading north up the Great Rift Valley and the next stop was Lake Naivasha, that much I
did know. What I didn’t know is where we were staying. It was all but dark by the time the van
pulled up at Elsamere, the former home of Joy Adamson. It is moments like this when you feel
very humble and at the same time feel not worthy. In the world of African wildlife there are few
names that resonate across the African continent any louder than Joy’s. Born free. After dinner
I was escorted back to my detached accommodation as evidently the wildlife roams free in the
garden here.

My accommodation bungalow


Elsamere, the former home of Joy Adamson


There was to be very little driving today, therefore there was no need to set the alarm clock
early too. However, I was awake long before the alarm sounded, an adult African Fish-eagle
saw to that, screaming its head off from a tree top long before first light, a magnificent wakeup
call all the same. After breakfast we roamed the garden and the lake fringes for two hours in a
very productive session with Grey-capped Warbler and Buff-bellied Warblers being new birds.
We took a short drive to Crescent Island, which wasn’t an island at all just a promontory that
jutted out into the lake and was reached by a road. Once again, we went by foot, it was surreal
here as the animals roamed here too, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Grant’s Gazelle, Impala and Zebra
in close proximity to where we were walking, amazing stuff. There seemed to be birds
everywhere. Brown Parasoma, Eastern Honeybird and Black Cuckooshrike were all new birds.
The lake’s shoreline was littered with birds, Pelicans, Storks, Gulls, Terns, Herons, Egrets and
of course waders too. Greenshank, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Long-toed
Plover to name but a few, I know many of the waders were familiar names from home but I was
sunk in a wader feast! Eventually Titus said “we ought to be making our way back to Elsamere
for lunch” it was already passed 13:00. As we set off for the van, we passed two Kenyan Rufous
Sparrows along the way which were new birds. We eventually arrived back to Elsamere at
14:20 rather late for lunch, but lunch had been saved for us. We resumed birding around 16:00
but rain was falling and we did not venture far in case it became heavy. The late afternoon’s
activity was highlighted by a Red-chested Cuckoo in the garden, this apart the rain seemed to
keep the birds at bay. Nevertheless, over a hundred species had been seen today and the trip
list had passed the two hundred mark. After dinner I spent a long time admiring the memorabilia
hanging from the walls, there was some of Joy Adamson’s original art work still here, quite

After two nights at Elsamere sadly it was time to leave, the alarm was set for 06:10 and I
managed to wake up in my own time, there was no sound from the African Fish-eagles this
morning. I stepped out of my accommodation bungalow at 06:30, it was already light and there
was an adult female Giraffe right outside my door. I am not sure who was the most surprise at
that time of day, the Giraffe or me!? During breakfast the Giraffe and her calf roamed the back
lawn as if they owned the place, I am sure Joy would have approved. We spent an hour in the
garden after breakfast. Hindebrandt’s Francolin was a new bird whilst a superb Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike is always welcome.


A Maasai Giraffe roams freely in the garden at Elsamere during breakfast

Grey –capped Warbler also in the garden at Elsamere


Continuing north up the Great Rift Valley our next destination was Lake Bogoria, we crossed
the Equator at 11:30 and arrived at Lake Bogoria at 12:15. At the lake side there were
Flamingos in abundance, several hundred Greater Flamingo but Lesser Flamingo were present
in their thousands.


African Pygmy Kingfisher (a bird I had been looking after for so long)

Greater and Lesser Flamingos both at Lake Bogoria.


Quite a spectacle, a Great Rift Valley spectacle too. Also, on the shoreline there were waders.
I cannot remember seeing so many inland Sanderling before, Grey Plover and Kittlitz’s Plover
were also here but little else. We progressed north along the track beside the lake keeping one
eye on the lake one side and the bushes the other. Our driver Mathias stopped the van and
pointed his finger low into a nearby bush and there a diminutive bird, indeed Africa’s smallest
Kingfisher the African Pygmy Kingfisher. Ever since my first visit to the African continent this
bird had eluded me, what a bird, the bird of the day!!
Over the lake a true migratory spectacle was taking place, our humble Barn Swallow from home
and the rest Europe was on the move and heading south. I have no idea what a million Barn
Swallows would look like on the move but if someone told me that was how many there were,
there was no reason to disagree, hundreds passing every minute the lake was full of them. A
magical spectacle. Eventually it was time to head south again, we reached our hotel just before
dark at the end of a memorable day.

Barn Swallows resting beside Lake Bogoria during migration along the Great Rift Valley


Friday 16th September saw an early start for some pre breakfast birding, I was out the door
without even a coffee! There was a short drive before arriving at an inland cliff face. Here Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Bristle-crowned Starling, Crimson-rumped Waxbill and Red and Yellow
Barbet were all new birds. It was back to the hotel for breakfast and at 10:00 there was a boat
trip on the lake. Malachite Kingfisher, European, Madagascar, and Northern Carmine Beeeaters put some colour into the proceedings.
The boat ride had not been duly profitable, nevertheless enjoyable and relaxing. Out on the
water many of the birds were seen very close indeed. It is better birding from an open boat than
cooped up in a van. The boat trip finished at noon; lunch was an hour later followed by a siesta
in the heat of the day. Birding resumed late afternoon and the day had cooled off a bit. Exploring
some rough ground close to the hotel we stumbled upon a magnificent Hueglin’s Courser. The
bird was in the open and seemingly oblivious to our presence as we approached to within fifteen
feet, not a new bird but very close to being the bird of the trip.


Hueglin’s Courser, Lake Boringo


We were not out late afternoon for waders but owls. There was a short drive up the road to a
rocky out crop. Here Pearl-spotted Owlet was soon located and almost immediately African
Scops Owl and it was not long before Verreaux’s Eagle Owl was seen too. Our next bird gave
us a bit of a worry but eventually the Spotted Eagle Owl gave itself up and Slender-tailed
Nightjar too. None of these were new birds but I cannot remember seeing four species of Owl
in such quick succession.
Saturday 17th September, we had a long day on the road ahead of us. Breakfast taken, bags
packed we were on the road at 07:30. It was time to leave the Great Rift Valley and the lakes
behind and head up the Ugandan Highway. Our first and only stop of the journey was at the
Chebloch Gorge. Our quarry bird here was the White-crested Turaco but it wasn’t giving itself
up easily. When all seemed lost and after searching longer than I cared to do so three birds
made themselves known, relief as this was our only chance of them.

Titus, Willy and Mathias on a forest trail in the Kakamega Forest, Willy had this ability to point
a finger at a tree, locate and identify a grubby little brown job long before I could see it!!


The building is my room at the Rondo Retreat.


We continued on and after eight hours we had arrived at the Rondo Retreat in the Kakamega
Forest. It was clearly evident the habitat was much different from anything seen before on the
trip. Lush greenery and tall trees accustomed to rain forests. The gardens were beautiful with
flowers and carefully mown lawns. But as with most rain forests it was raining. Having checked
in we were wasting no time getting out into the field again rain or no rain. Red-tailed and Blue
Monkeys were a delight. With just a few hours at our disposal we did not venture far from the
grounds of the retreat, we didn’t need to: Grey-throated Barbet, Chubb’s Cisticola, Stuhlmann’s
Starling were all new birds. The rain kept falling and the skies were very grey and the light was
poor. Blue Flycatcher, Black-billed Weaver, Turner’s Eremomela and in the dullest of light,
Equatorial Akalat, time to call it a day. Eight new birds in the briefest of time I could feel the
Kakamega Forest was special, I was excited about tomorrow.

Sunday 18th September, after a day in the van yesterday it was a day on foot today. Breakfast
was at 06:00 and birding at 07:00. We crossed the wonderful lawns, passed through a gate on
the edge of the Rondo grounds and out into the rain forest. There was a sign indicating a 4-
hour walk, we descended a little until we were on level ground. Joyful Bulbul, White-chinned
Prinia, Dusky Tit, Brown-chested Alethe, Grey-winged Robin-chat and Uganda Woodlandwarbler, for a moment in time I seemed rooted to the spot, there were birds everywhere and
the day had continued as yesterday had left off. Moving on slowly the birds were still in
abundance, Blue-shouldered Robin-chat, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Eastern Bronze-naped
Pigeon, Banded Prinia and Ansorge’s Greenbul, the show was relentless but two birds were
about to steal the show. Turaco’s are often elusive for their size and quite vivid and when you
eventually see one, one becomes aghast as to why you couldn’t see it in the first place. Today
was the same we could hear them, Titus had pointed out the call but seeing them was another
matter, then all of a sudden three came through the air just below the canopy and settled in full
view, Great Blue Turaco, what a bird. Twice the size as most Turaco’s I had seen before, one
could not fail to be impressed. Not so large and lurking in a solitary fashion illuminated by a ray
of light piercing through the canopy a Blue-headed Bee-eater, what a bird. For my money both
birds were vying for the top drawer.
Eventually we arrived at the bank of the Yala River at 11:00, with recent rains it was in spate.
The heat of the day could be felt through the canopy however it was nice to catch a breath or
to, the birds had slowed up too. Nevertheless, there were still birds to be seen, Brown-capped
Weaver, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Olive-green Camaroptera kept the ball rolling. At 13:00 Titus
suggested we should press on for lunch, we emerged out onto the main track. Here there was
another sign saying Yala River walk three hours, um that was puzzling. I would not stake any
claim to being a mathematician but three plus four equals seven! Unbeknown to me Titus had
managed to join two walks together in the rain forest but who was I to complain – what a morning
we had had. We had been on our feet for over seven hours by the time we returned to the
Rondo Retreat, just ahead of some heavy rain.
After some lunch and a short siesta we drove up the road to a pumping station trail Titus knew.
The sun was beginning to dip and the forest was quiet however Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike,
Brown-eared Woodpecker and Least Honeyguide rounded the day off nicely. As the day finally
faded it seemed bizarre to see Common Stonechat sitting in the middle of a Tea plantation.
Today will live long in the memory as a red-letter day as 24 new birds were achieved, better
than any day I had anywhere in recent memory.

Photo credit to Paul Jeffery


Kenyan Wader Wonder-lust and a Few Animals Too! Part 3           by Paul Jeffery

Monday 19th September, was to be another day on the road. Some post-breakfast birding was
done around the grounds of the Rondo Retreat before putting our bags in the van and heading
off. Leaving Rondo seemed to come all too soon – it was truly a wonderful retreat I suspect a
handsome garden list too. We slowly made our way along the track towards the main road,
birding as we went. Petit’s Cuckoo-shrike was the only new bird of note before reaching the
main road, with the tarmac in sight and a long way to go, I slipped down into my seat for a
snooze. By the time I lifted my eyelids again we crossed the equator again and it was snowing!!
Titus assured me it was not snow but hail, either way a frosty substance so close to the equator
without a mountain in sight seemed bizarre.
Our next destination was Nakuru NP; it had been raining before we arrived there and showed
no sign of stopping when we got there. Lunch was taken mid-afternoon in the van with Baboons
looking on for a morsel. Overhead many swifts, mainly Little Swifts but several Nyanza Swifts
too which was a new bird. On the ground four White Rhinos were a joy to behold at close
quarters. The rain was unrelenting and we headed to the hotel early.
Tuesday 20th September, Nakuru had been only used as a stopover rather than a place of
discovery. Nevertheless, Titus suggested some pre-breakfast birding as he explained we were
to be in the van a long time today. Yesterday’s rain had ceased but a cool air lingered, there
were to be no new birds before breakfast, only the odd trip tick. We revisited the White Rhino’s,
the little herd of four had grown to six overnight. A mother with her very young calf had joined
the four, once again excellent close views and a young fellow too, what a joyful sight.

Breakfast was taken and at 10:00 then we set off north. Our first and only stop was for lunch at
Nyahururu, the home of the Thompson Falls, the same Thompson as in Gazelle. It was raining
again and our adventures here were limited as we pressed on. Titus was right, it was a long
day in the van again as we arrived at our destination at 17:00 in the Mount Kenya NP. Arriving
so late there was very little time for birding before night fall. Nevertheless White-browed Crobec,
Chestnut-throated Apalis and Moustached Tinkerbird were all new bird in a brief sortie. My
bedroom window overlooked the floodlit drinking pool, there were no animals coming to drink
but a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl was perched upon a light fitting looking on.
Wednesday 21st September, there was no coffee forthcoming to start the day – it was straight
out the door at 06:00. At 7200 feet there was a cool start to the day, evidently some people in
the lodge had gone to bed with a hot water bottle, really this is Africa!! We went by foot from
the lodge. Hunter’s Cisticola, Oriole Finch, Brown Woodland-warbler and Abyssinian Crimson-wing were new birds. In true African style breakfast came and found us in the bush; coffee,
relief. The cool air had lost out to the rising sun and the sun’s rays restored heat to the bones.
The morning’s birding was brief as we were due back on the road again. Before the day’s cloud
descended, I did manage to see the top of Mount Kenya albeit rather distant. At 11:00 we on
the road again and going north. A 5 hour journey was about the norm for Kenya now, so it was
snooze time.
At 16:00 we arrived at Samburu NP, Somali Bunting, Parrot-billed Sparrow and DonaldsonSmith’s Sparrow-Weaver were all new birds here. A wet area produced waders, Wood
Sandpiper, Little Stint, Greenshank were all familiar but African Snipe was very pleasing indeed.
As we headed for dinner a lone Somali Ostrich was wandering in the distance.
Dinner was in true African style under a wooden structure with palm leaves as roofing material,
it was open plan as to be close to the wildlife. There was a floodlit area where to watch. But
there was no need the wildlife was in the restaurant! Unbelievably two Small Genet Cats were
creeping about under the tables seeking morsels, magnificent stuff I had never seen them so
close before or so well.
Thursday 22nd September and a full day was waiting for us in the Samburu NP. There seemed
to be birds everywhere, refreshing my memory of yesterday’s birds and new ones today too.
Golden Palm Weaver, Somali Fiscal, Banded Parisoma and Somali Bee-eater were new. It was
satisfying to get better views of Somali Ostrich today with two birds at close quarters. The
morning seemed to pass in no time and soon gave way to the afternoon.
As in the south the Bush Telephone also worked in the north, we were suddenly driving quicker
than usual. Entering a small clearing surrounded by tall trees and there about ten feet off the
ground slumped over a broken branch about 25 yards away a leopard staring back at its
intruders. Time stood still as the soul soaked in the moment, it wasn’t bothered, it was his tree
and who was arguing with that. Magical.

Eventually we left the leopard in peace, there were plenty of elephants, giraffes and many
gazelles to be seen too. Also here, Vulturine Guineafowl, which seemed to live up to its name,
a bit ugly around the head and scruffy too. Chestnut Sparrow, Golden-breasted Starling and
Fischer’s Starling brightened things up again. The day was fading and the sun was going down
in a blaze of glory.
Dinner was taken again in the wooden restaurant under the palm leaves looking out into the
floodlit area the Small Genet Cats were already in evidence here again. I finished my first coarse
and my desert had just arrived when a call went out “Striped Hyena”! I was out of my seat in a
flash to have a look, Striped Hyena was new for me. Eventually I turned back to my table only to find both Small Genet Cats helping themselves to my deserts. It was strange I really didn’t
mind it was a joy to see.
Friday 23rd September, it was time to leave Samburu NP and head south again. I was up before
the alarm sounded, coffee was taken in the restaurant, a lone elephant roamed in the distance
in the early morning light. Today was a driving day there was no time for birding as we set off
along the dusty track. A Secretary Bird was the only bird of note before reaching the tarmac.
After driving for four hours we arrived at Nanyuki on the Equator. Here I bought a few things,
watched the match sticks in the bucket spin one way 10 feet north of the Equator and turn the
other way 10 feet south of the Equator and stop still on the white line that was the Equator. I
received a certificate to prove it and parted with more money than any sensible person should
have done!?
After our tourist interlude, we continued south, our next stop was at a Del Monte shop about an
hour’s drive from central Nairobi. Behind the shop pineapples were growing as far as the eye
could see, inside they were selling them, how fresh can you get? I happen to love tropical fruit
juice and their fruits too, but they have a habit of not liking me. I know I shouldn’t have but I did,
I had a half a pineapple and a large pineapple juice. We continued into Nairobi and arrived at
the Jacaranda Hotel about 15:30. Titus and Mathias went off to their families in the city. The
rest of the day was my own, down time. I do not rest easily but the hotel gardens did not reap
any rewards.
With time on my hands and unguided by Titus I arrived at dinner early. Perusing the menu, I
could not resist prawns on the starters menu, quite possibly the second stupid thing I had done
in the same day. Without putting too much detail on the subject my sleep was over by 03:30
and the bathroom was being frequented on a regular basis.
Saturday 24th September, having had a disturbed night I was down in the hotel foyer early and
feeling fragile. I explained to Titus my current state and I would be skipping breakfast.
Thankfully Titus knew a pharmacy less than a mile away and suitable medication was located.
Heading out of Nairobi for the final time, we were now heading towards the coast and ultimately
the end of the adventure, but there was still time to see a thing or two.

Once on my medication I slumped into my seat and caught up on lost sleep. I cannot recall
much of the journey but we were now at Hunter’s Lodge and it was lunch time, Titus relayed to
me I had not missed anything. I only ordered a bowl of chips but only managed to eat three of
them. There were very few birds at Hunter’s Lodge but White-headed Barbet was a new bird.
Lunch taken, then we continued onto Tsavo arriving at 15:30. We birded the dusty track towards
our accommodation. Blue-capped Cordon-bleu was the only new bird along the way. Still
feeling fragile I decided to skip dinner and head straight to bed at least the medication had
proved its worth.
Sunday 25th September, as it transpired Tsavo was merely a stopover point, it is however
Kenya’s largest National Park at 11,700 square kilometres. We probably didn’t have time left
on the trip to have a look round. Breakfast was taken and we set off for our next destination.
Heading out along the track Northern Brownbul was a new bird whilst familiar birds like Northern
Wheatear and Black-crowned Night-heron were new for the trip. Our time in Tsavo was brief.
By late afternoon we had arrived at our next destination, Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. Where
Tsavo was lacking Taita Hills was stunning. It is not often you enter the reception area where
you are staying and you can find a real live elephant!! Well not exactly in the reception but
nearly, the reception was an open plan area, there was a hand rail to stop you getting too close
or falling out, only ten feet below was a drinking trough. If one stretched out one’s arm and the elephant its trunk, I am sure contact could have been made, they were that close, a surreal
experience indeed. The elephants came to drink throughout the day and the night too.
The accommodation rooms were like gigantic toadstools, round rooms with a pointed roof
supported by a single round concrete pillar. The elephants could roam around below where you
were sleeping. Indeed, their stomach rumblings and their trumpeting could be heard as you lay
in bed at night, what a wonderful way to be kept awake.

Monday 26th September, the alarm sounded at 06:00, breakfast at 06:30 and on the road by
07:00. At breakfast Titus was unusually helping himself to extra bread rolls so I asked “what he
was up to?” “For the birds” he replied. Barely 500 yards down the road the van was stopped
bread rolls broken up and in no time at all we had a van roof full of Superb Starlings, a couple
of Long-tailed Fiscals joined in on the activity too.

We had a 2 hour drive ahead of us today so once the bread rolls were gone we were off up the
track. Apart from my unfortunate tummy upset, today was quite possibly another day of
misfortune too. Two dips, one loss and a road closure. We were heading into the hills, into a
high-altitude woodland, our quest the endemic Taita Thrush, which has a very small range
indeed. However, along our route today the road was blocked and a detour ensued, it was
gone 10:00 by the time we arrived at the woodland, not ideal.

We spent over two hours in the wood searching and ducking under low branches but the Taita
Thrush had eluded us, Black-headed Apalis and Taita White-eye were new birds. On a scrubby
bank outside of the wood a Striped Pipit was a new bird too. From our elevated position Titus
had informed me more than once that Kilimanjaro could be seen on a good day. The highest
mountain in Africa, the highest free-standing mountain in the world had eluded me too, this was
the biggest disappointment of the day.

The afternoon was far from productive and little was noted, arriving back at Taita Hills an
abundance of elephants were drinking from the water trough. If all else the lephants will bring
joy. On a brighter note I had passed 100 new birds for the trip today. The other down note, I
lost my specs in the wood and only had one pair left now.
Tuesday 27th September, the alarm was set at 05:30 for some pre breakfast birding. There was
no need for an alarm clock today the elephants below my room began trumpeting from 04:00
thus little sleep thereafter, but what a wakeup call. I could settle for that wakeup call every day.
Our short drive produced Harlaub’s Bustard a new bird and Greater Kestrel and Red-billed
Buffalo Weaver new birds for the trip. Breakfast was taken and a few bread rolls were taken for
the birds. The usual candidates vied for a free meal, Superb Starlings and Long-tailed Fiscal.
It was time to head to the coast and hit the Mombasa Highway. What a road, bumpy, dusty and
far too many lorries, it was a bit of an endurance test. At last the first House Crow – the coast
must be nearby. It certainly was, we stopped to pick up our local guide Willy and lunch was
taken at Mida Creek. The bird of note here was Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul, I say of note most
Greenbuls and Bulbuls are very forgettable!
Lunch was taken by the coast; it was very hot here at sea level. Lunch taken and we headed
inland to a fresh water lake. Most of the birds here were familiar, African Open-billed Stork,
Pink-backed Pelican and White-winged Black Tern were new bird for the trip. Walking back to
the van Zanzibar Red Bishop and Malindi Pipit were new birds. We arrived at Turtle Bay Hotel
by the beach just ahead of the rain.
Wednesday 28th September, there was an edge of sadness, the last day of the trip was upon
me. Most days throughout the trip a packed lunch was the order of the day. However, organising
a packed lunch for this coastal hotel was clearly asking a lot and confusion took over and we
departed the hotel later than planned. Nevertheless, we were eventually on our way and picking
Willy up again on the way to some nearby coastal forest. Little Yellow Flycatcher, Scaly Babbler
and Green Barbet were soon found. Fischer’s Greenbul, Tiny Greenbul, East Coast Akalate
and Little Spotted woodpecker were all new birds before lunch.
Lunch was taken back on the coast at Mida Creek, the tide had only just turned however waders
were in evidence. Lesser and Greater Sandplovers and Terek Sandpipers all seen during a
lunch break. Lunch taken we headed back to the forest, driving down little dirt tracks which
seemed to go on for miles. Eventually we stopped, Willy got out and led the way, soon his finger
was pointing at something. A diminutive Sokoke Scops-owl, how would anyone find that on
their own? The afternoon was creeping on and we headed for the coast again, this time the
open ocean.
We drove along beside the dune system and parked. Still there was a long walk to the beach.
Eventually we passed through a gap in the tall grasses and there was the Indian Ocean growling
at us. The sea was grumpy and rough, the skies grey an easterly breeze blew into our faces
and the was light rain in the air, I could feel the beckoning call of home in the weather. On the
shoreline there were waders that were not from home, Crab Plovers and lots of them. What a
finale to an epic 3 week trip through Kenya. We turn with the wind at our backs and set off
through the sand dunes towards the van. As we walked a Fiery-necked Nightjar took to flight
which was our 485th and final bird of the expedition.
We arrived back at Turtle Bay Hotel well after dark our farewells seemed to have come
around very quickly. I thanked Titus and Mathias for a wonderful trip and they duly departed.
A taxi had been organised to take me to Mombasa airport in the small hours of the morning. It
was time to go home.



A Trip to Strumpshaw Fen.               By Ann Walker

Ann recently enjoyed a day out at Strumpshaw, and although it was fairly quiet for birds, she did see an otter, as well as Marsh and Long-tailed Tits, Grey Heron, Swift and Wren.



Photo credit to Ann Walker


Bass Rock                           By Mateo Skinner-Pelaz

On our holiday to Scotland this summer, we went to Bass Rock on the east coast of Scotland.
From a distance it looked like snow, but up close it was home to a quarter of a million
There were still fluffy chicks and on the same rock there were Shags and Kittiwakes. I also
saw Jelly Fish and an Arctic Skua. There were hundreds of Gannets circling a section of the
sea, there must have been a shoal of fish swimming by.
Unfortunately, there were no puffins on Craigleith Island when we visited. There is a problem
in recent years as a weed has grown and established itself and the roots stop the puffins from
digging their rabbit hole type of nests. The numbers went down then volunteers came to pick
the weed now the birds are thriving thanks to the volunteers who went on an RSPB boat.
Sadly, we had to wear a facemask on our trip, the tour lasted one hour. There was a castle on
the island of Bass Rock and a light house.
It was the best bird moment of my life!

Photo credits to Mateo Skinner-Pelaz


A Winter trip to St Lucia.               By Sue Bryan


In 2019 John Geeson and I enjoyed a wonderful short winter trip to Mauritius and so sought
somewhere we could have another short winter trip in 2020 where we could relax and enjoy
some winter sun with a bit of birding as well. At the time we had no idea of the pandemic that
was to envelop us all and this would be our only foreign trip of 2020.We felt grateful that we
managed to ‘get this in’ before the travel restrictions affected us all. We had friends that had
been to the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean and recommended a hotel that they had enjoyed
with a good birding garden set on an exclusive hillside overlooking a bay.
After a long flight and a few car hire issues at the airport we set off for our hotel watching
Magnificent Frigate birds flying overhead. Enroute to the Marigot Beach and Dive Resort we
drove along a very twisty but good surfaced road and saw Grey Kingbird, American Kestrel,
Broad-winged Hawk, Western Cattle Egret and Carib Grackle. Using Google maps which I had
downloaded onto my phone before leaving home, we navigated our way to the inlet of Marigot Bay
and after parking the car boarded a little ferry across to our cabin overlooking the bay. What a wonderful view we had as the sun set and the lights came on. We enjoyed our evening meal in the warmth of the evening by the sea.

10th January
John and I were up early and decided to see what we could find in the gardens of our
accommodation, which was a spacious room half-way up the steep hillside with wonderful views
across the bay from our balcony. We watched a Brown Pelican fly across the bay along with
a hovering Osprey and a Royal Tern feeding. Lesser Antillean Bullfinches were common
as were the St Lucia race of Bananaquit. In the bushes we watched a Lesser Antillean
Saltator as well as Black-faced Grassquit. Zenaida Doves were also feeding on the grass.
We were delighted to see Brown Boobies out at sea too as my last view of one had been one
in Cornwall!
At breakfast we watched Carib Grackles and Lesser Antillean Bullfinches around our
breakfast table down on the balcony by the sea. It was delightful to sit by the sea in the sun and heat.
After breakfast we drove to the forest at Union where we were told that all the trails had been
closed to visitors because of the new construction taking place. Not a good start! We went to
the office to see the boss where he kindly arranged access and a guide (Canice Peterson) to
another trail for us the following day so that we could see some endemic birds. We birded in
and around the visitor centre at the edge of the forest and saw Antillean Crested
Hummingbirds, Tropical Mockingbird, Common Ground Dove and Zenaida Doves as well
as Purple-throated Caribs.

As our time was much shorter at Union than we anticipated, we drove onto Dennery where up
one of the side tracks we watched Green-throated Carib, Black-faced Grassquit and
Caribbean Eleania as well as adding Rock Dove to our list as a Broad-winged Hawk flew
over us. Along the roadside telegraph wires Grey Kingbirds were common but we watched
one here hawking for insects.We chanced upon Mamiku Gardens as I was in need of a cup of
tea. This turned out to be a good stop as the botanical garden was full of birds. However,
although we had had a lot of sun with high temperatures, a feature of our holiday was to be
many short, sharp showers which were a nuisance and we learnt to carry an umbrella with us
wherever we went. We were merrily watching a tree full of Spectacled Thrush, Scalybreasted Thrasher and Purple-throated Carib when another downpour had us running for
cover. We just about reached the tearoom when the heavens opened. The pot of tea for two
was delightful on the balcony as we watched an Antillean Crested Hummingbird constantly
feeding on the flowers beneath us. It was a delightful spot as the rain soon stopped and the
sun came out once again. We also added Snowy Egret to our list here as a bird surprised us
lurking behind the trees. We returned to the ferry and sailed across to our accommodation where a Pina Colada was
most welcome on the decking by the sea!

11th January
After our discussions yesterday with the boss at the forestry headquarters at Union, we were
up before breakfast and had requested an early morning ferry ride across Marigot Bay to meet
up with our guide Canice (US$ 30 each) who was there to greet us as we disembarked on the
other side of the bay. We followed him in our car to The Millet Trail where after a bit of fun
getting the gates unlocked with some assistance from a hammer, we walked up to a view point
over-looking the forest. En-route we watched several St Lucia Black Finches on coconuts that
had been set up as feeders. After a bit of a wait we watched two St Lucia Parrots fly across in front of us
as well as watching another perched parrot some distance away. We
walked back down and had brief views of a St Lucia Warbler before we
started a quite strenuous steep forest trail where we walked up to another viewpoint where we saw more St Lucia Parrots flying across the valley. Considering the effort involved we saw very little, partly because it was
necessary to watch where every footstep went on the steep gradient using our walking poles.
We saw nothing on the descent until we were back on level ground where we saw Grey
Trembler, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, more St Lucia Black Finches and a St Lucia
Oriole near a few more coconut feeders. The forest was very dark making photography almost impossible. Near the end of the trail Canice and I watched a Pearly-eyed Thrasher on a coconut feeder. Above our heads Canice pointed out a Boa Constrictor which was wound around a branch of a tree.
We returned to our room for a picnic lunch where we stayed for the afternoon. John’s knee had taken quite
a beating on the trail and I had started a migraine. We were both grateful for a lovely place to be for a restful afternoon and evening watching the boats come and go in the bay.

12th January

Today was meant to be a non-birding day as I wanted to see the volcano at Sulphur Springs
on the island and John wanted to visit The Pitons, a World Heritage Site. The Pitons are two
mountainous volcanic plugs that are quite spectacular to see. Gros Piton is 798.25 metres high,
and Petit Piton is 743 metres high and are linked by the Piton Mitan ridge near Soufriere on the
west coast of St Lucia. However, John and I were still up early and birded the resort grounds
before breakfast where we found the St Lucia Pewee, a bird that we had failed to find
yesterday. We were delighted as we were told it was a higher elevation bird.

After a lazy breakfast and noting a Red-billed Tropicbird at Anse la Raye as we stopped to
admire the view, we drove onto Sulphur Springs, a volcano where you can drive right into the
crater. En-route we stopped at a convenient point where we had good views of The Pitons.
Once at Sulphur Springs we took a guided tour and watched the hot bubbling mud pools in the
centre of the sulphur-smelling crater. As with most tourist spots it was crowded and we soon
opted to walk to a quieter area. We left our guide and birded above the crater where we found
a Black-whiskered Vireo in the heavily vegetated area on a pathway leading to a small hotel.
Another rain shower interrupted our birding and we returned to the car and drove down to
Soufriere. The rain had stopped and the sun had reappeared. We treated ourselves to an icecream whist watching Magnificent Frigatebirds diving for offal from the fishermen in the
harbour. A Laughing Gull here was also new for the trip.

It was now very hot and so we returned to our apartment where I enjoyed a swim in the sea
after John spotted an American Kestrel perched by our room.

13th January

John was eager to do the Descartiers Trail in the Quilesse Reserve, a high elevation trail that was going to take us all day to get there and actually do. You are supposed to book ahead and pay the entry fee but we found two
workers who took our money as we arrived. (25 ECD each) We knew it might take some time to get there up some small, twisty and steep lanes. I had managed to find it on my downloaded map on my phone but we also
had some good directions from trip reports. I would advise anyone to download a map of
St Lucia using Google maps before arriving on the island as signs do not exist on St Lucia
and junctions often don’t have road markings, so it is not obvious which way the route you
want goes. There are no maps of any trails at the reserves we visited and so maps from trip
reports are vital. We followed the road for 6km after leaving the main road through the smart
village of Ti Roche and found a small road on the right that cuts back sharply with a small
sign to the reserve. After about 2km we turned left uphill. There is a sign but easy to miss. Shortly after we turned right along a track which deteriorated as we went along it. The reserve was at the end of the track. We
encountered a few mosquitoes here but none that required any repellent. After parking up and
paying our fee, we set off along the trail not realising there was a cross track by some steps.
Luckily, we had met Vision (a guide) along the trail that we had spoken to at Birdfair and he told
us where to go. We turned left at the steps and after about ½ mile found a fence where we
could look out over the valley below.

This area by the fence was one on the most productive areas that we birded as we had
seen almost nothing on our route up. We watched St Lucia Oriole, Lesser Antillean
Flycatcher, Antillean Euponia, flight views of St Lucia Parrot, Purple-throated Carib, St
Lucia Pewee, Grey Trembler, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, St Lucia Warbler, St Lucia
Bullfinch and Bananaquit here over a period of an hour or so. I also saw Scaly-naped
Pigeon which unfortunately John missed. We walked back and had a picnic lunch before stopping near Dennery on the roadside to watch Lesser Antillean Swifts as well as a Broad-winged Hawk perched.
At Cul De Sac we added Shiny Cowbird to our lists before stopping for the supermarket here
for some food supplies.

14th January

Today was planned to be another ‘non-birding’ day where we could do some swimming and hopefully
some snorkelling. We set off and John drove to Pigeon Island where we parked in a large car park
by the beach. The sea looked incredibly rough on one side of the promontory but calm on the other
side. We stopped on the rough side to watch some Brown Boobies on a small rock offshore before wandering
along the calm side along the beach watching the Ruddy Turnstones, Royal Terns and Magnificent
Frigatebirds as we went. By a few market cabins we watched Common Ground Doves, Shiny
Cowbirds and Carib Grackles.

It was hot and we wandered over to a beach bar and ordered a Pina Colada for me and a beer
for John. I asked how much we owed and it was explained that there was no charge as we had
inadvertently wandered in to an ‘all exclusive’ resort. We had ‘bucked’ the system as we had
come along the shoreline rather than through a gap in a wall where there were security guards.
The barman was very pleasant to us as we enjoyed our free drinks that I offered to pay for, but
a security guard with no sense of humour glowered over us. Our relaxing free drinks were
supped up at a pace I would rather forget! Hey ho! Grins all round then!

We both enjoyed a lovely swim in the aquamarine blue sea with the sun beating down on us as
we discussed our rather generous hosts giving me a rather huge slug of rum in my Pina Colada.
It was a wonder that I was then fit for anything!
On our way back we called into the Union Forest Reserve once more where we were invited to
walk most of the trail as long as we returned the same way to avoid the area where the new
construction was going to take place. Here was our best chance of Scaly-naped Pigeon which
John still needed to see. Luckily, I managed to find one which John had flight views of but it
took off from its perch before I could describe where it was sitting. We saw another Grey
Trembler but little else before the rain set in.

15th January

We had a day left and two target species (Whitebreasted Thrasher and the
St Lucia sub-species of House Wren) to find. I contacted Vision and he suggested a location near
Praslin Bay opposite where there is a half-built abandoned hotel. We walked down the road about
400 metres and found the gap that Vision had described on the opposite
side of the road. We saw a pair of St Lucia Pewee flitting around as well as Green-throated
Carib and Antillean Crested Hummingbird. A Black-whiskered Vireo gave us a heartstopping moment before John identified it. A Scaly-breasted Thrasher put in an appearance
before we decided to visit Mamiku Gardens once again where the thrasher had been reported.
We walked a trail that the owner of the garden recommended for the Thrasher
and I managed a couple of record shots of a St Lucia Warbler. However
dark conditions and too many thin tree trunks made photography difficult.
After another pot of tea for two we left for a site near Lumiere. The track was
impossible to drive, so we walked along it towards the beach where we
saw a Green Heron and a Great Egret. Black-faced Grassquits and
Shiny Cowbirds were common alongside the ditch. We failed
miserably in our quest for either of our target species though and returned
back to Marigot Bay for a lovely barbeque out on by the chefs at the resort.

16th January
Our last day had arrived but our flight was not until the evening so we thought we would explore
the west side of the island. However, it took us rather a long time to check out due to a mix-up
in our bill and the ferry not running which had been taken out of service for maintenance. We
had to call for help to trundle our suitcases to the other beach and catch another boat which
had been called to take us across to the other side of the bay where our car was parked.
Once we had loaded our suitcases we headed once again for Soufriere stopping off to watch
Magnificent Frigatebirds flying over various bays we encountered. At one estuary we watched
Little Blue Heron, Great White Egret and a Green Heron. By late morning it was very hot
and we sought an ice-cream at Soufriere. We were given the biggest bowl of Banana ice-cream
I have ever seen. It took some effort to eat it all. We made our way to the Diamond Botanical
Gardens where we walked up to the volcanic waterfall. John was in his element identifying
plants for me. A Grey Trembler perched on a Ginger plant as a Green-throated Carib zipped
around. Near the exit a Lesser Antillean Bullfinch posed for a photo but I only had my iphone
with me as my camera gear was all packed ready for our flight later on.

After lunch we drove to Aupicon near the airport where an exceptionally kind cafe owner
at ‘Grill n Chill’ not only let us use his car park but supplied us with free alcoholic drinks too!
We walked across to the lake where it was covered in Common Gallinule and Bluewinged Teal. A Great Blue Heron flew across at the back of the lake as well as a few Snowy Egret and another Little Blue Heron.
We also saw a few Caribbean Coot.

All too soon in the heat of the day we returned our car to the airport and caught our evening flight back to Gatwick.

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