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THE PROGRAMME FOR SPRING 2017 IS NOW ON MY

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Jan 15th - 28th. - Sri Lanka. £1750

Feb 12th -27th - Costa Rica - full

Mar 20th - 30th Morocco - 10 nights. - £1190

April 5th - 12th - Andalucia migration tour. - £750 - 2 places

April 16th - 24th - Coto Donana & Extremadura - £950 - 2 places

April 29th - 6th May. - Lesvos - £875

May 8th - 15th - Portugal - full


May 13th - 21st Bulgaria - £850

May 23rd - 30th - Andalucia birds and butterflies - £750

May 31st - June 8th. - Extremadura and Sierra de Gredos - £950

June 12th - 20th - Pyrenees and Picos de Europa - £1050


FLIGHTS NOT INCLUDED IN THESE PRICES



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Red-throated Bee-eater

Red-throated Bee-eater
join us for a fantastic tour of The Gambia this November

Monday, October 24, 2016

AUSTRALIA - 21-DAY EAST COAST TOUR - DAY 1

CAIRNS BEACH FRONT – MANGROVE SWAMP – REDDEN ISLAND – MACHAN BEACH – CAIRNS CENTENARY LAKES – CAIRNS CEMETERY

WEATHER: hot, dry, humid at times with some cloud cover. Top temp 30C.

The tour officially started at 6:30am as we all gathered in the foyer of the hotel in readiness for our first birding excursion. Most of the group had arrived a few days prior to today and despite a sizeable list of species being amassed we wiped the slate clean and began again from now, it was quite fitting that the first bird we saw as we made our way on foot towards the esplanade was the very common and most colourful Rainbow Lorikeet.

We arrived minutes later at the sea-front after watching White-rumped Swiftlets, White-breasted Woodswallows, Pied Imperial Pigeon and the tiny Peaceful Dove along the way. The tide was half way out and -the exposed mud-flats had hundreds of waders feeding on them. The giant Eastern Curlew towered above the diminutive Red-necked Stint whilst many Great Knot were used as a ‘yard stick to measure all the other mid-height species against.

White-breasted Wodswallow

Apart from the usual wader species which were made up of godwits, tattlers and sandpipers we saw Greater & Lesser Sandplovers, Pacific Golden Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Australian Pelican and an Osprey. The bushes in the parkland immediately beyond the beach were alive with bird calls and movement, we found Yellow and Varied Honeyeaters, Olive-backed Sunbird, Nutmeg Mannikin (aka Scaly-breasted Munia) and lots of Willy Wagtails, Magpie Larks and Masked Plovers.

We made our way to the mangrove swamp and found it to be far less productive than our previous visits over the last few days. But Barry our guide knew of a nest site of the tiny Double-eyed Fig Parrot and sure enough we had wonderful views of a pair. We also logged Collared Kingfisher, Large-billed Gerygone (also visiting a nest), Olive-backed Oriole, Figbird and the recently named Hornbill Friarbird ( a split from Helmeted Friarbird).


The smallest Parrot in Australia - Double-eyed Fig Parrot

From there we walked back into Cairns for breakfast at the hotel, we reconvened at 10am when we boarded our bus and drove north to Redden Island at Machan Beach. It was hot and sunny with a cooling breeze coming in off the sea. Our target bird was soon found as two Beach Stone Curlews were sighted across a river mouth. We also logged Black Kite, Common Greenshank, Terek Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Pacific Reef & Intermediate Egret and plenty of common wading birds. Our search for Red-capped Plover went unrewarded but we did see hundreds of other waders.


Redden Island - looking onto Machan Beach

The Cattana Wetlands Nature Reserve consists of a series of pools and surrounding scrub, woodland and mangrove swamp. We walked onto the reserve and spent a long time getting anywhere because so many birds were popping out from the scrub or sitting out on the water.


Little Bronze Cuckoo

I think the group mostly enjoyed Little Bronze Cuckoo, Comb-crested Jacana, Green Pygmy Goose, Little Pied Cormorant and Varied Triller. After a long walk we decided to head off the reserve along a back track which took us through some scrubland with small, open pools. It was there that we found the delightful Red-backed Fairy Wren, Black-banded Dotterel and a couple of superb Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.


Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in beautiful summer plumage


Black-fronted Dotterel

Back in Cairns we had lunch at a small restaurant in the suburbs and for the last couple of hours we visited the Centenary Lakes and the large cemetery. At the lakes we enjoyed watching a Mistletoe Bird visiting it nest, the nest was a hanging ball made of spider’s webs intricately woven into the most beautiful nest I have ever seen!


Mistletoebird and its nest below



Some of the group had previously found a Papuan Frogmouth sitting on its nest on the edge of the largest lake, it took a while to relocate it but when we did we all were amazed by cryptic camouflage of this strange bird’s plumage. During the remainder of the walk we added Brahminy Kite and not much else.


Papuan Frogmouth sitting on its nest

Our final hour was spent walking through the cemetery where good numbers of birds were seen, in particular we saw a dozen or so of Bush Stone Curlews, also lots of Rainbow Bee-eaters, Rainbow Lorikeets, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Varied Triller, Olive-backed Sunbirds and some very aggressive Masked Plovers.

We jumped back on the bus after watching Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike near the exit gate, our last bird of the day. We drove back to hotel and dispersed for a break before dinner at 7pm.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

AUSTRALIA - PRE-TOUR BIRDING - DAY 5 Saturday 22nd

CAIRNS NORTHERN BEACH AREA AND MANGROVE SWAMP

WEATHER: wall to wall sunshine, lovely breeze at the coast, top temp.  28C

This was my last pre-tour day, I had a lot of client-ferrying to do throughout the day so I had a nice leisurely morning and a wonderful breakfast with Dan and Gail on their terrace. We watched Horned Friar (formerly Helmeted Friar) and Yellow-spot Honeyeater at the bird bath and from the garden I watched a pair of Ospreys eating fish near their nest on a pylon, Dusky Honeyeaters feeding in a bottlebrush bush, White-rumped Swiftlet in the sky above me and I could hear Wompoo Pigeons calling in the forest.


The Horned Friarbird, a Queensland endemic now split from the Helmeted Friarbird - it's still ugly no matter what you name it!

At 10:30am I set off to the airport which is a 10-minute drive, I collected Tom, Steph, Reg and Dave who had just arrived from Singapore. They landed on time and within 15 minutes they were at our hotel in Cairns.


Yellow-spotted Honeyeater taken from Dan and Gail's terrace.

I went back to the airport and collected Mike who also arrived on time from Sydney, I drove him back to the hotel in Cairns. After a short settling in period we all met up to go birding, I ferried them all to the northern beach area in the car, it was high tide and a narrow strip of mud remained adjacent to the mangrove swamp.

We soon listed several waders including Terek Sandpiper, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits and a Caspian Tern, it was great to see both Godwits standing close together, here is an identification tip to separate the two if you are struggling, look at the legs!


Both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits standing side by side


look at the legs! Shorter from the 'knee' up on the Bar-tailed Godwit

We then walked on the grass parkland looking into the mangroves as we went, several birds were flitting about, we connected with Mangrove Robin, four different honeyeaters, Nutmeg Mannikin, Figbird, Magpie Lark, Willy Wagtail, Spotted Turtle Dove, Bar-shouldered Dove, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Horned Friarbird (recently split from Helmeted Friarbird) an endemic to N. Queensland.


Caspian Tern

After an hour or so we met up with Bob, Mike and Lorna, the three members of our group who had arrived a day or so earlier, so now I had a group of eight with two more arriving later this evening. We stayed for another hour enjoying many of the common species and adding Little Bronze Cuckoo to the list.


a close up of the strange-looking Northern Masked Plover it has larger facial-wattles than its counterpart in the south!

I left the group back at the hotel at 4pm and drove back to the airport a to collect Barry Davies, our guide for the Queensland section of the trip. Barry flew the shortest distance but he arrived 30 minutes late. By the time he was settled into the hotel it was time for me to go back to the airport and collect Helen and Jeff, the final two members of the group who flew in from Ayers Rock!


Grey-tailed Tattler taken this morning from Cairns' esplanade

 At 7pm the whole group went off to eat along the esplanade but I returned to Dan and Gail’s and picked them up so we could go out for our final dinner together. We sat on a terrace looking over the marina eating deliciously cooked ribs at their favourite restaurant in Cairns, yummy!

I was shattered and by 10pm I was in bed, I don’t want to see another airport for a while, thank you!

Friday, October 21, 2016

AUSTRALIA - PRE-TOUR BIRDING - DAY 4 Friday 21st October 2016

CATTANA WETLANDS – CAIRNS MANGROVES – CAIRNS CEMETERY

WEATHER:  CLOUDY TO START THEN FULL-ON SUNSHINE. TOP TEMP 30C WITH A FAIRLY STRONG BREEZE

I had a super breakfast with Dan and Gail on their open terrace, Dan made his speciality crepes  the view over the forest and down to the coast is to die for, Kookaburras were laughing and Orange-footed Scrubfowl called loudly. I saw Brush-Turkey in the garden and both Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Pied Imperial Pigeon flew over.

My return visit to Cattana Wetlands was as good as the first two years ago, even the mozzies were delivering quality bites!  Though not brimming with birds there was enough to keep me occupied, it took a while to get out of the car park because so many birds were flitting about. As for calls, well I’m never going get on top of all of those!


Comb-crested Jacana - 'walking ​on water'

Flocks of Metallic Starlings shot over me whilst Olive-backed Orioles called and Figbirds ate figs, I spent a while sorting out the martins, hirundines and woodswallows that were hawking insects over the trees, then I set off onto the reserve. A series of large ‘tanks’ hold large bodies of water covered in lilies, ideal habitat for the Comb-crested Jacana, Green Pygmy Goose & Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants. I was a little disappointed with the lack of ducks, herons and egrets etc. but the smaller passerines were good.


Green Pygmy-Goose

I had excellent views of both Nutmeg & Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, Crimson Finch, Golden-headed Cisticola, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Black Butcherbird and lots of common birds. I left after about 3 hours because I wanted to get to Cairns beach before high tide.


A male Figbird - a beauty, eh!
At Cairns the tide was almost at its highest just as I got there so not many birds were left on the fast disappearing mud. However, one goodie remained with the godwits and the Great Knots and that was the Terek Sandpiper, my best views ever of this enigmatic bird. An Eastern Curlew was fairly close too. Just then I bumped into Bob Longford and we walked along the grass verge to the mangroves. Many birds were feeding there, we caught up with a number of good species, Mangrove Robin was one of them, Spangled Drongo was another, Collared Kingfisher, Restless Flycatcher, Brown Honeyeater, Spotted Turtle Dove, Peaceful Dove and many more.


Mangrove Robin

From there we split up, I drove to the Cemetery whilst Bob walked into town for a late lunch. At the cemetery I watched many birds for a couple of hours, Rainbow Bee-eaters and Bush Stone Curlew were two of my targets and both showed well. I never added further species to the list but enjoyed a good hour with the birds and the dead people.


another beauty - the Rainbow Bee-eater


Bush Stone-Curlew

I was back at Dan and Gail’s house by 3pm, I watched the garden for a while, finding Laughing Kookaburra, Dusky Honeyeater and more Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.


Terek Sandpiper is the bird on the right with Great Knots


Terek Sandpiper - taken though the heat-quiver​ with Great Knot and the larger Bar-tailed Godwit

Five o’clock found me at the airport collecting Lorna & Mike Taylor, they arrived on time and I transferred them to our ‘group’ hotel in the centre of Cairns where I left them with Bob Longhorn.

For dinner Dan, Gail and I went into Cairns and ate at their favourite Japanese restaurant, yummy, we were back home by 9pm and I went straight to bed.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

AUSTRALIA - PRE-TOUR BIRDING - DAYS 1 to 3 Tuesday 18th - Thursday 20th

Tuesday 18th 11:25am - LONDON to SINGAPORE (13 Hours 15min) SINGAPORE to SYDNEY (6hrs 30am) - I arrived in Sydney at 7:45pm on the 19th October it was dark! Getting through customs was a doddle.

Rob Griffiths picked me up from Sydney Airport and we drove to his house in the suburb of Balmain. Rob is going to lead the New South Wales section of the forth-coming tour. Rob, Sylvie and I sat up and talked until just after 11pm and then I went to bed, I was flight-zonked and slept extremely well.

THURSDAY 20TH OCTOBER

Sydney Harbour walk then transfer flight to Cairns - birding the sea-front at Cairns

It was nice to wake up this morning to a lovely spring day, it was cloudy but a nice temp. of around 16C. A Grey Butcherbird was the first bird-call of the trip which was quickly followed by Noisy Mynahs living up to their name. A short birding session in the garden confirmed my ‘calling-list’ with sightings of both species and also Rainbow Lorikeets, how could such a beautiful and exotic looking bird be a common garden species?


Sydney harbour looking from the 'Dry Dock' area of Balmain

After breakfast Rob and I walked down to the quay at the harbour, we walked through lovely parkland and the re-developed quayside walkways with countless dog walkers and feral pigeons.

This old ‘Dry-dock’ area has a colourful history of which Rob enlightened me as we walked, interrupted only by bird sightings and calls. We added Silver Gull, Pied Cormorant, Red Wattlebird, Willie Wagtail, Australian Magpie, White Ibis, Magpie Lark, Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike, Crested Pigeon, Spotted Turtle Dove and a Koel (a migrant Cuckoo) called from the other side of the water (where we had begun our walk) so we made our way back there. The Koel moved further away as we arrived and so we missed it.


A smart looking Pied Cormorant

However, a good sighting of a pair of Laughing Kookaburras more than made up for our miss. That concluded our birding in Sydney for now. We had found 15 species most of which are very common birds in the Sydney area, it was also interesting to note that a third of them were black and white in colour.


the very common Willy Wagtail

We walked into the local High Street to do a couple of chores before walking back to the house. I packed my bags said goodbye to Sylvie, then Rob kindly drove me back to the airport to catch my 2pm flight to Cairns, it’s hard to believe that after a 3 ½ hour flight you land in the same country.


Red Wattlebird - you can just make out the red wattles on the neck and the yellow belly.


Two Laughing Kookaburras

Cairns was hot when I landed at 4pm local time (yes I changed my watch for the fourth time in a week!), I collected my hire car and drove into town, heading for the famous esplanade. The first birder I bumped into along the Esplanade was Bob Longhorn, one of the group, a very early arrival.


The very long-billed Eastern Curlew

We walked together birding as we went, the tide was just going out and a number of species were feeding on the exposed mud, birds were dotted all along the shoreline with a bigger concentration towards the northern mangrove swamp so that’s where we headed.


could have bern taken in Europe! Bar-tailed Godwit with Curlew Sandpipers

We noted Bar-tailed Godwit, Great Knot, Red-necked Stint, Grey-tailed Tattler, Curlew Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Masked Lapwing, a couple of Intermediate Egrets and lots of Silver Gulls.


A view out into the bay from Cairns Esplanade - Silver Gull, Barwits and Great Knot in the foreground

The strip of parkland between the beach and the town was crowded with people, hundreds of them, I’ve never seen so many people keeping fit, joggers, cyclists, boarders, etc etc. All them appeared oblivious to the huge number of Rainbow Lorikeets gathering in the trees above them. We walked to the mangroves noting many Willy Wagtails, Indian Mynahs, Magpie Larks, Pied Imperial Pigeons, Peaceful Doves, Olive-backed Orioles, Honeyeater sp.,


a very bad record shot in very poor light of Rainbow Lorikeets

An Australian Pelican caused a huge panic amongst the parakeet roosts as it flew very low over the parkland, what a noise and such numbers of birds, it was amazing to see. Very soon the light began to fail and in a matter of minutes it was twilight then it went dark! At 6pm we parted company I drove a few kilometers out of town to Stratford where my good friends Dan and Gail Reardon live, they are putting me up for 3 nights.

A delicious fish meal of Goldenband Snapper with a cold beer was fantastic, what a great meal, it was very enjoyable meeting Dan and Gail and Dan 'junior' again. Dan and Gail are ‘early-to-bed’, in fact we were all tucked in by 9pm!

No flights tomorrow just leisurely pre-tour birding!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

SPAIN - UK a birding contrast!

During October 10th - 12th we travelled back to the UK from Andalucia, Spain. On the 10th we set off passing through a very dry Spanish hinterland, we drove from Gaucin to Bilbao, some 600 miles.

On the 11th October we woke up to a light frost!! I couldn't believe it, the temperature was 28C yesterday and below zero this morning - after scraping the ice from the windscreen of the car we completed the drive to the Bilbao Ferry Terminal.

Our trip across a very calm Bay of Biscay went uneventful, I saw a few of the common gull species but I never saw a single whale, dolphin, sunfish, shearwater.........just a couple of Northern Gannets, how disappointing was that!

Back in the UK on the 12th the weather was cloudy, around 15C but dry.
Scenes from the trip

What a contrast, from this:-


taken a few days in Southern Spain

to this - taken yesterday from my garden in Stamford






The birding scene is a little different too!

from this:


to this:



a recent twitch in the UK.

Friday, October 7, 2016

SPAIN - ANDALUCIA - 5-DAY TOUR - DAY 5 - OCTOBER 5TH 2016

ENCINAS BORRACHAS TRACK - SIERRA DE LAS NIEVES PARQUE NATURAL - GUADALMAR - GUADALHORCE PARQUE NATURAL

WEATHER: Hazy sunshine to start, quite windy am then bright sunshine and clear sky all afternoon. Top temp 28C

Our last day had arrived, it was also my last day of guiding in Spain for this year! We decided to visit the mountains in the morning and the coast near Malaga in the afternoon.

A late breakfast at 8am was followed by a 40 minute trip in the car to the Encinas Borrachas track near Ronda. It was quite windy and there was a nip in the air so on went our fleeces! A Southern Grey Shrike was first on the list followed quickly by Common Stonechat, Goldfinch and my 'favourite', the Corn Bunting.


l to r -  Chris, Nathan and Nigel

We were wind-swept along the track but the birding wasn't bad in excellent light. Many Griffon Vultures slowly drifted over, they appeared to 'hover' as they held quite still facing the easterly wind, a couple of Common Kestrels were seen over the high peaks but no other birds sat up there.
As we approached the heath we got out of the wind a little and found a few more species, several Whinchats sat up nicely for us as did a pair of Thekla Larks, we also saw Linnets, Greenfinches, Chaffinches and a few Barn Swallows dashed passed.

On the return walk we added Spectacled Warbler, one showed fairly well but briefly and a couple of butterflies were noted, Rock Grayling and Clouded Yellow.


a wind-swept Whinchat

At Sierra de las Nieves we parked at the entrance picnic site and walked to the drinking trough. A male Common Redstart showed well and a couple of Jays flew off, that was all we saw in the picnic area. At the trough we saw Cirl Bunting and Willow Warbler!

We drove a couple of kilometers into the reserve and parked at usual place in an open valley near some farm buildings, it was much better here though still windy. We had brief views of Rock Bunting and four Black Wheatears showed very well. A couple of Red-billed Chough flew up and over the nearest ridge and with patience we all got to see Dartford Warbler very well.


record shot of Black Wheatear

That concluded our morning's birding, we drove back to Gaucin for lunch, Dawn joined us as we ate in a local bar/restaurant, courtesy of our clients. We ate a lovely meal out on the terrace, smashing.
It was 3pm when we re-assembled, I had to drive Chris to Torremolinos train station so he could catch a connecting train to Malaga then onto to Madrid where he lives. We left him at 4:30pm and drove the short distance to Guadamar Golf Course. My remaining two clients, Nigel and his son Nathan, hadn't seen a Hoopoe on the trip and the golf course was the place to find one.

We parked on waste ground near the golf course and quickly found a Hoopoe! We also saw dozens of Monk Parakeets as well as Little Ringed Plover, Jackdaws, Yellow Wagtails and a few Gannets out to sea.

Greenshank


Great White Egret - my first for Guadalhorce!

For the last couple of hours we visited the nature reserve at the Guadalhorce river, it was a superb visit as we listed around 40 species. We spent our very last hour sitting in the raised hide overlooking Laguna Grande. The evening light was exquisite, Nigel's camera was working overtime!


Little Ringed and Greater Ringed Plover - see the size difference and shape?


juvenile Kentish Plover

Our sightings included; Osprey, Great White Egret, Ringed, Little Ringed & Kentish Plover, Common Snipe, Dunlin, Ruff, Greenshank, Green & Common Sandpipers, Greater Flamingo. Common Kingfisher, Great Reed Warbler (a nice and surprising find) and plenty of gulls.


a Ruff and a Reeve - the Ruff thinks its spring and is trying to 'court' the Reeve - extraordinary behaviour for October


Ruff displaying to Reeve - see the size difference between them?


the Reeve finally dumped the Ruff

Well it was soon time to go, I dropped Nigel and Nathan at Malaga Airport at 7:45pm and drove back to Gaucin arriving home just after 9pm.


a female Pintail was a nice find at Guadalhorce

It had been a wonderful few days with Chris, Nigel and Nathan with some great sightings, we couldn't agree on a 'bird of the week' but all of us had fond memories of the superb morning at Laguna Medina, it was magical!