Tuesday 31 January 2023

Lanzarote - Day 1

A trip to a small island is unlikely to feature a massive number of birds, and Lanzarote is no different. As such the main focus was on a small number of specialty species for which the wider Canary Islands are known, particularly the inhabitants of the large sandy plains like Cream Coloured Courser and Houbara Bustard. Mick and I started at the Jable de Famara in the north-west of the Island. As you descend towards the plain from its eastern edge it does not look particularly large, but as you head into it the size becomes apparent. A few main tracks that are perfectly easy to drive cross it east to west, and there are then innumerable smaller paths that with care you can also drive along in order to cover a bigger area. I don't know how many Bustards and Coursers inhabit this area, but in two hours that morning we didn't see a single one! In short, hard work. Berthelot's Pipit and Short-toed Lark were very common, and we also encountered a few Raven, a ringtail Hen Harrier and several Great Grey Shrikes

Berthelot's Pipit

Approaching mid-morning we gave up, and after a bite to eat in a nearby village we went to explore La Isleta on the west coast. This was pretty good for waders, and per eBird is one of the better sites on the island. This was simply for a breather really, and we were soon back on the plains for round two. Another hour and a half trying new tracks netted excellent views of a party of Coursers on the western side, but even that was brief, and as for Bustards!

Slightly to the east of the Jable de Famara is the Jable del Medio. This is greener and less dusty, with more agriculture, and amazingly we found a Houbara after a few hours of searching. Getting anywhere near it, even in the car, proved almost impossible, and whilst we gave it a go we lost the light. As dusk approached, the original Bustard joined three others that must have been lurking nearby and we got clear if distant views as they fed unconcernedly in a field.

Houbara Bustard! Five seconds of opportunity after a day of looking!

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Lanzarote - Logistics and itinerary

Lanzarote, 10th-13th December 2022

I am still playing catch up from last year. Colombia took so long to write up that I only completed it about two months after getting back, but actually only a few weeks after returning I had a few days in Lanzarote with Mick. In some ways it was a bit soon after getting back from South America, but I have a habit of doing this. I book up trips with great enthusiasm many months in advance, thinking that it will all be fine, but when it comes to it I would actually rather be at home than packing my bag and trekking to the airport again to subject myself to the vagiaries of international travel. Until I get there of course, when I revel in being in a new place with new birds. It was not a long trip, just three days, and this was the perfect length actually as Lanzarote is not a big island and there are only a few primary birding areas. Having visited Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura, this was the last major Canary Island on my list. It was warm and there were birds, and it was ridiculously cheap. And we missed the bulk of the freezing conditions back home!

  • A three day trip in mid December departing London on Saturday afternoon and returning on Tuesday afternoon.
  • Flights: from Heathrow to Arecife on British Airways.
  • Covid logistics: None, Spain has totally dispensed with all controls.
  • Car Hire: Avis, a bargain little VW of some sort.
  • Accommodation: A two bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Arecife, extremely cheap out of season. Fully appointed kitchen but we ate out instead as we were  not staying long enough to go shopping.
  • Food: Tapas!
  • Literature: The Collins and eBird.


Day 0: Arrived ACE at 7pm, picked up the car and then a short drive to the flat. Dinner and bed.
Day 1: Spent most of the day driving small tracks in the Jable de Farama area (1), La Santa (2), and the Jable del Medio (near 1) looking for Bustards and Coursers.
Day 2: The south of the Island, starting at the Salinas de Janubio (3), and then the Playa Blanca area (4), returning to Punta Lima (4) in the afternoon to look for African Collared Dove. Final hour at the Jable del Medio where we found a pair of Hoopoe feeding young.
Day 3: A morning session with the Hoopoes and then back to the airport.

Saturday 21 January 2023

Staines Reservoir is the coldest place on earth

I've not been to Staines Reservoirs since 2017, twitching a Shore Lark for my London list. I used to be quite keen on my London list, but as with many things the ardour is cooling. Or has cooled perhaps. Going to Staines certainly has that effect, the causeway is one of the coldest places on earth. Any time you are there in the winter months it is not long before you start to question why exactly it is that you are there, and whether there might be somewhere else you could go. Somewhere warmer....

Back in the day I used to go to Staines reasonably frequently. Frequently for someone who lives an hour away that is. The beauty of my immaculate record keeping shows that between October 2007 and October 2010 I visited 11 times. This was in my heydey when almost everything was new, and in 2010 I think I was I pursuing a London year list, and as Staines kept on producing juicy rarities I had to keep shlepping over there. Chasing a year list is the ideal medicine for getting year-listing out of your system - never again - and since then I'd been over there just twice. 

This morning I went again, the prize a Lesser Scaup, the first in London (that I am aware of) for many years. It required an early start, but London Transport did not let me down, and two short bus rides saw me arrive in front of Tony's house right on time. It was all his idea - I'd been vaguely aware of this bird from a report earlier in the week, but had been so busty I'd forgotten about it. Had I been required to get myself there I doubt I would have bothered, but twitching is always better with other people, and so when he sent a casual enquiry last night I took him up on the offer immediately. 

We were onsite by 8am, the sun just rising. It was quite beautiful in its own way. Glacial, but beautiful. The flock of Pochard were close to the NW tower on the south side and so the views were actually pretty decent. The bird even woke up for about ten seconds whilst we  were there, not a great ratio but it was enough to get a bit more of a feel for it. By golly it was cold though. Walking through Wanstead at 6am had been fine, but the causeway at Staines is a whole new level, it is scarcely believable that it is even in the same country such is the temperature differential. It starts in the extremities, the tips of your fingers go numb through your gloves. It creeps up your legs from your feet, you feel yourself cooling down, losing sensation. Pretty soon it is unbearable. You stamp your feet, rub your hands together, but it is a losing battle. God knows how the locals manage to bird the place year round. And this was on a day with no wind, the water was completely still. I vividly remember taking my son with me when twitching a Red-throated Diver when he was about ten years old, one of the worst parenting decisions I ever made. He is still with us, but it must have been a close run thing. We stuck it out for an hour or before running for the heated seats of the car. 

Disingenuous photo from Arizona in 2016!

Friday 20 January 2023

Colombia - Trip List

Here is a day by day trip list from Colombia. On some days we started in one place, had a bit of a drive, and then finished in another so sometimes it does not really work. However this is neatest way to keep it all in one place and is a good summary. For anyone who requires a further level of detail, eBird's new Trip Report functionality is the way to go, and was the starting point for this table. You can see it here. The taxonomy is how it is presented in eBird, with the exception of Tanagers which are a complete mindfield and where I saw fit to create my own sub-families in order for it to a bit more digestible. I should also point out that this is my list and I that I did miss a few team birds, as everyone probably did. Collectively we probably got to about 340. It did not always feel prolific, but it is clear that we saw a massive amount when you sit down and peruse the list and I would describe the accumulation as fairly measured. The 336 I recorded were all seen, I have not added the heard only birds which included a few more Tapaculos, and (memorably, in the worst sense!) another Antpitta. 239 species were new to me which is a pretty good ratio, helped by never having visited neighbouring countries. The crossover for me was mostly the ABA birding area and to a much lesser extent, Costa Rica and Tobago.Wonderful birding, I would go back tomorrow.

Colombian Andes, November 11th-19th 2022

Sunday 15 January 2023

Colombia - Day 9 - Montezuma (lower) and a short stop in the Cauca Valley

Packed and ready to go, we left the lodge on food to walk a short way up the Camino Montezuma once again. No jeeps this time, John and Duber got a lie in. No such luck for Alejandro and Gleison! We had not birded this section of the trail in the morning before, and were assured that at this time of day there would be a host of new species to listen out for. They came thick and fast - Slaty Antwren, Parker's Antbird, Zeledon's Antbird, Slaty Spinetail and a rare Spotted Woodcreeper. For a while it was non-stop.

Spotted Woodcreeper

Our morning lasted about four hours, a short walk up the track and back on a section we had mostly only driven through previously. A clear highlight was Plumbeous Pigeona bird for which nobody else harboured any enthusiasm whatsoever but I was insistent that I see one. Bloody thing pooting away in the forest constantly but could I see it? No, or at least not until one of the guides found me a silent one just sitting on a branch looking at me. Excellent.

Purple-throated Fruitcrow

Plenty of other good birds seen, Lemon-browed Flycatcher another new one, and also Greyish Piculet which we had seen lower down in the valley and excellent views of Purple-throated Fruitcrow. I missed a flyover Barred Hawk because I was pissing about with Snuffi, but I think you will agree that this was a wholly worthwhile miss! Look!

Snuffi is an admittedly small panther, but this is a HUGE leaf!

I spent a lot of time examing plants in the rainforest, the aroids in particular. All the locations we visit were replete with just stunning plants, and I was very struck with the tropical vines and tuberous plants, philodendrons and alocasias. I grow a number of these at home, but the ones in Colombia were a different level entirely. In their natural habitat of dense, wet, humid forests they can attain their full glory, whereas in Chateau L, whilst lovely, they simply can't develop in the same way. I can dream though. The insects were also pretty incredible, and we all enjoyed following the trail of Leaf-cutter Ants back to their immense nest, a huge pile of earth. Fascinating, but I am glad Chateau L doesn't have any! Richard made a short nature documentary for his kids which I memorably ruined the first take of.

Montezuma Lodge

Agouti - lots of these around the accomodation

All too soon it was time to pack up and go. A quick final lunch on the veranda and then back into the jeeps to bounce back down the track to Pueblo Rico, from retracing our route to Pereira. We had a little space time baked in to ensure we didn't miss the flight, some of which we spent birding a spot near the town of Virginia which sits on the Cauca River. This was the lowland habitat that we had left largely unbirded in our rush to get to Rio Blanco and it delivered a host of new species immediately. We parked the jeeps next to a small tributory and had a little wander. An Ultramarine Grosbeak was in the tree above us, along with Yellow-bellied Elaenia. A pair of Spectacled Parrotlet were nearly, with Grey and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater feeding in the margin. Somewhere closer the river a Limpkin called, but best of all a Dwarf Cuckoo flew by and perched for great views, a lifer for all of us and completely unexpected. 

At the airport I was informed that the rear jeep had seen Fork-tailed Flycatcher en-route, whereas I had only managed a poxy Great White Egret. Damn it! Fair enough if there had been a photo that needed taking, but I had just not been paying attention! A big miss. We sat down and started to enjoy a few post-birding beers, and what should fly across from one of the apron floodlights top another. Oh yes. 

It was a short flight to Bogota over the Central Cordillera, and here I said goodbye to the Alejandro and the rest of the team. A quick shower, some shopping for the obligatory fridge magnet and some coffee, and soon we were all on board our international flights back to London, or in my case Madrid as I don't ever like to make it easy. What a trip, it had been everything we all wanted, a long time in the making and worth the wait. Mannakin could not have been better, their on-the-ground logistics were incredibly impressive. It has taken me about two months to finally write this final post, and all that is left is the day-by-day, site-by-site trip list - not a simple task given the 300+ species seen but I am building up to it. For now, thanks for reading, and any suggestions for a 2024 trip of equal awesomeness will be gratefully considered as Bob, Richard, Dave and I are already plotting.

Monday 9 January 2023

Colombia - Day 8 - Camino Montezuma (lower)

We took the jeeps again direct from the lodge. In the dark? In truth I cannot remember, but probably, as we went about half way up and my first eBird list starts before 7am. It wouldn't be a proper holiday unless I came back exhausted though would it? We stopped about half way up, at around 6.30am, for a Moustached Puffbird, Sooty-headed Wren and a Tricoloured Brushfinch - heard by Gleison's keen ears as we drove along (he tended to always have his head stuck out of the window - this is how I like my guides!). 

Moustached Puffbird

The main birding started a short while later after breakfast on the fly. Same tactic as the previous day, birding whilst descending with the cars following us in short hops. This allowed us to escape the worst of any rain, and also meant we didn't have to carry water or food, or in my case my camera - by this stage I was getting rather fed up with it, a heavy lump that didn't seem to be doing me much good. 

The magnificent Cecropia tree. There are c40 species in the Andes, so I don't know which one this is!

Alejandro (L) and Gleison (R) discussing tactics

The birds were amazing once again, the best of the morning being amazing views of a Blue-fronted Parrotlet. When quizzed later that evening on what the best birds had been, both Gleison and Alejandro picked this bird without hesitation, I think they had only seen it a handful of times, and one of them lived here! Best of the rest included a Scaled Fruiteater, another bird high on our list of targets, three Orange-breated Fruiteaters, a glut of Flycatchers - Cinammon, Ornate, Handsome, Flavescent and Acadian. An Olivaceous Piha was tracked down, and we had unexpected views of an Olive Finch on the path in front of us.

Ornate Flycatcher

A small crowd of agitated birds were gathered around a dense tree hanging over the slope - a Cloud Forest Pygmy-Owl, but try as we might we could only hear it despite knowing almost exactly where it was. That's birding! A heavy shower at about 10am postponed birding for about an hour, but we were reasonably close to one of the shelters so avoided the worst of it. This is an occupational hazard of birding in the Andes, but on our final full day to have any birding time go begging felt distastrous.

Toucan Barbet


Luckily it cleared again after an hour or so and we were able to resume for a while before another moped lunch. We were a little further down now, and the difference a few hundred metres of altitude makes is remarkable. The birds are not wholly different of course, but there are some that are simply found at this level and no higher. Toucan Barbet was one of these, with three birds seen well in a tree, and also on this stretch of mountainside was a different Tapaculo. Part of what made it different is that I got a photo of it, something I had previously thought impossible, but somehow Tatama Tapaculo made it onto the back of my camera. Not all of it obviously, and the photo is terrible, but it represented a major step up in my interaction with this family. 

Tatama Tapaculo


Once again the list of birds seen is too numerous to list out, and with most of them not photographed it would also be pretty boring. When I finally finish these blog posts I'll do a day by day bird list which will allow people to see what was seen where. These take ages to prepare, so make sure you read and appreciate it! A bird I will note here is Lanceolated Monklet, a big prize and one that Dave and Richard were super keen on seeing. Gleison was once again the superstar, hearing the bird deep in the forest and somehow attracting it out so that we could all see it. The views were actually sensational, and as well as the bird here is photo of Richard doing his Monklet face. He also has a Monklet finger but I couldn't possibly publish that.

Lanceolated Monklet

We reached the lodge just before 5pm, a long and fulfilling day, and sat around drinking coffee whilst a mere 15 species of Hummingbird buzzed around the feeders. Fifteen! This is worthy of a pre-list!

White-necked Jacobin, 1
Black-throated Mango, 1
Green Thorntail, 1
Violet-tailed Sylph, 2
Brown Inca, 1
White-booted Racket-tail, 1
Rufous-gaped Hillstar, 2
Purple-bibbed Whitetip, 2
Empress Brilliant, 2
Purple-throated Woodstar, 6
Western Emerald, 1
Crowned Woodnymph, 1
Steely-vented Hummingbird, 1
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, 2
Andean Emerald, 2

As you will have gathered by now, Montezuma is an incredible place, easily the best location of the trip; we had definitely saved the best until last. We had a final morning the next day in which to try and get a few more species on the list, but with a three hour journey to Pereira and an early evening flight to connect with our international flights we could not hang around!

Silver-throated Tanager

Scrub Tanager

Torrent Tyrannulet


Sunday 8 January 2023

A critical mass

The number of birders in Wanstead is growing, I think mirroring a national trend in 
birdwatching becoming more popular. Excellent news, I am no longer a middle-aged loner weirdo, just the first bit. The various lockdowns and general level of shit all around us is seeing more people than ever turn to the great outdoors for solace. Excellent, yes? An emphatic yes, ditch the screens and get out there, it can literally save people's lives. Wanstead, I am assuming like other areas (although possibly magnified, this is the big city after all), has benefited from this newfound interest in wildlife with a whole host of new faces out birding. Collectively, and this does actually include me (!), all of the existing birders on the patch have been exceedingly friendly, welcoming, and helpful. That patch map I drew up years ago has been getting more impressions that ever as people get to grips with the different areas and the stupid names we gave them. Again, this is good. More people out birding and exploring, more eyes spotting and reporting detrimental activity like arson and fly-tipping, and more birds being seen. Many more birds being seen. And many more birds being reported.....

Back in the old days there was no such thing as instant local bird news. News of birds was shared face to face on the patch, or if there was something demanding immediate attention, people phoned each other. Sometimes even on landlines! Things have moved on, almost everyone has a smartphone, and there are loads of ways that news can be shared. Too many ways in fact, and for a while the local birding scene here suffered from a mishmash of communciation methods that resulted in a logistical nightmare and an absurd amount of duplication. There were numerous Twitter accounts for example. I had two, my own one called Wansteadbirder and then another called Wansteadbirding, essentially to separate my usual drivel from the dissemination of local bird news, if you wanted "in" then all you had to do was follow the account. In theory if you used hashtagging, or @'tting (is that even a word?) then you could report sightings. I gave a number of people the password to this latter account so that they could use it directly, but with several cooks the waters started getting muddier. The account started to follow other accounts related to London Birding, the idea being that we would get a view of what was happening across London, migratory arrivals and so on, but this then morphed into following bird observatories, nature-themed good causes, climate biologists, local water companies and so on, and before long it was impossible to have that coherent view of the local patch that it had been expressely created for. And that was without the advertising and emojis! Every now and again I would go into the settings and have a good old purge, but this was only ever temporary and it would soon bloat out again as different people have different views (more on which later). 

We then hit upon the idea of using the messaging function. It looks like a little envelope and it turned out that as well as one to one messaging you could add several people to a conversation, and so provided you had a Twitter account you could be added to this by one of the people that had the password. WhatsApp by another name. You can probably guess where this is going, but so many people were added to the list that it became a giant chat room, and worse than that, some of the additions were essentially random, people visiting for the first and perhaps only time were added on as well. Seemingly all you had to do was stop and ask what people were looking at and you were on! The need to sift through endless chit-chat to get to actual bird news from somebody you actually knew became distinctly unsatisfying, time-consuming, and above all distracting. And then there were the notifications. My God! Any time anyone said anything my phone beeped, but ironically as any of the longer-standing birders to whom I'd given the password were assumed to be "me", my phone did not beep when they posted something (as why would I notify myself?) so I was basically getting push notifcations for all of the chat and very little concerning birds of interest! Disaster!

What to do? Split, that's what. Thus a breakaway faction started a local WhatsApp Group by invitation only! For a while this worked very well. A small group of more experienced birders who knew what was good and what was normal, and generally sticking to bird news only, although I should point out that we could degenerate with the best of them. At around the same time one of the most active birders on the patch lost his phone somewhere, and when he finally got a new one he decided to eschew both Twitter and WhatsApp, and instead started group-texting people. And then of course all birding patches have at least one luddite who doesn't have a mobile phone at all....So now we had a plethora of information pipelines that were impossible to manage.This was never more keenly felt when a locally important bird was flying over. The unlucky observer woud need to try and recall who used what method of communication versus where they lived and what direction the bird was flying in to make a split second decision as to whether to first tweet, whatsapp, text or phone. Or go home and write a letter. I cannot begin to describe the panic that set in when this happened to me, and I would inevitably make a hash of it, missing somebody off, sending it from the wrong account. 

Worse than this, the word had got out about a select WhatsApp group and there were whisperings of elitism that did not sit very comfortably. The truth hurts. Why wasn't so-and-so allowed to be on this group, were they not good enough? Don't you like them? It was a fair challenge, and whilst it might have been created to cut through the noise, perception is everything and so is inclusivity. Not everyone agreed, but one day I made a new one, moved everyone over, and added as many other people as I had phone numbers for to it. Over the following days those birders we saw on the patch got added and people continue to join today, although the closed nature of the application means it is still de facto invitation only. We also used this opportunity to consolidate platforms, encouraging people to stop tweeting and only use WhatsApp going forward. The last Twitter message was in April 2022. With the exception of the guy who still texts and is not for turning, all bird news is now in one place.

So this is nirvana right? Loads of new birders, loads of birds being seen, all the bird news being shared in a single place. Well, err, yes. And no. I am not sure exactly how many local birders there are now, but judging from the stream of WhatsApp message there are a lot. And it is not a stream, it is a torrent, and herein lies the issue. Inclusivity is a good thing for local birding but it is not without its failings. Whenever anyone joins they get given a set of guidelines, but any social media group with upwards of 30 people on it is inevitably going to suffer from a dilution of purpose. It seems not to matter how many times the guidelines are shared, it isn't long before it starts to meander. It starts with a casual emoji, disappointingly WhatsApp has the ability to "like" a message amongst other sentiments. Confidence builds, and someone will sneak a "well done!" in there. As it is January many birds are temporarily exciting again, and so someone will report a Fieldfare as it might be new for the year. Why stop at Fieldfare though when there are Redwings? And Green Woodpeckers! Left unchecked you eventually get to this:

I do appreciate that a birder who is new to the patch and perhaps also new to the hobby might not be able to confidently work out what counts as notable, but come on! A Wren! This is but one example of many (I am not in the game of deliberately wanting to make an individual feel bad), and I am sure it is plain-old over-enthusiasm, but taken en-masse it has the impact of making the local bird news group more or less useless. I would rather miss a good bird than have to sift through this, I just don't have the time. So here is the conundrum, do I throw my elitist toys out of the pram, or do I patiently try and provide some guidance? 

Well you know me..... Hah! Actually it is a bit of both. So yes, I did bash out a message about Wrens, Chaffinches and all the other common birds recently reported as being very definitely not notable, and I also went one grumpy step further than our very polite guidance, big killjoy that I am, and stated that I deemed general chit chat and congratulatory emojis as non-essential. But I also very helpfully pointed people in the direction of the Wanstead Birding Blog which has a number of really quite useful pages on it that are specifically designed to demystify the patch and the birds found on it and over it. So for example we have a full site list which gives clear information on the status of each and every species, whether resident breeder or rarity. Of course the time of year is also important, and so we also have a page which clearly shows the range of arrival and departure dates for our expected migrants. And then finally we have detailed annual bird reports that go into a lot more detail, especially since the advent of consolidated eBird use on the patch. When I started birding not only was I clueless, but very little of this information existed about my local area, certainly not to the extent it does today. Other than the somewhat deal-breaking issue of actually being able to identify a bird in the first place, everything that someone unfamiliar to the patch might need is readily available in order for them to make a reasonable assessment of how interesting a bird might be. 

Of course I immediately felt rather guilty about being a big misery-guts arsehole, birding is supposed to be fun rather than a military operation to record birds. And this brings me to my final point and one that I am perhaps not very good at. Empathy. People go birding for all sorts of reasons, just being outside is perhaps the biggest one of all at the moment. My perspective on birding, focussed as it is on notable species, lists, numbers and statistics, is likely a long way from the perspective of a casual birder, or the perspective of somebody picking up binoculars for the first time. I once picked up binoculars for the first time of course, but thankfully not everyone turns out like me. I would do well to remember that.

Ultimately I think we will come good, but certainly the transitional phase is becoming a little trying. It all comes down to good communication, right now we have over-communication, and I expect that many patches will have travelled this same road before settling down. The best examples of how to disseminate bird news that I know of are in London and Fife, both bigger areas than Wanstead by some margin, and with many more participants. Perhaps this is actually helpful, as rather than feeling like a chummy club where everyone knows everyone, there are so many people you likely don't know it forces a little more circumspection when typing a message. The London group has 79 members at the latest count and is admirably clear of distractions. It does stray from time to time of course, but there are a number of more intolerant people than me on there who very quickly shut it down. Fife Bird Club has a different solution, and has two groups. There is a Bird News group, c200 strong, that is most definitely for news only. You have to post the date, the time, the location, the species or list of species, and finally your name, in that order and that order only. It is ruthlessly enforced and woe betide anyone who gets it wrong or attempts to stretch the boundaries. The human need to interact and communicate beyond raw data is satisfied by having a separate group only for chat, questions, directions and anything else. Interestingly this group only has half the number of participants, yet if a rare bird comes up on the News group all questions about it will without fail be on the other group. Again this only works due to a certain ruthlessness on the part of Admin, but it seems to me to be the perfect model.

But here is the rub. Although I created our WhatsApp group I have no desire to administrate it. A thankless task, and most of the time I am at work and can't respond anyway. But my vision of what it was for and how it should work seems to currently be a little different to how it is working and what it is being used for, and finding a happy medium has the potential to be challenging. People eh? So at the moment I think a second group just for the chatty aspect, photos, and less news-oriented messages would allow for a space that a decent number of the participants would enjoy and feel comfortable in. But I would want everyone to be in both lest we end up with any kind of "us and them" type divide, even if that were just perception. I would then feel better about being ruthless in shutting down the spam on the news one, but then I would be a de-facto administrator.....Oh dang it! Maybe I just need to chill out!

Thursday 5 January 2023

Colombia - Day 7 - Camino Montezuma (upper)

Guess what? We woke up in the dark and drove for an hour and a half to be somewhere by dawn. This was becoming shattering! Accompanying us this time was Gleison, a local guide in some way connected to the Lodge - in other words he knew the area like the back of his hand! This time we left the lodge at about 4am, and in the same jeeps as yesterday drove the whole way up the track to the Communication Tower at the very end. This is also the site of a small military outpost and so we were watched by soldiers as we ate a quick breakfast and had some much-needed coffee. The birds came thick and fast, the main target of Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer seen really well. Rufous Spinetail was here too, as well as Velvet-purple Coronet and Violet-tailed Sylph, both new HummingbirdsThe view from this spot was magnificent, with Cerro Tatama at one stage being almost completely visible, an immense mountain with many waterfalls running down it. A Crab Fox observed proceedings, and was rewarded (as I suspect it is always rewarded) with some fruit.

Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer

Crab Fox

As the track here was extremely precarious we drove back down the steepest section before we started birding, and quickly started adding to our sightings. It is a little difficult to know what came when, especially as most of it went unphotographed, but highlights included a Narino Tapaculo which we actually saw, a Yellow-breasted Antpitta which we heard and then Gleison persuaded to run/fly across the track, and White-faced Nunbird. Throughout our descent we were kept watered and fed by John and Duber who followed us in the vehicles.

Munchique Wren

We pinned down Muchique Wren fairly early on, which replaces Grey-breasted Wood-Wren in this area, and at an open area we had sensational views of Gold-ringed Tanager and Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia, a knock-out bird if ever there was one. A pair of Tanager Finches were also seen rather well, and both Green-and-Black and Orange-breasted Fruiteaters. An unusual sighting was a juvenile Semi-collared Hawk perched out in the open, unconcerned by our presence.

Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia

Gold-ringed Tanager

We broke for lunch at one of several shelters constructed along the track. These are apparently new, put up during the hiatus caused by Covid. The lunch stop was the largest, a two storey affair with mid-canopy views. Lunch was hot, and delivered from the Lodge on a moped - a brilliant idea! The rain that had been threatening all morning really kicked in at this point, and so we all at on the platform looking at Hummingbirds and drinking coffee and chocolate until it eased sufficiently that we could continue. The gap did not last long, we got about another hour during which we saw lots of new Flycatchers (Ornate, Flavescent, Golden-bellied) and our first Collared Trogon. We also had some terrific view of Ochre-breasted Antpitta near a small shelter, but as with majority of the birds seen today the photography opportunity simply wasn't there. Our 12th and final Antpitta species of the trip! As the rain hammered down we decided to return to the accomodation, reaching the Lodge by about 4, where we had more coffee and were perfectly content to sit around and watch the multiple Hummingbird (11 species - list here!) and Tanager feeders. Black-headed Brushfinch was seen at the forest edge, and a Black-chested Jay was clearly a regular, feeding from the tables. Before dusk we tried for Crakes and Rails at the pools behind the main building, but could only get Torrent Tyrannulet and a large number of Flame-rumped Tanagers and Rusty-margined Flycatchers.

Velvet-purple Coronet

A female Violet-tailed Sylph

Purple-throated Woodstar

Tuesday 3 January 2023

Dry January

My goodness have I had a lot of fun lately. The bathroom scales are not as fun. Well, they are for other people, but not for me. Gah! It is not pretty, and I am not getting any younger either. So, dry January then. I couldn't face it during the various lockdowns and other pandemic-affected periods, but now feels like a good time for a reset. Wine is my main vice, but as I may have hinted at here from time to time I do like a proper cocktail. Several, normally.

One of my five a day

A convivial evening around Christmas.....

I just really really enjoy a glass of wine. Thinking about wine, about where to get it, how much to stock up on, what food it will go with, what to open and so on takes up a serious amount of my waking hours. But I reckon I can give it up with no issues at all, certainly temporarily. I may get the White Burgundy shakes after a few days but I'll work through it. How hard can it be?
So, with a few definite exceptions towards the end of the month I am going to keep my hands off the cellar and out of the drinks cupboard. It will all keep, indeed much of it will actually get better, and hopefully I will shed the excess pounds as quickly as I appear to have put them on. Will you see me jogging around Wanstead? Unlikely at this point, but let's see if this does anything first.