On the road again – to the land of Jesuits, Mennonites and (hopefully) jaguars

The Province of Misiones in north-east Argentina is named for the Jesuit Missions, or ‘Reductions’, a type of settlement for indigenous people in South America created by the Spanish Jesuit Order during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Shortly off on my next trip, and already getting excited about it. The trip consists of three parts (see below) and all things being as planned should take 35 days. Not taking Silver the Jeep this time as I am starting in the north of Argentina but will be using a number of car rentals, some 4WDs, and depending on the services of a number of guides.

Trip 1: mainly around the Iberá Wetlands

Trip One starts in Posadas, northern Argentina (see above), and takes me around three important birding areas. One is the township of Carlos Pelligrini, on the Eastern edge of the Iberá wetlands, decribed by Wikipedia as ‘a mix of swamps, bogs, stagnant lakes, lagoons, natural slough and courses of water in the center and center-north of the province of Corrientes, Argentina’. The wetlands are the second-largest wetlands in the world after the Pantanal in Brazil, and a paradise for lovers of wildlife. Then I spend a couple of days in the Mburucuya National Park, and finally three nights in Cambyreta, a northern gateway to the wetlands from Ituzaingó.

Trip 2 From San Pedro to Iguazú, stopping off a lot on the way

The second trip (see above) will be around the northern half of the Argentine Province of Misiones, starting in San Pedro where I pick up Guy Cox who will accompany me for the week. We shall start at the  Parque Provincial Cruce Caballero, an aracauria forest reserve near San Pedro, and then move north hugging the border with Brazil as far as San Sebastian de la Selva; then on to  the area around Iguazú. There’ll be other trails too along the way: Guy is sorting that out for me.

Forest clearing in the Paraguayan Chaco

The third, and perhaps most exciting trip because of how far off the beaten track it will be, will be in the Paraguayan Chaco, described by Wikipedia (I know) as ‘a sparsely populated, hot and semi-arid lowland natural region of the Río de la Plata basin, divided among eastern Bolivia, western Paraguay, northern Argentina and a portion of the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, where it is connected with the Pantanal region’. I shall be visiting the ‘northern’ Chaco, where Mennonites have settled, and will experience both humid and arid areas.

Mennonites in Paraguay (Photo from https://lanterns.buzz/index.cfm)

We’ll be doing some general tourism (Historical sites, Jesuit Missions, Mennonite communities, etc.) and visiting reserves north-west from Asuncion, along the Route 9, up to and beyond Filadelfia. With 500 birds, 150 mammals and 220 reptiles and amphibians it promises to be interesting, not least because of its inaccessibility and inhospitability. The big hope is jaguars, but our chances are probably not that good – we’ll see.

The huge hope is to see jaguars – fingers crossed, but the odds are probably against it. (Photo from https://www.wcs.org/our-work/species/jaguars)

My sister Caroline is joining me for this part of the trip and we have had to contract the services of a guide (Oscar), driver and cook, the last of which I imagine as going off to pot bushmeat as evening approaches but I may be wrong – he may bring a tin opener instead.

Roads in Paraguay are not the world’s best, and when it rains are frequently impassable for a few days. (Photo from http://aufpad.com/2016/06/28/paraguay/)

We’ll be with Oscar for a week or so, and then Caroline and I will spend a further week exploring the area to the south-east of Asunción. No plans for that part yet, but we’ll be blogging the whole trip although not in real time since wifi and electricity are going to be in short supply.

Watch this space.


Visit to Anglesey, Mon 3 July 2017

Herring gulls on the battlements of Beaumaris Castle

Finally set off for a birding trip to Anglesey with my friend Mags, after a couple of aborted attempts owing to poor weather. In fact it didn’t look that great as we left, but it turned out fine, and we completed our mission of visiting Puffin Island (by boat) and South Stack, seeing birds, wild [land-based] mammals (a hare and a rabbit) and marine life (seals, porpoises and [bottlenose] dolphins. A great day.

The two points we visited are on opposite sides of Anglesey

Our first point of call was Beaumaris, where Mags sussed out some of the shops while I wandered along the promenade. I expected to see gulls ands oyster catchers, but was surprised to see shelducks (apparently common there) and even a little egret wading in the  sea water.

Oyster catcher on the shore at Beaumaris

Black sheep of the family? Black-backed gull, surrounded by Herring gulls.

Unexpected shelduck, apparently quite common in Beaumaris

Poor picture, but I did see mergansers out to sea

Black-headed gull, starting to shed its summer plumage

And wandering around the waterside were other birds that don’t get their feet wet:

A jackdaw seeing what he can scavenge from the beach

A couple of young starlings enjoying the morning sunshine.

We set sail for Puffin Island and fortunately the sea was reasonably calm, so the Quell I had taken proved to have been unnecessary. I say the sea was calm, but all is relative – it was certainly not what a photographer would wish for as we dropped and rose into the troughs and crests of the sea.

Porpoises, accompanying our catamaran as we left Beaumaris

As we sailed towards Puffin Island we saw both porpoises (near Beaumaris) and bottlenose dolphins (near Puffin Island), in different places as apparently they don’t get on too well together. It’s very hard to take pictures of these marine creatures as they come out of nowhere very suddenly, and you’re lucky if you have your camera even pointing in the right direction, let alone managing to focus it. Above, a couple of porpoises; we saw dolphins aplenty, but never managed to get the camera on them.

Who could fail to be moved by this loveable grey seal?

What we did see was seals, and lots of them, lazing around the rocks of Puffin Island, and keeping company with large numbers of sea birds: guillemots, razorbills, puffins (obviously), shags, cormorants, etc.

Guillemots floating on the sea around Puffin Island

A couple of cormorants sharing the rocks with the seals and other birds

Gulls circled incessantly overhead, this one a lesser black-backed

A short walk back to the car in Beaumaris, and a final encounter with a young mallard:

A pathetically cute mallard chick swimming in the moat of Beaumaris Castle

And so we set off to South Stack, on the other side of Anglesey, on Holy Island. Our aim was to see Choughs (a lifer for me), and it was a repeat journey as the last time I had been there the mist and fog had been so thick I could barely see my own feet.

Choughs on the cliff tops at South Stack

There are not very many places in the UK where you can see choughs, but here on South Stack they are plentiful as the ground is ideal for their foraging style.

Razorbills on the cliffs at South Stack

Close-up of a Herring gull at South Stack

We had come to South Stack with the hopes of seeing certain birds; choughs (of course), ravens, rock pipits, stonechats and linnets were on the top of our list. We saw all of these (except the rock pipit, which we certainly heard) but only managed to photograph a few:

A juvenile raven flew over South Stack

A pipit, but sadly a meadow pipit and not a rock pipit

Poor photo, but just identifiable as a linnet in flight

And a bunny to boot:

Rabbit frozen to the path, in the misguided belief no one can see him as long as he stays still

So, a lovely day, with a curious epitaph. We stopped for a bite to eat in Holyhead on the way home. The light had more or less gone, but as we got out of the car we saw a rook, calmly strutting his stuff around the car park. 

The implication of this is that on one day we had seen all the English corvids: crow, rook, raven, jackdaw and chough. No hooded crows, but for that we’d have to go to northern Scotland or Ireland.

Flamborough Head, 4 June 2017

Two fulmars and a puffin at Flamborough Head

I visited Flamborough Head last Sunday with the Stockport RSPB Club. We visited the headlands near the old lighthouse, and then went up to the North Landing. It was a beautiful day, mostly sunny with a light breeze, and it was nice to get out of the city for the day

There are two lighthouses at Flamborough, the older (below) being the reconstructed chalk tower and the other a more recent construction.

The chalk tower near Flamborough Head. Built in 1669, this is the oldest surviving complete lighthouse in England

The chalk cliffs are home to a number of regular visitors and residents: mostly guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins. It is also on a main migratory route, so at certain times of the year you may see pretty much anything, especially if mist and fog forces unexpected landings. No little skuas recently, for that you need to go further north.

We saw four or five seals: it’s very hard to tell them apart in the water, so these are either common seals (Phoca vitulina) or grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). I’d plump for the common ones,  but what do I know?

We saw all the expected sea species: a selection below.

Juvenile fulmar flying over the calm water

Kittiwakes nesting on the cliffs at Flamborough

A razorbill, perched rather precariously on the cliff edge

A few more puffins

And we also saw a few land birds around the headland:

A meadow pipit (aka Mipit), in all his splendour …

A male chaffinch surveying all he owns …

And a rather forbidding jackdaw pausing between meals …

All in all, a very pleasant day spent with my new friend Mags and other good people at the Stockport RSPB.

The rime of the unwanted wedding guest

With apologies to Coleridge and de la Mere

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Bailiff,
Knocking on the vestry door;
His super turbo 4×4
In sympathetic roar.
And an owl flew out of the belfry,
And a distant hawk did cry,
And a black cat hissed at the Bailiff,
And some travellers passed by.

But the wedding party was long gone
The bride and groom had kissed.
And all had gone to the Rose and Swan
Where most were fairly pissed.
And no one saw the Bailiff
Who came to church that day,
Walk back to car with writ unserved,
Rev up, and drive away.

14 March, 2016 – Pennington Flash

I revisited Pennington Flash with only two hours available, so divided my time between the Bunting Hide (with feeders) and the Teal and Tom Edmondson hides (for water fowl).

The Bunting hide was lavish in its food offerings, with perhaps the cheekiest little bird being this cute long-tailed tit.


Long-tailed Tit

In fact there were lots of these tiny little birds – they really are delicate little things, and very attractive.

160315 long tailed tits 4 Pennington Flash

Long-tailed Tits on feeder

Food tables were also well attended:

160315 blackbird Pennington Flash

Blackbird (male)

160315 bullfinch m&f Pennington Flash

Pair of bullfinches (male at left)

And even a moorhen had hopped onto a food table

160315 moorhen on bird table Pennington Flash

Moorhen, unusually at food table

Other passerines were around the feeding area: chaffinches …

160315 chaffinch f Pennington Flash

Chaffinch (female)


Chaffinch (male)

… a nuthatch …

160315 nuthatch Pennington Flash


.. a cheeeky reed bunting …

160315 reed bunting m 4 Pennington Flash

Reed Bunting (male)

… and a Blue tit.

160315 blue tit Pennington Flash

Blue Tit

Water fowl seen included: shovellers

160315 shoveller m&f 2 Pennington Flash

Male and female shovellers

… teal …

160315 teal Pennington Flash

a teal

.. and, skulking in the undergrowth, a water rail …

160315 water rail 3 Pennington Flash

Water Rail (half hidden}

… who eventually revealed himself

160315 water rail Pennington Flash

Water rail out in the open

Finally, as I was leaving, I saw a male gadwall swimming on the big lake at the entrance.

160315 gadwall m Pennington Flash

Gadwall (male)


21 February, 2016 – Tophill Low

I went with the Stockport local RSPB group to Tophill Low, south of Scarborough on the Eastern Yorkshire coast. It was a pleasant outing but very overcast and it rained all day. In between the rain showers I was able to take one or two photos.

tophill Low

Tophill Low nature Reserve

This was a mixed site – woodland and wetland – but I only really saw water birds. Here’s a male goldeneye taking to the skies.

160221 golden eye 2 Tophill Low

Goldeneye taking to the air

And here again, with a lady friend

160221 male and juv female golden eye Tophill Low

Male and juv female Goldeneye

A Greylag Goose, one of many we saw ..

160221 greylag goose Tophill Low

Greylag goose

Plenty of curlew around today …

160221 curlew Tophill Low

Curlew at the water side

The highlight of the day was a pair of scaup on one of the reservoirs – we knew they were there, but were also –with the aid of spotting scopes– actually able to find them. Here’s a male scaup quacking up a storm about something.

160221 scaup m (foreground) & f Tophill Low

Scaup in the distance

There were plenty of teal on the water – here are a few on a mudbank, with other assorted ducks and swans.

160221 teal (Anas crecca) Tophill Low

Mixed waterfowl on a mud bank – mainly teal

Swans a plenty too – here’s a Mute Swan cygnet from last year in juvenile plumage and black beak.

160221 mute swan juv 2 Tophill Low

A juvenile mute swan

And to finish off, a bit or mallard woohoo – clearly they thought it was spring already.

160221 mallard woohoo Tophill Low

A pair of mallards engaged in a little woohoo

18 February – RSPB Leighton Moss

It was a sunny day and I decided to take the train up to Silverdale, to visit RSPB Leighton Moss. I spent a few hours there and took one or two pictures (see below).

Nothing special, and this is just a photographic record of the some of the birds I photographed on this day (I saw many more species which I did not record).

160218 great tit RSPB Leighton Moss

Great Tit

160218 black-tailed godwit RSPB Leighton Moss

Black-tailed Godwit (in foreground) with Redshank in rear

160218 black-tailed godwit 3 RSPB Leighton Moss

Again, Black-tailed Godwit (in foreground) with Redshank in rear. This time the Godwit has something to say for himself.

160218 redshanks 10 RSPB Leighton Moss


160218 redshanks 34 RSPB Leighton Moss

Redshank again

160218 marsh tit 2 RSPB Leighton Moss

Marsh Tit

160218 marsh tit RSPB Leighton Moss

Marsh Tit again

160218 tufted duck 12 RSPB Leighton Moss

Tufted ducks on the prowl – the second from the right is a bit manky, probably a hybrid.




Martin Mere, 29 January 2016

As always, click on a photo to see in slide format, or scroll down for normal view.

My first birding outing back in the UK was to Martin Mere, near Southport. I suppose the plat du jour was the recently hatched Grey-crown Crane:

160129 grey crowned crane juv Martin Mere

Juvenile Grey-crowned Crane, Martin Mere

Here’s a reminder of what mother crane looked like, with a close up below of the colourful plumage.

150807 Grey-crowned crane 2 Martin Mere

Grey-crowned crane – adult

160129 grey crowned crane feathers Martin Mere

detail of feathers, grey crowned crane

Here’s a Northern Pintail – looking crisp as the weather I experienced on this visit …

160129 northern pintail Martin Mere

Northern pintail

… and a few friends from Argentina, first the Southern Screamer …

160129 chaja Martin Mere

Southern screamer

and below, the Chilean Flamingo …..

160129 chilean flamingo 2 Martin Mere

Chilean flamingo

… and finally some Muscovy Ducks.

160129 muscovy ducks 2 Martin Mere

Muscovy ducks

Moving outside the collections area, I didn’t stay very long on this visit as I mistimed train connections, but I did attend feeding time for the Whooper Swans, a main feature of Martin Mere. Below a close-up.

160129 whooper swans 1 Martin Mere

Whooper Swans

160129 whooper swan 2 Martin Mere

Whooper Swan, close up

Other wild birds I saw included a snipe  about his business …

160215 snipe 2 Martin Mere


A glorious robin singing his heart out ….

160215 robin Martin Mere


A shelduck …

160215 common shelduck Martin Mere

Common Shelduck

A greenfinch …

160215 greenfinch Martin Mere


Quite a few reed buntings

160215 reed bunting female Martin Mere

Reed Bunting (female)

160215 reed bunting male Martin Mere

Reed Bunting (male)

And, back on the shoreside, a lapwing

160215 lapwing Martin Mere

[Northern] lapwing

A grey Heron …

160215 grey heron Martin Mere

Grey Heron

And a ruff, sadly not in breeding plumage but I’ll be back!

160215 ruff 4 Martin Mere


Ceibas, Entre Ríos – 1 November 2015

I was in Buenos Aires at the end of October 2015 for a teachers’  conference and when it was over my good friend Alec Earnshaw invited me up to Ceibas for a day’s birding. It was a long day too –Ceibas is in the Province of Entre Ríos and we left the northern suburbs at about 04.00, getting back to BA at about 23.00– but it was an excellent day, and I had myself an excellent guide, one of Argentina’s very best. Thank you again, Alec, for a wonderful day’s birding.

Alec knew this area really well, and was able to guide me to a a great many birds, twenty-eight of which were lifers for me. Below are some of the birds we saw – there were so many birds everywhere that I didn’t bother to take photos of birds I know in order to save my batteries for new ones.

Lifers of the day were Savanna Hawk, Grassland Sparrow, Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Wood Stork, Screaming Cowbird, Suiriri Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Solitary Sandpiper, Sooty Tyrannulet, Grayish Saltator, White-browed Meadowlark, Brown-and-yellow Marshbird, Straight-billed Reedhaunter, Curve-billed Reedhaunter, Nacunda Nighthawk, Bran-colored Flycatcher, White Monjita, Firewood-gatherer, Brown-chested Martin, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, Freckle-breasted Thornbird, Roseate Spoonbill, Warbling Doradito, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Chotoy Spinetail, Whistling Heron and Snail Kite. That’s a total of 28 – not bad for one day’s birding, and I’m no longer a beginner.

The photos below follow, for some inexplicable reason, a not quite perfect inverse alphabetical order. This was obviously not the order we saw them, but some months later it would be time-consuming to reconstruct that order, and it’s not that important anyway.

151101 varillero congo 3 Ceibas Entre Rios

varillero congo (Chestnut-capped Blackbird) Agelaius ruficapillus

151101 tuyuyú 2 Ceibas Entre Rios

tuyuyú (American Wood Stork) Mycteria americana

151101 tordo pico corto (screaming cowbird) Ceibas Entre Rios

tordo pico corto (Screaming Cowbird) Molothrus rufoaxilaris

151101 siriri pampa 3 Ceibas Entre Rios

siriri pampa (White-faced Whistling-Duck) Dendrocygna viduata

151101 Sietevestidos Común 27 Ceibas Entre Rios

siete vestidos ( Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch) Poospiza nigrorufa

151101 pitotoy solitario Ceibas Entre Rios

pitotoy solitario (Solitary Sandpiper) Tringa solitaria

151101 piojito gris 5 Ceibas Entre Rios

piojito gris (Sooty Tyrannulet) Serpophaga nigricans

151101 pico de plata hembra Ceibas Entre Rios

[female] pico de plata (Spectacled Tyrant) Hymenops perspicillatus

151101 picaflor comun 2 (glittering-bellied-emerald) Ceibas Entre Rios

[male] picaflor comun (Glittering-bellied Emerald Hummingbird) Chlorostilbon lucidus

151101 perhaps muscove duck? Ceibas Entre Rios

domesticated version of pato real (Muscovy Duck) Cairina moschata

151101 pepitero gris Ceibas Entre Rios

pepitero de collar (Golden-billed Saltator) Saltator aurantiirostris

151101 pecho colorado Ceibas Entre Rios

[not to be confused with long-tailed meadowlark!] pecho colorado (White-browed Meadowlark) Sturnella superciliaris

151101 pecho amarillo comun Ceibas Entre Rios

pecho amarillo común (Brown-and-yellow Marshbird) Pseudoleistes virescens

151101 pajonalera pico curvo 3 Ceibas Entre Rios

ñacundá (Nacunda Nighthawk) Chordeiles nacunda/Podager nacunda

151101 federal 2 Ceibas Entre Rios

federal (Scarlet-headed Blackbird) Amblyramphus holosericeus

151101 Espinero Pecho Manchado freckle-breasted thornbird Ceibas Entre Rios

espinero pecho manchado (Freckle-breasted Thornbird) Phacellodomus striaticollis

151101 Espátula Rosada 3 Ceibas Entre Rios

espátula rosada (Roseate Spoonbill) Ajaia ajaja

151101 Doradito Común 3 Ceibas Entre Rios

doradito común (Warbling Doradito) Pseudocolopteryx flaviventris

151101 curutie colorado 2 Ceibas Entre Rios

curutié colorado (Yellow-chinned Spinetail) Certhiaxis cinnamomeus

curutié blanco (Stripe-crowned Spinetail) Cranioleuca pyrrhophia

curutié blanco (Stripe-crowned Spinetail) Cranioleuca pyrrhophia

151101 cortarramas Ceibas Entre Rios

cortarramas (White-tipped Plantcutter) Phytotoma rutila

151101 chotoy Ceibas Entre Rios

chotoy (Chotoy Spinetail) Schoeniophylax phryganophilus

151101 chinchero chico Ceibas Entre Rios

chinchero chico (Narrow-billed Woodcreeper) Lepidocolaptes angustirostris

151101 chiflon Ceibas Entre Rios

chiflón (Whislting Heron) Syrigma sibilatrix

151101 chaja Ceibas Entre Rios

chaja (Crested aka Southern Screamer) Chauna torquata

151101 carpintero de cardon hembra Ceibas Entre Rios

carpintero de cardon (White-fronted Woodpecker) Melanerpes cactorum

151101 cardenal comun 2 Ceibas Entre Rios

cardenal comun (Red-crested Cardinal) Paroaria coronata

151101 caracolero Ceibas Entre Rios

caracolero (Snail [or Everglade] Kite) Rosthramus sociabilis

151101 Baywing, or Bay-winged Cowbird Ceibas Entre Rios

tordo musico (Bay-winged Cowbird) Agelaioides badius

151101 becasina comun 2 Ceibas Entre Rios

becasina (South American Snipe) Gallinago paraguaiae

151101 bigua feeding 2 Ceibas Entre Rios

bigua (Neotropic aka Olivaceous Cormorant) Phalacrocorax brasilianus

151101 Cachilo Ceja Amarilla Ceibas Entre Rios

cachilo ceja amarilla (Grassland Sparrow) Ammodramus humeralis

151101 calandria 3 Ceibas Entre Rios

calandria grande (Chalk-browed Mockingbird) Mimus saturninus

151101 atajacaminos tijera Ceibas Entre Rios

atajacaminos tijera (Scissor-tailed Nightjar) Hydropsalis torquata

151101 Aguilucho Colorado Ceibas Entre Rios

[young] aguilucho colorado (Savanna Hawk) Buteogallus meridionalis

151101 Suirirí Común Ceibas Entre Rios

suirirí común (Suiriri suiriri) Suiriri Flycatcher

151101 Suirirí Amarillo 2 Ceibas Entre Rios

suirirí amarillo (Yellow-browed Tyrant) Satrapa icterophrys

Trip to Río Gallegos, 8 November 2015

I made a return trip to Río Gallegos in November 2015. This time it was for work (to give one or two talks at a local teachers’ conference) but it was a good chance to meet up with my friend Emanuel Tiberí and do a little birding.

We took a half day and went out to Punta Loyola, an area that Emanuel knows well as he is working on the reserve there. I was lucky enough to see one or too lifers while there (Least Seedsnipe, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Collared Plover and Tawny-throated Dotterel) , so it was a good outing.

Here are a few photos I took on the morning outing:

monjita chocolate (Chocolate-vented Tyrant) Neoxolmis rufiventris

monjita chocolate (Chocolate-vented Tyrant) Neoxolmis rufiventris

chorlo cabezón (Tawny-throated Dotterel) Oreopholus ruficollis

chorlo cabezón (Tawny-throated Dotterel) Oreopholus ruficollis

chorlito doble collar (Two-banded Plover) Charadrius falklandicus

chorlito doble collar (Two-banded Plover) Charadrius falklandicus

agachona chica (Least Seedsnipe) Thinocorus rumicivorus

agachona chica (Least Seedsnipe) Thinocorus rumicivorus

bandurrita comun (Scale-throated Earthcreeper) Upucerthia dumetaria

bandurrita comun (Scale-throated Earthcreeper) Upucerthia dumetaria

In the afternoon I walked out along the costanera before taking my flight back north and took my final shot of the trip: possibly the most common bird in Patagonia, but always a delightful one: the chingolo.

chingolo (Rufous-collared Sparrow) Zonotrichia capensis

chingolo (Rufous-collared Sparrow) Zonotrichia capensis