Saturday, 28 June 2014

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, Houston, June 2014

I was caught on the back foot today when we rolled up outside an unfamiliar hotel on the edge of a freeway in Houston. First things first, I had to find my bearings and then decide where I could reach on a bike when the temperature was pushing 95F. I had hoped to visit Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, but my new starting point added 15kms to the round trip, so I saved myself ‘til the morning when the temperature would hopefully be more tolerable for a cyclist.
I arrived at 07.15, shortly after the timed gate self-opened. There is a feeder area around the log cabin and Blue Jays filled the top slot, bullying Northern Cardinals, House Finches and Red-bellied Woodpeckers from the hanging containers. The path leads to a small pond that serves as a dipping experience for children later in the day. A small Broad-banded Water Snake crossed the pool faster than I could unship my camera. The humidity would have spoiled the shot anyway, it was horrible today and my glasses continually fogged up if I stood still for too long.

A bridge crosses a tributary of Buffalo Bayou and gives access to the east side of the reserve.
Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Blue Jays provided most of the bird song today. Carolina Chickadees gave their quick “Chicka – dee,dee,dee,dee,dee,dee,dee” and a coarse-sounding “Kreeeep” made me look up to see a Great Crested Flycatcher.

The sanctuary is a mixed woodland, predominantly Loblolly Pine, but there are plenty of leafy oaks. A Great Horned Owl flushed from an oak beside the path ahead of me and I was able to follow it by listening for the frantic mobbing of the American Robins and Blue Jays.

It had landed in full view in one of the oaks and its eyes were wide open. Whilst this makes for a good picture, I have come to realise that this is an indication of an owl under stress, so I took the picture and moved on. I found the owl again (I assume it was the same one) a little later and the Blue Jays were still mobbing it. Despite being harassed by the birds, it saved most of its attention for me. I was 40 meters away and it was 10 meters up, so it obviously didn’t like people.
The protected area is only 17.5 acres, so it didn’t take too long to complete the paths and return to the log cabin which was now playing host to a couple of groups of school children. Dipping nets and plastic dishes had been positioned near to the small pond and I took a quick look before the classes arrived and disturbed the water. I was pleased to find another small snake and a few moments later, a third. The light was too poor to get a decent shot even though the snake (number 2) moved quite slowly and despite high ISO and wide aperture settings.

Birds seen;

Broad-winged Hawk (en-route) 1, White-winged Dove 2, Mourning Dove 2, Great Horned Owl 1, Chimney Swift 3, Red-bellied Woodpecker 3, Downy Woodpecker 1, Great Crested Flycatcher 2, Blue Jay 12, American Crow 1, Carolina Chickadee 3, Tufted Titmouse 1, Carolina Wren 5, American Robin 6, Northern Mockingbird 2, European Starling 1, Northern Cardinal 15, Great-tailed Grackle 3, House Finch 2, House Sparrow 2.

Terry Hershey Hike and Bike Trail is very close by and I took a few moments to see if I could find a Mississippi Kite. They can be seen hunting over the meadows here for dragonflies that chase above Buffalo Bayou. Instead I found a bird that I am more accustomed to finding on the other side of the Atlantic. Cattle Egrets were stalking the rough grass along the trail.

Birds seen;

Great Blue Heron 1, Cattle Egret 15, White Ibis 2, Turkey Vulture 1, Mississippi Kite 1, Chimney Swift 4, Blue Jay 3, Barn Swallow 5, American Robin 2, Northern Mockingbird 5, Great-tailed Grackle 4.

For a couple of Terry Hershey posts, follow the links below;

Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary is open from 07.00 until 17.00 with electronically timed gates. There is no charge for entry and it houses the Houston Audobon Headquarters. The property and the log cabin were left to the society by Edith to protect it from development.
The ride along Memorial Drive was very pleasant, passing some high end real-estate on an easily navigable route. It took 45 minutes to ride the 14kms on a flat road with light traffic and plenty of overtaking space for passing vehicles. Stay on Memorial, head west and cross Sam Houston Tollway (Texas Beltway 8). Take the first left, Wilchester Blvd, after crossing the freeway and the sanctuary is signposted. It can be seen at Google Earth ref; 29 46 17.22N 95 34 14.28W.
Memorial Drive is unusual in that it does not describe a straight line, but meanders through the leafy suburbs. Bus 70 ($1.25 per ride, It runs twice an hour during morning and afternoon peak,but only once an hour through the late morning and early afternoon) plies the route and will accept a bike on the front rack. Leave the bus at Gessner, 3kms before the sanctuary.

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from Houston.
Birding, Birdwatching, Houston, Texas.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore, June 2014

It is hard to resist the lure of Singapore’s Botanic Gardens and in particular the Heliconia Walk. I am supposed to be exploring pastures new, but it’s hot and the gardens are cool. Why make life difficult?

The Metro station is just outside the gate at Google Earth ref; 1 19 19.22N 103 48 55.20E. From here, the gardens open out into the Ecopond area. Javan Mynas and Asian Glossy Starlings were seen immediately with a small group of Oriental White-eye shortly after passing through the gate.

A park worker was walking through the shallows of the ecopond which may have spoiled my chances of rails or Yellow Bitterns, but the Lesser Whistling Ducks still made good subjects. 

In the spirit of exploration, I took a path less travelled and found myself looking over a tiny pond with mosquito fish in the open water and a White-breasted Waterhen skulking around the edges keeping an eye on her chick.

Heliconia Walk was as delightful as ever. For a little while the sun stubbornly refused to cast any light on them, but the Olive-backed Sunbirds didn’t seem to mind. 

Once the sun cleared the trees though, it became too hot to stand still and my glasses steamed up for lack of a breeze.

No bitterns could be found in the Symphony Lake either, but a large Water Monitor Lizard was on the prowl for something to eat.

The remnant forest and the Ginger garden were similarly quiet as the day became unbearably hot. A Plain-throated Sunbird came to feed at a Cannia Lily near Swan Lake, but I had to call it a day after that.

On the way home a fine looking Red Junglefowl crossed the lawn ahead and an Ashy Tailorbird responded to a half-hearted “pish”.

Bird list for Singapore Botanic Gardens; 22

Lesser Whistling-Duck 18, Red Junglefowl 4, White-breasted Waterhen 5, Spotted Dove 8, Pink-necked Pigeon 15, Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot 1, Germain’s Swiftlet 30, Common Flameback 2, Common Iora 1, Black-naped Oriole 2, Pacific Swallow 5, Yellow-vented Bulbul 15, Dark-necked Tailorbird 2, Ashy Tailorbird 3, Oriental White-eye 5, Oriental Magpie Robin 5, Asian Glossy Starling 60, Common Hill Myna 5, Javan Myna 80, Plain-throated Sunbird 2, Olive-backed Sunbird 8, Eurasian Tree Swallow 6.

The park has two main access points. The gate at the northwest corner is served by the Botanic Garden Metro Station and buses 7 and 77 pass the gate in the southeast on their way to and from Somerset. Gates open from dawn to dusk and there is no charge for admission.

Visit the dedicated Asia page for more posts from Singapore, including; Paser Ris, Sungei Buloh and Fort Canning.
Birding, Birdwatching in Singapore

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Pulau Ubin - The other way, Singapore June 2014

I have been handicapped in the 10,000 Birds year list. For a bird to qualify on the list, it must be seen from a site that I have not visited before, or for at least 5 years. The idea being that I was becoming set in my ways and needed a push to explore beyond my comfort zone. When the handicap was introduced, it wasn’t made clear whether I could count birds from a new site if I went back for a second look. I was revisiting Pulau Ubin after a trip in March and so as to stay within the spirit of the thing, turned left instead of right and explored the north end of the island this time.

Crikey it was hot and sticky – even for Singapore! The cool relief as the bumboat cut across the channel from Changi Pier only made the stifling heat worse when we pulled onto the island.There are few facilities on Pulau (Singaporean word for island) Ubin (Singaporean word for ubin) and those that do exist are mostly to be found in the small village where the bumboat pulls up to the jetty (at Google Earth ref; 1 24 6.03N 103 58 13.32E). Bicycles can be hired and there are a couple of restaurants and tea houses. Beyond here, facilities are sparse.

First things first, I turned right for a moment to check the picturesque ponds beyond the village, hoping for a Watercock or an exciting rail or two. No such luck, but the hornbills were making an awful racket and a White-breasted Waterhen scurried back into the lotus pond as I approached. A Zebra Dove and a Nutmeg Mannikin were new birds for the year, but will not count as I was covering old ground until I passed back through the village. Blue-throated Bee-eater also misses the cut.
Four White-bellied Sea-Eagles and two Brahminy Kites soared above me and a Grey Heron flopped slowly over.

Back at the village, I headed out to break new ground to the north, but was quickly stopped by a flock of Oriental Pied Hornbills. They were feeding from a stand of fruiting trees and were just above eye-level. Eventually they moved to my side of the grove and gave me some superb views as they gobbled down the fruits. As I waited for them to come to me, a Lesser Coucal dropped into some damp vegetation nearby and an Oriental Magpie Robin serenaded me from the fence of the quarry.

The quarry is flooded now and provides a roost for lots of Grey Herons. A quick count reached 70 birds on the first pass. Pacific Swallows rested briefly and a White-throated Kingfisher dropped down to gather up an unsuspecting dragonfly.

There were a few cyclists on the island today, but they were very polite, passing behind me if I was in the middle of the road, or stopping short if they wanted to ask what I was looking at. They all carried durian fruits which they picked up as they went along. Always looking for new experiences, I found a fallen fruit and broke it open to try it. The smell is said to be awful, but I found it merely sickly sweet. It is supposed to be luscious and delicious, but mine was dry and tasteless. I am not convinced that I was eating the right thing! Note to self; don’t eat strange things that you find lying on the ground and can’t accurately identify.

I had passed into some forest now and found a few Pink-necked Green Pigeons, Olive-winged Bulbuls and Dark-necked Tailorbirds along the road. But these were birds that I had already seen this year and were not furthering my cause. Beyond the forest section was a creek flooding into the mangroves. Ashy Tailorbird was seen here and at last, a score for the year list in the shape of a Pied Fantail.

The return journey brought Common Iora, White-rumped Shama, Yellow-bellied Prinia and Eastern Crimson Sunbird. The hornbills were still feeding and drawing a crowd of cyclists who stopped to see.
This time a Plain-throated Sunbird sat up for me as I waited for a Hornbill to pose.

Bird list for Pulau Ubin; 32

Grey Heron 75, Brahminy Kite 3, White-bellied Sea-Eagle 4, White-breasted Waterhen 2, Little Tern 1, Spotted Dove 1, Zebra Dove 2, Pink-necked Pigeon 6, Lesser Coucal 1, Germain’s Swiftlet 50, White-throated Kingfisher 1, Collared Kingfisher 1, Blue-throated Bee-eater 1, Oriental Pied Hornbill 9, Common Iora 3, Black-naped Oriole (many heard only), Pied Fantail 1, House Crow 15, Pacific Swallow 8, Yellow-vented Bulbul 8, Olive-winged Bulbul 5, Dark-necked Tailorbird 3, Ashy Tailorbird 2, Yellow-vented Prinia 1, Oriental Magpie Robin 6, White-rumped Shama 1, Asian Glossy Starling 60, Javan Myna 40, Plain-throated Sunbird 3, Olive-backed Sunbird 6, Eastern Crimson Sunbird 2, Nutmeg Mannikin 1.

Bumboats leave from Changi Pier (Google Earth ref; 1 23 27.37N 103 59 15.32E) on the mainland, starting at 05.30 if the demand is there. They do not have a scheduled service, but run when a full load of 12 punters are ready to go. This is obviously more frequent and likely to start earlier at weekend, but on a Friday morning at 07.00, I waited for 20 minutes to make up a 12. The crossing takes 10 minutes and costs S$2.50. The return boat operates on the same basis. If you are impatient to be going, or fear that you may get stuck on the island, a boat can easily be chartered by paying 12 times the fare, ie S$30 (@£1 = S$2.1) or by paying the balance for any empty seats.
To reach Changi Pier take the MRT to Paser Ris at the end of the Green, East West line and take a taxi the rest of the way. It cost S$10 this morning and took 5 minutes. A taxi all the way from the city would be substantially more.

For a previous post from Pulau Ubin, follow the link below;

Visit the dedicated Asia page for more posts from Singapore, including; Central Catchment Area and Paser Ris.
Birding, Birdwatching in Singapore.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Corniche, Jeddah, June 2014

There are not many opportunities for bird watching with our schedules into Jeddah, but at least we stay close to the waterfront and can walk along the Corniche at Google Earth ref; 21 36 19.51N 39 6 26.19E. It is best, in the morning as the sun comes from behind.

 There are a few gulls, notably the White-eyed Gull which is a Red Sea specialist. Luckily this is quite a striking bird and can be identified easily. Strictly speaking, binoculars and cameras are not to be used in Saudi Arabia, so a bird that you can call with the naked eye is a blessing. The similar Sooty Gull may occur, but the heftier yellow bill with its black and red tip should stand out.

White-eyed Gull, Immature.

The Corniche is paved for about 5kms of seafront. The water is very shallow at the shoreline, but suddenly drops away about 50-100m out. A three-headed pier allows fishermen to cast into the depths and takes birders closer to terns that patrol the drop-off. Lesser Crested Tern was seen today with a few White-cheeked Terns.

Carefully positioned rocks at Google Earth ref; 21 36 47.36N 39 6 25.44E provide a breakwater and good roosting spots for the terns, gulls and Striated Herons. Little piers allow the watcher to get closer, though the piers are often used as picnic sites in the evening.
Feral cats are abundant amongst the rocks and probably live off scraps from the nightly picnics. Just to the north of here, a restaurant complex hosts a Rueppell’s Weaver colony.

Birds seen from the Jeddah Corniche;

Striated Heron 2, Black-winged Stilt 3, White-eyed Gull 20, White-cheeked Tern 12, Lesser Crested Tern 1, Feral Pigeon 100, Laughing Dove 2, House Crow 6, White-spectacled Bulbul 1, Common Myna 30, House Sparrow 8, Rueppell’s Weaver 3.

Ladies are allowed to walk alone on the Corniche, but must remain demurely dressed at all times. Ankles, arms and head should be covered to maintain respect for local customs. Gentlemen should also dress conservatively with long trousers and long sleeves being preferred.

Cameras are not allowed, yet almost every person I saw was happily clicking away or videoing with a phone or tablet. Luckily I have some library pictures of cats and White-eyed Gulls. Binoculars are also frowned upon, but I am not sure why.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Reserva Ecologica Vincente Lopez, Buenos Aires, June 2014

Reserva Ecologica Vincente Lopez is a small park on the shore of the Rio Plata/South Atlantic Ocean, to the north of the city of Buenos Aires. It includes lawns looking out across the water with a lightly wooded area in the north. The main attraction is a fenced area that contains thicker woods surrounding a small lake with a short boardwalk through its marshy top end.

I arrived here today in the late afternoon hoping that the gate to the fenced sanctuary would still be open. It opens at 09.00 until 17.00, every day. I took a clockwise route quickly totting up birds including Rufous-collared Sparrow, Rufous-bellied Thrush and Blue-and-Yellow Tanager.

The lake was completely covered with weed. Greater Kiskadees, Rufous Horneros and even Cattle Tyrants fed from the floating vegetation. A single Wattled Jacana must have felt that it was on very solid ground. 
The bridge that crosses a corner of the lake has fallen into disrepair, but it can still be partially used to get out over the water for a good view of the lake. Today, it was so choked that any ducks or water-birds would have moved on to find clearer water elsewhere.

The trail passes through a ribbon of thick woods that surround the lake. A pair of Grey-necked Wood-Rail was seen through the fence before the trail drops down onto the short boardwalk. This proved to be the hot-spot of the evening.  Sayaca Tanager, Masked Gnatcatcher, Black-capped Warbling-Finch, Tropical Parula and Small-billed Elaenia were all noted here in a frantic few moments.

By the time I reached the gate to go home, it was nearly 17.00 but the gate was already closed and padlocked. I was just about to shimmy over the top (it would have probably looked more ungainly than “shimmy” might suggest) when I took a second look at the mechanism. Though locked, the padlock was not engaged in the locking bar and I was able to escape in a much more dignified manner than might otherwise have been the case. 

Bird list for Reserva Ecologica Vincente Lopez; 26

Southern Caracara 1, Chimango Caracara 2, Grey-necked Wood-Rail 2, Wattled Jacana 1, Kelp Gull 2, Pale-vented Pigeon 2, Picazuro Pigeon 40, Nanday Parakeet 15, Monk Parakeet 4, Gilded Hummingbird 1, Green-barred Woodpecker 1, Rufous Hornero 5, Small-billed Elaenia 3, Cattle Tyrant 2, Great Kiskadee 10, House Wren 4, Masked Gnatcatcher 6, Rufous-bellied Thrush 20, Chalk-browed Mockingbird 6, European Starling 5, Tropical Parula 2, Blue-and-yellow Tanager 2, Greyish Saltator 1, Black-capped Warbling Finch 1, Rufous-collared Sparrow 6, Variable Oriole 2.

This reserve is only very small and would be unlikely to keep a keen birder occupied for more than a couple of hours. It is a good follow-on site if you are visiting Ribera Norte, just up the road (or a good alternative if Ribera Norte is closed due to flooding as is sometimes the case). The entrance is across the tram lines at Google Earth ref; 34 2925.54S 58 28 52.19W. Follow the path around to the right to find the fenced sanctuary beyond the running track. There is no security provision at Vincente Lopez. 
The railway runs from the main station Retiro in Buenos Aires city to Tigre. Get off at La Lucila Station and continue north for 4 blocks and turn right at the underpass onto Av. Parana. The reserve is 1.25 kms east from here.

For a previous post from Vincente Lopez, follow the link below;
Visit the dedicated Central and SouthAmerica page for more posts from Buenos Aires including Costanera Sur and Ribera Norte.

Birding, Birdwatching in Buenos Aires, Argentina.