Saturday, 8 October 2016

Participating in the Yellow Browed Warbler invasion

For the past few weeks the UK has been inundated [well there have been rather a lot] with Yellow Browed Warbler's and I had seen precisely none this year. So it was wonderful this morning to have a chance to go birding with my mate Jim along the north Norfolk coast.

Yellow Browed Warbler, Brancaster
We headed to Brancaster Staithe, our plan was simply to walk the boardwalk back west towards Brancaster and bird the hedgerows and trees that border it. Initially this seemed like a bad call, although there were birds about the wind was keeping them down and those that there were always seemed to have the sun behind them. But then we reached Branodunum, not the housing estate but the field owned by the National Trust and surrounded by a nice sheltering hedgerow, soon we heard our first Yellow Browed Warbler here and although we couldn't pin this bird down we started to feel lucky.
Yellow Browed Warbler, Brancaster
Walking into the north west corner of the field I picked up a a Phylosc in the top of a tree and Jim and I called it simultaneously as a Yellow Browed, soon we had two of these flitting around and calling giving good if always brief views.

Leaving Branodunum we headed back to the car at Brancaster Staithe with the pinging of Bearded Tits accompanying us. A couple of Red Kites drifted overhead and a Peregrine shot through with the sun behind it as it hunted the marsh. We also saw Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier here.

Not seeing the Red Breasted Flycatcher at Titchwell
Titchwell was busy, very busy. We spent a while not seeing the Red Breasted Flycatcher but getting brief views of a Pied Flycatcher. On the Fen Trail we heard but didn't see a couple of YBW's and we saw a Common Redstart in a hedge near Patsy's Pool. Walking down the West Bank path expecting a tough time finding the Pectoral Sandpiper we were pleased to find it staked out right by the side of the path, it spent a lot of time in cover only ever giving brief views, often of its back.

Pied Flycatcher, Titchwell
Heading home we picked up a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by Jackdaws,  which meant five species of BOP in a morning and no Kestrel.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Titchwell

All in all a great four hours birding, the best bit being the time Jim and I had a prime bit of east coast habitat to ourselves along with a couple of Yellow Browed's. I love the sense of being able to say not only did I clap eyes on these birds but that I also shared the communal experience of this years invasion of this tiny little warblers. Just as last year it was great to share in that amazing period at Holkham when the bushes were full of rares and birders from across the UK came together to join in the fun. Not that today was all plain sailing whilst giving the kids their tea I had a quick look at BirdGuides Norfolk page on my mobile phone only to discover that a Black Browed Albatross had flown past Old Hunstanton, maybe half a mile as the Albatross flies from my kitchen, ho bloody hum.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Turnstone Action

I'm lucky I live about five minutes walk from Hunstanton beach which means that if ever I have an hour spare I can take my binoculars and camera for a walk and enjoy some great wildlife. I have developed a couple of mild photographic obsessions based around the beach. The first is the nesting Fulmars who provide lots of opportunities to practice my flight photography and I am slowly getting some better quality images of these great birds.
Turnstone, Hunstanton Beach
The second are the Turnstones that live up to their name flicking over the pebbles on the beach and squabbling over scraps of food.

Today I saw from the weather forecast that there was a good chance that the sun would break through the cloud at about 5pm and I managed my day around getting away for a hour or so late afternoon.

When I got to the beach I noticed that the area under the seawall was free of walkers and also had lots of Herring Gulls and Turnstones feeding there. I quickly found the colour ringed Turnstone I was hoping to record [more about them another time] and realised that I could use the Groyne as a makeshift hide allowing me to crouch within six feet of the feeding Turnstones.

Turnstone and Juvenile Herring Gull, Hunstanton Beach
As I watched the birds feed using their beaks and necks to flick over pebbles, grabbing open mussels and teasing out the contents, I realised that there seemed to be a conflict avoidance behaviour going on. Birds would shrilly call at other birds that came to close, normally enough for one bird to then back off, but occasionally there would be a flurry of wings as two birds jousted for food.

Turnstones arguing over food, Hunstanton Beach
It did seem a little odd that there should be any fighting as there seemed to be no shortage of open mussel shells for both the Turnstones and the Herring Gulls present to feed upon.

Turnstones arguing over food, Hunstanton Beach
I had a great hour and a bit with these birds, the light was more miss than hit with just a few moments of golden light. But now I have discovered by Groyne Hide I will be back again trying to get better shots.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Weekend Birds

Late Swallow brood
Saturday was wet here in north west Norfolk. I needed to visit the garage in Brancaster and took advantage of the opportunity afterwards to sit in my car in the harbour for an hour watching the tide slowly rise and the rain drops pit the surface of the water. Almost the first birds that I saw and heard on arrival were a couple of Greenshank's manically feeding around the edges of the harbour, every few minutes taking flight and landing in a new feeding location where they resumed their buy scything of the shallow water before taking flight again.

A Little Egret fed reasonably close inshore catching small fish that seemed from my perspective to be barely worth the effort that it had to put into catching them. As the rain eased a number of Swallows flew west and Spoonbill circled over the saltmarsh to the east.

Little Egret
Sunday and the sun was back out and we went to our beach hut in the sand dunes to the east of Brancaster beach. Here a late brood of swallows sat spilling out of their nest in the eaves of neighbours beach hut whose decking sported a large pile of swallow crap. Next door a Common Lizard sunned itself. In the scrub a Willow Warbler shared a bush with the local House Sparrows and Wheatear sat up in a gable end.

Willow Warbler
The  sea was still relatively warm and the visibility was the best I've ever known it. Off shore there were still Sandwich Terns albeit in reduced numbers and solitary Great Crested Grebe, Red Breasted Merganser and Guillemot.

Its weekends like this that remind me of why I choose to live where I do, the opportunity it affords me to raise my children by the sea, spend quality time with them in great locations and to live in a bird rich and dynamic part of the world.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Too wet even for ducks

We've had a lot of rain, some lightening and a little thunder here in west Norfolk this afternoon. I spent a pleasant 45 minutes in Island Hide at Titchwell late afternoon and watched the first wave of bad weather pass through from the shelter of the hide ruefully looking at my old metal tripod and the lightening outside. Later I was in the Jolly Sailors in Brancaster Staithe when a really heavy storm came on, black sky's, lightening and torrential rain with an aftermath of flooded roads requiring the fire service to come and pump out a number of properties.

Juvenile Shelduck in rain storm.
No1 and No2 sons [age 4 and 7] thought all of this was terribly exciting and enjoyed watching the storm out of the pub windows and found the drive home along a very wet A149 exhilarating.

During my brief visit to Titchwell I saw a single Spoonbill circle the Fresh Marsh looking almost grey in the storm light, a couple of Marsh Harriers and some distant Curlew Sandpipers. After the storm 20 - 30 Common and Sandwich Terns hawked over the Fresh Marsh. An Avocet swept past in the shallows feeding and looked splendid with its reflection in the black water.

Avocet and reflection
Whilst it rained heavily it was interesting  to watch the ducks sky pointing, aligning their bodies into the rain presumably to minimise the impact of the rain on their feathers. Quite a spectacular afternoon.

Teal Sky Pointing in rain

Friday, 26 August 2016

Gannet action at Bempton

A place where the sound of birds rises above and dominates the east coast wind, where the fishy smell generated by tens of thousands of defecating birds pervades the air, and where a line of white cliffs cuts out into the blue of the North Sea. The RSPB's nature reserve at Bempton Cliffs is all of these things and the most easily accessible large seabird colony in England. Each year I try and make a visit to take in the spectacle of the colony in full flow and this year I was lucky enough to spend a few hours there at the end of July.

Part of RSPB Bempton Cliffs
Tree Sparrows bounced around the bushes surrounding the new Visitor Centre where I was able to grab a welcome coffee and slice of cake. I see Tree Sparrows every year but I am not aware of anywhere in Norfolk where I live where they are so easily seen around bird feeders in and in such good numbers. I love their rich chestnut caps and the black beauty spot on their cheeks.

Tree Sparrow
Caffeinated we set off down the well made path to the cliffs, normally I visit earlier in the Spring and there was a noticeable difference in the birds on view compared to my normal mid April visits. I had to work hard to see Guillemots and Razorbills, apparently the majority of these two species of Auks had finished breeding and left the cliffs the week before, Shags too were thin on the ground. But Puffins were everywhere, on the sea, flying in front of the cliffs and perched below the viewpoints. Apparently late July is just about the best time to see Puffins at Bempton.

Bempton Puffins

But the undoubted stars of the show were the Gannets, many with well grown fluffy chicks on the rocky cliff ledges below the viewpoints, these majestic Persil white seabirds would drift along the cliff tops a few metres away from you. My travelling companion was quite overwhelmed and wanted to add the use of the sens of touch ti that of hearing, smell and sight by reaching out to hold one. Perhaps the most entertaining Gannet action was on a grassy slope near the top of the cliffs where a constant succession of birds came in and landed to grab beak fulls of grass to start the process of making next years nests.

Bempton Gannet and nesting material
All along the cliff top trail were well presented and informative hand drawn chalk boards with key facts about the seabirds. At the southernmost viewpoint I spotted one of the resident peregrines high overhead a great bird to end our walk with.
Peregrine at Bempton

Back at the Visitor Centre I graduated from my morning coffee to a afternoon Ice Cream and then the long drive home.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

A couple of visits to Titchwell

I've had the last week as leave from work and have packed a lot into the ten or so days out of the office including a couple of visits to the RSPB's Titchwell Marsh nature reserve. Unusually for me these were not rushed visits and I had time to properly "bird" the site.

Titchwell at dusk
The Fresh Marsh is alive with birds at the moment, last night I counted 21 Spoonbills here, some doing what Spoonbills do best standing around sleeping, others wading through the shallows feeding. Alongside the Spoonbills were 35 Little Egrets [an under estimate].

Common Tern at Titchwell
Wader diversity hasn't been at it's highest but even so between my two visits I saw large numbers of Avocets and Black Tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Spotted Redshank, Dunlin, Little STint, Common Sandpiper, Lapwing, Golden Plover Oystercatcher, Ruff, Curlew, Whimbrel, Little Ringed Plover.

Black Tailed Godwit at Titchwell
A Hobby dashed through chasing a small wader high up into the sky over the Fresh Marsh before the waders determination to save its life saw it tire out the Falcon and then escape.

Ruff at Titchwell
Bearded Tits can be easily heard at the moment and smalls flocks of juveniles are much in evidence.

Juvenile Bearded Tits at Titchwell

Monday, 11 July 2016

Kids and some summer birds

Sunday and we decided to break with our routine of the last few weekends and not go as a family to our beach hut. Instead we drove further east along the coast road than we would normally go, past Wells next the Sea pausing at Morston to allow no 2 son to get over some threatened car sickness and then to Blakeney Harbour to take the boys Crabbing.
Blakeney Harbour crabbing

The Harbour was packed with space for crabbing limited, nonetheless we found a space and having inserted some cheap bacon into our baits bags we threw our crab lines into the water and the boys were soon pulling out crab after crab and dropping them gingerly into their blue buckets which they normally use for making sandcastles.

After an hour of this we cleaned up in the harbour side toilets and had a pub lunch. Then onto Cley Marshes Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve. Here we walked out to Daukes hide in the middle of the marsh along a boardwalk and over a wooden bridge from which the boys spotted some Sticklebacks and then through the reeds to the thatched hides over looking a freshwater marsh. Initially I thought we were in for a tough time as most of the birds were a fair way off. But then a Marsh Harrier appeared and landed on a island enabling the boys [age 4 and 7] to get great scope views. After this a Spoonbill fed along the nearest bit of Marsh edge to the hide, perhaps twenty feet away and then the female Harrier returned and landed even closer to the hide.

Cley Marsh Harrier, digiscoped
The boys enjoyed this and it clearly made a mark as today no 2 son said he wanted a pet bird either a duck or a Spoonbill and if it was a Spoonbill we needn't worry as he'd catch fish for it.

Spoonbill, Cley

Home via Wiveton Hall for a punnet each of Raspberry's and Strawberry's.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

A week at Bharatpur - Friday 11th to Sunday 20th March 2016

Getting there
Just put "The Steve Rowland" on them". Saturday afternoon and I was in a hurry to leave the BirdFair and avoid the worst of the end of day traffic jam as thousands of my fellow birders headed home. 

BirdFair raffle tickets
The problem with a tribe gathering is that eventually it has to disperse and when that is by hundreds of cars along a narrow lane skirting the edge of England's largest reservoir this can be a slow process. So by 4.30pm on the Saturday of last year's BirdFair I was keen to extricate myself from the marquee that I was in and get back to my car and off site before the end of day rush.
Brahminy Myna, Bharatpur
But I had one last decision to make should I delay my departure and head back into a hot and crowded marquee to stop at the Oriental Bird Club [OBC] stand to buy my usual £10's worth of raffle tickets. 

At this point I should say that I normally I buy raffle tickets at the BirdFair to support the cause with little expectation of actually winning anything. The day before I'd bought a couple of raffle tickets with a first prize of an Antarctic cruise and had joked with my wife about what I would do if I won, in the sure knowledge that I never win anything, could I leave her alone for two weeks with our two small boys whilst I went off to the far end of the world birding. Or would I gracefully decline the prize.

I didn't visit the BirdFair on the Sunday, its my least favourite day most of the serious birders have visited on the Friday and Saturday meaning the chances of those accidental encounters with old friends are much reduced and the exhibitors are a little tired and have half an eye on the nightmare which is packing down.

Beer at Schipol Airport

So when after a short walk at RSPB Titchwell Marsh nature reserve I got home on the Sunday afternoon of Birdfair weekend and my wife told me that my friend Mike the OBC Chairman had called to tell me that I'd won a prize, I assumed that he was calling to tell me that I'd won a book or something. When after having spoke to Mike I told my family that I'd won a week in India, there was much excitement with the boys [age three and six] who decided pretty rapidly that they would like to come with me.

Fun as this sounded on sober reflection we eventually we decided that this was not the trip to introduce the boy's to long haul travel and that I would go with an old friend for a week of full on birding.

It had been a while since I had last organised a long haul trip and some of our decisions about when we went were driven by factors that the younger me didn't have to consider such as school holidays, work commitments etc. I quickly decided that if we could, we'd avoid the hassle of the big London airports and fly with KLM from Norwich to Delhi via Schipol. This was a good call with both Norwich and Schipol proving great airports.

Indian bureaucracy was something I'd forgotten about, but in reality applying for a e-visa was straightforward even if the queues at Delhi airport and the allied finger printing and photographing of a couple of jumbo jets worth of jet lagged tourists by an inadequate half a dozen immigration desks somewhat under mined the modern hassle free e-visa process.

Raj Singh, the owner of the Bagh and donator of our prize to the OBC, put me in touch with Savita at Exotic Journeys, who did very able job of organising our ground arrangements. These included a car and driver from Delhi to Bharatpur and back, it was quite a novelty for me to be met by someone at the airport with my name on a sign to take me to my car.

Flowers at The Bagh at Bharatpur
India a quarter of a century on
It might just be my imagination but I feel that Bharatpur used to have a higher profile in western birding circles than it does today. Maybe demise of the Siberian White Cranes that used to winter within the Park has reduced its legendary status, if Indeed my perception of it's lower profile is correct. Maybe there is just more competition for birding destinations today. But it's where back in the winter of 1989/90 I first visited Asia and where I started my first big long haul birding trip

Siberian White Cranes at Bharatpur during the winter of 1989/90
Looking back I recall my youthful self's "life plan" had been to do the "tougher" long haul destinations whilst young and then the easier (Europe and the States) as I got older. Those early trip's were done on cheap, this trip was easier, less hassle and more time efficient and a much more concentrated experience lasting just a week compared to my two previous trips to the sub-continent which lasted ten and six weeks respectively.

Frequent request on the back of an Indian truck
In some ways I was more excited about this short visit to India than I had been about those long youthful trips when time wasn't in short supply and I had a working assumption that I could always come back another time. Now the chances of getting to places like India are limited by the usual mix of financial constraints, family commitments and a busy job. So I guess I'm time poor but unfortunately not cash rich.

What did we want
So what did we want from the trip? We'd both been to India and Bharatpur before, but neither for many years, both had spent many months birding the subcontinent. So not many lifers on offer during this trip and we wondered if we were going a little late in the season for "northern migrants". We both wanted to see Indian Skimmers and my friend Adam wanted Indian Courser, whilst I was particularly keen to see Gangetic River Dolphin and to do some photography. With time tight we decided to not try and stay anywhere other than the Bagh at Bharatpur for our seven nights in India. We wanted to "Bird" for ourselves for the first few days and so didn't hire a guide initially, although we did get a little help from rickshaw drivers. We then hired a guide for a day trip to the Chambal River and for another day in the countryside around Bharatpur looking for grassland and open country birds. This worked well. On our way back to Delhi we had four or five hours at Okhla on our own which was great and the site felt like a great birdy patch on the edge of a big city. So in essence we were two middle aged blokes with busy jobs and young families, normally short of birding time looking to maximise our time in the field and enjoy the experience, learn a little and get occasionally confused by our memories of the Bharatpur we had both visited separately a quarter of a century ago.

Five Striped Ground Squirrel trying to blag some food.
But it was not just about Birding (but it was mainly about the birds) I think we'd both forgotten about what an assault on the senses India can be and even with the modernisation of Delhi in particular it is still very different culturally to the UK. During my first visit in the winter of 89/90 western brands like Coke were still banned, on this visit global brands were much in evidence particularly on the roads in the form of motor cars.
Indian Road user
Other changes that impacted on us more than they would your average tourist were the names of Indian birds and I spent many hours in my home office ahead of the trip cross referencing the names in the old Pictorial Guide and my 25 year old field notebooks with Inskipp, Inskipp and Grimmett's modern field guide.

The first thing that struck us as we left the airport was the chaotic road culture and the vast developments of high tec industries in the Gurgaon district around Delhi. As it got light, through a jet lagged fug we started to pick out the first birds of the trip. We experienced a surreal moment as we left a service station and drove out through the gates back onto the highway there were two macaques wearing dresses and lipstick which saluted us. I never did take a picture of this to share with you, my travelling companion insisted that would only encourage this reprehensible behaviour, but hey monkeys in dresses.

The Bagh at Bharatpur

Hibiscus at The Bagh at Bharatpur
When we got to the Bagh we received a warm welcome from Raj and his manager and after a buffet lunch we had our second wind and spent our first 500 rupees a day foreigners entrance fee [about £5] to get into the Keoladeo National Park aka Bharatpur and spent the afternoon in the park birding and were enjoying the delightful Little Green Bee-eaters that fed by the side of the road. You can find out more about the Bagh here  

Flowers at The Bagh at Bharatpur
There are many stand out moments from our week and rather than write a chronological account here are a few snapshots in words and pictures from our visit.

Pied Kingfisher, Bharatpur
Smyrna, Bharatpur
Sarus Cranes 
We had our first, fleeting, view of Sarus Cranes from our car as we drove south from Delhi to Bharatpur. In the park initially we saw little of these magnificent birds with our best sighting early on being of a pair in a small Marsh beside a path which was a long walk from the busy central paved road through the middle of the Park.

As the week went on we had more and more sightings, a few of which etched themselves in our memories. I stumbled upon one pair in the grassland by the edge of a path. I was able to sit down and watch, film and photograph them from a few tens of metres. The male bird doing a very measured and ornate display dance to the female, whilst in the background carried the sound of another bugling pair of Cranes.

Sarus Cranes, Bharatpur
Shortly after this encounter one evening as we were slowly trudging out of the Park at dusk we came across a group of seven Sarus Cranes bugling to each other and feeding close to the main track through the centre of the park, these had attracted a small crowd of admirers enjoying the Cranes and the Orange ball of the sun setting behind them. A wonderfully evocative moment.

But trumping all these Crane encounters was what is perhaps my favourite memory of the week. We were sitting in our boat on the Chambol River happy that we had seen the Gangetic River Dolphins and Indian Skimmers the reasons for our visit to this site. As the boast gently bobbed in the river a family of three Cranes wading through the sandy dun coloured shallows on the wild Chambol River whilst a flock of Bar Headed Geese flew in behind them and a pair of Black Winged Stilts consummated the elaborate courtship dance that they had treated each other and us to on the flat topped sand bank to the side of our boat.

Sarus Cranes, Chambol River
Siberian Rubythroat
Many of the long distance migrants had already left the park, but a male Siberian Rubythroat was still showing well around the edge of a gloomy pool in the bushes by a checkpoint in the Park.

Siberian Rubythroat, Bharatpur, 
The Sibe Rubythroat shared the pool with some large frogs whose croaking filled the silence as we waited for the bird to appear. This bird would magically reveal itself appearing out of the tangle of vegetation in low light a plain brown Song Thrush sized bird which would turn and in doing so hit you between the eyes with its vivid scarlet throat. Here we came across an Indian Twitch and perhaps a sign of how an emerging middle class has taken up enjoying nature as a leisure pastime. Multi-coloured clothes, across ages & genders gathered to stare at a gloomy little pool.

One of my aims [apart from squeezing a quart of birding, photography, travel, banter and eating into a pint pot of seven days] was to spend time with a troop of Rhesus Macaques and getting some decent images of them.

What I'd forgotten about Rhesus Macaques is what lairy buggers they are and what a pain they must be to live with. One lesson I quickly learnt was that the big males don't like eye contact and that seemed to include the 'eye' which is a telephoto lens. Once by the temple inside the park a male aggressively warned me that it didn't like me taking its picture and again on the entrance drag as I videoed a troop passing me a male made a lunge for me and was fortunately chased off by our rickshaw driver.

Rhesus Macaques, Bharatpur
But having said all that, I did enjoy my time with them, their dark intelligent eyes, comedy pink bums, social groups and all round adaptability.

We did come across one troop of Langur's outside the park and these were certainly on this occasion more timid than the Macaques, keeping their distance and staying in the trees and ruins of  an old factory.

Greater Coucal
The Bagh [which is Persian for Garden] is a complex of accommodation buildings set in well vegetated grounds, not a garden in the European sense of flower beds but a wonderful tranquil oasis and we would spend time at the start and end of the day quietly wandering the paths through the trees and shrubs birding and photographing. The highlight of these walks was a Orange Headed Ground Thrush [the only one we saw all trip] that bounced out onto a wall one morning.

Greater Coucal in the Bagh Garden
But my most memorable encounter here was a Greater Coucal that I saw eating a small snake that it had caught. It had been a long hot days birding and I had low expectations of my walk around the garden and was in a bit of a daze when a Coucal flew up from the path that ran alongside one of the buildings. When it landed I noticed that it had a snake in its bill and I was able to carefully stalk it take some pictures of it disembowelling and eating the snake whilst a Taiga Flycatcher called in the background.

Chambol boat trip
A key species for me to see was Gangetic River Dolphin and I knew that we could do a day trip from Bharatpur to try and see these on the Chambol River. So on one of the two days that we hired a guide we asked him to take us to the River and sort out a boat trip. We drove down to the jetty in the shadow of a giant road bridge and to a car park by the jetty and reception hut that was surrounded by brightly coloured flags. On the wall of the hut the copious rules of the river trip were written in Hindi and English. River Lapwings fed on the edge of the river which looked low.

River Lapwings and Gharial, Chambol River
We got aboard our boat, the only passengers and turned right to search first for Dolphins. As we headed downstream we saw our first Gharial and Marsh Muggers hauled out on the sandy river bank, more River Lapwings and some Greater Thick-knees. I missed the first Dolphin and was starting to get a little agitated that I might not see one when a Dorsal broke a few times in front of us, not the greatest of views and no photos were possible but good to see this enigmatic creature.

Having seen the Dolphins albeit briefly we turned around and passed under the road bridge past some low islands on which Spoonbills and Gharials loafed and River Lapwings fed. This area felt a little wilder but even so there were still folk on the river bank. We came to some small low sandy islands where we counted 34 Indian Skimmers which gave great views, even if none of them flew around and did any skimming whilst we were there.

Indian Skimmer, Chambol River
As we watched the Skimmers our attention was distracted by Small Pratincoles and a pair of courting and mating Black Winged Stilts. A family party of Sarus Cranes picked their way through the shallows whilst a flock of Bar Headed Geese flighted in to land in the water around them. The Cranes elegant birds on a wild river cutting through a dun brown landscape, the Geese about to head north to Tibet over the high Himalaya, a wonderful snapshot of wild India.

Whilst I don't have a favourite bird or even family of birds I do like Shrikes, a lot. On this trip we had good prolonged views of two Species Long Tailed and Bay Backed, although we had to wait till late in the trip to see the latter species which prefers the drier parts of the Park. These shots were digi-scoped by hand holding to the eyepiece of my Kowa 883 Scope my Panasonic Lumix TZ30 which I set to max on macro zoom. This arrangement seems to work well in locations like northern India where there is great light and birds sitting up gagging to have their picture or video taken. It is not as sure fire a method back home in north Norfolk when the light is so so, the wind is blowing and the birds are less cooperative. Still in my book any day with a Shrike in it is a good one and I don't need much of an excuse to share these pictures with you.

Bay Backed Shrike, Bharatpur
A Flutterer
Whilst our main focus was birds followed by mammals and the odd charismatic Herp, we did look at the more eye catching insects that we came across including the dragonflies. Perhaps the most striking of these was this beast which I have since found out via my friend Phil Benstead at  is a  female Common Picture Wing also known as  Variegated Flutterer or Rhyothemis variegata. We spent a enjoyable half an hour trying to photograph this very active individual as it patrolled an open area by the side of a ditch. Looking on the web it is said to have a weak flight and to be easily mistaken for a butterfly but my mind was more drawn to memories of Owlflies [Ascalaphidae]that I had seen in the Spanish Pyrenees. Either way it was very exciting to have one of those what the hell is that and whatever it is doesn't it look great moments, followed by the frustration of trying to get a picture of an active insect for both identification and aesthetic reasons.

Female Common Picture Wing, Bharatpur

Bluethroat, Okhla
The plan all along was to maximise time in the field, so that the fact that travelling by road at night in India is best avoided was a bit of a problem as it meant getting to and from the airport in daylight and using up valuable birding time. Whilst this was unavoidable the plan was on the way back to break the journey on the outskirts of Delhi at Okhla. I felt rather at home here, a marsh on the edge of a big city by the side of a river, it reminded me a bit of some of the places I've birded around London and the Thames estuary over the years. It was also pretty devoid of people compared to Bharatpur, we passed a few folk walking along the tarmac road that runs along the side of the river and then when we walked into the marsh proper there were just a couple of young lads messing about with a camera. It was great to be able to bird without being interrupted and to feel that you had the place to yourselves. It was also a great place for birds and we had some brilliant views here of Bluethroat  and added Striated Grassbird to our trip list.

Okhla view
Trip list?
I have an Excel file with our trip list on it, when I'll get a minute I'll work out how to add it to this blog.

Looking back we probably left our visit as late as was comfortable, already the temperature was rising and many of the northern migrants had left for their breeding grounds, another week or two and I think we would have had to stop birding in the middle of the day and birds like that splendid male Sibe Rubythroat would have departed. I haven't done the maths but of the 198 species that we recorded between us a good number were records of a single individual, both a testament to the hard work that we put in but also to the fact that many species were on the move and we were picking up the last odd individuals.

Indian Courser near Bharatpur
So I am left now with a wonderful mish-mash of memories of this short and intense trip; the luck of buying the winning raffle ticket, the friendship and good humour of Adam my travelling companion, the chaos of Indian roads, birding in hot sunny weather, marshes filled with birds, aggressive macaques, that wonderful trip along the Chambol river and of course loads of stunning birds. As Kipling wrote "If you've heard the east a calling..." and as Arnold Schwarzenniger said "I'll be back".

The Bagh at Bharatpur