Monday, 30 December 2013

Purple Sandpipers

I recently went to Brixham Harbour on the Western side of Torbay.

The wind was extremely strong but it created a wild atmosphere and it was great watching the gulls and gannets battling against the wind.

The breakwater that creates the harbour is a favoured wintering site for rocky shore specialist birds such as purple sandpiper, turnstone and rock pipit.

(Great Black-backed gull)

I counted 23 purple sandpipers and at least 15 turnstones along the shoreline of the breakwater and several rock pipits were nervously feeding in the same area.

(Purple sandpipers and turnstone)

Interestingly 2 turnstones and a purple sandpiper were feeding from a fishermen's leftover bait on the concrete walkway of the breakwater, this is behaviour I have seen in turnstones before, but not purple sandpipers.

(Turnstones and purple sandpiper)

The harbour itself is apparently a regular haunt of grey seals that like to hunt the fish that frequent the calmer waters.

I saw a huge bull grey seal at dusk hunting along the shoreline although he never remained above water long enough for a picture. A fantastic sight!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Brazil Trip Report

I have now published a trip report for my summer spent in Brazil on my website. (A summer in Brazil) Or direct on sky driver:

Invertebrate species lists will hopefully soon be updated.

Hopefully the report will prove to be useful to those interested in visiting some of the areas and maybe encourage people to visit Brazil!

I have not gone into detail on personal highlights and experiences because there would be too many to list. However the time I spent at REGUA particularly provided me with some outstanding wildlife and people experiences. It was a true pleasure to spend time and have stimulating, funny and memorable conversations with so many like minded conservationists, birders, volunteers, locals and guides.

The wildlife highlights range from moments of pure heaven seeing unusual and rare behaviour and species, to catching some great camera trap footage and a few slightly scary encounters with a puma!

As always I will be happy to help give advice to anyone interested in specific detail, or please get in touch if you have any suggestions or comments.


Saturday, 30 November 2013

New home in Devon

I have recently moved to Totnes in southern Devon to work for the wildlife tour company Reef and Rainforest Tours.

I have recently been out exploring my local natural attractions including the beautiful Dartmoor National Park and South Hams rugged coastlines.

(Brixham Head, Paignton)
(Gannet, Brixham Head)
(Dartmoor National Park)
One of the birding highlights recently was at Clennon Valley, in Paignton. There is a long staying yellow-browed warbler favouring a patch of willow and sycamore along a small stream near to Broadsands area of Paignton. On my second visit to the site I had some great views of the bird, but it rarely perched long enough to obtain a picture.

(Yellow-browed warbler)
The majority of the yellow-browed warbler population over-winters in southern Asia. However each year there are increasing numbers of this tiny warbler arriving on the eastern coast of the United Kingdom and other areas of Europe and even north Africa. There are now many theories as to why these birds are migrating so far to the west of their normal (known) wintering range. These include; reverse migration, and random dispersal. The most recent proposal however is that a part of the population may be discovering (colonising) a new wintering range in the west. Yellow-browed warblers are active feeders and seek out insect rich habitat when they arrive in the UK and are associated with non native sycamore trees because of the abundance of autumn insects these trees offer.
I frequently observed the yellow-browed warbler at Clennon valley feeding by hovering below a sycamore leaf to probably pick greenfly larvae from underneath the leaf. The same patch of woodland was also used by 2 chiffchaffs and several goldcrests that were feeding in the same way. A Green woodpecker, jays and several buzzards entertained me while searching for the warbler.
(Green woodpecker)
I later popped into the Broadsands car park for a look at the cirl buntings that overwinter in that area but only managed distant views. I finished the day at the weir in Totnes where there was a kingfisher actively hunting the main pool below the weir and a mobile pair of goosander too. As the light faded I caught a glimpse of what was probably an otter swimming downstream towards Totnes, but because of the light and overall poor view it prevented a 100% certainty to the identification of the animal (it could have been an American mink). I am really looking forward to finding more wildlife in this this beautiful county.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Southern Pantanal Fazenda San Fransico part 2

The main focus of my trip to the lodge was the mammal life, with particular focus on species I missed seeing or photographing before in the northern pantanal.

Jaguar scratch marks

The first sightings were the conspicuous capybara, that were common along all the waterways and rice field ditches.


The property has a good amount of dry savannah and termite mound filled ranch land that supports a healthy population of giant anteaters. The entrance track from the road to the lodge passes through an area of suitable habitat that appears to be a very reliable location to see this unique creature. I had 12 sightings of them almost all along this entrance track including 7 in one night. I even witnessed a female having to fight off an eager male who was trying to mate with her.

Giant anteaters

The wet grasslands and forest edges were reliable places to see the endangered marsh deer which appears to be common on this property. I saw several on most outings, but they were more common at night.

Marsh deer
One of my target mammals was the yellow (6 banded) armadillo, which favours dryer more open habitats. There was lots of evidence of armadillos around the farm, but determining which species were responsible was very difficult. I did however have great views of 2 yellow armadillos that came to feed on leftover grain under the bird feeders at night. One in particular was very bold, and on one occasion while it was hiding under an old car I even touched his back to see what its armour felt like. It did not notice which was not too much of a surprise as their armour plated skin is made from bone and it calmly carried on with its business.

Yellow armadillo

The night drives were fantastic and I had some close views of 5 different crab-eating foxes, including a pair that were hunting in an area of long grass close to the road.

Crab-eating fox

The night drive target was ocelot and over the course of the 3 nights I saw 5 different cats including a stand off between a large male and 2 crab-eating foxes, at first the ocelot chased the foxes then the tables turned and the ocelot retreated without any physical contact. I also saw a saw cat run across the road that frustratingly I could not fully identify or re-find.

I also had a great sighting of this spectacular old male during the day.


The fur around his head was turning grey because of his age, but it may have been exaggerated by the wounds on his face.

The reason for the high success rates in seeing ocelots and other carnivores at this site is most likely because of the high density of rodents using the drainage ditches adjacent to the rice fields and pastureland that has attracted the normally forest dwelling carnivores out to hunt these productive areas. The population of ocelot is particularly high on this property compared to others in the pantanal, where they have much larger territories.

Along the rivers there was well preserved gallery forest and here I found black howler and black-striped tufted capuchin troops.

Black-striped tufted capuchin

Black howler (female)

I also had 2 sightings of a group of the fantastic giant otters, which inhabit the larger waterways on the property, the sounds these enormous mustelids make has to be heard to be believed.

Giant otter

While on a boat ride along the smaller river mid-morning on one of the days I spotted this female jaguar sat on the riverbank for about 3 minutes before it slunk away into the forest. There are thought to be 8 jaguars resident on the Fazenda and their habit for using the larger waterways for hunting and resting means that there is always a chance of a sighting in these habitats.


The numbers of yacare caiman appeared to be much lower than in the northern pantanal, but the views I had were as close as ever.

Yacare caiman

I also had several sightings of the black and white Argentine tegu, which was only recently split from the golden tegu found further north. This species is the largest of its family and they fill a similar ecological niche to that of the monitor lizards of Africa, Asia and Australia.

Argentine black-and-white tegu

I again found several amphibians at night that require detailed study before identification can be made.


Southern Pantanal Fazenda San Fransico

Before leaving Brazil, I visited the lodge Fazenda San Fransico near Miranda, in Mato Grosso du Sul state.

The climate in this region is very different to the humid forests of Rio state and the temperature reached 38 degrees most days and was much drier. The state is famous for its cattle ranching which has sadly destroyed a lot of the natural habitats, but the Pantanal has most of its extent in this state and the abundance of wildlife is very high still.

I spent 3 nights at the family run working farm and lodge of Fazenda San Fransico. The land here has been used for rearing cattle breeds for meat for generations but more recently rice production has also been a key part of their income because of the suitable soils. Most recently the owners decided to open the farm to tourism as they have still preserved half of their land as the natural landscape of the pantanal.


The landscape of the southern pantanal is very similar to that of the north, and the Fazenda has a good percentage of gallery forest, wet and dry savannah, scrub, rivers, seasonal pools and agricultural land.

They run a popular lodge and offer their land for both tourism activities and scientific research. Most visitors to the lodge are coming as part of a package and the activities on offer include boat rides, piranha fishing, horse rides, jeep safaris, walking trails and night drives. The lodge is a popular destination for  big groups of day trip visitors arriving from Bonito and this could be a problem as it did hold up the daily activities and restricted the amount of wildlife viewing opportunities.

However the lodge was very pleasant with a friendly atmosphere and the wildlife watching potential was superb.

The birdlife was typical of the pantanal and many of the "classic" species were abundant but still in lower numbers than in the some areas of the north that I had visited.

Rufous-backed antwren

Some of the highlights included blue and yellow macaw, yellow-collared macaw, blue-fronted parrot, scaly-headed parrot, nanday parakeet, monk parakeet, yellow-cheveroned parakeet, toco toucans, greater rheas,  blue-fronted piping guan, bare-faced currasow, green-barred, white and little woodpeckers, narrow-billed woodpecker, buff-fronted, bare faced and plumbeous ibises, black-necked stilt, lesser yellowlegs, solitary sandpipers, maguari, wood and jabiru storks, osprey, bat and aplomado falcons, striped owls, sungrebe, white monjita, striped cuckoo, great antshrike, orange-backed troupial, epaulet oriole, rufous cacholote, rusty-collarded seedeater, rufous-backed antwren and nacunda nighthawk.
Blue and yellow macaw

Black-collared hawk

Buff-necked ibis

Greater rhea

Striped owl

White monjita

Fork-tailed flycatcher

Jabiru stork

Yellow-collared macaw