The unsound approach

General sightings, activities and, progressively less crap record shots from the creme-de-la-menthe of Norfolk birding - First With Our News Most Of The Time!

Glorious past events:

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22nd May

Aylsham (RoMa)

My parents moved into the fine county a few months back and are starting to notice the differences from their previous life in Nottingham. Today, I popped up there for Sunday lunch and a pair of Red Kite drifted past the house, heading north at 11:40. That never happened in 40 years of life in Chilwell!

8th May

Holme for good (RoMa)

Yeah, so I've been sneaking about the hood trying to cope with not being in Peru anymore, and even worse having sunk back to newt fondling in Northants. To stave off madness and to remind myself that it is actually possible for excitingly rare beautiful birds to occur in Norfolk I twitched the Collared Flycatcher at Holme. Mega. How great would this look on the hills? How great does this look anyway?

4-7th May

Salinas, Para, Brazil (AL, NM)

Quiet on here isn't it? Your guess is as good as mine as to what everyone has been up to... I've been chained to a PC for a month or so but managed to get away for a few days to the coast. Spent some more time in the mangroves this time round and managed to unblock Mangrove Cuckoo and Bicoloured Conebill. On the mud and sand there were still plenty of Arctic shorebirds in fine dress but the pick of the migrants were a trio of ringed Roseate Terns a bit of a mega in these parts...

Roseates (AL)

SBDowitchers (AL)

Semi-p-Sandpiper (AL)

Semi-p Plover (AL)

Mangrove Cuckoo (AL)

28th March

Norwich Waterworks (JG)

I'm back in the UK for a couple of weeks, the radiant sunshine of The Fine City offering pleasant respite after all the ice, snow and misery of New Jersey. No actual birding will be done, of course, but I've been managing an occasional glance out the window in the hope of a spring migrant or two. Success came yesterday in the form of a male Black Redstart on the 'works rooftops. Sorry, I mean a "paradoxus" Black Redstart, not a male. Apparently that's the more politically correct term these days. No idea why. Other excitements have included a few flyby Waxwings, some Buzzards and a Harris Hawk with full jesse', though I'm still waiting for the cathedral Peregrines to make their presence felt.

Paradoxical chat

Para-olympic gull

10th-12th March

Coastal Amazonia (AL)

Am recently back from a couple of days scoping out sites for a team of vets intent on catching waders to look for pathogens. Most of this NE coast of Brazil is ornithological terra incognita, so it was great to get some big counts of shorebirds (e.g. 1200 Semipalmated Sandpipers) and some even bigger counts of gulls terns and skimmers. I'll not bore you with stats, so here's some annotated images....

Cabot's Terns (AL), note bill variation between the individuals, some of which could be assigned to acuflavida others to erygnatha, others are obvious intermediates. The recent genetic study (summary here) found no evidence for any phylogeographic structuring within the 'American Sandwich Tern' group, something that was perhaps obvious given previous studies at mixed colonies.

Gulling in Amazonia isnn't very dynamic.... although I felt that I could get 2 species at any minute, should a vagrant LBBG show-up...

More yellow-billed Cabot's Terns (AL)

Catharacta-style skua, photographed at great range (AL). A biome first whatever it was...

Hud Whimbrel (AL)

Guará (AL)

Short-billed Dowitchers (AL)

Wilson's Plover (AL) unblocked!

subadult Rufous Crab Hawk (AL) a tick for me, note its just gained two adult-type primaries on each wing which will eventually form that distinctive orange bar...

16th March 2010

Peru (RMa)

Big news today: day 1 in Tambopata and Harpy is on! Arrived in Puerto Maldonado yesterday from a week in Cusco, got on the boat at one this afternoon. Stopped at the guard post to sign in and waiting to climb back into the boat this massive shape appeared gliding across the river about 300m upstream. It was blindingly obvious what it was but I couldn't speak. I pointed and garbled some noise to the Wasai guide, Jorge, who instantly saw it and shouted it, but he's seen a few more than I have. It seemed to land, so we moved the boat slowly closer. And there it was, perched in a cecropia but almost immediately it was off again, this time through the trees and out of view. Awesome. I blasted a couple of distant manual focus shots as it had been travelling across the river, screenshot attached. Coincidentally ate in the same restaurant as Rob Williams and his team from zoological soc of Frankfurt yesterday, and this morning took his advice to go to a spot in Puerto Maldonado and saw Black-banded Crake. Did some other stuff, but about to run out of electricity in the forest.

Harpy (RMa) this isn't just a random polygon, really...

Harpy (AL) This is what they look like when your image isn't a photograph of the screen of your DSLR of an image originally taken whilst balancing on a boat in intensive levels of excitement...

Early Feb

Northern Morocco (RDM)

Black-winged Stilt at Sebkha Bou Areg

Barbary Partridge at Sebkha Bou Areg

Sh*t-face at Sebkha Bou Areg

Lesser Kestrel


Brown-throated Martin at Merja Barga (new site)


Juv Glaucous Gull at Lower Loukkos Marshes, Larache

Marsh Owl at Merja Zerga

Mohamed with a stilt on each shoulder

Yawning Audouin's on the Algerian border

Purple Swamphens at Smir Wetland - this fantastic wetland is set to be destroyed. More information on these proposed disgraceful actions can be found here

Late Feb

Goa (RDM, AR)

Blue-faced Malkoha at Arpora woods

Brahminy Starling

Bonnet Macaques in the Western Ghats


Stork-billed King at Candolim

Southern Plains Grey Langurs at Arpora Woods

Indo-Pacific Hump-backs and Bottlenose seen from boat out of Coco Beach

Gaur- was so big I couldn't get it all in

15th February 2011

Brazil (AL, N.Moura, B.Davis)

After a 7-month field campaign, we've pretty much wrapped up the biodiversity sampling for the 'Sustainable Amazonia' project, just a couple of weeks later in the spring to finish one last micro-basin. The last days in Santarem were a pretty hectic race against the oncoming wet season, but after finishing we delayed our return in order to do some dirty twitching. The target - Sulphur-breasted Parakeet - a new species described only in 2005 is confined to savannah-like habitats to the vicinity of Monte Alegre, Para - and now also known from Surinam. We left Santarem on the 9th and took the Hilux across the Amazon on an overloaded barge in the teeth of a pretty ferocious storm. Fortuitously the dirt road had recently been graded which meant that road conditions (best described as 'bad') didn't unduly test AL's 4WD handling skills. We made Monte Alegre, a neat and pretty riverside community, by early evening and had time to appreciate a flight of Lesser Nighthawks and a massive roost of Purple Martins (along with the Barn Swallows below, a reminder of the return push of Neotropical migrants). The Parakeet wasn't too taxing to find, our first was next to its cage (picked on call from the car) and we were able to glean evidence that this species was not that uncommon in captivity locally - perhaps indicating a greater problem than LFS et al. (2005) above suggest. We picked up our first in the field later the same day - a pair east of the city, then Brad had 14 next to our hotel, and then a final detection of a single individual 40 km east of Monte Alegre on the 11th. Other than that we just picked up a few bits and bobs - an attempt at river-island specials largely failed owing to a failure to reach suitably good forest, although Lesser Hornero was a token tick for AL.

SBP's Monte Alegre (AL)

(same, AL)

(same, AL)

captive, free-flying SBP, Monte Alegre (AL)

Purple Martins (AL)

Purple Martins (AL)

Lesser Nighthawk (AL) We had 100s of these every evening and picked up a couple of diurnal roosting birds during the day. Common Nighthawk is basically unknown from the Amazon on spring passage.

Lesser Hornero (AL)

Blue-tailed Emerald (AL)

Barn Swallows (AL) Spectacular passage of erythrogaster over the last few weeks, the adults were pretty consistently diagnosable from nominate birds and the juvs were hyper-distintive, genetics says maybe...

Peru (RoMa, KB)

Peru update: saw Long-whiskered Owlet on evening of the 9th from trails above the Neotropical Primate Conservation house about 5miles NNW from La Esperanza. Big thanks to Noga Shanee for fixing up this trip and to Ronal, our guide. It's a brutal trek up, then first night we heard nothing. Second night I heard a response from way up on the ridge at 19:45, then finally after moving further up trails and more playback the bird shut up. I thought it was all over, it hadn't been coming any closer the whole time. A very long 10 minutes passed then a bat-like fluttery shape skimmed overhead, silhouetted against the bright moonlight sky. Ronal hit the torch. No more than 4 metres away was a tiny bundle of ill-fitting fluffy feathers gathered around a pair of evil dull red eyes, framed by stupid wispy whiskers. What a beast! Other birds include a thorntail species that resembled wire-crested but had an obviously white tufted crest above and below the beak, not green. And a bunch of more expected things like Johnson's Tody-Tyrant, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, lekking cock-rockers, many tangara and some migrants like black-and-white, blackburnian and Canada Warblers, Summer Tanager and Swainson's thrush. And Andean Night Monkey. Since then we've seen a whole bunch of Spatuletails and Fasciated Tiger-heron.

I-phone back-up of one of Rob's owl shots (RM)

26th January 2011

Central Amazon (AL)

So after a brief respite from biting insects and staring at a rubbish tip it was back to Amazonia in an attempt to finish a field campaign now so long I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing point counts in Pará. The last few weeks have been a little slow bird wise, slow in the sense that we haven’t picked up anything stunning, although both White-winged and Long-tailed Potoos have made the notebooks along with the usual Southern Amazonian specials. Rain has been a big problem, now that we’re stuck trying to finish at the beginning of the rainy season. It rains a lot here. Which means a lot of fruitless pre-dawn walk-ins and bedraggled walk-outs. If you think that doing a postdoc in Amazonia is all sweet hook-ups then try walking for 16km in torrential rain through a poorly-cut trail, mostly in the dark. We wiped out yesterday when it rained an hour into the hike to the transects. But not before I nailed one of my biggest tarts though. There smack bang in the middle of the trail, ready to get busy was the most feared snake in the New World. Bushmaster... back of the net...

pretty huh? (AL)

Bushmasters are cool for several reasons:

1) They have the coolest-sounding English common name of about any vertebrate.

2) They have the coolest latin name of about any vertebrate – Lachesis muta – translating as ‘silent fate’. That’s totally a new pants-sounding latin name.

3) They can grow to 3.65m, making them the world’s largest pit-viper.

4) Their venom contains the usual sub-set of haemorrhagic, coagulant and neurotoxic factors that may lead to a lingering death, but what sets Bushmasters apart from the other Crotalids are components of the venom that result in hypovolemia - irreversible hypotension that quite often results in ‘shock death’ before antivenom can be administered. This ‘Lachesis syndrome’ is commonest in neonates whose venom contains higher quantities of the kininogen and kallikrein-like proteinase that cause hypovolemia – such that they can secure prey quicker. This means that the little 60cm mini-master above is potentially more dangerous than a circa 4m one. Not that you’d want to choose. Holistically speaking the combination of the multifactorial processes and tendency for sudden death means that bushmaster venom is best descrived as ‘massively fuck-off’.

5) Did I mention the names?

I always carry a venom extractor, although Dean Ripa's comments on its use after a Bushmaster envenomation don't fill with me confidence:

“Some small amount of blood and serum came out, which was more than I expected since swelling quickly constricts the punctures. If nothing else the Extractor gave me the feeling it could be helping, and with the panic of snakebite being what it is, that alone makes it worth the modest cost. It was fun to play with, a welcome diversion from the possibilities of dying.”

To further quote from that online book:

"Indeed; and so might their venom be called beautiful, with its rich constellation of atoms, 2000 in all, in a molecular structure fundamentally the same as cancer. One needn’t always go so horribly. Cleopatra might have experienced only some mild discomfort from her cobra bite, until her eyelids began to droop, her speech slur and her lungs ceased responding to the mundane neural commands to breathe the sweltering Egyptian air. Some bites, especially the neurotoxic types, keep you guessing until the whole time. The victim doesn’t even know he’s has been poisoned until the saliva starts over-pouring his mouth and his breaths begins coming up short. There are the sly, creeping envenomings that kill you sneakingly and unexpectedly (e.g., J. Slowinski krait, C. Schmidt, boomslang; R. Mertens, twig snake; the latter two species believed to have been only mildly venomous at the time); and there are those more grandiose poisonings that leave no doubt of their trajectory from ugly beginning to uglier end (Gerald de Bary, puff adder; W. Dickinson, king cobra; D. March, fer-de-lance). Finally, and most directly to be feared, are those envenomings that leave no time for the dark imagination to take hold. Envenomings so overwhelming, anguishing and sudden in their assault that the thought of death seems merely an abstraction, for it cannot be separated from the catastrophic physical attack—where the hope for survival becomes abandoned to a strange new quest: for a merciful oblivion. This is bushmaster bite, a roller-coaster ride straight down into the Lake of Fire and that leaves little time even to pray...."

Having had to catch and box two Fer-de-Lances in as many weeks I'll be using an extra long stick in future...

Here's a couple of pics of a dead one I found in Mato Grosso back in '06...

fang-tastic (AL, Alta Floresta, August 2006) If you're lucky and get bitten on the hand the fangs may go right through and come out the other side before too much venom is injected.

still only half as big as they can get... (AL)

In other news, here are some photos...

Non-forest point counts can be quite dull... (AL) this Turkey practically came and sat on my shoulder in a cow field.

this ugly brute was hunting frogs on a wet roadside verge as we sped past at 0530 (AL)

Rufous-breasted Hermit (AL) nesting outside my window

5th Jan

Norwich Waterworks (JG)

There's been some hot midwinter action on the 'works lately. First we had an adrenaline-pumping five minute visit from two Pochard, then there was a dizzying peak count of 48 Tufties, and finally the surprise appearance of a whopping six Coot on the concrete-sided oasis. Significantly less interesting was a first-winter gull that turned up a few days ago looking pretty Caspish. Caspish, but not pretty.

The underwing was quite dark, which I'm told is a bit abnormal for a 'true' Pontiac, but otherwise it looks alright. Without a ring and full life history on file, there's no way of knowing for sure. Still, as gulls go, it made it into the elite category of "just about worth putting the scope up for". Just about.