Poor old Gilbert is getting restless. Despite the fact that there is more interest in wildlife than ever before, it seems that most of the so-called conservation organisations are losing interest in species. Instead they prefer to babble on about landscape scale conservation and ecosystem services (whatever they are). Could this be because most of their staff don't have any knowledge about species if they don't have four legs?
This is my attempt to encourage an interest in good old-fashioned natural history.

Friday, 28 March 2014


Today I received details from the BTO of a ringed Guillemot that I found dead on the beach at Hayling seafront on 13th January.

The ring was in perfect condition and at the time I suspected that it was a rehabilitated bird that had been ringed a matter of days before it was found dead. Clearly the rings survive in sea water much better than I realised as it had been ringed as a nestling on the Isle of Canna on 20th July 2013, 785km NNW.

It had been particularly stormy in the lead up to my finding the corpse although at that stage there hadn't been a lot of dead auks found elsewhere.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Unknown origins and one-sided friendships

During the recent floods the Environment Agency opened the sluice on the Slipper Millpond in Emsworth to reduce the risk of flooding upstream. This turned what is normally a saline lagoon into mud with a river flowing through it and I thought I'd go and have a look at what the low water levels had revealed.

The only new species that I saw was the tubeworm Ficopomatus enigmatica. It is not a native species and Wikipedia says that it is from Australia and is a major threat to native wildlife. Unsurprisingly, this isn't correct. Whilst it is now found in areas with variable salinity in temperate waters throughout the world, it is not known where it originates from and it is considered non-native in Australia. It's requirement for variable salinity means that it does not compete with most native species and as it has beneficial effects on water quality by removing suspended solids and improving the oxygen and nutrient status of the water so it may actually benefit other benthic species. There are potential negative effects but it certainly isn't a clear-cut case of 'nightmare alien invader'.

It was noticeable that many of the colonies at Emsworth were attached to litter in the mud.

Whilst there I watched a female Red-breasted Merganser fishing in the river. The whole time she was followed around by a Little Egret - presumably hoping to pick off anything that the Merganser missed or disturbed. The merganser seemed fairly tolerant of the egrets attentions but I can't help feeling that it was a rather one-sided friendship.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Wanna see a BoP? The conclusion

The place that I was most looking forward to visiting came at the end of the trip; a rustic 'lodge' on a tributary of the Elevala River. This involved a two hour boat ride along the massive Fly River then up the Elevala.

 The lodge was certainly 'rustic'

But the view from the dining area was stunning

Bird of the trip for me displayed one morning on the tallest tree on the horizon in the above photo so needless to say there are no photos of Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise from this trip!

The down side of this area was supposed to be the extreme heat and humidity, combined with mozzies, leeches, chiggers, etc. but it was about 10C cooler than normal and my approach of shorts and sandals paid off, with no chiggers or leech bites and just a few mozzies, and it certainly made the exceptionally muddy trails easier to navigate.

Some of the best birds were seen from the boat on the way in.

Marbled Frogmouth on nest
Blyth's Hornbill
Southern Crowned Pigeon. The best pigeon in the world?
Palm Cockatoo
The dense forests made birding very difficult and almost every species had to be worked for really hard. Common Paradise Kingfisher took about an hour to pin down but eventually showed well.

But this was nothing on Hook-billed Kingfisher. Several different birds were heard each day but despite astonishing efforts by both the Rockjumper leaders and the local guides (who are amazingly sharp at picking things up) all remained invisible. I had given up all hope of seeing this species but on the last morning, another sterling effort finally pinned one down.

The river trip back to Kiunga produced a group of Channel-billed Cuckoos

The trip was pretty much over now. If only.............
We spent a final morning birding the Boys Town Road while one of the Rockjumper leaders went to Kiunga airport to check our bags in for the flight back to the capital. We saw a few bits and pieces but most of the effort went into trying to see Blue Jewel-Babbler which I'd already seen so I kept out of the way. The highlight for me was the extended views of Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrot.

We returned to Kiunga to find out that the plane was cancelled because of a pot-hole on the runway. The only option was to overnight in Kiunga and then drive to Tabubil (oh no, not Tabubil) early the next morning to try to fly out from there. The only problem with this plan is that planes can only land at Tabubil when the visibility is clear because of the surrounding mountains, but it rains at Tabubil 365 days of the year.

So began a routine. We would get to Tabubil airport early in the morning. A plane would fly out from Port Moresby, circle over the airport, decide they couldn't land and we'd return to the hotel for crap food and crap satellite TV. If anything the weather was getting worse each day and the 'mis-information' (some might call it downright lies) from Air Nuigini didn't help matters. We couldn't even get a message home because the whole town is run by a mining company and they don't allow access to email or social media. The Rockjumper leaders were absolute stars but even guys who could get a plane to fly to the wrong place earlier in the trip couldn't do anything to resolve this one.

Finally, on the Friday morning, when the visibility was worse than on any previous day, a plane appeared on the runway. It had cost us a days birding at Varirata National Park and two rebooking fees for our onward flights to the UK (or in the case of those who were booked on the extension to New Britain, three-quarters of the extension). How they could land on that day and not on the previous ones when the visibility was better will remain a mystery for ever but at least we were on our way out.

So, to answer the question in the title. You want to see a Bird of Paradise, what should you do? My advice is that you have unlimited money and unlimited time, book a trip with Rockjumper. If you have restrictions upon either, buy the David Attenborough video and wait a few decades for the country (and especially its airline) to get its act together.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Wanna see a BoP? Part five

The far west of PNG beckoned and, amazingly, our flights back to Port Moresby and out to Kiunga were both pretty much on time. From Kiunga we had a two hour drive to the mining town of Tabubil. A friend who had been there wrote in his trip report something along the lines of 'get me out of this god-forsaken shit hole' so perhaps my judgement was somewhat coloured before I arrived but neither the town nor the hotel did little to change my mind. The service in the hotel restaurant was the worst I've experienced anywhere in the world and on one evening my meal just never arrived. One hotel notice did provide entertainment though.

The area did produce a number of really good birds including Salvadori's Teal and Papuan Eagle although neither showed for long enough to allow photography. It seemed that most of the birds that we were going to see showed on the first day and I'd have happily not stayed on any longer. The weather wasn't helping much either.

The insect life in the area provided many of the highlights.

There were several different species of these tortoise beetles (or helicopter beetle) as some called them, and an entomologist in our group took a few specimens to send to a world expert in this group.

Jumping spider
Praying Mantis stalking skipper butterfly
My only cockroach sighting of the trip was in our bathroom at the hotel in Tabubil but by the time I'd called my brother to come and see it, it was an ex-cockroach.

During our time in this part of PNG we were followed around by a group of birders from (I think) Taiwan. Their attire was sufficiently entertaining that I couldn't resist.

Their behaviour in leaving all their rubbish behind at the Greater BoP lek was somewhat less entertaining and I was sorely tempted to tell them exactly what I thought of them. Thankfully our group removed the rubbish.

Not before time, we left Tabubil and returned to Kiunga where the main attraction was a site poetically called Kilometre 17. This is the site where David Attenborough was hauled up into the canopy to see the Greater BoP's lek. But before we got to that there were some more good insects to see.

And even a cool spiders web.

But the birds took centre stage:

Rufous-bellied Kookaburra
King Bird of Paradise
Greater Bird of Paradise
Whilst watching the displaying Greater BoPs, a raucous commotion announced the arrival of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos

Friday, 7 March 2014

Wanna see a BoP? Part four

The next couple of days was spent at Kumul Lodge, situated at 2900m in montane forest. It was cold (as was the water in the taps, when there was any), it was wet (again) and the food wasn't great but they did have a great bird table.

This was regularly loaded with fruit and provided a constant procession of birds that could be photographed easily from the balcony. The range of species wasn't great when compared to feeding stations in South America for instance, but the ease of viewing compared with much of PNG meant that a lot of time was spent sitting on the balcony.

Brown Sicklebill (male)
Brown Sicklebill (female)
Brehm's Tiger Parrot
Common Smoky Honeyeaters are widespread in PNG but it was good to be able to observe a bizarre aspect of their behaviour. This is a normal one:

But when they get excited they look like this:

You could actually see the facial skin colour change as they got themselves wound up around the food.
Other birds seen around the garden included:

Papuan Lorikeet - great expression
Friendly Fantail
White-winged Robin
Island Thrush - apparently. Be serious, it's a Blackbird
Mountain Owlet-Nightjar
The trails around the lodge were generally quiet but a few highlights were

Crested Satinbird
Blue-capped Ifrita
Regent Whistler

Coconut Lorikeet
And my second favourite bird of the trip:

King of Saxony Bird of Paradise
Unfortunately my favourite bird of the trip (Twelve-wired BoP) was too distant to photograph. Not much closer was the Lesser Bird of Paradise lek but it was good to get any sort of views as the lek that used to be visited by birding groups was along a road that was impassable in wet weather and it seemed unlikely that we'd be able to get there. The new site was across a large river which apparently was crossed by walking along a tree trunk. I wasn't keen! We actually found that the villagers had constructed a new bridge but it wouldn't win any health and safety awards and I was quite happy that we could get distant views of the lek without crossing the river.

The only mammal we saw in the Kumul area was another Speckled Dasyure. It used to be a good area for mammals but a couple of years ago the two local villages decided to start killing each other. The police didn't intervene because they don't have to when something is classed as a tribal dispute! The losing villagers fled the area but left their dogs behind and these went feral and killed all the local mammals.