Sunday 19 January 2020

A two-tick start to 2020

I had rounded off 2019 by birding at the Botanic Gardens in Singapore. Even in just shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops I had struggled with the heat and humidity.
A few days later, back in Norfolk and normal service was resumed - thermals, gloves, beanie, four-layers of clothing and a flask of hot coffee! Still, the birds were worth the cold!
On Saturday 4th January, I started my 2020 birding with a lifer. The Eastern Yellow Wagtail was still present on its favoured dung heap near Sedgefield. I popped up there around midday and when I arrived it was feeding in the puddles within ten to fifteen feet of where a small group of birders were stood.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail - Sedgefield, Norfolk - 4th January 2020
It took flight a couple of times before alightening near or on the dung heap. Its call is distinctive. I guess, for a mere mortal like me, if I didn't hear it call I might easily see this as an over-wintering Blue-headed Wagtail. But, the raspy call will tell you its much more than that. I had seen an Eastern Yellow Wagtail species in 2015 on Fair Isle. I don't know what became of that record. I think being a 1st winter bird, it was not assigned to any race of EYW and I hadn't ticked it.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail spp., Fair Isle, September 2015

The Sedgefield bird though is a male of the nominate race tschutschensis of Eastern Yellow Wagtail and is now very much on my life list!

The next day I drove over to Whipsnade Zoo in Dunstable for the by now famous Black-throated Thrush. When Black-throated Thrushes do turn up they are typically 1st winter birds and they certainly don't show as well as this fine male bird did. Plus, it was a lifer! So, neither the drive nor the zoo's entrance fee deterred me one bit.
The light was dreadful, but the bird was really obliging. Regularily feeding in full view in its favourite Cotoneaster tree or for a change of diet, pulling up earthworms in the adjacent pig pens.

Black-throated Thrush - Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable, Beds. 5th January 2020

 Its still the first week of January but I may already have seen my 2020 Bird of Year!

A taste of Asia

Ten days before Christmas myself and Polina left the damp, grey and cold of Norfolk and headed for a much anticipated (and much needed) break in South-east Asia. Taking in Bangkok, Phuket, a cruise on a sailing ship along the coast of Thailand and Malaysia with stops in Penang and Malacca before docking in Singapore just in time to see in 2020.
It wasn't a birding trip so most of what I saw was from the pool-side at our hotel in Phuket and around the hotel gardens. I managed the easy stuff......Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Chinese Pond Heron, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Spotted Dove, Olive-backed Sunbird, Tree Sparrow, Little Egret, Common Myna and Germain's Swiftlet. When the morning would heat up the soaring kettles of Asian Openbills were impressive.
At sea, it was disappointing birdwise, a few distant Tropicbirds and what I think were Bridled Terns in the straits of Malacca - but they were distant and the amount of plastic flotsam and jetsam floating on the ocean was depressing!
In Singapore I managed to fit in a day at the Botanic Gardens. I joined the Singapore Birders Facebook page and got useful advise from there about birding the Botanic Gardens. The best advise was to start early, before the crowds and before the heat. I took the MRT (Singapore underground) from our hotel at Clarke's Quay to the front gates of the Gardens, I arrived just as the sun was rising.
First bird was Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, followed by the ubiquitous Red Junglefowl and Common Myna.

Cocka-doddle-do. Red Junglefowl

Common Myna
I strolled around Eco Lake where I had Common Flameback and Oriental Magpie Robin.

Oriental Magpie Robin
A little further on I enjoyed White-breasted Waterhen and Pink-necked Green Pigeon. Then I came across the first of two wintering Arctic Warblers. Obviously as a UK based birder I was pleased to see one of these, I rather hoped for Eastern Crowned Warbler too but no joy there. Whilst I watched that (and while the local Mosquito's started to enjoy my sweet Irish blood), I had Common Kingfisher and Yellow Bittern.

Yellow Bitterm - Singapore Botanic Gardens - 31 December 2019

The Gardens are huge and I didn't want to spend all my time in the one place. I decided to try and walk to some of the other lakes and stop where ever I saw some nice habitat.
I found a quiet little shady glade where I chanced upon a very obliging Asian Brown Flycatcher. Again, as a UK based birder this is a species of interest to me.

Asian Brown Flycatcher - Singapore Botanic Gardens - 31 December 2019
At the Symphony Lake, I picked up a nice White-throated Kingfisher.

White-throated Kingfisher
I birded for one more hour adding Hill Myna, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-naped Oriole, Crimson Sunbird, Asian Palm Swift, Edible-nest Swiftlet and Asian Glossy Starling to my Singapore list! The heat and humidity put a stop to play at lunchtime but it was still a very nice way to round off the year's birding!