Tag Archives: Bird Watching

Burrowing Owl #2

Following on from my first blog, Burrowing Owl #1, the excitment continued as I photographed these comical little characters for a day-and-a-half while I waited for Maria and the kids to fly in from Copenhagen.

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Like a lot of owl species, the Burrowing owl is a fierce looking little guy and a firm defender of territory. They are so fearless it is possible to get within a few metres, so with a little patience (and the right light conditions) I felt confident I could get some good images.

Burrowing Owl 2

Now for the facts:

As can be seen from the images, the Burrowing owl is a small, long-legged owl found in grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, deserts, or any other open dry area with low vegetation. They nest and roost in burrows, such as those excavated by prairie dogs or ground squirrels. As stated above, the Burrowing Owls are often active during the day, although they tend to avoid the midday heat. But like many other kinds of owls, burrowing owls do most of their hunting from dusk until dawn. Living in open grasslands, the Burrowing owl has developed longer legs, which enables it to sprint as well as fly when hunting.

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Adults have brown heads and wings with white spotting. The chest and abdomen are white with variable brown spotting or barring, also depending on the subspecies. Juvenile owls are similar in appearance, but they lack most of the whit spotting above and brown barring below. Although I could hear the juveniles calling from the burrows they never appeared above ground, so I may have been a week or two early before they fledged.

Males and females are similar in size and appearance, and display little sexual dimorphism. Adult males appear lighter in color than females because they spend more time outside the burrow during daylight, and their feathers become “sun-bleached”, this was the case for the owls I photographed, where I mainly saw two males, with occasional sightings from one female.

The burrowing owl measures 19–28 cm (7.5–11.0 in) long, spans 51–61 cm (20–24 in) across the wings. As a size comparison, an average adult is slightly larger than an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) or the Common Blackbird (Turdus turdus) of Europe.

Before European colonisation, burrowing owls probably inhabited every suitable area of the New World, but in North America they have experienced some restrictions in distribution since. In parts of South America they are expanding their range, one bonus from deforestation.

Burrowing Owl 1

In North America the Burrowing Owl range from the southern portions of the western Canadian provinces through southern Mexico and western Central America. They are also found in Florida and many Caribbean islands. In South America, they are patchy in the northwest and through the Andes, but widely distributed from southern Brazil to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

The burrowing owl is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in Florida and most of the western USA. However, the Burrowing Owl is fairly common and widespread in open regions of the Neo-tropics and area’s bordering the Amazon Rainforest. Due to this the Burrowing Owl is of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

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Burrowing Owl #1

I have had a fascination with owls for many years, and I am sure I am not the only one. They are mysterious and most species often never seen, or at least not seen clearly or mostly in the dark. One owl species of interest to me is the Burrowing owl, an owl that is often active during the day and thus can be found more reliably. However, the Burrowing owl is decreasing in numbers mainly due to habitat loss, especially in it’s western ranges in the USA, so extensive research is needed to find and track them. Before our summer vacation to the West coast of the USA, I did some research and found a reliable site just over an hour inland from San Francisco. Unfortunately this site was not accessible due to the suspicious death of a pair of owls when a drinking bottle seemed to have been purposely been pushed into the entrance of a breeding burrowing! After more extensive research during my NY business trip I found a second possible location, so this was going to be the chosen location. 

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The search began after a late and delayed flight into San Francisco from New York and an arrival at the hotel at 2 a.m. The late arrival did not deter me and I was up bright and early after a “solid” 3 1/2 hours sleep. After driving for approx half-an-hour I arrived at the “hotspot” and set about locating the owls. Wandering around down a couple of tracks for a couple of hours resulted in no sighting, but then out of the corner of my eye, there hiding in the longish grass was my first Burrowing owl.

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 To be continued………………………..

Woodpecker Tree

Woodpecker Tree, interesting name? Well, the story goes like this. I spent five mornings, from 5am, in a tower hide 9 metres above the ground. My target was to take images of Golden Oriole, especially the brightly coloured male, however that did not go to plan, more on that in the future.

During the  periods of waiting, “woodpecker tree” was active, especially from when the sun came up until around the 10am mark. The tree was a hive of activity, with numerous buntings, shrikes and other passerines frequently visiting the tree looking for grubs and fruits.

On one of the mornings, I cannot remember which, in the space of two hours we had five woodpecker species (two of which I have never seen before) visiting and foraging as well as a “flyby” green woodpecker. The tree has also attracted a seventh species of woodpecker recently, the Grey-headed woodpecker.

Four of the species were the typical climbing woodpeckers that excavate nest holes in vertical tree trunks with the fifth species being the aberrant Eurasian Wryneck; which either uses an existing cavity in a tree or a nest box.

Probably due to the limited number of inhabitants and the traditional farming methods, the Suha Reka region of Bulgaria is truly a “mecca” for bird and nature watching and photography.

MIddle Spotted Woodpecker 1 (Bulgaria)Middle Spotted Woodpecker – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

Syrian Woodpecker 1 (Bulgaria)Syrian Woodpecker – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 (Bulgaria-Woodpecker Tree)Great Spotted Woodpecker – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1 (Bulgaria-Woodpecker Tree)Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

Eurasian Wryneck 1Eurasian Wryneck – “Woodpecker Tree” Suha Reka

If you have not already done so, check out my other posts on the Bulgaria trip including; Eurasian Hoopoe; European Bee-eater and European Roller.

Suha Reka Valley

During the recent trip to Bulgaria, I stayed in an area known as the Suha Reka (dry river) valley. The valley and its adjacent dry riverbeds, cliffs and rocky crests is a mecca for wildlife, especially birds, butterflies and the Souslik, also known as the European Ground Squirrel.

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Souslik – Suha Reka

The image below was taken around 6am as the sun was lighting up the valley.

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Suha Reka is located in Dobrudzha, north of the town of Dobrich. The river almost entirely disappears in the karst terrain. Between the villages of Efreytor Bakalovo and Brestnitsa it forms a reservoir about 7-8 km long. The hills along the riverbed is overgrown with shrubs and forest. The open areas around the valley are occupied by agricultural lands and pastures, grassed the local cows and sheep, every day whilst I was around the area photography the nature.

Suha Reka supports approximately 200 bird species, 90 species of which are of European conservation concern (BirdLife International, 2004).

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The image above was taken around 8pm in the evening.

The Suha Reka dry riverbed is one of the most important areas in the country for the Ruddy Shelduck, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle and the Eagle Owl, where these species breed in good numbers.

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Red-backed Shrike – Suha Reka

A complex of species, typical to open and transitional habitats are presented in the area with significant breeding populations as well – Ortolan Bunting, Golden Oriole, European Roller, Stone Curlew, Barred Warbler, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrike, all of which are rare and difficult to find in Northern Europe.

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Golden Oriole – Suha Reka

If you are interested in visiting this amazing and untouched European wilderness, then I would recommend contacting Sergey at www.naturetravel.eu

 

Sweden – Skåne – Falsterbo

Somewhere a little closer to home for my second blog on “hotspots”, Falsterbo peninsula, Skåne, Southern Sweden.

Falsterbo peninsula is located at the south-western tip of Sweden in Vellinge Municipality in Skåne County. Falsterbo is mostly known as a holiday destination where people go to spend their summer vacations, however the peninsula is also one of the best, if not the best bird migration routes in northern Europe.

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Fasterbo Lighthouse – Winter 2013

Every autumn about 500 million birds migrate across Denmark and southern Sweden, mainly towards the south-west, but this is obviously dependant on the wind direction. On good days you may see hundreds of thousands of birds passing. I am lucky that if there are strong westerly winds, the birds will often get blown off course and migrate over my house in eastern Denmark. I have had the pleasure of watching large flocks of Common Cranes and Honey Buzzards flying over in the last few years during this autumn passage.

Common Kestrel

Common Kestrel – Falsterbo, Skåne, Sweden

The birds tend to follow the south and west coastline of Sweden and the Baltic Sea is the first major hurdle the birds have to cross on their southwards migration route, and hence Falsterbo is the last strip of land before the journey over the sea to northern Germany. By gaining altitude the birds try to complete this part of their precarious journey as fast, safe and efficient as possible. Migrating birds do not fly over unknown or perilous areas unless they have to.

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Fasterbo Peninsula – Winter 2013

Birders and photographers from wide-and-far come to enjoy the natural phenomenon, but the highly is clearly the migration of the raptors. Great numbers of Honey Buzzards are one of the earlier mass migrating raptors, followed by Eurasian Hobby and Osprey. Harriers migrate in different patterns, with Montague’s usually being the first to leave the northern breeding areas, these are followed by Marsh and then Pallid and Hen (Northern) Harriers. Later during autumn, Common Buzzards and Eurasian Sparrowhawk make up the bulk of migrating raptors. Peregrine Falcon, Common Kestrel and Merlin tend to migrate over a longer period. During the final moments of autumn and the onset of early winter, the “big guys” start to move, with more Red Kites, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles on the move. There are also often throughout the whole migration period a few surprises, including such delights as; Booted Eagle, Greater and Lessor Spotted Eagles, Black Kites, Imperial Eagle, and on very rare occasions a vulture!

There are many more species to mention, but I will leave the passerines and waders for another day and another blog.

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Fasterbo Peninsula – Winter 2013

If you would like to know more about Falsterbo and especially birding of photographing here and in the surrounding area then click on the following link:

http://www.falsterbofagelstation.se/index_e.html

Borneo – Rainforest Discovery Centre

I plan to post a number of articles on “hotspots” where I have been on my travels, the first one is of a great place in Northern Borneo, Malaysia which is world class when it comes to birding, and is within walking distance of the world famous Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. I have set up a new page on the blog to link all of the hotspots in one centre location. Enjoy, there will be more to come!

I am lucky to have been here a few times, and trust me I see something new on every visit, and still I have “dipped” on a few sort after species. A good reason to return I suppose.

The Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) has evolved out of a local environmental education centre in 1996 into one of Sabah’s most popular sites for visitors and locals alike, especially though for visiting birders.

It is a within the famous Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, home of the orang utans at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (SOURC) as well as in the wild, and only a couple of hours from Gomontong Caves and the Kinabatangan River, both famed for is ecology.

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Rainforest Discover Centre – Sandakan, Borneo

The best part of RDC though is the 800-metre Rainforest Discovery Train and the trails on the canopy walkways, three at the last count. The 147m long, 28m high canopy walkway and the three canopy towers let you see the rainforest the way an orang utan sees it. For birders there are more than 300 species of birds here, including the rare Bornean bristleheads, Black and crimson pitta, Blue-headed pitta, Giant pitta, Black hornbill, Rhinoceros hornbill, Ruddy kingfisher and much, much more.

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Green-crested Lizard – Rainforest Discover Centre – Sandakan, Borneo

Although the main purpose of the RDC still remains as an environmental education centre for students and teachers, it has been open to the public for a number of years now. since August 2007. If visiting SOURC then it is a must to also visit the RDC.

If you are planning a trip to Borneo and want to visit this or other area’s of natural beauty then contact a local friend of mine, one of Borneo’s top birders, CK Leong at borneobirds.com A great guy and an amazing birder.

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Orang Utan – Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre – Sandakan, Borneo

Note, all proceeds from ticket sales (small charge) are used to sustain the centre.