Tag Archives: Nature

European Exotic #3 – European Roller

The final article in the series of European Exotics, is the European Roller, equally as stunning as both the European Hoopoe and the European Bee-eater. The European Roller is the only member of the roller family of birds to breed in Europe. Its overall range extends into the east from Central Asia, though the Middle East and down to Morocco.

Roller 1 (Bulgaria) The European Roller is a long-distance migrant, and if we are lucky we will get one or two disoriented migrants coming to Denmark or southern Sweden each year, as long as it is warm enough. The European Roller winters in southern Africa in two distinct regions, from Senegal east to Cameroon and from Ethiopia west to Congo and south to South Africa.

Typical or the species, the European Roller’s I saw in the Suha Reka region of Bulgaris, were seen in  warm, dry, open country with scattered trees. They prefer lowland open countryside with patches of oak  forest, mature pine woodland with clearings, orchards, mixed farmland, river valleys, and plains with scattered thorny or leafy trees. In and around the valleys of Suha Reka we photographed the European Roller, we saw approximately ten pairs, this was up from three pairs in 2013. I am sure this in part is due to the efforts of Sergey from http://www.NatureTravel.eu , check out this conservation article here, 30 nest boxes were built and installed in 2013, and Sergey has plans for at least the same level in 2014.

Roller 2 (Bulgaria)

Now for the stats: The European Roller is a stocky bird, similar in size to a Jackdaw; as can be seen from the images on this blog it is mainly blue and aqua with an orange-brown back, with hints of purple and black. European Rollers often perch prominently on trees, posts or overhead wires, whilst watching for the large insects, small reptiles and rodents as well as frogs, thus making them a target for many photographers.

It nests in an unlined tree or cliff hole, and lays up to six eggs.

Roller 3 (Bulgaria)Not surprisingly, the European breeding range was formerly more extensive than today, with b long-term declines in the north and west, including extinction as a nesting bird in Sweden and Germany a long time ago. Maybe with global warming will there be a return to these northern breeding quarters?

The  European breeding population range estimated at 159,000 to 330,000 birds. When Asian breeders are added, this gives a global total population range of 277,000 to 660,000 individuals. There have been fairly rapid population declines across much of its range, so it is classed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. European population decline by 25 percent between 1990 and 2000.

Threats include hunting while on migration in around the Mediterranean, and allegedly large numbers killed for food in Oman! Agricultural practices in some countries have led to the loss of trees and hedges which provide potential nest sites and perches for hunting, and pesticides have reduced the availability of insect food. However, let’s hope initiative like the ones Sergey is undertaking in Suha Reka will be replicated by others and the Eurasian Roller can increase number in the future.

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European Exotic #2 European Bee-eater

The second article in my three-part series on European Exotics, is the  European Bee-eater, an absolutely stunningly multi-coloured bee-eater. Due to it’s amazing color the European Bee-eater is on an equal footing in the “looking stakes” as the “European Exotic #1 – Eurasian Hoopoe” .

It breeds in southern Europe and in parts of north Africa and western Asia. It is strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa, India and Sri Lanka. This species occurs as a spring overshoot north of its range, with occasional breeding in northwest Europe, including the UK. This year we have had a good number of sighting already in Scandinavia, however, when in the “Suha Reka Valley” region of Bulgaria recently, these stunners were everywhere, aided of course by the abundance of food, even though the summer had not hit the high temperatures.

Bee-eater 6 (Bulgaria)

 Like most other bee-eater species, the European bee-eater is a richly coloured, slender, streamlined bird. As can be seen from the above portrait, the European bee-eater has browny/red/rusty and yellow upper parts, whilst the wings are green/blue/aqua and the beak is black and curved. From “tip-to-tail”the European Bee-eater can reach a length of 27–29 cm , slightly bigger than a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Similar to the other “European Exotics” the European Bee-eater is a bird which breeds in open country in warmer climates.

Bee-eater 4 (Bulgaria)

One of the great joy’s of photographing European Bee-eaters in the breeding period is the interaction between male and female birds. The male constantly brings food to the mating perch to woo the female. This happens every two to three minutes if the weather is clear and warm and there is an abundance of food.

Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch.

Before eating its meal, a European Bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. It eats some 250 bees daily. From time-to-time, small lizards and frogs are also taken. The most important prey item in their diet are Hymenoptera, mostly Apis mellifera; a study in Spain found that these comprise 69.4% to 82% of the European bee-eaters’ diet.Their impact on bee populations however is small; they eat less than 1% of the worker bees in the area in which they live.

They like to perch on the nearest branches to the breeding colony, this often leads to squabbles, similar to the one in the image below. These two birds had a stand-off for a good ten minutes, before European starling intervened.

Bee-eater 3 (Bulgaria)

In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 480,000-1,000,000 breeding pairs, equating to 1440,000-3,000,000 individuals (BirdLife International 2004). Europe forms between 25-49% of the global range. This species is suspected to be in decline owing to loss of suitable prey due to widespread application if pesticides, loss of nesting sites through canalisation of rivers, increasing agricultural efficiency and establishment of monocultures, development of wilderness areas and shooting for sport, for food and because it is considered a crop pest.

 

 

 

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

 

European Exotic #1 – Eurasian Hoopoe

Just back from a few days in North Eastern Bulgaria with Sergey from http://www.NatureTravel.eu. During the trip I photographed many wonderful species, especially the “exotics” of Europe.

One of these being the Eurasian Hoopoe. A long time ago, when I was 10 years old to be precise, I saw a Hoopoe in our garden in South Africa, since this day the Hoopoe has always been a bird at the top of my list.

Eurasian Hoopoe 2The Hoopoe is a stunningly colourful bird, as can be seen from the above image, that is found across Afro-Eurasia region. Interestingly, the English name is an onomatopoetic form which imitates the cry of the bird.

As can be seen from the images, the Hoopoe is highly distinctive, with it’s long thin tapering bill, broad and rounded wings, stunning crest and wonderful plumage. Not to mention the trisyllab call; oop-oop-oop, which gives rise to its English and scientific names, although two and four syllables are also common. The Hoopoe was a wonderful companion each morning at 5am when Sergey and I were up ready for our early morning photography sessions, calling from a distant tree and vying for our attention along with Common Cuckoo, Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove and Ortolan Bunting.

Eurasian Hoopoe 1The Hoopoe is widespread in Europe, Asia, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Most European and North Asian birds migrate to the tropics in winter, in contrast the African populations are sedentary. Remarkably, the Hoopoe has been a vagrant in Alaska!! Although this was in 1975.

The Hoopoe has two basic requirements in its habitat; bare or lightly vegetated ground, which is plentyful in the Suha Reka region of Bulgaria, on which to forage and vertical surfaces with cavities, such as trees, cliffs or even walls, nestboxes, haystacks, and abandoned burrows, which to nest. Burrows being the prefered choice in Suha Reka.

Having seen and photographed the Hoppoe last week, the memories of living in South Africa as a child have been stirred and more birds are coming to the forefront of my mind, maybe an African safari is on the horizon……………….

 

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.

South American Coati

The South American coati, or ring-tailed coati (Nasua nasua), is a species of coati from tropical and subtropical South America.

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The South American coati is widespread and can be found from sea level to 3,000 metres from Colombia across to The Guianas and Northern Brazil and south down to Uruguay and northern Argentina. Chile is the only South American country where the species is not found!

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If visiting Parque Nacional do Iguaçu in Brazil or the Parque Nacional Iguazú in Argentina you will not fail to see the coati’s foraging in the forest or even on the walkways.

Cataratas do Iguaçu

Iguazu Falls, (Portuguese: Cataratas do Iguaçu; Spanish: Cataratas del Iguazú) are waterfalls of the Iguazu River at the border of the Brazilian and the Argentinian.

The name “Iguazu” literaty translates from the Guarani or Tupi tribes meaning “big water”, and yes, as you can see from the photograph’s below, the water.

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Iguazu Falls was announced as one of the seven winners of the New Seven Wonders of Nature by the New Seven Wonders of the World Foundation in late 2011. After visiting the falls, this is not a surprise. The falls are amazing on there own, but with comes the surrounding eco system.

Depending on the time of year and the waterlevel, there is usually between 150 and 300 individual waterfalls, varying between 60 to 82 metres in height. About half of the river’s flow falls into a long and narrow chasm called the Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish or Garganta do Diabo in Portuguese). The Devil’s Throat is the highest of the waterfalls and at 82 metres high, 150 m wide, and 700 m long.

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The falls can be reached from the two main towns on either side of the falls: Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, as well as from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. The falls are shared by the Iguazú National Park (Argentina) and Iguaçu National Park (Brazil), and trust me the wildlife here is phenominal. Both national parks are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

On the Brazilian side, there is a walkway along the canyon with an extension to the lower base of the Devil’s Throat. The Argentine access, across the forest, is by a rainforest train. The train takes visitors to the entrance of Devil’s Throat, as well as the upper and lower trails around the falls, both of which are well worth a visit.