Ashwellthorpe Wood, 30 April 2014

With an impromptu day off I needed to head to Wymondham. As I passed right through Ashwellthorpe en-route it seemed like the ideal opportunity to spend a little time in the ancient woodland of Ashwellthorpe Wood, a site I've not visited for a few years.

My main aim was to see how many Early Purple Orchids survive there and I was more than impressed as there were many hundreds scattered around the edges of the blue carpets of Bluebells. There was quite a bit of variation in colour of the orchids, with standard purple ones, the odd paler pink one and a single white one with unspotted leaves which isn't something I've ever seen before. Reading up on them it seems they are rather  rare. The one I saw (photographed below) was approaching the rare variant 'alba'. Some of the specimens in more open sunny rides where very robust.

Wild Garlic was also common and birdwise a brief snatch of Nightingale song was great to hear. Into the bargain 3 Sparrowhawks and a Common Buzzard circled on thermals over the wood and Willow Warblers now seem to be well and truly 'in'

Today was also a butterfly day with 10 species clocked up which aint half bad for April - Orange Tip, Small White, Green-veined White, Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood, Brimstone and Holly Blue.


Early Purple Orchid (quite pale specimen)

Early Purple Orchid (white specimen with unspotted leaves)

Early Purple Orchid (normal colour but robust specimen)

Wild Garlic

A bit of monkey business from Costa Rica!

With all the excellent birding and my completed birding trip report (within these pages) I'd almost forgotten the non-birding highlights. We saw a few mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects so to start things off here are a few mammals. One of the most common mammals was White-nosed Coati which have become tame around many of the tourist spots. The Tayra was probably the most interesting sighting and the only one of the trip which quickly ran across the garden at Arenal Observatory Lodge. 2 different colour morphs of Variegated Squirrel were seen, an all dark one and the rather more attractive one shown below. Although you hear them all the time (they sound horrendous!) trying to get a photo of the Mantled Howler Monkeys or indeed the Geoffroy's Spider Monkeys at Santa Elena wasn't easy! Easier were the White-faced Cappuchins at Curu NP. Collared Peccaries were very common at La Selva Biological Station but we saw none anywhere else. In contrast we saw several widely scattered Central American Agouti but they were generally shy and difficut to get a good view of. One of the most enjoyable mammal encounters was with a Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth with it's baby in a roadside tree in the middle of Santa Elena village. She became quite a star attraction! Despite their diminutive size though my favourite mammal of the trip were the Northern Ghost Bats we saw at Carara NP - simply  bizzare but gorgeous pure white bats!
Also seen but not photographed were Red-tailed Squirrel and White-tailed Deer 

White-faced Cappuchin, Curu NP

Geoffroy's Spider Monkey, Reserva de Santa Elena

Mantled Howler Monkey, Selva Verde Lodge

White-nosed Coati, Arenal NP

Tayra, Arenal Observatory Lodge

Central American Agouti, Bajo del Tigre

Variegated Squirrel, Arco Iris Lodge, Santa Elena

Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth, Santa Elena Village

 Collared Peccary, La Selva Biological Station 
Northern Ghost Bat, Carara NP

Kessingland Hoopoe and other April bits, 27 April 2014

After a failed attempt at a White Stork just off the A47 near Halvergate (it just wasn't there any more!) which revealed just Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Stock Dove and Marsh Harrier we carried on to Kessingland.

Taking it rather casually by having lunch in a cafe before walking south to the sluice didn't matter as the Hoopoe was present on arrival and showing, albeit a little too distantly for any good photos. A Turtle Dove flew in and perched briefly before disappearing and a couple of Common Whitethroats were singing like mad and 2 Small Coppers were the first ones of the year for me. Swallows were also very much in evidence moving along the coast.

On the way home we stopped at my orchid site where the sight of 100s of Green-winged Orchids carpetting the meadow is always impressive. Most of the plants were the standard purple colour but we found 3 other plants of various shades from pale pink to white and one curious specimen with purple and white stripes! 

April has been a bitty sort of a month for me but the following have been the highlights:

Common Buzzard over the garden on 27th - an addition to the garden list
Lesser Whitethroat at St James South Elmham, Suffolk on 13th - my earliest ever
Common Whitethroat near Hoxne on 16th - my earliest ever
Yellow Wagtail at Fen Drayton on 4th - my earliest ever
Water Shrew at Yoxford, Suffolk on 18th - a new mammal for me



Early insects, Pulham Market, 5 April 2014

With warm sunny conditions in the garden this morning there were plenty of insects about. The 1st Bee-fly of the year was by the patio followed by a rather early Orange Tip (1 of 3 seen this morning), Holly Blue, Brimstone, Comma, 2 Small Tortoiseshells and 2 Peacocks. Tree Bumblebees are putting in an appearance too with a nice big queen on the orchard shed. I'm pretty sure the records of Orange Tip and Holly Blue are my earliest ever, a sign of this early warm spring we're enjoying. Birdwise we have 2 singing Chiffchaffs and today the first male Blackcap.

Tree Bumblebee


Baikal Teal, Fen Drayton, Cambs, 4 April 2014

Although I'd seen the Minsmere 1w drake back in the day I was keen to see the adult drake Baikal Teal of the last week (and probably longer) at Fen Drayton. With a Friday off today was the ideal chance so I waited for news and made the 1.5 hour drive.
Arriving at Moore Lake after a muddy walk it was on show straight away from the hide, and what a looker! The distance, misty conditions and hand-holding my iPhone to my scope are my excuses for the very poor record shot below! Regardless of its origin it was a nice bird to see. With wildfowl you never can tell but it is unringed and free-flying, duck are moving and there is another in Belgium at present. Possibly on the downside is that it isn't associating with any other ducks. In all the time I viewed it, it was on its own.

Also on the lagoon were a late pair of Goldeneye, a scattering of lingering Wigeon and other common wildfowl. A Little Ringed Plover was on a shingle spit then a bright male Yellow Wagtail on a small island straight out from the hide which was my earliest ever record. Stock Dove, at least 10 Blackcaps, 3 Common Buzzards and an early Green-veined White butterfly were the other sightings worthy of mention.     

Baikal Teal, Fen Drayton

Little Ringed Plover, Fen Drayton

Costa Rica Day 22, 27 February 2014 - Rio Tarcoles, Playa Tarcoles and Hotel Villa Lapas

Our last day before a long journey home tomorrow - sob!
To make the most of the time we had left we'd booked a boat trip on the Rio Tarcoles the previous evening through the hotel reception. At $60 per person for about 2 hours it wasn't exactly cheap but I have to say it was very enjoyable and a nice treat for our last morning.
Meeting at 06.15 meant an early alarm but we met our guide/boatman and were quickly pulling away from the small wooden quay to flocks of Yellow-naped Parrots leaving roost.
For close views of herons, kingfishers etc the trip was excellent. Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Little Blue Herons, Anhingas, Great Blue Herons, Bare-throated Tiger Herons, Cattle Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Tricoloured Herons were plentiful with smaller numbers of Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, Neotropic Cormorants and Great Egrets. We had no less that 5 species of kingfisher which is apparantly a record - 1 American Dwarf Kingfisher was the undoubted highlight but 2 Green Kingfishers, c6 Amazon Kingfishers, 2 Ringed Kingfishers and a single Belted Kingfisher were also great to see so well.

Amazon Kingfisher

Black-crowned Night Heron

Great Blue Heron


Little Blue Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

American Dwarf Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher
While cruising I got onto a Lesser Yellowlegs on a mid-stream island with Hudsonian Whimbrels, Spotted Sandpipers, 2 Southern Lapwings and Black-necked Stilts making up the other waders. Into the bargain our boatman also got us onto 2 Turquoise-browed Motmots which I'd never have picked up as they were well hidden.The other biggy was a single Mangrove Hummingbird a much wanted restricted range endemic. Add loads of Scarlet Macaws, American Purple Gallinule, Northern Jacanas, 1 White-tailed Kite, 6 Mangrove Black Hawks, 3 Yellow-headed Caracaras, 2 Ospreys, 2-3 Peregrines, Cinnamon Becard, Mangrove Swallows, Barn Swallows and loads of American Crocodiles and it all added up to a great mornings birding.
Mangrove Black Hawk

Turquoise-browed Motmots

Scarlet Macaws

Northern Jacana

Mangrove Swallow
We were back at the hotel for a late breakfast before deciding on our next move - a walk along Playa Tarcoles. This was pleasant but hot with nothing new birdwise except the chance to photograph some Royal Terns. In Tarcoles village en-route were 2 Groove-billed Ani and c20 Wood Storks that showed well in a roadside creek and adjacent trees.
Wood Stork (juvenile)

Wood Stork (adult)

Royal Terns

Royal Tern
We wound the day down around the hotel, dipping in the pool and making a short walk. Very welcome visitors were 2 Fiery-billed Aracaris just meters from our room with 1 perching briefly but photographically well on a volleyball net! Others birds around the gardens and area were Grey-capped Flycatchers, 1 Streaked Flycatcher, several Blue-black Grassquits, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, 2 Blue-grey Tanagers, 4 Palm Tanagers,2 Common Tody-Flycatchers, 1 Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, 4 Slaty-tailed Trogons and 2 Yellow Warblers
Fiery-billed Aracari

Blue-black Grassquit
With a triplist of 336 (including 207 lifers) this was one of my most productive trips ever. Made all teh sweeter by it being totally self-guided. Having covered a relatively compact are there are also plenty of reasons to return to the wonderful birding destination that Costa Rica is...!

Costa Rica Day 21, 26 February 2014 - Carara NP & Hotel Villa Lapas

After the breakfast scrum at the hotel we made our way to the Carara NP HQ and bought our entrance tickets. Opting to walk the Riverside Trail we then had to drive a couple of miles along the road towards Tarcoles Bridge to the small carpark. This has a guardian who looks after your car for a small fee because this is apparantly a high car crime area. Paying the guy in advance paid dividends as he walked us a short way up the path to show us a couple of amazing white Ghost Bats roosting under palm fronds!

Birding started off quite slowly but soon got going with a nice showy Northern Royal Flycatcher on territory followed by c4 stonking Orange-collared Manakins at their lekking ground. Yellow-bellied Flycaycher, Long-billed Gnatwren, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Blue-crowned Motmot (claimed by a so-called guide as a Turquoise-browed!) and 2 Plain Xenops followed in succession as we neared the 'lagoon' at the end of the trail. In reality this is a relatively small red-fringed pool but it's a great viewpoint to see loads of Scarlet Macaws and we certainly did! On and around the pool were Northern Jacana, 2 Black-necked Stilts, Tricoloured Heron, Little Blue Heron, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Squirrel Cuckoo and 3 roosting Boat-billed Herons. On the walk back a Blue-black Grosbeak was a nice find, several Dot-winged Antwrens flitted around and we also scored with Black-striped Sparrow, 2 Cherries Tanagers, Olivaceous and Northern Barred Woodcreepers.

Northern Royal Flycatcher

Orange-collared Manakin

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Tricoloured Heron

Black-necked Stilt
Northern Jacana

Little Blue Heron
Scarlet Macaws

Boat-billed Heron

Dot-winged Antwren
Squirrel Cuckoo

After a lunch stop at one of the cafes by Tarcoles Bridge (not recommended as it was awful and they tried to overcharge!) where a single Yellow-headed Caracara circled over we headed back to the Hotel Villa Lapas for a dip in the pool and a chill before heading out again. 4 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, several Blue-black Grassquits, Green Kingfisher, 2 White-crowned Parrots, 2 Palm Tanagers, 2 Common Tody-Flycatchers and Northern Waterthrush were the pick of the bunch seen during the day around the hotel gardens.

Yellow-headed Caracara

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

We headed back to the Carara NP to walk the HQ trails in the afternoon but as the place shuts at 16.00 and locks their gates we had to venture out at 14.00 when it was still pretty hot. The well maintained concrete trails here had birds from the start with a party of Rufous-naped Wrens, 2 Lesser Greenlets, Double-toothed Kite, Buff-throated Saltator, Wood Thrush and the first Yellow-throated Vireo I've seen since Cornwall in 1990! On the loop walk back I came across a small feeding flock and some mega views of Rufous-breasted Wren, 3 Riverside Wrens, Dot-winged Antwrens, Chestnut-backed Antbird, 2 Black-hooded Antshrikes and 2 Dusky Antbirds! Best was still to come though with a really close Great Tinamou kindly pointed out to us by a couple of birders.

Rufous-naped Wren

Rufous-breasted Wren

Dot-winged Antwren
Black-hooded Antshrike

Great Tinamou