Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 Wildlife Highlights

January: Ghana, Yellow-headed Picathartes
Ghana has to be one of my favourite African countries and I have been lucky to have visited this great country on at least five occasions when guiding. It is a fabulous country with so many great birds and the people are always so friendly. The one bird that most people associate Ghana with has to be the amazing Yellow-headed Picathartes or Rockfowl. It lives in the forest and builds a mud nest on rock faces within the forest. It bounces around as if on springs, its feathers look like they are made from silk and that glowing orange-yellow head is simply stunning! There is a true magical feeling associated with this bird and I love returning to see it time and time again. 
Yellow-headed Picathartes, Ghana Jan 2017

Yellow-headed Picatahartes, Ghana Jan 2017

February: USA, Minnesota, The Owl and the Pussy Cat
Most people who know me, accept that although mostly obsessed with birds, I also have an obsession with mammals too, particularly the cats! The Canada Lynx was high on my to see wish list for some time and over the last couple of years I have put a lot of research and effort in trying to see this amazing cat. Minnesota seemed to be the place and thanks to much appreciated local help from friend David Johnson and good friend Andy Stanbury we have been successful for the last two years. The views this year were just incredible! I am already looking forward to this year's trip and I hope it will be a success rate of 3 out of 3, but we will see! My other obsession is owls and Minnesota is certainly the place to see these stunning birds in a winter wonderland, as we did in February of this year.
Great Grey Owl, Minnesota Feb 2017

Canada Lynx, Minnesota Feb 2017

March: UK, Lyme Bay Humpback and Morocco's Migrants
Whilst in Minnesota, I heard about a Humpback Whale that had been seen close inshore off Slapton in my home county of Devon. This was a rare event for Devon and I was relieved that it was still present in March when Helen and I spent a great evening watching it along with many others. There is a detailed account of this and many better photos from local birder Mark Darlaston HERE
Humpback Whale, Slapton Devon, March 2017

Morocco is a country that, once again, I have been lucky to have visited  on at least 6 or 7 occasions mostly guiding. This year I led a tour for friend Josele Saiz of Boletas Birdwatching. It was a little different to my normal tours, as the primary focus was photography  and I was a little nervous as I wasn't too sure what to expect in terms of the clients. In fact it was one of the most enjoyable tours I have done to Morocco and as it turned out everyone was a keen birder with photography as more of a secondary requirement, which was just perfect. A great bunch of people too! 

Finding what appeared to be a female Lesser Scaup at Mansour Reservoir was exciting and the 7th
record for Morocco. The bird was always frustratingly distant. Thanks to Tony Davison for some of these photos
Desert Wheatear, Tagdilt Morocco March 2017. A species so synonymous with Morocco 
and I quite like this photo. It was a photography tour after all!

Egyptian Vulture, Bega Morocco, March 2017. This bird appeared from nowhere during a sand storm. 
It highlights just how exciting Morocco is during migration. You just never know what is coming next..... 

Pallid Swift, Mansour Reservoir, Morocco March 2017. Swifts are always difficult to photograph, but on 
this particular morning a number of swift species were hanging in the wind and low to the ground.

Bluethroat, Begaa, Morocco March 2017. This is what Morocco is all about to me, and that is migrants! 
They are simply everywhere and you never know what is going to appear out of the next bit of habitat.

April: Spain, Iberian Lynx and Western Sahara Birds & Mammals
I regularly visit Spain for Iberian Lynx trips and have seen them in all months between November - May. This year I led an Australian group keen to see Lynx and this female Lynx strolled across in front of the flowering Lavender just metres from us all.
My first trip to the Western Sahara was as exciting as expected. A great place if you are interested in the Western Palearctic region and some amazing landscapes with numerous highlights, including Sand Cat!

Iberian Lynx, Sierra de Andujar, April 2017

Me in Oued Jenna, Western Sahara, April 2017

Male Sudan Golden Sparrow with Desert Sparrows, Oued Jenna, April 2017. 
Not the best photo in the world, but it gives you a feel for just part of the 100+
Desert Sparrow flock that a small number of Sudan Golden Sparrows were associating 

Lesser Egyptian Jerboa, Aousserd Road, April 2017

Horned Viper, Aousserd Road, April 2017. On one particular night we saw at least 6 different individuals
 May: UK, Lundy Island Manx Shearwater Survey 
During the last week of May, I volunteered for the RSPB as part of their ongoing monitoring of the Manx Shearwater colony on Lundy.  We spent the week monitoring thousands of potential burrows for breeding Manx Shearwaters using a playback method to detect presence of incubating birds. The island was officially declared rat-free in 2006 and the population has increased over tenfold since that time from approximately 300 pairs to almost 3,500 pairs in 2013. This was the first survey since 2013 and the results will be out soon! More on Lundy HERE
Part of Team Shearwater May 2017

The east slope of Lundy, May 2017

Red-rumped Swallow, 27th May 2017. Before and after surveys, I sneaked off birding. 
Best personal find was this Red-rumped Swallow that I found in Millcombe Valley. 
Later in the evening I heard it had been seen further up the east coast
before my sighting, but still a nice find regardless!

Common Dolphin, June 2017 from the Oldenburg on our return sailing

June: Devon's River Otter Beavers and Finland's Bears & Wolverines
June is a time I love to be at home looking for beavers on the patch. We had some great sightings this year and I even managed to catch one on the trail camera!
Early June is also a great time to visit Finland and for the second year in a row, I did a short break to look for Bears and Wolverines from the excellent hides at Era-Eero. 
We even saw Wolf too!
Eurasian Beaver, River Otter, Devon June 2017. This is the female with a pink tag in the right ear
and she has successfully produced kits during the last two summers at least

Eurasian Beaver, River Otter, Devon June 2017

Eurasian Beaver taking a slide down the weir at Otterton!

European Brown Bear, Era-Eero June 2017

Wolverine, Era-Eero June 2017

July: Shetland, Fetlar
I had the great privilege of working for the RSPB on Fetlar for five weeks and my main role was to survey the Red-necked Phalaropes! A simply brilliant time and amazingly good weather. Far too many highlights to mention but more on my time on this wonderful island can be found HERE, HERE and HERE It was also a pleasure getting to know some of the great people up there, in particular Malcie & Martha, Brydon Thomason, Roger Riddington, Phil Harris and many more!
Fetlar, June 2017. The view from the office!

Female Red-necked Phalarope, Loch of Funzie, July 2017. A great bird to work with and much 
to learn about their breeding behaviour. A real privilege.

Common Snipe, Fetlar, July 2017. It was great to be surrounded by breeding waders on a daily basis.

Orca, Lamb Hoga, Fetlar July 2017. One of the undoubted highlights was coming across a 
family group of Orca whilst taking a walk with the Mrs!

Mother ad Calf, Lamb Hoga, Fetlar July 2017

Malcie Smith and Me!

Delirious on Shetland

August: Local Patch Yellow Wagtails and a Yellow Warbler!
This autumn saw exceptionally high numbers of Yellow Wagtails on passage through Devon with some flocks in the hundreds and a very welcome sight on the local patch. 
I don't see enough on patch!
The warm sunny afternoon of 21st August had me travelling to Portland Bill in Dorset for the UK's 6th record of Yellow Warbler!
Yellow Wagtails, Ladram Bay, August 2017

Yellow Wagtail on passage over west Budleigh Cliffs, August 2017

Yellow Warbler, Portland Bil, August 2017. This was the sixth UK record 
and significantly, the first for England and the mainland.

Portland Bill Bird Observatory, August 2017

September: Davidstow Airfield and California!
Davidstow Airfield has always been a special birding site for me, ever since I twitched my first Buff-breasted Sandpiper at the site 25 years ago! I hitched from Plymouth whilst at University and have been visiting the site most years since! It is a great site and has such a brilliant record of Yank waders, so I couldn't resist seeing a trio of these great waders during September.
My fourth visit to California this year was as good as always and for the second year running we managed to find one of the key target species; Bobcat. Of course California has many other great attractions with Monterey Bay and Yosemite being just two of them and stacked full of great birds and cetaceans!
Juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Davidstow Airfield, Cornwall Sep 2017

Juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Davidstow Airfield

Yosemite National Park, Sep 2017. This fabulous park hosts great scenery and great birding!

Bobcat, Old Hernandez Road California, Sep 2017. We watched this young Bobcat for 
over 40 minutes and it was voted as one of the tour highlights!

Humpback Whale, Monterey Bay, California Sep 2017. Similar to 2016, Humpback Whale numbers 
in the bay this year were very easy to see with counts of 40+ on each boat trip.

October: Local Patch and The Isles of Scilly
As a self-confessed Owl fan, I was very pleased to see a Short-eared Owl on the patch this autumn. It was my first for a couple of years at least.
I first visited Scilly in 1989 and have visited most years ever since. It is such a great place with manygreat birding memories, so a day trip in early October for Britain's 7th record of Cedar Waxwing seemed a no brainer and a perfect sunny day to boot!
A further visit at the end of October with the Mrs for a few nights on Bryher was pretty special. No mega finds, but a great island, you have the island pretty much to yourself and still plenty of potential late in October. More HERE
Short-eared Owl, Budleigh East Cliffs, Oct 2017

St Mary's Isles of Scilly from the Skybus, Oct 2017

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing, St Agnes ,Isles of Scilly Oct 2017

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly Oct 2017

View from the island of Bryher above the Fraggle Rock Pub looking towards Tresco, Oct 2017

Vagrant Emperor, Bryher, Isles of Scilly Oct 2017. This was a surprise find during the last few days of October.
It is an erratic migrant species to the UK from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. 

I often see Blue-cheeked Bee-Eaters catching them in Morocco - See below!

Blue-cheeked Bee-Eater with Vagrant Emperor, Merzouga, Morocco March 2014

November: Brazil's Atlantic Forest
A return visit to Brazil in November to the Atlantic Forest (not the Pantanal this time)! We were based at two lodges, Itororo Lodge at around 1,200M and REGUA just above sea level. It had been a few years since I visited this part of the world and it was great to catch up and co guide with friends Andy Foster and Adelei for a fabulous 10 day tour.
Christ the Redeemer Statue, Rio de Janeiro Dec 2017

Frilled Coquette, Valdenor's land near REGUA Dec 2017. Such a great bird and so tiny!

Swallow-tailed Cotingas, Pico da Caledonia Nov 2017. Such beautiful birds and my closet views!

Giant Snipe, near REGUA Dec 2017. A REGUA speciality and 
Adelei is the master at finding these tricky birds as they become active at dusk.

Adelei, me and the Team at REGUA, Dec 2017

December: Budleigh Salterton, oh and that Sparrow!
Despite being overseas for much of the year and seeing some amazing wildlife, I am always very happy to return to Budleigh Salterton in Devon. Helen and I are very lucky to live here and I never tire of what is on my doorstep. Long may it continue in 2018!
Happy New Year Year to you all!
Budleigh Salterton, Devon
Italian type Sparrow, East Budleigh, Devon Dec 2017. Back in November, friend and fellow birder Dave W 
sent me a photo of an "odd" looking sparrow that he had seen in his garden. 
It certainly seemed to fit the plumage of Italian Sparrows that I have seen overseas and so we discussed options regarding public viewing without people having to visit his private garden. The rest as they say is 
history and the bird is still present at the time of writing. It will no doubt make it in to 
2018 and has already seen a steady flow of visitors and maybe, just maybe we might have some DNA in 2018.


  1. what a fab time you've had. Great photos!

  2. Cheers Roger - Good to hear from you! Hope life is good and hope to bump into you somewhere in 2018!

  3. What a great life you lead. As usual fantastic photos there Chris! At least I did see the Devon Humpback & glad that featured in the review!

  4. Cheers for your comment Mark. Must see you in Devon at some point. Be good to catch up!