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The Boys are Back in Town!

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On reverse migration in Pallas’s Warbler’s, encounters with Coal Tits and Poms and the missing universe

On Tuesday my lovely Red Setter, Dillion, had a check-up with the oncologist at Cambridge university small animal hospital. This being a follow-up to his surgery and radiotherapy for a soft tissue sarcoma a few months ago. I’m very pleased to say all looks OK apart from some thickening around the hock which is probably just scar tissue from the radiotherapy but he needs to be checked again in 2 months.
A Pallas’s leaf warbler had been found at the weekend just 2 miles from the animal hospital at Paradise Fen nature reserve so I thought it would be very rude not to drop in and see it on the way home. Pallas's leaf warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) breeds in mountain forests from southern Siberia to north east China. It winters in southern China and south east Asia. A few, however, exhibit what is called reverse migration, i.e. they head off for their wintering grounds in the opposite direction to normal and end up in Europe. For some reason there has been an increase in the numbers …

An African adventure part 5 : Kicheche Maasai Mara bush camp

On October 7th we took the short flight from Lodia house to Kicheche Maasai Mara bush camp close to the Tanzanian border where we were met by our new driver and guide for the next 3 days, Vinnie, a member of the famous Maasai tribe. 
The Maasai are an indigenous ethnic group of nomadic people known for their tall stature, distinct customs, dress and traditions. One of their core beliefs is that land and nature are sacred and belong to no one. Being nomadic they traditionally moved with the seasons and hence came into conflict with colonial settlers when they returned to land to find it claimed and settled, yet another example of the sins of our ( great great grand) fathers I’m afraid!
We were met and welcomed at the camp by the managers, the lovely Emma and Darren. The camp followed the same general format as our previous bush camp with six luxurious tents in the bush and no barriers between you and the wildlife. We were shown to our tent by Darren who gleefully pointed out the desiccat…

A red letter day on the east coast

Bird listing is a funny, i.e. obsessive, thing!
I’ve seen Isabelline Wheatears before abroad, in fact I saw one last month in Kenya, but I have never seen one in the UK. Until comparatively recently they were considered great rarities, the second edition of Collins guide to UK and European birds published in 2009 lists it as a three star mega. But, as the great man said, “the times they are a changing” and it has become more or less an annual vagrant to the UK such that BBRC now lists 42 accepted records. Its habitat is steppe and open countryside and it breeds in southern Russia and central Asia to northern Pakistan wintering in Africa and north western India. There have already been a couple of records this autumn so when one was reported from Cley-by-the-sea in Norfolk on Sunday I thought it was high time that I filled this particular gaping hole in my UK list. The problem was that I was working at Culham on Monday and Tuesday so yesterday was the first day I could go. Wednesday al…

An African adventure part 4: Lake Baringo to Lake Naivasha via Lake Bogoria

On Sunday the 6th of October we met up with Titus and Isaac after breakfast to look for a few local Baringo birds that we had so far missed prior to driving to another rift valley lake at Bogoria.

Lake Bogoria is an alkaline lake that lies in a volcanic region south of lake Baringo. At certain times of the year Lake Bogoria is home to one of the worlds largest populations of lesser flamingos. On arrival the flamingos were a truly amazing spectacle! It was almost impossible to estimate how many birds were present but I suspect it must have come close to doubling the number of birds I have seen in my lifetime! There was a mixture of juvenile birds, which had yet to acquire their characteristic pink hue, and mature birds in their pink splendor. The mature birds were performing their bizarre synchronized dance where a group of twenty of thirty male birds strut around and around in a circle with their heads held high apparently in an attempt to impress the local females! 
Somehow in those m…

Getting in a complete paddy in Cornwall

This is the story of a controversial bird, a very controversial bird.  
On the morning of the 23rdOctober a Cornwall birder had a flyover large pipit with a strange call in a maize field in Sennen. The bird was subsequently re-found and thought to be a rather odd looking Richard’s Pipit in very heavy moult. This is scarce visitor to the UK with ten or so records a year. A local birder was able to get a sound recording of its odd call and sent it to bird sound expert Magnus Rob. Magnus quickly eliminated both Richard’s and Blyth’s pipit but said that it was a dead ringer for a Paddyfield Pipit! This would not only be a first record for the UK but also for the whole western Palearctic. A poo sample has been obtained which may yield a definitive identification. This requires stomach or intestine cells to be present and hence only works 50% of the time. The question is what on earth is it doing in Cornwall? The Paddyfield Pipit is a resident breeder and only a very short distance migrant. T…