Archive for Aug, 2019



On our journey through the Bay of Biscay last month we came across a school of Pilot Whales. These are very social mammals; often touching as they swim together..

I shall be organising a trip through the bay next year in August let me know if you’re interested in finding out more



Wonderful Songster

A delightful bird that occupies the coastal scrub around Portland and area is the Singing Honeyeater. A really wonderful songster.


Egg laying Brown Hairstreak

A trip to Suffolk paid dividends at the weekend. Brown Hairstreak Butterflies were on the agenda but we did see so much more.

The Brown Hairstreaks are tree top dwelling insects and very rarely come down to ground level. The window for seeing them is pretty narrow; hence the reason they are so difficult to see. Around the third week in August, an hour either side of noon on sunny days the females fly down to Blackthrorn bushes. Between one and two metres from the ground they find a junction of a branch between old and new wood and lay a single white egg. She will repeat the egg laying process several times before returning to the canopy.

This back-lit photo shows just how beautiful these butterflies are. Next years tour for these beauties is set for Sunday 16th August – book early to avoid disappointment



A trio of Robins

Australia has more than its fair share of Robins; 16 species in all. of which 7 occur in Victoria.

The You Yangs are a block of granite rising proud of Melbourne’s coastal plain covering about 30 square kilometers; much of which is given over to the You Yangs National Park. It is an area rich in bird life. At the end of last month I spent a day there mooching around searching for a few things to photograph. I was in my element.

The first birds I saw on walking to the aptly named ‘Big Rock’ was a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins. It wasn’t until I got to the top did I find the Scarlet Robin – a new bird for me. Well, in fact. I didn’t find it, it found me. Landing on the ground in front of me I was blown away by this sprightly little bird. However, nothing prepared me for the Flame Robin we stumbled across at the end of the day. As the light of a winters day began to fail a beacon of colour perched up in front of us. Wow!


Evasive Action

We saw around 70 Fin Whales last week in the Bay of Biscay. I would add to that 60 something Pilot Whales and maybe 20 or more Cuvier’s Beaked Whales. A decent haul especially when you add-in to that a host of Dolphins; Striped, Common and Bottlenose. However it was one particular sighting that sticks in my mind.

Stood on the upper deck I was conscious of a change in direction of the ship. I was being thrown to the left as the skipper did nothing less than a ‘swerve’ to the right. Clouds were moving fast to the left in front of the ship. I concluded we were about to hit something. Being a long way from land I was guessing a whale had surfaced in front of us. I beckoned those around me to go to the rail on the left of the ship as whatever the skipper was trying to avoid would slide down the port side.

It didn’t take long for two Fin Whales, the second largest animals on the planet, to appear alongside. We were looking straight down their blowholes. Travelling with the ship they rose in unison and blew tall spouts of steam and water, as if to register their position.

A ripple of applause broke over the ship from everyone on deck. Everybody absolutely everybody loves cetaceans. Such a close sighting of these magnificent animals is not usual and always a possibility on these trips.



Would you believe it?

I was giving some pointers on the birds of the Bay of Biscay to a group of birdwatchers this week. We set off from Plymouth on Tuesday with hopeful anticipation of seeing a few birds.

The trip started well with a few birds on Tuesday evening as we made our way out into the channel but unbeknown to us the following day was to be completely birdless. I have never seen the Bay of Biscay so lacking in avian interest both in species and number. The cetaceans were a different story – more on that in a later post as it was probably the best trip I’ve been on within the bay for close encounters with whales. However for birds it was complete frustration.

Even a short walk in Spain before our return trip on Wednesday evening was a nonsense. Where were all the birds?

We climbed back aboard and went for an early evening meal before the queues started at the self service restaurant. It was perhaps only as an afterthought that we went ‘up top’ as we disembarked Santander. There was around an hour of light left and we were over the subterranean canyons off the Spanish coast so why wouldn’t we have a look for a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale or two.

Standing at the rail a small ‘shearwater’ was pointed out to me flying with the ship. I raised my bins and was speechless for an identification. It wasn’t until it banked and sheared away from the ship the dawning realisation came over me what we were looking at. I could hardly get the words out … ‘FEA’s PETREL’ I shouted.

It seems all our birdwatching luck was rolled up into the last few minutes of the day. This has to be one of the scarcest seabirds in the world but I have some familiarity with the species from Madeira. However, I’m well aware of the difficulties in separating Fea’s from related species such as Zino’s Petrel in the field. Taking note of salient points such as bill size and underwing colour as well as flight characteristics I’m as sure as I can be that the Gadfly Petrel we saw was a Fea’s.

I took some poor photos in the dying light almost as an afterthought as the distance to the bird increased, took a longitude/latitude reading and started to piece together some notes on what we’d seen. I’m not sure if sightings of Fea’s have been made from the ferry before.

Sadly some of the group missed the bird but the ‘die-hards’ will no doubt be ‘living-off’ what was a new bird for many of them for many years to come.

Click on the photo to enlarge it!


Mom and baby

The idea was to take a few days down on the south coast of Victoria around Warrnambool. There’s some interesting birding down there and Southern Right Whale nursery. Yes, you heard that right … a whale nursery.

Each year Southern Right Whales move up from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to the calm waters of the south coast of Australia. the males move on but the females stay to give birth and may stop a few months while they raise their calf. One such favoured area is the bay off Warrnambool. The female along with her new calf will move back to Antarctica at the end of the Austral winter.

Whale watching quite rightly is banned from boats in this sensitive area so we had to view from land. It took a while but we eventually saw a female with her calf, albeit distantly. The calf can just be seen in the photo in front of its mother.

We had some good Humpback sightings a little further down the coast at Portland too – they were probably after whitebait and anchovies as were the Bluefin Tuna that were making the water almost boil with activity. Add to that two species of Albatross (Shy and Black Browed) plus a plethora of Australasian Gannet and you have a recipe for hours of endless sea watching.


Towny Eagle

Much building is taking place over farmland around the Western suburbs of Melbourne. On the edge of a building area I was intrigued by some distant large dark objects in the middle of a field as we drove out of town last week. They were nothing more than blobs really. However, staring at them from the moving vehicle I was sure one of them moved. I beckoned Tania to pull over. It was a busy road. A kilometer later we found a safe place to stop.

Viewing them through bins I decided to walk back along the road edge. I was still unsure what they were. It wasn’t until I got within 500m or so I could clearly see they were Wedge-tailed eagles; a pair, right on the edge of town. As I got closer they both moved to a nearby pylon so I took the opportunity to fire off a few shots.

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Aug 2019


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