Sunday, 28 February 2010

Are Friends Electric? Mine Are.

Our dear friend Sam Fowler passed away during my trip to South America, but in my absence it was soon decided to hold a tribute dinner in his name once I returned. Today was that day, and 16 of us gathered at the home in Martinstown of his daughter Anne and husband Bob (Clarke) to afford Sam a final farewell. After a most enjoyable lunch we got down to reminiscing about Sam, each of us given the opportunity to recall our favorite memory of this extraordinary man. Mine had to be a repeat of the 'sacking' of Pink Floyd in the early 60's, but other anecdotes included Prince Philip, Edward Heath and a multitude of jazz greats who Sam was a part of. During the meal we played his last album 'Just Friends', and as if to please the assembled a Great Spotted Woodpecker landed on the garden feeder to the delight of everyone.

There is one thing for sure, wherever Sam is now he will be pleasing his fans as he did in life - Bless you Mate!

Some of the assembled including his widow Camilia, center.

Bob & Anne center with ex Chickerell mayor and Paul White.

My son 'out-law' Nigel, Nick Tomlinson and my daughter Julie.

Sam, right on double base, with The Jazz Quintet'.

Sam playing Ronnie Scott's, thought to be 1950's?

Me and my eldest daughter Julie. Don't even mention the shoes, sore subject!

As if this fantastic party were not enough for one day, I had heard a rumour that Methane 57, the band who played my 60th birthday, had re-formed and were doing a practice gig at No6 on Queen's Street. The visit there proved very fortuitous as many of my mates had decided on the same idea.

Myself (fixed income pensioner), Sally Pearce (computer wizard and business woman), Megan (ex landlady of O'Flanagan's) and TV actor Dean Martin (The Bill, The Sweeney, Minder and latterly New Tricks).

The Boy's are Back in Town - Peter Smith landlord and rhythm guitar, Chris Whiteside drums ex Bad Reputation, Dave Phillips vocals / bass and Paul Sundt lead guitar / vocals.

Jon Storey, arguable the best guitarist Dorset ever produced, trying unsuccessfully to control the mixing panel.

Paul, recently graduated from the Guitar Institute, London gets heavily into Purple Haze! "Excuse me while I kiss the sky".

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Only a 'Twitcher' When It's Pouring With Rain?

Most of my thoughts today have been for the people of Chile and more particularly those in Concepcion. To think that just a few short days ago I could have been stood within the shock zone, having been as near to the epicenter as 300Km. I know I put a hex on that taxi driver in Santiago, who saw me off for a fiver, but never meant it to be that severe.

Great Tit

Still champing at the bit to get my first bout of UK birding in, the early morning seemed to dog my chances because of heavy rain. However, this subsided and turned into bright sunshine soon after 08-00 so first made my way to the Longcroft Cemetery and then onward to Radipole nature Reserve. What I don't think I mentioned that in my desperation to get at least one species on the new Year List, I smuggled a sarnie off the flight on Thursday to entice a Feral Pigeon into the log at the Central Coach Station. No such sly tactics needed today, but the birds were a bit thin on the ground, but returned home with a total of 41. Bird of the day had to be a fine Jay at the first location and looking back through my records find it's the first there for 6 years. It was also good to see the Hooded Merganser, in fine plumage, still on site but a little bewildering to see neither Robin or Grey Heron. It is my intent to include some British Bird photographs, hopefully on a daily basis, as requested by quite a number of people on my travels.


Water Rail

A visitor from America (or Whipsnade Zoo depending on your point of view) a fine male Hooded Merganser at Radipole Lake.

and finally, some good news on the Glaucous-winged Gull front. Since finding it I have been asking those far better placed for their opinion on identity. Grahame Walbridge through Paul Harris has sort the view of Steve Howell (someone I don't know) as an authority on Larids and he returned a positive verdict. The record has now been submitted to Cotinga the Ecuadorian records group, the feeling being if it's good enough for Howell there will be little if any argument.

2010 Great Britain Year List Total - 41

Friday, 26 February 2010

Cus I'm As Free As A Bird Now! - Lynyrd Skynyrd

My welcome home was as good as anyone could want, a couple of pints of room temperature cider and great cackle with Bowie & Sheila just did the trick. Since my departure, they had returned from South Africa, Mozambique and Lesotho so our conversation was mixed and varied, and I thank them for their hospitality. I managed to 'escape' a little before mid-night to return home and remind the neighbour that I'm still alive, well and very much into Joe Bonamassa. Two tracks were enough to send me to bed happy, Django, and the superlative Ballard of John Henry. Here, I'd just like to do an advert, I'm going to buy my ticket to see / hear the best guitarist I've discovered in a decade, in the very near future. This visit to the Bournemouth International Center could only be enhanced by any of you who wish to join me. By the end of next week I hope to have secured my seat, if you want to be sat beside me give me a bell or miss out. The invitation is open for a week - please come!

The first day at home didn't quite pan out the way I had intended. Having been deprived so long of any decent 'birding' I was anxious to get to my local patch, Radipole and/or Lodmoor and kick off the GB year list. There was also the consideration of sorting mail, bills, bank etc but there was also a few people who expected me to appear at our favourite daytime haunt DJ Weatherspoon's pub, the Swan. The latter won the day, and after sorting out one or two not too important issues I headed for the pub.

To see all those lovely faces again was enhanced by the South West TV crew being there to promote what has to be one of the finest pubs in the land, and the 4 members of staff who are pregnant. Nothing to do with me I can report! Returning home, I had several telephone conversation with friends who take no prisoners when it comes to constructive criticism, and I got that from the hip. On one hand there was suggestion that my text is a little strung out and rambling, which I consider fair, and will make best effort to adjust. There were those who simply liked the documentary, and those who praised my enthusiasm and verve for life. When the latter stops you'll know I'm dead - but you better warn the angels I'm on my way. Tomorrow, the rambling stops and some serious birding begins, so have your car keys ready - The Boy Is Back In Town! Thanks for you support.

In addition, I have promised some of my new found South American acquaintances an introduction to English birds, hopefully I'll fulfill that with a few photographs in the next few days.

Ted King and his lovely lady Vera Powell left and Val & Alam Watts seriosly good mates.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Home, home again I like to be here when I can - more Pink Floyd

The long haul was a piece of cake, 45 minutes late taking off but once airbourne it was a couple of glasses of tomato juice, a movie (Public Enemies), dinner then fell asleep. At that point there were still 11 hours of flying time left, when I woke up we had just reached the south western edge of the Bay of Biscay and less than 2 hours to Paris. Breakfast, not egg and bacon, and we were there, where transfer was simple except for the surly nature of security searchig bags etc. Just a 2 hour wait for the connection to Heathrow, with Air France once again coming up trumps with excellent service and right on time.

A bit of a train ride to get from terminal 4 to the Cebtral Bus Station Heathrow, but again simple, and National Express as usual got me to Weymouth 10 minutes ahead of time. Hoping normal service will be resumed manana - whoops - I mean tomorrow, I think I hear a cider being poured, hic!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Leaving On a Jet Plane, Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again

Inevitably the day had to arrive, but still have to admit to a feeling of reluctance to climb aboard the Air France flight this afternoon. It's not that I have to return, in fact from e-mails received, reference the weather, it must simply be madness that's taking me home. Anyway, I'm psyching myself up for the long haul, and hopefully by 20-00 tomorrow I'll be by a warm fire sharing a cider or 2 with Bowie (Lorne) and Sheila.

For now I'll leave the readership with a few statistics I have to hand, a little about each country and some thoughts on the wildlife I have been privileged to see. I'd also like to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you who have shown an interest by visiting my Blog, the average on the Stat Counter has been in the region of 60 'hits' per day, and for all your comments and help along the way. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing many of you in the UK (and Estonia), but for those of you who live in any of the other 15 countries where there are now readers, a huge 'thank you' for your company and the welcome you have shown me.

My general opinion of South America, since my first visit many years ago, is of a collection of countries where the people are warm and welcoming and where I have rarely encountered any trouble. For instance, having my backpack stolen in La Paz, Bolivia was more of an inconvenience than a disaster, and ever since I have thought the perpetrator took it more out of genuine need than greed? All, are swamping themselves in mountains of disguarded rubbish and believe the plastic problem will come to a head one day. I wouldn't be at all surprised if much of the flooding in the Buenos Aries and Mendoza areas of late isn't down to blockages of drains due to plastic? Unfortunately, Colombia and Venezuela receive much bad press because of corruption, drugs cartels and revenge attacks, but my impression there was the same as overall. Having said that, I was 'shepherded' throughout much of that part of the trip but during the periods left to my own devices, felt safe and received all the help I needed. I wouldn't hesitate to visit either country solo.

In Columbia we were well directed by 'Birdseekers' based in Devon, and as a result saw the larger proportion of birds than elsewhere. Transport, food and accommodation were of a high standard resulting, I believe, in everyone being satisfied.

Venezuela offers much to the birdwatcher, but as for a tourist destination they have far to go. Without venturing too far into politics, I heard no one utter a supportive word about Senor Chavez who appear to be an international firebrand. Only the people can sort that one out, but while he is keeping the invisible shackles of petrol at $0.50 per tankful around their neck it seems unlikely things will change.

The jewel in the wildlife crown has had to be Ecuador, where my last visit, excluding Galapagos, was a pathetic 2 days. This time I believe it was over 3 weeks, and despite having to find my own way the itinarary provided by Byron Palacios was invaluable. Digressing slightly, I should tell you Byron is a world bird guide and while I don't know his prowess on the ground, if it is anything like his directions for me, he would be well worth a try. The highlights here were Angel Paz and the Pacific Coast. All of the reserves and other wild areas I visited were of the best I have seen, while the coast, for anyone with a 'Hippy' mentality is Paradise.

This was my second visit to the Galapagos Islands, and as I have stated elsewhere on the Blog they are easily accessible. You don't have to be Charles Darwin to know the diversity of wildlife to be found there, while I could gaurantee anyone one of the most unusual places on the Planet.

Peru I have also covered fairly extensively, and while little seems to have changed there it probably has more to offer the tourist than anywhere else on the Sub-continent. We have all seen the images of Machu Pichu, the Nazca Lines, Ballastas Islands etc, etc on TV and in magazines, my recommendation would be to formulate your own plan and don't miss this incredible country under any circumstances.

If I can use the analigy of the Curate's Egg again, this adequately describes Chile. Again not full geared up for the tourist, but does have a great deal to offer, simply it's not all bad! The Lauca National Park has been the highlight during something of a limited stay, but as regular readers will have seen, there is much else here and if your journeying this far, why pass it by.

And last, but most definitely not least Argentina and its wonderful Capital of culture. Much, much to offer from the Iguassu Falls to being a Gaucho for a day or 2, the best bit was saved until last. Costanera Sur, a bit disappointing this time, has been during my 4 visits (9 full days) singularly on of the best bird reserves in the world. Add to that the style, service, culture and the overall welcoming appeal of the people even if you only get to BA you'll have 'cracked it'! Restaurants particularly are the place to be, with well dressed, interested waiting staff, I doubt you'll ever eat better meat (especially beef) and no wonder the French and Italians are showing such great concern, Argentine wine production is outstripping them as we speak.

Trip Stats

Countries - 6 + what I like to think of as an autonomous region, Galapagos. There are 2 (Colombia & Venezuela) to be added to the World List making the total 106.

Cities = 11, Bogota, Caracas, Quito, Guayaquil, Lima, Arequipa, Arica, Valparaiso, Santiago, La Plata and Buenos Aries.

Towns, Rivers, individual Mountains too many to note.

Distance covered front door to front door 20,500 miles (give or take a hundred yards).

Trip Total Species of Birds - 901 I am sure there are those on the list that shouldn't be there, and sure as hell there are omitions (unidentified photos to be added at a later date) but 901 sounds about right.

World Lifers Total - 574 the same applies here and when time allows I intend scrutinising the list much more closely.

Endemics Total - 57 with about half a dozen still in abeyance, ranges yet to be checked.

Mammals 27 with one or two photographs to be looked at, the show stealers being Jaguar and Ocelot.

As far as the Birds are concerned this has been the most mind blowing trip I have ever undertaken and to select a single favourite species would be a daunting task. However, I have selected just a few of almost an album full of photographs as a reminder of some of the best.

If I had to put my hand on my heart and choose a single favourite, Swallow-tailed Gull would have to be it. Although not a 'lifer' or a new bird photographed (if you count stolen property) this magnificent creature does the full bizz for me.

Being privy to the finding of this Dusky Starfrontlet was also considered a massive Avian milestone. Many miles outside of its known range, its global scarcity and given it was virtually unknown until 1990, puts it in a category apart. It ain't a bad looking little thing either, is it?

The personal find of the trip has to be this Glaucous-winged Gull which, if accepted, will become a first for the whole of South America let alone Ecuador where it was found.

I have included these 2 images of Pale-mandibled Aracari to represent the 'eye candy division' and the bizarre. The Toucan / Aracari families are a fantastic group.

and on the subject of fantastic family groups, who could deny the Antpitta's as being one of the best. So secretive and skulking they are rarely seen except when in company of those who can call them out, and Angel Paz was just one of those people. In all I think the total was 7 species.

Giant Antpitta

Moustached Antpitta

Yellow-breasted Antpitta

In addition to these, there was also the Forster's Tern that was co-found by the group in Colombia, which again if accepted will become an addition to the countries Bird List. Unfortunately no photographs were possible.

See some of you soon I hope!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Final Countdown - Last Day in South America

The name of Homero Manzi is synonymous with Tango, not only here in Buenos Aries but across the whole of Latin America and much of the world. A Poet, writer and football fanatic Senor Manzi opened a string of Tango cafes across the country, and while I'm in no position to discuss the finer points, I do know people travel from all points of the globe to watch these fine performers. I had seen the 'street dancers' in Boca before, but this display of what is an extremely sensual dance form, with the accompaniment of such a fantastic combo, took it to a new level. So, at last we have had some Tango and a fine meal and went to bed ready to enjoy my final day of the trip.

Restaurant & Bar

Some of the many trophies.

Let's Tango

The Band, a group of extremely talented musicians.

All of the Tango dancers.

This morning at 8 I bid a fond farewell to Jim and Liz as they left to start a 90 minute drive heading to a cattle ranch, where they are going to play Gauchos for a couple of days before flying onward to the Iguassu Falls. Luckily the overnight downpours seemed to have paved the way for a beautifully sunny, cloudless and hot day, that coupled with the Costanera Sur being open all day, very few people and a sprinkling of birds I had a little flurry for my last full day on South American soil. Once again Herons, Ibis and Egrets were all but absent with the 2 day visits amounting to a single Great White, 3 Snowy Egrets and a lone Black-crowned Night Heron. There were quite a number of re-encounters such as Green-barred Woodpecker, some perfect male Hooded Siskins, c2 more Brown-hooded Gulls, but like the Siskins not at all obliging plus dozens of House Sparrows and Starlings. There were also 2 additions with a total of c5 Glittering-bellied Emerald (Hummingbirds) added to the Trip List and c3 Bay-winged Hawk, an adult and c2 juveniles probably making up the last 'World Lifer' of the tour.

I'm hoping to put together a post for tomorrow as I have a couple of hours to kill, but have already checked-in 'on line' and got an emergency exit seat, offering much more leg room on the long-haul (13 hours BA to Paris, 2 hour transit then 90 minutes to Heathrow).

female White-lined Tanager

Double-collared Seedeater taking a bath

2 views looking north from the middle of the Costanera Sur,

side by side they make the whole panorama.

Bay-winged Hawk (juvenile) alighting.

Bay-winged Hawk perched.

and a bevy of Butterflies, but no idea of species

except perhaps this is a Sp of Swallow-tail

Monday, 22 February 2010

Don't Cry For Me Argentina!

Maria Eva Duarte de Peron (as she looked in 1946)
07/05/1919 - 26/07/1952

While I've heard little or no news since leaving England, someone did say that Argentina has started a little 'sabre rattling' over the presence of a BP rig being towed into the waters of Los Malvina's. As your correspondent on the spot I can report all is very quiet at the Buenos Aries Naval Base.

A couple of Argentine 'war canoes' not exactly straining at there moorings to set sail and blast the BP Explorer out of the water.

A bijou Auxiliary craft that looks like it could carry 2 pints of lager and a packet of crisps.

I still haven't had my say on the Falklands conflict, which I will save until I return to base, but it is not favorable to Great Britain.

Last evening we dined at the internationally acclaimed restaurant Las Violetas, and while we agreed the decor didn't seem as flamboyant as shown on the advertising leaflet, the array of cakes and pasties, strategically place just inside the main entrance, were enough to make an anorexic want to stay. Again we opted for the Malbec grape and were well satisfied with both bottles, while Jim had another beef steak (about as big as the Auxiliary photoed above) while Liz and I had the lamb. I convinced Jim that someone was trying to poison him, so had no trouble relieving him of a decent size taster of his steak, while our lamb was some of the best I have ever eaten. Only sufficient space for a main course, we joined a couple of young English ladies (of Indian ancestry) for a nightcap, the ladies having Amareto and we two Drambuie.

One of several stained glass windows

The main restaurant, the cafe being round the corner to the left.

Not the best image in the world, but gives the reader some idea of what was on offer.

More stained glass.

A mirror image of Jim the Medic.

Liz doing her Evita impression.

The wine taster.

A nice bit of lamb.

The Eva Peron monument Buenos Aries

I was told some years ago that this is a Rubber Tree. While no expert on the subject I do think I'm misinformed, but whatever the species it is reputed to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Today's target was the city center, but once again at noon the rain started and drove us to cover, I even went into a Shopping Mall - Yuk!

A few photographs from inside Cementerio de la Recoleta

The exclusivity of this cemetery is renowned in Argentina, money alone cannot by you a way in, you have to be at least a dignitary. This is why there is still massive controversy here about Juan Peron's wife being laid to rest there. One of 3 illegitimate children from humble beginnings, there are many in 'high office' who would see her remains removed in an instant.

At Evita's family crypt.

Don't cry for me Argentina, the truth is I never left you!

One of the more ornate sarcophagus.

A little jape in the graveyard.

Thought this was the Captain's Cabin, but no matter how hard you knock they wont let you in.

A little light lunch