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Tyttenhanger - Site restoration update
Birding Beyond Hertfordshire - Papua New Guinea
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The HBC committee has released an update from Tyttenhanger:
For the benefit of anyone who has not visited Tyttenhanger GP recently. Because of the very wet winter and spring work was delayed in extracting the gravel from the course of the old bridleway but this has now been completed. The moving of soil and other banked material that was started in advance of the extraction had to be stopped to allow the breeding of waders to continue (Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover and Ringed Plover) the earth moving and the construction of the island will shortly restart. The returning Sand Martin sadly had only a couple of sites to attempt breeding but this was achieved in two unlikely positions and also at the new extraction site towards Bowman’s Farm.
Any one who visits the site will get an idea of the eventual expanse of water by looking for the yellow painted stakes that can be picked out around the area, these are at the level of the proposed water level when the lake reaches the 67 m AOD level, (this is not the depth of water) this might take some time as it depends on rainfall, but who knows it could happen in a mater of days if we get a repeat of last years weather. The bundied lagoon to the SW corner next to the river will eventually form part of a wader area and the bund will go some way to minimising the wave action of the enlarged lake. The bund is not a replacement bridleway or footpath and eventually will be flooded, but in the meantime it should not be used for bird watching,at the request of the gravel company Lafarge who have liability for public safety.
During August considerable amounts of earth moving will be seen. The current spit will be enlarged and left as a low level island. The ‘scrape’ area will end up under about 1 metre of water, so soil will be added to create a shallow area for waders. Silt will be pumped into the southern corner by the river to create further shallows. All of this work requires considerable skill to achieve an ideal landform, it may not be achieved at the first attempt.
By September the major earthmoving should be completed and Lafarge will hand over future restoration development to the responsibility of the Herts County Council who will continue to work to the published plan.
Permission is being sought to install an outflow sluice to the River Colne. At high water levels, water will weir into the river. It may also be possible to lower levels in the future to some degree.
Lafarge will still have a major presence there throughout the life of the quarry and therefore birders will need to respect any access constraints placed on the surrounding area as the company are obliged by law to safeguard the public i.e. fencing and notices.
The Herts Bird Club have with Lafarge, HCC, and Bowman’s Farms Ltd, built a good working relationship that needs to be protected for the sake of future developments of Tyttenhanger as a meaningful reserve, the desire of birders to see “whats about” is recognised by other parties and given co-operation by us it will be possible to make viewing at Tyttenhanger a safe pleasure, and above all in time an outstanding site for breeding and migrant birds and other flora and fauna.
Because of the present site dangers of soft mud, steep banks, and deep water visitors to the site must not enter the site away from the designated footpaths and into fenced areas, if a desirable “tick” turns up please be guided by the Birdwatchers Code and if reporting to a pager service be sure to ask for a warning against breaking the constraints mentioned above. If a rarity turns up Lafarge have assured us that they will co-operate in allowing birders to see it from managed watch points, the site manager is willing to be contacted at reasonable times, he is Rick Lewis on 01727- 826926, please help the Herts Bird Club to maintain the present goodwill.
(combination of notes by Jim Terry and Graham White - thanks to both)
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Birding Beyond Hertfordshire - Papua New Guinea
Ted Fletcher brings us the first installment of his recent trip to Papua New Guinea...
Papua New Guinea has long held an allure for many birders with tales of Birds of Paradise gaudily bedizened with every colour of the rainbow frenetically displaying their shiny plumes, of Kingfishers that excavate the forest floor under the cover of darkness and serenade by night plus a shimmering host of avian delights including poisonous Pitohuis. OK, that's got the hyperbole out of the system so, to continue...
My yearning to visit was given more than a mild impetus by the program in David Attenborough's 'Life of Birds' TV series when he concentrated on the avifauna of PNG. So, when Limosa Holidays offerred the chance to visit in 2000, a quick check on the price of HSBC shares confirmed that the coffers would cope and the first steps to fulfilling an ambition were taken.
PNG - that's what we travellers call it - is surely one of the last countries to be dragged screaming into the 20th (21st?) century. It shares the island of New Guinea - the second largest island in the world - with Irian Jaya and also comprises hundreds of other islands and there are still very large tracts which are virtually untrodden save for the local tribes. Its very name still invokes visions of headhunters and wigmen with crescent bones through their noses and althought the practice of eating your neighbour seems to have stopped, there are still tribal skirmishes which often result in deaths. There are no good roads outside the main towns and much of the travel is undertaken by light(ish) aircraft or, in the truly remote areas, by river or on foot. Everyone realised that the journey from London to PNG would be a protracted affair although the final elapsed time of 31.75 hours via Kuala Lumpur and Cairns exceeded all estimates.
The trip was centred on three different locations. Port Moresby is the capital and we spent a couple of days there prior to relocating to Karawari Lodge. This was deep in the forest over two hours by light aircraft and incidently two days walk from the nearest road. We landed literally on an airfield - a clearing in the forest which was now a field with a flat strip which served as the runway. Finally we moved on to Ambua Lodge which meant another flight, followed by a two hour rickety journey on an unmade road. The first two locations were no more than one hundred feet above sea level although Ambua Lodge was at around 6000 feet. The climatic consequences were that Port Moresby was very hot but relatively dry, Karawari Lodge was hotter and extremely humid - a set of clothes could easily be wet after an hour - but Ambua Lodge was far cooler and much less humid. The internal flights had a novel episode in that the passengers were weighed in addition to luggage in order to ensure that the plane's maximum load was not exceeded and, as the average native weighs far less than the average European, this could have led to problems, save that there were four passengers less than the overall number of seats. Safety drill consisted of the co-pilot glancing over his shoulder and telling us to do whatever he directed if the need arose.
Having at last landed at Port Moresby at 1400 hrs, all considerations of sleep deprivation were speedily dismissed and everyone was keen to get among the birds so after a brief check-in and shower it was into the minibus and off to the first site which was the grounds of the local Adventist College where the resident expert escorted us on a guided tour of the campus. Australian Grebe, Wandering Whistling-Duck, Green Pygmy Goose, Pacific Black Duck, Dusky Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, Comb-crested Jacana, Sacred Kingfisher and Pacific Swallow were all easy to see and got everybody several ticks. Three Fawn-breasted Bowerbirds introduced most to a new family and later on we saw one of the bowers, gaudily decorated with all manner of greenery. Red-cheeked Parrot, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Rainbow Lorikeet were the first of many such allies we were to meet in the ensuing days and Yellow and Rufous-banded previewed the Honeyeaters. A rufous phase Grey Goshawk over the bus on the way back to the hotel was probably the final species of the day prior to an early dinner and an extremely long-awaited real bed.
Next day saw an 0600 breakfast prior to a full day's birding in nearby Varirata National Park, just an hour's drive along the make-believe roads. Virtually everything en-route was new, especially striking were the Yellow-faced Mynas and Pheasant Coucals. On arrival at Varirata, the immediate impression was one of hearing but not seeing the birds, Painted Quail-thrush, Eastern Riflebird and Superb Fruit-Dove remaining steadfastly invisible. Compensation was quick in coming with stunning views of Yellow-billed and Brown-headed Paradise Kingfishers, followed by Eclectus Parrot, a real bruiser of a bird which, although predominately red, looks all-black when seen in flight. After lunch, the sight of the massive nest mound of the Black-billed Brush Turkey prompted a wait a while but the owner deigned not to come home. The pace quickened when a distant squawk was identified as that of a male Raggiana Bird of Paradise. Five feverish minutes later he was located, displaying on a high branch, a stunning effervescence of yellow and scarlet plumes with a blue bill and a face etched in green and yellow velvet. This introduction to the BoP's, just around an hour away from the concrete of Port Moresby, could not have been more dramatic were it purposely staged and we could now truly understand just why David Attenborough had been so thrilled in his wonderful BBC documentary. It was now all downhill, both geographically and figuratively as we slowly made our way back to the bus for the return to the hotel. However, it should not be overlooked that around 60 other species were seen during the day, bringing the running total up to 80 or so.
The fifth day was chiefly occupied by travel as we relocated from Port Moresby to the Karawari Lodge set deep in the forest. The Twin Otter (a plane, not a mammal) needed to refuel so a brief stop was made at Mount Hagen. This was noted to be a shanty town with an airstrip. Its other claim to fame (infamy?) was as the centre of the whereabouts of the so-called Rascals, a loose collection of armed brigands with a fearsome reputation. Safe in the confines of the airfield, some took the opportunity to stretch the legs and immediately regretted the move as it was blisteringly hot. Most people stayed in the shade of the plane's wings and were able to score points off the 'loo party' when a Brown Falcon - the only one of the trip - made a quick pass. Then it was off again, flying over mile upon mile of virgin rainforest until the airstrip was reached and we stepped off the plane into magical, albeit hot and now humid, surroundings. It was still about 45 minutes to the lodge, this time by a purpose-built metal jet-boat craft with a massive tractor motor engine. Other than walking, this was to be our chief mode of transport whilst at the lodge. The start was delayed when the engine steadfastly refused to fire. The plane had now left and it seemed that we were totally out of contact with the world, exacerbated more so when the two crew departed saying that they would return 'soon'. No worry as 15 minutes later they reappeared with a fresh industrial battery. Everyone deemed this to be one of the true mysteries of the jungle which the white man would never understand and about which he should not even ask! Off at last on the Sepik river the craft sped along, slowing only when passing the occasional canoe or village, the latter always dominated by stilt houses and sago or coconut palms. A few Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants were noted along the banks and a Black Kite or three plus some Spangled Drongos circling over added to the day list. Karawari Lodge was marvellous - perched high on a bluff a hundred yards or so inland from the river. The main facilities were all housed in a haus tambaran - the traditional thatched spirit house, complete with a huge external woven mask to ward off the evil omens. The forest views from above tree-top level were entrancing and endless. It was now late afternoon but no-one wanted to lose even a minute so we quickly gathered on an open hilltop to sample the local birding; a well camouflaged Orange-bellied Fruit Dove blended into an exposed branch, fly-by Edwards' (thereafter always known as Ted's) Fig Parrots, Meyer's and New Guinea Friarbirds, Cicadabird, Black-browed Triller, two stunning Golden Mynas plus an almost touchable Black Sunbird were among the highlights. Resting on the balcony for a welcome beer at sunset, the massive shape of a lone Blyth's Hornbill rounded off the day in style, prior to each retiring to their chalet to be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the surrounding forest.
It was just getting light as we piled into the boat at 0545 hrs. About one hundred Eclectus Parrots and an enormous Palm Cockatoo passed over the river as we drifted a short way downstream to the opposite bank. We had now been joined by Ambrose, our guide from the local village, who also shepherded David Attenborough. The object of the trip was our next BoP. The heavens opened but could do nothing to dampen our enthusiasm and it was not long before we spied a male Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise frenetically displaying. Try to imagine a banana-yellow bird with a black chest and head equipped with two pairs of six filament thin black tail feathers which immediately curve back on themselves and point alongside its head! Then set the whole mass quivering!! Ambrose insisted that the perch was the same as seen on TV and that the bird could quite easily be the one featured at that time. An Oriental Cuckoo and a White-bellied Thicket Fantail close by drew only minimal attention. We tore ourselves away and returned for breakfast after which a four-hour circular walk in the forest behind the lodge beckoned. The trail rose and fell and the going was fairly rough and the birding tough but extremely rewarding. Coronetted Fruit Dove, Black-capped Lory and Mimic Honeyeater were among the delights whilst a Brown-collared Brush Turkey brayed like a donkey from the undergrowth. The morning's star bird was a most furtive but brilliant male Red-bellied Pitta. It took 90 minutes of patient creeping up hill and down dale before everyone had managed to get good views of this ultra-skulker - it was my very first pitta so I, at least, was really grateful. Out again after lunch, the target bird was Victoria Crowned Pigeon and we embarked for a 30 minute jet-ride journey to a site that Ambrose knew. En route a Black Bittern was a bonus as were Pinion and Zoe Imperial Pigeons. Our quarry was a bird two feet long with a maroon breast and punk hair-do but despite intensive searching, we dipped. However, PNG is such a place; some you win and some you lose and compensation is never far away. Later on that afternoon it came in the form of a pair of duetting aptly named Hook-billed Kingfishers. Back at base it was established that the day's count was 65 species and the running total had increased to 115.
Next day dawned bright, extremely hot and very humid - no change there then. After a brief breakfast it was all aboard the 'flyer' again, heading upstream to another of Ambrose's secret spots. It was not long before we were all spread out below a vine which was the domain of the King Bird of Paradise. All scopes were trained on the favourite display perch and the wait began. But not for long - looking very like a scaled down Cock-of-the-Rock, the tiny red and white male cavorted on, along and beneath his perch, tail wires and terminal disks bouncing like a pair of demented green pendulums. Quite understandably, not a lot of attention was paid to the nearby Purple-tailed Imperial Pigeons, Chestnut-breasted Cuckoos and Shining Flycatchers. Heading back to the lodge, a lone Gurney's Eagle was among various more common raptors, the cuckoo count was augmented by Little Bronze and the harrier-like Channel-billed along with its confusion species, Grey Crow, a ghostly bird with a pinkish face and bill. It was quite a long journey after lunch to visit the Yimas Lakes where it was hoped to catch up with a range of water birds. It proved also to offer the first real relief from the climate as the boat's throttle could be fully opened and a real turn of speed created a rush of fresh air. An hour's passage saw us emerging from the tree-lined river into a broad expanse of marsh, reed and lake hemmed in by forested mountains and devoid of all signs of man. This was a wonderfully remote and awe-inspiring location; truly a lost world. It dawned on most people that they were indeed a very, very long way from home and probably at the most remote spot that they had ever been in their lives. Mixed flocks of Intermediate Egrets and around 40 striking Pied Herons took flight as the boat drifted along and the first Rufous Night Heron of the trip was considered a far more admirable bird than its WP congener. Whiskered Terns danced over the open water, several in breeding plumage reminding us that we were in the southern hemisphere and that the nesting season was soon to begin. The mesmeric environment was harshly interrupted by sudden dramatic thunder and lightning over the not too distant mountains and we all looked at each other with the alarming recollection that we were on open water in an all-metal boat! Although the birds were still enticing, thoughts of self-preservation became paramount as we speedily headed for the relative safety of the tree-lined river and then raced Indiana Jones style back to the lodge with the storm thundering away just over our shoulders. The purpose of the afternoon foray was not forgotten as a pair of Blyth's Hornbills and a magnificent Orange-fronted Fruit Dove were added to the list. It's not until you get away from the UK and Europe that the variety of colours displayed by very many doves can be really witnessed. We ventured out after dinner to round off a splendid day in search of nightbirds. Taping brought no success and we were just about to give up when one of the local kitchen staff beckoned to us urgently. Wondering who had not put in their order for breakfast we closed in only to be told that 'It's on the roof'. Peering in the direction he indicated, an eerie grey silhouette was just discernable. With the aid of good torchlight views and after considerable discussion about size, colour and jizz (if something totally immobile has jizz?), the verdict was unanimous - well, the two leaders agreed and everyone could readily be persuaded - a Marbled Frogmouth.
Next day was relocation day but as the plane was not due until 1030 hrs there was plenty of time not to be wasted. Ambrose suggested one last try for the 'Vic Pig' and all concurred. Three more Rufous Night Herons were a joy, a Great Cuckoo Dove crossed overhead and a Glossy-mantled Manucode was perched prominently on a dead snag. It was pointed out that this was classified among the birds of paradise but it certainly did not create such an impression, being dull black and rather corvid-like with sheeny purplish wings. We drew another blank with the Victoria Crowned Pigeon - the first true disappointment of the trip. We did see the first wild animal, a Spotted Cuscus, a sloth-like creature which moved languidly through the overhead canopy. Ambrose said that this was a rare sight, the usual image of the rust and cream coat being of pelts woven into ceremonial headdresses. Remarking on the dearth of wild animals, it was confirmed that very many ended up in the pot and this surely went a long way to explaining why we saw so few, the only other view being of a Wild Boar departing in total haste a few days later. Arriving at the airstrip in plenty of time, we could not help but wonder whether our chartered plane would arrive. The absence of any contact with the outside world for the past four days could have masked any number of major events (how were Arsenal faring?) and this was emphasised with 1100 hrs passing and no flight arrival. It did give us extra birding time and Red-capped Flowerpecker, Red-flanked Lorikeet were colourful bonuses. Rufous-collared Monarch (not a butterfly), Hooded Butcherbird and Large-billed Gerygone were further additions before the plane finally appeared over the trees at 1130. Everyone relaxed in relief and insisted that they had never really been concerned! The 90 minute flight passed over little else but snaking brown rivers and dense green forest for around 80 of the minutes before the trees began to thin out and scattered villages appeared. We landed at Tari in a relatively well populated extended valley. Pied Stonechat and Long-tailed Shrike (I did not need to chase the South Uist bird in October/November) were airport ticks before we started the drive up into the mountains, to Ambua Lodge. Save for about 100m of tarmac at nowhere in particular, the road was unmade and in generally very bad condition, making for slow and exceedingly uncomfortable progress. However, the journey offered a fascinating glimpse of life in New Guinea's remote Southern Highlands with grass skirts (for the men, not the women!), multi-coloured umbrellas, Huli wig-men, their heads adorned with bird of paradise feathers and bones through their noses, western hats and T-shirts emblazoned with inevitable McDonalds and Coca-Cola logos, a plethora of hand-held axes, clubs and massive machetes...... Most of all we were impressed by the overt friendliness of virtually everybody whom the bus passed - broad smiles, cheerful waves and joyful shouts of greeting.
Ambua Lodge was beautiful; scattered on a landscaped hillside, the individual roundel accommodations gave glorious views over the forest and hills and back down the road whence we had come. The elevation meant that it was far cooler and less humid and once a late lunch was over no time was lost getting to grips with a whole new spectrum of birds in the grounds. Orange-bellied Lorikeet, Glossy and Mountain Swiftlets, Red-collared Myzomela, Yellow-browed Melidectes, Canary Flycatcher, Sclater's Whistler, Mountain Peltops and Wattled Ploughbill being among the new birds I had never heard of before. The day was finally capped by a rather wet evening foray to search for Feline Owlet-nightjar. The owlet-nightjars are cryptic nocturnal birds similar to but much smaller than frogmouths with a large gape, small weak legs and a long, untapered tail. They have a small facial disk and a bill framed with long, branched bristles. They are believed to forage by hover-gleaning for insects on foliage. They are renowned for their ultra secretiveness but a roost site was known. A well-aimed spotlight immediately pinpointed the bird and, rather than fly as expected it turned its back, thus hiding the cat-like facial markings from which its name derives, and stubbornly refused to budge. A remarkable bird all the same and one seen to date by very few birders.
Up with the lark (with the lorikeet?) next day we're off to a flier as a male Black Sicklebill is spotted perched in a favoured tree. Sicklebills are among the less gaudy BoP's but compensate with their elongated tail feathers and very curved slim bills. It was a great start but things got better as we took the bus uphill. Ribbon-tailed and Stephanie's Astrapias were seen; both superb male BoP's and as the former passed overhead their unbelievably long, snow-white tail streamers twirled and sang as they trailed far behind. New birds came thick and fast and it was difficult to keep track or to single out a particular species. Grey-streaked and Smokey Honeyeaters, Tit Berrypeckers (a yellow Great Tit) Black-breasted Boatbill, Black-mantled Goshawk and Blue-faced Parrotfinch were among the more memorable before fresh BoPs (yawn) were encountered. This time it was the turn of the enormous Brown Sicklebill with a song like the perfect impression of a machine gun, quickly followed by King-of-Saxony Bird of Paradise (two very long pearly-blue head plumes - another favourite in the locals' headdresses) and finally Loria's Bird of Paradise, almost an imposter being a velvety-black thrush sized bird with a lime gape but no plumes, no explosive tail feathers....nothing at all! The afternoon session kicked off in grand style with a marvellous study of a male Superb Bird of Paradise. This is blackbird size and colour with an iridescent blue wedge-shaped breast shield (bow tie?) and a velvety black cape, both of which can be erected. We were then entertained (?) by one of the lodge staff who held a succession of hapless moths at arms length for Great Woodswallows and Mountain Peltops to swoop and take from the hand. Papuan Mountain Pigeons impressed with their 'stall and kamikaze dive' displays and the bulky but appealing Brehm's Tiger Parrot put in several appearances. The BoP tally was hoisted further with the sight of a Short-tailed Paradigalla, a somewhat nondescript member after all the day's previous delights. New birds abounded but it would be a crime not to note the Crested Berrypecker, a unique starling sized bird with bright blue tail, breast, underparts and cheeks, yellow undertail and striking black and white crest; if that were not enough it had the bizarre habit of plucking flowers and rubbing the corollas into its plumage. The day's count was 61 species but what a collection! No fewer than eight birds of paradise were seen making this a day which figured high among everyone's best birding day ever.
Don’t miss part two of Ted’s Travels in the next bulletin.
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