Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Birding the Mountains of Southern Kazakhstan

The Tien Shen Mountains in southern Kazakhstan is a good site for Ibisbill. This one was on the shore of Big Almaty Lake. I spent two days in the mountains during my 8-day visit to Kazakhstan.

A few Mistle Thrushes appeared to be moving through the area around The Observatoy in the Tien Shen Mountains in the company of Altai Accentors.
Not a great shot but Black-throated Accentor appeared to be all over the place at times.
 Blue-capped Redstart in the conifers below our hotel in the Tien Shen Mountains.
A Wallcreeper above rocks at Big Almaty Lake. I did not expect to come across a pair of these.
The Tien Shen Mountains... very scenic.
I flushed a pair of Himalayan Snowcock at this spot, high in the mountains.
 I travelled in Kazakhstan with Misha Danichkin, who organised things... a lovely bloke and impressively efficient. I can recommend him:

Birding the Arid Steppes of Kazakhstan

Chukar can be a tricky bird but they were quite easy to see on the steppes of southern Kazakhstan during my recently completed eight-day visit to the region.
This Red-necked Phalarope was in a tiny pool in the desert near Kanshengal. Just two weeks earlier, I had seen this species in numbers at sea in the Arctic Ocean off Russia.
A Short-toed Eagle surveys the steppe grasslands.
Eurasian Jacksaws making themselves at home on the backs of goats.
White-winged Woodpecker is one of the specialties of the arid Turanga woodlands in southern Kazakhstan.
Eurasian Bitterns were quite common in the small wetlands scattered throughout the steppes. This one was well-camouflaged.
Turkestan Tit - a specialty of the southern Kazakhstan arid woodlands.
Not a bird but Long-tailed Ground-Squirrels were common on the steppes.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Snowy Owl and Other Wildlife of the Russian Arctic

A male Snowy Owl on Wrangel Island in the Russian Arctic. The island is one of the best places in the world to see this much desired species. I saw an estimated 100 in the five days we were around Wrangel Island, as the birds are conspicuous in the short tundra.
A female, showing the characteristic darker markings. The owls feed entirely on the two lemming species on the island.  Lemming populations go through cycles and numbers had crashed this year, so the owls had a poor nesting season.
Arctic Foxes were quite common on Wrangel Island. Like this one, all were shedding their summer pelage, with winter coming on.
A Northern Pika, common in rocky outcrops in the Russian Arctic.
Arctic Ground-Squirrel, common and trusting in the Russian Arctic tundra.
Woolly Mammoths survived on Wrangel Island in the Russian Arctic long after they became extinct elsewhere. They survived until 3500 years ago and their tusks are found around the island.  This one is being held by one of the Russian park rangers.

Sea Mammals of the Russian Arctic

Walrus, Beluga Whale, Fin Whale, Grey Whale and three species of seal were among the mammals seen during out Heritage Expeditions trip to the Russian Arctic. This walrus was on Herald Island.
We had some impressive walrus haul-outs, both on the mainland of the Chukotka Peninsula and on Koluchyin and Herald islands. While we were at Koluchyin, Chukchi hunters killed a walrus after harpooning it and tying it to floats attached to their boat.
While most walruses are killed for their meat, unfortunately it is becoming increasingly common for animals to be slaughtered solely for their tusks, which are used to make ivory artefacts. We found several carcasses like this one, where the head had been removed and the meat left to rot.

We saw dozens of Belugas in Anadyr Harbour, one of the best places in the world to see this white Arctic whale. The animals can be seen in the shallow sea as your plane comes in to land.
This Spotted Seal was also in Anadyr Harbour. Further north above the Arctic Circle, Ringed and Bearded Seals were present in small numbers but most were with the pack ice, much further north again as it has been a particularly warm season this year.
We had good numbers of Humpback Whales, including a pod of 20 about the boat at one time in the company of 2 Fin Whales.
Grey Whales were also common in places, but difficult to get a decent shot of. 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Seabirds of the Russian Arctic

Some nice seabirds on our voyage with Heritage Expeditions to the Russian Arctic. These Thick-billed Murres were among tens of thousands of seabirds nesting at Cape Achchen on the Chukotka Peninsula.
Horned Puffins were commonly encountered during the voyage, from Anadyr in the south, to north well beyond the Arctic Circle.
 Tufted Puffin was less common but still widespread, pictured here with a Common Murre at Cape Achchen
Black-legged Kittiwake was the most numerous seabird seen during the voyage.
Of particular interest to me were the several species of auklet seen. This raft of Crested Auklets was on the water off Kolyuchin Island
 Yellow-billed Loon is a sought after species by birders visiting the Arctic. We had at least 12 birds at Kolyuchin Inlet, where it was one of three loon species and the most common loon.
Female Long-tailed Duck with young at Kolyuchin Inlet. We were in the region late August-early September so many migratory waterbirds had left. 

Polar Bears in the Russian Arctic

I have just returned from a Heritage Expeditions trip to the Russian Arctic. I saw an amazing 90 Polar Bears within the space of a week, with about 106 being seen overall on the voyage. The animal above was an adolescent male on the shore of Wrangel Island, regarded by many as the Polar Bear capital of the world. We saw 16 bears on one occasion in one valley, all in view at the same time.
Here is a female bear with her cub, with a second cub emerging from the water, on Kolyuchin Island, where we saw our first Polar Bears.
 This bear was swimming off Herald Island, which has an incredible density of 12 Polar Bear maternity dens per square kilometre. Wrangle and Herald Islands were unusually free of ice during our visit, so all the bears were concentrated on the islands, waiting for the autumn ice to form.
This large male was watched for some time from us in offshore zodiaks. The bears were generally shy and it was easier to see them from the water.
This bear was feeding on a dead Walrus on the shore of Wrangel Island - its tusks can be seen in the lower right of the picture.