Arctic Wildlife …

High mountains and high latitudes are harsh places. There are not a lot of creatures that can make a living.

I have arrived in Longyearbyen a few days early for a cruise that will take me further north in the archipelago and have been wandering around the outskirts of town with my camera. It isn’t wise to go too far because one of the animals around here is quite happy to eat the adventurous.

Whilst I have seen only a small number of species I have had the time to get some photos …

Black Guillemot
Barnacle Goose
Pink-footed Goose
Common Eider
King Eider
Snow Bunting
Rock Ptarmigan

The Knowledge …

And that wraps up my Spanish sojourn.

I only scratched the surface. In Extremadura the pseudo steppe country around Trujillo turned up such delights as Great and Little Bustards, Stone Curlew and the Great Spotted Cuckoo. Monfrague was gorgeous and Vulture heaven. Villuercas delivered some very nice birds of prey. The countryside in Extremadura was awash with wild flowers and in the towns history dripped from every stone.

It was the perfect time to visit Doñana in Andalucia, the water birds were abundant and El Rocio was becoming lively in the run up to the fiesta.

You can’t beat local knowledge and that came in the form of Peter Warham. He is a longtime resident in Spain. He organised our accommodation, drove us around and helped at every step of the way with translation. He is a very amiable guy, he knows his birds and knows how to find them. We thought his rates very reasonable. He puts in from dawn to dusk. He can be contacted at

I’m writing this in a hotel room in Oslo. Tomorrow I head for Svalbard where the sun will not set until 11.58pm on Saturday August 25th although I won’t be there quite that long.

Eucalyptus …

Our trees have conquered the world. On my travels I occasionally crush a few leaves to transport me to home and I’m always amused to see alien creatures nestled in Aussie foliage. White Storks for example …

But if this next tree really belongs in Oz then the bird clearly belongs in Sub-Saharan Africa …

and the photograph was taken by the side of an irrigation channel in Andalucia!

A colony of Black-headed Weavers has established itself here. The earliest records are from Portugal and presumed to be aviary escapees, they seem to have spread from there.


The Price …

I spent some time watching a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos. The male was very adept at catching caterpillars, every sortie seemed to be successful. The female would then start begging in a way very reminiscent of a young bird. The first few times he simply ignored her and ate his caterpillar.

Courtship feeding is fairly common in birds. Given the significant investment a female makes in the reproductive process it’s a good idea to check that the male is capable of delivering the goods to the nest. Most cuckoos don’t bother to feed their own young. These particular cuckoos lay their eggs in the nest of Eurasian Magpies and leave the feeding to foster parents.

So I was very interested to see what would transpire and in due course he made her an offer …

… and she accepted.

England …

The following day was eventful.

Warned that getting to the departure gate in Bangkok could take longer than the time generally allowed I was early at the check-in counter. My boarding pass was in hand because I’d checked in on-line the previous evening. The flight was cancelled.

Sri Lankan were apologetic, pleasant and optimistic. For those passengers heading to Colombo there would be a delay. Those flying on to other destinations would be re-booked on other airlines. The upshot was that I was on a Thai Airlines flight direct to London getting there two hours earlier than scheduled. Such hardship.

I’m staying with an old friend in Leytonstone. We met when I was working in a greengrocers at the top of her street. There’s not a lettuce in sight it’s now a kebab shop.

First stop was the Hollow Ponds. This was where the birdwatching all began. As a primary school kid I set off with a pen and a notebook and made a list of the birds I found. These days I take along some binoculars and a camera but essentially the activity is just the same.

The bird population has changed a bit. Finches do seem to be down. Buzzards are up. Canada and Greylag Geese are in plague proportions. The birds I most enjoyed seeing as a kid were Great Crested Grebe and the Jay. It’s great to see that they’re still around.

And of course it’s spring, the Blackcaps are singing, the Chiffchaffs are chiffchaffing, the Coots are at their most aggressive. There is no better time to be watching tits.

The Blackcap
Canada Goose
Greylag Goose