Game Drive …

Dawn found us on the banks of the Nile, our taxi was first in line for the ferry …

The savanna awaits on the north bank along with a severe case of pixel intoxication …

Waterbuck (m)
Waterbuck (m)
Denham’s Bustard
Northern Carmine Bee-eater
African Elephant
Patas Monkey
Rothschild’s Giraffe

What about that sky, the light was magical, and surprisingly not a drop of rain fell.

And then we encountered the lions …



The some very sharp eyes found these for us.

the Leopard is a very secretive animal. And if you delve into his secrets it could be quite dangerous for you…

Geoffrey Muhanguzi.


This is just a fraction of what we saw, and we racked up quite a bird list to go with the mammals. Choosing which photos to include here has been very hard. If I went through the exercise again there might not be too much of an overlap.

All too soon it was over, we had to make the 11 am ferry in order to be out of the park before our 24 hours were up and we all became liable for another 50 bucks.

My advice, if you are visiting Murchison Falls National Park, stay longer and explore the possibility of staying in the northern section of the park.

Khao Yai …

Khao Yai was the first National Park created in Thailand. It covers an area of 2,168 square kilometres of forest and grassland and together with some surrounding protected areas form the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex World Heritage Site which provides habitat for another impressive array of wild creatures.

The morning mist, the splendour of the scenery, the certainty of seeing at least some of the wildlife and the fact that it’s just a three hour drive from the outskirts of Bangkok ensure that it is a well visited park. Weekends and holidays are best avoided, but if you have an interest in wildlife a visit at some stage is an absolute must. The Rockjumper birding tour I was on spent two full days in the park. Longer would be better, wouldn’t it always. If you are visiting independently here are a couple of resources that might help, and

Birding highlights included Silver Pheasant, Blue and Eared Pitta, Vernal Hanging Parrot, various Barbets, Woodpeckers, nightjars and the Collared Owlet. A few birds were happy to pose …

Golden-headed Cisticola
Mountain Imperial Pigeon
Moustached Barbet
Black-crested Bulbul
Blue Pitta

Mammals that we encountered included Black Giant and Variable Squirrels, Muntjac  and Sambar Deer. The Sambar are unphased by the photographer’s close approach.


Pig-tailed Macaques are a certainty, Gibbons much less so. There are two species present – Pileated, which we heard and White-handed which we were lucky enough to see.

White-handed Gibbon

This guy was accompanied by his wife and baby. The females are brown, the babies, of course, are adorable.

No matter how big you are a few metres into the forest and you’re virtually invisible. Last time I was on foot this close to an elephant I was running for my life (and Asian Elephants deserve the same respect that African ones do). However half a dozen people had already walked past it without it showing any sign of irritation and, in the forest, I was virtually invisible too … I hoped.

Asian Elephant

Kaeng Krachan …

Thailand’s largest national park covering an area of 2914 km² and just part of an even larger forest that extends west into Myanmar and north and south in Thailand. According to the Thai National Parks web page it is home to at least 420 species of bird, 57 mammals and about 300 species of butterfly.

Looking west into Myanmar

Just to conjure with some delicious possibilities, Tiger, Leopard, Asian Elephant, White-handed Gibbon and Great Hornbill are all here, although you might not want to meet all of them on a dark road. The possibility exists … there are three campsites!

The Great Hornbill has to be the signature bird, it may measure as much as 122 cm from tip of bill to tip of tail, that’s almost exactly 4 feet in the old money. Its wing beats can often be heard before the bird is seen. It’s a hole nester and therefore needs a lot of forest with a lot of very big, very old trees. It’s why places like Kaeng Krachan are so very precious.

That’s right, my photo was lousy but it inspired me to have a go with the crayons.

Spent three days here and divided the time between different elevations. The birding was excellent.For me the hornbills were the stars of the show, besides Great there were also Oriental Pied, Wreathed and Tickell’s Brown. Hanging Parrots, Barbets and especially the odd Trogon threw in some colour …

Orange-breasted Trogon

Occasionally the watchers were themselves under scrutiny …

Dusky Langur

Other primates we encountered were Banded Langurs and Stump-tailed Macaques. White-handed Gibbons were often heard calling but stayed out of sight.

Some of the 300 butterflies were about. I would be grateful to anyone who can identify this one, just drop me a comment …

Even large creatures can be hard to find in a dense forest, there was plenty of evidence of elephant but neither they or the tigers put in an appearance. But I am not prejudiced against smaller things …

Lantern bug

I have a reasonable faith in my identification of this little beauty as Pyrops candelaria. In the distant past it was thought that they emitted light from their proboscis. Sadly, this is not true.

And my chances of identifying a Skink aren’t especially great but this is probably Dasia olivacea in a confiding mood …

Olive Dasia

Three days amassed a good bird list but in many ways just scratched the surface. I would love to go back.

The serious birdwatcher should check out Nick Upton’s page for some great information on how to get the best from their visit or book through Rockjumper.

Back down to earth …

Sunny Victoria, Australia.

Quite a change from Hokkaido but home in time to head to Terrick Terrick National Park to lend a helping hand in some fauna monitoring.

The Terricks are in the northwest of Victoria, 225 km from Melbourne, 60 km north of Bendigo. Some granite outcrops had got in the way of agricultural development so some forest had survived. This was the core of a state park and it preserves some very nice, revegetating Calitris woodland. North of that there is some marginal grazing country that had been lightly stocked and never cropped. It is the principle refuge of Victoria’s remaining Plains Wanderers, cute little birds whose closest relatives are the seed snipes of South America. Some of this country has been added to the park with a view to managing it for the benefit of our cute but endangered little birds. And somewhere along the journey the enlarged park became a National Park.

The management plan for the grassland seemed an excellent one, I am sure the Plains Wanderers would have been thrilled with it. Sadly Parks Victoria have done a woeful job of sticking to it. Still, the Wanderers are hanging on, just.

Finding them is a night-time task. They are not nocturnal but their eyes show up well in a spotlight and they tend to run rather than fly, they can be caught with a hand net, banded and released. Volunteering has its rewards …

Plains Wanderer
Plains Wanderer

And on a warm night the grassland can turn up other delights …

Fat tailed Dunnart
Fat tailed Dunnart
Eastern Scaly foot
Eastern Scaly foot

And whilst some are a handful of cute don’t try it with this one, it might result in being very unwell …

Curl Snake
Curl Snake

and most people would prefer not to handle this one either …


but they are cute in their own way, the little blue dots are the eye reflections of some of its babies that are riding on its back.

A Mammal or Two …

Hokkaido has quite a list of mammals, it still has Brown Bears for example. These are formidable creatures closely related to the Grizzly. They may reach more than two meters tall, weigh about 300 kg and can run at a speed of 50 kph. They mostly eat shoots and salmon but are not averse to the occasional hiker. It does nothing for your comfort to know that, not only can they outrun you, they can out swim and out climb you as well. According to a Japan Times article the government started keeping records in 1962, between then and 2008 there were 86 attacks 33 of which were fatal. The article has some amusing suggestions for people venturing into bear country. They hibernate from mid-December to late March. So no photos this trip, here’s a Long-clawed Shrew to make up for it …


Long-clawed Shrew
Long-clawed Shrew

Blakiston’s line divides the Brown Bear, found only in Hokkaido,  from the Asiatic Black Bear of Honshu and Shikoku. The Long-clawed Shrew is also found only to the north of the line.

For more on bears in Japan, including the story of the Sankabetsu Brown Bear Incident of 1915 go <HERE>. The Long-clawed Shrew standing on its hind legs would barely make 10 cm, it weighs up to 20 g moves quite slowly and has never been involved in attacks on humans.

A few other mammals were kind enough to pose. This Sable, once again only found north of Blakiston’s line, had its den under the deck of one of the hotels I stayed at.


It is a Mustelid along with weasels, badgers and otters. It is happiest eating squirrels, smaller rodents, birds and fish but will also eat berries, vegetation and pine nuts when the going gets tough. This one mostly ate bread.

The next couple of species have no regard for Blakiston. They do not toe the line.

Sika Doe
Sika Doe
Sika Stag
Sika Stag
Red Fox
Red Fox

Whilst back in the woods …

Hokkaido is a really cool place, literally, the year round average temperature is just 8°C. Trees are found up to about 1500 metres. In the lowlands there is deciduous forest dominated by Mongolian oak (Quercus mongolica) with dwarf bamboo (Sasa spp.) undergrowth. Above that the dominant forest cover is coniferous, mainly Asian spruce (Picea jezoensis) and various firs (Abies spp.). Where climate and landform suit agriculture the forest has been cleared and much of the remainder has been logged but there still seems plenty for most of the birds.

Eurasian Nuthatch
Eurasian Nuthatch

This one is right way up but the nuthatch is often seen creeping head first down the trunks of trees inspecting the bark for insects.

Eurasian Jay
Eurasian Jay
Greater Spotted Woodpecker
Greater Spotted Woodpecker

These three are old friends. Their range extends across Asia and Europe. As a kid growing up in England I could find all of them in the local forest.

This next guy is another example with which to illustrate Blakiston’s line. In the three large southern islands of Japan there is an endemic squirrel, funnily enough called the Japanese Squirrel (Sciurus lis). In Hokkaido, though, we find the Eurasian Red Squirrel. The local subspecies (Sciurus vulgaris orientis) has really cute ears. (The scientific term being auribus vere bellus).

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris orientis)
Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris orientis)

A Little Geography …

Our Google globe has been placed north up with Australia at the bottom, Japan at the top.

Globe 1

Japan is part of a great archipelago that hangs off the Kamchatka peninsula and curves away to the east of the main landmass of Asia, swings away around the north of Australia and then down to New Zealand.

If we superimpose the relevant part of the Great Ring of Fire on the map we can then deduce a great deal about the underlying geology.

Ring of Fire

The Japanese part of that great archilelago consists of almost 8,000 islands between latitudes 24°N and 46°N, and longitudes 122°E and 146°E. That’s 2600 km from Okinawa to the tip of Hokkaido. The four largest islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku and together they make up about 97% of the land area.

Japan is mountainous, only 27% of the country is suitable for agriculture and urban settlement. It is prone to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. There are more than a hundred active volcanoes. More than 140,000 people died in the Tokyo earthquake of 1923. The 2011 magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku killed about 18,000 people and triggered several nuclear accidents.

From a natural disaster point of view Japan is the most dangerous place in the developed world.

Japan Islands

Looking from China, Japan lies in the direction of the rising sun, hence the way Japan is rendered in Kanji is 日本. The Chinese character 日 means sun or day; means base or origin, combined they convey the meaning sunrise.

The population is about 126 million people and slowly declining. The population density is high in the areas suitable for settlement.

Japan has the third largest economy in the world, but things aren’t quite as great as they used to be.

Life expectancy ranks second in the world. The infant mortality rate of 2 per thousand live births is as low as any where in the world. Educational standards are high.

Virtually no one shoots anyone else in Japan but they make up for that to some extent by killing themselves. Suicide is the leading cause of death in people under thirty.

The whole place is in one time zone (GMT +9hrs) and they don’t mess with the clocks for summertime.

The electricity supply is 100 volts (not 120 like the US or 240 like Australia and the UK) the plugs and sockets are 2 pin connections compatible with their American counterparts.

The climate is officially described as temperate. What this means is that it’s mild in the south. Tokyo is hot and humid in summer and cold in the winter, not a threat to your ears and nose but remember the hat and gloves. Hokkaido is mild in the summer and definitely a threat to the extremities in winter, don’t leave home without your parka.

Wildlife has done well in Japan, bears, deer, voles, shrews, deer, mustelids and monkeys can all be found and the bird life is exceptional. The mountains have helped preserve habitat and modern Japan seems conservation minded. There are well managed wildlife reserves. And surprisingly it is a good place to go whale watching!

The birding is heavily influenced by the strong seasonality and the proximity to land north and south and there is always the chance of vagrants coming from the Asian mainland.

The only English language field guide worth having (for the moment) is … A Field Guide to the Birds of East Asia (2009), by Mark Brazil.

Got all that? Cool. It’s time to go.