Michigan …

We bypassed Detroit and headed north up the peninsula. Population density fell away as we went, northern Michigan has some of the least populated areas in the eastern half of the US and some absolutely gorgeous forests.

Our destination was Boyne City where we would be staying with very generous friends for a few days. En route we stopped at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. This is open to the public from June to October from an hour before sunrise until sunset. It’s a one way six and a half mile drive (10.4 km) mostly along an embankment giving good views over fields and wetlands. Views of the wildlife tend to be quite distant but it’s a good place to make the acquaintance of a few ducks, Sandhill Crane and Bald Eagle. Well worth putting on your travel plans next time you’re passing through Saginaw County.

Boyne City sits at the end of the north arm of Lake Charlevois an off shoot of Lake Michigan. We would get a cruise on both in our host’s very nice 40 footer. We also got to explore some nearby state forests and the Darnton Family Nature Preserve. Some of the highlights …

Green Heron
Common Merganser
Eastern Chipmunk
Red Squirrel

Eastern Grey Squirrels were also quite common, a good proportion of them were black in colour, the melanistic form.

The American Sparrows are nearly as much fun as the Warblers. I might have to revisit them. One to keep you going …

Savannah Sparrow

Maumee Bay …

Australia’s national parks are actually managed by the states with grant money from the commonwealth. In Victoria a State Park has exactly the same level of protection as a National Park and is governed by the National Parks Act.

In the USA National Parks are Federal affairs while State Parks are run quite independently by the States. American State parks are quite different from Victorian State Parks. You are likely to find a golf course and tennis courts, you can take your dog, there is likely to be a full service camp ground and there may even be a nice hotel.

Maumee Bay boasts all of the above, although the dog can’t stay in the hotel (but there are dog-friendly cabins – prior notification required).

Natural values aren’t totally neglected. There is a boardwalk through marsh and woodland. It extends for a couple of miles and is an excellent way to work up an appetite for breakfast.

White-tailed Deer

Here’s the front end of an Eastern Fox Squirrel …

Eastern Fox Squirrel

… although it’s the rear end that earned it its name.

A night walk is sure to turn up a Racoon or three and there are Muskrat present as well.

When the sun is a bit higher turtles might sit out to enjoy the warmth.

Midland Painted Turtle

There is plenty of bird activity. Red-winged Blackbirds are abundant, woodpeckers are plentiful, there is the odd sparrow. This Heron was intent on finding its breakfast and took no notice of me at all …

Great Blue Heron

Okefenokee …

Down in the south-west corner of Georgia you can find the largest swamp in the USA, the Okefenokee. It covers about 700 square miles (1,800 square kilometres). It is the source of the Swanee River. Fifty inches (127cm) of rain a year provide the water. Shallow waterways wind through cypress trees and peat bogs, canoes are the simplest means of getting about. We settled for a motorised pontoon boat.

It’s a great place for Alligators …

… and interestingly, a great place for Black Bears who like to raid Alligator nests and plunder the eggs. Female Alligators guard their nests, large ones can fight off a bear, smaller ones are likely to come off second best. Since the swamp has been protected the bear population is recovering from past persecutions. None volunteered to be photographed.

It’s also a great place for birds, especially those with long legs …

Little Blue Heron

We got a glimpse, as well, of a pair of Sandhill Cranes.

The trees and shrubs in the swamp provide opportunities for a different suite of birds.

Barred Owl

The waters are acidic and nutrient poor, ideal for pitcher plants …

Rakali …

After Africa it’s harder to keep the dopamine flowing. No lions, no leopards, the only primates are wearing clothes and driving cars. But still life has its little surprises. Like this guy …

Hydromys chrysogaster

The latin name translates as water mouse with a golden belly. Lots of species are blessed with the name chrysogaster, it fits the Orange-bellied Parrot much better than this rat.

Its name was changed from Water Rat to Rakali to improve its image.

It is a rodent and it is native to Australia and New Guinea. It lives in rivers, lakes and sheltered marine bays. They’re quite omnivorous but prefer animal food when they can get it. They’re nocturnal when it’s warm enough for them but in Victoria in winter they feed during the day.

Which is how I came to find this one in Ballarat’s Lake Wendouree, yes this is the rat from Ballarat. It is quite widespread as you can see from the distribution map which I have shamelessly filched from Wikipedia …

 

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
Hartebeest
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.

Leopard

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, thainationalparks.com and thaibirding.com.

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.

Sambar

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.