Top of Surfbirds

Top of Surfbirds

In February 2019 I saw my 5000th bird in the world, using the IOC world bird list. My 5000th bird was a Rock Bunting which I saw in Aragon, Spain. It was a really special moment, as for me it represents 5,000 beautiful birds, 5,000 birding experiences and 5,000 amazing places. The number just represents all of that in one word.

I am the youngest person in the world to see that many birds and this is the list of young birders on a listing page on a website called Surfbirds. It was quite a fantastic feeling to finally reach the top of it.

Surfbirds Young Birders World List

 

Surfbirds Young Birders World List

 

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5000 birds around the world in 16 years

5000 birds around the world in 16 years

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding Castillo de Loarre, Spain
Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig



The main reason we were going anywhere in February half term 2019 was to go to Spain to practise my Spanish as I hadn’t been able to go on the school trip. We weren’t expecting to see a massive amount of birds as the last time my parents had gone (in 2004 when I was 1 1/2 years) there had been awful weather with very bad snow and there hadn’t been many birds there at all. 

 
But the first day was very good, so we were surprised straight away. We drove out to some fields only a few miles out of Madrid and started scanning. Within a couple of hours, we had seen a pair of Spanish Imperial Eagle with a nest, Calandra Lark, and up to 30 Great Bustard! As well as lots of other birds as well – including Black Vulture, a new bird for my mum. 

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding in Spain
Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

 

 
On our second day, Saturday, we went to El Planeron to look for Dupont’s Lark. We saw lots of Short Toed Lark immediately and really well. We then saw Black Sandgrouse and Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse within ten minutes of each other and we were celebrating our luck. The Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse was a new bird for both me and my mum too. I managed to see them both really well and even grab some dodgy photos. After a few hours of trawling, I was beginning to lose hope of seeing our rare lark when we saw a bird perched upon a bush through the heat haze. I hurried to get the scope out and lo and behold it was the Dupont’s Lark! Not the best views but definitely one.



Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding El Planeron, Spain
Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding El Planeron, Spain
Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding El Planeron, Spain
Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding El Planeron, Spain
Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
On Sunday the tables turned, though. We tried lots of different sights looking for Wallcreeper, Bonelli’s Eagle, and more, but nothing turned up. In fact, we didn’t see much of anything that day. I was a little worried too; at this point, my world list was on 4998 and I really wanted Wallcreeper to be my 5000th, but I needed to somehow only see one more bird before magically finding myself a wallcreeper. 
 
Monday morning we went to Castillo de Loarre, in Arogan, to try and find an Alpine Accentor as it was supposed to be a really good sight for them. There was no sign of them, but we did spot Rock Sparrow pretty quickly in the castle itself. We were walking back to the car when a few birds flew along the tree line, and so we had to investigate. After a few minutes of walking around in the scrub, a male Rock Bunting flew out in full view onto a bush. It was perched up for several minutes with a few females flitting around it, and once it had finally flown away I cheered silently. It had been my 5000th bird in the world! Although I had been hoping for the Wallcreeper I wasn’t at all disappointed with the Rock Bunting, in fact, I was very pleased with it. 5000 is a bid deal for me because I’ve been working towards it for years at it’s almost half of the birds of the world and I’m the youngest person to see so many. 



Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding Castillo de Loarre, Spain
Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding Castillo de Loarre, Spain
Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Rock Bunting at Castillo de Loarre, Spain

Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

 

I am incredibly lucky to be able to travel to conservation projects around the world and hope that by highlighting these projects and the species they are protecting I am giving something back. From a birding point of view, it was absolutely incredible seeing my 5000th world bird species especially such a stunning bird as a Rock Bunting. That number represents to me 5000 beautiful birds, 5000 beautiful places and 5000 beautiful experiences.
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding in Spain
Copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

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Madagascar Post 6 – Days 21 – 26

Madagascar Post 6 – Days 21 – 26

 

Our birding trip was organised by Madagascar Tour Guide (madagascar.tour.guide@gmail.com), who was really well organised. Our guide for most of the trip was Julian, who was brilliant at digging the birds as well as sorting things out for us along the way. The company is owned by Andre who came to meet us as we passed through Tena. I would highly recommend them and the prices were modest.

 

Day 21 – 28/08/2018

On Tuesday 28th August 2018, we had a very early taxi to the airport after a 4 am breakfast in our room at the Saka Manga hotel.

We had two flights to get us to the tiny town of Maroantsetra, which was on the North East coast of Madagascar, surrounded by rainforest and as we found out, with high amounts of rain. We changed in Toamasin, which was bigger and further down the coast. After we arrived, we were approached by a French local Oliver. He told us that he owned the lodge we were travelling to and got us a taxi to the quayside where he introduced us to Joseph, our local bird, and Marie, our cook. By this time, it was 9.30 am.

We set out on a speed boat with a few warnings that it might get wet,  as it bucketed down. We curled up deeply into our macs and hoped for the best.

We were soaked through almost immediately and soon gave up on our mission to stay dry. Instead, we stretched out and enjoyed the bumpy ride across the very rough sea. We were crossing a large inlet to get to remote forests on the other side.

After an hour had passed and just as the waves had begun to be monotonous, to our great excitement we spotted a humpback whale breaching in the water. It was a mother and her calf barely 20 metres away. The lowness of the boat in the water highlighted just how close we were.

From that point in we had another 10 encounters with mother humpback whales and their calves. Here, like South Africa and Eastern Australia, they come to the warm, shallow waters to give birth and nurture their babies.

By the time we reached the shore, we were incredibly excited.

We carried our bags up to our hut and discussed our game plan with Joseph, our local bird guide. We were surrounded by the most incredible primary rainforest, which was beautiful but did make everything in our wooden building damp/wet. Our target birds were Helmeted and Bernier’s Vanga, both rare and tricky to see. We had already been warned by the tour company that there was a high chance we would not see Bernier’s Vanga.

We were here four nights to give us time to have a good go at trying to see both birds.

There were two single beds downstairs and a double bed in a mezzanine bedroom upstairs. The ladder was pretty steep, so mum decided to sleep downstairs with me.

Mum was complaining because the bathroom looked dirty. There was unidentifiable stuff on the bathroom mat and table. So she then swept and cleaned it.

After lunch and a rest, we went out birding for the afternoon, seeing very little. Joseph had warned us it would be quiet, but we had to at least try going out, to be seen to be eager.

The generator came on at 6 pm with a few dim lights and one socket. Good job we always bring an extension lead to power up everything at the same time.

Then we could hear squeaking. Mum is completely phobic about rodents so locked herself into a bed with a mosquito net tightly tucked in.

Then we realised that the muck in the bathroom had been bat poo. Dad had 6 bats flying around his tiny room and we had an equal number roosting in our bathroom and then flying around our room.

After this excitement, we went across for a simple dinner before returning to our room and having the lights go out half an hour early at 8.30 pm.

Getting into bed, we realised how damp the beds were. It was pretty disgusting but eventually, I started to drift off.

I was just falling asleep when mum starting calling me in a loud whisper. She had heard something scurrying around upstairs. A whole section of our hut was open to the elements so she wasn’t going to be reassured easily. She then started shouting up to dad. He moved around enough for us to realise that the noise was the floorboards moving and making a strange noise.

Mum had psyched herself into a frenzy by this point and then remembered about the two apples left out on the table. The first rule of rain forests is never to have food in your room as it attracts rats. She shouted up to Dad and asked him to come down the steep ladder and chuck the apples out but that was just never going to happen. So then she asked me to get out of my damp bed, open the door, throw the apples as far as possible from our hut, all for a quiet night. Whilst it was the last thing I wanted to get up and do, I knew that I wasn’t going to get any sleep until the apples were turfed out!

Despite the damp bed, I did then fall asleep for the rest of the night.

The next morning, on Wednesday 29th August 2018 we were up early, though feeling refreshed as we’d got a good night sleep. We had breakfast in the dark and then went out into the forest pre-dawn, with Joseph whistling for Helmeted Vanga.

The first hour was really quiet. Joseph said he hadn’t heard anything at all. Suddenly, he indicated that he had maybe heard something. Almost immediately he was pointing above his head, where there was a huge Helmeted Vanga sitting on a branch right above our heads. It was a stunning bird with a huge blue bill.

After watching this, Joseph reminded us that Bernier’s Vanga was incredibly difficult to see and he doesn’t often see them. He said that he had seen one following a flock of Helmeted Vanga the week before and so that was our best chance.

So we carried on tracking Helmeted Vanga, eventually finding the same flock Joseph had found last week. Just as we were enjoying a group of 8 birds, our guide motioned that we had heard a Bernier’s Vanga. We couldn’t believe our luck when suddenly one was sitting out in front of us on a branch. As we watched this female, a male flew in and sat out as well. It was the most fantastic scene, knowing it’s rare to see both.

On our way back to the lodge, we saw White-faced Brown Lemur which was small and cute.

There was a really rare Lemur, Red-roughed Lemur that you only get here, but Joseph said he couldn’t look for it and the birds at the same time. Fair enough.

Having been out birding for the morning, we returned to the camp just as it started pouring with rain.

The rain set in, so we decided to have a well deserved afternoon off.

Mum and I watched Pride and Prejudice on my phone (the film version with Keira Knightly). I had finally finished the book, so it was great to watch the film and compare it.

The rain had cleared up and so we went down to the beach to see if we could find a Sanderson’s Tern, but it was too early still for them to return from Africa. We did see a lot of Roseate Tern and Lesser Crested Tern on the rocks just off the shore.

That evening was a repeat of the one before. However, this time Mum managed to negotiate dinner that I would eat. However, I think there was a breakdown in communication as mum and dad got chips (French fries) but I got 2 boiled potatoes and a boiled carrot! They must have thought I wanted to veg, not, didn’t want veg!

Tonight we made sure we were in bed before the lights went out and the bats came out.

Thursday 30th August 2018, we were due to have breakfast at 6 am.  However, there had been torrential rain non-stop from 8 pm the night before. We were so happy that it was just the Lemur to see as the idea of marching around the rain forest was not appealing.

We eventually got up from our lie-in, to have a 7.30 am breakfast.

We agreed with Joseph that the Lemur would be taking shelter in the rain but that we would go out later if the rain cleared for long enough.

A German couple and a Switz couple arrived drenched at lunchtime and were interesting to talk to.

By about 4 pm it had dried up enough to try for Lemur. Mum decided that the trails would be rivers and stayed in. Dad and I decided we would try, as it was getting a bit much staying in all day.

We didn’t see any Lemur but about 20 minutes up from the lodge we heard a bird of prey calling. We followed the squawking, to find something astonishing; it was a Madagascar Serpent Eagle. Something that hadn’t been seen in this entire peninsular for more than five years. We spent about an hour watching it, taking photos and tracking which tree it ended up roosting in. We were hoping that we could come back at dawn tomorrow and show the bird to mum. The whole time the bird, which was an adult, carried on calling. Dad also recorded the call on his phone and when he played it back, it did respond.

By the time we got back to mum, she knew that we had seen something. She was trying to be stoical but was relieved that the bird had gone to roost.

At dinner, we exchanged stories with the other couples which were nice, as we’d hardly spoken to anyone the whole trip.

Joseph came into dinner, to let us know there was an East coast Scops Owl in a tree next to the kitchen. We all ran to the tree and were pleased to see the owl. We had seen one before but it was good to see one exactly where they are meant to be.

We decided to get to bed straight after dinner. There was a bit more excitement on the batting front as Dad asked me to go up and help get the bats out. As I opened the bedroom door, a large fruit bat flew into my face, followed by three of the tiny cute bats we had downstairs.

Mum had decided that it was best to just get to bed early, tuck herself into her mosquito net and get into bed with warm clothes as they seemed to absorb the dampness from the sheets, pillow and blankets.

Friday 31st August 2018, we had arranged a 5.30 am breakfast so we could try and find the eagle from the afternoon before. Then just before 6 am, Joseph came running into the dining room. One of the other guides had just called Banded Kestrel in a tree above the kitchen. This time we really did run, very fast, but got there literally seconds after it had flown off out of view.

We then quickly finished our drinks and then walked around to the huts where the staff and locals lived. We searched the area with no sign of the Kestrel. It was really disappointing as we had been trying nv for Banded Kestrel our whole trip, as it’s a difficult bird of prey to catch up with, as there are not many specific sites.

It was interesting that this marshy area was infested with mosquitoes and probably had lots of malaria. The
mosquitoes were vicious and the bites were also nasty, swelling ones.

We had to give up on the Kestrel and head into the rainforest. As we reached the spot where we had left the eagle, Joseph got excited and got mum onto a perched bird of prey. Then Dad started saying it was too small and didn’t look right. He knocked Joseph’s confidence but then he came back explaining why it wasn’t anything else and how it was definitely a young Madagascar Serpent Eagle. After much discussion, they decided that the female adult was calling last night because it had a young bird close and this was the young bird. That would explain why this bird was so much smaller than the one the evening before. Looking at the closeup photos we could see the feathers at the back of its neck, though they were lying flat on the young bird. Mum was ecstatic!

We then carried on looking for Lemur and found a pair of Red-roughed Lemur and a Parson’s Nose Chameleon which were fantastic.

Then our minds went back to the Banded Kestrel from the morning and we raced back down the hill.

There, in the dead tree where it had been sitting this morning was a Banded Kestrel. We just couldn’t believe our luck!

That was 4 new birds for the trip, taking us up to 124 new birds for the trip.

That in turn took me to 4,960 on my IOC world list.

After another simple lunch, it started raining again. Joseph came to tell us that we had to leave early tomorrow because of changes in flight times.

So we lounged around in the afternoon whilst it continued raining non-stop and got an early night.

Saturday 1st September 2018

This morning we had to dodge the bats at 4 am, get our bags out and be at breakfast at 4.30 am. Joseph came with us on our 5 am speed boat. It was pretty rough and probably too early in the morning for the Humpback Whale.

By 7 am we had a day room in a local lodge. After hot showers and warm, dry clothes we did feel better. I spent the morning in bed, reading and relaxing.

 

After lunch, we were at the airport for our afternoon flights back to Taba. It was 7 pm when we got back to the Saka Manga hotel for dinner, a regroup and then off to get our flight home via Nairobi.

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Madagascar Post 5 – Days 16 – 20

Madagascar Post 5 – Days 16 – 20

 

Our birding trip was organised by Madagascar Tour Guide (madagascar.tour.guide@gmail.com), who was really well organised. Our guide for most of the trip was Julian, who was brilliant at digging the birds as well as sorting things out for us along the way. The company is owned by Andre who came to meet us as we passed through Tena. I would highly recommend them and the prices were modest.

 

Day 16 – 23/08/2018

Thursday 23rd August 2018 our new guide NDrema met us at the Sakamanga Hotel in Tena at 6.30 am for our long drive to the North West of Madagascar to Ankarafansika NP, where he is from. The traffic was pretty bad getting out of Tena so it was about 8 am before we hit the countryside. It was dry and mountainous most of the way with really really bendy, stomach-churning, roads.
We stopped at about 10.45 am to try and find a Madagascan Harrier, which we found miles away, eventually.

Today was the day my GCSE exam results came out. So I had agreed with my sister Ayesha Ahmed-Mendoza that she would go to my school at 9 am GMT to pick up my exam results. My mum had already given a letter giving consent for her to collect by results. Then she was going to phone me, open the envelope and read me my grades. The only problem was that there was virtually no reception in the mountains.

So as I was standing there in a red, dusty, desert mountain watching and ticking a Madagascar Harriers, my dad’s phone started ringing. I picked up the phone and Ayesha started reading my results. It was the clash of my two worlds; the most important things to me juxtaposed together. Some of my results were better than expected and some worse but overall I was relieved and happy.

Day 17 – 24/08/2018

Friday 24th August  2018 we set out early to bird at Ankarafansika NP with Ndrema. The forest was a dry deciduous forest, with a proper criss-cross of paths, making it easy to bird.New birds for the day were Frances’s Sparrowhawk, Madagascan Sparrowhawk, White-breasted Mesite, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Coquerel’s Coua, Van Dam’s Vanga and Rufous Vanga,
However, we just could not get onto Schlegel’s Asity.

Then in the afternoon, we got a boat onto the lake next to the reserve, Ravelobe Lake. Here we saw Nile Crocodiles and 2 pairs of our target, Madagascan Fish Eagle.
We then went back to the forest, again trying for Schlegel’s Asity, but although we heard them going to roost we didn’t see any.

 

Day 18 – 25/08/2018

Saturday 25th August 2018 we started birding at 5.45 am at Ankarafansika NP, trying for Schlegel’s Asity where we heard them go to roost the night before. Our luck was in, as they started calling at 6 am in the same place. After a few minutes, we had some fantastic of a pair showing really well.

We then went back to the lodge for a 6.30 am breakfast before heading northwest to Mahajanga for the night. First, en route, we stopped at two wetlands/lakes. The first was great for Madagascar Jacana, a new bird for us. African Pygmy Goose was also new for the trip. At the second we saw Hottentot Teal as well as the Jacana.

It was interesting to visit the first as there were lots of adults and children who were friendly and interested in what we’re doing.

We arrived in Mahajanga in the early afternoon, which was a big city. We were staying at the Badamier Hotel which was lovely and a bit different as it had a Lebanese vegetarian menu. We had the rest of the day off to use the internet or catch up on sleep.

 

Day 19 – 26/08/2018

On Sunday 26th August 2018, we had to be at the harbourside at 7 am, where we took a speedboat out to the estuary, to bird the Betsiboka Estuary.

The two new birds that were targeted were Bernier’s Teal and Malagasy Sacred Ibis. We saw quite a few of the Teal but only 2-3 of the Ibis. I was hoping to see returning migrants, Crab Plover and Sandersons’ Tern, but they weren’t back to Madagascar yet.

We then had a quick lunch in a place in Mahajanga which overlooked the sea. We are all at the point of being fed up with terrible veggie food, usually a tasteless choice of rice and veg, noodles & veg and maybe veg soup.

We then started our journey back to Ankarafansika NP, where we arrived in the early evening. We went out for a night safari and saw Mouse Lemur.

Before we arrived in Madagascar, my Dad Chris Craig worked out which birds were possible targets taking into account the ones we weren’t within range for (eg Madagascar Pochard), the ones that were migrants in Africa that time of year (eg Madagascar Pratincole and Crab Plover) and the ones on the list that were unknown or extinct. That gave us a target list of 132 new birds. Based on that, he thought that if we saw 120 birds, we would be doing brilliantly.

At the end of today, we had seen 120 new world birds in Madagascar, bang on target.  We were targeting two more new birds in the North East but apart from those, it was unlikely we would see anything else, although obviously, we would try. So at the moment, we were likely to end the trip on 122 new world birds.
With 120 new birds, that takes my world list up to 4,956, with 44 to get to 5,000.

 

Day 20 – 27/08/2018

Monday 27th August 2018 we had our long reverse journey back to Tana. Ndrema stayed with us for the first four hours whilst we looked for Madagascan Pratincole on any suitable stretches of river with rocks on them. We had no luck, which was not surprising as they normally don’t return until September.

We then said goodbye to Ndrema who headed back to Ankarafansika NP, whilst we carried onto Tena and the Saka Manga Hotel. Ndrema said that he had a group of two birders arriving that evening, so had to return.

In the middle of the Mountains, our driver started reversing and we wondered if he had seen a bird. But then we saw Julian who was with the group of two birders, travelling to meet up with Ndrema. It was really lovely to see him and say hello, even for 2 minutes. The group was actually a Spanish guy and his young teenage daughter. He wasn’t friendly I didn’t try and speak Spanish with them.

That evening we arrived at the Saka Manca Hotel in Tena for another night stop.

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Madagascar Post 4 – Days 15 – 20

Madagascar Post 4 – Days 15 – 20

Our birding trip was organised by Madagascar Tour Guide (madagascar.tour.guide@gmail.com), who was really well organised. Our guide for most of the trip was Julian, who was brilliant at digging the birds as well as sorting things out for us along the way. The company is owned by Andre who came to meet us as we passed through Tena. I would highly recommend them and the prices were modest.

 

Day 15 – 19/08/2018

Sunday 19th August 2018 we had breakfast at what had become the usual time of 6 am. However, it was 6.20 am at the Cristo Hotel before anything arrived on our table and so it ended up being nearly 7 am before we were actually in the forest. There is no point getting stressed about things like this when you are world birding, as there is nothing much you can do apart from starving. I think it was more that there was a large table which arrived after us but was served before us.

So, at 7 am we arrived in Andasibe NP, which is a stunning forest full of birds. As Julian is from this place, he knew the forest really well and where exactly you get particular birds.

The only new bird for the day was Nuthatch Vanga, after a lot of hard work.

 

Day 16 – 20/08/2018

Monday 20th August 2018 we went to the close-by Mantadia NP, again a forested area.

We spent the whole day there, with new birds being Collared Nightjar, Short-legged, Scaly and Rufous-headed Ground Roller. An amazing 3 Ground Roller day.

Julian had narrowed the Short-legged Ground Roller down to an island in the forest. So being the hard-core world birders that we are, we took off our boots and socks, waded across a rivered, walked around the leech-infested island in our bare feet before finding the bird, watching it for ages before walking back to the river, putting socks back onto our wet feet, getting our boots on and carrying on birding.

 

Day 17 – 21/08/2018

Tuesday 21st August 2018, we were back at Andasibe NP, birding in the forest. It was a hard day of birding, working hard for everything.

New birds were Red-breasted Coua, which I was gripped off by my parents yesterday, so is always sweet to catch up; Malagasy Turtle Dove, Malagasy Blue Pigeon and Madagascan Owl on a roost site.

In terms of Lemur, we saw two amazing new Lemur Indri and Diademed Sefaqua. There was a large National Geographic tour group watching these animals but they were very quiet compared to the previous forests.

 

Day 18 – 22/8/2018

Wednesday 22nd August 2018 we did a little birding first thing around the lodge but saw nothing worth noting. Then we headed on our long journey north to Tana.

On the way, not far from Andasibe NP., we stopped at Torotorofotsy Marsh which is run by Asity. We spoke to the manager about a net and dead Snipe which I’m sure he just have known about.

We walked around the wetland area and were really lucky to see Madagascan Snipe and Buttonquail.

From here we carried on north to Tana where we arrived early evening and said goodbye to Julian, who had been the most amazing guide. We were back at the Saka Manga hotel, which was good to be back at.

 

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