Round the World in 40 days

Tim Hallchurch

In December 2010, after 4 days delay due to snow at Heathrow, Jan and I flew to Seattle on Christmas eve arriving in time to have a jet lagged Christmas celebration with Jan’s son and family. BA had mitigated our delay by upgrading us to First Class so at least the flight was comfortable.

Boxing Day excursion was to nearby Carkeek Park, 220 acres of lush forest, meadows, wetlands, creeks, and beach. In Carkeek Park, years of hard work by volunteers have brought salmon back to Pipers Creek, restored major portions of the forest, built miles of trails, created sustainable gardens, educated visitors, and restored a unique fruit orchard.

At the car park we had lovely views of Northern Flickers  but in the depth of winter there were few birds in the wood except a Song Sparrow. However on crossing a bridge over the railway to the beach hundreds of birds could be seen on the sea at Puget Sound. The top of the bridge gave good, although distant, views of Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye and tantalising glimpses of other seabirds bobbing between the waves with Auks that I was unable to identify. Glaucous-Winged Gulls are very common as are North West Crows and we also had views of the local Bald Eagle.

A trip to Washington University Park on the banks of Lake Washington was very rewarding. A Red-tailed Hawk sat in a tree as people walked below, Great Blue Heron stalked the water’s edge but it was the open waters of the lake that were the real reason for the visit. Flocks of ducks included Lesser Scaup, American Widgeon, Bufflehead with the males prominent white heads, Gadwall and Northern Shoveler. Also on the lake were Pied-billed Grebes and of course Mallard.

A walk round the harbour at Ballard Lock revealed more Goldeneye and Common Mergansers who came through the lock with boats rather than fly. Double-crested Cormorants roosted on lamp standards while again Glaucous-winged Gulls were prominent.

New birds for me were a Golden-crowned Kinglet in the garden and Brewer’s Blackbird under our feet in a shopping precinct.

We had been booked to fly next to Fiji but due to the delays caused by the snow in UK we had to abandon that part of the trip.

From Seattle we flew to Auckland New Zealand, via Los Angeles.  In Auckland we were met by Dr Ann O,Reilly who was to be our host for a week. Ann had studied with Jan at Trinity College Dublin in the ‘60s. Ann’s house was surrounded by trees and vegetation and with distant views of the sea. Driving from the airport we were to see familiar birds, Starlings, House Sparrows, Skylark, but also Dominican (or Black Backed) Gulls and Purple Swamphens.  In the garden Chaffinches and Blackbirds could be seen and heard.

A trip to the coast revealed Red-billed Gulls, Welcome Swallows, Silvereye, Yellowhammer and various Cormorant species.

Our plan was then  to go south to Whakatane  and Ohope, Bay of Plenty area. Ann had previously lived at Ohope (pronounced Oh-hopey)  and had a friend at Whakatane (pronounced Fuckatanay) who lent us their home for four nights. The house was surrounded by forest and one could have spent all day on the terrace watching the bird life. The endemic Tui and New Zealand Pigeon were present along with Chaffinch, Silvereye, Song Thrush, and Indian Mynah.

The coast with estuaries and wetland proved to be very productive with Pied and Little Shag, Black-billed Gulls along with Red-billed and  Dominican Gulls. Mallard were common along with New Zealand Scaup. Other species including Spur-winged Plover, Variable Oystercatcher and White Faced Herons. 

We were treated to a display by a pair of Fantails who had young just out of the nest and they created a great deal of noise whilst bombing us.

We took a day trip by boat to the volcanic White Island (or Whakaari as it was named by the Maori before Europeans arrived) that lies 48 kilometres off New Zealand's Bay of Plenty coastline.

This active volcano and private scenic reserve are accessible by boat and helicopter. It is unique in that visitors to the island can walk right inside the main crater  just above sea level and without undue risk. We experienced at first hand nature's immense power as gas and steam burst up from far below the Earth's crust.

The surroundings are quite surreal and the scenery spectacular.  It is like walking on an active volcanic moonscape with no plants or vegetation inside the crater. The smell of sulphur and the noise of steam emanating from the many fumaroles both large and small made for an amazing experience. To protect us we were provided with  hard hats, masks  that were needed when caught in a sulphurous cloud

The trip to and from the island was especially memorable. With dolphins swimming alongside the boat. On the outer slopes of the island were colonies of the Australasian Gannet. Other birds seen on the trip were Grey-faced Petrels that also bred on the island. 

Other excursions included a visit to Rotorua  where the Arawa people made their home 500 years ago. Today Maori people comprise more than a third of Rotorua's population, and the region is known as the heartland of Maoridom in New Zealand. Here people were playing bowls and croquet dressed in white in true English tradition while Red-billed and Black-billed Gulls patrolled the outfield.  A visit to the museum is a worthwhile experience.

From Auckland we flew to Sydney, Australia and were met by my son Andrew and his wife Jacquie. They have a flat at Narabeen north of Sydney overlooking the sea.

From the balcony of his flat we saw at close quarters, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo and Rainbow Lorikeets.  Laughing Kookaburra regularly sat on the TV antenna and Cockatiel were seen in nearby gardens.  The beach was teeming with Silver Gulls plus  Australian Magpies and Spur-winged Plover on the roadside.  A Superb Fairy-wren skulked in the bushes by the beach.

Narabeen boasts a wetland park with an impressive board-walk that gave view of more than a dozen species including Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Crested Pigeon, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Red-browed Finch.

We also had two nights at Terrigal when Andrew and Jacquie have a house while Jacquie is working in Newcastle and although only an hour’s drive north the area has a different bird population including Australian Pelicans, Indian Mynah and Noisy Miner.

The height of our visit was to northern Queensland and we flew to Cairns, hired a car and drove to north of Port Douglas to a house that Andrew rented on the beach 45 minutes north of Port Douglas and an hour from Cape Tribulation where the road ends and only 4 x 4 vehicles go further to Cape York.

We spent a memorable day visiting the Great Barrier Reef in the MV Poseidon. The boat normally takes up to 90 people and we were fortunate to be in a party of less than 30.

It was a beautifully calm day with blue skies which are unusual in the wet season. We all spent a total of three hours snorkelling in three locations along with a fish buffet for lunch.

The number of birds seen was slightly disappointing. However we did have good views of Black Noddy and Black-naped Terns and a few Crested Terns.

We also had a half day in a small boat up the Daintree river to see crocodiles. Birds were difficult to see but there were good views of a Metallic Starling nest colony and a  Yellow-bellied Sunbird nest building.  We also saw a few crocs.

Another day we spent in the Daintree National Park where we even ventured to swim in the river.  The car park had it unusual picnic scavenger in an Australian Bush Turkey and in the rain forest a Bush Stone Curlew and Pied Heron beside the river.  We climbed a tower to the jungle canopy and all we saw was a pair of Varied Tiller.

In another park between the sugar and tea plantations we were able to observe Rajah Shelduck and a Pacific Black Ducks, an Eastern Reef Heron and a very tame young Emu that had been hand reared.  There were roadside notices warning of the dangers of crocodiles and Cassowary.  However the one Cassowary we saw in a park looked very placid, although we did not approach too closely.

There were always swiftlets in the air but never closely enough to identify with certainty.

Nankeen Kestrels were fairly common along the road and in the garden of our house were Imperial Pigeons, winter visitors from S.E.Asia. 

Before we left for Singapore we had a day out in Sydney. The park near to the Opera House hosted a few birds. The Silver Gull dominated but also very tame Australian White Ibis and feral Wood Ducks.

Our next leg of the world trip was a flight to Singapore on a QUANTAS A380.  Club Class passengers board the upstairs via a separate gangway so there is no crush and there is a bar where you can have as many drinks as you want on the house.

We were only in Singapore for two nights and the aim was to meet up with friends and see the city and have dinner. The Italian restaurant was in the old Sergeants Mess of one of the old British Army Barracks and it was interesting to see an army camp that we would all recognise in this vibrant city of high rise buildings.

Our hotel was on Sentosa Island where switlets and hirundines abounded plus a few Black-naped Orioles. We lunched at the Fullerton Hotel  in the city where Tree Sparrows came to the table to feed – just like Bulgaria!

The next flight was to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where we had booked a room in The Turtle Bay Hotel in Kalamatiya 220km south of the airport.  The hotel is ideally situated for relaxing and bird watching. It is surrounded by the Kalamatiya Bird Sanctuary, 90 minutes from the Yala National Park with the world’s highest concentration of leopards and 90 minutes from Uda Walawa National Park. 

After a fairly uneventful 5 hour drive from Colombo  the arrival at Kalamatiya was a revelation. Birds everywhere – Indian Pond Herons, Cattle, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Grey and Purple Herons, Open-billed Storks, Black-headed Ibis, Purple Swamphens, Pheasant Tailed Jacana and many other species. (see list)

Our Hotel in Turtle Beach had only 12 rooms all looking out to sea. Our corner room also looked out onto a lake giving us views of both habitats.

The area had been badly damaged by the tsunami but in this area British aid had paid for new housing and a double canoe for a local lad to lash together and make a tourist boat that he and a mate “punted” though the lagoon. He also had a “Tuk Tuk” paid for by tsunami aid to collect visitors from the hotel.   The lagoon produced the usual suspects and crocodiles.

It was good to see that the local people were very appreciative of British and Canadian aid that been given to the region.

There were very few sea birds except terns – Little, Whiskered and Common. 

The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly a visit to the Yala National Park.  Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. Actually it consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public; and also adjoining parks. The blocks have individual names also, like Ruhuna National Park for the (best known) block 1 and Kumana National Park or 'Yala East' for the adjoining area. It is situated in the southeast region of the country, and lies in Southern Province and Uva Province. The park covers 979 square kilometres (378 sq mi) and is located about 300 kilometres (190 mi) from Colombo. Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu, it was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938. The park is best known for its variety of wild animals. It is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants and aquatic birds.

There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala. The park is situated in the dry semi-arid climatic region and rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon. Yala hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. It is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Yala harbours 215 bird species including six endemic species of Sri Lanka. The number of mammals that has been recorded from the park is 44, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world

 We had been provided with a driver who met us at the airport and he took us to the park where we transferred to an ancient Land Rover as the only passengers and spent 4 hours touring the tracks though the park mainly looking for leopards. (we were the only vehicle not to see them but we were concentrating on the birds). We looked at many wetland areas that revealed Red-wattled Lapwing, Crab Plover, Little and Ringed Plovers, Kentish Plover, Spur-winged Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, White-breasted Waterhen, three types of Kingfisher and some lifers for me – Barred Button Quail, Malabar Pied Hornbill and White-rumped Munia.

The hotel is an ideal base for a birding trip and maybe I will arrange an AOS trip there in the future.

The next leg of our journey was a flight to Dubai but only to get a BA flight to Heathrow, The only bird we could see outside the massive terminal was a Palm Dove.








Seattle Pictures


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Figure 1 Golden-crowned Kinglet

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Figure 2 Male and female Bufflehead


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Figure 3 American Widgeon

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Figure 4 Gadwall

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Figure 5 Common Merganser


New Zealand Birds

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Figure 6 Welcome Swallow

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Figure 7 Black-faced Shag (Cormorant) with Black Swans




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Figure 8 Purple Gallinule

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Figure 9 White-faced Heron


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Figure 10 Slivereye

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Figure 11 Variable Oystercatcher

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Figure 12 Australasian Gannet

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Figure 13 Dolphin on way to White Island

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Figure 14 Grey-faced Petrel (Great Winged)

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Figure 15 attacked by a ferocious Fantail

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Figure 16 Pacific Black Duck


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Figure 17 Ann and Jan on white Island

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Figure 18 White Island

Australian Birds

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Figure 19 Rainbow Lorikeet

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Figure 20 Pied Cormorant

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Figure 21 Sulphur-crested Cockatoo


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Figure 22 Crested Pigeon


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Figure 23 Black-naped Tern

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Figure 24 Black Noddy and Bridled Tern

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Figure 25 Queensland Coast – me with son Andrew and Jan

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Figure 26 Eastern Reef-heron (Dark morph)

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Figure 27 Pied Imperial Pigeon




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Figure 28 Cassowary



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Figure 29 Australian Pelican

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Figure 30 Noisy Miner

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Figure 31 Pied Heron


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Figure 32 RadJah Shelduck

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Figure 33 Australian White Ibis

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Figure 34 Red-browed Finch

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Figure 35 Superb Fairy-wren



Sri Lanka Birds

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Figure 36 Our boat to take us across the lagoon

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Figure 37 View from hotel bedroom


Figure 38 Brahaminy Kite



Figure 39 Greater Coucal



Figure 40 Green Bee-eater


Figure 41 Orange-Breasted Green Pigeon


Figure 42 Gull-billed Tern


Figure 43 Crested Serpent Eagle


Figure 44 Black-tailed Godwits with Black-winged Stilt


Figure 45 Indian Roller


Figure 46 Little Heron


Figure 47 Painted Stork


Figure 48 Common Kingfisher with Blue-tailed Bee-eater


Figure 49 Green Bee-eater


Figure 50 White-breasted Kingfisher


Figure 51 Lesser Whistling Duck


Figure 52 Crab Plover


Figure 53 Indian Pond Heron


Figure 54 Black Kite


Figure 55 Crocodile


Figure 56 Pheasant-tailed Jacana


Figure 57 Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns



Figure 58 Kentish Plovers


Figure 59 Open-billed Stork


Figure 60 Purple Heron


Figure 61  Anhinga


Figure 62 Oriental Magpie Robin



Figure 63 Red-wattled Lapwing


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Figure 64 Singapore - Tree Sparrow under the lunch table!


Figure 65 Singapore sling at Raffles while photographing a Tree Sparrow