Welcome to my personal website. As you can see, I have been hooked by the desire to travel and find new birds, a victim of an obsession for birding. Like most addictions it has its dangers, some of which I have fallen foul of, but it has given me much pleasure and purpose to life. I have had two principles in my travels, firstly to ensure reports are written to help others benefit from my experience, and until recently not to participate in trips run by tour companies (except for the few I’ve led myself). Not that I have anything against tour companies – they do an excellent job and are the best option for many people, but I prefer to have more control over what I do.
This website was produced by my wife Syndy and as well as being attractive, it is so easy to update that even I can do it.
Since 1994 my trip reports have been written and stored on computer, and so I am able to present them here under the region of the world visited. Some of the reports don’t yet include species lists because these are in xcel files that can’t be uploaded. I will transfer these into tables and upload when time permits. Earlier reports are available only as hard copy. See below for full list of reports.
I want to thank the many friends and acquaintances who have helped me to gain so much from birding over the years. I would like to encourage birders to put something back as I have tried to do, be it by participating in survey work or research projects, writing up significant sightings, or supporting conservation efforts, all of which I hope to continue to do. It is easy to become depressed at the state of our planet, what with massive deforestation and over-exploitation of resources, “reclamation” of wetlands and mudflats, global warming, etc, but there are still many opportunities to make a positive contribution and to ENJOY the wonders of the natural world.
Much of my early youth was spent looking for birds nests, newts and butterflies on Bramcote Hills (now covered in houses) and in Wollaton Park on the outskirts of Nottingham. A particular memory was a magnificent Sparrowhawk knocking itself out by hitting the kitchen window before flying off after a few minutes of recovery. I moved to train-spotting and made weekly visits on my bike to Toton sheds and Derby Works, before travelling further afield to the meccas of Crewe and Doncaster. A memorable outing by train was to Cambridge with the school train-spotters club, “organized” by one Ken Clarke: we ended up at Grantham at midnight with no prospect of getting home unless parents could be persuaded to collect us – perhaps a foretaste of why the Conservative party is disorganised at times. Steam engines became an obsession and I cycled all over the country to accumulate a big list. However, the discovery of girls put a stop to this and I changed to the more sedentary interests of art, films, modern jazz and card-playing.
I read metallurgy at university, for no good reason, and tried to get a job in TV, the only way into the film industry, my main interest at that time. This was difficult as there were very few TV companies then – I was short-listed for the BBC but a rather obnoxious fellow-college acquaintance pipped me by getting a job with Granada. John Birt subsequently lost his Liverpool accent, became Director General of the BBC and a Blair crony. I was offered the opportunity of doing a PhD but a young wife and baby meant money was a higher priority so I took a job with the United Steel Company at Stocksbridge near Sheffield. No sooner had I joined when I discovered the generosity of the steel industry as Mr Peach, the Chairman of the company, visited Stocksbridge to present all employees, a surprising number, who had worked for more than 50 years with a gold-coloured pencil!
My interest in birds was reawakened by a family camping holiday on the Yorkshire coast in 1970. I “discovered” Bempton Cliffs and was fascinated by the breeding seabirds, especially the Gannets. I counted 6 nests, a far cry from the 10,000 of today. I then set about trying to learn bird identification, initially by myself but soon with the help of Dave Herringshaw, ably assisted by the young Dave Gosney. They introduced me to the delights of moorland and reservoir birding and their enthusiasm for raptors proved highly contagious. I joined the Sorby Natural History Society and became a founder member of the Sheffield Bird Study Group in Dec 1972. In the mid 1970s I was based in Rotherham and sometimes visited Thrybergh Banks during my lunch break. On 3rd Jan 1977 I noted a predominantly dark grey bird with a pale bill in a flock of House Sparrows of the same size. I presumed it to be an escape and did not realize it was a Dark-eyed Junco until a year or two later, whereupon I wrote to Mike Rogers, Secretary of the Rarities committee, to ask if it could be a wild bird. Some months later I was surprised to receive a card congratulating me on having had the record accepted as the first ever wintering Junco in the country!
I threw myself into survey work, especially the Waterways Bird Survey which the Group pioneered in 1973 and became a national BTO survey the following year. At first I surveyed the River Don near Deepcar and then the Sheaf in Millhouses where I lived, but wanting a more interesting stretch, I tried the Noe from Bamford to the start of Edale, in 1976. This I continued to monitor for the next 20 years and found very rewarding. I also spent a not inconsiderable time on other surveys and studying a few of my favourite birds, such as Moorhens, Kingfishers, Great Grey Shrikes and Hen Harriers, the last two being more regular winter visitors then than the scarcities they are today. In retrospect I spent too much time on birding, to the detriment of my family, and would urge anyone in a similar position not to make my mistake. Nowadays I have adopted the philosophy “There’s more to life than birding…..”
In 1977 I was invited to become Hon Sec of the SBSG, a post I held till 1984. I served as Chairman from 1985 to 1989 and joint annual Report editor from 1983 to 1992. One day I was delighted to receive a phone call from Dr Tim Sharrock, then Editor of British Birds, informing me we had won the “Best Annual Bird Report” award for our 1991 report, a tribute to the efforts of many people, especially co-editor Simon Roddis. By then the Group had embarked on a variety of surveys, including Sheffield Parks, garden birds, Kestrels, Rookeries and Starling roosts, and most ambitiously, a successful tetrad breeding bird survey during the period 1975-1980, all under the able leadership of Dave Herringshaw. This was largely possible due to the efforts of a team of keen youngsters, the like of which has never been seen since; Keith Clarkson, Ian Francis, Dave Gosney, Paul Leonard, David Marshall, Clive McKay and Simon Roddis being particularly active. The two Daves then embarked upon the considerable task of writing up the results, with the aid of a few like myself. They decided to broaden the publication to a complete avifauna of the Sheffield region but after a couple of years ran out of steam. I then volunteered to take DG’s place and oversee the project to conclusion, little realizing how much time this would take, given that this was before the home computer age so that the breeding bird maps, for example, had to be prepared by hand.
We finally went to press in 1985, by which time my main interest locally was in protection of Peregrines and monitoring of Merlins. Together with Trevor Grimshaw and Peter Johnson of the DOS, I organized the Alport Castles Peregrine nest protection scheme, a 24 hour watch which resulted in several years of successful breeding where there had been none before. On one memorable occasion, 11th May 1985, I stopped on my way to Alport to check the moorland near Burbage for Dotterel as I believed this to be a possible stop-over site. To my delight I found a trip of 27, still the largest number ever recorded in the Sheffield area. By then Merlins were starting to reappear on the moors in spring, having become virtually extinct as breeders in 1960, due to pesticides. Along with a few other Merlin enthusiasts, I spent a lot of time on our moors in the late 80s and early 90s looking for and monitoring nests, under licence. I took up bird ringing with the Sorby Breck Ringing Group in 1988, another time-consuming activity, and so was able to ring a number of young Merlins from the expanding population. Several were subsequently found dead, near both the west coast and the east coast, with one travelling as far as Biarritz near the Spanish border – a great surprise to me although not unprecedented nationally.
By the early 90s, my main birding interest had become international and I largely bowed out of local activity apart from some ringing and survey work. The seeds for this were sown back in 1971 when I had won a United Steels Compamy travel award to study the special steel industry in Japan. This became a 3 month world tour starting in New York in Feb 1971. The sight of a stunning red Cardinal perched in a leafless tree in Central Park, followed by a hummingbird in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, converted me to world-birding. It was a poor time of year for birds in the parts of Japan I was able to visit, so I did not see much there, but I was intrigued to hear a Wren singing, exactly the same as at home 8000 or more miles away. India was my last port of call; I landed at Calcutta at night and was amazed to see many 1000s of people asleep on the pavements as I drove into town. It was the time of the war between east and west Pakistan, which drove millions to flee across the border before the country of Bangladesh became a reality. A few hours later I was back at the airport for a flight to Assam to visit Kaziranga National Park to see the Indian Rhino. An afternoon drive on the only road into the park got me off to a good start with the sight of a hunting tiger near a herd of deer- my only tiger sighting despite many months in India until I finally visited tiger reserves in 2008. The following day I spent 7 hours on elephant back, in two sessions, just a mahout and me, exploring the huge swampland with its birds and mammals including very approachable rhinos – not another tourist in sight, a far cry from today’s situation.
Apart from a job-related week in Nigeria in 1976, I did not travel beyond Europe again until I became a Customer Liaison Metallurgist in 1998. My first foreign business trip was to India and Pakistan with Assistant Sales Manager, Greg Atkinson. Greg told me about his brother Rowan who was just starting a career as a comic actor and had been booked to do a short piece on TV! This was a very eventful trip, including as it did a hi-jacking of our flight in Pakistan which could easily have ended in disaster, a meeting with Salim Ali, the much-loved grand old man of Indian ornithology, and for Greg, a parasite infection which took months to cure. The sight of so many new and colourful birds made me a tropical birding addict for life. I was able to combine some overseas birding, mainly in the Orient and North America, with work and eventually used part of my meagre holiday allowance for overseas birding trips, starting with California and Arizona with Roy Frost and Mike Archer in 1985. This was followed by Costa Rica and two pioneering trips to Indonesia with Mike and Simon Roddis, excellent companions, to Sulawesi in 1988 and Irian Jaya in 1991.
I had the opportunity to take early retirement with a modest pension in Nov 1993. The next day I flew to Ecuador for six weeks. I never did get the promised retirement dinner! I spent a lot of time in South America over the next 6 years, especially in Bolivia where I participated annually as one of the staff on a conservation research project, funded by Earthwatch and ably led by Robin Brace. I was responsible for catching and ringing birds, which was very rewarding, as I caught 190 species including one new to Bolivia. I have also undertaken similar but shorter ventures in other countries, notably Peru, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, India and the Philippines. I have birded in sub-Saharan Africa fairly comprehensively but in recent years have concentrated on southeast Asia and Australasia, with tour-leading in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Peru. With my love of travelling to new countries, helping in conservation projects and seeing new birds, I have made many friends and accumulated a big world list, although it has never been my aim to see more than anybody else. I now want to spend more time at home, with my grandchildren and ringing at my local patch, Barbrook Plantation, but the call of the wild is very strong….
Interview for the Sheffield Birdstudy Group: Pete Mella, July 2013
We’re in the none-too-glamorous heart of Sheffield’s post-industrial East End. Although much tidied up in recent years, with new offices and apartments ever more prevalent, some scars of the decline of the steel industry remain, with old, abandoned factories and warehouses still in evidence. It is here I meet Sheffield-based birder Jon Hornbuckle, who’s exploring the area looking for evidence of Black Redstart, a species that benefited from the city’s industrial downfall, moving in to breed in the nooks and crannies among the dereliction. Since redevelopment, these rubbly places have largely been lost, and with them the redstarts, but enough potential habitat remains for Jon to search for any lingering on. With Jon’s local knowledge, and desire to spend his Sunday morning scouring Sheffield’s backstreets, it’s perhaps hard to imagine he’s one of the most well-travelled birders alive, and has seen more birds than virtually any other person on earth, with a total tally (at the time of writing) of 8,979, currently second in the ranking of world listers behind one who’s list includes heard birds. “I just like seeing new birds, and travelling and so on,” says Jon.“So as I hadn’t seen all that many when I started travelling a lot, and I just kept one list, my world list, and it kept growing.”
Originally from Nottingham, and moving to Sheffield in the 1960s to work in the steel industry, Jon was highly active in local birding, being a founding member of the Sheffield Bird Study Group, and co-editing the group’s first breeding atlas in the 1980s. He also had some success finding rare birds in the region, including the area’s first Common Crane, and most notably a Dark-eyed Junco during his lunch hour while working in Rotherham. “That was a pure fluke and I didn’t even know what it was,” says Jon. “There was a flock of House Sparrows, and I suddenly noticed there was an all-black one with what looked like a pink bill, and I assumed it was some kind of escaped bird so I didn’t bother any more about it. It was only two or three years later when I got more interested in foreign birds that I realised what it was, so I sent a note to the secretary of the Rare Birds Committee, saying I saw this bird, and just wanted to know if they thought it was a genuine wild bird or just an escape. And about two months later I got a card back saying congratulations on seeing this wild American bird, which turned out to be the first ever UK record in the winter period!”
Remarkably his world listing only started properly around twenty years ago, when he took early retirement from the then-declining steel industry, and immediately went to Ecuador for six weeks. Jon says he doesn’t list competitively, and that numbers don’t really mean that much. “The big problem is with taxonomy and all that sort of stuff, it’s really very difficult to define how many you’ve seen,” he explains. “I want to get to 9,000 now, because I never thought I’d get to 5,000. I’m actually over that on one of the taxonomies, so it’s a bit meaningless on absolute numbers.” He does realise that in the listings there are others snapping at his heels. “A friend of mine in America is really keen,” he says, “and doesn’t seem to be interested in anything but seeing new birds. He’ll overtake me, because he’s twenty years younger than me, but I don’t mind that because he is a younger guy.”
Taxonomic changes also mean he ends up with a few “armchair” ticks when subspecies are elevated to species rank, although this can also cause frustrations, citing a pitta split in Borneo as a particular example. “I’d seen it elsewhere so hadn’t really tried too hard to see it in Borneo,” he says, “and I wasn’t planning on going there again, but I might have to go now for that, because any pitta is a special bird!” And of course there are a few birds that got away, with one in particular springing to mind. “One of the main reasons for going to northern Peru was to see a bird called the Long-whiskered Owlet,” he says, “a very small owl. Nobody had ever seen it in the field but a few Americans had caught it in mist nets”. “I failed on that, and nobody else found it until a few years ago when the Americans went back to Abra Patricia, caught one or two and recorded its calls, and that led to other people to go and tape it out. So now it’s a bird that anyone that goes to the right place is almost guaranteed to see. So it’s a bit annoying that I haven’t seen that!”
Jon has seen a huge percentage of all the world’s birds, so how does he go about finding ones that he hasn’t yet seen? “I think it would be fair to say that virtually everywhere I go now I have a list of what I want to see,” he says. “Mostly it’s something like twenty species in three or four weeks, and I’m happy if I see fifteen. That’s how it works. I could get more in South America. When I retired I’d never been to South America, so the next ten years I spent a lot of time there, but then I sort of went off it and spent most time elsewhere, so I haven’t done much there in recent years. I most like southeast Asia and that part of the world, that’s where I’ve been going to places where I’ve only got a dozen or so new birds, whereas in South America I could get 20 or 30 in that period.”
When I meet Jon he’d just come back from a trip to Africa, visiting Ghana and Burkina Faso, where a dozen or so new birds such as Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Black-throated Coucal and Capuchin Babbler had been added to the list. “I saw a few new birds in Ghana, but the two best birds I’d seen before,” he says, “Picathartes, that’s a really neat bird, and Egyptian Plover.”
Jon’s travels haven’t all been about seeing new birds. A great deal of time has been taken up with conservation, carrying out ringing and survey work in the countries he visits, including six summers spent ringing birds in Bolivia. “Another project I particularly enjoyed was in northern Peru,” he says. “I went on a trip there with a few friends, and we found a very nice area that was just opening up because they’d recently made a new road there. People were moving in and chopping the forest down, and I thought blimey, this is going to get wrecked if we’re not careful. So I did then put some effort in to get some funding, and local people involved, then went back for three weeks by myself with the help of Jeremy, a chap who lived in Scunthorpe originally, but had moved to northern Peru. We did some good survey work there, and got a lot of support from people saying, ‘what a good idea to conserve the area’. “Eventually after about five years, some of the Americans got stuck in and they’ve now built a lodge and made a reserve out of it and so on. So it seems completely changed. But I like to think to some extent it’s because I originally put in the effort in the past.”
Jon’s seen a lot of changes to the world since he started travelling, and admits to finding the destruction of the world’s habitats depressing. Apart from well-known areas such as the Amazon, he’s seen vast logging activities in the forests of some of his favourite countries, including the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. “Undoubtedly the same thing is happening in central Africa,” he says, “because nobody gives a toss about it there. The only good thing about it I suppose is it’s pretty difficult for loggers to get stuff out, if it was made easier the whole place would be flattened. I find that very depressing I must admit.”
Is there anywhere left Jon hasn’t explored? He expresses regret he probably won’t ever be able to visit Mali, a country he’s always wanted to see, due to the political situation there, and says he has his sights on Polynesia, and the Karakoram region of Pakistan. He was also preparing to embark on a trip to China when we met. Another future plan is to write a book chronicling his travels, but only when - in his own words - he’s too “crocked up” to travel further. As well as the birds he’s seen he’s got many stories to tell, including a plane hijacking over Pakistan, and being inches away from treading on one of Papua New Guinea’s most venomous snakes, which would have killed him within three hours. Ironically for one of the world’s most well-travelled birders, Jon rarely travels within the UK, and doesn’t twitch birds in Britain, with most of his time in Britain spent walking and photographing birds locally in the Sheffield area. “People think I’m barmy because I won’ t go to the coast, for example,” he reflects. “It’s only because I can’t be bothered to drive that far, which does seem a bit odd!”
We never do find a Black Redstart during our morning in the decidedly non-exotic South Yorkshire streets, but this time spent in the city centre illustrates a remarkable birder - a man who has seen a staggeringly high percentage of the ornithological wonders the world has to offer, and continues to seek out new birds in far flung corners of the globe, but is still content putting less glamorous hours in contributing to the knowledge of his local area. A great birder, with a fascinating birdwatching career.
Pete Mella, July 2013
BIRDING TRIP REPORTS – Jon Hornbuckle
EUROPE and MIDDLE EASTIsrael March 89
Turkey Aug 92
Greece (Lesbos) Aug 1986
Canary Islands (July/Aug) 1988
Fuerteventura Jan 2013
Poland May 1986, May/June 91
Hungary June 02
Croatia June 03
Yemen Jan 07
UAE Nov 97
Jordan March/April 09
USA Aug 82 (New York, Maryland, Conn), Feb 85 Texas, Jul/Aug 85 (Cal, Arizona), June 02 (Alaska), May 03 (Hawaii), Nov 08 Arizona
Mexico April 86, May 92, Feb 99, Nov 08
Costa Rica March 87 (& Panama), Feb/March 01
Guatemala April 93
Venezuela Feb 93, March 95, Jan/Feb 01
Guyana Nov/Dec 10
Colombia Oct 97, Feb/March 10
Ecuador Nov/Dec 93, Sept 96, Sept 97, Feb 09
Peru Jul/Aug 89, Aug/Sept 98, Nov 98, Sept 99, Oct 2002, March 2003, May 2003
Bolivia Aug/Sept 94, April 96, Sept 97, July/Aug98, Aug 99
Brazil Jan - March 95, Nov 11
Argentina & Chile Oct/Nov 00
Puerto Rico Oct 88
Jamaica & Caymans May 89
Dominican Rep May 90, Jan 04
Trinidad & Tobago April 92
Lesser Antilles Jan/ Feb 04
Cuba Jan 99
Angola Oct 11
Cameroon April 97
Ethiopia Oct/Nov 96
Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe Nov 03
Ghana and Burkina Faso Feb/March 13
Rwanda & Kenya Jul/Aug 90
Kenya & Tanzania Aug/Sept 01
Malawi March 97
Morocco April/May 06
Namibia & Cape Nov 94
Gambia March 91
Sierra Leone Dec 06
South Africa Feb 97, Nov 02, Oct 10
Uganda July/Aug 01
Zambia Oct 03
Zimbabwe Feb/March 97
Madagascar Oct/Nov 95
Comoros Nov 95
Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion Nov 04
India Feb/March 98, Feb/March 02, May 07 (Andamans), Jan/Feb 08, March 08
Nepal Nov 1980
Sri Lanka Dec 90, Feb/March 02
Bhutan April 07
Thailand May 02
Malaysia March/April 00, March 05, Oct 05
Laos Oct/Nov 09
China Sichuan and Tibet: May-July 2000, Yunnan March & May 02, eastern May 12, Sichuan, Yunnan, Hainan May-June 13
Mongolia May 12
Japan March 82, May 86, Feb 96
South Korea Feb 96
Indonesia March/April 88 (Sulawesi), Jul/Aug 91 (West Papua), Oct/Nov 01 (Sulawesi, Lesser Sundas), Aug/Sept 04 (Sulawesi, Halmahera, west Irian Jaya, Ambon and Tanimbars), June/July 05 (Sumatra), Aug 08 (Halmahera, N Sulawesi), Jul/Aug 09 (Seram, Kai, Tanimbars), Sept/Oct Buru, Peleng, West Timor, Alor, Pantar
Philippines Feb/March 94, Feb/March 96, Nov/Dec 97, Jan 03, March 06, April 08, April 10
Vietnam March/April 98, Feb/March 06
Cambodia Jan/Feb 06
Taiwan Jan/Feb 03, May 04
Kazakstan, Uzbekistan May/June 03
Australasia and Pacific
Australia - Qld June/July 95,
- SE Dec 99
- Qld /North June/July 04
- West July 07
- South Oct 07
Fiji and Samoa Oct 07
New Zealand Nov 99
Papua New Guinea June/July 95, May/June 99, Sept 02, Aug 03, June 04, Aug 05, Sept 05, Aug 06, Sept/Oct 06, July 07, Jul/Aug 08, June/July 09, July 10, Aug 10 (14 trips)
Solomon Is. June/July 99
New Caledonia Dec 99
Micronesia Jan 10
From South Africa Nov 02
Argentina – Cape Town March 09