Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Norfolk Away-Day

❄️☁️⛅️ 8C ~ Wind ⇐ SW@6mph  Tuesday 21st January 2020 ~ My first visit of 2020 to the Norfolk coast in the company of Alan Boddington, John Raven and Geoff Hood from the Brandon Marsh team.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschensis)
Our first stop had to be a small area of dung heaps about 400m down a track east of the Sedgeford to Ringstead road for the now long staying Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschensis). This would be a lifer for John, Geoff and I as Alan had already visited a few weeks earlier and as luck would have we didn't have to go far this time! The bird was actually feeding on another dung heap right alongside the roadside adjacent to the track and with a few other birders already watching, we were onto it within a few minutes of arriving.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschensis)
The bird was feeding and occasionally calling along with a couple of Pied Wagtails and a small number of Meadow Pipits. The morning mist hadn't quite cleared and the early frost was still lying so it was dank and dreary during our half-hour stay and we never quite got to see the bird in any great detail, although the yellow still managed to show through.

At least three Rock Pipits around Thornham Harbour
After a brief stop at Hunstanton for Fulmar, we moved on to Thornham Harbour for Twite which didn't actually go according to plan. Despite spending a good 45-minutes here there was no sign, although ten were reported later in the day. There were a few Rock Pipits to keep us entertained, along with Marsh Harrier and a grazing Chinese Water Deer, plus overhead the usual passage of Pink-footed and Brent Geese.

Red-breasted Merganser on the fresh marsh
At RSPB Titchwell the weather had brightened but we were disappointed at the start to find that half of the bird feeders had been removed, apparently due to a Rat problem, so any chance of finding a Brambling had somewhat diminished. The footpath walk along to the beach produced Water Rail, flyby Peregrine and Geoff found a nice group of Bearded Reedling, I counted at least eight but they were quite distant. Some good views of a Red-breasted Merganser close in on the fresh marsh and a short sea-watch produced Great Crested Grebe, Goldeneye and Red-throated Diver. No sign of any Water Pipit from the Parinda Hide but a good selection of waders both along the beach and on the tidal marsh, the best of which was a Spotted Redshank but I'll post a full listing at the end of the post.

It's worth the walk to see the Shore Larks at Holkham
A short stop on route to Holkham for a scan across the freshmarsh for Cattle Egret and Great Egret, both of which were located, along with the addition of a Barn Owl. Then on for Shore Lark and Snow Bunting in the fenced-off area east of the gap from the car park. From the dunes at least 1000 Common Scoter offshore although distant and despite watching for a good while I can't honestly say for sure that I noted any Velvet Scoters among them! With very little flight movement it was impossible to be sure. Along the shoreline at least fifty scurrying Sanderling and back around the parking area a dozen Grey Partridge feeding on the grass, along with our only Red Kite of the day over the reedbeds.

About as good as it got for a photo of the Rough-legged Buzzard
Before heading off for the roost at Warham Greens a stop at the fields just north of Wells Quay for yet another long-staying bird, Rough-legged Buzzard. We viewed the bird (apparently in its regular tree and not doing much) at a distance from a gated area just before the old railway bridge. The roost at Warham Greens was a brilliant end to a great days birding with five Hen Harriers, including two males, three Merlin, Peregrine and several Marsh Harriers.


Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Shelduck, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge, Pheasant, Red-throated Diver, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Fulmar, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard, Rough-legged Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Merlin, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Fulmar, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Barn Owl, Skylark, Shore Lark, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Stonechat, Redwing, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Goldcrest, Wren, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Reedling, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Siskin, Reed Bunting, Snow Bunting 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

WWT Slimbridge 2020

☀️6C ~ Wind ⇐ w@3mph  Saturday 18th January 2020 ~ For the past ten years or so Dazza and I have made an annual pilgrimage to WWT Slimbridge during the month of January. It's not only a great place to see certain species that your perhaps unlikely to see in the wild during your lifetime, but it's also a great place for an early boost to the year-list. Of course with our big move up to Scotland later this year, this may well be our last visit for some time!

Cattle Egret a bonus year-tick on the South shore
It was a great start with a couple of Common Cranes flying right over our heads as we made our way up to the centre from the car park. Plus, reported shortly after our arrival, a Cattle Egret, which was showing quite well on the south shore.

Bewick Swan
It was a typically enjoyable visit with the usual selection of wintering wildfowl on the 'Dumbles' including (6) Cranes, (22) Bewick Swans and various numbers of White-fronted and Barnacle Geese.

Redshank enjoying the winter sunshine
Black-tailed Godwit keeping a low profile
Wader species on offer and mostly distant today included Redshank, Dunlin, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Oystercatcher and Snipe.

A very showy Water Rail

Other notable sightings: Chiffchaff, Marsh Harrier and a very showy Water Rail.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Local Walk

☀️9C ~ Wind ⇐ S@4mph  Sunday 12th January 2020 ~ After a morning at Brandon Marsh, where there was no real change to recent sightings Dazza and I enjoyed a local late afternoon walk around the canal at Shuckburgh.

Great White Egret ~ A highlight at Brandon
We'd already heard the rumours regarding the local Little Owls demise and after a chat with the lady who moors at the bottom of the field where they nested, our fears were realised. 

Shuckburgh Little Owl from a previous visit
Apparently one had died during the summer due to predation by the local Jackdaws and the other had simply moved on. Still, Dazza insisted we check out the usual spots, more in hope than expectation but there was no sign. 

One of two Mistle Thrush at Shuckburgh Church
A species which does seem to have had a good 2019 is the local Raven population. It's not often you can walk the area without hearing the 'cronk cronk' of a Raven but by the time we'd arrived back at the car we were into double figures! Other sightings during our walk included a couple of Mistle Thrush around the church, a Roe Deer, eighteen Golden Plover but the highlight was a Barn Owl. Which I managed to film as it quartered the field adjacent to where the Little Owls used to live! We arrived back at the car just as the light was fading, a Tawny Owl calling in the distance.

Barn Owl at Shuckburgh

Friday, January 10, 2020

Rutland & Eyebrook Quick Update

☀️10C ~ Wind ⇐ S@9mph  Friday 10th January 2020 ~ A morning and early afternoon out with Alan Boddington visiting Eyebrook Reservoir and Rutland Water, the latter a great place to tick off a trio of less common Grebe species.

Before heading off in search we began the day at the Egerton Centre bird feeders, were of note we managed both Willow Tit and Marsh Tit. Alan also managed a couple of Tree Sparrows too but before I arrived!

Old Hall was our first stop in search of a Red-necked Grebe an area most associated with this bird. However, after a good search without results, Birdguides suddenly came up with a sighting at the North Arm, actually our next port of call so we headed off.

The walk down to the water from the top of the road produced our second Willow Tit of the day and shortly after setting up our scopes (2) Black-necked Grebes, Slavonian Grebe and Red-necked Grebe were all noted and showing well within a short distance of each other. No sign of any reported Scaup during our stay but a Great White Egret on the far bank and a single Redshank were other notables.

A stop at Eyebrook Reservoir before heading home and here three Smew with two drakes and a female, all seen along the dam wall. Red Kite and two Raven were other notable species during a very successful day.

No photos from me today but Alan did manage a decent video in the poor light of the two drake Smew as reflected in his tweet below.

Monday, January 06, 2020

New Year Begins

☁️7C ~ Wind ⇐ S@9mph Monday 6th January 2020 ~ My first visit of the year to Brandon Marsh today, basically to get the year list off to a start. The last time I was here before Christmas the place was completely flooded out and it was nice to see a return to some normality.

I took a circular walk clockwise passed the windpump and through New Hare Covert. It was a little breezy and overcast but it was nice to pick up a small group of Redwings flying through and a single Lesser Redpoll, which continued on overhead without stopping. A couple of Bullfinch around the sheep field gate and although the covert was particularly quiet I still managed a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush, Wren and Jay by the time I emerged at the golf course.

Female Goldeneye from the Wright Hide 
From the Wright Hide a single female Goldeneye and a single Pochard, plus Little Egret and a full set of the usual wildfowl, with the exception of Wigeon.

However, the highlight for me was a Peregrine Falcon which although not making any attempt for prey did manage to completely flush the whole of East Marsh Pool. Other notables on my list of just 48 species included Water Rail, Siskin, Raven, Goldcrest and Treecreeper.

Great Grey Shrike using my new digiscope holder
After lunch a trip over to Northants to catch up with a thankfully long-staying Great Grey Shrike. It's a bit of a trek and wellies are definitely required but it's well worth it!

A few more heavily cropped scoped images of GG Shrike which unfortunately remained distant 

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

New Years Day 2020

☀️16C ~ Wind ⇐ NNW@5mph  Wednesday 1st January 2020 ~ Dazza and I enjoyed an afternoon walk in glorious weather above the mountains of Mijas Pueblo. From the car park at Sendero Cerro de la Medialuna, the old quarry you make an initial steep climb which leads on through the woods where there are lots of tracks to explore producing some absolutely stunning views across the Hoya de Malaga from Puerto de la Graja.

Even before heading up the pass the car park area is a great place to explore and a short 15 minutes scanning the rocky outcrops and small Aleppo Pines revealed Black RedstartDartford Warbler, Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting and Linnet.

Rock Bunting ~ Foraging in the rocky outcrops
As you make your way up to nearly 3,000ft the habitat changes and repopulated pines predominate, although these are mixed with Holm oaks and other typically Mediterranean shrubs in the areas closer to the summit. A few Crossbills could be heard passing overhead and despite seeing them in flight we never quite managed any decent views today.

Crested Tit ~ Often form small flocks in the winter months
However, the Crested Tits and Firecrests more than made up for that. Dazza also managed a Short-toed Treecreeper, strangely quite a rarity here during our visits but it flew before I could get on it! Even at this early stage of the year migration is already beginning here in southern Spain with a huge passage of Raven's today with small groups of ten or so passing constantly overhead, their cronking calls echoing around the mountains.

Siskin, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great TitWren plus a few small groups of Long-tailed Tits, which revealed the odd Common Chiffchaff and a single Crag Martin made up the species numbers, which is always quality rather than quantity during our visits here!

A Few More Images Of The Visit...

Black Wheatear ~ Can be found in the car park all year round
One of many Raven's on passage today

Love the Rock Buntings 'humbug head'

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Years Eve 2019

☀️17C ~ Wind ⇐ N@5mph  Tuesday 31st December 2019 ~ My final post of the year finds me and Dazza at Zapata, a cracking little habitat right next to Malaga Airport. We decided to stay local today and just enjoy a nice afternoon stroll in the peace and quiet before tonight's festivities.

Zapata ~ Site details can be found HERE
We began at the ford where the usual waders tend to hang out and today these included Green Sandpiper, Greenshank and Little-ringed Plover. A few Shoveler and Mallards were on the water but nothing too unusual.

White Wagtails ~ The most abundant species during our visit
A Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier passed by and the odd Cattle Egret passed through. By the time we reached the north-west fringes of the airport, we'd encountered numerous White Wagtails, Common Chiffchaff, Black Redstart, Crested Lark, Stonechat and Cetti's Warblers.

Bluethroat ~ A brief appearance 
The reedbeds which run for a good length along the peripheral of the site are always worth spending a little extra time scanning. Penduline Tit's winter here, although on this visit we didn't spot any but large groups of Common Waxbills that reside were constantly on the move, feeding mostly on the Bistort. There were a few Zitting Cisticola but the highlight at this point was a Bluethroat, which perched up briefly on some cut reed before disappearing once more.

Landing aircraft only yards above
As we headed back to the car it's impossible not to stop for a while and watch the planes coming in, especially for an enthusiast like me. They literally are only yards above your head and I'm always amazed how the local wildlife copes.

Blue Rock Thrush ~ The surprise of the day!
The walk back to the car is predominantly scrub and grassland and occasionally holds Stone Curlew and if your lucks in Wryneck. Unfortunately, not today but it wasn't long before we came across three Lesser Short-toed Larks, which are resident here but the birds are pretty flighty and difficult to photograph, so no shots I'm afraid. It was while watching these birds that the surprise of the day happened when a larger bird flew across the scrub landing on a nearby building structure. To our surprise, it was Blue Rock Thrush, a nice find for the final day of the year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Vélez Estuary

☀️18C ~ Wind ⇐ NE@9mph  Monday 30th December 2019 ~ A drive out, spot of lunch and an hours birding to the Vélez estuary near the town of Torre del Mar, about an hour from the villa.

There are so few wetlands on the costa del Sol that this small estuary is a hotspot for birds during migration periods, but even in the winter months, I feel its always worth a visit. However, having visited before it's worth noting that the site has been blighted in the past by the traditional presence of persons whose idea of 'a day at the seaside' is far removed from what might be considered mainstream practice. The problem has greatly diminished and I've never felt threatened during my visits but it may be best not to visit alone!

A great wintering ground for Common Chiffchaff 
With the water pretty low at present, the area currently comprises of a series of shallow reedy pools, flanked by trees and low shrub in which there appeared to be movement in every one. Common Chiffchaffs were in good numbers, constantly feeding and so engrossed that we could get reasonably close. Cetti's Warblers were heard regularly along the walk with the occasional one showing and this is a good area to find White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) with many present. Collared Doves, Monk Parakeet and Rock Doves, the latter particularly under the bridge eves, are commonplace.

Hoopoe checking out the leaf litter
At the water's edge, there were Meadow Pipits, Serin, Goldfinch and Blackbirds bathing, plus plenty of Moorhens and Coots. Within the undergrowth, a Hoopoe didn't seem particularly bothered by our presence, pausing briefly while checking out the leaf litter.

One of three Little-ringed Plover
There were a few waders to be found with a group of three Little-ringed Plover, two Snipe and a Green Sandpiper. At one stage a Common Waxbill overhead and by the time we reached the sandbar and the beach area Stonechat, a couple of Grey Wagtails and a Water Pipit were also noted.

1st winter ♂Bluethroat
We paused for a while when Dazza found a Bluethroat and spent a good half hour watching the bird, likely a first-winter male. I hadn't realised at the time but this was, in fact, a lifer for Dazza, so well done to her on finding the bird.

A stunning looking Audouins Gull
The beach area produced a couple of Balearic Shearwaters offshore, Sandwich Tern and Gannet and on the beach a stunning adult Audouin's Gull.

Meditteranean Gull ~ Easily picked out from the hoards of larger gulls passing overhead
Among the many larger gulls on a route, it would seem to roost, the odd Mediterranean Gull could be found. Finally, on the drive out back onto the main road, several Cattle Egrets were sticking close to a local farmer ploughing a field.

A Few More Images Of The Day...


Southern Speckled Wood



Thursday, December 26, 2019

Winter Birding Espania

☀️22C ~ Wind ⇐ WNW@3mph  Thursday 26th December 2019

Today Dazza and I took a drive out to Sierra de Loja, a limestone massif with its highest point at Sierra Gords, some 1,671 metres.

The rocky terrain of the Sierra de Loja
This is an open and beautiful but remote and sparse place. The landscape consists of a few trees, low lying scrub and bushes but is mainly short dry grass and rocky terrain, the scenery is simply stunning and the birding can at times be very rewarding. You can access the dirt road that leads up to the top at the Los Abades Services area exit off the A92 road to Granada.

Black Wheatear ~ Quite confiding birds and one of three seen today.
The lower section of the drive up is a good place to find Azure-winged Magpies, which are annoyingly elusive and when located are almost impossible to photograph. Rock Bunting and Black Wheatears are also a feature and the latter, once located can be quite confiding. Patience can also reveal the odd Red Squirrel in the lower pine woods.

Male Black Redstart
Stonechats, along with Black Redstarts seem abundant during the winter months and by the time we reached our halfway point we were in double-figure numbers for both.

Thekla Lark ~ Rather short bill with convex lower mandible than that of the Crested Lark but the contact call/alarm-call may be the best characteristic to separate it when both species occur
A distant Iberian Grey Shrike was the closest we got on this visit but Thekla Larks are a feature of the rocky slopes and were at close quarters during several stops. There's also a good population of Red-legged Partridge and we flushed several while driving along.

Griffon Vulture over the Sierra de Loja
In one particular area, a decent-sized population of Ring Ouzels can be found in what can only be described as an oasis of Hawthorn bushes. However, with the berry stock depleted at this time of year, the birds were a little harder to find. Overhead a Griffon Vulture and scoping the high peaks a Red-billed Chough was giving a Raven a hard time.

A small group of over forty Stone Curlews take flight when disturbed by a passing tractor
Once down from the mountains and after coffee in the Los Abades services we headed on the short distance to Huétor-Tájar, a municipality and town located in the province of Granada. Here a large population of Stone Curlews winter and can be found on the ploughed fields which surround the town. One field, in particular, has a footpath through the centre which runs adjacent to a narrow irrigation channel and leads down to the railway line. This can be very productive and can offer reasonably close views of over forty Stone Curlews.

Linnet at Huétor-Tájar
Along the irrigation ditch, a 1st-year Bluethroat made a brief appearance, which unfortunately Dazza missed and as with the mountain pass, there was an abundance of Stonechat and Black Redstarts, which were being almost outnumbered by Chiffchaff. Serin, Corning Bunting, Linnet, Tree Sparrow, Crested Lark and a large group of Common Waxbill were also noted.

Our final stop was to search for Little Bustard, which we located quite easily in the same field we'd found them in 2017. Unfortunately with little access, we had to content ourselves once more with scoped views while enjoying a turkey sandwich, what's not to like!