Monday, June 13, 2016

Birding Spain - June Visit!

With the temperature reaching 40C once again my last few days of this visit have been spent hanging around the villa grounds. However, on Saturday I wanted to do a little reconnaissance on an area of Zapata that I've seen mentioned in various birding reports. The area in question is actually on the opposite side of Malaga airport from the reserve at Guadalhorce, and also forms part of the Rio Guadalhorce.

Juvenile Cattle Egret at Zapata
It took a little finding but eventually after a bit of perseverance we came across the area after crossing a ford! Immediately on arrival a Night Heron took flight and a Yellow (Blue-headed) Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae and Little-ringed Plover were feeding on the peripheral.

Booted Eagle over the villa..
After a brief walk around the area it was apparent that this is excellent habitat, even being so close to the runway and backing onto an industrial area. We drove several of the tracks and had many Crested Lark, including juveniles, House Sparrow and came across a few juvenile Cattle Egrets too. Three Bee-eaters also made an appearance and a young Stonechat sat on the wires! Not really doing it justice on this visit I look forward to future visits, particularly in the spring!

Booted Eagle from the terrace..
I've not visited Dave before in June, preferring Spring or Autumn migration and with the temperatures soaring at this time of year I think from a birding perspective a wise decision is to stick to that. Having said that it's been an excellent visit, in particular to see Dave and the villa refurbishment, which looks stunning and also to visit some new areas. As usual the terrace birding has been brilliant with Crossbills in the morning, hundreds of Common Swifts in the daytime and Owls at night. Other birds for the terrace list included: Red-rumped Swallow, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Golden Oriole and Bee-eater. I'm already looking forward to my visit here in September for the raptor migration down in the Straights!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Birding Spain - El Chorro

Dave decided he wanted to take me to an area I hadn't visited before called El Chorro, which is in fact one of the most popular rock climbing areas in Spain. It's located next to Desfiladero de los Gaitanes ("Gorge of the Gaitanes"). The gorge was famous for a dangerous bridge called Caminito del Rey (King's little pathway). The path provided access to a hydro-electric plant and took its name after an official visit by Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1921.

Woodchat Shrike at Ardales
On route to El Chorro and about an hour inland from Malaga is the small, picturesque town of Ardales, and the national park that shares its name. One of the main draws here is the stunningly beautiful turquoise lakes that calmly sit amongst the rugged Andalusian landscape.

Crested Lark at Ardales
Although the area is mostly used for recreation its well worth a stop and birds of note during our short stay included: Woodchat Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher, Crested Lark, Serin and various numbers of Grey Heron, Little Egret, Black-headed Gull and Great-crested Grebe. However, the highlight had to be three Gull-billed Terns, which offered excellent flight views before settling on the distant bank.

El Chorro
El Chorro as you would imagine is quite touristy but thankfully today reasonably quiet, save for the many who were returning after venturing up the Caminito del Rey. Dave and I took a leisurely stroll, very leisurely in 40C up to the start point of where the 7.7km walk begins! Not today thank you!!

Several Griffon Vulture nesting on the gorge.
Almost on arrival it was obvious that Griffon Vultures were nesting on the gorge, with several enjoying the thermals before settling on the rock face. As we moved further up the path a couple of Blue Rock Thrush offered some brief views, perching on a fence but not long enough for a photo. When we reached the top a dozen or so Alpine Swift came into view and then a call I recognised alerted us to a couple of Red-billed Chough. In a small cave a pair of Red-rumped Swallows were nesting, both parents busily coming in and out with food.

Rock Bunting - Almost within touching distance.
The surprise of the day for me was when Dave and I paused for a while in the shade and right in front, almost within touching distance, a Rock Bunting carrying what appeared to be a grasshopper! I would image we were literally right on top of the nest as the bird seemed reluctant to move, so after realising this we quickly moved on.

Busy Rock Bunting!
As if this wasn't enough excitement another bird sitting on the rocks above our position turned out to be a Black Wheatear, in fact there were two. We watched for while, me desperate for a photo, as the birds teased, until finally both flew across the gorge, the white tail against the black body and blue sky looking almost surreal in the bright sunshine! After pausing at the top for a while to enjoy the Alpine Swifts and Griffon Vultures we made or way down recording of note: Serin, Spotless Starling, Chiffchaff and a family of Coal Tits.

View of the African coastline from the villa this evening!
This evening back at the villa a strong breeze cleared the heat haze producing some excellent views of the rugged African coastline across the Mediterranean. Several Crossbills passed through, Booted Eagle over and endless Common Swift. A Golden Oriole, first heard calling below was finally located but didn't hang around.

Diary Update #6 - Birding Spain

Spent the rest of yesterday afternoon at the villa! With the temperatures soaring to 40C in the late afternoon it was far to uncomfortable to be out and about.

Kestrel - Not happy with a Booted Eagle which just arrived over his patch!
So Dave and I just relaxed in the shade watching the many Common Swift overhead, plus a couple of Red-rumped Swallow, which drift around the place for most of the day, likely nesting nearby.

Booted Eagle over the villa..
Sky watching is always a treat here, with the mountains to the west and the Mediterranean just down below, we're never disappointed. First a Short-toed Eagle drifted over, followed not long after by a Booted Eagle. A local Kestrel perching up to keep an eye on what he was up too.

Booted Eagle on the lookout!
The Booty hung around for a while, possibly the same bird which we saw earlier in the day with a huge prey before dropping down out of view. Other birds of note: Sardinian Warbler, Common Crossbill, Serin and Blackcap. In the evening Scops Owl and Tawny Owl!

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Birding Spain - Guadalhorce

My second visit of three planned to Spain this year, this time staying with my buddy Dave for a few days at his villa in Mijas, near Malaga.

Hoopoe - One of three seen today
An early morning visit to Guadalhorce, near Malaga Airport was exactly the right thing to do today, with temperatures reaching a very uncomfortable 40C here in Mijas late afternoon! Having said that the reserve was definitely 'Club Med' for mosquitoes at this time in the morning as I got completely mullered, having forgot to get the repellent on before leaving.

Monk Parakeet - Surprisingly quiet!
The relatively quiet walk from the church to the foot bridge was soon interrupted, not only by a Antonov cargo plane taking off, billowing black smoke from the four engines as she lifted, but by the usual racket from the Monk Parakeets. Lots of House Martins zooming around the bridge and mingled in a couple of Red-rumped Swallow. A little higher up a good number of Common Swift, plus the odd Barn Swallow and Cetti's Warbler calling from the reeds. Just as I was about to move on a lovely sight of three Night Heron, as they passed overhead.

Turtle Dove in the bright sunlight!
One or two Sardinian Warblers within the scrub areas and the constant Zitting Cisticola calling overhead as I made my way towards Rio Viejo. The sun was just beginning to gain height and silhouetted against the backdrop of the sky a Turtle Dove perched up!

White-headed Duck - A speciality at Guadalhorce
Stopping off at the Del Rio Viejo and Laguna de la Casilla hides, which lead along the track towards the sea watch point it was apparent that Black-winged Stilt had completely overrun the pools. Many noisy pairs and several young scurrying around. The only small wader of note a Green Sandpiper, this along with seven Little Egret sitting up in the trees. On the pools at least five White-headed Duck, a speciality here, along with a single Pochard and double figure Little Grebe.

Slender Billed Gull - My first for the site!
The old river was also alive with Black-winged Stilt, a single Ringed Plover looking totally outnumbered. On the small island a group of birds at rest included a stunning full summer plumage Little Gull, (2) Audouins Gull, and singles of Common Tern and Sandwich Tern. However, a gull feeding in the shallows turned out to be a Slender Billed Gull, my first for Guadalhorce!

Bee-eater - One of seven today
The beach walk was rather quiet and I didn't bother to check out the plover nesting areas, preferring to leave them in peace. As I turned back onto the reserve a group of three Bee-eaters were sitting up nicely, offering a good photo opportunity. The path leading along to the Laguna Grande was alive with Greenfinch and Goldfinch, at least twenty of each and feeding on the ground a nice Hoopoe.

Spotted Flycatcher
The Laguna Grande was reasonably quiet and to be honest seemed a little high on water. A lone Greater Flamingo, looking quite forlorn against the backdrop of the bright sunlight. Ringed Plover, Avocet and Little-ringed Plover the only waders to be found and four Collared Doves perched up, along with a half dozen Spotless Starling. The walk back to the church produced a couple of Serin and a Spotted Flycatcher was my final record of the day!

ID the species!! Answers on a postcard...

Greater Flamingo on the Laguna Grande

Monday, June 06, 2016

Diary Update #48

Sunday's visit to Brandon Marsh began cool and overcast but eventually yielded a couple of year firsts on the butterfly front, with both Large Skipper and Small Heath recorded on Farm Field, when the sun finally broke through in the early afternoon.

Small Heath on Farm Field
Monday I met up with Jim Timms for a good tour of the reserve, mainly looking for butterflies and odanata, Jim being a real enthusiast and a great knowledge base for these things!

Garganey on East Marsh pool
We met in the Wright Hide mid morning for a look at a newly arrived Garganey, although it wasn't one of the most pristine birds I've ever seen it was my first at Brandon this year, having missed out on an earlier visitor.

Red-eyed Damselfly
From here we checked out Swallow Pool, a good place for Red-eyed Damselfly, with around fifteen or so showing on the lily pads. A visit to East Marsh Hide produced Hobby, along with the usual selection of waders and Teal Pool revealed a very camouflaged Green Sandpiper, which was asleep sunning itself on top of a tree stump. While at Carlton and Ted Jury Hides at least five Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly and a selection of Large Red, Common and Azure Damselfly.

Brown Argus on 'Tip' area
Plenty of Banded Demoiselle on the River Meadow, along with a single Small Copper butterfly, but the highlight here was a cracking Emperor Dragonfly, which was patrolling the River Avon. Moths included Chimney Sweeper, Burnet Companion, Cinnabar, and Small Yellow Underwing.

Black-tailed Skimmer
By the time we'd completed the 'Tip' area, Farm Field and Top Reedbed butterflies of note included: Painted Lady, (2) Brown Argus, Large Skipper, Small Heath, 20+ Common Blue and various counts of Peacock, Small White, Green-vein White and Brimstone. Moths included Mother Shipton and we ended an enjoyable day with a Black-tailed Skimmer dragonfly!

Next stop Spain....

Friday, June 03, 2016

Diary Update #47

Having damaged my knee ligaments while out cruising over the holiday weekend I hadn't planned to resume any birding activities until today!

One of Alan's images!
However, on Thursday morning Alan Boddington WhatsApp'ed me a trio of images he'd just taken at Brandon Marsh, just to be on the safe side for ID purposes and once opened I was immediately in the car and on route knee or no knee! A Broad-billed Sandpiper at Brandon!! Unfortunately the bird didn't hang around for too long and so only the lucky few were privileged to the event. Sadly, I was not among the chosen few!!! Another excellent find and Alan has posted a brief video, which can be found HERE

Another of Alan's Broad-billed Sandpiper images.
Today as planned I made an early start at Brandon, but with that nagging easterly wind, overcast conditions and 9C I actually started the day wearing gloves, it is June 3rd right?

Fox on Wigeon Bank
I wasn't expecting too much today but a Peregrine entertained the bold few in the hide, even perching up for a short time. During my stay yesterday a couple of tiny new Lapwing chicks were noted but sadly only one could be found today and even this looking extremely venerable with the hoard of gulls nearby. On a more positive note the three Oystercatcher young are almost full size and on the wing and an older and well fed Lapwing chick looks to have made it too. A pair of Little-ringed Plover were also getting down to business and that looked very promising. A Fox appeared on Wigeon Bank briefly causing a few issues, a couple of Little Egret, single Ringed Plover and two Redshank were other highlights while in the hide.

First of the season Chimney Sweeper Moth on River Meadow
I spent the remainder of an enjoyable morning and early afternoon with Alan Boddington and Bob Lee touring the rest of the reserve. Only a single Small Copper butterfly to report, this along with the first Chimney Sweeper moths on River meadow. Common Spotted Orchid are finally beginning to appear but looking a little forlorn in the conditions.

As I arrived back at the marina a Red Kite drifted over, circling Napton Reservoir before heading off towards Napton Hill after gaining height! Yesterday a Curlew was once again in the adjacent field and very vocal, could this be part of a local breeding pair? Nice thought...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Diary Update #46

The first cruise of the year along the Oxford Canal today in pretty overcast conditions but by the time I'd moored up for the night the sun came out to produce a glorious afternoon. It's always great to be back out on the cut, memories of the four or so years we were out permanently, in fact we really should do it more often!

Moored up for the night in one of our favourite spots!
One of the benefits of mooring up, literally in the middle of nowhere, is the fact that your boat actually becomes a hide. In fact its starting to pay off already with a stunning Yellowhammer singing in the nearby tree. Lots of Orange Tip butterflies on the wing this afternoon and I've also heard Oystercatcher calling on a few occasions so I'm assuming there may be a nest quite close by!

Gorgeous Yellowhammer at the mooring - Almost Canary like!
In such lovely conditions this evening I'm looking forward to a walk at dusk, maybe a few Bats, or even a Barn Owl!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Diary Update #45

Several chores to do preparing the boat for our first outing of the year this weekend meant that I didn't arrive at Brandon Marsh until mid morning.

One of four Little Egret on River Pool
First a walk through New Hare Covert, which produced a Marsh Tit, thankfully calling and a Bank Vole,which I was watching scurrying too and forth before all hell broke loose! Several Great Tits, Chaffinch and heroic Robin were seeing off a marauding Jay and as if this wasn't enough racket two Mistle Thrush then appeared on the scene chasing a Magpie. Great fun to watch, but not if your being predated of course!!

Spotted Flycatcher - Horsetail Glade
Other highlights included a wonderful sight of four Little Egrets feeding on River Pool, a Hobby too while enjoying this. Followed by my first UK Spotted Flycatcher of the year in Horsetail Glade, best viewed from the 'Tip' area looking in.

Spotted Flycatcher

Monday, May 23, 2016

Diary Update #44

By the time I arrived at Brandon Marsh this morning I'd missed the Marsh Harrier over Alban's Reedbed. Although as I post this update I see it was seen again at 18:30hrs this evening.

Small Copper on River Meadow
With the birding still quiet my morning was spent with the butterflies, bugs and dragonflies and I finally connected with my first ever Hairy Dragonfly for Brandon, a species that was only noted for the first time here last year. Unfortunately, that was only one of two dragonfly species seen today, the other a Brown Hawker at Ted Jury Hide.

Sun Fly (hoverfly)
Lots of Banded Demoiselle damselflies on the wing down on River Meadow and here a year first Small Copper butterfly and a Small Yellow Underwing moth. My 'bug shot' of the day was a Sun Fly, which according to legend only appears when the sun shines! It's scientific name Helophilus pendulus apparently means "dangling marsh-lover"

Small Yellow Underwing Moth
Other butterflies noted today included: (2) Brimstone, Comma, (2) Large White, (2) Red Admiral (3) Speckled Wood, Peacock and (8) Green-veined White.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dairy Update #43

From a birding perspective Brandon Marsh was particularly quiet today, the only addition being a Black-tailed Godwit, which dropped onto East Marsh Pool for an hour or so mid morning! Warblers are still very vocal around the reserve and today of note three separate Garden Warblers, one of which offered itself up for a photo opportunity.

Garden Warbler - Brandon Marsh
With the birding slow a walk with the Sunday regulars through Horsetail Glade, Farm Field and the top reedbeds in search of bugs, odanata and butterflies. No dragonflies to be found, despite the warm conditions but Large Red Damselfly, Azure Damselfly and  Blue-tailed Damselfly all recorded.

Wasp Beetle - Canon SX50 Macro!
Several bugs included Froghopper, Cardinal Beetle and the amazing looking Wasp Beetle. Also recorded my first Cinnabar Moth of the season and even with the warmer conditions mid morning only a few butterflies to mention: (3) Orange Tip, (4) Green-veined White, (2) Brimstone and single Small White.