Thursday, April 16, 2015

High Pressure!

With high pressure finally settling over the UK during the past week those spring migrants held up by the recent northerlies have finally begun to arrive. Brandon Marsh has been a cacophony of sound with many Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcap. Sand Martins are already in and out of the artificial structure and Swallows are now in good numbers.

Yellow Wagtail - Napton reservoir
On Monday I decided to start my day at Draycote Water but after registering my first Yellow Wagtails of the year and catching up with the recent Little Gull I abandoned my visit due to the sheer numbers of black fly. On to Brandon Marsh where the highlight was three White Wagtail on East Marsh Pool. Tuesdays visit to Brandon had my first ♀Blackcap, a fly-by Cuckoo and at least three Sedge Warbler. The mid morning sunshine had brought out a good number of butterflies, including a couple of years firsts, Green-vein White and a half dozen Orange-tip. A stop off on the way home at Napton Reservoir had four Yellow Wagtails before I got fed up with the several dog walkers chucking sticks into the water.

1st Orange-tips of the year at Brandon Marsh
Thursday is work party day at Brandon Marsh but I arrived just after sunrise and took a tour of the farm pool and top reedbeds before work. I was quite surprised that during my tour I didn't come across a single Sedge or Reed Warbler and over recent years this has also been a great spot for my first Grasshopper Warbler of the year. As it turned out I was on the wrong side of the reserve! When I reached East Marsh Hide for coffee news of Reed Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler near the 'Olive Bench' from the chaps had me on my way and sure enough a reeling Gropper and at least two Reed Warbler from the bench area. A Cuckoo was also calling from the golf course and back at the hide my first Common Sandpipers. While working on the conservation area at least two Common Whitethroats were new to the reserve, a single Snipe and two Little-ringed Plover were also recorded.

Record Shot of Napton Reservoir ♂Whinchat
During lunch a phone call from Richard Mays instantly turned me green with news of Montague's Harrier and Whinchat on my doorstep at the nearby Napton Reservoir. Fortunately I managed to connect with the stunning ♂Whinchat when I dropped in on the way home. Tree Pipit also heard during my stay. Sadly my dreams of a Montague's Harrier perched on my roof when I arrived back aboard didn't come to fruition! Record shots on Richards blog.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Enjoyably Hectic!

After seeing a report of an Osprey at Brandon Marsh Saturday evening don't ask me why I didn't head over at first light this morning, there was obviously every chance it would still be there. Instead I decided on a dawn search of the marina grounds and surrounding fields for spring arrivals.

Record Shot of today's Osprey - Thanks to John Osbourne from the Brandon Team for the image!
Thanks to phone calls and texts from Richard Mays and Denis Woodward informing me the bird was showing well I finally headed off. As I came through the locked gate about thirty minutes later I thought I was hearing things when a Cuckoo was clearly calling from the 'Tip' area. Intent on bagging the Osprey I made my way straight down to the 'Olive Bench' were thankfully the bird was still there and Jim and the chaps had the scopes trained already. While enjoying the Osprey another year first was a Sedge Warbler singing from just below, in fact there were two.

Lots of Willow Warblers around today! This one in the gorse!
A walk over to the 'Tip' area a little later in search of the Cuckoo proved fruitless. Although some of the guys had heard it from somewhere near River Pool, which makes me think it had probably moved over towards Alban's reedbed. The circuit of the tip and the farm area produced several Willow Warblers and a couple of rarities for Brandon in the shape of three Rooks over and a single Red-legged Partridge along the track. As we passed the farm a group of eleven Linnets and good views of the Osprey overhead, which had took flight around 8.30am and drifted over towards the A46.

Back at East Marsh Hide a Yellow Wagtail on the Islands and many Swallows and Sand Martins but I missed a single House Martin over the pools after I'd headed off for a well deserved coffee! Oh yes and among all this Jim, Derek and I managed to repair the steps to the Ted Jury Hide on a very hectic and enjoyable morning!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Back On Patch!

Back on the patch this morning and an early start at Brandon Marsh after a quick scan of the marina for any overnight arrivals. None to be had and despite high hopes there were no white, grey or yellow in the Pied Wagtail roost, which numbered around 25 birds today. 

Record shot of Napton Ring Ouzel! A better one HERE from Bob Hazell
To Brandon and it's amazing what a difference a week makes, the place was alive with birdsong with at least a half dozen Willow Warbler during my walk, plus several Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing away. East Marsh Pool had (4) Redshank, (4) Oystercatcher, (2) Little-ringed Plover, (2) Green Sandpiper and the Sand Martin structure was a hive of activity. My first UK Swallows of the year too before a phone call from Richard Mays had me literally on my way back home, well Napton Reservoir as it happens just across from the marina. The reward was a nice Ring Ouzel on the field just below the Reservoir and showing very well when I arrived, a nice local tick and thanks to Richard for the call.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Guadalhorce and Home

Arrived back into the UK over four hours late in the early hours of this morning after an horrendous flight home, which even included thunderstorms all around on takeoff! I suppose we should be grateful that the flight wasn't cancelled after Ryanair cut 250 flights yesterday thanks to the French air traffic controllers strike, although I probably would have preferred to head back to Dave's.

Purple Swamphen
Anyway with our scheduled departure not until 9pm it was an opportunity to spend a few hours in the afternoon at Guadalhorce. It was still blowing an absolute gale when we arrived but thankfully the wind eased as the day wore on. The walk from the church to the footbridge had Sardinian Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, noisy Monk Parakeets and a fishing Cormorant, plus feeding over the bridge a group of House Martin. We decided to begin at the Del Rio Viejo and Laguna de la Casilla hides and the first bird of note was a Purple Swamphen nonchalantly walking across the lagoon. Waders included a couple of Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Little-ringed Plover, Avocet and several Black-winged Stilt. There were four Greater Flamingo, seven White-headed Duck and a mixture of Red-crested Pochard, Pochard, Gadwall and Little Grebe.

Red-legged Partridge - Guadalhorce
As we walked between hides along the footpath a bird instantly caught the eye flying up from the rocks that run alongside the riverbank, a Black-eared Wheatear. We managed a couple of views of a very flighty bird but never quite got to nail it. A couple of Red-legged Partridge were also meandering between the rocks and Serin, Crested Lark and Greenfinch, of which there were many, were also recorded. The old river was a little quieter than normal but still held a large flock of Spotless Starling a single Redshank, Greenshank and over thirty or so Black-winged Stilt.

Little Egret
As we approached the sea-watch observation point, where the waves were almost crashing over the top a Whimbrel and Little Egret were feeding at the Rio Viejo mouth and a Hoopoe flew across the path and almost got blown away! The walk along the beach to the other side of the reserve was bracing and here Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover and Little-ringed Plover were all sheltering. The usual Yellow-legged Gulls were to be found but unfortunately no Tern activity. Sadly the high waves have also demolished the fence which separates the beach from the Plover nesting area and this was strewn with tidal waste.

Nightingale in song!
Finally a half hour in the hide overlooking the Laguna Grande produced few additions to the day list with the exception of Grey Heron, several Barn Swallows, a brace of Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava iberiaeand Dave and Dee were amused with how long it took for a couple of Kentish Plover to mate, although they did seem to be at it for an awful long time! Final birds of the day, and indeed this visit to Spain, were a Nightingale in song as we walked back to the parking along the Rio Guadalhorce and a trio of Common Sandpiper along the bank. Another superb trip #birdingspain and I can't believe it's now only three weeks to our Oregon trip USA!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Fuente de Piedra - Spain day 5

Our penultimate day in Spain and the weather resembled something more akin to the Scottish highlands with an absolute hoolie blowing in off the sea! Having said that when we arrived at our first stop, Laguna Dulce, Booted Eagle and Raven on route, at least the sun had come out.

Gull-billed Tern over Laguna Dulce
The laguna has plenty of water currently and we were greeted by a hole raft of Red-crested Pochard, numbering in the region of 50/60 birds. Lots of House Martin, Sand Martin and Barn Swallows feeding over the water, along with the odd Common Swift and a nice pair of Black-necked Grebes almost in full summer plumage. A decent selection of water fowl with White-headed DuckPochard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Great-crested Grebe and Little Grebe.

Wood Sandpiper - This one at Fuente de Peidra
Not too many waders represented today with a few Lapwing, a single Little-ringed Plover and a brace of Black-winged Stilt. Around the hide area House SparrowCetti's Warbler, Serin and plenty of Goldfinch, plus a Hoopoe calling from across the road but not located. Towards the back and at real distance Greater Flamingo and a group of Terns roosting were probably Gull-billed Tern and a single Cattle Egret was also noted. Out of the wind in the sunny areas a few butterflies to be seen with Swallowtail, Clouded Yellow and Small White.

Whiskered Tern at rest - Fuente de Piedra
On to Fuente de Piedra and the recent  rains have certainly paid dividends with plenty of water on the flood meadow and in the main laguna, where 1000s of Greater Flamingos shimmered in the sunshine. As we drove to the parking area several Whiskered Tern along with Gull-billed Terns were fishing and waders included: Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Snipe, RuffBlack-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Black-winged Stilt and a single Little Stint.

Common Sandpiper
Standing on the boardwalk was extremely hard work, particularly with the scope attempting to blow over at any moment. Here a couple of Wood Sandpiper along with more Little-ringed Plover, Kentish PloverWhite Wagtail and a number of Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava iberiae)

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae
Around the mirador a Little Owl Calling but not picked up and a walk south along the perimeter track that runs parallel to the laguna was very windy. Despite the conditions several Corn Bunting, a large flock of mixed Jackdaw and Spotless Starlings, Crested Lark, Meadow Pipit, and deep in the reed bed my first singing Nightingale of the year. We visited the Lagunetta hides which were, dare I say, too full of water offering no wader potential but the gulls were in their element with Black-headed, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed all noted. Wildfowl included Pochard, Shoveler and the odd Gadwall, plus on the Island several Cattle Egret and a single Little Egret

A lone White Stork over the visitor centre
As we left the centre a lone White Stork graced the sky and the drive back, taking in several stops around the the lagoon produced Lesser Kestrel, Kestrel, ♂♀Marsh Harrier, Red-legged Partridge, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler and to end a very challenging day a small flock of Linnet.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Serranía de Ronda - Spain Day 4

Some indifferent weather today with low cloud, sunny periods and rain showers as we headed off into the Serranía de Ronda. This is excellent birding country with well vegetated valleys of cork-oak, pines, Holm oak and other broad-leaved tree varieties. The highest parts of the route into Ronda itself are mountainous with only a sparse covering of broom , cistus and other scrub plants.

Low cloud today bringing the Griffon Vultures low down!
Despite the low cloud there was a constant passage of vultures overhead, entirely Griffon Vulture but with the exception of a lone Egyptian Vulture over Ronda itself. Stopping off at predetermined sites on route which included Parauta, Cartajima and Juzcar a decent selection of species were noted despite it being still a little early in the year.

The sun shone just in time for this Rock Bunting!
At Parauta Stonechat, Rock Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Rock DoveSardinian Warbler, and Great Spotted Woodpecker and at Juzcar the Smurf Village, yes every house blue and the set of the recent Smurf movies Cirl Bunting, Crossbill, Jay, Subalpine Warbler and a passage of around a dozen Bee-eater!

Alpine Swift - several over the town
The ancient town of Ronda itself stands 744 meters above sea-level and despite being an extremely busy provincial town offers some stunning birding. Once in Ronda head for the El Puente Nuevo (the new bridge - actually 18th century)  which spans the Tajo gorge, a hundred meter deep chasm. Here the views are exceptional and Crag Martin, Alpine Swift, Barn Swallow, Pallid Swift and Common Swift were all noted. There have been the odd White-rumped Swift reported over the years but sadly not during our stay. Perhaps a little early as these birds are renowned for displacing House Martins from their nests and taking over!

Red-billed Chough - As close as I could get without climbing the cliffs!
Keep an eye above too for the many more Griffon Vulture and Raven, plus there's a large population of Red-billed Chough, although the blighters would never come too close. During our stay a lone White Stork drifted over too along with a single Booted Eagle and despite being a great place to see Bonelli's Eagle we were unfortunate today. 

Serin - Very common in Ronda!
Finally the Puente Viejo (The old bridge - actually 17th century) and here you can walk down to the river and this proved very successful with Crag Martins skimming the water, a few Spotless Starling having a drink and Serin everywhere. Blue Rock Thrush and both Grey Wagtail and White Wagtail were also recorded along the river.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

'Never on a Sunday' Spain Day 3

Talk to any birder whether Spanish or Expat and they'll tell you 'never on a Sunday' and this was Easter Sunday. With that in mind and knowing everywhere would be mobbed once more I decided to stay put and bird from the patio! At least for the morning and early afternoon anyway.

Painted Lady - several appeared this morning around the villa.
It was a good choice as the visible migration seemed to continued at pace. First it would be a group of Barn Swallows, then House Martins, followed by Common Swift! In fact with so many Swift coming through I'm astonished I've not managed to pick out any Pallid or Alpine thus far. Bee-eaters come through in dribs and drabs but today a marked increase in raptor numbers with four Booted Eagle and a brace of Short-toed Eagle. Another migrant, although I'm unsure as to whether these migrate through Spain, were several Painted Lady butterflies. These along with Wall Brown, Small White, Spanish Festoon and Clouded Yellow.

Record shot of a passing Short-toed Eagle in the morning haze!
Also of note before lunch were a half dozen Crossbill, Serin, Sardinian Warbler and my first Blackcap of the visit, when one suddenly broke into song.

Black Redstart
After lunch we decided to head up above Mijas to a disused quarry, Cantera los Arenales, an area which overlooks the surrounding sierras and meanders deep into pine forest. Amazingly it wasn't as busy as we anticipated but low cloud did hamper the visit for a short while. The first birds of note were, Black Redstart, Kestrel and a very stunning ♂Stonechat, I always feel the Mediterranean birds look more vivid than those at home. Eventually the cloud cover dissipated and the sun shone allowing several butterfly species to take flight and these included: Clouded Yellow, Moroccan Orange Tip and Black-eyed Blue. Although heard on several occasions we never managed to connect with either Firecrest or Crested Tit, birds we've seen here regularly but Coal Tit were plentiful, plus the odd Crossbill.
Managed a slightly closer view in the failing light of the Turtle Dove
This evening the local Turtle Dove was in his favoured spot and just after dusk not one but two Scops Owls calling. It's also the first time I've seen the ISS pass over outside of the UK. From our position here it passed almost directly overhead, Dave was most impressed!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

My Birthday Day! Spain Day 2

Temp - 14C/19C - Occasional cloud and hazy - Wind SE @ 10 mph

I can't quite get used to the sun not rising until just after 8am in this neck of the woods and arrived at Guadalhorce a little earlier than anticipated this morning. The Scops Owl which had been calling just below the villa last night was still going when I got up and in fact after dinner tonight in Fuengirola we may well go in search of him.

Record shot of last nights Turtle Dove singing to the rear of the villa!
On arrival at Guadalhorce shortly after first light there were around a dozen or so House Martin as I crossed the footbridge onto the reserve. A Cetti's Warbler was calling from the reed bed below and also within the same clump of reeds my first Reed Warbler of the year. I decided to begin at the Del Rio Viejo and Laguna de la Casilla hides and on route the usual Sardinian Warbler and Serin, along with small groups of House Sparrow and Goldfinch. However, It wasn't long before the calmness of the morning was shattered by around a half dozen Monk Parakeet!

Lots of Black-winged Stilt around Guadalhorce
On the lagoons a brace of Spoonbill were still napping alongside four Little Egret and at least four White-headed Ducks, a half dozen Pochard, a lone Little Grebe and a couple of Gadwall were noted. Waders included Greenshank, Little-ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper and several Black-winged Stilt.

Kentish Plover on the beach this morning
The walk to the seafront was pleasant enough and I managed the briefest views of what I believe could well have been a Bonelli's Warbler. The old river was incredibly quiet, with the exception of around thirty or so Black-winged Stilt. A Green Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Zitting Cisticola, a number of Barn Swallow passing through, several Greenfinch and a few Spotless Starlings kept things going until I reached the observation area. The sea itself was flat calm and save for a few Yellow-legged Gulls there was nothing else to get excited about. Along the beach a lone Sanderling, along with a half dozen Kentish Plover before I reentered the reserve and stopped off at the hide overlooking Laguna Grande. The laguna was probably the fullest I've ever seen it, offering little for any passing waders and I managed no additions to my day list on a rather quiet visit.

Two species of note over the villa this evening, the first a very large unidentified raptor, which passed at height when I wasn't prepared, the second my first Short-toed Eagle of this visit.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Spain Day 1

Temp - 14C/20C - Occasional cloud and hazy - Wind S @ 8 mph

A very welcome week away in Mijas at my best mate Dave's villa and after our late arrival and subsequent late night, plus today of course being Good Friday I decided on an easy start to the holiday. In fact I spent the entire morning watching an amazing visible migration from the comfort of Dave's patio around 1000ft up in the hills near Mijas, Fuengirola.

Spanish Festoon
To start with two Crossbills were singing from a nearby cedar tree and it wasn't long before I'd bagged my first Barn Swallow and Red-rumped Swallows of the year. A chorus from above alerted me to well over 200 Common Swift passing through in the morning haze, shortly followed by a couple of House Martin. Another familiar call and at least a half dozen Bee-eater down below heading inland off the Mediterranean. A Booted Eagle drifted north over Mijas and both Serin and Sardinian Warbler kept me company throughout my watch, plus a single Cattle Egret among a few cows down below on the scrub land and occasional calls of Red-legged Partridge. Many butterflies on the wing, mostly Spanish Festoon and Wall but the occasional unidentified one floated past.

Corn Buntings around El Torcal
In the afternoon Dave decided to take us on an hours drive across to El Torcal, despite my warnings that the place would be rammed. The Spanish just love their holiday days! It was, in fact extremely rammed and so we decided to drive a little further on and take a walk in less crowded company until the place quietened down a little. The morning haze had dissipated to produce a very springlike afternoon and several Corn Buntings were singing away along the track. At least seven Griffin Vulture appeared over the mountains, along with a couple of Kestrel in display flight. A constant passage of Barn Swallow and at least twenty or so Bee-eaters passed overhead. Several Crested Lark were along the track often flying high up in full song.

Griffon Vulture - Constant movement over the rock formations
El Torcal de Antequera is a nature reserve in the Sierra del Torcal mountain range located south of the city of Antequera. It is known for its unusual landforms, and is one of the most impressive karst landscapes in Europe. The area was designated a Natural Site of National Interest in July 1929, and a Natural Park Reserve of about 17 square kilometres was created in October 1978.

Rock Bunting - Humbug head!
The drive up to the summit produced Hoopoe and Ring Ouzel and I have to say that despite still being extremely busy we had a very lucrative visit. At the mirador (viewpoint) some excellent views of Griffon Vultures passing overhead and just below one of several Black Redstart during our visit. Around the nature centre a pair of Rock Buntings posed well for photographs and Blue Rock Thrush were everywhere, although mostly distant!

Black Redstart plentiful at El Torcal
We took the 3km walk, which was very hard going and pretty noisy, the Spanish aren't known for their ability to hold a quiet conversation but the wildlife was still around with more Black Redstarts, Rock Bunting, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and a couple of Iberian Ibex. The drive down from the summit had a few more Griffon Vulture circling and a single Pallid Swift.

Iberian Ibex at El Torcal
Back at the villa in the evening a welcome jacuzi, followed by a pre birthday BBQ and to top off a very enjoyable first day a purring Turtle Dove and calling Scops Owl in the scrub land just below the villa, its still calling as I post. What a great way to end my 57th year on gods earth!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Forest of Dean

The second Away-Day of the year for the Brandon team and this our annual visit to the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. Target birds for the day, Goshawk, Hawfinch, Mandarin Duck and Crossbill.

Another Away-Day for the Brandon Team - Canop Ponds
However, before the forest a detour into Worcestershire in search of a Yellow-browed Warbler, reported recently at Sedgeberrow, Red Kite on route. The bird is at a small sewage treatment works SP023389 and so we thought it worth a go. On arrival we spread out and it wasn't long before a few of guys picked the bird up to the back of the plant. Although quite elusive after about 45 minutes most of the team had at least a brief view and so we moved off pretty content.

View from New Fancy Viewpoint
With the weather set to deteriorate as the day wore on we decided to head for New Fancy Viewpoint. For those who don't know the history this is formerly the site of the New Fancy coal mine and the old spoil heap now provides spectacular views across the forest. It is an ideal place to watch birds of prey soaring above the woodland and in particular at this time of year Goshawk. We were quite lucky today as almost immediately upon arrival a Goshawk was located overhead and by the time we moved on to our next destination two were recorded along with Buzzard, Raven and also of note: Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Greenfinch and plenty of Coal Tit. Sadly, unlike other years a distinct lack of Crossbill.

Hawfinch - One of a pair at Park End Church
Park End next in search of Hawfinch and here we stopped first at the cricket pitch and then on to Park End church for a spot of lunch. At the pitch someone has actually placed feed under one of the many yew trees and it wasn't long before both male and female birds were located. We spent a good while watching these stunning finches ground feeding and a few of us managed several record shots. After lunch at the church, with Nuthatch, Peregrine over and a couple of Mistle Thrush a walk down to the woods and back. Another pair of Hawfinch located high in the canopy along with Great Spotted Woodpecker and Treecreeper.

Several Song Thrush in song today! This one taking a breather
Onward to our next destination of Canop ponds, recognised as one of the best places in the UK to see Mandarin Ducks. On route here a first for the whole team with good views of a feeding Wild Boar, even worth turning the bus around for a second view, although no chance of parking meant zero pictures. The Mandarins were a delight and time spent around the pools produced two Grey Wagtail, two Marsh Tit, Chiffchaff, Little Grebe, Raven, Mistle Thrush, Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Gorgeous Mandarin Ducks at Canop Ponds
Wild Peregrines have long been associated with Symonds Yat Rock and so no visit to Gloucestershire is complete without dropping in. Peregrines bred well here until the early 1950's when the effects of pesticides drastically reduced the national population. From then on it goes from strength to strength and we weren't disappointed. A nice distraction from the birding was a couple of Bank Voles, which were chasing each other around the floor debris near our parking spot. A pair of Peregrines were in residence along the cliff with some good occasional flight views. Fairly quiet though with the exception of two Mandarin Duck on the River Wye below.

Finally on route home we decided to stop off at Ashleworth Ham, which lies in the floodplains of the Severn Vale and is part of a much larger SSSI. It floods easily, particularly over the winter, which makes it the perfect wetland for overwintering wildfowl. A reported Garganey was only seen by a couple of the team immediately on arrival, before heading up the bank and out of view for the remainder of our stay. A recent Green-winged Teal seems to have moved on but good numbers of Eurasian Teal, Wigeon and a few Gadwall and Shoveler were on site. Along with seven Little Egret and two Snipe. A little diversion up the road yielded a trio of Red-legged Partridge and another trio, this time Fallow Deer ended another great day out just as the heavens opened!