Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Troll the Hedges!

You'd think that with all the Yellow-browed Warblers currently residing in the UK one would have the good grace to venture a little further inland. Although it would be difficult to get much further from the coast than Warwickshire! Since arriving back from France I've spent the best part of the days dissecting many a hawthorn, bramble and willow, particularly at Brandon Marsh hoping to strike lucky, but sadly to no avail.

One of three Stonechat - Farm Field at Brandon Marsh 
Having said that there's nothing better than being driven by anticipation and the many foraging flocks I've encountered have contained a host of species including Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Coal Tit , Willow Tit, Marsh Tit and Treecreeper. Doing the rounds at Brandon Marsh at least three large flocks of Siskin have been evident and the first Lesser Redpolls are beginning to arrive, still no Redwing as yet to speak of. Meadow Pipits can be found and most visits produce several Skylarks passing overhead, more often heard then seen!

Another Stonechat on Farm Field
Jays are up to their usual autumnal habits, busy burying the odd acorn, only to forget where they've hidden them and thus helping to populate Brandon with more oak trees! Farm Field is currently playing host to at least three Stonechat, although during a visit today I only managed the one. If you do happen to head that way your odds-on to encounter a Green Woodpecker, with an amazing count of eight today.

Brandon Marsh Great White Egret - Courtesy of Fred Stokes
Although I've not spent much time in the hides I managed a ♀Pintail and Peregrine on Sunday morning and its also evident that Wigeon have taken to Brandon, with over 100 on site most days. Perhaps preferring the calmer waters to that of nearby Draycote Water, where once they were numerous, Draycote now seemingly devoting itself entirely to sports activities. A phone call on Monday morning had me scurrying over to East Marsh Hide where a Great White Egret had dropped down in front of Fred Stokes. Unfortunately by the time I got there the bird had flown, such a rare visitor to Brandon. Another bird to look our for is a leucistic Black-headed Gull which appears to be a constant visitor among the many gulls.

Finally a couple of species absent here at the marina for the past few years have recently re-emerged. Firstly, a Kingfisher seen around the pontoons and a Little Owl, which another moorer spotted on one of the telegraph poles on Sunday evening!

Monday, September 28, 2015

France Sunday/Monday

On Sunday Dee and I took a drive out for a day at the sea-side. Having done a little research we decided that an area known as station de lagunage near Rochfort was well worth a visit on route. The Lagoon Resort, set in the suburban marshes, is to purify waste water from the town of Rochefort and renown to have some excellent birding. Of course like many French birding areas and despite our research the centre was closed, even though the opening times clearly displayed on the gate stated otherwise.

A real treat - One of several jet powered model aircraft flying around!
Notwithstanding Dee and I intrepid as ever decided to take a tour of the peripheral. It turned out to be quite an enjoyable few hours and birds of note included three Whiskered Terns resting on one of the buoys 'ringtail' Hen Harrier, Marsh HarrierCattle Egret, Common Sandpiper, (3) Wheatear, Ruff and Great White Egret. As a bonus and being an aviation enthusiast too the local model club were flying some amazing jet powered aircraft from the nearby aerodrome so I was well pleased.

White Wagtail - Many around the lagoons and coastline.
From here we drove out to the coast and found a delightful little sea-side town called Port-des-Barques and while enjoying a stroll and a coffee in a glorious 24C spotted many White Wagtail and a flock of over thirty Avocet which flew by. Taking the coastal route from Barques we stopped at several vantage points spotting a large flock of roosting Turnstone, Dunlin and the occasional Yellow-legged Gull. Swallows and the odd House Martin were moving through in small numbers but not a Swift to be seen.

Many Juvenile Dunlin along the coast!
Further around the coast in the late afternoon we came across the nature centre for Natural Reserve Moëze-Oléron, which WAS open! There are four interpretation trails from here two of which take you down towards the shoreline. However, with time against us we decided on taking a short walk which takes you through scrub and grassland.

Redstart at the Moëze-Oléron centre
Many mist nets were located here along several rides and Stonechats were abundant along with Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. At one stage (7) Spoonbill were seen in the distance heading along the coastline. Returning to the centre, now closed, a Common Redstart, plus many birds in the feeding area which included Zitting Cisticola, Reed BuntingWillow Warbler and a single Wood Warbler.

With practically no light pollution here an amazing blood red moon!
After an early rise for the Luna Eclipse, 4am here Dee and I spent our last morning before flying home locally at La Pinail. This is one of our favourite reserves and is situated only 10 miles from Dee's parents house. The result of millstone quarrying has given way to a mosaic of 3,000 ponds which are surrounded by moor and heathland and a great place for Dartford Warbler, three of which were seen briefly today!

Pipistrelle Bat roosting under the terrace!
An albeit brief visit to France but an enjoyable one, despite fewer species seen than usual. Other highlights included watching the bats, mostly Pipistrelle, flying around the house in the evenings and even finding some roosting spots. I won't dwell too much on the 'Chasse' with gunshots and dogs heard on all of our days out!!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

La Brenne 26th Sept.

Saturday we took the relatively short drive into La Brenne, locally known as 'The Land of a Thousands Lakes'. Starting off at Etang De La Sous the walk to the hide always produces and by the time we'd settled the usual Great White Egrets, Cattle Egrets and odd Little Egret were noted.

Great White Egret - Plentiful in 'The Land of a Thousand Lakes' - Image by Dee
The surrounding marshland was awash with Stonechat and the treeline held Chifchaff, Blackcap and the odd Willow Warbler. Butterflies were still on the wing and included Common Blue, Clouded Yellow and Wall Brown. Immediately on arrival a Purple Heron could be seen flying low over the reedbed in the distance but this was as good as it got, with the only other species of note: Cetti's Warbler, Great-crested Grebe, Cormorant and a Coypu!

Coypu makes a dart for it - Image by Dee
Next stop the hide at Etang Ricot, always a favourite of mine as the short walk to the hide is through a wood. Here at least three Marsh Tit were calling, finally locating one high in the oak and a second call was undoubtedly that of a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, which sadly we never connected with. The usual woodland species were all located: Short-toed Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Pied Flycatcher and Spotted Flycatcher. The best from the hide was a performing Kingfisher, which the obsessives back at Brandon would have enjoyed!

Kingfisher at Etang Ricot
The remainder of our stay visiting a few other hides and locations proved reasonably fruitful with Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Montague's Harrier plus other species of note: Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Mistle Thrush, Red-legged Partridge, Common Redstart, Teal, Shoveler, Little Grebe, Gadwall and Snipe. Kestrels were abundant!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Arrived France

Flew into Poitier this evening for a short break in France while the floating homestead enjoys a well earned bit of TLC in the dry-dock! Hull blacking and a few bits of maintenance I'm not equipped to complete.

Black Redstart a regular breeder here locally!
When we arrived at Dee's parents near Chavigny there was just enough time for a garden stroll before the sun departed for the day in clear blue skies. First bird of note was a Chiffchaff calling from along the orchard treeline but it wasn't long before one of the local Black Redstarts made an appearance.

Firecrest in the gloom - Always a pleasure to see when we visit!
At the bottom end of the garden the grass had just been cut below the walnut trees, a regular occurrence apparently to enable easy picking when they finally drop. Of course the disruption had dislodged many flies which at least three Firecrest's were taking advantage of. I did manage a few photos but with the failing light the best I could manage were a couple of record shots.

Cirl Bunting - A garden first and somewhat of a bonus.
Equally a Cirl Bunting perching briefly in the hawthorn offered another photo opportunity but once again the light had beaten me. Still a great start to our short break and a garden first. Looking forward to a visit to La Brenne tomorrow!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Brandon Marsh

With the weather looking quite encouraging early morning I decided to dust off my Canon 7D and my big lens and head over to Brandon Marsh. More recently my sole companion has been my trusty Canon SX50 but to be honest I was a little disappointed with it during my recent visit to Spain. Excellent camera tho it is the eyepiece can be quite cumbersome in harsh light and I missed out on a few good opportunities.

Comma enjoying the plentiful fruit
I spent little time in the hides today deciding to check out the peripheral of the reserve, with so many mixed flocks to search through you just never know. The first excitement of the day came while passing through New Hare Covert when a Hobby drifted quickly over the treetops, a distressed Swallow trying desperately to struggle free from it's grasp. The mixed flocks produced lots of Goldcrest, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and even Treecreeper within, but nothing out of the ordinary. Speckled Wood butterflies were numerous, (18) in total and also recorded were (4) Green-veined White, (3) Comma and a single Gatekeeper. Lots of odanata on the wing with Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker and Common Darter well into double figures, (2) Ruddy Darter also noted.

Migrant Hawker - Double figures today
I took the opportunity to nip over to the Ted Jury hide to check out how the heavy plant work was proceeding on the phase 3 reedbed project and glad I did. While there a small raptor caught the eye flying low over the reeds and my immediate thoughts were Merlin. The bird perched briefly in a distant tree, no scope today, but the views I had only increased my first thoughts. Luckily as I walked back along the track to the Carlton Hide I bumped into Bob Wetherall and Terry Southgate, who had thankfully seen the bird too from the Carlton Hide, my 1st Merlin at Brandon in six years!

Spotted Flycatcher - This one from the tops of Willow on the 'Tip' area!
Final numbers for the day included two Spotted Flycatchers, the first at treetop level in the willows which run along the 'Tip' area and Willow Wood, the second in the hawthorn on Farm Field. Over (20) Chiffchaffs with several singing, a flock of (11) Siskin, (8) Blackcap, (4) Nuthatch, (2) Sparrowhawk and (6) Buzzard. What little time I did spend in the hides produced of note (3) Snipe, (1) Green Sandpiper, (2) Kingfisher and a juvenile Great-crested Grebe on East Marsh.

Spotted Flycatcher - This one in hawthorn along Farm Field!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


My last day of this visit and an early morning start at Gudalhorce. When I parked up at the church at Guadalmar the first thing I noticed was that the wind had increased considerably since leaving the villa only 20 minutes earlier. The walk up to the bridge crossing was quiet enough, with the exception of a Zitting Cisticola and calling Cetti's Warbler but when I stood checking out the many House Martins, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows around the bridge a Hen Harrier took the eye, passing quite low before heading off, a first for me here!

Monk Parakeets - A real feature of Guadalhorce
I took my usual route checking out the hides that run along the track which leads down to the sea view point. The regular White-headed Duck and Little Grebe were mostly asleep, (4) Teal flew through and a Kingfisher made a noisy pass. (5) Black-winged Stilt , (2) Greenshank and single Little Egret, Common and Green Sandpiper made up the numbers. Coming away from the del rio Viejo hide a noisy Serin followed by a bird which dropped down onto the path. This turned out to be a stunning male Common Redstart, sadly not lingering long enough for a photo. The old river was teaming with life, holding many Black-headed Gulls, (4) Audouin's Gulls and a single Mediterranean. Waders were in good numbers and included (2) Wood Sandpiper, (3) Curlew Sandpiper, (2) Knot, (1) Ruff , (1) Redshank and various numbers of Dunlin, Sanderling, Little-ringed, Ringed and Kentish Plover. Only a single juvenile Greater Flamingo present today.

Can't get enough of these Audouin's Gulls!
I spent a while checking out the open areas just prior to entering the sea-view tower. Across on the rio Veijo one or two Little Terns were fishing and a bird perched on some dead wood turned out to be a juvenile Woodchat Shrike, in fact two were present. Crested Lark, Skylark, Chiffchaff, Whinchat and Hoopoe all made an appearance before I headed off along the beach to find small groups of Sanderling scurrying up and down.

At least a dozen Alpine Swift in among the constant flow of Common Swift!
The short walk from the beach to the Laguna Grande hide produced a large flock of Greenfinch, Sardinian Warbler and both Common Kestrel and Sparrowhawk over the scrub. Overhead migration was full tilt with many Common Swifts on the move, along with over a dozen or so Alpine mixed in. (11) Honey Buzzard passed through and while sitting in the hide my first Osprey of the visit, dispatching a sitting Cormorant from the Osprey pole before deciding not to bother perching at all! The Laguna wasn't particularly busy but brief visits from both single Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits were a bonus and 63 species was a fair haul to end my short break.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Migration At Pace!

Stunning views from the terrace at 1000ft overlooking the Mediterranean and Africa beyond!
After the long day trip Saturday a Sunday morning lay in followed by a full English on the terrace and a few hours vismig! I must say, there's nothing to match watching the European autumn migration first hand and in such stunning surroundings. A constant stream of Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, House Martins, the occasional Sand Martin and endless Common Swifts with the odd Alpine and Pallid Swift in the mix. During breakfast alone (18) Bee-eaters passed through, (3) Booted Eagles, (1) Short-toed Eagle, (6) Honey Buzzards but the ultimate sighting was (42) White Storks passing high overhead heading further around the coast towards Gibraltar and Tarifa. A little later in the afternoon our first ever local sighting of Egyptian Vulture, as a single bird passed high over the sierras towards Mijas.

Conscious that Dave had lots of packing to do for his forthcoming trip to Canada I took a late afternoon drive the relatively short distance to Cantera los Arenales, a disused quarry towards the back of Mijas. The drive takes you to the lofty heights of nearly 3,000ft and offers amazing views (Video Above) of the surrounding sierras and paths that meander deep into pine forest. It's a great place to register species such as Crested Tit and Firecrest, both of which were duly recorded. This area has yielded both Rock Bunting and Black Wheatear on previous visits but sadly not today. At the top of the trail the pine trees diminish offering breathtaking views of the sierras and pastures below, a great place to just sit and observe. Once again migration continued, even this late in the day and along with Peregrine, (4) Short-toed Eagles, (2) Black Kite, (2) Sparrowhawk and (5) Booted Eagles I managed (4) Alpine Swifts and (6) Crag Martin among the passage birds. On the way back down to the parking area (2) Nuthatch and Short-toed Treecreeper.

More Images Of The Day

Woeful attempt of Crested Tit on the Canon SX50
Short-toed Eagle at Cantera los Areanales in the harsh setting sun!
Swallowtail butterfly in the villa garden
Several Red-veined Darter around the terrace

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Autumn Migration - Spain

The first surprise Saturday morning was waking up to overcast skies and light rain, unsure as to how this might affect today's migration watch down at Tarifa. As it happens we need not have worried, as by the time we arrived at our first stop the El Algarrobo Bird Observatory around 09:45hrs the showers had dissipated and the cloud had begun to break. The short bumpy drive up to the observatory produced Whinchat, Stonechat and Spotted Flycatcher.

View from the mainland looking across to Morocco & the African continent beyond only 16 kilometers away!
After taking up position among many local birders, nice to see more Spanish people taking birding a lot more seriously these day, we settled down to enjoy the spectacle. The shear numbers of Honey Buzzard and Booted Eagle moving through was breathtaking, but even at this early stage it was obvious that most birds were moving through at high level and unfortunately in largely scattered formations! Little wind and clearing skies does not make for a good raptor passage. We remained until midday recording in addition to the above over (20) Sparrowhawk, always interesting to see just how many do in fact migrate, (15) Griffon Vulture, (1) Rüppell's Vulture, (1) Black Kite, (1) Montagu's Harrier and a possible Long-legged Buzzard.

Swallowtail - Nice distraction from the birding!
Next stop Cazalla Bird Observatory, which boasts a specially constructed shelter for birders and views which offer 360 degrees and cover the plains, beach and straits. More large numbers of Booted Eagle and Honey Buzzard here and this time (4) Short-toed Eagle, lacking at El Algarrobo, plus both Common and Lesser Kestrel. A gorgeous Swallowtail butterfly also made for a pleasant visit.

Many White Stork along the channels!
The remainder of the day was spent at La Janda and after leaving the main road the drive down to the canal, where we enjoyed a late lunch produced (2) Marsh Harrier, Stonechat, Corn Buntings on the fences and several Crested Lark along the dry channels. The usual White Storks were in good numbers but the highlight at this point was watching a ♂Montagu's Harrier on the path enjoying it's prey! A female was also recorded during our stay. The drive along the central track which runs parallel to the Río Almodóvar is worth checking with many Little Egret, Cattle Egret and the odd Green Sandpiper and Grey Heron. Zitting Cisticola, which annoy Dave immensely when calling, were evident and many House Sparrows near the sluices. Stopping at various points on route back to the main road produced Barn Swallow and Sand Martin, (3) Hen Harrier, Spotless Starlings, single Woodchat Shrike and a nice group of a half dozen Bee-eater! A chat with a British couple along the route was of interest, when they informed us of a distant Spanish Imperial Eagle they'd seen, they are recorded in this area and a Black-winged Kite which another birder had found on one of the pylons. Don't you just love it when they tell you that!!


Bee-eater at La Janda
Corn Bunting
Crested Larks along the dry channels at La Janda
Stonechat - Excellent habitat at La Janda
Short-toed Eagle - With most birds at high level this is one of very few flight images I managed!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Autumn Migration Spain

Over in Spain at the moment for a few days at the mates villa in Mijas before he heads off back to Canada on more jollies! The main reason is to take in the magnificent raptor migration, heading off to Gibraltar & Tarifa at first light tomorrow.

Crossbill - Creatures of habit!
Spent the sunrise watching the Crossbills coming down from the mountains, a regular event and creatures of habit it seems, perching in their regular trees before dispersing for the day. After food shopping down in Fuengirola Dave and I spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon just chilling out on the patio, which offers superb all around views, great for migration watching.

Booted Eagle - Canon SX50 on 'sports mode' seems a great way to take aerial photos!
Plenty of Red-rumped Swallow coming through at first and then followed by a constant passage of Common Swift, two Pallid within. At least a dozen or so Bee-eater, although we heard more and then a Booted Eagle made an appearance, hanging around for a good half hour. Next was a procession of Honey Buzzard, with six in the sky above us at one time. Cattle Egret, Turtle Dove, Spotless Starling, Kestrel, Barn Swallows & House Martins made for an excellent morning sky watching. In the scrub below the villa Sardinian Warbler and Red-legged Partridge are worth a mention.

Honey Buzzard - Constant passage today!
Late afternoon, hoping that the temperature might dip a little, we headed off to Gualdhorce near Malaga airport for a walk around the reserve. Below the bridge that takes you on to the reserve a couple of Spotted Flycatcher were busy feeding, a Hoopoe dipped across the fence and the usual resident Monk Parakeet were in evidence, although not in any great numbers.

White-headed Duck - a regular breeder here!
At the La Laguna de la Casilla hide the highlights were Kingfisher, a single Little Egret, along with (11) White-headed Duck and a half dozen Ringed Plover.

Black-winged Stilt on the Veijo
Moving on to the Del rio Veijo a good selection of waders with Black-winged Stilt, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff and Little & Ringed Plover, plus both Green and Common Sandpiper. In the treeline to the left a Pied Flycatcher, until passing cyclists spooked it.

Three of a half dozen Audouin's Gulls on the old river!
The old river was a hive of activity, even with some idiot and his daughter off piste and down near the water spooking everything! Six Audouin's Gulls were at rest, seemingly unperturbed and three Little Terns were also resting. More waders to be found here with Dunlin and Sanderling in addition to the aforementioned.

Hoopoe - One of two today
The beach area, why wasn't I aware previously that this is a nudist beach, held more Sanderling and a single Whimbrel, among other dangly things!! Kentish Plover were scattered in small numbers along the designated nesting area and a second Hoopoe of the day. Other notables during a pleasant visit included: Booted Eagle, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Greater FlamingoSnipe, Whinchat and over 50 Heron in a growing roost as we left!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Norfolk Visit

Took an early morning drive across to the Norfolk coast on Wednesday starting off at RSPB Snettisham for the morning high tide. Absolutely stunning sights with Knot, Godwits, Plovers and Oystercatcher blackening the skies. It was nice to see several families with young kids set up picnic style to witness the amazing waderfest!

Bar-headed Goose - An increase in the UK feral population apparently!
Other highlights included Mediterranean Gull, Fulmar and watching two Arctic Skuas at reasonable distance harassing a couple of Common Terns, the later of which managing to escape with their food still in tact. The surprise of the visit was my first UK encounter with a Bar-headed Goose, a bird which seems to be increasing in feral population, apparently even managing to breed in the Manchester area!

RSPB Titchwell next and firstly a walk around to Patsy's Reedbed, managing a couple of Red-crested Pochard and some brief views of Bearded Tit. Unfortunately the Red-backed Shrike reported in this area the day before seemed to have departed. We also managed 17 Spoonbill from the end of the track looking back across the freshwater marsh and a couple of Marsh Harrier.

Wheatear at Snettisham - Not the most prolific day on the camera!
A better look at the Freshwater and Tidal Marsh's from the West Bank Path produced the usual selection of waders, including Black-tailed GodwitSnipe,  Little EgretAvocet, Curlew, Ringed Plover, many Ruff, (3) Greenshank and both Golden and Grey Plover still sporting most of their summer plumage. Unfortunately a huge exodus, including Heron's and Spoonbills by an unknown culprit put paid to any chance of Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, a couple of target birds for the visit. The beach produced Peregrine and incredibly another two Arctic Skuas but little else in the way of passage birds. On the shore Turnstone, more Grey Plover, Sanderling and a lone Bar-tailed Godwit.

A quick visit to the Cley beach area before heading off was a little more lucrative with a dozen or so Sandwich Terns, single Little Tern, (4) Common Terns and (8) Gannet, including several juvenile!