Sunday, May 30, 2010

Back to the Marsh!

Having devoted the whole of last week to painting my boat I had very little time for birding, mind you during my many coffee breaks I noticed a Common Tern constantly flying to and fro from the marina with fish in the general direction of Napton Reservoir. Plus I was delighted to see at least two Little Owl youngsters (one pictured) calling from the nearby trees yesterday evening.
I paid my first visit to Brandon Marsh this morning in over seven days. It's that time of year again when things tend to get a little quieter with most of the birds now paired up and thus less singing. It's also a time when you tend to rely more on your knowledge of bird song too with the canopy in full bloom and the birds buried deep within.
On the walk around through to New Hare Covert a Lesser Whitethroat seemed very agitated as I passed Sheep Field, a single bird ticking away loudly from within the Hawthorn. I managed some excellent views before deciding to leave the little chap in peace and moved on.
The Wright Hide produced the usual Oystercatcher, Little and Ringed Plover, and since my last visit our Redshank have now fledged 4 chicks, which looked a little vulnerable while feeding on the waters edge. Sad to hear too that the one and only Great Crested Grebe to survive has now disappeared!
Best of the day came while in the Big Hide, with a Peregrine coming in reasonably low over East Marsh Pool, not particularly in a hunting mood and moving off after a brief sortie in the direction of the Carltom Hide. A final walk across the 'Tip' area with Jim Rushforth and around through Farm Field produced my second Spotted Flycatcher in as many weeks, when Jim spotted one high up in one of the big dead trees across on Brandon Lane. Not exactly within the reserve boundary, but I'm sure it had flown onto the reserve at some stage!!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Nice Return

Back at Brandon Marsh this weekend with visits Saturday and Sunday in temperatures on a par to what I've been used to in Spain this last week. Having only been gone seven days it's amazing even in that short time how things have moved on. The Bluebells in New Hare Covert are in full bloom, the flowering Primrose that graced Central Marsh have now diminished and various Butterfly species such a Common Blue, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood are showing in good numbers.
On Saturday morning I caught up with what I'd missed first hand, having been kept well in touch by Jim Rushforth via text while I was away. During my short break I'd missed out on Garganey, Sanderling and the even rarer Temminck's Stint, a bird that I haven't personally seen at Brandon in the 18 months I've been part of the team.
However, I did record a first for Brandon in 2010 with a Spotted Flycatcher up high in one of the dead trees in New Hare Covert early on Saturday morning. They do exactly what it says on the tin, with the bird perched on the topmost branch catching flies! More signs too of Otter Spraint on my travels, and indeed a couple of visual reports from a few other regulars to Brandon. My glorious Saturday morning ended with a walk across the Top Pool Reedbed and a lovely male Stonechat perched on one of the fences by the old farm buildings, not a bad return home to my favourite place.
I arrived a little later on Sunday morning with a clear blue sky and the sun well up even at 7am. As I took a very leisurely stroll on my usual route a phone call put me on to a Whimbrel that had just arrived on East Marsh Pool, within 5-minutes I had the bird in my scope in Wright Hide. I was astonished to find too, having checked my records back home, that this is the first Whimbrel I've had at Brandon. I was sad to here that the 3 Oystercatcher chicks which were progressing well before my holiday did not survive, probably the Crows once again, and there now only appears to be 1 Great Crested Grebe chick, having seen 2 before my holiday.
Nothing more to report on Sunday until around 9am when Norman Sills, the manager, and in fact designer of RSPB Lakenheath, and Brandon too for that matter, joined us in the Big Hide. Norman appeared in the doorway stating 'I've never seen a Red Kite at Brandon before' which sent us scurrying outside to find said Red Kite high up in the blue heading East. Quite an eventful return after my holiday and I feel that I'm already back into the swing of things.
(Above - Whimbrel library picture)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spain/Portugal Summary

Back home and it's time to reflect on our 7-day trip to Spain/Portugal on what was not a full blown birding holiday but a week in which Dee and I shared our interests with an equal amount of birding and sightseeing, well 80/20%, god bless her.

We visited several birding sites over the period, three of which I've broken down below, ranging from Castro Marim in Portugal to Donana National Park in Spain, covering just over 1100 kilometers in our hire car from our base in Isla Canela, Costa De La Luz. It's our first visit to this particular area and so it was somewhat of a learning curve over the week regarding the best places to see what particular species etc, this of course will hold us in good stead if we ever plan to visit again.

Castro Marim is located here along with a list of our observations for the surrounding areas. We visited various locations within the locality over the week, mostly the saltpans and lagoons, and the highlights for this area were Collared Pratincole, Short-toed Eagle, Black-eared Wheatear, our only Spanish Sparrow of the whole trip and Thekla Lark (pictured). Other excellent species that can also be recorded here are Little and Great Bustard, but unfortunately we drew a blank during our visits. We did however see our first Swallowtail Butterflies within this area, a first for us both!

Donana National Park is about a 90-minute drive north from our location, linked here along with our observations. We paid two visits to this area during our stay which included El Rocio, Acebuche and The Acebron Path. The whole area is a wonderland for birders and thanks to Dee we managed an albeit short glimpse of Spanish Imperial Eagle, Donana being a prime site for this magnificent bird. Other birds worth a mention during our visits were a Purple Gallinule along with two chicks, numerous Black Kite, Montagu's and Hen Harrier, plus Calandra Lark and Ortolan Bunting (pictured).

Sendero Salinas Del Duque is a part of the marshes of Isla Canela and Isla Chritina, the busiest fishing port in Spain, and about a 5-minute drive from our hotel which boasts a myriad of pools and small lagoons. Although local we only managed two visits on our last day in the morning and evening, but did manage to add both Whimbrel and Curlew, two species we didn't previously have on our list. Here we also had nesting Spoonbill and Little Tern, plus more Collared Pratincole in flight. The area is also renown for Eagles but non were recorded during our visits.

Finally, returning from sightseeing in Seville, taking the back roads back to our Hotel, we discovered a small town called Neibla, located on the Rio (river) Tinto, where we stopped for photographs. The local church spire produced a nice surprise in the shape of a family of Lesser Kestrel and on the river edge we also came across a family of four Bee-eaters which were a delight to watch.

A big thank you must also go to my wife Dee (pictured) who has been a total star, having tirelessly matched me pace for pace while visiting these sites in 30C temperatures, and indeed we may not have registered Spanish Imperial Eagle if it wasn't for her eagle eyes, our first ever! I dedicate this post to you.

A full list of species observed can be found here!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

La Rocina

Another 90-minute drive North (Monday 18th) took us back to Donana National Park and the amazing town of El Rocio. Entirely built on sand, including the roads, and resembles something similar to an old cowboy western town, with posts and rails to hitch your horse and the locals riding around on horseback and in buggies.

After our pilgrimage to the town our attention turned to the other reason for being here, the birds. The stream that feeds La Madre de las Marismas is called La Rocina, and it changes its name at Canariega Bridge were after the brief crossing we turned to first visit the Charco de Acebron Path and then back to the four La Rocina hides. However, before leaving the town a drive along the Rocina produced Flamingo, excellent numbers of Spoonbill feeding in the shallows, Glossy Ibis (pictured), Purple and Grey Heron plus Gull-billed and Whiskered Tern.

The Acebron Path runs for about 1.5km and consists of Willow, Cork Oak and Umbrella Pine forest with Alder Buckthorns, Honeysuckle and Wild Grape Vines intermingled; the ground is awash with various Ferns. On arrival Hoopoe were in evidence and having completed some research on Iberian Chiffchaff recently I was delighted to hear one calling quite close up. The familiar call of several Cetti’s Warbler followed by the unmistakable Nightingale, which were numerous during our visit. Firecrest and Serin were also here and so too Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Willow Warbler, Cuckoo and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

After Acebron we took the drive back to the Lodge and parked up for a tour of the four hides that overlook La Rocina. Here we saw the usual Egrets and White Storks along with Red-crested Pochard, more Glossy Ibis and waders such as Black-winged Stilt, Redshank and Common Sandpiper. Birds of Prey included Black and Red Kite, Marsh Harrier and our first Montagu’s Harrier of the visit. During the walks in-between hides were more Woodchat Shrike, seen everywhere so far during our visit, more Bee-eater, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Stonechat and Redstart. Within the various reed beds were various warblers; Great Reed, Sedge, Savi’s and Melodious, plus a song I’m unfamiliar with and will investigate back home, a really excellent day.

Today a sightseeing visit to Savilla, with some unexpected birding bonus’s, but more on that later as it’s time for dinner!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Castro Marim

We never actually managed to get to the local observation point on Friday evening in search of Eagles, and in fact we still haven’t managed to visit as yet, mainly due to getting caught up in beer and conversation in the late afternoons. However, we will definitely get there before our return to the UK on Thursday.

Yesterday morning (Saturday 15th) a walk around the hotel grounds surprisingly produced a nesting Sardinian Warbler and after lunch at the marina we took a drive out to the nearby Isla Cristina to do some sightseeing and a little birding. A walk along the beach produced a nice group of Sanderling, some mobile Little Egret and Little Tern plus White Stork and Flamingo over. Temperatures had risen to 25C by now and the wind had dropped so we took some shelter in a nearby Pine Wood, which produced a pleasant walk back to the car with Azure-winged Magpie, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Serin, and Wood Lark on the way.

Today (Sunday 16th) is our 1st wedding anniversary and like the perfect husband I took my lovely wife on a mornings birding expedition. We took a 40-minute drive over the Ria Guadiana to the Portuguese side of the river to Castro Marim. Leaving the road just prior to the town we came upon a series of lagoons and parked up for a brief walk. Lots of Black-winged Stilt constantly calling overhead, Dunlin and Avocet and the amazing sight of our first Eagle on this visit as a Short-toed came floating over, much to the distress of the nesting Waders. Other birds of note were: Black-eared Wheatear, Sardinian Warbler, Reed Warbler, Sanderling, Common and Green Sandpiper, Bee-eater, the constant Zitting Cisticola, Knot, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, and the usual Cattle and Little Egret.

Driving on skirting the village on the N122 we arrived at our second planned area, which runs alongside the Guadiana. Here there are two sets of saltpans and an area of flood plain for Little Bustard, Lesser Short-toed Larks and Collared Pratincole (pictured), two out of three observed on our visit with two Collared Praticole and three Short-toed Lark, but unfortunately no sign of any Little Bustard! As we continued on, several mosquito bites later, we’d recorded Black Tern, Little Tern, Thekla and Crested Lark, Shelduck, more Flamingo, Raven, Spotted Flycatcher, Kentish, Ringed and Golden Plover, along with the usual selection of Gulls, including Yellow-legged and Mediterranean. Also keeping us company today on our travels were lots of Clouded Yellow Butterfly, always a pleasure to see.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

'Wild Olive'

A slightly longer drive than anticipated yesterday arriving at Acebuche, a reserve within the Donana National Park area at around midday. Acebuche (Wild Olive) was built in 1980 in the style of a traditional fortified farmhouse around a courtyard, on the site of the original farmstead that worked the surrounding area. Paths lead from the courtyard to a series of hides that overlook a number of lakes.

As we drove down to the centre the first species we noticed was the incredible sight of several Bee-eaters flying back and forth from the many Umbrella Pine trees. Dee managed to snap a good few photographs from the car window and even managed two birds perched on the same branch. Arriving at the first hide of the day Red Rumped Swallows were plentiful, flying low across the water and several White Stork nests were also visible with a number of young in each.

As we progressed along the very well maintained paths, all built with decking and surrounded by many flowers and Halimium shrub, another species showing in good numbers was Woodchat Shrike (pictured), and by the end of the day our numbers were well into double figures. During our stay I doubt whether we could look skyward without seeing a Black Kite circling, another species that seemed to be in excellent numbers here. One particular bird call, the Golden Oriole, seemed to taunt us on several occasions, and no matter how many times we went to investigate we could not actually get an eyeball on this illusive character, definitely our bogey bird of the day.

As the afternoon wore on we found the various lakes to be pretty quiet and most of our sightings were in or around the open areas of scrub and within the small Umbrella Pine copse. Stonechat, Crested and Thekla Lark, Subalpine Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Corn Bunting, and a lone Ortolan Bunting were all recorded. As we approached the furthest hide of the day A Blue Headed Yellow Wagtail and Savi’s Warbler were seen around the small lake and as we made our way back to the centre a Tree Sparrow and Cirl Bunting were also observed. A final look at one of the earlier hides now produced our first Purple Gallinule, along with two young, Red Crested Pochard, Little and Great Crested Grebe, both with young, and the call of yet another Golden Oriole, which of course we didn’t see!

A two hour drive back to our hotel at Isla Canala added a Common Buzzard, Flamingo and a brief stop off at what has now become our local lagoon saw Hen Harrier, Black Winged Stilt, Dunlin, Sanderling, Little Stint and both Cattle and Little Egret.

Today is Dee’s choice for a day out so we intend to stay local with a nice beach walk, followed by lunch at the local marina, but this evening were off in search of Eagles to a well known and local observation point!!!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


After all the ash problems over Portuguese airspace in recent days we departed Birmingham arriving in Faro on time and thankfully without delay, in fact the whole journey was pretty painless. Having picked up our hire car at the airport we took the 90-minute drive over the border and into Spain, arriving at the Riu Atlantico Hotel on the Costa Del La Luz at around midday local time.

The drive across gave us plenty of opportunity to begin our birding list and the first of note was a White Stork sitting proudly on her nest shortly after leaving the outskirts of Faro. A few hours nap at the hotel and out and about locally to get a feel for the surrounding areas and pick up some snacks for the hotel fridge.

Around the hotel grounds were Serin, Barn Swallow, with the odd Red Rumped, Swift, including a number of Pallid and House Martin. Lots of lagoons to stop and look through with plenty of Black Winged Stilt on numerous nests, along with Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Redshank, and Dunlin. Egrets too with Little and Cattle, plus a Marsh Harrier hunting close by. Plenty of Crested Lark, a few Little Tern fishing and 3 White Stork before returning to the hotel for dinner after our first brief sortie.

An excellent start to our week in Spain and as I write my first post thinking of a nice bath followed by dinner the thunder is beginning to rumble in the distance. Tomorrow we plan our first whole day with a trip to Donana National Park.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brandon and Spain!!

I spent today birding at Brandon with the usual Tuesday bunch on yet another chilly May day. I'm always struck when on site at what an amazing diverse habitat we have at Brandon and with most things now approaching full bloom it's looking near it's best.

No real additions to the species count on site at present with the recent Wood Sandpipers looking as though they've moved on. The 3 young Oystercatcher appear to be still in tact, but I'm a little worried with regard to the amount of Crows we have around, it's a full time job for the parents of vunerable young such as Oystercatcher and Lapwings, they literally need to be on the ball 24/7. Another new family which appeared yesterday are 2 Great Crested Grebe chicks, which were being carried in true Grebe style on the back of the mother on East Marsh Pool, the male constantly fishing for provisions.
Having built a couple of Shelduck nesting holes on the main pool earlier in the year we were delighted to see a pair (pictured) taking a good deal of interest yesterday morning, with both birds venturing in. This would be an excellent coo and a first for Brandon if these two were to take up residence. Plenty of Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk taking to the the thermals, joined at one stage by a couple of Ravens, but the Hobby, which I know are on site, are being very illusive. One final mention in relation to some late stayers, I recorded a lone Snipe, 2 male Shoveler and a pair of Teal during my visit yesterday, a little unusual for this time of year but then so too is the weather!
Well that's it for Brandon for several days as I hope to be posting from Spain and Portugal over the coming week, ash cloud permitting. If your a Twitter like me and would like to keep an eye on my travels then you can follow me Here or simply stay tuned to Birding Afloat.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marsh Warbler?

I certainly don't count myself as a twitcher but when something comes up in say a 20 mile radius of my mooring I'm usually there. A phone call, firstly from Denis Woodward and then from Jim Rushforth sent me over to Coome Abbey Country Park for a reported Marsh Warbler (library Picture).

Well done to the Coombe Abbey Ranger who'd marked out a path across two fields which led Jim, my friend Dave who happened to be visiting from Spain, and I straight to the singing bird which was located on Linley Bank, a normally closed area of the park. We arrived and joined in the gathering of fellow birders who listened intently with occasional views as the bird moved from the reed bed to a small willow tree offering a brief glimpse. Having stayed for around 45 minutes listening and watching intently I left the area convinced, like the other birders present, that I'd had a Marsh Warbler. This included Jim Rushforth, who heard the song and saw the bird, and who has first hand experience of previous birds, having actually ringed one some years ago. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that later in the evening doubts were already beginning to be cast in relation to the validity of the bird.

Was this a Marsh Warbler? - Having read the Marsh Warbler thread I can only offer the following.

What struck me immediately was the sheer varied repertoire of what is for me quite a mysterious Warbler, easily confused with its near relative the Reed Warbler unless singing, and especially so on migration. Tones of Blackbird, Blue Tit and Chaffinch to name but a few came through unmistakably. Is the bird too early as mentioned in the thread? Again I believe there is always an exception to the rule, having located a Sedge Warbler at Brandon on March 27th of this year! A look in the Collins 2nd addition also has the bird arriving Mid April - September in the UK. Having spoken again to Jim, who has now studied the pictures in detail, and of course was there on site with me, I'm still with Marsh Warbler.

The Marsh Warbler for me will remain something of an enigma, but I'm of the opinion that those who doubt it was a genuine bird will have to deliver some compelling evidence to dissuade me from believing it was, particularly those who weren't even there! As I'm not that interested in tick lists or year lists and birding for me is simply the pure enjoyment, I'm not bothered either way, It was just a real pleasure to sit listening to the mimicry of this astonishing little Warbler!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Wood Sandpiper

After posting earlier today (Saturday 8th) I recieved a text message about 4pm regarding 2 Wood Sandpiper which had dropped in on East Marsh Pool, Brandon. Having missed yesterday evenings visit of a single bird, and no sign of any during this mornings visit, I certainly had no intention of missing this opportunity. With this in mind I downed tools on the weekly chores and made straight for Brandon, informing Jim Rushforth our site recorder on route.

I'm delighted to say that by the time I arrived some 25 minutes later both birds were showing well on Willow Island, East Marsh Pool, so too was Jim who arrived shortly before me. This is in fact another first for me at Brandon, having missed last years brief visit by a single bird and I should give thanks also to Iain Brown who posted the siting very swifty on the brandon birding site, I returned home a happy bear.


Thursday 6th May :
On a chilly Thursday at Brandon we managed Grasshopper Warbler on Newlands early on, and starting work at around 9.30am we were able to complete further work on the Baldwin Hide willow screens. During a check of one of my 'rufugia' a Grass Snake was found basking, somewhere in the region of about 18inches in size, and probably a male due to the swellings in the vent. The bird of the day for me was a Peregrine Falcon, which I caught site of high up whizzing across East Marsh Pool in search of Hirundines.
Saturday 8th May :
This morning at Brandon, with winter making an unexpected return to the UK, I was fully prepared having rooted my thermals back out of the wardrobe.
Last nights reported Wood Sandpiper on East Marsh Pool was nowhere to be found when I arrived at around 6.45am, but a lull in the rain allowed me to have a good look around Sheep Field and New Hare Covert. No sign of Lesser Whitethroat once again but the usual Warblers were in good song, even in the face of a rather nasty northerly breeze, and a Goldcrest was calling too when I passed through the Covert.

A Cuckoo calling in the big dead tree at Carlton Pool but the Teal Hide probably produced the best of the day with 2 Hobby, firstly skimming the top of the hide, and then settling briefly in one of the dead trees before making off again. During coffee in the Big Hide a pair of Shelduck, which we'd noticed flying over while watching the Hobbies, landed for a brief stay before flying East. 4 Common Tern were on the South raft and a lone Snipe was also on Willow Island, plus the usual good numbers of Little Ringed Plover (5), 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Redshank and 4 Oystercatcher. I was also pleased to see that the Oystercatcher chicks, which first appeared on Thursday, now number 3 and were being treated regularly with worms by the hard working male. A Yellow Wagtail was also observed on Willow Island before I arrived.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Slow Start

Quite a slow start to May for me on the birding front, especially after such a fantastic April, but with a few business commitments in London now out of the way, I look forward to spending more time in the field, particularly at Brandon. Plus I also have my trip to Costa Del La Luz, Spain to look forward to next week.
On Tuesday I managed a full days birding at Brandon Marsh, but to be honest with the sharp drop in temperature, hard frost early on and the wind backing North, I didn't really expect too much. With all the regular summer species now on site I'm on the look out for the more unusual visitors, and of course the first young of the year. I'm happy to report that plenty of Goslings are now appearing with both Canada and Greylag in evidence, plus at least 2 broods of Lapwing (pictured) are also on the loose and Moorhen have also been reported, but I personally haven't picked any Moorhen or Coot up as yet. Also imminent are Oystercatcher and Great Crested Grebe which have both been sitting for sometime.
A few concerns currently with the number of Common Tern on site still very low, and only a single Cuckoo from my observations, but it's still a little early for any major worries. However, the numbers of Warbler species is really something to get excited about with plenty of Garden Warbler also arriving recently, and a major influx of Hirundines too, particularly Swift. Our winter visitors have now decreased significantly with very few Shoveler and almost no Teal on site, but there are still a few Snipe to be found, and Gadwall are also in good numbers for the time of year.
Worth noting too that as I post this update I've just received news of 2 male Whinchat reported near the Olive Bench on Newlands.