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.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Diary Update #42

Brandon Marsh seemed strangely devoid of many birds when I arrived this morning for a first look at East Marsh Pool from Wright Hide!!

However, by the time I'd moved around to Teal Hide and East Marsh Hide the numbers had picked up a little with a single Redshank on Teal Pool, plus (3) Shelduck, (2) Little-ringed Plover, single Ringed Plover and (7) Oystercatcher on East Marsh, this includes the three youngsters who seem to be doing well. (6) Mute Swan cygnets remain, (6) Common Tern, and a single Lapwing chick was also recorded. Other highlights included my first Brown Hawker Dragonfly of the year and a Red Kite, which drifted across Alban's Reedbed around 10ish and later a Hobby over the 'Tip' area!

Red-tipped Clearwing Moth
After repairing the Kingfisher perch at West Marsh (please STOP emailing me now!!) I spent a little time with Dave Mount looking for Dragonflies and Butterflies, during which time Dave came across the above Red-tipped Clearwing Moth. Thanks to Paul Cashmore for the ID and it would seem this was an excellent find for the reserve so early in the season, so well done Dave!

Also of interest a few Froghoppers but only a small amount of Butterflies on the wing in the overcast conditions: (2) Green-vein White, (3) Orange Tip, single Red Admiral and (2) Brimstone.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Diary Update #41

A couple of visits to Brandon Marsh since returning from Spain and I'm always amazed once I'm back home at how the vegetation has grown in only a few short weeks. While I was away I missed the wader-fest and tern-fest that occurred during my absence, but was rewarded to a degree by a lone Avocet which visited East Mash Pool today!

Record shot of Avocet on East Marsh Pool, Brandon Marsh today!
Prior to my visit to Brandon most of my time today was spent at Stockton Cutting in search of butterflies and dragonflies, in particular Hairy Dragonfly and Small Blue, which should be on the wing by now. I'd bumped into Richard Mays and Dave Cox at Napton Reservoir earlier, best here a couple of Lesser Whitethroat and then headed off to Stockton Cutting where Richard and Dave joined me a little later.

Hairy Dragonfly - Two seen today and a year first!
With the temperature already up to a nice 18C it wasn't long before an initial search found a single Small Blue on the wing. As I was photographing this particular individual, which had now settled a dragonfly whizzed past, two year firsts in the bag, a Hairy Dragonfly, which had also settled for a photograph!

Small Blue - Brilliant little butterfly!
An excellent hour or so with Green Hairstreak, Dingy Skipper and Holly Blue to add to the list before Richard and Dave arrived, Dave finding the only Grizzled Skipper of the day and Richard a Blue-tailed Damselfly.

Green Tiger Beetle!
Other species of note during an excellent visit included various numbers of Brimstone, Red Admiral, Green-vein White, Orange Tip and thanks to the moth boys Burnet Companion. I was also intrigued with the Green Tiger Beetle, and after the Wikipedia that is Richard and Dave, I now know all there is to know about them!

Holly Blue - One seen today.

Green Hairstreak - At least four today!

Small Blue

Dingy Skipper - At least 20 today!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Birding Spain - Final Day

With thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon Dee and I decided to spend our final day of this visit retracing our steps at Castelló d'Empúries. We'd really enjoyed the walk here on Tuesday and in particular watching the Rollers. The walk is a pleasant one with varied habitat, not too strenuous as its quite flat and has a hide halfway around for shelter in case the heavens open!

Marsh Harrier
We parked again at the three bridges to investigate and Purple Heron, Cattle Egret and Little Egret were noted, a distant Cuckoo and the Great Reed Warblers were still going well. Unlike our last visit in full sun today's weather was perfect for raptors, plenty of thermals and around 50% cloud cover. In fact it wasn't long before our first raptor drifted through, a Short-toed Eagle, which hovered for a while in the breeze. Next a Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, which perched up for a while and then great views of an Eleanora's Falcon, which passed through at pace.

Roller - wonderful birds to watch!
After parking up we set off on the 3km circular route, the usual Nightingales and Corn Buntings a plenty! Under the olive groves two or three Crested Lark and a Serin was taking a bath in a large puddle. Like our last visit here Quail were heard but remained unseen. As we expected the heavens did indeed open but by this time we were in sight of the hide and sought refuge.

Spoonbill - One of three on the lagoon
Three Spoonbill were feeding on the lagoon, nine Bee-eaters were noisily passing by and a couple of Little-ringed Plover on the mud patches.

Roller - Better photo opportunities today!
As the rain subsided, with just a few rumbles of thunder we made our way back. Things were pretty lively after the rain, a second Black Kite, Marsh Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Hoopoe and then some great views of Roller, in fact four in the vicinity. A Stonechat kept a keen eye on us for a while and then a Rock Sparrow, which I didn't actually click at first until seeing an image on Dee's camera this evening.

Dee's Rock Sparrow - All the hallmarks fit!
Finally, a quick stop at a second lagoon on route home to register Greater Flamingo for the visit, before drawing an end to a really fantastic fortnight in NE Spain!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Birding Spain - Penultimate Day!

Our attempts yesterday to get as high as possible in some known areas for Wallcreeper were once again thwarted by low cloud and heavy rain. However, we did manage to get up to around 2,080 meters to Coll de Pal and the few birds we did encounter in-between a rare clear spell were quality: Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture, Ortolan Bunting and Peregrine Falcon, but sadly with the weather still unsettled for the rest of our stay we'll leave the Wallcreeper for another day!

Thwarted once again at high level!
A bonus to the low cloud was a number of Alpine Swifts over the Villa when we arrived back and some excellent views of Subalpine Warbler, which are definitely nesting in the grounds.

A nearby sign read: YOU ARE HERE - WE ARE NOT!!
Today, our penultimate day here in NE Spain, Dee and I decided to spend the morning searching out a few species we hadn't quite connected with during this visit. We'd been told of a good area for Spectacled Warbler, which happened to be near a military installation in the Cap de Creus area!

Melodious Warbler
We actually found the area in question pretty easily and drove as far as we were allowed. Great habitat and immediately it was apparent that Corn Bunting and even Linnet were abundant. A Stonechat perched up for a while and a few Sardinian Warblers were grating away nearby.

Several Dartford Warblers but never for long!!
We spent an enjoyable hour or so in glorious weather and hit onto our target birds without too much effort. Several sightings of Dartford Warbler and then finally, after hearing one or two, a brief but good view of the illusive Spectacled Warbler. While here a Melodious Warbler was once again singing away but with food calling we headed off down into the coastal town of Roses for lunch.

Marsh Harrier - Look what the storm blew in!
After an extended lunch in a beach-side café we headed back to Estany Europa, which thankfully is on route home, as the thunderstorms began to roll in! We parked next to the depuradora (treatment plant) and here a large group of Black-headed Gulls, along with a dozen or so Whiskered Terns were at rest. In a nearby field around six or so Cattle Egret and a lone Squacco Heron. A Marsh Harrier was hunting over the reedbeds and a pair of Red-crested Pochard on the pools. Finally a few Bee-eaters and Monk Parakeets before the deluge, which is when we called it a day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Birding Spain - Aiguamolls de l'Empordà Pt2

Having visited Natural Parc of Aiguamolls de l'Empordà for the first time on Saturday Dee and I returned today to cover the areas we'd missed around this vast Natural Parc and to try and catch up on a few missed species.

White Stork - An icon of the area!
We began near the River Muga and drove along the C-260 to the southeast corner of Castelló d'Empúries. Here there are three bridges with reeds and open water that are well worth investigating. Three raptors circling overhead turned out to be Common Buzzard and within the reeds Cetti's Warbler and the grating song of Great Reed Warbler. At least four Little Egret, Cuckoo calling and we unfortunately spooked a Purple Heron, which took flight and perched for a while on a nearby tree, a couple of White Stork flew overhead.

Woodchat Shrike - Always a delight!
About a half mile further on the terrain breaks out and offers some excellent habitat with flower meadow, trees, rocky areas and olive groves. There is an excellent walk, around 3km and in the gorgeous conditions Dee and I thoroughly enjoyed our time here. First species of note was a Woodchat Shrike, then two birds on the overhead wires turned out to be Lesser Kestrel, five seen in total. Plenty of butterflies on the wing mostly Wall Brown, Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral and Painted Lady, plus one or two Small Heath. A couple of Melodious Warblers were in full song and even a Common Chiffchaff joined in.

Record (heat-haze) shots of Roller - thanks to Dee!
More birds took the eye and in particular two, which turned out to be European Roller, in fact there were probably four in the vicinity while we were here. We stayed for a while to enjoy the birds and then took refuge from the sunshine for a while in a hide overlooking L'Estany de Vilaüt. Although there was still plenty of water here the best we managed was Greenshank, Redshank and Wood Sandpiper. When we emerged from the hide a Short-toed Eagle was perched on one of the pylons before moving off after a short stay.
Hoopoe - Heard most of the time but strangely seldom seen!
As per usual Nightingales were singing from every bush and Zitting Cisticola overhead! By the time we'd returned to the car Corn Bunting, Sardinian Warbler, Tree Sparrow, Crested Lark, Stonechat, Serin, Hoopoe and a Common Quail calling were all recorded.

Black-crowned Night Heron at La Massona
After a glorious morning and early afternoon the weather had begun to deteriorate and so our last ports of call were the hides at La Massona and Estany Europa. La Massona was pretty quiet but yielded Squacco Heron and our first Night Heron of the visit. The drive across to Estany Europa produced some excellent views of Golden Oriole and the pools and reedbeds held Little Bittern and a few additions to our holiday tally including: Kingfisher, Red-crested Pochard and even a Mute Swan.

Record shot of Bee-eaters at Estany Europa!
As we headed back to the car for our journey back to the Villa a surprise in the form of a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and around a dozen or so Bee-eaters delighted us while feeding over the grassland area.

Diary Update #5 - Birding Spain

An altogether better start to the day weatherwise, with the low cloud and rain gone and the sun breaking through things look a little more promising!

A better start to the day!
My morning walk had the usual suspects and this included some half decent views of Golden Oriole. The Nightingales are still very vocal and the Nuthatch's have also been going well, probably saving it up from yesterday! Further down the track a Western Bonelli's Warbler was very accommodating, in fact within feet of where I was standing and singing well too.

Western Bonelli's Warbler in full throw!
Other species of note this morning included: Firecrest, Crested Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Serin, Blackcap and a White Wagtail on the patio!

Western Bonelli's Warbler

Monday, May 09, 2016

Montgrí Massif - A day of conundrums!

We awoke this morning to low cloud and heavy rain and wondered for an instant if in fact we were still in Spain. That said we were well aware that the weather in the foothills of the Pyrenees would be nothing like the south of the country. After breakfast we checked the weather reports in more detail and discovered that the rain was here for the day. However, a stiff easterly was blowing in off the sea down on the coast near L'Escala and this might offer an opportunity for a decent sea-watch!

Black Redstart taking shelter under the balconies of L'Escala
We arrived in L'escala mid morning and after a coffee and a look around the town headed down to the marina. Walking along the sea wall a Common Sandpiper took flight from the rocks, White Wagtail, Grey Heron and a number of Yellow-legged Gulls were also noted. A selection of apartments overlook the marina and here a Black Redstart was sheltering from the rain under one of the balconies. So too about 20 or so House Martin.

View from Punta Ventosa - A challenging encounter!
From here we drove up towards Punta Montgó an area of pine and maquis (scrubland vegetation). Here a few stops produced Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Crested Tit and Serin. After a further drive along dirt tracks we came to an abandoned house and paused for a while to check out a large area of meadowland, which it seems once belonged to the now derelict house. While scoping a Peregrine Falcon flew through, along with several Common Swift and then Thekla Lark calling, two of which we located after a short while. Also heard while here Hoopoe, which we didn't connect with. At the end of the track we reached Punta Ventosa a high cliff area which overlooks the sea and a great place for a sea-watch and packed lunch, thankfully the rain had become intermittent but the wind was challenging!

The coasts of Catalonia are one of the few areas in the world where both Yelkouan and Balearic Shearwaters can be compared side by side. In the Girona N coast, however, Yelkouan (or at least Yelkouan-like) outnumber the concentrations of Balearic, particularly in spring. Now the question arises did I see Yelkouan today? Well quite probably! However, what I can tell you is that there were dozens of Shearwaters from our observation area and I can undoubtedly say yes to Cory's Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater but as to Yelkouan, lack of experience of the species, height of our observation area making it difficult to compare size and somewhat challenging conditions, who knows! However, while here European Shag and some excellent views of Alpine Swift, Pallid Swift and Common Swift! Another conundrum was a Falcon species which darted through, my first thoughts were Red-footed Falcon, which do pass here on migration or was it a Hobby? To quick and too fast!!

Woodchat Shrike - On a day of few photo opportunities!
On the drive back to ground level several more stops produced a nice pair of Rock Sparrow, Woodchat Shrike, Wood Lark, Golden Oriole and some locals surely must have Peacocks!!
An enjoyable but entirely frustrating day!

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Birding Spain - Aiguamolls de l'Empordà

On completion of our first week here in Spain, where did that go? We headed towards the coast once more to visit the Natural Parc of Aiguamolls de l'Empordà. This Natural Park protects the most important remaining wetlands on the northern Costa Brava coast. Vital as a staging area for a wide variety of water birds, this network of freshwater and brackish lagoons, marshes, grazing meadows, rice fields etc. is an area we've been looking forward to visiting.

A few members of the White Stork colony
On the drive up to the nature centre we checked out a few open fields for Stone Curlew and weren't disappointed, with a couple of birds located. A Cuckoo was also perched up on a nearby fence, Zitting Cisticola overhead and distant calls of Bee-eater. As you approach the centre the amazing bill-clattering of White Storks alerts you to the large colony which resides here.

Whiskered Tern over the open waters
After checking out the centre we headed off onto the reserve, which is well equipped with observation areas, hides and is well signposted. The first hide provided an array of species and got the visit off to a terrific start. A couple of Great White Egrets first and at least a half dozen Whiskered Tern were feeding over the open water, a single Black Tern mingled in.

One of three Squacco Heron seen today!
Two Collared Pratincole were also over the pools, along with the usual Hirundines and Swifts, including Pallid Swift. The reedbed was alive with noise, the sedate sounds of a Reed Warbler muffled out by the gruffer song of Great Reed Warbler. Cetti's Warbler next, then Water Rail and the first of three Squacco Herons appeared out in the open!

Lost count of Nightingales today!
The 6km walk had a Nightingale singing every 20 yards, or so it seemed and sometimes showing very well. Along the tree lined paths observation areas had been thoughtfully cut and here Fallow Deer could easily be observed, some bouncing through the rice fields.

Fallow Deer
Occasionally a Yellow (Blue-headed) Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae  would appear on top of the stalks and our first Purple Heron of the day, at least six in total. One area held five Cattle Egret, with a single Little Egret for company and a lone Hoopoe flew past. As we set off once more after having lunch on one of the observation decks a Little Bittern literally rose above the reed bed only yards from us. Terrific views as the bird disappeared into the undergrowth.

Dee's excellent photo of Melodious Warbler.
We paused for a while at another observation area, where a Melodious Warbler was hammering out his song. We finally connected after what seemed an age and enjoyed some excellent views before moving on. Dee managed a superb photo, dragging herself away from a European Green Lizard she'd been trying to photograph!

A resting Collared Pratincole
We finally emerged onto the Estanys del Mata, a large marshy area which was literally awash with waders! Black-winged Stilt were abundant and so too Wood Sandpiper. Also recorded in our first half hour were various numbers of Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Redshank, Snipe, Little-ringed Plover, Ringed Plover and a solitary Glossy Ibis was feeding out towards the middle.

Wood Sandpipers everywhere during our visit.
After a while we caught up with a group of birders who seemed to be interested in a particular area and thankfully one or two were English. Birding is indeed a lottery as we arrived just in time to see a Red-throated Pipit, which offered excellent scope views before moving off. Shortly after at least three Collared Pratincole at rest and the final birds of note for the visit included Temminck's Stint and Marsh Harrier, plus Pied Flycatcher, Serin and a Golden Oriole was heard on route back to the centre.

A few other record images of the day

Black-winged Stilt

Glossy Ibis
Tree Sparrow

Purple Heron

Yellow (Blue-headed) Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae

European Green Lizard