Monday, June 27, 2016

Brandon - Away-Day

As per usual at this time of year I tend to take a little sabbatical from blogging but interrupt occasionally if there's anything worth telling. On Monday I borrowed the 'Trusts' minibus for another Brandon Marsh jaunt, this time taking 14 of the conservation team to Norfolk for a days birding, Red Kite on route.

With the Norfolk highlight being the Great Knot the obvious place to begin was Holme, where the bird occasionally prefers to start its day before heading off. With a three hour drive getting here, including the usual breakfast stop, it was no surprise to find the bird had departed shortly before our arrival. Of course the day wasn't all about this 'Mega' visitor and so we spent a little time exploring the area.

A few of the team headed west along the boardwalk in search of Turtle Dove, and a few including myself preferring to check out the immediate area. While here a distant bird flying towards us from the marsh appeared at first contact to be a Black-headed Gull but almost immediately the realisation that this was in fact a Skua! In fact it was an Arctic Skua, which drifted right overhead, before breaking east, probably offering the best views I've ever had of this species! A Turtle Dove then flew east, in fact right into the path of a Marsh Harrier, which thankfully paid no interest. Looking out to sea a dozen or so Gannet, plus Little Tern, Sandwich Tern and a large raft of Common Scoter. It was at this time that news came through of the Great Knot, which was now at RSPB Titchwell.

Great Knot at RSPB Titchwell - Thanks to John Osbourne!
We arrived at Titchwell, pretty rapidly, having rounded up the team post haste and It wasn't long before we found ourselves looking across the fresh marsh in search of the 'Mega'. A task in itself, with at least 1000 or so Knot to scan! The word was that the bird was towards the rear from our standpoint, so the obvious answer was to relocate and view from the 'Parrinder Hide'. A good decision as not long after we'd located the bird, albeit fast asleep! The above picture shows our view of the bird initially but thankfully better views of the bird on the move were obtained later in the day! Of course there are some excellent photographs to be found on social media, including HERE on Penny Clarke's blog.

Also of note while at the reserve a summer plumage Spotted Redshank and various counts of Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Little-ringed Plover, Dunlin, and a record of ten Red-crested Pochard on Patsy's Pool. Marsh Harriers included at least three juveniles and lunch on the beach while sea-watching produced: Little Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Little Gull and Common Scoter.

Always nice to see Grey Partridge in the English countryside!
From Titchwell a stop at Cholsey Drying Barns included Yellowhammer, Corn BuntingGrey Partridge and Yellow Wagtail and further brief stops at March Farmers and Eldernell in Cambridgeshire before fish and chips at Eye! Although a good number of Little Egret at Marsh Farmers, no Great Whites during our stay, although a Cuckoo was nice to see in flight and a couple of Painted Lady butterfly and my first Scarce Chaser dragonfly are also worthy of note.

Scarce Chaser - Although quite worn my 1st of the season!
Eldernell produced a single Common Crane, along with Hobby and Marsh Harrier, plus some superb views of a hunting Barn Owl.

John Osbourne's excellent photo of Barn Owl at Eldernell!

Species Seen:

Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose,Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Grey Partridge, Pheasant, Gannet, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Hobby, Moorhen, Coot, Common Crane, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Little-ringed Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed, Knot, Curlew, Great Knot, Arctic Skua, Black-headed Gull, Little Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Little Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Swift, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Robin, Blackbird, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow,
Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting

Monday, June 13, 2016

Birding Spain - June Visit!

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 10, 2016

Birding Spain - El Chorro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diary Update #6 - Birding Spain

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Birding Spain - Guadalhorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater Flamingo on the Laguna Grande

Monday, June 06, 2016

Diary Update #48

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next stop Spain....

Friday, June 03, 2016

Diary Update #47

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

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

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

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

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

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