Sunday, December 31, 2017

πŸ“– Diary Update #78 ~ 2017 IN REVIEW

❄️ ⛄️ ⛅9C Sunday 31st December 2017 ~ To draw a line under this year's wildlife travels Dee and I spent an enjoyable afternoon at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire. What a lovely way to end the year spending it in the company of several Grey Seal pups, followed by a long winters coastal walk!

Grey Seal Pup ~ Donna Nook
Once again its been a year of travels that have produced some wonderful memories, which I'm glad to say have been recorded both here on my blog and my accompanying Flickr site! My visits to Spain during 2017 were probably my best on record, producing some incredible moments. These included another visit to Tarifa to witness the wonderful raptor migration across the Straits of Gibraltar and stumbling across over fifty Ring Ouzels feeding on a 'berry oasis' high up in the sierra de Loja!

Spain 2017 ~ Ring Ouzels in the Sierra de Loja...

Short-toed Snake Eagle over Tarifa
Other than visits to Spain and France we once again crossed the Atlantic, with trips to both Canada and Alaska! Alaska, as you would imagine, was simply stunning, the scenery breathtaking and our wildlife experiences incredible. We spent our time exploring the city of Anchorage, where Pacific Loons can be found on many of the local lagoons. Driving south to Homer Spit, on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula and trekking around the many wilderness areas!

Brown Bear in Alaska ~ You never know whats around the corner!!
The Incredible Linx ~ Alaska 2017
Canada, of course, is always on our radar and once again our time around the Vancouver area, catching up with friends and visiting some of the many birding locations was well spent.

My Dartford Warbler find at Bubbenhall Meadows
Finally, not forgetting the local patch and this year I would have to say has been one of the best on record for me during the ten years or so of living in Warwickshire. Personal highlights included seeing several of the unprecedented influx of Hawfinch to the area, a brief encounter with a Sabines Gull at Napton Reservoir and of course personally finding a Dartford Warbler at Bubenall Meadows in November! Other notables locally included: Bearded Tit, Grey Phalarope and Razorbill at Draycote Water, the latter a first for Warwickshire!

Bearded Tit at Napton Reservoir

Still shot of my Sabine Gull at Napton Reservoir!

Finally, amid all my wonderful memories I sadly said goodbye to my brilliant mum in June of this year! At almost 97 she was always there for me and an inspiration...

Winifred Yates 
1920 ~ 2017

Friday, December 29, 2017

πŸ“– Diary Update #77 ~ RSPB Frampton

❄️ ⛄️ ⛅1C Friday 29th December 2017 ~ My final few blog entries of the year come from our usual New Years base in Lincolnshire. With the weather set to clear for the afternoon, Dee and I took the 40-minute drive across to RSPB Frampton Marsh, one of our favourite reserves. Our timing could not have been more perfect, with the heavy rain clearing as we arrived at the car park to produce a beautiful, if not bitterly cold, afternoon.

This, in my opinion, is one of the best-managed sites in the UK and never fails to produce, particularly if you're simply looking for some good winter birding with Wildfowl, Waders and Raptors all on offer. What was even more encouraging to me was the fact that I actually made it all the way around the Wash Trail, this, in fact, my longest walk since damaging my back several weeks ago.

Stonechat ~ This colourful male near the Visitor Centre
Along the sea bank, we paused a number of times to check out the salt marshes and here a Merlin perched up and some distant views of a male Hen Harrier were the highlights. Looking back across the reserve a few Little Egret and several large flocks of Golden Plover, Wigeon and Brent Geese, occasionally thrown up into disarray by a marauding Peregrine, which we located several times.

A small group of Ringed Plover, accompanied by a single Turnstone, second from the left!
A short spell in the 360-hide to enjoy some turkey and cranberry sandwiches offered an opportunity to check out the waders which included, in addition to the above, Ruff, RedshankBlack-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover (2), Curlew and Lapwing.

Only three Black-tailed Godwits noted during our stay!
Back at the centre after a hot drink, we hung around until dusk in the hope of Barn Owl, which sadly didn't materialise. Although additions to the day list while here included Barnacle Goose (2), Stoat, Goldeneye pair,  plus House Sparrows, single Tree Sparrow and Goldfinch around the feeders.

Friday, December 08, 2017

πŸ“– Diary Update #76 ~ Continued Recovery!

❄️ ⛄️ ⛅1C Friday 8th December 2017 ~ Over the past few weeks I've continued my recovery but like all injuries, it seems like two steps forward and one step back! That said, I've managed a few short trips out which have included visits to Brandon Marsh, Napton Reservoir and today's brief visit to Draycote Water, after which I headed off once more for an hour at Brandon Marsh.

Hawfinch ~ A very confiding bird at Draycote Water today!

My day started at Draycote Water with the sole intention of connecting with a Hawfinch seen in the Country Park, which Richard Mays had recently discovered. On arrival, I immediately bumped into Bob Hazell who thankfully guided me to the correct location. After a brief catchup, Bob headed off to check out the reservoir and left me waiting in anticipation. Actually, I was only there for 10-minutes before my target bird flew into the treetops. I've been lucky enough to see several of this year's Hawfinch influx but a photographic opportunity had thus far eluded me. Thankfully this particular bird was much more confiding and gave several reasonably good views!

 During a recent visit to Napton Reservoir showing in much larger numbers now!
Job done I headed off to Brandon and made my way straight down to the East Marsh Hide. Best on offer while there was (4) Snipe, (5) Goldeneye 3 drake and (5) Goosander 2 drake, although the latter may have been seven, with more birds (possibly moving across) onto Grebe Pool?

Young Muntjac Deer ~ Brandon Marsh
Worth adding is the above photograph of a baby Muntjac Deer which I managed to take on my Canon SX50 from the Carlton Hide on Sunday 3rd. In contrast to all other species of deer in Britain, Muntjac Deer do not have a defined breeding season (rut). Instead, they breed all year round!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

πŸ“– Diary Update #75 ~ Brandon Marsh

4C Wednesday 29th November 2017 ~ As hoped for I finally managed to fit in a short visit to Brandon Marsh today. Thankfully, one of the advantages of working with the conservation team is the option to park on the reserve in the lower car park, so with the current situation, less strain on the back and legs.

Lesser Redpoll ~ Brandon Marsh
I spent an enjoyable 90-minutes or so in the East Marsh Hide, despite a biting north-easterly wind blowing directly through the flaps! As I walked gingerly along the central marsh track heading for the hide a small flock of (22) Golden Plover flew through, unfortunately not dropping down but continuing on towards the direction of the airport. Another small flock, this time mixed Siskin/Redpoll, were busy feeding in the alder and along the ground on the windfall.

A very obliging Snipe in front of East Marsh Hide!
From the hide a count of (11) Snipe, including one bird directly in front of the hide, Goldeneye (pair), single drake Pochard and (45) Wigeon. Also of note were several Fieldfare, Redwing and a Water Rail, the latter heard only but it was a real pleasure to be out in the open once more!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

πŸ“– Diary Update #74 ~ Thank You!

4C Tuesday 28th November 2017 ~ Thank you to several of my blog buddies for your emails and messages regarding the lack of updates πŸ˜‰ I can tell you that for a little over two weeks, I've unfortunately been laid up on board the boat suffering once again from some severe back issues! This particular episode was brought on while chainsawing with the Brandon Marsh team a few Thursdays back. Having now received advice from both my GP and a specialist it would seem that sadly my chainsawing days are at an end!

However, I'm happy to report that finally, I can comfortably get back behind the wheel and that over the past few days I've managed to venture out around the local area. On Sunday Dee and I drove into Daventry for a coffee and on route home, at dusk, it was wonderful to see the unmistakable silhouette of two Woodcocks, as they flew across the A425 and onto the Shuckburgh estate! Today an hour at Napton Churchyard and although pretty quiet, the best a couple of Brambling along the footpath, it was just fantastic to be out and about once more. So hopefully as things begin to improve I'll be venturing into our wonderful countryside, seeking out the wildlife and reporting back to my reader before you know it!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

πŸ“– Diary Update #73 ~ Back On Patch!

☁️11C Wednesday 15th November 2017 ~ Back at Brandon Marsh for a couple of hours yesterday, where I was just in time to see a few of the volunteers pulling the second tern raft out of East Marsh Pool. Both rafts are due for refurbishment before next spring. The consequence, of course, was that the pool was almost devoid of wildlife, so I concentrated on the woods and tracks.

Lesser Redpoll ~ Along the Central Marsh Track
Best of the visit, (5) Snipe overhead, 20+ Siskins, Treecreeper, (2) Nuthatch and plenty of winter thrushes. From a photographic opportunity a couple of obliging Redpoll along the central marsh path!

Bearded Tit showing extremely well at Napton Reservoir
Today I spent the morning on the patch and was pleased to see that despite my recent absence it was still yielding well. I was actually gutted when, at Napton Church, I flushed a couple of Hawfinch which were perched up on one of the yew trees at the bottom of the churchyard. They were gone in a flash and I never managed to relocate.

Bearded Tit
I had better luck at Napton Reservoir, where a Pintail was mingled in with several Mallards and the lone Bearded Tit, which was found while I was in Spain was showing incredibly well. While here a Kingfisher flew low over the water, a Water Rail was heard calling and a good passage of Fieldfare and Redwing over.

Monday, November 13, 2017

πŸ“– Diary Update #72 ~ πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ SPAIN 2017

Back aboard the boat after returning home from my final visit to Spain in 2017 I can now reflect on some excellent birding experiences! Beginning with a visit in April for Spring Migration, a visit in September, taking in the incredible raptor migration down in the Straits of Gibraltar and my latest visit, some early winter birding high up in the Sierra de Loja region.

Black Storks ~ Gaining height for the crossing from Gibraltar to Morrocco!
Birds in Spain are diverse and abundant, due to a combination of factors: its geographical location, great variation in the local geography and topography, and a wide range of microclimates present in many regions. The proximity of many habitats, especially on migration corridors leads to a rich mixture of species. If you think of Southern Spain as a bridge to the African continent, where birds from Central & Western Europe can easily access the wintering grounds of the tropical rich zones in Western Africa. The Pyrenees to the north, a door to Europe and many coastal regions as a stop off point for 1000s of migrating shorebirds, not to mention less than a three-hour flight from the UK, you can understand what draws me here!

Rock Bunting ~ Smart little birds..
During my visits, I've enjoyed walking the gravel tracks of Zapata in pitch darkness searching for roosting Red-necked Nightjars ~ Dawn walks at the Rio Guadalhorce Nature Reserve, which lyes on the perimeter of Malaga airport, one of my favourite coastal locations, where anything from Bluethroats to Greater Flamingos can be found ~ Observing the spectacle of 1000s of raptors migrating through the Straits of Gibraltar ~ Scouring the lowland fields and plains for Bustard, Harriers, and Stone Curlews ~ Or simply sitting on my buddy's terrace just after sunset, beer in hand, listening to NightingalesEagle Owls and Scops Owls calling.

View at Sierra de Loja
However, my favourite has to be birding at almost 5,000ft with species such as Alpine Accentor, Black Wheater, Ring Ouzel, Rock Buntings, Vultures, Eagles, Larks and Choughs for company!

Of course, this is all made possible due to the patience of my incredible wife Dee, a cracking birder and great companion and my buddy Dave, a non-birder, who I drag endlessly around the country in the pursuit of wildlife! For this, I'm eternally grateful!! Here's to my first trip of 2018 and a return to the Pyrenees and Northern Spain in May!

Some of my favourite images of  Spain 2017...
The Zitting Cisticola or streaked Fantail Warbler (Cisticola juncidis)
Ring Ouzel ~ Sierra de Loja

Slender-billed Gull

Iberian Grey Shrike

Black Wheatear
Black Redstart

Thekla Lark
Plain Tiger ~ Nothing plain about this!

Short-toed Snake Eagle

Glossy Ibis 
Birds Recorded in 2017...

Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Marbled Duck, Teal, Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, White-headed Duck, Red-legged Partridge, Black-necked Grebe, Little Grebe, Balearic Shearwater, Gannet, Cormorant, Little Bittern, Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, White Stork, Black Stork, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Griffon Vulture, Osprey, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Common Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Black-winged Kite, Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Purple Swamphen, Little Bustard, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Stone Curlew, Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Snipe, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Common Tern, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Eagle Owl (h), Tawny Owl (h), Scops Owl (h), Little Owl, Red-necked Nightjar, Swift, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Hoopoe, Kingfisher, Bee-eater, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Woodlark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Sand Martin, Crag Martin, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Alpine Accentor, Robin, Nightingale, Bluethroat, Redstart, Black Redstart, Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Whinchat, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, Ring Ouzel, Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Wren, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Crested Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Chough, Raven, Spotless Starling, Rock Sparrow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, Linnet, Greenfinch, Siskin, Goldfinch, Serin, Common Crossbill, Rock Bunting, Corn Bunting

Friday, November 10, 2017

πŸ“– Diary Update #71 ~ πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ Sierra Loja Revisited

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ ☀️ 18C Friday 10th November 2017 ~ Leading on from my previous post and Mike's comments we decided to forgo a walk along the Rio Genil and head straight up to Sierra de Loja.

With the day fading fast, after picking up some provisions from the Abades services area we decided to head straight up the dirt track to the top, some 4,900ft! The climb was in fact only about twenty minutes, but what was more galling is the fact that during our visit on Wednesday, we'd turned around only 500 yards from the location Mike had referred to!

Ring Ouzel ~ An amazing spectacle to see so many of these gorgeous birds! 
As we rounded the bend an oasis of Hawthorn, ripe with berries was obviously the reason for so many thrushes, and there were plenty, with over fifty Ring Ouzel! After parking up and setting off on foot we literally didn't know which way to turn. All the species we'd recorded on Wednesday's Visit 
were to be found but there were a few additions including Blue Rock Thrush!

Just a single Redwing in amongst the Ouzels and Blackbirds
We spent a few hours enjoying both the scenery and the birding before the iminent sunset focused us on the descent. It was then that intermingled with the calls of Rock Sparrows and Rock Buntings another call focused us on two birds, Alpine Accentors! Normally very confiding birds but as we approched for a better look they flew up and across the rock face.

Iberian Ibex Capra pyrenaica victoriae
There were several Iberian Ibex to be found scattered on the rocky outcrops, quite robust looking animals and reluctant to move!

Hoopoe on the slopes lit by the setting sun..
The descent was a stop/start affair with plenty more movement and a few more areas to check out, but no additions to our impressive list. We arrived back on terra firma shortly after sunset, breathless!!

Ring Ouzel taken by Dee on the Canon SX... 

One more photo for the road!

πŸ“– Diary Update #70 ~ πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ HuΓ©tor TΓ‘jar

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ ☀️ 18C Friday 10th November 2017 ~ After staying local yesterday (Thursday) and having enjoyed the Sierra de Loja on Wednesday we decided to head back up to the same area, this time heading a little further north on to HuΓ©tor TΓ‘jar for some winter birding.

Common Buzzard ~ Over the fields at HuΓ©tor TΓ‘jar
Just north-west of the town is the railway station Barriada La EstaciΓ³n and the landscape in the immediate vicinity contains farmland, mainly of asparagus but also corn and tomatoes. Of course, at this time of year, a number of fields have been ploughed and some remain stubble offering excellent habitat to explore. From the north of the town, there is a track that runs up to the railway line and time should be spent here scanning.

First birds of note were several Crested Larks and a half dozen Meadow Pipits, these along with a few flocks of very flighty Lapwing, up every few minutes. This was probably due to the above photographed Common Buzzard! There were Skylarks passing overhead occasionally, which also winter in larger numbers here and two Cattle Egrets could be seen at the edge of one field. A huge House Sparrow flock next, feeding along the perimeter of one of the grass tracks and then Dee came up with the first Stone Curlew, one of our target birds for the day!

These are a small portion of the Stone Curlews scattered over the fields but due to distance and heat haze, photography was almost impossible!
It wasn't long after before we began to locate the many wintering birds we'd come to see. Over 150+ scattered around the fields today but this apparently increases to well over a thousand in January! Plenty of Wood Pigeons on the move, Common Kestrel and along the water ditch which contained a few trees and bushes Serin, Goldfinch and a single Chiffchaff. Also of note several White Wagtail and a single Grey Wagtail.

More issues with distance and haze but there are in fact seven Little Bustard in this image ~ Can you spot them?
Hen Harrier ~ An added bonus!
Across the bridge from the station and on to our next target bird, Little Bustard. In fact, we discovered eleven birds almost immediately, thanks to Mick Richardson from Granada Wildlife, who we'd bumped into in the town. The birds were again at distance but offered great scoped views. While enjoying this a Hen Harrier would have passed unnoticed if I hadn't looked behind, wish I had a pound for the number of times that's happened!

While talking to Mike, who I'd last met a few years back while birding at Guadalhorce, he mentioned a fall of Ring Ouzels back up at Sierra de Loja, over fifty he estimated, so off we went... Continued in Update #71...

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

πŸ“– Diary Update #69 ~ πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ Sierra de Loja

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ ☀️ 19C Wednesday 8th November 2017 ~ We arrived at Dave's villa in Mijas around 5pm Tuesday after an enjoyable drive down from Torrevieja. A lazy morning today, just pottering around the terrace enjoying the sunshine before heading off after lunch for Loja, about an hours drive.

View from Sierra de Loja ~ Early snows over the distant peaks!
Sierra de Loja is a limestone massif and its highest point is Sierra Gords at 1,671 metres. It is also an open and beautiful but remote and sparse place. In winter it is covered in snow and ice. The landscape consists of a few trees, low lying scrub and bushes but is mainly short, dry grass, and rocky terrain, the scenery is simply stunning and the birding can be very rewarding. You access the dirt road that leads up to the top at the Los Abades service area exit off the A92 road to Granada.

Corn Bunting ~ Several small groups could be found.
As we began the ascent almost immediately there is an open rocky area and plenty of woodlands to explore. A couple of Short-toed Treecreepers were first on the day list and these closely followed by three Azure-winged Magpies, which in the sunlight are stunningly attractive looking birds but unfortunately, they quickly dispersed. Mistle Thrush, Chaffinch, the now abundant Black Redstarts and a few Blackbirds before on one rocky outcrop the first of six Black Wheatear for the day.

Gorgeous Black Wheatear ~ One of a half-dozen located today.
We now drove up the first section which climbs about 550 meters in less than two kilometres, more Black RedstartsRed-legged Partridge heard and now plenty of Stonechat too! As we reached the main quarry several Crested Larks and in the distance at height two Griffon Vultures enjoying the thermals. There is a watering hole at the quarry, well worth a look and although it was devoid of any birds on this occasion an Iberian Grey Shrike took the eye as it flew down from its perch. Close by the only Ring Ouzel of the day, a female.

Thekla Lark ~ Very similar to Crested, note the shorter bill and distinct streaking on the breast, of course, the call is a clincher!
Arriving at the Charca el Negro, House SparrowsSpotless Starlings and more larks to be found but this time several Thekla Larks. Further along the track, we stopped for a half hour at the 'Fossil Cave' and here three Crag Martin and the first of four Rock Buntings. Overhead we were alerted to five noisy Choughs passing through and below in the rocky grassland a few Rock Sparrows offered good scoped views.

Chough over the 'Fossil Cave'
More Black Redstart, Black Wheatear and Stonechat, before a Sparrowhawk swooped in, trying but failing to snap up one of a number of Corn Bunting. The descent was much the same with plenty of birds to scan through, an excellent afternoon with some quality species!

More images of the day......

Driving down from the 'Fossil Cave'

Male Black Redstart

Distant view of Griffon Vulture

Stonechats Abundant
Birds Recorded...

Red-legged Partridge, Kestrel, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Black Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Iberian Grey Shrike, Griffon Vulture, Sparrowhawk, Chiffchaff, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Mistle Thrush, Chaffinch, Serin, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting, Rock Bunting...