Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 ~ A Year In Focus Part 1

As 2018 draws to a close I thought I'd put together a few slideshows depicting my 'Year in Focus'

The first of which is below and shows Northern Spain and the Pyrenees in May of this year.

Monday, December 24, 2018

πŸ“– #73 ~ Christmas Eve Walk πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ⛄️πŸŽ„

☀️20C Monday 24th December ~ Christmas Eve 2018 ~ Incredibly, just as we settled into our seats for our flight to Malaga after a very painless check-in the pilot announced that the airport was closed! This apparently due to a technical fault in the ATC centre, thus grounding all flights in and out!

Ryanair Dreamliner livery just prior to boarding
Thankfully, after a 2 1/2 wait at the stand, we eventually taxied out, arriving a few hours late at Malaga for our Christmas break none the worst and thankful that our aircraft had actually got into Birmingham in the first place, literally just a few minutes before everything went down!!

Despite the glorious conditions snow has already hit the high Sierras
The weather here in Mijas is simply gorgeous, cloudless skies and a temperature in the low 20's, although it drops like a stone after sunset. A nice leisurely Christmas Eve walk along the boardwalk at La Cala de Mijas produced lots of Gulls and thankfully I had the foresight to take along my trusty Canon SX50. The results of which are below ~ 


Meditteranean Gull

A trio of Audouin's Gulls

More Audouin's Gulls

A trio of Meditteranean Gulls

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

πŸ“– #72 ~ Golden Hour ⛄️

☀️6C Wednesday 20th December 2018 ~ Another visit to Brandon Marsh started quietly enough with a walk around the top and farm reedbeds. Not a lot on offer to be honest with the exception of a couple of Lesser Redpoll high in the poplar. The winter thrushes seem to have moved on, likely due to the fact that they've now thoroughly stripped the hawthorn of their crop and have taken to foraging among the leaf litter and local fields.

Bittern's sudden appearance
I settled into East Marsh Hide a short time later with no preconceptions. Having enjoyed amazing views of the Bittern during my previous two visits and the latest news had the Bittern relocating to Newlands reedbed I didn't expect anything too exciting.

One of several Bittern flight shots

Another flight shot
Therefore, you can imagine my utter surprise when the bird suddenly appeared in the open on the edge of the right-hand reedbed offering some unprecedented views. Unfortunately, as I was busy snapping away the bird suddenly took flight and headed for the channel over to the left. I must have about twenty different photographs of a Bittern in flight but can't offer one with the bird in the full frame due to the close proximity. Frankly, though, I'm delighted with how things turned out, especially with the camera completely on the wrong settings.

Peek-a-Boo ~ An Otter suddenly appears low in the reeds
The excitement didn't end there as shortly after, while all eyes were on the channel, an Otter suddenly popped its head out of the reeds. This presumably flushing the Bittern which burst out of the reedbed before circling and crashing back down, this as a Water Rail scurried across the channel, perhaps in fright. What a cracking visitπŸ˜€

Otter nonchalantly swims off after the mayhem

Caspian Gull ~ Almost went unseen with all eyes on the Bittern!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

πŸ“– #71 ~ Hero Whoopers! ⛄️

☀️3C Sunday 16th December 2018 ~ More exceptional views of the Bittern at Brandon Marsh, which showed well walking along the channel at East Marsh Hide this morning. It was also viewable briefly waterside of the reedbed looking back from the Baldwin Hide as I departed a short while later.

More exceptional views of Bittern at Brandon Marsh
Going walk-about!
Also of note, the four regular visiting Whooper Swans were back on the pool all morning. These along with a residing family group of Mute Swans, the latter of which I have a personal dislike for! Mute Swans are the bullies of the birding world for me and it was not surprising to see the patriarch of the group trying to drown one of its kind, not for the first time. A few years back this particular individual killed another family of five cygnets shortly after they'd fledged.

My hero Whooper Swans

Calm after the storm
Astonishingly the nearby Whoopers suddenly waded into the group of Mutes where a battle erupted, the Whoopers actually managing to dislodge and force apart the battling Mutes, thus rescuing the bird which was being set upon. Respect to those guys!!

Friday, December 14, 2018

πŸ“– #70 ~ Bittern Delight ⛄️

☀️6C Friday 14th November 2018 ~ It's been over a year since I've had such tremendous views of a Bittern at Brandon Marsh. There was a time not so long back when you could sit in East Marsh Hide in great anticipation of seeing one of these iconic birds close up during the winter months, but sadly not in recent years.

Bittern ~ East Marsh Hide 

Bittern in the channel to the left of East Marsh Hide
Therefore I was delighted today to have another opportunity, this after I thought my chance had gone, having been in the Ted Jury Hide when the bird was first seen. I'd returned to the hide to be told 'you should have been here 5 minutes ago'. Still, with great patience (not my best attribute) and in freezing conditions the bird eventually showed a half hour before sunset and it was well worth the wait!

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

πŸ“– #69 ~ Early Winter Surprise ⛄️

☔️☁️12C Wednesday 5th December 2018 ~ Having been away recently and missed some decent sightings I decided that despite the rain I'd spend a few hours at Brandon Marsh in the hope of catching up on things.

The weather was pretty dire so I decided to head straight down to the East Marsh hide and sit for a while. I knew from the Warwickshire Birders Whatsapp group that two Bewick Swans on site at first light had departed but from reports, the birds, along with a group of four Whooper Swans tended to reappear over the course of the morning.

Caspian Gull
There was a good selection of Gull's to scan and almost immediately I came across a Caspian Gull, which I believe has been aged as a 4th calendar year bird, basically almost adult, gull ageing is not my forte but I'm learning!

I spent a good hour before I decided to head down to Carlton Hide, pausing at the Carlton Ditch to listen out for Willow Tit, a regular here. There were several Blackbirds feeding on what's left of the almost depleted Hawthorn crops but a single bird took the eye. To my astonishment, it was a male Ring Ouzel! Due to the weather, I'd only brought my old Canon SX50 but fortunately, I had the foresight to snap a few record shots, before pressing the record button. Apologies on the quality and the panning away from the bird but I wanted to get a perspective on the habitat and a few points of reference, something that sadly I tend to do these days after past experiences with, 'anoraks'!

Still of Ring Ouzel
After the bird appeared to drop to the ground I moved around to the Carlton Hide, where I managed a brief second view to the left of the hide low in Hawthorn. Sadly, it wasn't seen again, despite more eyes joining the search, a very pleasing winter record, Ring Ouzel was last seen at Brandon in 2007.

One of two Bewicks at Brandon today

Whooper Swans on East Marsh
Thankfully both Bewick Swans and four Whooper Swan did indeed return to East Marsh, giving a great opportunity to compare both species together. Also of note: Stonechat along the bank at the main entrance, Grey Wagtail, two Otter sightings and a Mink, the latter of which, despite their beauty is not a welcome sighting for the reserve.

BUBO Listing

Friday, November 30, 2018

πŸ“– #68 ~πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ Late Autumn, Spain 🍁

Following Saturday's visit to Guadalhorce Dave and I decided to have a short walk around Zapata on the Sunday (never bird in Spain on a Sunday if you can avoid it), followed by a trip out to Laguna Fuente de Piedra on Monday.

Zapata ~ Tracks and ford washed away by recent floods
My remaining time of this short break in Spain was spent exploring Zapata, which despite being devastated by the recent rains still continues to produce. Zapata was a real find for me a few years back, thanks to Barbara and Derek Etherton from the Adalusia Bird Society and a great place for seeking out Red-necked Nightjars in the spring and summer. Only 20-minutes drive from the villa this extraordinary habitat runs alongside the Rio Guadalhorce to the north-west fringes of Malaga Airport (basically the opposite side to the reserve at Guadalhorce) it consists of scrubland, scrape, small pines and bushes along with large reedbeds and a ford. Normally you can off road but with the tracks either flooded or washed away I chose to park up in the village and walk, in fact you probably see more that way!

Woodchat Shrike at Fuente de Piedra
Firstly though, Laguna Fuente de Piedra on Monday, the largest in Andalusia at 1,400 ha and best known for it's breeding Greater Flamingos. Unlike Zapata, the lagoon has benefited from the recent rains, including the surrounding pools. Here, the highlight had to be a wintering and very sad looking Woodchat Shrike, which by rights should now be in sub-Saharan Africa, although a handful of winter records are listed in 'Birds of Iberia'.

Another view of the Woodchat Shrike
It was a blustery day and most species on the lagoon were way off in the middle, with the remaining Flamingos even further away feeding in the shallows. From the Mirador we could make out a group of over 40 Black-necked Grebes, along with many Pochard and Shoveler. Most of the waders have moved out to their wintering grounds but we managed a number of Black-winged Stilts and a couple of Greenshank.

One of many Wintering Cranes around the province
A drive around the perimeter of the lagoon held our target birds for the day, wintering Common Cranes feeding in the nearby fields, one field producing (5) Stone Curlews, also wintering here.

Male Black Redstart ~ Well outnumbered by females
Back to Zapata and the remainder of my visits were spent in glorious autumnal sunshine, with temperatures up to 20C and almost exclusively alone. Just walking the paths and tracks produced what seemed to be birds in every tree, bush, reed or track. Black Redstarts, Common Stonechats, Chiffchaff, Serin, and Zitting Cisticola seemed abundant and both White Wagtail and Crested Lark constant companions with Blackcaps in full song and Sardinian Warblers always present but elusive, this despite the never-ending flow of airliners landing just a short distance away! Also of note the many Painted Ladies, Clouded Yellows and other butterflies still on the wing, which sadly I didn't take time to explore.

Greenshank alongside the ford
The river held Greenshank, Common and Green Sandpiper, along with Grey Heron, Cattle and Little Egret.

Marsh Harrier constantly on the hunt at Zapata
Passing Osprey
A couple of Marsh Harriers seemed permanently on the go, this along with Common Kestrel, the occasional Booted Eagle, another wintering species and passing Osprey, one or two also winter here. At this time of year Crag Martins come down from the mountains and every so often one or two would pass through.

Male Bluethroat ~ Probably a 1st winter
The extensive reedbeds which run along the old river course held large flocks of Common Waxbill, many Chiffchaffs, a number of Cetti's Warbler and up to four Bluethroats during one visit.

Common Waxbill ~ first introduced to Portugal, from Africa, in 1964, from where it spread to much of the country and Spain
A real surprise came during Tuesday's visit when I came across a Wryneck, which having been foraging out in the open decided to head for the rocks as I raised the camera. I've included below the worst ever record shot of a Wryneck you'll ever see! Apparently, according to local birders, one winters here each year and this may well have been the first record this autumn.

Look closely and you should see a very elusive Wryneck in flight!
Having only heard one thus far, on Wednesday, my final full day I decided to just to sit tight close to a section of reedmace in the hope of catching a glimpse of another wintering species, Penduline Tit. It was hard work but after studying every movement for over an hour I finally caught sight of a single bird feeding. Unfortunately, the best image I could manage of this very flighty individual was the back end. Still a great end to a superb short break and luckily I'll be back here, this time with my wife Dazza for Christmas and New Year.

More Images of the Visit....

Black Redstart at the villa

Vueling Airbus on approach over Zapata

Spanish Coastguard ~ Casa CN 235 

Another Bluethroat at Zapata

Volotea Airlines based at Barcelona ~ Boeing 717


Serin at Zapata
Zapata down river
The coast of Morocco and Africa at sunset from the terrace
Another Booted Eagle display
Booted Eagle ~ I wonder where they get their name from?

Hoopoe at Zapata

 Species Seen...
Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, White-Headed Duck, Red-legged Partridge, Black-necked Grebe, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Greater Flamingo, Osprey, Booted Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Crane, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Stone Curlew, Lapwing, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Eagle Owl (heard at the villa), Hoopoe, Kingfisher, Wryneck, Crested Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Robin, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Blackcap, Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Woodchat Shrike, Jay, Jackdaw, Raven, Starling, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Serin, Common Crossbill, Common Waxbill

Saturday, November 24, 2018

πŸ“– #67 ~πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ Guadalhorce, Spain 🍁

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ☀️ 20C Saturday 24th November 2018 ~ Arrived in Spain for a short stay with my buddy Dave in Mijas last night and enjoyed an excellent day today at one of my favourite local reserves.

Guadalhorce, just a short drive from the villa and adjacent to the busy Malaga airport, gravel and sand extraction have created several large artificial ponds and scrubland. Coupled with the fact that the Guadalhorce river estuary is on one of the main Mediterranean-crossing routes between Europe and Africa. You can never be quiet sure what you are going to see during each visit.

Zitting Cisticola (Fantail Warbler)
After recent heavy rains, today was glorious with a light breeze, beautiful blue skies and a temperature of around 20C. We arrived around 9am and completed a tour of the reserve visiting the four hides and also covering the stretch which runs along the beach. Parking at the local church and walking down to the bridge crossing several Black Redstarts could be seen perched on the fences, Monk Parakeets were their usual marauding selves, two White Wagtail on the track and the scrubland running alongside the river held Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler and two Zitting Cisticola (Fantail Warblers), Cetti's Warbler was also heard.

Wintering Crag Martins
Overhead several wintering Crag Martins, along with a few Barn Swallows and then the first Raptor, this one a Booted Eagle, two in total today along with a dark phase morph! An Osprey passed at distance, and during the visit (2) Marsh Harriers, (3) Kestrels and a Common Buzzard were also noted.

Booted Eagle putting on a great display!
The hides at Laguna de la Casilla and del Rio Viejo were generally quiet, save for a single Pochard several Coots and (2) Little Grebes but the surrounding scrub seemed alive with more Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers, Greenfinches a couple of Serin, Blackcap singing, at least (4) Stonechat and a single juvenile Bluethroat. (3) Hoopoes, (4) Crested Larks and (5) Meadow Pipits before we arrived at the Rio Viejo (the old river).

Black-winged Stilts ~ Spooked by a passing Marsh Harrier
Here there were (4) Avocets and a dozen Black-winged Stilt, but the recent rain had taken away a lot of the wader scrape so nothing further could be found of interest. At the de Aves Marinas sea-watch area there were 1000s of Gulls on the sea but the low sun and distance made observation almost impossible.

Dark Phase Morph Booted Eagle over Guadalhorce
I took the beach walk past the fenced restricted nesting areas, obviously deserted at this time of year and the beach had plenty of debris washed out from the rivers after the heavy rains, thankfully with very little plastic to be seen!

Some of the amazing 18 Black-necked Grebe counted today
Our final stop was at the Laguna Grande hide, this is where the bulk of the waterfowl seemed to be hanging out. Good numbers of Pochard, Shoveler, plus a single White-headed Duck and an amazing count of (18) Black-necked Grebes. Two Greater Flamingo plus (5) resting Greenshank and the usual collection of Black-winged Stilts. Many Cormorants and Grey Heron were roosting, along with the odd Little Egret mingled in and there were several large flocks of mixed Spotless/Eurasian Starlings.

More Images of the Day.....

Common Buzzard

Black-winged Stilt

Booted Eagle with Starling flock