Monday, 31 December 2012

Waxwings 13th dec

This ones a little belated but there we go!

There had been several reports of waxwings in the area so I decided to check in on several places close to my house. On the way to the meadows I passed through Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trusts Kings Meadow reserve in lenton and was greeted to the trilling of around 50 waxings feeding in some trees directly above me on the cycle path. I instantly got off my bike and grabbed the camera and managed a couple of shots before a cyclist came through and spooked them.

I knew there were loads of berry laden bushes around the area so decided to get back on the bike, camera at the ready, to see if i could relocate the flock. I got to the main entrance to the meadow when again i heard some trilling, and looked to find 2 waxwings in some bushes only a few metres from me.

It was almost as if these birds were acting as sentinels, as they sat there calling every now and again and occasionally eating the odd berry, before, almost as if given the 'all clear', the rest of the flock moved in. The whole flock then entered into a feeding frenzy within a couple of metres of where i stood, allowing me to get some nice shots of their feeding behaviour. Nice bright light and a clear blue sky, along with some nice frosty berries gave excellent photographic conditions, and i was very pleased with my pictures, although in hindsight i wish i'd taken care not to cut out some of the birds tails in some of the shots due to some lazy framing!

Thats a few of the shots i managed to get, the full set can be found here

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Donna Nook Seals, 9th December

Headed to the coast on sunday morning to see the Grey Seal colony at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire. I've wanted to visit this reserve for ages, but being in notts, its a bit difficult to get to the coast without a car. However my  girlfriend was more than happy to drive us there, and i'm glad we went as we had an excellent couple of hours there.

On cresting the hill the first thing you see is hundreds of seals. The stretch of coast with the viewing area couldnt be better located and it really is wildlife watching made easy. I guess thats why its so popular, as there were many people there from far and wide. Ignoring the crowds, it is a great experience with seal pups sitting there at touching distance while the large mothers sat a little more warily a few metres away. Photo opportunities were rife and with little effort it is easy to get some incredible shots. The larger males busy themselves with sitting further down the beach, fighting and mating, making it a little more difficult to take photos. They are absolutely massive and to see 90 stone of grey seal throwing itself about the beach is quite a spectacle.

Anyway I've added some of the better shots and i've made a Flickr album with more on it. Please feel free to take a look!

Bird-wise there was loads about, a proper treat for an land-locked birder. There were plenty of waders, mainly Turnstone, some of which came quite close in, and there were also several Dunlin a few Redshank and in the distance were some large flocks of Lapwing. There were also large flocks of Starling, Skylark and Twite, and if i had my scope i probably could have picked out some buntings and maybe something more interesting?! A couple of Rock Pipit were a highlight too. A large raptor was seen at a distance on the beach, with the jizz of a Harrier but i lost sight of it before confirming its ID.

A great day out which i hope to repeat next year, and its made me very keen to get to the coast again!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Recent birding, late autumn

been out and about a fair bit recently. There's been an influx of waxwing recently in Notts following the pattern for the rest of the UK. I caught up with some at the Red Cow pub in Lenton last thursday on my way to clifton. Gary and mick from the south notts ringing group were there, hoping to net some of them but they were flying into their feeding tree too high so would miss the nets. Three were found dead, having flown into windows fleeing from a sparrowhawk. Find pictures here. There were roughly 20 of them in the trees, and although I had my camera, they were too high up and the light was terrible, so no photos. I cycled on to clifton in strong blustery winds, and due to this fact I didnt stay too long. Very little was about, and it wasnt til the end that it really felt worth going, as i saw my first ever Brambling, a lovely male bird feeding in some willows with a flock of tits and goldcrest.

There's been loads of Waxwings seen since then, with flocks of up to 150 in beeston, and still plenty in lenton. I had a look today at the usual hotspot of Hucknall road, where flocks are often seen in trees between the Total garage and the Lidl, but there werent any there, but it won't be long til there will be i'm sure. Just waiting for some colder weather!

One of my missions this winter is to see my first short eared owl. Gedling pit is a fantastic place to see them, and up to 5 have been flying up there in recent weeks. I went up on saturday and had an awful time, it was dark, grey, wet and cold - not good raptor weather! The next day, while i was at work, the sun was shining wonderfully, and reports say that 5 were seen up there. Typical.

In other news, i heard a Raven at Holme Pierrepont while walking the dog on monday morning, in the grassland east of the A52 pit. We also flushed a woodcock while walking through some willow woodland. This is the second record of raven i've had this year, after seeing a pair over dukes wood near eakring in july.

Off to gedling again tomorrow hopefully, as its meant to be sunny, so will hopefully get me an owl!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Searching for a Slav

A Slavionan Grebe has been knocking about the A52 Pit at Holme Pierrepont this week. I decided as it had been seen yesterday evening that it would be a good idea to spend the morning around HP and then do some more birding elsewhere. The problem with the A52 pit is that its enormous and is in the middle of privately owned land which is inaccessible to the public, and the range of viewpoints for this huge waterbody is restricted, as far as i know, to ONE place next to a stinky pig farm. I had the joyful experience of dipping on a Red-necked Phalarope there last summer, and was worried about it happening again. I got to the view point and set to scanning the tiny area of water that can be seen from it and lo and behold... no Slav! I waited around for a bit but had no joy though there was plenty of other stuff to look at, including a 'flock' of about 12 Crested Grebes all together in the sun. Very nice but the wrong grebe! Some Wigeon were knocking about on the far bank along with a flock of gulls and some lapwings but all too far for my scope to see properly.

After a while I decided to have a wander round the scrubby grassland at the eastern edge of the site where we do the ringing with South Notts Ringing Group.  There was certainly a lot about in the morning sunshine but nothing to write home about. I did however have a pleasant wander about, seeing some Green Woodpeckers, which this site is particularly good for, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and several noisy Jays. A small flock of Siskin flew over and Goldfinches were knocking about too. In the scrub were lots of Long Tailed Tits, along with a few other tits and lots of Chiffchaff were heard calling as well as the odd Bullfinch. Just as I was leaving the site a Cetti's Warbler burst into song several times in succession.

Moving on from this site I cycled over to Clifton to do my final butterfly survey of the year and to see if any Chats were about. Both Whinchat and Stonechat were here over the weekend but again I had no joy. There's usually a good passage of Whinchat towards the end of august and beginning of september with stonechats a bit later but its not been as obvious this year, though I did get sightings of both species in the spring this year.

I had a brilliant afternoon nonetheless, spending 4 hours strolling around the site. Not much of note was seen on the grove where I did my Butterfly survey (which was awful although I wasn't expecting much at this late stage), aside from common garden/woodland birds including several showy Goldcrest. The area of most interest was Cottages Flash, which was much more underwater than last time I was here. It seemed like a wetland paradise, and seemed to have stolen most of its birds from Attenborough. There were at least 250 Lapwing, some of which were making life hard for a singleton Green Sandpiper. There were 2 Grey Heron and 2 Little Egret (my first for the area!) as well as a load of gulls, ducks and geese. Would have been nice to get some snipe or other waders but it was great to watch so many birds in one place. There were around 200 Starling about too.

It was a day for Finches today though. On Branshill moor 2 largish flocks of linnet went through possibly numbering around 120, and near the rough wood another flock of 30 or so birds were very active, and they didn't go unnoticed as a Sparrowhawk ploughed into them at one point, audibly 'whoooshing' through the air but unsuccessful as far as I could tell. A small flock of the resident Bullfinch were about too in the hedgerow. As I worked the hedgerow at Branshill, several Siskin flocks went over and I was treated to a sight of around ten of these charismatic finches feeding on some Alder in the Rough Wood. A late Blackcap also put in an appearance and several Meadow Pipit were noted flying overhead throughout the afternoon. Some Swallows and lots of House Martin were still in the area.

I got home to find the Slav Grebe was seen about half an hour after I left and again in the afternoon, so I'm going back tomorrow morning! Also a Black Necked Grebe at Attenborough, though I doubt I'll get there before I go away to Bristol on Sunday.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Some nice birds...

Some nice birds are passing through at the moment. None of which I myself have seen I'll hasten to add. Just 2 days after me visiting Attenborough last week a Little Stint turned up, would have been a lifer for me and the first one at the reserve in many years. One has turned up at Carsington in Derbyshire which may be the same bird? Not too far as the stint flies!

I'll have to get to Clifton again soon as there has been a Whinchat and a Stonechat seen along with lots of snipe and other waders still using Cottages Flash. I always look forward to the Chat passage around this time of year though i think the stonechat is a bit earlier than usual! Maybe there'll be some Wheatear about too?

A site I'm yet to visit is Newstead and Annesley Country Park, it always turns up on birdguides with some interesting birds, but I've never actually bothered with it, however this week a Yellow-browed Warbler has turned up, so if it stays about and there's a bit more info I may have to venture up there soon.

So there's still plenty of stuff passig through, so its worth getting out and about. Lets see where I end up this week... 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Attenborough 20th sept

I headed out this morning to Attenborough for the first time since the end of august. I hadn't meant to leave it so long but i've been a bit busy and been to clifton more often getting the last of my butterfly surveys done. Several interesting birds have been knocking about over the last few weeks including 2 osprey sightings, gargeneys and even a sandwich tern, so I was excited to see what was about.

When I opened the curtains at 7 o clock the weather nearly put me off as it was raining and very dull but I was determined so after doing some household tasks set off on my bike just before 9. I arrived at the reserve about 10 and went in the Delta Hide first where 3 Little Grebes and a fly past Gadwall and a singing Cetti's Warbler were the only notables. I ventured on and parked up the bike at the visitor centre. On the tween pond were the usual mix of geese and lapwings, along with quite a few Teal. On the wheatear field lagoon a Ringed Plover was seen feeding, a bird I've only seen once at the reserve and one which obviously was keen to keep the wader passage alive, as there weren't any other waders present today.

Duck numbers seem to be increasing, which is great as my favourite winter pastime at the reserve is counting the numbers of wildfowl using the reserve. Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall were abundant with 50-60 of each species present across the reserve, and there was even a Wigeon present, my first of the autumn. Numbers will swell significantly in the next few months and i'm looking forward to the first returning Goosanders, and maybe even my first Red-breasted Merganser for the site?

Passerines were notably more abundant too, compared to the relatively silent few visits I had towards the end of August. Chaffinches and Tit Flocks were everywhere and there were a few nice looking chiffchaffs about in some of the flocks too. Gulls were also here in greater numbers, mostly black headed gulls, but there were several Herring Gulls knocking about as well as an adult Yellow Legged Gull.

Signs of winter are coming, what with these ducks flocks and gulls! Looking forward to seeing more ducks coming in and the first winter thrushes. And let's not forget the Bitterns!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Late Summer Birding 2012

Been birding quite a lot recently inbetween going away to festivals, birdfair (where I saw heaps of waders, a Black Tern, and dipped on a Little Stint), working and doing butterfly surveys. Somehow i've managed to squeeze it all in.

As is the norm this time of year one of the highlights has been the increase in waders around the country, and while Notts usually misses out on rare 'yank' waders and other vagrants, we do get an influx of passage birds dropping in at our wetland sites. I've managed to get to Attenborough a few times throughout August, picking up a few of these birds which you don't see often in our landlocked county.

Cottages flash, over the river from Attenborough, actually on the Clifton site, has been attracting waders throughout the summer, due to it being inundated through the heavy rains we've had all summer. The Trent has also kept it topped up by breaching its banks a few times early on. At the end of July a Greenshank and Common Sandpiper showed well when I paid it a visit on the Clifton side.

At Attenborough itself, several visits throughout August revealed a Common Sandpiper kicking things off on the 4th, and a Greenshank showing splendidly on the 22nd which stayed for around a week around the wet grassland on wheatear field, along with up to 4 Little Egrets. Things got a bit busier the week after with 3 Common Sandpiper across the reserve, several Snipe, 2 juvenile Ruff and a few Black tailed Godwits, although the latter found it more comfortable spending time over the river at cottages flash. I haven't been since but judging from records there's still a few birds dropping in and moving through.

Obviously songbirds are less obvious around this time of year and its been starkly obvious when walking around, barely hearing anything and only getting the occasional view of a skulking warbler here and there. However duck numbers seem to be slowly swelling, especially at Attenborough, where Teal and Shoveler are trickling in to join the Mallard and Gadwall to create a big mass of confusing brown birds while the males are all in eclipse plumage. Bring on the Wigeon!

In more recent weeks, raptor numbers have been on the up as migrating birds and juveniles have been taking to the skies. I missed out on seeing a Hobby all summer until while working at Clifton on the 22nd of August, one showed itself incredibly well while chasing House Martin up near the farm near Branshill. After that there were several seen within a couple of weeks, with more being seen at clifton, one on a bike ride near Shelford and while working at Skylarks in Holme Pierrepont a male bird was seen hawking dragonflies giving amazing views. Buzzard numbers have increased too which is usual at this time of year as the juveniles are being persuaded to disperse by their weary parents. A visit to Clifton produced at least 10 birds one morning, and counts of even more birds have been recorded in recent weeks. Most interesting however was a Red Kite seen at Holme Pierrepont being mobbed by crows on the 9th of September, only my second record of this species in Notts after seeing one at Attenborough in september 2010.

Other highlights include my first ever Spotted Flycatcher which was seen atop a dead oak tree on Clifton Grove while I was surveying butterflies on the 8th. I'd visited the area a few days previously with the sole intention of finding a Spotted Fly but failed miserably, so I was really pleased to have finally caught up with one after missing them in previous years. Also a very brief and early record of a Bittern at Holme Pierrepont was very exciting and is the first i've seen in notts since winter 2010/11.

So its been an incredible few weeks really. I'm keeping an eye out so hopefully i'll see some more interesting stuff, autumns on its way so let's hope for something a bit special.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Last weeks birding -28th april to 3rd may

April has finally transformed into May, and with it... still some pretty crap weather! Not as rainy as it has been, but still quite rubbish, but i managed to get out a few times.

The day after i got back from Netherfield (see last post), i had planned to get on with some gardening before i went to work. However I got a tip off from a friend that 47 Wheatear had alighted around clifton that evening, so i got up and visited the area, getting there just after 10am. Unfortunately the wheatears had moved on, although I did manage to see one on the ploughed field in front of Branshill Woods, my first spring wheatear since 2010! Otherwise I had a pleasant morning, covering quite a lot of ground and seeing around 45 species. The river was incredibly high after all the rainfall, it must have been 6-8 foot higher than 2 weeks ago. A Kingfisher was seen at the breeding location I'd noted last year, though i'm sure the water is covering the old nest site. Over on the weir fields by the river, there was much water overspilling from the river. The brambles here which normally hold many warblers werew still a bit quiet, although a Sedge Warbler was heard singing in the undergrowth, and 3 pairs of Linnet were noted. There were no Yellow wagtails yet around the cattle, maybe a little early yet, though over the river a few Swift were seen, and Skylarks were in abundance. The paddocks near branshill wood were busy with many birds, including loads of warblers in the hedgerows, mainly Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Chiffchaff, but a few Whitethroat too. Scanning the ploughed field in front of the woods produced the aforementioned Wheatear, as well as 3 Red-legged Partridge and several Lapwing. Reports of some Ruff and Ringed Plover led me to looking at cottages flash, but neither species were present. However, the flash is vastly extended thanks to the river bursting its banks, so there was a good number of wetland birds here, including 2 Common Sandpiper, an Oystercatcher, and lots of wildfowl. Large numbers of Swallow and House Martin were also found feeding over the fields.

I returned to Clifton the following monday, as I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. I've been doing some butterfly surveys in the area, which have been on hold due to the weather, so with a bit of sun i couldn't really afford not to get out there. Butterflies were indeed in abundance, and on my transect i counted 32 butterflies from 6 species, including a couple of Holly Blue. I did a little bit of birding along the way too, mainly seeing warblers and other woodland species, including some singing Goldcrest. I also noted my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year. The possible Raven I've encountered on several visits to the area was present behind holme pit, and the Cetti's Warbler was in its usual spot, singing loudly from the southern edge of the pond. Loads of Reed warblers were singing too.

A few days working with the wildlife trust ended in me working at Besthorpe on thursday. It was just me and the reserves officer, putting up some signs and interpretation boards, so we had a bit of time to indulge in some birding too. The water levels were again very high here too, with the water covering all the scrapes and islands on mons pool, including all the reed fencing we'd erected last year. This eliminated mosy oppurtunities to see any waders, but for the hirundines it was excellent. On the western section of the lake there were hundreds of House Martin and Sand Martin, as well as a good number of Reed Bunting using the feeders. Over the eastern edge there were swallows instead, following the herd of sheep as they came to inspect us, and we had birds flying within a metre or so of us. A Cuckoo was heard calling from around the heron island, and warblers were in abundance including some Lesser Whitethroat. We later moved onto the central part of the reserve, where another male Cuckoo was heard, as well as the 'bubbling' call of a female. 3 in one day is quite a good record, what with the cuckoo in such decline. A field next to trent lane had been flooded in the rains, attracting huge amounts of wetland birds. The field is usually just a grassy meadow which is being improved into arable land, but it looked more like a lake when we arrived, with loads of geese and gulls using it, a Curlew was noted calling and was soon located, before another 3 were seen nearby. This is my first record of Curlew for Nottinghamshire so I was pretty pleased about that.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Netherfield Lagoons 27th april

Got myself a new bike! Had the morning free, so biked to Netherfield Lagoons. Not been there in ages, and was hoping to add some spring migrants to my list, and it didn't disappoint... too much!

The weather, as usual, is pretty horrible, the bike ride there wasn't too bad but it was a bit drizzly, not ideal. However once i was on the exposed paths around the lagoons, with the rain coming down heavier and a very chilly wind blowing across, i soon got a bit grumpy. There were plenty of birds about though which brightened things up a little.

Riding down the trent path towards the reserve I finally heard my first Common Whitethroat of the year, which was great, and it amazed me how they sounded so much like the Sardinian Warblers I'd heard in Portugal. Its strange how you can forget the sound of a bird when its only been gone from the country a few months. Other warblers were in attendance by the dozen, mostly willow warblers and Blackcaps, although a few Chiffchaff were about too. I also heard my first Sedge and Reed Warblers, but didn't manage to see any, as they were deep in cover on the Silt lagoon reedbed, not wanting to come out into the horrible weather, i guess! 2 Cetti's warbler were also calling from the sides of the deep lagoon.

Swallows and Sand Martins were here in good numbers today, many round the river and also lots flying low to the water on the lagoons themselves. I also managed to see a couple of House Martin too.

Several ducks were knocking about too, some seem to just stay at this particular site year round, and some, such as Pochard and Gadwall, actually breed here too. These species were here in small numbers, though I didn't look down at the lower gravel pits which are their preferred location, so there may have been more. A single Shoveler was also present, along with around 10 Teal and a few tufted ducks. The water level on the silt lagoon is high at the moment, so the usual wader spot was hard to see as most of it was underwater or covered in vegetation, although a handful of Lapwing and 2 Oystercatcher were on the waters edge.

A new wader habitat has been added since I last visited, a bit of compensation for the Severn trent water construction thats going on next door, where they have created some shallow pools and open ground. I had a scan of this but not much was about, largely I'm sure to the chilly blustery winds which made it difficult to stand there for long. 3 Little Ringed Plover were noted in the distance, but by then I'd had enough of being so cold and decided to head home.

Not a bad day apart from the weather, with 5 new spring migrants for me, as well as a total of 50 species, which is good for this reserve. I'll definitely be back to have a closer look at that new wader scrape too!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Recent Birding back in Blighty

I've not been out much in the past few weeks since returning from portugal, largely owing to being exceptionally busy and the weather being awful. There's actually been a great deal of stuff being reported across the county, but i've not been able to get out there properly and have a look.

Reports of some interesting birds early in the month led me to Attenborough on the 13th of april. I had an excellent day there as usual, seeing over 50 species, including some good ticks! I was hoping for the migration to have kicked in properly, as around the same time last year i had visited the reserve to be  greeted by a whole host of warblers. Unfortunately migration seems to be quite slow this year and there weren't a great deal of migrants about, aside from a handful of Sand Martins and Swallows near the nature centre, and several Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warber, all early migrants anyway. I did however see my first Common Sandpiper and Common Tern of the year, nice to see, though the terns have been here for a while now. I also saw the 3 Ruff which have now (as of 26/4) been at the reserve for over 3 weeks! It was great to see these so close up (viewed from the screens overlooking tween pond), although they weren't up to much, apart from one bird that got up from time to time, to jump up and catch midges from the air. Not typical wader feeding behaviour!
On Clifton pond, there were still some winter ducks about, including some Shoveler, 2 Wigeon and even a Goldeneye. 2 Snipe were sleeping on one of the islands, 2 Oystercatcher flew through and several White Wagtail were noted. Elsewhere on the reserve there were loads of birds singing, including a couple of Cetti's warbler, but the bird of the day certainly went to the Marsh Harrier, an area first for me and the first i've seen in a couple of years. It passed overhead very briefly and instantly looked different (to a buzzard!), longer winged, dark wing tips, long tail - so I thought of a harrier right away. I wasn't sure on species until i heard reports later on, so happy to have it IDd, albeit by someone else!

I've been to Clifton a couple of times too, where Ring Ouzels have literally been wandering about the place asking to be twitched! So obviously I went, on a soggy thursday evening last week, to have a look. As usual with ring ouzels (and many other birds at clifton), i didn't see any, and got very wet, but still had a great time. Along with the long-staying Cetti's thats been at holme pit (lets hope they breed and thus expand their empire from attenborough!), there was a calling Water Rail from the reedbeds. Loads of willow warbler, chiffchaff and blackcap were noted, and while looking for ouzels, a possible Raven was seen flying off, and later heard calling. I'm not 100% confident, but it sounded like one even if i didn't get a proper look. While looking for wheatear and wagtail (unsuccessfully) on ploughed field near Branshill Wood, i did spot 3 Red-legged Partridge, and several Lapwing. A Roe Deer was also seen running across Branshill Moor before disappearing into some brambles near the ponds. The highlight of that day was certainly however being face to face with a Chiffchaff. I heard its 'hueet' call (that i'd recently learned from this) and looked up to see a little chiffchaff no more than 2 metres away. I stood and watched while it flitted from branches to brambles right in front of me, sometimes coming within less than a metre. It was amazing, especially to get a masterclass in chiffchaff ID, and at one point a rival male came and perched next to him, before alighting nearby and fiercely singing. Not to mention it being REALLY CUTE.

Other than that i've not been out a lot, apart from little bits here and there. I've been out with the Wildlife Trust a lot working on their reserves, but nothing exceptional has been seen apart from a Cuckoo calling while working at Ploughman Wood near Lowdham on the 3rd of April, which i very early for me!

Migration is still a bit slow i think, from what i've seen from recent reports, though there's bits here and there. I still haven't seen 6 out of the 10 common warblers, and normally that figure is normally 2 out of 10, those being garden warbler and lesser whitethroat, which i don't see much at all. Other migrants such as House Martin, Little Ringed Plover and Hobby are all still yet to be seen, but swifts are not quite expected yet! Not long though.

I'm hoping to get out a bit more in the next month, hopefully the weather will improve and the birding will resume. I may go to Netherfield Lagoons tomorrow which i haven't been to since last summer, as its usually a good spot for LRPs and warblers... lets see!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Checklist of Birds in Portugal - 25th-31st March

Here's a systematic list of every bird I saw. Bird names with a * are lifers.

1 Mallard Anas platyrhyncos
2 Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
3 Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
4 Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
5 Gannet* Morus bassanus
6 Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
7 Cattle Egret* Bubulcus ibis
8 Little Egret Egretta garzetta
9 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
10 White Stork Ciconia ciconia
11 Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
12 Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus
13 Black Kite* Milvus migrans
14 Hen Harrier* Circus cyaneus
15 Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
16 Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
17 Hobby Falco subbuteo
18 Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
19 Coot Fulicula atra
20 Oystercatcher Haemotopus ostrelagus
21 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
22 Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
23 Sanderling* Calidris alba
24 Turnstone Arenaria interpres
25 Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
26 Common Redshank Tringa totanus
27 Greenshank Tringa nebularia
28 Whimbrel* Numenia phaeopus
29 Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus
30 Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
31 Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii
32 Lesser Black Backed Gull Larus fuscus
33 Sandwich Tern* Sterna sandvicensis
34 Feral Pigeon Columba livia (domest.)
35 Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
36 Common Swift Apus apus
37 Alpine Swift* Apus melba
38 Hoopoe Upupa epops
39 Bee-eater Merops apiaster
40 Crested Lark Galerida cristata
41 Thekla Lark* Galerida theklae
42 Sand Martin Riparia riparia
43 Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
44 Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
45 House Martin Delichon urbicum
46 Tawny Pipit* Anthus campestris
47 Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
48 White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba
49 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
50 Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
51 Black Redstart* Phoenicurus ochruros
52 Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
53 Stonechat Saxicola rubicola
54 Blackbird Turdua merula
55 Ring Ouzel* Turdus torquata
56 Blue rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
57 Blackcap Sylvia atracapilla
58 Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
59 Subalpine Warbler* Sylvia cantillans
60 Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
61 Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
62 Willow Warbler Pyhylloscopus trochilus
63 Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
64 Iberian Chiffchaff* Phylloscopus ibericus
65 Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
66 Great Tit Parus major
67 Woodchat Shrike* Lanius senator
68 Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus
69 Jackdaw Corvus monedula
70 Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
71 House Sparrow Passer domesticus
72 Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
73 Linnet Carduelis cannabina
74 Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
75 Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
76 Serin Serinus serinus
77 Corn Bunting Miliara calandra

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A week in Portugal - Part 2

Wednesday 28th March - Boca do Rio
Initially today I wanted to go out and photograph some butterflies, but the strong winds and low numbers of flowering plants due to a lack of rain for some time meant that there were barely any to be found. I instead spent the whole day birding Boca do Rio, which I had visited earlier in the week.
Common Redstart

Walking up to the clifftop path, I kept an eye out and saw the usual birds I'd been seeing here, a look at an area of new development, where there was some lush greenery presented the first Common Redstart I had seen for 3 years. Again, Stonechats and Sardinian Warblers dominated the clifftops, and a Kestrel flew over briefly as I was photographing some wildflowers.
Another stunning Stonechat

Walking down to the valley produced the same scattering of birds that i'd seen two days previously, including the Blue Rock Thrush once again which this time allowed better views. Amongst the low coastal scrub near the beach I found a Tawny Pipit sat atop a shrub, I had to double check, but the distinct lack of streaking and larger size clinched it. Walking along the riverbank, I disturbed a number of small birds, as well as a Common Sandpiper, and decided to follow the river down to the beach to see what else was about. A Black Redstart flew down from the cliffs and landed a few feet away, so i sat and photographed a male and female that were coming to snatch titbits from the sand in front of me, along with a male Stonechat.
Male Black Redstart

I thought about wading across the river but decided against it, and instead slowly made my way back up, scanning the far bank and cliffs. Several more Blue Rock Thrush were noted, as well as a single male Ring Ouzel. Small birds were constantly flitting around on the far bank so i sat and watched for a while, the highlights being another Common Redstart, a pair of Linnet and yet more Black Redstarts.
Female Black Redstart

On the open grassland at the end of the valley were many hirundines, mainly House Martins (around 100 or so) along with several Barn Swallows and my first Red-rumped Swallows of the week. No bee eaters though! I tried to walk up the riverbank but the vegetation became too thick so turned back, but not before photographing a lovely wild daffodil (Narcissus tarzetta) and seeing a Chiffchaff amongst the bankside vegetation. My plan was to walk along the road at the back of the grassland to a beach cafe I'd visited before, as i had no lunch with me, but this road was closed. A look around a Eucalyptus plantation revealed a good number of Azure Winged Magpies, which i had come to realise were an incredibly nervous species, making it almost impossible to get a good photo!
Back down closer to the beach is a hillside covered in trees with a sandy area of scrub and dry marshland. This area proved to be an incredible migrant trap, discovered when i was attempting to seperate Chiffchaff from Iberian Chiffchaff, as there were small groups all over this area. I ended up birding this small area for nearly 2 hours, as there were warblers and other small passerines feeding all over in little willow trees and areas of sedge and rush. As stated Chiffchaffs and their Iberian cousins were noted, the latter being a lot paler but all in all very similar. Willow warblers were also present, and I did see a phyllosc warbler with an extremely pale green rump which i thought could have been wood or western bonelli's, but i failed to relocate it!!! Not the right habitat but it could have very well have just been passing through. Also in this area were several Subalpine Warbler, along with many other small birds, all feasting in small numbers amongst the low vegetation.
The 'Migrant Trap'

A Hobby was seen being mobbed by House Martins, before catching one unfortunate enough to stray to close to its talons, before being devoured on the wing! Incredible. After spending about 6 hours out and about with no suncream and a resulting burned neck, i made my way home the quick way up a steep road behind the cliffs, but not before picking up a brief sighting of a male Hen Harrier to top the day off!!!

Thursday 29th March - Alvor Estuary
I'd had a look on google maps before going to Portugal to see if there were any decent wetlands nearby, and most seemed to be the other side of the Algarve. However, a short distance from Lagos, the closest town to our villa, was an estuary which looked pretty inviting, so i insisted that we went there and thus dragged the family along.
The area we visited was a small nature reserve that had a path encircling and area of saltmarsh and saline lagoons, with the open sands of the estuary on the other side. It was a beautiful area and a fantastic sunny day, although very windy. The first birds noted were around 10 Greater Flamingo, a bird i hadn't expected to see here, all were first year birds, yet to get their pink plumage, instead looking dirty white with dark wingtips. A black winged stilt was also seen feeding in the same lagoon. Over on the sands a few little Calidris sandpipers were running around the waters edge amongst a few winkle-pickers. These turned out to be Sanderlings. Over on the salt lagoons, all was relatively quiet until a Redshank flew in, but it soon settled and was seen feeding for a while, along with a Grey Wagtail and a Little Grebe. A large number of gulls and cormorants were loafing on the waters edge on the estuary, including a couple of Audoin's Gull.
The path soon turned to the north, following the western edge of the saltmarsh, but in order to get out the wind, i concentrated my efforts birding the opening of the estuary and was happy i did. There were lots of birds to be seen, the most obvious being a couple of Mediterranean Gulls on the edge of a sandbank. While scoping these, a flock of around 20 Sanderling were seen, as well as a couple of Kentish Plover.
Kentish Plover - Alvor Estuary

Further scans revealed a Greenshank in the shallows, a flock of Turnstone and a distant Little Egret. A couple of Oystercatcher also flew in, later joined by a lone Sandwich Tern. As I wandered down the beach, i noted a Kentish Plover and a couple of Sanderling, feeding close by, and managed to get some good shots of these lovely little waders by hiding behind a boat.
Sanderling - Alvor Estuary

On the north path, heading back to the carpark, 5 Spoonbill were seen in the middle of the saltmarsh, a bird i've really wanted to see for a while, as well as a single Grey heron. Alongside the path were several Stonechat and a Whinchat was also picked up! Just before leaving a White Wagtail was seen in the same lagoon as the Flamingos.
Little Egret - Alvor Harbour

We made a short trip to the town of Alvor for some food and a coffee, where I saw the only Chaffinches of the holiday, as well as lots of nesting House Martins. Down at the waterfront in the harbour, a Little Egret allowed my closest views of this bird, and a Common Sandpiper was also seen feeding on the shoreline. Almost every field on the way back home contained flocks of Cattle Egrets, i don't know how i missed these last time i was in the country!
Common Sandpiper - Alvor Harbour

Friday 30th March - Praia da Figueira
I walked west from Salema on the friday, following the same route i'd done on my own 3 years ago. I knew now really what to expect from the area, as the habitat was largely the same as elsewhere and i had been constantly birding it for the last 5 days! However it was nice to be out walking in the sunshine, with spectacular views of the wonderful hilly countryside. There were loads of Corn Bunting and Zitting Cisticila about, singing loudly from every field, but i was really wanting to see a bit more, though the usual birds were about in profusion. I crested a hill off the Figueira road to scan the horizon for a way to go, and saw some Dung Beetles on the path, as well as a small Lizards scuttling into the undergrowth.
Dung Beetles

The smells and sounds of the countryside were beautiful, and with barely a soul about it was a pleasant experience. There were even some butterflies about today too, including a Clouded Yellow and several Wall Browns.
Yet another male Stonechat

I wandered up a scrub covered slope towards a telephone mast and through a network of pathways bordered by vast swathes of Cistus and other shrubs. Sardinian Warblers, Blackbirds and Stonechats again were my only companions, until i came out at a peninsula overlooking the sea, with Praia da Figueria to my right, where a Blue Rock Thrush was seen, as well as a Red-Legged Partridge in flight. I sat overlooking the beach (Praia) for a while, and took in the surroundings. The beach is a very quiet spot, almost a secret location, and is surrounded by beautiful green cliffs which tower high over the valley. A small stream runs down, which ends at a freshwater pool at the back of the beach. A Common Sandpiper and Grey Heron were both noted here.
Praia da Figueira

The stream itself is covered in an inpenetrable mass of tall vegetation, apart from one little waterfall with stepping stones, used to access the beach itself. Cetti's warblers could be heard singing loudly from here and Marsh Frogs were all over the place. I spent some time here before walking up the valley to start the return journey home. A Woodchat Shrike was seen high up on the cliffs.
Marsh Frog - Figueira

On the walk from the beach back to Figueira town are several arable fields, and a cow pasture. On these arable fields were a number of birds, including several Goldfinch, a couple of Blackcap, and some Chiffchaffs and Subalpine Warblers. As I wandered further up the road, a flash of black and white across a field revealed to me a Hoopoe! Everyone's favourite mediterranean bird, and one i was worrying i wouldn't see. I watched for a while as it sat in a tree, but it disappeared from view after a time. A scan of some reservoirs at a small water treatment plant revealed a couple of Black Winged Stilt, as well as several Mallard Little Grebe and Coots. There was an attractive area for migrants on the walk back up, two little fenced of fields seemingly growing peas. Lots of warblers were seen using this area, mostly Chiffchaffs and Willow warblers but also a few Subalpine Warblers too. On the way back home, little else was noted, except the distant call of another Hoopoe.

A soggy Red-rumped Swallow in a downpour.

Saturday 31st March - Last day - Last visit to Boca do Rio
So the last day, with the flight in the evening I had the morning to have one last wander to Boca do Rio. With some heavy rain overnight I followed my mums advice and didn't go over the potentially muddy, slippy coastal path and instead took the path which runs over the back of the cliffs into the valley.
Female House Sparrow from the villa

I really wanted to get a decent shot of a Sardinian Warbler, as they really are wonderful birds, but they proved impossible to get close to. They aren't shy in the slightest, showing really well, but they are so mobile that they just won't lend themselves to my photographic abilities! Loads of these were encountered on the way, but what i really wanted was more raptors. I got my wish, as looking up to the skies, a pair of Black Kite slowly made their way directly over my head. I couldn't get any decent shots however, only getting some dodgy silhouettes instead. First time i've seen these but i wish i'd got some better views! (as is the case with most of my raptor sightings!)
As i wandered down the valley i heard the call of a wader which seemed unfamiliar, although i had heard it the other day when i was here. It turned out to be a Whimbrel. It sat around 30 metres from me in some rough grassland, and was seen flying about from time to time and was relocated several times throughout the morning. The call was very distinctive, almost sounding like a little grebe at times. I sat and watched the sea from the beach for a while, getting covered in ants at one point, and then decided to brave wading across the river. Last time i came here i walked up the far bank and saw loads of birds, including waxbills, but they weren't here this time. However, there was a fair bit about. I noted a Terrapin crawling out from the waters on the far bank, and the cliffsides were alive with the usual birds of the area. Further along, the vegetation became thicker, and the explosive song of several Cetti's Warbler was heard. I stood and watched the hirundines, again numbering in the hundreds, over the grassland, thinking that this would soon be something i'll be doing in the UK, when i heard a familiar sound. Scanning the skies produced nothing for ages, and then out of nowhere a small flock of around 5 or 6 Bee-eaters flew across. I thought it may have been a little early for these to be here, but they must have just been trickling through. Loads were here when i was last here in July 2009, and it was nice to see some before i left.
Corn Bunting - another difficult species to photograph

I continued on and the skies began to darken. I saw several chiffchaff feeding on the ground at the top end of the wet grassland, and then as i walked down the road back to the other side of the valley, the heavens opened. With no cover i just carried on until i found a willow tree to stand under, and simply enjoyed the feeling of being out in a heavy downpour, joined by the scores of frogs which seemed to be doing the same. Once it cleared up I made my way back to the Migrant trap i had visited on wednesday, seeing a Kestrel flying overhead. On the way I heard what i thought was a Nightingale singing, but as i stopped to listen several cars passed by and i didn't hear it again. A Red-legged partridge was seen on the hillside while I stood there. I had one last wander round the migrant trap, seeing lots of Subalpine Warblers and Chiffchaffs, and more Corn Buntings than the other day, and finally made my way back up the hill. Having one last look over the valley, a Wall Brown butterfly allowed some photographs and then I made my way back before heading to the airport.

And just as we drove through the Boca one last time - another male Hen Harrier.


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A week in Portugal part 1

An invitation from the family to spend a week in portugal at the end of march was gladly accepted, having visited the same place 3 years ago, when i had just started out birding. My last visit had given me a taste for Portuguese birding, and I was eager to go back out with my greater knowledge of birds to experience it all again.

Sunday 25th March
We arrived into Faro airport at about 11am and i instantly got my bins out. House sparrows and goldfinches were all over the place, and a scan of the horizon while waiting for our hire car revealed several small flocks of Common Swift, not due in the UK for another month, but here already in reasonalby good numbers. Once we left the airport we made our way to the house we were staying in in Salema. There were loads of birds apparent from the car, but sightings were either too brief or distant to get many IDs, however several White Stork and Little Egrets were seen in the skies just outside of Faro. A stop at a petrol station resulted in the first Crested Lark of the trip too.
The scenery soon became more familiar as we approached Salema. The village lies at the bottom of a valley lined with scrubby vegetation and a mix of pungent herbs and wildflowers, before opening up to a glorious sandy beach and the Atlantic ocean. This valley still holds good numbers of typical birds of the region, even in the face of encroaching development. Getting out of the car, the first sound that hit was the jangling song of a Serin, a bird which was commonly heard from around the house itself. A quick scan of the valley revealed a few birds, including numerous House Martins feeding overhead, and a Blackcap and Stonechat in the vegetation.
The view from the villa.

In the afternoon we spent some time down at the beach where i picked up the first Sardinian Warbler of the trip, flitting amongst some scrub on the cliff above the Atlantico beach cafe. I then spent the next hour sat gazing out to sea, where there were small numbers of Sandwich Tern, diving into the surf periodically. A raft of gulls were far out to sea, mostly Yellow Legged Gulls but also several Lesser Black Backs too. A Gannet flew in to see what was going on and then lazily went on its way before disappearing over the horizon.

Sandwich Tern

After a while I made my way back up to the villa, seeing another Sardinian Warbler and a Chiffchaff in someones garden on the way. Another scan of the valley from the roof terrace revealed a few Azure Winged Magpie and some Barn Swallows had joined the House Martins in the skies above.
The only Sardinian Warbler shot I managed - bad effort!

Monday 26th March - Boca do Rio
A short walk over the cliffs from Salema lies the Boca do Rio, an area of wet grassland, with a river running through it which opens up to the sea at a small beach, all surrounded by coastal scrubland on the cliffs. The walk over was dominated by the sound of Stonechat and Sardinian Warbler, and along with Blackbirds, there really was little else about, although these were in abundance. On almost every path you could guarantee seeing a Stonechat sitting prominently, singing away. A couple of Linnet were noted too, a relatively common bird to see, and almost always encountered in pairs.
One of many Stonechats

Once over the cliffs, more birds were to be seen. A Blue Rock Thrush flew across the path but couldn't be relocated. On the path down to the valley, there were countless Thekla Lark, singing loudly, and these were very approachable. I got some nice photos of one which simply sat there singing away as i passed within a couple of metres.

Thekla Lark

Down in the valley, the sound of Corn Buntings dominated over anything else, a wonderful song to hear as it is so rarely encountered back in Nottinghamshire and it is such a familiar sound from previous trips to Iberia. As i was following one of these birds with my bins, i clocked onto a Woodchat Shrike, which gave good views as it sat in the grassland, despite being earlier flushed by myself as I got a little closer as it sat on a telephone wire. This area seemed to be crawling with birds, mainly Sardinian Warblers, but with a good scattering of Zitting Cisticola, zitting away in their erratic song flight. In the distance, 5 Cattle egret were feeding in the fields, and several Meadow Pipit were also noted.
Zitting Cisticola... or Fan-tailed Warbler!!!

Tuesday 27th March - Castelejo
My first Spotless Starlings of the trip were noted on a morning scan from the roof terrace, along with the other usual birds I'd been seeing as well as several Sand Martins joining the other hirundines. We set off later to the west coast, to Castelejo beach. From the car more White Storks were seen, as well as frequent sightings of Cattle Egret in the fields. A small flock of hirundines contained a couple of Alpine Swifts too.

The dark rocks of Castelejo

The road into Castelejo runs through an environment of rocky terrain and open scrubland which looked like good Bustard habitat, although it actually seemed pretty quiet. The landscape then opened out into a beautiful valley lined with vegetation, offering breathtaking views as we drove down the single track road towards the beach. The beach is surrounded by dark rocky cliffs which loom menacingly over the golden sands. A Black Redstart was seen atop these rocks while we had coffee along with several Crested Lark. The beach itself was reasonably quiet apart from a couple of Yellow Legged Gulls and 6 Black Winged Stilt that were resting in the surf at the waters edge. These were being chased all over the place by dogs, but once left alone seemed quite content and were happy for me to get reasonably close to get some photos. The wind soon picked up, and after exploring the rock pools and seeing a couple more Black Redstart, we decided to go, but not before seeing the first Buzzard of the trip.
Some of my billions of Black-winged Stilt photos.

In the evening i went for a walk round the top of the valley on a short loop which takes you round into the village and back up to the villa. I saw all the usual birds of the area, but got some great views of another Woodchat Shrike, as well as lots of Sardinian Warblers, Azure Winged Magpies and Stonechats.