Monday, 31 August 2009

Seawatching

I spent a couple of hours seawatching from Flamborough Head this morning. It was pretty unrewarding with only 1 Bonxie, 3 Manxies, 3 Arctics, 5 Sandwich Terns and 4 Common Terns plus single Curlew and Common Scoter. I gave up just before midday and gave old fall a hit. 5 Wheatear, 2 Willow Warbler and a melanistic Swallow were the return. A large group of gulls failed to produce anything of note.

Back in the village this evening I was surprised to see a Swift going to roost in one of the roofs with a further 2 circling above - I keep setting new personal latest Swift records.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Happy families

I was persuaded by my loving wife to drop any pretensions of going birding today to instead go for a walk on the beach. Immediately I suggested that Barmston would be a good idea as it would not be as busy as Fraisthorpe - her destination of choice. Obviously the better birding on offer at Barmston had nothing to do with my reasoning but I did take my bins just in case. I forgot my camera sadly and left my phone in the car so I cant provide you with an image of the female flava wagatail that was associating with the subadult Pied's on the cliff-top. It showed down to a couple of feet and seemed likely to be a Blue-headed but ruling out thunbergii (or anything else) would be impossible on my limited knowledge.

Also seen offshore were a small group of feeding Sandwich Terns and a handful of Cormorants.

Pretty quickly my wife, who now approximates a small country in surface area (due to pregnancy), needed to pee so we returned to the car. I suggested Hornsea Mere as the next port of call and my wife agreed so long as we visited Hornsea Chavport first. After an hour of looking at cheap crap and being aurally assualted by sub-human shaved monkeys we headed on to the mere. Very little doing save for a couple of huddled juvie Dunlin. No sign of the Egret or of any Little Gulls/Terns/Ospreys/Garganey etc. Angela needed to wee (for the fourth time) so we set off for my parents abode. Im just chuffed i managed to con a bit of birding out of my wife!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Swift Return

Shot back to Hornsea Mere before work hoping for a second chance at the White-winged Black Tern. Instead - total failure on that score but I had a pleasant jaunt along the southern shore with John Sadler (sans half a finger) and Michael Flowers. We managed a few nice sights. A very late Swift was hawking with hirundines and a Hobby was seen zipping through. Infact the hirundines all stopped ffeding and flew very high about 30 seconds before the Hobby went through and we all commented how it must be a hobby and low and behold... A nice passerine in the form of a Whinchat was a quality migrant to add. moulting Common Tern was the next highlight but that was about that as we trotted off to avoid the rain. Unsuccessfully.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Great White Hope


Hope is one of those things that drives you on as a birder. Never real belief but hope - definitly. But Great White Egret was different - I always believed that one would turn up close to home so i didnt have to bother with a proper twitch. Well it finally happened - a slightly distant individual at the west end of Hornsea Mere after dipping the one at Tophill 2 years ago and not going for the Swilly bird (cant believe I didnt realise how close it was when I saw the fairburn Cattle Egret). Anyway a successful visit with added Marsh Harrier (x 2), Buzzard, male Sprawk, GSW and plenty of gulls and hirundines. Sadly I missed the Osprey which was round the lake and a juv WW Black Tern which turned up late doors which was gutting as it would have been a lifer. Going to head down early tomorrow for a look. A UK lifer which puts me on 296 UK & 267 Yorkshire.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

eBirder hits the hebs

Long-time collaberator eBirder (Marcus Conway) is leading a tour to Mull next May for a variety of nature watching and photgraphy. Find the full details in the link below:

With accomadation, travel from Oban and on Mull as well as ferries to Iona and the Trenish isles included a price of £895 is very reasonable as Marcus includes his personal photgraphy tuition to help you produce a few shots like those below. Marcus has been to Mull several times including as part of our legendary highland fling, although no doubt this trip will be a more sedate pace. You will see all the sights of Mull and learn something about nature and photography from an outstanding naturalist.





Liquorice

Today is a definite liquorice day - theres all sorts to talk about. Lets start at the beginning - went to Gourmet Burger Kitchen in York last night to see a couple of mates. Nice food(in fact ridiculous burgers with garlic, mayo, bacon, avacado, beetroot, relish, lots of beef and a bit of lettuce) and excedingly good company. On the way home we were ascending Garrowby Hill when it finally happened - I saw a non-deceased badger. Some nifthy driving by my wife ensured it stayed that way as a lovely adult crossed the road leisurely. Elated we drove home. An inevitable spot eventually as I regularly see roadkill in the same place. This was my wife and I's first ever badger so all round smiles.


Today I have been mostly assembling the nursery which is coming on leaps and bounds as you can just about make out.




Spurs won in the Carling cup by lots which always pleases me and on a more birdy note there is a Great White Egret at Hornsea Mere so lets hope I can get rid of a bit of a tart (and get a better look at the Osprey). Autumn is definitely here...

Monday, 24 August 2009

Tick amongst other things

Here are a few pictures from ringing on saturday.













Yesterday I went to a Barbeque at Wheldrake and saw a couple of Swifts and i think these are my latest ever in the UK (23rd August). Pretty cool anyhow. Other than that it was a bit of a brain deadener as pregnant women bladdered on and bored men drank beer to blot out their meaningless and depressing lives, further ruined by the fact we were all missing the finale to the ashes, Spurs winning and the formula 1. And there was no 3G reception.

To make up for this today on returning from another day at the coal face I went to see the osprey at Hornsea Mere and whilst I did see it, you needed ESP to enjoy the bird at what must have been 1.5 miles distance. More rewarding were the 8 Little Gulls which suddenly mushroomed into 100 or so and were ever increasing in number dip feeding away.
Thoughtid take a pic of the view which contained the osprey - imagine a dot in the sky on the left hand side and you get the idea. Also a typical mutant goose.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Ringing

Got up at the crack of dawn to yawn lots and catch a few birds at Tophill. Got several ringing and extraction ticks including Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Woodpigeon, Song Thrush, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler. No retraps but a corking morning and warm sun. Also a couple of Grass Snakes seen and an Osprey missed. A Black-tailed Godwit gave a brief fly-by.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Ringing at Tophill Low

The ringing group come into being in 6 hours (ergh! need some fecking sleep!). Please note the homepage/blog for updates of ringing at Tophill, catches, photos and hopefully the aquatic warbler which is going to hit the net ;) Not a lot on the site at the moment but will have lots of inhand photos and details of tomorrows catch by sunday. Any bird obs, wildlife or ringing groups that want some reciprocal linking get in touch - it would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Blue

That is the colour of the flava wagtails head that shot off from the lock-up west of Nafferton whilst I was commuting home. Not seen a male before - seen presumed females and a distant channel wag so a very nice find in my own village. Also a few knocking about at Spurn so presumably a wide and thin arrival filtering south. When I went back I could only find bog standard flavissima and females at that.

Also today we had our ante-natal class - after the weekends fright only to be told that the baby is 5lb already we were ready for it and we now know the score for the real thing. Hopefully it stays put for another three weeks but we will be happy either way. Luckily you dont have to do the breathing exercises anymore. Oh and I finished the nursery - will get a pic on here when the border is on and the furniture is in. Not that you care!

Friday, 14 August 2009

All quiet

Had a few problems with my wifes pregnancy today so we have to go for an emergency scan on monday and the baby may have to be born next week. Bit of a nightmare but perhaps baby spencer may arrive 6 weeks early. In any case may be limited blogging over the next few weeks but i will keep all updated and there will be zillions of photos should the baby arrive early.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Tophill. Dead quiet.

Went to tophill to lend my dissertation to the warden (it was based on teal behaviour on the reserve). Had a wander round and it was QUIET. Not a single wader save for the lapwings. Not a passerine. Nothing. No little egrets. Nevermind, there were plenty of butterflies ( i did try and take some photos but they were all blurry and i know you read this for the intellectual commentry rather than the trivial photos).

Sunday, 9 August 2009

No Shags in Benidorm - Alicante Province, Spain 23rd July - 7th August 2009

With my wife being pregnant we decided to make a short haul trip for our fortnight somewhere warm and thus opted for Spain where we stayed with relatives near Torrevieja, Alicante. The villa we stayed in backed onto a major wetland nature reserve called La Mata, a large ex salt extraction lagoon. I managed to hit this pretty hard over the first few days. I also spent the 27th July with Jules Sykes, a bird guide who covers Alicante province. During the entire trip I managed 12 lifers and best ever views of a number of other species. Due to a strange shortage of hire cars I we didnt manage to hire one but we did have occasional use of my wifes aunts car.

Arriving at Alicante airport o the 23rd many Pallid Swifts overflew and Santa Pola salinas produced a few Little Egret, Whiskered Tern, Flamingo & Black-winged Stilt. Ah - was back in the med. It was however the hottest day we had at 42 celcius and we retired to the villa for the evening. The lack of aircon in the villa led to one of the most uncomfortable nights sleep i have ever had.


Rising early on the 24th I decided to give La Mata a darn good thrashing and was quickly rewarded with a Red-rumped Swallow flying round me in circles hawking for insects. Previously I have dipped these birds frequently and have only had a brief flypast further up the coast at Santa Pola. I soon found out that post breeding dispersal brings good numbers of Bee-eaters to La Mata as the familiar vrrt-vrrt call rang out. Infact we had a number from the swimming pool later in the week. Walking to the lake edge I reconnected with familiar species such as Sardinian Warbler, Woodchat & Southern Grey Shrikes. Galerida larks were abundant and over the week I found many pairs of crested and several pairs of Thekla Lark around La Mata. Many birds were down to genus only. A pseudo-lifer and potential armchair tick came in the form of Iberian Green Woodpecker - a flypast and usual view. I managed infinitely better views later in the week only to scare a juvenile off with my flash. Meandering down to the hide I saw several Swallowtail butterflies - sadly too fast for a photo but a near constant presence. A squadron of uvenile Spotless Starlings bombed past. Not as regular a site in August as in late spring although whether that is due to post-breeding dispersal or a general movement away from Torrevieja to breed im not sure. Every passerine I looked at seemed to be different and yet 9/10 times it was a House Sparrow - they are super common out there. At the hide a handful of passage waders were noted - a theme for the fortnight. Alongwith the expected horde of Kentish Plovers, a pair of sum plum Sanderling sat in full view whilst a pair of Turnstone - one in summer dress were further along the waters edge. Out on the lake a small proportion of the wintering Black-necked Grebes were out there with only 500 or so present (La Mata is the most significant wintering grounds for BN Grebe in western Europe with c4,000 present last March). The only other birds on the salina were Black-headed Gulls. Yawn. Another birder in the small hide pointed to a couple of Stone Curlew, a very definite lifer and significant tart removed. Earlier this spring I had visited Weeting Heath in Norfolk in order to lifetick Stone Curlew only to fail miserably so I was chuffed to find out these birds really did exist. As the morning heated up quickly I returned to base to tan and swim. And drink a little beer.


In the evening I went out for a brief walk which had a few Chlidonias Terns on the lake which I suspected were Whiskered Terns. Also flying over the scrubland were many Common Tern, a spanish tick and many Bee-eaters. A large roost was seen of Bee-eaters in the taller of the Stone Pines. Several gull species were seen roosting on the salina or overflying with Yellow-legged Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Slender-billed Gull & Audouin's Gull all putting in an appearance. Rather mundanely Blackbird, Shelduck and Collared Dove were added to the trip list. On returning to the villa a large lizard with a long whip like tail and raised front end shot across the path - seemingly a likely candidate for Spiny-fooed Lizard. A Sparrowhawk gave chase to a White Wagtail and the first of a few Hoopoes was flushed at my feet.


The 25th saw me trying to give the southern end of La Mata a good thrashing and produced little of note with Goldfinch the only trip tick on the way down. The southern hide provided a bit more interest with a Common Tern colony on the island in full view and many Little Terns resting amongst the Commons. Im not sure if they breed here. A couple of Red-legged Partridge ran across the saltmarsh and I picked out a lone Ringed Plover amongst its cogeners.


By the 26th I started to feel I had got to grips with most of what La Mata had to offer having spent around 10 hours pacing the paths over the previous two days. I decided to head to the northern end in the early evening and lok at the wader roost and reedbed. Sadly the access to the hide was closed but as I wandered up good numbers of the common waders were seen along with another Common Tern colony on an island in the lake. A large Yellow-legged Gull roost was seen with an all dark bird with orange undersides in amongst them wading in the shallows. Remarkably it was a juvenile Montagu's Harrier and its kin were sat higher up the saltmarsh - 2 brothers or sisters. The male soared across the mainroad at good height as rain started to fall on the hills. A magpie cackled unseen and a couple of Redshanks patrolled the edges of La Mata, further evidence of some wader passage.Feral pigeon and Spotted Flycatcher were duly added to the trip list. As I walked back I flushed an Iberian Green Woodie from a large area of grassy scrub with a single tree about 15 metres from myself and was treated to really good views of this distinctive form as it hit the tree, showing no black surrounding the eye. The bird proved to be a juvenile but was still very distinctive.


The 27th was a day I had been looking forward too for a very long time. I was to have a day tour with local bird guide Jules Sykes as my birthday/anniversary/graduation present. An early start gave me brief views of Red-necked Nightjar and after a brief misunderstanding we met up and were underway. Our first target was Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin. A single bird was heard but it seems we were a fortnight or so too late. I hoped this wasnt a portent to the day. Jules didnt seem overly optomistic but we pushed on. Jules is a Yorkshireman gone native in northern Alicante province who leads tours across Europe and the World but who patches Pego marshes and has found some amazing birds in Spain. If you ever find yourself on the Costa Blanca make sure you get in touch with him - he is a vibrant personality and highly competent birder. He had only just returned to Oliva from Scotland where he had been surveying raptors with a mutual acquaintance with camera issues who i had seen just a few days earlier at the Collared Pratincole twitch in East Yorkshire.


We next headed to the Clot de Galvany which yielded a couple of lifers which were remarkable in their ease. A group of White-headed Ducks with a single male and a harem of 4 females sat tight on the water. These cute ruddy-alikes are rapidly increasing in Alicante and were close enough to your common or garden yank stiff-tail that any I see I will be examining in blighty for the Spaniard in the pack. munching through the reeds in the background were a couple of Purple Gallinule/Swamphens. A breeding pair of Little Ringed Plovers were noted along with a couple of passage Common Sanpipers. Pochard and Mallard lurked in the shallows along with Little Grebe and Moorhen and Coot. A Reed Warbler flicked through the reed stems. Moving round to the hide I had high hopes as a Little Owl perched atop a dead tree and 3 Turtle doves gave a flypast. At the hide BW Stilts were everywhere but most impressive was a Purple Gallinule sat in the open, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around it. Sadly it was camera sensitive and quickly hid. No Marbled Teal but there were more sites to explore. A swarm of Red-rumped Swallows descended as we moved off.


Next up was Santa Pola salinas, a large area of salt workings. Bird of the day for Jules was seen here with a couple of summering adult Cormorants, an extremely rare bird out of winter. Glossy Ibis crossed the road - a first for Spain for me with an assortment of Terns blasting about. Collared Pratincole hawked with the Whiskered Terns and then two larger terns started blasting through - they immediately reminded me of winter plumage Sandwich Terns but Jules quickly had them down as Gull-billed Terns, my fourth lifer of the day aand a real surprise. Apart from a few Grey Herons nothing else new was forth coming and we headed into El Hondo filled apparently with great birds and abundent prostitutes on every corner.


We soon found a few Rollers with excellent views of them feeding and a nest hole amonst date-palms. A couple of Green Sandpiper and 2 parties of Whimbrel told us autumn had reached the med, even if it was 37 degrees. El Hondo reserve provided us with Squacco Heron, brief flight views of a male Little Bittern a lifer for me and Great Reed Warbler. A probable Moustached Warbler hid after brief flight views whilst we were surrounded by the beautiful Plain Tiger butterflies, a close relative of the Monarch. Pushing on quickly we saw large numbers of Cattle Egrets in the surrounding fields. We were headed for the mountains.


"Whats that raptor?!" Jules hollared as we sped towards Crevillente. My immediate impression was Buzzard but Jules wasnt convinced and we made an emergency stop on a roundabout. A first summer rufous morph Booted Eagle was the actual id and it was most out of place as it meandered towards perhaps Cabo de Gata before crossing into north Africa. Very much a surprise and by far my best view of this species after a similar experience where i couldnt stop when a pale morph passed over the previous year. Up into the mountains we headed with the sound of Monk Parakeet ringing in our ears from Crevillente high stree- this species is Cat C in Spain and a legitimate addition to a life list but i really didnt care enough to look. Plastic fantastic alright. Onto the Sierra we headed and Thekla larks sang with gusto. Southern Grey Shrikes sat atop most bushes and Bee-eaters were over head. A largish bird disappeared over an escarpment but i felt it was a Raven rather than anything more interesting. 40 minutes later and no raptors had been seen when the Bee-eaters went nuts. Jules quickly called me and I got onto an adult Bonelli's Eagle, a bird i had missed several times at the very same spot. The bird disappearred within a few seconds never to reappear. We moved to lower elavations elated with our luck. Several Alpine Swifts dallied over the crags as we descended.


Moving back to El Hondo we tried for one of the primary targets for the day Marbled Duck. We were giving up when a dstant duck sheltering round a drain cover had a Pintail like jizz and dark eye-mask. It was the badger - a Marbled Duck and a quality bird. The lifers didn't stop there as Jules picked a number of Lesser Short-toed Larks up in flight and ran through the diagnostics with the most important feature the 'dzzryd' buzzy call. It is likely i had merely overlooked these birds throughout my trip but getting to grips with them was satisfying. The last site of the day gave up a wandering colony of Collared Pratincoles. I was delighted with how the day went and Jules was equally pleased and somewhat surprised. It just shows what Alicante can hold.


The 28th had us heading to Murcia and Mar Menor golf resort to see Angelas parents, sister and family. Little was seen of note. More productive was a trip to La Manga for Torrevieja FC (the local kick and run merchants) versus U.D. Almeria from La Liga managed by Hugo Sanchez. 5-0 was the score but La Manga is a corking place set in the hills of Almeria beneath a dammed river. A reservoir by the resort held a colony of Gull-billed Terns plus a few Little Egrets and masses of Hirundines. I was fortunate enough to catch a Red-rumped Swallow drinking from a puddle.


Over the next week I managed little birding time as real life intervened but a brief escape to try for the Rufous-tailed Bush-Robins ended in total failure with an illegal Spanish rave on the site which was then closed down by the police at 8am whilst I sat and pondered in the car with the road closed by the police. Fortuitously my bins and lack of spanish had me marked out as a non-raver and i was soon allowed to go. The Clot de Galvany provided little new save for a few Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush on the escarpment above. Later that day I tried again with my wife in tow for the Bonelli's Eagles at Crevillente and soon found two adults perched doing nothing on the crags. After 40 minutes and the only movement coming from the unborn babies kicks to my wifes stomach we decided to leave when one Eagle flew. It gave the most spectacular display over the next ten minutes leaving even the devout non-birder speechless. A return to the crags hurried our departure to the beach at Guardamar.


The last couple of evenings in Spain saw me determined for a better view of the nightlife. Not in the grimey clubs but the nocturnal creatures of La Mata. Along the various paths beetles were on the prowl. Several types of bat were seen including large Noctule like ones, medium sized ones with large ears and small pipistrelles types. As i wandered I was unsurprised to see Nightjars moving about but a churring individual confused me - that was European Nightjar - as it turned out most of the 'jars were European but a large number were Red-necked, the predominant species in this area. A Barn Owl nearly took my hair off as it was mobbed by a Red-necked Nightjar and these two had a dogfight within spitting distance of my ears before the owl retreated to a bush. Stone Curlews flew overhead in screechy gangs and a couple of Scops Owls were heard only (must remember a spotlight next time!). As i made my way down to the lake on these nocturnal walks I kept an eye on the waders and several Curlew Sandpipers in full summer dress were adorning the shoreline. All very nice.
Here are a couple of photos I could do with a hand identifying - whilst both Galerida larks were seen this one looks quite intermediate with regards its bill. The second photo shows a lizard that thought I couldn't see it - I could but have no real idea what it is. Also seen of interest was Mediterranean Gecko in our villa kitchen most nights and a brown praying Mantis on the last evening (6th) on the drive after a successful quiz night.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

#Rarevine

Check out #rarevine on twitter. The number 1 for UK rare bird news on Twitter. Now with improved coverage and more contributions. If you are fortunate enough to have a 3G phone and are attending a twitch or happen to find a rare bird remember to tweet with #rarevine.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Creatures of the Night

Had a twilight walk around La Mata last night and was treated to loads of Nightjars - mainly European but a few Red-necked thrown in for good measure. All a bit surprising as European are by far the poor relation out here. Had a Barn Owl being mobbed by a Red-necked a couple of feet above my head and neither really noticed as they duelled. A few Scops were calling unseen in the trees (im just glad I found a day rooster a few years ago in Greece). Lots of Stone Curlew screaming away as they flew about and several different types of bat including several large Noctule like individuals, another medium sized one with long ears and a variety of tiny bats. Also a good passage of summer plumage Curlew Sandpipers. Which was nice.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Eagles Have Landed

Revisited a couple of the sites from my tour with Jules Sykes the other day. No Rufous Bush-Robin but did manage to gatecrash an illegal rave on the beach and get held up for an hour as the Police worked out I was a birder rather than pill-popping, techno loving raver. Did manage a Turtle Dove, Hoopoe, Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush whilst being held up but nowt new. Later went on to Crevillente where I managed to find a pair of Bonellis Eagles at great distance holed up on a nest. They sat and preened & preened and sat but refused to fly so I drove off only for Ange to screech that one was up. I was then treated to the most amazing flight views of an adult Bonelli´s Eagle you could imagine. We headed off inland and saw a few distant Rollers before heading onto Guardamar beach. I was only there 30 minutes before a rather pretty spanish lady with rather large fake tits decided to sunbathe topless next to us - I couldnt look anywhere as I was in their shadow. All very disconcerting. Not a lot else to report other than a healthy suntan and more bad photos (Bonelli´s Eagle, Turtle Dove). I hope you are excited!

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive