Thursday 28 February 2013

3 Little Wolves & The Big Bad Pig (part 2)

The second morning dawned cold and clear with the thermometer dipping down to -6.5. We were a little startled by quite how cold it was and wrapped up in about a million* layers. We sat tight at the watch near Boya with some Spanish watchers plus Simon & Karen (aka Julie aka Dave [dont ask!]). The only bird song was a handful of Wrens. Rubbish. A handful of deer of both the common species (Fallow are absent from this area) were seen but the watch passed off without a hint of any canid style action. As a group we were struck by the magnitude of our task. A massive vista with lots of habitat. Yikes.

Rob scanning the valley
 The journey back produced a very smart male Black Redstart, plus our first Bullfinch, Crested Tit, Cirl Bunting and my first Spanish Blue Tit & Great Spotted Woodpecker. A quick turnaround with some corking coffee at the hotel and we set off to the steppes and Villafafila lagunas. Crossing a river en route produced a couple of Great White Egrets plus a few common waterbirds.

Calling in at the visitor centre at Villafafila we got the gen, finding out that 90% of the geese had left the area which was a shame. Marsh Harriers were all over and a pool revealed Lapwing, Golden Plover, Greylag, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall & Mallard. Small stands of trees contained some White Stork nests and birds were conspicuous soaring and feeding. Heading along a track into the hills we chanced across lots (c400) Great Bustards in a variety of places. It was at this point I noticed my camera was unable to get focus lock properly and I was very pissed off. This is the reason for the dross photos. Hopefully John will send his on shortly.

Sandgrouse. I know...
2 small birds flying across the vista resolved to be Black-bellied Sandgrouse but these became invisible in the stubbles when they landed. Big flocks of Skylarks filled the grassland and a juvenile Peregrine flushed by us subsequently flushed a female Merlin. Further wanderings revealed the rather fitting Fieldfare in a copse. It was brass monkeys. I was getting bored at this stage by the endless grass and tiring from the punishing schedule and this feeling was shared by my compadres and so we headed home.


Wednesday 27 February 2013

3 Little Wolves & The Big Bad Pig

On Friday Mike, John, Rob & myself arrived at Luton airport with the enviable prospect of searching the Sierra de Culebra for Wolves. Our gen was a bit thin but with a burgeoning trade in Eco-tourism in the area we were hopeful unaware of the magnitude of our task.

The journey to Luton was long and uneventful and the Wessie (Rob) joined us as we rolled into the hotel. A couple of beers served as a nightcap which was required as I was sharing a bed with a 6 foot brunette. Called John. 4 fitful hours later and a little sleep was had before we boarded the plane to take us to Spain.

A slow transit through the Madrid airport finally over and we got underway in our faithful Zafira. We had nearly 400km to cover to the north west province of Zamora. Through the mountains we ploughed with plenty of Red Kites, a single Griffon Vulture and a flock of Calandra Larks plus a little snow. As we ploughed on through the snow and onto the plain the thermometer started to creep up. To 2 degrees. It was bitter all the way to the Sierras beyond and some 4 hours later we arrived.

We checked in, meeting the delightful Monica & Raul, purveyors of our hotel in Villanueva de Valrojo. We explored the local area, hoping to have a dusk Wolf watch but we couldn't find the closest watch point. Undeterred we found out that John's friends were also in town and were watching from another site to the north near Boya. We piled up and found a dozen watchers of numerous nationalities.

We got the gen that the Wolves hadn't been seen for a week but prior to that they were seen daily from this watch point in the mornings about an hour after dawn as they headed out but they were very had to see at dusk. Red & Roe Deer were both abundant but aside from a Wren and a Dunnock we blanked. 1 watch down and 7 to go.

Returning to a feast from Monica with plenty of good food and a few beers we reflected on a promising day before retiring.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Sea of Tranquility

I have spent 8 of the the last 11 days at sea. This has allowed me to reacquaint with plenty of seabirds but notably after sitting out a southerly gale without too many problems (I don't get sea sick thankfully). Loads of Kittiwakes including some pretty looking first winter birds

After the wind died down we were very lucky with big numbers of Porpoise and Razorbill. A few Black-throated Divers were well received. We also managed a few unseasonal birds, presumably forced north from Biscay. A 1st winter Sabine's Gull was following a boat - that is 5 in 6 months after only 1 previous record. A couple of Bonxies presumably were early migrants but with these guys you can never know with odd birds wintering.

 Aside from these it was the usual fare but remarkable weather for February with sunburn included! On the way home I called in at Wolferton for the Golden Pheasants which have been showing recently. Despite a photographer who thought that standing in the road was a good idea and a 'birder' with £1000 plus bins but walking around the triangle in a bright red coat I finally managed to connect. A male scuttled a third of the way across the road before taking flight, longer and skinnier than its common cousin. No photos I am afraid but UK lifer number 338. Slowly inching toward 350 now.

Today I went out to Barmston. It was freezing but I managed to add 5 species to the year list with Guillemot the pick with other such luminaries as Dunnock and Long-tailed Tit. A couple of Redshank in a field looked very cold but it was generally quiet.

Tomorrow I go Wolf Watching!

A Childhood Revisited

Were you a little boy between 1980-2000? No, well bog off until the next post, otherwise prepare for the best 30 mins in ages. I played more than a dozen of these and started with Microprose Soccer. Amazing!

Tuesday 12 February 2013

5 Years Later

It was 5 years ago on Saturday that this blog started - not a bad run really. I had tried and failed to start blogging before I started 'the idiocy' but I have had a ball composing my posts and sharing my birding. Ultimately the site will always be a diary for me. It gives time and place to my birding history and I find it easier to put this part of my life into a context. Over the course of the blog I have gone from an enthusiastic newbie to a cynical, grizzled jobbing birder. Ha - if only! I'm still like a puppy when it comes to birding - loads of enthusiasm and I hope that comes out in my slightly leaden prose.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird - the first blog header
 I had a ball documenting January throughout the Foot it and Patch Challenge visits and it seems my readership swelled quite markedly - I would like to thank you all for visiting. At this point I must apologise as I havent posted for 10 days and it seems unlikely I will post for another week at least as I head to sea today after working all last week. This week is a 6 day odyssey around the North Sea which hopefully will give me a few decent birds.

This Barbados Anole Anolis extremus used to watch from the corner.
I actually managed some decent stuff on a brief survey on Saturday with a winter Manx Shearwater my first in that season. I'd have been off Brazil - it was baltic! A Black-throated Diver was amongst 40 or so of its Red-throated Diver brethren. A couple of drake Long-tailed Ducks were smart if a little confusing in flight as I desperately tried to turn them into winter plumage auks before conceding defeat. It seems I missed a Little Auk but I will live. A corking start to the survey year. Long may it continue.

When I get back from my voyage I am home only a couple of days before I head away mammal watching to Spain to hopefully catch up with some Wolves and maybe some bustards. That will be some post!

Saturday 2 February 2013


The Kumlien's Gull allowed close approach in near perfect light today and I managed some half decent shots of it. The open wing looks pretty good with the obvious pigmentation along the primary shaft spreading onto both webs.

I wasnt about for very long but I managed to see a tight flock of 25 Kittiwakes heading south ahead of a squall. There were plenty of waders about, principally Sanderling, Turnstone & Oystercatcher but the flock contained 2 Dunlin & 4 Knot.

I also found out that Shag is a scarcity for this stretch of the coast with few records each year so the 4 I have had constitute 80% of the records for HVWG this year. Bonus.

Friday 1 February 2013

Foot It Summary

I posted on the Foot It blog but not here. I scraped in at 100% with the last role of the dice. Exactly 78 species. The final bird was a group of 5 Canada Geese on Wansford Mill Pond. I walked 12.5km yesterday in 50mph gusting gales. I managed a Green Sandpiper and 5 Teal but I had lost the faith after 9km. The carrs were devoid. Empty. Nada. Nothing. Never have 5 feral geese filled my heart with such joy. I am still chuffed that on an area of farmland with a few drains, with a canal and small chalk stream, with very little in the way of trees managed to give such rich rewards. I managed to see 80 species in the month in the area but Pintail and Shelduck were sadly motorised.

 The highlights, kicking a Bittern out of a small reedbed at 11pm in the snow, a Twite flushing from a stubble field as I walked past, Green Sandpiper feeding amongst Redwing, the flyby Shoveler, the 3 Golden Plover in a winter wheat field, the Wigeon & Teal on the mere. All amazing but all these did was highlight that if you go birdwatching you will see birds. The very best thing was the discovery of 2 Short-eared Owls wintering on the south end of Nafferton Carrs. These guys have given me so much pleasure during the last week of the challenge but sadly no decent photos.

A daily sight. Brilliant!
 I have walked over 100km and burnt over 10,000 calories walking around the local area this month and this has had the desired effect. I'm smaller than pre-christmas and thanks to patch challenge hopefully I will continue to put the miles in and reap the rewards. I will be continuing to keep a close eye on the local area and all thanks are due to Mark, Martin & Tom who thought up the original idea. I will be seeing what I get for the year in the same area I have walked. Perhaps 130 species are possible? At least 15-20 migrant breeders plus passage birds and those I have plain missed. Where were the Little Owls, Red-legged Partridges, Little Egret, Pochard etc. Who knows but I do understand my local area that bit better. I know where to look for Siskin & Redpoll, where Hares box, where Roe Deer sleep, how many pairs of Grey Partridge are in their favoured field. Fingers crossed I continue this remarkable lesson on my locale and with the Pan Patch Challenge perhaps I will learn even more of its diversity.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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