Friday 29 March 2013

What's on TV?

My patch, that's what. On Look North this evening - I assume it's on iPlayer somewhere already. They were looking at the wreck, specifically of lobsters as revealed exclusively on here in our last installment. Feeding on said wreck was a few thousand gulls again, despite the millions of people. Amongst the throng was the Kumlien's Gull and a very nice thank you very much adult summer plumage Mediterranean Gull. I couldnt get particularly close so here is the Med at 100x magnification.

Monet eat your heart out
I spent ages at Barmston today and it looked good for migrants but alas no new ones were to be found. I thought I had a Water Pipit on the marsh as 4 Scandinavian Rock Pipits bobbed about but I couldn't find it on the deck amongst the long grass. In flight I got the call and a cleaner looking pipit with a white outer tail feather but there were so many pipits bombing about I can't be sure they were the same bird. Little else was on the marsh, no snipe of either type so after chasing the pipits I gave up and went after the gulls. - Bad video of the Kumlien's Gull - video of a Scandi Rock Pipit

Initially I tried to avoid the crowds but eventually I succombed to the lure of the north. In the southern part of the patch there were a few Teal plus the Stonechat again and another Scandi Rock Pipit. Not the heights of excitement. The Reed Buntings were all getting a little excited with the sunny spells despite the mercury topping out at 7 centigrade.

Same bird as previously - white mark behind the eye
Young 'uns out already

Tuesday 26 March 2013

The Beast from the East

I have managed a couple of visits to Barmston over the last couple of days despite gale force easterlies (which in truth are just a touch early). It has been horrific to bird in. Covered in sand, spray, water, salt. Yuck! The wind chill has been pretty phenomenal as well. Despite the hardships there have been some cracking birds about.

The video shows the Common Gulls feeding in the surf yesterday. I was hoping to get one of the 2 Little Gulls I spied in the frame but failed miserably. What it does illustrate is the size of the surf coming in - this is on the beach as yesterday the beach disappeared. Its mostly mud today plus crustaceans and dead fish, the sand appears to be mostly in the fields. Back to yesterday, I walked the fields and reedbed trying to avoid the wind mostly and succeeded in finding 3 Stock Doves which were patch ticks (all very new at this patching lark!). More interesting were the 3-4 Jack Snipe which I found in the pipit field alongside half a dozen of their common cousins. Also in the reedbed were a dozen Teal which were hiding from the wind. A few waders were on the various flashes and a couple of small plovers got me briefly excited as they scuttled but they resolved into bog standard Ringed Plover. Slightly larger and certainly more out of place were a couple of Grey Plovers feeding on the fields.

I worked back amongst the foam and the noise and was rewarded with the aforementioned Little Gulls and the Kumlien's Gull which is now very white.

Today I got down to the beach quick smart  but not before a Black Redstart flew across the field north of the caravan site and under the first caravan, not to be seen again. The sight that greeted me was thousands of gulls present including Lesser Black-backs and Kittiwakes. The Kumlien's was in the middle of the throng and a possible Viking Gull looked very Glaucous like facially but the mantle and wing looked like a very washed out Herring. Sadly I forgot my camera but I did remember my phone and so was able to get a few pictures of the various things washed up on the beach or in the case of the Lobster in the following video still living in a pool.

Dead Sea Scorpion

I believe this was an ex-Lobster
Back on land and there was less to note than the previous day but a single Jack Snipe and a couple of standard gauge Common Snipe. I was getting pretty cold so I shuffled on toward my car and saw little else.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Whisper it quietly.

Don't tell anybody else. Just keep it to yourself. I saw spring today, she isn't quite here but I saw her. It was definitely her. She just hasn't quite walked through the door yet. Think more at the gate.

I spent a pleasant couple of hours at Barmston this lunchtime. It was sunny but brisk and I saw a few bits and pieces. Pride of place goes to the mammals certainly. Out on the sea amongst a myriad of Great Crested Grebes & Red-throated Divers were a number of Porpoises actively feeding in the shallows. Always a great creature to see and even better when they are doing something other than swimming away. I didn't have the heart to tell the guys stood next to me that they weren't dolphins, they were enjoying them so much. If you read this - I'm sorry but Porpoises are still awesome! The other mammals of note were a pair of Roe Deer that were feeding unconcerned by me. Until a dog came piling up that is.

The video is worth watching in full HD - quite pleased with the quality the camera manages.

Aside from these guys I managed a couple of patch year ticks - a male Stonechat amongst the various Rock Pipits on the pile of hay and manure by the Barmston drain. On said drain there was also a pair of Mute Swans which didn't look like it was much to their liking to be honest.

Other stuff included a flock of 31 Lapwing headed out towards Denmark. Optimists! A scattering of waders on the floods included plenty of Redshank and Dunlin plus a solitary Curlew and Ringed Plover on a small flood which had apparently held some Twite earlier which I missed (although a single Linnet/Twite went over calling once as I walked down).

No Chiffchaffs or Wheatears yet but I am hopeful anyday... Not a lot of seabirds either although I did manage a single Guillemot north. No strange gulls today - just a single Lesser Black-backed Gull. No sign of the Kumlien's and he hasn't been as regular so I wonder if Nova Scotia is calling?

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Gull Dilemmas

Can anybody help me? I saw this guy at Barmston on a flash. Obviously white-headed with a bulky build but with an 'interesting' scap pattern I am torn between michahellis and argentatus. I have no literature to hand - its all at a mates house. Im struggling a bit.

The above link goes to the video which doesnt want to embed. It is a bit better quality than the still.

I also got a couple of stills before it was flushed by some marauding Lapwings.

I was testing out my new Canon Sx50 and I was impressed despite the gloom. I also stumbled on a couple of littoralis Rock Pipits. These were smart, especially the pink one!
Not Pink
I managed four year ticks for the patch of varying quality. The first was a slightly overdue Lesser Black-backed Gull. It was even an intermedius for added bonus. Baring in mind the displaying adult I saw in Driffield yesterday I wasn't overwhelmed. 2 Greylags and 2 Moorhens around the south of the patch were expected and overdue. Best of all was a Short-eared Owl that was roosting in the drain 2/3s of the way to Fraisthorpe which managed to avoid my prying lens.

Best of the rest included a couple of Snipe, 8 Dunlin, a Woodcock and a Grey Plover. All in all an excellent trip out but it would be made better if somebody could give me a considered opinion on the gull.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Yes! We have no Bananas

I was busy messing around at home when I got a bird alert - a White-billed Diver south at Barmston. Arse! Rumour has it that a reputable observer had it so even more galling. I went up anyway, hoping for a return north but that wasn't happening. I did manage to pick out a Great Northern Diver on the sea which is great patch fodder but not the big diver I was hoping for. 4 Curlews were also year ticks but they moved off south. The weather was lovely - sunny and warm with a light north westerly. I was tempted away from the car.

Plenty of birds were on the beach and the Kumlien's Gull was there as ever. 10 Grey Plovers were shunted along the beach by horse riders and 2 Redshank decided that hiding in the fields was a better option. I decided to head back along the beach amongst the old WW2 defences that lay wrecked on the beach, a tribute to the erosive action of the sea. A small wader flicked through these, followed by 2 more. Purple Sandpipers. These buggers have been eluding me all winter so to get them before they bugger off to Scandinavia is a bonus. Even better, the sun came out.

As the tide pushed up I noticed the Kumlien's getting nice and close so I let the water do its work and got an ok picture. Not a lot else to see...

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Winters last Hurrah!

The last couple of days I have spent a couple of hours at Barmston despite the weather. I have sat in my nice warm car and angled it so I could do a spot of seawatching without having to worry about the snow showers or the force 7 winds or the cold. This has been a good thing as despite the frankly disgusting weather I have been able to pick solace in a few avian signs of the impending spring.

If this isn't the last snows of the winter I will be extremely surprised but things are unpredictable throughout the British year when considering the weather so definites are best avoided I guess. Seabirds have been the principle in making me feel warm. That and the heater in my car. Yesterday I watched solely from the car and very little was moving, a handful of the usual gulls up and down the beach interspersed with Sanderling, Turnstone and the like but a duck made the difference. It was a male Eider flying north about 200m off the beach and it was a vision, flapping like a crow such was the headwind for it but nobly fighting its cause. The black belly makes them look so much smarter in flight than on the water as well. This was my first record of the year and presumably it will be heading to a rocky outcrop to nest in the near future. I didn't see much else except for the Kumlien's Gull which did its obligatory fly past despite looking half dead last time I saw it.

Today was even more promising - there were several birds worth noticing and many that weren't worth noticing but their constant presence made me sit up and realise what was happening. We will start with the latter. Not glamorous or interesting in a coastal location but ubiquitous. Herring Gulls were present as always. I almost recognise some of the local winterers now. Despite this I couldn't help but notice that everytime I looked at the surf birds were passing north. At first I dismissed it as local birds moving up and down but after 2 hours it became clear this was quite a decent passage as perhaps 6 or 7 birds a minute arced through the breakers without hinting at any interest in the world terrestrial a mere flap away. They looked like British birds so I imagine, like the Eider from the day before they were making headway despite the weather. In fact mentioning the weather, it was more clement today in that it was above freezing and damp with less wind as it was in the process of switching NE to NW.

A squadron of Gannets passed by perhaps 2km offshore. A long way away anyhow. All adults and all heading toward Bempton, these were my patch year tick. No longer must I gaze to the horizon for them. Just skuas and shears... A pair of Razorbills were being attended by a Great Black-backed Gull and single Guillemot & Red-throated Diver sat in the calm beyond the breakers. The Razors were my first local ones since last year so were another harbinger. A Shag flying south was a surprise - I hadn't seen a cormorant sp for a while here. Not sure where it was going really. Away from Bridlington!

I decided to leave the comfort of my car where immediately a couple of Rock Pipits hopped about on the rocks below the car park. They showed no sign of a pink flush but weren't particularly dingy so my guess was they were littoralis passing by, just starting to smarten up for the spring. My only other Rock Pipit this year looked extremely petrosus like so it is nice to get a ssp. tick. I froze my whatnots off clambering to the beach and saw the Kumlien's Gull looking surprisingly healthy - it was bathing in a puddle on the top of the beach and has managed to remove most of the oil that it had got itself coated in. It seems to have either regrown the feathers on its face or these were only matted with the oil. Either way a pleasing sight.

Hopefully tomorrow I will have a proper migrant. Probably not though.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Back to Patch

After returning from Spain I have made a couple of visits to the patch, both totally different in nature and both giving me 2 patch ticks apiece. On the 28th Feb I was trying to accrue some last minute additions but it was pretty quiet as the stubbles had been ploughed and their were dog walkers on the beach. Despite this there was a general unrest amongst the Common Gulls. The reason became apparent when a sub-adult Peregrine came motoring over my shoulder. It cant have passed more than 5 yards away using me as a screen as it attempted a pop-up attack. It failed and disappeared over the marsh at the rate of knots leaving me to photograph its arse.

The sun was blazing down so despite the low temperatures there was serious heat haze and thermals. A Buzzard lazily moved along the beach without much effort and at least another 7 were noted moving north along the ridge that is 1 mile inland of the patch. One of these birds seemed to take an extended interest in a small copse north of the ridge so I will have to keep an eye on this. Buzzard is my second Buzzard sp for the site after the juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard from 2010. Little else was seen so I sacked it off pretty quickly.

Yesterday it was foggy. Very foggy initially with visibility about 50m. I almost gave up and turned round immediately but I am glad I stuck to my original plan. The fog made the beach the only option so I walked north to the ford up near Fraisthorpe. The Kumlien's Gull was still about looking pretty ill with little feathering infront of its eyes. If you find it dead please retain the body or at least some juvenile feathers (eg primaries) in case it could be radio-isotoped. Good numbers of waders were kicking about and with the lack of dogs were allowing close approach. No purps for me. Still. Gah! Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Sanderlings were the bread and butter as usual but a Ringed Plover and 3 Redshank were nice. Oh for a godwit or curlew. I'm sure it wont be long though. I headed back south of the Barmston car park and did my hedgerow loop with limited success. The fog was lifting and singing Skylarks and a single Meadow Pipit made it feel more spring like with a bit of sun creeping through the haze. As I arrived at the pine plantation a yelping above me emerged from a fog bank and was a single lost looking Pink-footed Goose. Strangely my first of this species here of what in theory should be the commonest goose. Just Bean, Canada and Barnacle to add aside from vagrants now.

I rocked up in the plantation and there were loads of birds in a tit flock. Despite my searching I couldn't uncover a Goldcrest (although if I manage to go a year here without a Goldcrest I will be in shock) but I did find 1, perhaps 2 Treecreepers which must be migrants as they haven't been present all winter. How far they have come is certainly open to debate but it is nice that stuff is moving. By this time I was flagging after covering quite a lot of ground and despite the flat sea and improving visibility it was still very patchy and I decided to call it quits.

I stuck the moth trap out last night and got...a wet moth trap. Doh. Next time maybe.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Team Wolf - John Sadler's Photos

I have borrowed quite a lot of John's shots as my camera seems to have largely packed up. Enjoy.

Griffons near the Almendra Dam

Azure-winged Magpies - everywhere near the Portugal border

Great Bustard from Villafafila

The Hurricane

The Hustler. Apparently.

Iberian Grey Shrike

More Bustards

Chilly White Storks

Rock Bunting

Simon & Karen Spavin - great company. Kept our spirits buoyed.

The Awesome Foursome

Our Hotel

The Gen - We used the bottom watchpoint

3 Little Wolves & The Big Bad Pig (Part lots)

Like you I am now quite bored of writing up the Spain trip nearly a week on. Good news! This is to be the final installment and unlike the last one it has no Wolves. Sadly our final Wolf watch didn't happen. I dived out of the final nightdrive for some kip. This was a good decision as the guys saw a Rabbit and a Fox. I got an extra 2 hours in bed so I didnt come home feeling like a zombie before being handed the kids lock, stock and barrel. The others however rolled into the hotel at about half 11/midnight. It was a little cloudy and the weather was obviously changing but nobody was prepared for the sight of this at 7am...


This put a somewhat different complexion on the day as the snow went on for hundreds of kms in varying depths but the hardest bit to navigate was the first 200m out of the village. A probable Black Vulture ticked all the boxes but seen from a moving car at 140kph isn't perhaps gonna to cross the threshold of the internal records committee despite flying alongside a plethora of Griffons.

All in all a cracking holiday with good mates in a part of Spain I haven't visited before and may well not return to. It was a beautiful place but aside from the Wolves there isn't much that makes it remarkable at this time of year so it is ticked off. I would thoroughly recommend going however and depending on your social arrangements as to where to stay. Intense nature watching with mates - I'd go for the same hotel in Villanueva de Valrojo but if it was with a companion of the fairer sex then perhaps the more luxurious San Pedro. I managed new bird, 3 new mammals and 18 new Spanish ticks give or take. The trip total was somewhere in the mid 80s for birds but I can't come to concensus and dont care enough.


Monday 4 March 2013

3 Little Wolves & The Big Bad Pig (Part 6)

After the successes of the day before we rolled up to the watch point truck & trailor with Simon & Karen without the urgency of previous watches. We talked. We pretended to watch. And then the deer on the ridge opposite all spooked. Suddenly the intensity was there, all eyes to scopes. John (again!) pipes up - I've got Wolves - 6 of them. Only Karen got onto them but persistance paid off and they showed incredibly with a group of 6 plus a straggler wending their way across the hillside before disappearing perhaps 10 minutes later. We all got awesome views and Karen got some more than reasonable records shots considering the distance. The sighting blew the previous day out of the water with the latent power of the animals evident as they sauntered through their kingdom. All of the following photos are courtesy of Simon & Karen Spavin.

The rest of the watch passed off quickly and without further interest apart from my attempt to string a Roe Deer as a Boar. Oops! We had a poke round San Pedro de Hereras, the village in which Simon & Karen were staying. If you were coming with a lady friend to this part of Spain it is certainly the village of choice with incredible scenery. It all looks a bit Pan's Labyrinth. Birdwise plenty was singing and Jays were mobbing a Sparrowhawk but there was no sign of the hoped for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. A male Blackcap was a modicum of compensation.

The woods at San Pedro
We stayed local for the rest of the day and picked up lots of Rock Buntings behind the Posada plus Wolf scat and pug marks. A surprise Tree Pipit was displaying amongst the Woodlarks but the biggest surprise was hundreds of Redwing and plenty of Fieldfares. Mike found lots of Newt and Salamander habo much to his chagrin.

Wolf Shit - its pretty hairy!
 We tried looking for Otters on one of the dammed Rivers close by but only managed to add Great Crested Grebe to the trip list but a very nice picnic was had in the sun. In the afternoon we tried again for the Lesser Peckers in the woods at San Pedro but it was dead aside from a Nuthatch.

The evening Wolf watch was to be our last. Nothing of interest happened or so I thought, however amongst some blurry Dartford Warbler shots I found this differently proportioned bird with a white outer tail feather and the penny dropped that we had overlooked an early returning Subalpine Warbler under our noses.

3 Little Wolves & The Big Bad Pig (Part 5)

Buoyed on the Wolf sighting the day was young and as such we grabbed it with both hands and decided to head down to the River Duero for some raptor watching in the neighbouring province of Salamanca. The countryside slowly changed from the endless grassland of the meseta into boulderlands more typical of southern Spain before finally becoming dehesa cleaved with mighty gorges.

First we coalesced at the Almendra dam, seen in the top photo. Here the familiar twitterings of Serin were heard for the first time and they were a lifer for Rob. Despite Mike's protestations that Serin are shit birds I quite like these funky finches and their bat-like display flights. They make me feel warm which despite the photos it was not. Strong sun enabled us to crawl out of our coats but the car was adament that it didnt really climb above 6 degrees. Crag Martins were interspersed with the first returning House Martins. Griffon Vultures were everywhere in spirals, singally or just loafing on ledges. A pale raptor with dark wingtips was picked up by Rob but nobody else could get onto it so it stayed as a no ID.

We pushed further south and saw plenty more Griffons en route as well as my only avian lifer of the trip - loads of Azure-winged Magpies. They were really cool and it was great watching them going round mob-handed. My first spanish Jay was amongst the first band of these striking gangsters. Aside from plenty more Griffons, Red Kites, Dartford Warblers & Stonechats there wasn't much happening and we didnt have any nest site gen so satiated with the spectacular scenery and Mike's mantra of 'if we had come two weeks later there would be herps everywhere' we headed back the way we came. As we made headway an incoming vulture looked big, broad and dark. I mentally wrote it off as a backlit Griffon but the boys slowly came to a different conclusion. Sadly by the time they did this I was 1/2 mile up the road. I span it round and we headed back. No sign of the vulture which has gone into the unconfirmed category but 2 raptors were up. 2 adult Bonelli's Eagles. These guys are great and it was nice to reacquaint with the species in a new locality.

As we had connected with the Wolves in the morning we had opted to use the full day in the south and then redouble our efforts the next morning. We all opted in for the nightdrive and after a good meal from Monica we set out, spirits high. It wasn't action packed with a handful of Rabbits and Red Deer but the one highlight was my first Wild Boar feeding in the gutter at the side of the road before moving onto the verge as the car passed. We had excellent views and the boar wasn't phased by the car.

Sunday 3 March 2013

3 Little Wolves & The Big Bad Pig (Part 4)

Small gap in postings was due to a wedding and the absurd amount of alcohol I was forced to consume whilst present. Both brain cells are still present and correct however and I shall crack on regardless.

The morning of day 3 - the 25th dawned icy cold but clear as a bell with no moisture in the air. The light was so good that pre-dawn scanning was possible with confidence. I felt good. I even said to my co-watchers that we would connect today. The light was simply too good not too. I only hoped that I hadn't jinxed the whole thing by vocalising what the others were mulling over internally.

Time passed and there were obviously more birds about than at the previous watches. I felt I was getting to know the hill sides and rides through which the deer browsed and hopefully our quarry would pass. It got close to 9am and despite the improved conditions, attention spans were shortening and talk turned to food. Simon and Karen kept our spirits up with some wise cracks but occasionally people splintered off to look at the Crossbills, Siskins & Firecrests that were keeping us all entertained.

Simon & Karen Spavin's photo of the scratching Wolf.
 Something magic happened. It was John, again. He had something 'its Wolves!'. We all swung into action trying to get scopes on the beasts and directions. Eventually we all connected as first 2 then 3 animals mooched around a small clearing before disappearing briefly and reappearing seemingly without actually moving. I didn't initially get the best views as I wasn't on a scope when the animals were found and had to wait my turn but when I had the chance I struck wolf-watching gold. The images of 2 wolves sauntering about as if the owned the place whilst a third sat on its haunches for a scratch followed by the lazy stretch that you see dogs do the world over. Mind Blown. No sooner had the sighting started than it concluded as the Wolves disappeared, seemingly into thin air.

Short-toed Treecreeper
 2 Anti-social Scots who disappeared up the road prior to the sighting were returning to leave so I had to make sure their poor manners and spiky dispositions got them the gripping off they deserved so I sprinted up to their car to be the bearer of good tidings. We never did find out if they connected. Jubilant we returned to the hotel before heading out raptoring in the gorges of the borderlands near the Almendra dam. Before leaving we found singing Woodlarks, Cirl Bunting, Short-toed Treecreeper plus a displaying Golden Eagle. A rather tasty start to the day.

Friday 1 March 2013

3 Little Wolves & The Big Bad Pig (Part 3)

We journeyed back across the meseta from Villafafila to the Sierras with one thing on our mind - finding Wolves. We were the first on the scene at the watchpoint with Simon & Karen's ever present Ford Fiesta arriving just as we were setting up. Setting up was not really a concept I needed to embrace particularly as on the first evening I had managed to shear the bolt holding my scope to its quick release plate and with my camera effectively out of action I only had my bins to work with. Diligently I continued with my task knowing that I was unlikely to be of much help in locating the Wolves.

The other guys all stuck to their task with gusto. Suddenly John piped up "I have movement, I don't think it is Deer".

We all zeroed in on where John was watching and 2 shapes, working through the heather soon became evident. Tension in voices stiffened as we tracked these shapes from the tree line and through broken scrub until they emerged in a clearing. They were canines and soon we were celebrating wildly as the came out briefly. The celebrations were premature after the first animal came out, a second in pure white also did. The also appeared short-haired with thin tails. Rapidly it became obvious to all that they were Mastins, the local breed of sheep dog. If we had only managed a brief view these could have gone down as Wolves so we were thankful to Mikes diligence. In the end we realised that they weren't even feral animals as a car was sat on a dirt track hidden by trees and the two dogs after looping round headed inexorably toward this before disappearing from view.

The sun was fading and we managed relatively little else of promise. The lack of other watchers made us think our best chance of connecting had passed. We were all feeling a little dejected and after hearing about the difficulties encountered by Steve Babbs' group we retired for dinner mentally disintegrated. The food was traditional locale fayre according to our cordial host but we sadly caused upset as the mushrooms tasted like salted slugs apparently (I didn't touch them as they looked rank) and the scrambled egg with prawns was not to my usual palette although we soldiered on gamely.

Despite the mish mash that was our evening meal (the only below standard food of our stay) we conspired to get into the Sierras on a night drive. 2 hours of slow driving later and we hadn't had much success with the exception of a mammal lifer for a couple of us, me included - an Iberian Hare. Initially taken to be a Rabbit, this species, formerly conspecific with European Hare looks like a halfway house between Hare & Rabbit but with the distinctive face of a Lepus sp. We crept back toward the posada to hit the hay, all completely ruined by our long day when a smart little Fox crossed our paths. At least we connected with one wild canine today!

I do have a video of a nightdrive but unfortunately it was taken midway through a bawdy story and as such would be inappropriate to put on here.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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