Thursday 24 December 2015

A Week in the Costa Blanca

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a relation in Spain for 7 days. Without my wife or my children... I had built up a bank of lieu time to take thanks to a busy summer of survey work and a trip to the relative warmth of Alicante seemed appealing. I jetted out from Leeds early on Saturday 21st November with a return ticket for just over £100 with Ryanair and the hire car plus super insurance was about £120 including a tank of petrol from Drivalia so all in all pretty cheap. Despite a few delays I arrived mid-afternoon and was soon setting off south towards La Siesta, Torrevieja which is adjacent to the La Mata Parc Natural (my away patch).

El Hondo at dusk looking west
The airport produced naught of interest with a single Kestrel hunting the rough grass adjacent to the runway and the local House Sparrows and Woodpigeons in evidence. Onward south and I decided the light would allow half an hour at Santa Pola Salinas - some extensive salt pans which hold huge aggregations of water birds. Driving in I saw my only Swallows of the trip amongst the clouds of Crag Martins. The weather had taken a turn for the worse over the 24 hours prior to my arrival and 26c became 16c with cloud and drizzle. This made my visit to Santa Pola somewhat briefer as the scope got a little soggy. The salinas were chocka block with Flamingos and Yellow-legged Gulls. Also in evidence were Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls feeding en masse. There was an attendant Sandwich Tern which was making hay with the numerous fish fry. More standards were quickly added to the trip list with Little Egret and Black-winged Stilt stalking the lagoons. A brace of calling passerines quickly added themselves to the trip list as flyover Goldfinch and Meadow Pipit were noted. Scanning the Salinas in the drizzle I added Grey Heron, Green Sandpiper, Shelduck and Great Crested Grebe before retreating to the warmth of my Fiat Panda. The car for its underpowered gutless soul was immensely practical as it was small, roomy inside with a good sized boot which is essential in areas with an abundance of petty thieves ready to relieve you of the bag left on the back seat.

Making headway I noticed my first Cattle Egrets, White Wagtails and Collared Doves as I traversed the farmland between Guadamar and Quesada. Pulling into La Siesta the hweet of many Chiffchaffs and the ticking call of the myriad of Black Redstarts was immediately evident as were the local Feral Pigeons. With darkness drawing in quickly and a 2 1/2 gap in visiting I was keen to see Auntie Anne (neither called Anne nor my Aunt), the sprightly 84 year old who I was staying with. I soon introduced myself to the San Miguel that she had stocked up on and settled in to watch the latest edition of El Classico.

Waking early on Sunday 22nd eager to get out and make the most of my trip I noshed on a quickfire breakfast and headed to El Hondo but not before hearing the familiar rattle of the local Sardinian Warblers which are ever present in the area. El Hondo is simply the best nature reserve you have never heard of. It makes Minsmere look like a pygmy and is relatable to Donana and the Carmague. It is a giant wetland complex created by the draining of an immense inland lagoon for agriculture. Now it has two enormous reservoirs which are fringed by reedbeds and then surrounding this are pools and lagoons some very good farmland habitats outside the reserve. The whole area is served by a range of dykes, ditches and canals to control the water levels and there is a rubbish dump between the reserve and Elche. There is a central line of Eucalyptus trees which separate the reservoirs and to the north there are extensive date palm plantations. To the south are field networks which hold huge numbers of birds. My plan for the week was to a) search this area extensively, b) see a Great Spotted Eagle well and c) refind the Sociable Plover which has been in the locale since early November. This is all made harder by the lack of access to the main reserve where birders are only allowed in on Saturday morning (and I was flying home on the Friday). Fortunately there are plenty of points of interest from the boundaries, especially the South and West including the Vistabella Road with the Santa Agueda hides which are new and the official visitors centre at San Felipe Neri. The reserve holds hordes of birds and I hoped to catch up with a few.

So back to Sunday and I decided to start at the San Felipe Neri visitor centre which is known as El Raicon. Here the reintroduction of Red-knobbed Coot was commenced and I hoped to catch up with one although they are now less tied to this area after several years. Before I had parked new additions were leaping onto the list with Fan-tailed Warbler, Linnet and the ever present Stonechats quickly seen. The first of many Marsh Harriers, an immature female, quartered a bare field which held a torrent of finches. Inside the visitor centre I checked out the pool where the RK Coots were first released but to no avail although Coot, Moorhen and Water Rail were in evidence. Little Grebes whinnied from further away and the first Jackdaw was seen in a flock of Cattle Egrets. Booted Eagles winter in this semi-arid area and several were seen most days with all but two pale morphs. So obviously the first bird I clocked, soaring over the centre on thermals was a dark morph juvenile...

Moving out onto the boardwalk and small flocks of Glossy Ibis commuted between Hondo and the fields outside its boundaries. These guys were scarcities when I first visited 7 years ago but they have exploded in numbers in Southern Spain which reflects the numbers which arrive in autumn in the UK. Looking like Moorhens which have had too much growth hormone, Purple Swamphens were a common if unobtrusive presence on the margins of the reeds whilst the first wintering Robins and Reed Buntings were recorded around the edges of the reeds. A fence alongside a large area of salicornia threw up the first Iberian Grey Shrike of the trip. This distinctive form of Grey Shrike is now widely given species status separate to other Southern forms and is a common sight harassing passerines in winter from an exposed perch. Along the fence and a 1st winter male Bluethroat was sat out in the open momentarily. White-spotted Bluethroats are common in winter but a bugger to see sometimes and this was only my second. I was to see several more during the week and didnt once lose their appeal. A male Merlin scudded over the reeds proving terminal for the first Starling of the trip. Thankfully many thousands winter here alongside their Spotless relations which were soon picked out amongst the flocks.

The path to the hides yielded the only Little Bittern of the trip as a female shot across the path and hid in an isolated stand of 12 foot high reed never to be seen again. From the hides the first Cormorant, Pochard, Lapwing and Mallard were seen with the ever present Cetti's Warblers producing the backing track. This area of Spain holds the majority of Western Europe's wintering Black-necked Grebes and many were seen on the lagoons. Flocks of loafing Flamingo and Shelduck were seen but more interesting were the four flocks of c50 Stone Curlew which flew low over the reeds in tight formations. Not a behaviour I am familar with. The temperature remained in the low teens and the cool northerly breeze stiffened as I moved round the tracks. Blackbird, Buzzard, Kingfisher and Shoveler are all common in winter and were noted around the platform which proved chilly as the piercing cold weather from the UK which produced snow at home managed to upset El Hondo's equilibrium. A Red-crested Pochard was seen loafing with Mallards in a eutrophic pool and a couple of late Plain Tiger butterflies quietly traversed the salicornia. Moving round to the Vistabella Road looking for the Sociable Plover and there was little of note aside from the first Crested Larks of the trip and a Common Snipe which was flushed from a soggy field corner.

Getting peckish I decamped to Santa Pola for my lunch where I enjoyed my chorizo salad in the company of several hundred Flamingos and half a dozen Spoonbills. The Sandwich Tern was still present with the gulls and a range of waders were added including Avocet, Redshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Black-tailed Godwit. The rest remained tantalizingly out of range. A roost of five Great White Egrets were the only birds noted on the trip although this has more to do with not looking for them than any scarcity. After lunch I went for a stroll at Clot de Galvany where little was notable but Thekla Lark, Wigeon, Teal and Chaffinch were firsts for the trip. Difficult viewing and high levels of disturbance meant I didnt return to this little reserve which can be very promising. Arriving back in La Siesta the calls of Serins were heard emanating from the trees fringing the La Mata reserve. After 24 hours I had recorded 70 species which wasnt a bad start but there were few exceptional sightings.

Day 2 started at La Mata where I went for a furtle round the pine plantations. This is a regular place for Mistle Thrush and Hoopoe in winter and both were duly bombing about along with several hundred thousand Black Redstarts (or so it seemed). A tit flock held plenty of Long-tailed Tits but not the hoped for Firecrest which is usually guarenteed here. The Iberian race of Red Squirrel is present here and comes in a couple of morphs: either black or blonde, both with a ginger tinge. These guys were shooting between trees and trying to keep clear of the park rangers who were brushing up pine needles (why I have no idea - must be a good way to waste time). This area of plantation is enclosed with chainlink fence and sat upon this were the first definite Spotted Starlings of the trip. There is usually a small flock here and it is the local breeding birds whereas down at El Hondo there will be thousands of migrants from all over Iberia associating with their common cousins from further north and east. Outside the fence there is several acres of allotment and amenity grassland and here were a couple of Skylarks. The allotments held hundreds of Serin and Meadow Pipit plus the ubiquitous Stonechats which are everywhere.

I headed to the wader screen after failing to find any Richard's Pipits. Again. Apparently there are 3-4 wintering in the area but I never connect. Useless! A yaffling call as I headed along the sandy track which leads to the screen revealed a flyover Iberian Green Woodpecker. In the lowlands this is the only species of woodpecker in this part of Spain and whilst never in great densities they are easy to see (and hear) all around La Mata. At the screen the usual horde of non-birding Germans and Scandinavians enjoying their morning walk were monopolising the blinds but I could see several hundred waders bobbing about. A little patience and the throng cleared revealing a mix of Little Stint, Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover plus a brace of Grey Plover, a single Kentish Plover and a lone Turnstone. Beyond them a flotilla of about 2,500 Black-necked Grebes floated around the middle of the lake which is the most important wintering ground for this species in Europe. A bakers dozen of Flamingos fed in the shallows whilst Cormorants lounged on the tern islands.

I ran out of enthusiasm for La Mata before too long and decided on an afternoon looking for the Sociable Plover at El Hondo. This was focused on the Vistabella road on the south of the site and working the agricultural fields between here and Dolores, a veritable maze of small roads of fertile fields making the task very difficult and one I would repeat on a number of occasions throughout the week. I managed to slip the fence that prevents viewing of the lagoons on the reserve and a bund provided views of Poniente. Here I saw amonst the horde of Pochard and Shoveler a handful of White-headed Ducks. The weather was chilly and aside from a few Marsh Harriers and clouds of Crag Martins there was little else to warm the blood. I started working the smaller fields and found a male Merlin dismantling a Crested Lark in a field. Merlins are surprisingly common here in winter and this stonking adult gave prolonged views in the middle of a field. Glossy Ibis shuttled about - I only saw a handful on the deck all week but they were a constant presence in the air. My first Magpie of the week shot out of a stand of reeds whilst a squealing Water Rail made its presence known. Kingfishers darted along drains with regularity. I was joined by a Norwegian who was also seeking the plover. We tracked the Lapwings leaving the reserve to a field by Dolores but extended watching merely turned up a trio of Golden Plover associating with them.

I gave up and headed to the north end of La Mata to the raptor tower for the Hen Harrier roost. Usually there are 4 or so birds which roost in winter which are replaced by a couple of pairs of Montagu's Harriers for the summer. Sadly this time nothing came into roost but I did get a much anticipated lifer as a band of four Monk Parakeets shot past. Erm, awesome?

The third full day was my trip to the steppes of Bonete and Higueruela, south-east of Albacete and about 100 miles from where I was staying, This was not my most successful trip to this region but it did turn up some very good birds. As I crossed the railway at Bonete I noticed four distant Great Bustards flying away from me at high speed including one adult male. I pressed on up the road to Higueruela to areas where I had seen bustards before and only added Calandra Lark on the extensive drilled fields. An area that held displaying Little Bustards in spring held some medium sized game birds in the long grass which resolved into male Little Bustards when they crossed a gap. Up to five different Marsh Harriers were seen and unlike El Hondo where all were cream crowns there were 4 adult males and a juvenile female. The males were combing the fields with a fine tooth comb in bitter temperatures as the thermometer dipped to freezing. As I turned at Higueruela a group of Sandgrouse belted over. There were about 25 in the flock and none showed black bellies which meant they were a rather underwhelming view of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, my second lifer of the trip, as they flew directly away with almost golden plover like flight.

I moved on to Corral Rubio and beyond to Petrola with increasing disinterest as the temperature and paucity of avian delights whithering my desire. Between Bonete and Corral Rubio I found a group of 14 Great Bustards in a field close to where I had displaying birds previously. These showed beautifully in the chilly wind and were still present when I was leaving some 90 minutes later. The standing water around Corral Rubio held plenty of wildfowl and Lapwings but nothing new. As I arrived at Petrola I set up camp in a hide by the lagoon in a hide, scoffing my chorizo bocadillo. From here there was the odd sight of Flamingos with encroaching ice and a large group of ducks including Teal, Pintail and Mallards making it feel like a visit to Rutland in the dead of winter. With no further additions I headed to the relative warmth of the lowlands.

I was back at El Hondo around the fields off the Vistabella Road looking for the plover which I suspected had done a flit. Despite this I was enjoying time in the habitat (and the feeling of sun on my back rather than icicles in my nethers). A Cetti's gave brief views and I started moving around the farm tracks. A raptor sat in the same place as a Buzzard the previous day looked large and weirdly long-tailed. I was a little purplexed until it got up and I realised it was a subadult Bonelli's Eagle. All the Crag Martins went batshit and disappeared to the horizon but the eagle just lumbered off south towards La Marina. As it disappeared a heron landed on the road near to where I was stood. This confused me a bit as it was obviously 20% taller than another 30 yards up the road which I hadnt looked at. A quick glimpse through the bins and I realised the one I had been ignoring was a very late juvenile Purple Heron which was certainly not a species I had been expecting so late. I failed to find the Lapwings as I went towards Dolores but did connect with half a dozen Tree Sparrows which are winter migrants from further north.

Sub-adult Bonelli's Eagle
I finished at Santa Agueda platforms overlooking the south of El Hondo. There were a couple of hundred Flamingos and plenty of Marsh Harriers. Around the edges were rails, coots and Purple Gallinules. Amongst the flood of ducks were lots of White-headed Ducks and my first Spanish Tufted Ducks. Sat amongst the Pochard was a 1st winter drake and an adult drake. Scanning the edge of the lagoon I got a surprise when a preening Osprey I had overlooked had a flap before settling down. This is a species I expect to see in Spain at this time of year but one I resolutely failed to do so apart from this individual. 

The 25th was easily the best day of the trip where tremendous luck and some great birds came together to provide a spectacle which just cant be seen in Western Europe apart from at El Hondo. I started the day with a brief seawatch from La Mata beach adding a few decent birds to the trip list including a brace of Spanish ticks. I have never done any winter seawatching in Spain so didnt really know what to expect and half an hour of Gannets and Sandwich Terns was pretty much the limit of my ambitions. A few Grey Plover and Turnstones pootled about on the beach whilst a trio of Little Egrets headed south offshore. Suddenly I picked up a dark duck heading south close inshore. Picked up way to the north in excellent light I waited a while for it to resolve which it duly did, into an adult female Common Scoter. This was a superb Spanish tick as they are decidedly scarce in the region. Point blank views were enjoyed but back to staring out to the horizon. Suddenly one of the Yellow-legged Gulls following the trawlers way out bank vertically upward and it soon became apparent why as an adult pale morph Arctic Skua was scorching after it. A brief chase and one dropped fish and the skua sallied on like a giant bee-eater. Spanish tick of the day number two! I soon packed up as the heat haze meant identifying anything further than a couple of hundred meters offshore became a forlorn hope.

Over the years there have been some very odd sightings of Azure-winged Magpies in the Alicante region with a trio seen at Clot de Galvany and singles at El Hondo despite this being 150 miles to the east of the closest breeding birds. Well that was until a small colony was found breeding at Los Balcones recently which represents a massive range expansion from central Andalusia eastward. For those that are interested head out of Torrevieja towards Los Balcones past the hospital and take the second signed turn into the urbanization. Turn right and park before the derelict land between the urbanization and the lake. Almost immediately I had three AW Magpies on the edge of the garden but these were all restless and flighty so I pushed on to an enclosed derelict garden where at least six birds were in trees and foraging on the ground. The restless nature meant that they didnt relax until hidden deep in trees and it was only on the rare occasions that they were visibile in the trees that extended views were enjoyed. After half an hour I had got a few decent photos and added Greenfinch to the trip list before I pushed off to El Hondo.

After lunch I went to the Vistabella Road area again. I had accepted by now that the plover was not going to happen but I did want to catch up with a very special wintering bird for the region and I was hopeful that today would be that day. I have had one brief view of a Greater Spotted Eagle before but it was distant and brief. I found myself looking over Poniente at similar stuff to previously when the first non-Marsh Harrier shaped raptor I saw was BIG. A lumbering hulk with a short tail, a white cresent rump and some spotting on the wings. A sub-adult Spotted Eagle. The bird circled for a minute or two before crossing the lagoon and landing in the eucalyptus trees that run down the centre of El Hondo. This was superb views of an awesome raptor. I wandered round to the fields to see if I could find the Bonelli's Eagle again after this but drew a blank only for what looked like a giant Glossy Ibis to fly out of a ditch some 200m up the track. But the ibis had a white belly and straight bill - a vagrant Black Stork!!! Some 20 minutes after mind-blowing views of a Spotted Eagle I have turned up a Black Stork which neither breeds nor passes through the area in any number and should by late November be in sub-saharan Africa. The bird, an immature, dropped down some 400m away after a couple of minutes never to be seen again.

To try and get better views of the perched Spotted Eagle I moved round to Santa Agueda where an adult Bonelli's Eagle was soaring high above the reserve along with a trio of light morph Booted Eagles. The Spotted Eagle was sitting tight out of view and before too long it trundled off north-east giving decent views again. There wasnt much happening aside from a single Red-crested Pochard and the usual plethora of Black-necked Grebes and White-headed Ducks. Off to the visitor centre at San Felipe Neri and the hope of a decent raptor roost in mind the 'usual' light morph Booted Eagle was sat devouring a Moorhen just 30 yards from me. Cracking views were had as I managed to sneak even closer before it was pushed off by a gay couple out for a "discrete" liaison somewhere out in the reeds. Thankfully they soon disappeared when they realised that there was somebody else about. That would have made the roost awkward. Floating above the reeds there were double figure counts of Marsh Harriers but no Hen Harriers. I didnt manage to connect with Hen Harrier all trip in fact when they are usually a doddle in winter at La Mata and El Hondo. Ah well! The raptors dry up for a while and I try to dig out one of the Crested Coots from amongst the Commons on the re-introduction pool but no luck. I notice a sparrow digging around the base of a palm tree - bins on it and its a Wryneck. What an absolute bonus - they winter in tiny numbers so I am delighted to reel off some photos.

Back on the roost and the Glossy Ibis, Little and Cattle Egrets return from the surrounding fields and drains as the sun drops low in the sky. A sub-adult Bonelli's Eagle lifts off from the marsh, presumably the one from the previous day, and it heads off towards the territory in the surrounding mountains disappearing into the Sierra de Crevillent some 10 minutes later. Whenever I scanned through the scope 3 or 4 Booted Eagles would be circling high over the wetland. Almost straight away another big eagle came in from the west. This time its an adult Spotted Eagle. The eagle circled for over 15 minutes, sometimes close over Poniente and at other times miles away over Levante. At no point was there a transmitter pack or antennae visible so it must have been 'Not Tonn'. A distant Osprey commuted over the marsh and settled down. Just as the sun was dipping the Cetti's Warblers were shouting away, a female Bluethroat was on the visitor centre wall and a Spanish tick of Bearded Tits were pinging their way through the reeds. Time to head back to base.

Merry Christmas from Dolores
Knowing that Friday 27th November was dedicated to seeing old aquaintances and ensuring a return trip would be well received I decided to do some further cleaning up on Thursday and so started on the promenade at Torrevieja, There were hundreds of birds dotted on the horizon but few resolved into anything as the birds stuck to the fishing fleet. Gulls commuted between the fleet and the harbour. There was a loafing flock of several hundred Lesser Black-backed Gulls with dotted Yellow-legged Gulls, Auduoin's Gulls and my first Spanish Great Black-backed Gulls with 4 birds present amongst their cogeners. Offshore there were plenty of 'shearing' seabirds but only Gannets and Balearic Shearwaters were identifiable. I was hoping for Yelkouan and Cory's/Scopoli's Shears as well but distance made that an impossiblility.

A mid-morning return to the El Hondo visitor centre at San Felipe Neri wasnt much cop but the Wryneck continued to show well. There were still no Crested Coots but the Booted Eagle was still hanging about. A brace of Water Pipits were bimbling about the marsh and were an Alicante tick for me having only seen them up in the Sierra de Culebra a couple of years ago when Wolf watching. There were decent views of Green Sandpiper, Bluethroat, Iberian Grey Shrike and Fan-tailed Warbler but I got restless pretty quickly as no further new birds were added and I craved a wander around La Mata accessing from La Siesta in the hope of adding a few trip ticks.

Booted Eagle
After a hearty lunch of salcisson, chorizo and cheese I went for a wander as showers scudded past. These proved to be extremely heavy but during a brief period between them I ventured out. The low pine scrub can be quite fruitful at times and I saw a good few butterflies including Pale Clouded Yellow, Clouded Yellow and Red Admiral. A couple of mundane additions were duly added to the trip list with Great Tit and Song Thrush. I got to a meadow which in spring holds breeding Corn Bunting and Woodchat Shrike. This time it merely held an Iberian Grey Shrike and the inevitable Stonechat. This is the domain of Dartford Warblers and due to their parasitic nature with Stonechats, especially in winter, I kept a close eye on the male Stonechat. Soon a vinous coloured warbler was sat at the top of a stem and duly foraged in the Stonechats wake.

This was to be my final act of birding on this trip but I remain hungry for more and it looks likely that in the summer I will be returning for a fortnight in August. In total the trip list finished at 114 species.

Friday 9 October 2015

A Little Walk

My final day of sick leave and I decided to try and walk a little further along the coast - not far and very slow but it seems I'm quite a bit better thankfully. I also tried to record some peak counts for common stuff on the patch. The place was jumping with Robins as I noted 49 south of the drain. I also managed a patch tick Lesser Redpoll or 20 as a bit of light vismig went on. Additional to this I added Grey Wagtail and Siskin to the patch yearlist. Nowt else really to add aside from a huge skein of Pink-footed Geese which passed south way offshore and looked to be in the order of 180 birds (the skeins dont generally get above 200 when migrating although the get much much bigger on wintering areas).

Thursday 8 October 2015

Not quite right,

Rather annoyingly I have been suffering from gastric problems for much of the last month. I wont bore you with those other than to say it is quite sore! I am now hopefully on the mend after taking a week off sick but this has allowed me to make the occasional foray out to alleviate the boredom. Sadly my SX50 has packed up so no photos currently. There have been a few new birds for the patch and the undoubted highlight was a a Yellow-browed Warbler in the bush of dreams at Ulrome. This newly christened locale (after a Garden Warbler last month) links two sets of trees with an elderberry hedge and some clematis. Ideal to catch warblers moving through and hopefully one day will produce something a little rarer. Right now the little stripey job will suffice!

Aside from this there was a Barnacle Goose north today and a brace of Mergs south on Tuesday. All in all a reasonable haul and the goose was another patch tick. Best of all though was my first Yorkshire Basking Shark which made slow progress north off Ulrome at lunchtime before submerging into the briny depths. After a couple out of Wick which I guess counts as East coast and a few dozen off of Cornwall whilst seawatching over various trip this is by far the most impressive sighting although the shark was pretty small at about 3m long.

I have been doing the pan-listing thing still but have little or nowt to report recently. Fingers crossed my guts recover soon enough and there is something meatier to tell you about.

Sunday 6 September 2015

1000 Up

I failed to get to 1000 species for Pan-species listing before I went on holiday but I managed to bust through in August and have added some fantastic bits and pieces since then. I currently find myself on 1038 species and here are a few of my favourites.

Megachile centuncularis

Segestria florentina - I managed to find loads of these and their more diminutive brethren S.senoculata in the brickwork around Bridgwater. S.florentina is a large reclusive spider which lives in a tube web and when it is illuminated its fangs glow neon green.

Segestria florentina
I also had a ramble out onto the Quantocks looking for Chalkhill Blues. It was a bit windy but I found a rather ratty male. Better than these though were the Hornet Robberflies. These were predating grasshoppers and Hornets and are the largest species of diptera in the UK.

Hornet Robberfly
Whilst seawatching at Barmston I managed to add a new fish as some of the small cobbles close in were fishing for Mackerel. I may have seen these in the past but hadnt remembered any specific incidences.

There have been three new orthoptera additions since my holiday. Both Short-winged and Long-winged Coneheads were picked up at Hatch Hill in Somerset along with plenty of Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers.

I managed to add two conopid flies, Conops quadrifasciatus and C. ceriaeformis which were awesome looking beasties which I initially mistook to be hoverflies. On the beetle front 11-spot Ladybird came from coastal dunes in Cumbria whilst a Churchyard Beetle was found on a manor house wall along with Amaurobius ferox and a still to be identified centipede with 60 pairs of legs. A third beetle, Anthocomus rufus was on Hogweed at Westhay Moor in Somerset.

Anthocomus rufus
A trio of moths made up the remainder of the Lepidoptera additions with June Highflyer, Latticed Heath and belatedly Chestnut Leaf Miner noted. Spiderwise it was a profitable time as aside from the three species I have already mentioned a couple of Crab Spiders, Misumena vatia and Xysticus cristatus. Finally a massive money spider, Linyphia triangularis was discovered in a limestone quarry in Cumbria. I also finally managed to pin down one of the mining bees to species with Megachile centuncularis.

July Highflyer
The final animalia addition is Compass Jellyfish as I watched a number of jellies being washed up on the spring tides in Cumbria. A single fungi addition will hopefully be joined by many more over the next couple of months. I thought I'd found Amethyst Deceiver but it turns out it was Mycena pura. Purple anyway...

Mycena pura
I know I said this last time but the plants will follow in a later post...

Thursday 25 June 2015

30 Days of PSL

Not new. But lovely.
My 30 days blog posts really slipped. I was tired. Rubbish! But rest assured I have still been doing wild things each day and recently I have been tearing it up with my Pan-species Listing. Here are some of the new things I have added:

Perez's Frog Pelophylax perezi - I found out yesterday that the 'Marsh Frogs' at Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath are actually Perez's (or Iberian Green) Frogs. Which is pretty cool. They sounded exactly the same as Marsh Frog to me but these are my second amphibian in a month and my third new one this spring!

My trip to Ham Wall also added a couple of freshwater gastropods - Great Ramshorn Planobarius corneus and Great Pond Snail Lymnaea stagnalis. I was with my mate Lee looking for Dace amongst the plethora of Roach and Perch when we noticed gallons of these on the bottom.

After the Large Red Damselfly in South-west Scotland earlier in the month there were three new Odonata ticks in Somerset. The first was a freshly emerged female Emerald Damselfly Lestes sponsa struggling to get itself going in the cool morning air in Cannington where we were staying giving lovely views. A second Damsel that was seen hiding on lily-pads were a few Red-eyed Damselflies Erythroma najas which really were beautiful but always a little distant.

Green Shieldbug and Dock Bug
We also visited an unnamed meadow reserve above the levels for insects and we encountered a couple of species of bug on docks which were both new to me. Several pairs of Dock Bug Coreus marginatus were getting jiggy on the path up and trapped by a couples embrace was a vivid Green Shieldbug Palomena prosena.

Broad Centurian
I have also managed to add a few diptera this month including some non-hoverflies. First off was the belated adding of a Marsh Snipefly Rhagio tringarius at Snakeholme Pastures. The rather striking Mesembrina meridiana was basking on hogweed at Steart while the shiny Broad Centurian Chloromyia formosa was doing likewise. I managed a single hover - the widespread Syrphus ribesii was identified from photos by its largely yellow rear femur (it was a girl).

Wasp Beetle

I also had a productive time with the Coleoptera with several being added from both Somerset and South-west Scotland. My favourite is probably the Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis that I found on hogweed at Steart amongst the flies. A brace of Weevils were found in Somerset with Green Nettle Weevils Phyllobius pomaceus mating on nettles with a chubby little Lily Weevil Monoychus punctumalbum on a Lily funnily enough. A soldier beetle from the moors in Dumfries went by the name of Rhagonycha limbata whilst a beautiful and variable click beetle, Ctenifera cuprea was in the same location.

Large Blue
The unnamed meadow in Somerset turned up a brace of new butterflies - firstly the star of the show, up to five Large Blues Phengaris arion were bothering ants around the thyme while fewer in number were the Small Heaths Coenonympha pamphilus with a triumvirate lower down the meadow.

Another triumvirate, this time of hymenoptera were added with a single Sawfly, Bee and Ant added. The Turnip Sawfly Athalia rosae was chilling on a plant at Steart whilst an Ashy Mining Bee Andrena cinerarea was doing the same at the meadow reserve. The ant, Myrmica sabuleti, is the host of the large blue larvae and was seen commonly around the thyme which sheltered most of their nests. 

The last of the fortnights animals were two awesome spiders. We noticed huge tube-webs all over the meadow we were visiting and out popped a massive female Labyrinth Spider Agelena labyrinthica. This lass was super lovely as was another mother to be - a Nursery-Web Spider Pisaura mirabilis which was carrying around its eggs in a ball underneath.

As you can see - quite a haul and thats just the animals. As many plants again all for the next post...

Wednesday 24 June 2015

TV times

My slightly fuzzy footage of the Montagu's Harriers featured on Look North last night as they ran a feature on them. I had the opportunity to go down for an interview but sadly I had to work.

The video is available here until this evening with the feature starting at 21:30.

Saturday 13 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Days 11 and 12

 A second day of wader surveys on the 11th had me marching around rough pasture and white moorland in Dumfries and Galloway. A more gentle 21km included a pleasant 500m hill which was climbed albeit slowly! The mercury hit 24c as I sweated but the pastures revealed at least three pairs of breeding Curlew although little else. A couple of pairs of Wheatear were seen on screes and posts. Some delightful wild flowers were also noted including Heath Milkwort, Tormentil and Round-leaves Water Crowfoot.

Yesterday, day 12 was a quiet morning of raptor watches in the same location. Sadly aside from a couple of Grey Wagtails all I saw were clouds of midges. I currently have clouds of pimples on my forehead and neck thanks to these. It is definitely time for the jungle formula and midge net!

On the way back to East Yorkshire I passed a field with hay cutting near Loch Ken and circling above this were 25 (twenty five) Red Kites and 2 Buzzards who have obviously been making a killing on the small mammals which had been exposed. A superb site and not something I have seen before.

30 Days Wild #Day 10

Too tired to blog. Wader survey in Dumfries. Red Kite. 24km+. Hot. Sleep now.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 9

Today has been the most fun! I have been doing an education day at Seascale Primary School where we took them down to the beach for some wildlife and nature based activities. My role has been to do some 'bird spotting' with them so I set up and easy survey and a short walk and the kids aged 7-8 were all exceptional fun. We didn't manage to see a huge diversity but we did manage to get them all using some binoculars and showed some of the cool species that live on their doorsteps (and split seagull into at least 4...)

The best bit was the three Curlews heading south and then asking the kids to look for the adaptations and the colouring, explaining their ecology and also playing them some calls to show them where the name comes from. I also managed to find plenty of lugworm casts to highlight what they eat and what the huge bill is for. No photos of the day as it was a school class but later...

Tonight I did a bat survey and managed to see 6 species of bat including my first Nathusias's Pippistrelle. Additionally I saw my first Natterjack Toads and Water Scorpions.

Monday 8 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 8

Today's wild efforts were considerably less engaged than previously. Day 7 started with an empty Swallow nest and finished with soaring Buzzards

No pictures today as I have spent the majority behind the wheel of a car. Early on I had to check that a nest wasn't active and identify the species. What I found was a dry, old and obviously successful Swallow nest from last year. Plenty of House Martins were about but not a lot else.

I drove through the lakes this afternoon specifically around Bassenthwaite and I had a detour around Dodd Wood on the East side. As I got round to the West Lakes there were loads of Buzzards soaring and generally being bothered by crows. Currently I am sat in a beer garden contemplating the education day I'm doing tomorrow...

Sunday 7 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 7

Today to give my wife a little peace and quiet, Izzy, Abby and myself headed off to join my friends Graham and Will Scott, ringing at Tophill Low. The girls were really excited and that went up a notch as we saw Lapwings and a young Hare on the way. We quickly decamped to see a rather steady catch but as we were approaching the ringing site another friend, John Sadler wandered by casually dropping into conversation that a Pacific Swift had just gone through my patch at Barmston. I felt a little sick but a Red Kite lifting out of South Scrub soon put paid to that. It was a Tophill tick for me which come few and far between, largely due to not heading up there often enough!

We waved our goodbyes to John and met up with Will and Graham. A sparse catch was interrupted by a very fine male Bullfinch and a rather grand Blackcap. A sprinkling of retraps were where the interest will lie and whilst I dont know the stories just yet we did say hello to a Willow Warbler that was ringed as an adult in 2013. Attention soon wandered to plants and insects and we managed a fine Cardinal Beetle and several orchid species including Common Spotted and Twayblade. Izzy enjoyed ringing so much she was busy trying to sex her cuddly toys by wing length this evening... On a trip to the toilet with Abby we were kindly shown the baby Tawny Owls in the car park and after telling Izzy we had to go back on the way home.


30 Days Wild #Day 6

After a wild week at work it was time for some down time today and I can't think of anything better than spending some time in my own special piece of the countryside, my patch at Barmston. Here I indulge my Patchwork Challenge efforts on the interface between East Yorkshire and the North Sea.

The wind whipped the sand into the air but I was looking for something else entirely - Bee-eaters. Five had been seen by Martin Garner early on at Flamborough and the same birds roosted in a Bridlington garden for half an hour mid-morning. Alas despite a heavy southerly passage of Swifts it was not to be with the highlight half a dozen House Martins hawking over 'big hill'.

Patchwork Challenge is a birdwatching competition which I help to run. The aim is to see as many species as you can in a year on your patch - 3km2 shaped and located wherever you want. I chose my closest coastal strip and today as well as adding House Martin I also got my first Greylag and Canada Geese of the year. I've been watching Barmston for about three years with many occasional trips beforehand so I have amassed a reasonable list of birds seen there and have seen a handful of scarce and rare birds. One of the best things about patch watching is raising the ordinary to extraordinary through context and today I managed to see a small white heron called a Little Egret on the drain that marks the northern boundary. This species has over 1000 breeding pairs in the UK and is relatively common but this individual was my first at the site. And very special it was too. Less than 20 years ago Little Egrets didn't breed in the UK and in the interim their population has exploded after colonising from Brittany. Plus ca change in my opinion.

Less special for my patch but far more important on a national level were 8 (eight) male Corn Buntings holding territory  dotted around the north of the patch.  These rambunctious, fat and chirpy characters have had somewhat different fortunes to the Little Egret with the population crashing at an alarming rate due to changes in agricultural practice so it was great to hear their song rattling out from a number of vantage points.

2015 has been an average year so far with a productive late winter but poor spring and I find myself on 95 species. Not too bad, not particularly good. A Four-spotted Chaser may not have added to my score but was the first dragonfly of the year for me.

Friday 5 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 5

Today was a fantastic day in Cumbria and North Yorkshire. A mild and still morning greeted me at 4.30am as I headed out to do a breeding bird survey. Now we are so far through the breeding season, song is more muted but I still got a superb variety recorded on this pleasant site.

The best bird was definitely the Spotted Flycatcher that was flying around the top of a Scots Pine. It was my first of the year and a species in a steep decline so it's always good to find them on territory. Aside from this two pairs of breeding Buzzards were great to watch as the crows chased them over the meadows. I also found a small heronry which gives the incongruous views of these gangly hunters perched in treetops.

The CBC methodology for surveying birds involves lots of walking and today I managed to crank out 15 miles. I felt great and made quick progress. I was able to enjoy the wild flowers of the meadows thanks to getting ahead of schedule and noted lots of Early Purple Orchids and Yellow Rattle amongst the endless Buttercups, Red Campion and Herb Robert. The warm air also brought with it my first Painted Lady of 2015. These gorgeous orange and black butterflies can be elusive or commonplace. What sort of year will 2015 be for them? I'm going to be doing the butterfly survey on my bbs tetrad so maybe we shall see!

After I finished I headed home and I staged at Sutton Bank for a rest. A stroll to the viewpoint gave me amazing views of the vale of York and the dales looking hazy in the distance. Gliders circled on thermals like giant raptors in silence except for the wind whipping over their wings. Siskins called and several warblers sang but my heart lifted truely at the brief site of two doves. Two special doves, fresh in from Africa. Two Turtle Doves which have a relative stronghold in the area flew over the visitor centre. These guys are heading for extinction in the UK with massive declines over my lifetime and they have gone missing from swathes of the countryside thanks to a combination of changed agricultural practises, hunting pressure and less food in wintering areas. Forest edges like Sutton Bank are proving valuable enclaves for this beautiful dove with the distinctive purring call.

The final perk of the day was a gravid female Common Lizard which shot across the path toward me and his in plain sight before scurrying away. What a way to round off the day and the first 5 days of 30 days wild.

30 Days Wild #Day 4

I'm sure I should be posting some of the outstanding seascapes I saw today from the bird and marine mammal survey in the Irish Sea or perhaps the dramatic choppy water with flocks of Manx Shearwaters zipping about or even the diminutive fin of a Harbour Porpoise disappearing into the blue. But no, I was too busy counting, recording, chivvying and generally being busy. An early start (pre-5am should be banned) and the buffeting of the sea as a mild swell catching us on the corner made life uncomfortable and a number of those less experienced with this sort of thing turned decidedly green.

I am however blessed with a reasonable constitution and haven't yet had issues with mal de mer. Because of this I was able to enjoy a bevy of common seabirds including Gannets, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Common Scoter and my first Arctic Tern of the year along with those sights noted above. Great fun but now I'm a little tired!

Tomorrow I am off to undertake a breeding bird survey in the North-west. Fingers crossed for a nice morning and some decent sightings.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 3

Today I visited Burton Mere RSPB to see my friend Ray. He hasn't been so well so it was great to see him looking good and even better there was a summer plumaged Red-necked Phalarope spinning around like Kylie amongst the Black-tailed Godwits. There was loads of Hemlock Water Dropwort aside the reedbed which was a new plant for me. Additionally there was a Willow Warbler which is apparently a very good record for the site.

Aside from visiting Ray I was working on the fringes of the Peak District this morning undertaking wader and raptor surveys on the moorland farmland interface. 

Despite early rain the soundtrack of Curlew and Lapwing soon echoed around the valley as Crows were sent packing presumably to protect chicks hiding in the long sward of the meadows. My first Cuckoo of the year sang it's repetitive di-syllable from wires away to the north. 

Moving to another site above a reservoir and the slightly ropey weather managed to keep activity to a low level but a pair of foraging Buzzards induced an angry reaction from a nesting Kestrel on a cliff. The Buzzards escaped with all their tail feathers still attached but only just. More prosaic but higher in the cute stakes were the troupes of lambs which were at that cute and chubby stage. 

A great day and fab to catch up with Ray for the first time in a couple of years. Day 4 should feature seabirds and perhaps porpoises as I work off the Cumbrian coast.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 2

This afternoon the rain abated and the temperature shot up so I decided to take 40 minutes away from my work data and head a mile down the road to Snakeholme Pastures YWT. This seemingly unremarkable and small nature reserve is a little gem and one which I am just scratching the surface on. It is a couple of meadows with small pools set between chalk streams and the Driffield Canal and holds a surprising array of wildlife.

One of the biggest surprises was my first sighting of an adult Marsh Frog. This species is introduced and has spread along the river from Tophill Low but it is very impressive with its belching call from its twin airsacs. It is larger than our native Frog and is more uniform green with a lime stripe down its back. I was investigating the Ragged Robin pictured above when a frog started belching at my feet. I had marvellous views but disappointingly it decided to submerge as I attempted to capture it for posterity on film.

By this time I had given up on the special fish which are present in the chalk streams due to the high winds riffling the surface and making spotting them impossible. I am yet to see the Brook Lampreys here but I am assured they do occur. This species has no jaw and is one of the most prehistoric of fish, foraging by  attaching themselves with their sucker like mouth to a fish and then eating lumps from its victim. Next time...

I did find this rather cute Sawfly, Arge pagana or similar hanging onto the Meadow Buttercups. Plenty of small invertebrates including the golden micro-moth Glyphipteryx simpliciella were about. These guys are out en masse and I suggest you google them as close up they are stunning jewels despite only being 1-2mm long. I also turned up a Downlooker Fly, Rhagio scolopaceus on a Dandelion.

Aside from the invertebrates there were also plenty of flowers out and aside from the common umbellifers and Red Campion there was plenty of Charlock and a presently mysterious umbellifer which resembled Pig-nut. We shall see.

That was Day 2 and Day 3 sees me doing wader and raptor surveys in the Peak District.

30 Days Wild #Day 1

I have signed up to 30 Days Wild to do something Wild everyday in June. Not too hard for an enthusiastic amateur Naturalist and jobbing Ornithologist you may say. Perhaps but it reminds me to engage all the time and to get my girls to engage as well.

Day one had me monitoring a schedule one breeding bird. I just hadn't been told what it was! Imagine my delight when a pair of Peregrines saw off a Buzzard and circled over their nest site in the East Midlands. Away from here I managed to find this gorgeous Malachite Beetle Malachius bipustulatus. It was hiding on a Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare. The beetle is a mini-predator, hunting amongst the flowers and has a decent pair of jaws that can be seen in the photo. Sadly the planned afternoon looking for inverts disappeared thanks to the weather. If the rain ever stops then I will do that today!

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Pan-ic at the Disco

My pan-species listing malarkey has surged onwards to 816 species with many recent additions. Slow Worm is probably the most notable (not sure I can count heard only Natterjacks) but it has also included the rather cool Nomada marshamella Marsham's Nomad Bee and Cercopis vulnerata Black-and-red Froghopper. Here are a few photos of bits and pieces.

Black-and-red Froghopper Cercopis vulnerata

Alderfly Sialis sp.

Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar

Click Beetle sp.

Rhingia campestris

Glyphipteryx simpliciella
Marsham's Nomad Bee Nomada marshamella
Larinioides cornutus
Nomada sp. Nomad Bee

Slow Worm
Andrena sp.
Germander Speedwell

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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