Thursday 12 August 2021

A Spanish Escape

 As I type, we are over the English Channel, having waved goodbye to Exeter, thirty-seven thousand feet below. A quick zip over the channel,  and then passing over Brittany, and on to Bilbao, Madrid and finally Malaga. After touchdown it will be pointing the rental car in the direction of Sierra de Grazalema. We are spending a fortnight on the margins of the Parc Nacional, staying in a villa, perched on the side of the mountain, placed to receive the golden combo of raptor passage, sunshine and cerveza.

I have been researching eBird for a couple of weeks and armed with John Cantelo’s guide and the Natural History guide to Western Andalucia, I hope to explore, despite the heat and limitations of Covid-19. I will be keeping a record of the passage and hoping to update the blog every day or two. Allied with this, my daughter Isabelle is keen that I endeavour to find some of the local herpetofauna and doubtless there will be butterflies aplenty.

Our adventure began this morning with a 2am wakeup call. Extracting an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old from their beds was tricky but within 30 minutes we were upright and suitably caffeinated. The trip over to Leeds Bradford from East Yorkshire was interrupted by no fewer than four Tawny Owls, one of which was feasting on a rabbit carcass in the road on Garreby Hill. Five Red Foxes were seen in Leeds, including a couple playing on a verge. We stopped, showing the kids these two, seemingly oblivious to our attentions. Before long we were parked at the airport and ready for our travels. After a challenging year thus far with my health, it is fantastic to feel much better and I am hopeful that my various ailments are resolving. Feeling better than I have in nearly 6 months I cant wait for the first raptor from the veranda. Now, first bird, what do you think? Feral pigeon or house sparrow?

Saturday 3 July 2021

Albert Ross

 On Monday night, news that the Black-browed Albatross had not only returned from the dead but it had returned to Bempton. A frame-filling photo of it cruising along the cliff top was plenty enough to enthuse me. Sadly a busy day at work, my commitments as a parent and Englands Euro 2020 last 16 tie against Germany conspired to make a trip to Bempton extremely difficult. I sat at my desk with pin sharp pictures arriving via social media at regular intervals. I packed it all away, put on my World Cup 2006 top, dropped my cynicism and sat back for one of the most enjoyable games I have watched as an England fan. In the elation after the game, as reports of the albatross continued to roll in I asked me wife if a 'quick trip' to Bempton could be facilitated. She was also giddy from the result and acquiesced. I shot off and was nodding at Andrew Kinghorn as I limped to the cliff edge not 20 minutes later.

The bird itself was giving people the run around as I arrived and marching half a mile up and down the cliff top wasn't ideal, especially given I have torn the meniscus in my left knee. The bird helpfully relocated from the sea on to Staple Newk and soon I was watching it sat amongst the flowers and gannets on the upper cliff. Whilst fantastic to see, one of my overriding takeaways from seeing albatrosses in the southern oceans (well 20 miles off Sydney) is that birds in flight are far more impressive than those sat on the deck. Thankfully the bird didn't seem entirely happy in any of its resting spots and would sally round in tight loops before landing every few minutes. This allowed the full majesty of this species, which whilst only 20% bigger than the gannets is wholly more impressive in flight with its whippy wingtips and contrasting mantle and tail colour which allied with the eye shadow and mascara makes it very dashing.

Pretty soon the gloom descended and the bird moved out of sight but not before I was satiated and one of the most enjoyable days in recent memory came to a close. After missing the previous visit by mere seconds I was very relieved to get this back, especially after the stories of the bird being downed by nine White-tailed Eagles between Denmark and Sweden earlier in the spring.

Saturday 8 May 2021

April Nocmig (notmig?)

 April was a tricky month. It is normally excellent but after a crazy March it certainly calmed down with fewer records of fewer species thanks to the spell of settled, cold and clear northerlies that we have been experiencing. This has delayed birds arriving but the lack of cloud has meant those that have passed have been able to fly at great height, beyond the reach of my microphone. In total I recorded on just 15 nights which indicates my frustration. Mallards were a constant and I suspect a pair are nesting in a ditch not far away as I hear them most of the night. Oystercatcher have settled in the village with display heard regularly and there are Curlew in the village but the territory over the house seems to have disappeared since they built the estate next door. The odd snatch of display has been recorded but nothing like last year.

Common Scoter  has again been the biggest feature of April. Despite a 50% reduction in effort in April compared to March, I recorded 28 flocks and 702 calls which represent a drop of 50% in flocks but only 20% interms of calls. Birds also tended to pass much later in the evening, generally starting just before midnight. My guess is that these are Irish sea birds from the Irish coast which take a couple of hours to cross from Louth and adjacent areas to hit the English and Welsh coasts of Liverpool Bay before making the same crossing over the Pennines the Welsh ones do. The peak night was 7-8th April with 10 flocks and 286 calls and only a single flock (or bird perhaps) after 14th April, which gave just 4 calls. Given I only recorded one night in the first week, it is likely I missed some stuff too.

Water Rail were recorded on four occasions with singles on 4th, 12th, 13th and 14th. It is unclear whether these were migrants or resident birds roding, The situation was similar for Moorhen with 11 passes from 4th and 158 calls. Gull passage was noted with Black-headed Gull noted on two nights, 3rd and 7th April and Herring Gull with a single on 8th giving a couple of calls and then a minimum of three birds giving 115 calls on 22nd and three flocks on 25th giving 777 calls. Thrushes were scarce with singles of Redwing, Blackbird and Robin across the month. Aside from the displaying Curlew, there were two flocks of presumed migrants recorded, on 13th and 14th April, with 96 calls recorded in total. Aside from the Scoter there was very little in terms of duck movement with a couple of flocks of Teal on 8th and 16th and a single flock of Wigeon on 19th April. A single record of Little Grebe gave a pretty decent Whimbrel impression and a Nocmig lifer was recorded on 25th when a single Greenfinch call was picked up as it flew over in the late evening.

Monday 26 April 2021

An Odd Week

Over the past 6 weeks I have had a bad back. Bad enough to merit full dose painkillers for a fortnight. This led to immobility and ultimately a blood clot in my left leg. After spending the Saturday before last getting checked out and then a scan on my leg on my birthday, the Monday, a DVT was confirmed and I was put on blood thinners. We have a family history of DVT so it wasnt a great shock but it was a much needed wakeup call. I am as fat and unfit as I have ever been. My change of jobs has led to a drop in my activity by a third. I need to look after myself better. I have 3 weeks of recovery from the clot and 3 months of blood thinners. In the first 3 weeks I am allowed gentle exercise (which I have taken to mean swimming and walking). I have upped my walking markedly and the swimming is being phased in with my first trip yesterday and another before work tomorrow. I am getting out early each morning for a walk before work if I'm not swimming. This is a long road but I am determined to make some strides. The end point? Not being as fat and being much, much fitter.

I combined my morning walk yesterday with a trip to Bempton to pay my annual respects to the Gannets and Puffins. All the usual suspects were present with Gannets and Kittiwakes on the updrafts and the three auk species darting about. A Whitethroat rattled as I left the reception and it didn't take long to spy the two Ring Ouzels messing about on the ploughed field. Views were distant and there was some heat haze so I moved on and concentrated on the seabirds. I felt a little uneasy by the number of people congregating at the watchpoints (it wasn't that bad tbh but I'm a bit soft) and upon heading back a Barn Owl was hunting the ploughed field giving some nice views as it tried to provide for the next generation. 

I tried to get better views of the Ouzels but the usual crowd were giving them no space and they spooked, flying east, behind the visitor centre. I managed to relocate them and watched over a cappuccino before they moved close to the car park. I again slipped round and watched from the gate, alone (I did tell the warden but he wasn't keen on getting folk crowded there). The birds started 50 metres away and moved closer and closer until they were within 20 metres. My hazy, blurry photos from across a field forgotten as I got my best ever views of this species. They continued to feed unabashed and I ran out of time. I'm pretty happy with the photos I got and am very grateful the camera was fixed!

Closer, closer, closer...

Saturday 24 April 2021

Easy (Lam)Prey

A twitter post by two of my former lecturers and colleagues at the University of Hull, discussing watching Brook Lamprey Lampetra planeri spawning in the headwaters of the River Hull, reminded me that I too live near the headwaters of the River Hull and I too could see this. A couple of tactical messages later and I was armed with the requisite information and away I trundled.

A chilly but bright April evening saw me watching no fewer than seven of these oddities, frantically trying to pass their genes on over the gravel redds that are present in what is effectively a ditch. Anyway, I put together a video documenting this with dodgy footage included.

Thursday 8 April 2021

Nocmig 2021 - March Part 2: Pic N Mix

 March is an excellent month for variety, especially of migrating waterfowl on NocMig and so it proved this year. My experiments of live listening last year yielded fine numbers of ducks and this time out I got no fewer than 29 species including three nocmig firsts for the garden, Whooper Swan, Shoveler and Common Gull. Early arrivals included a Chiffchaff and a Little Ringed Plover

Lets start at the beginning, Week 1, and I recorded five out of seven nights. The 3rd was slow but a flock of Teal not long after setting up and an early Coot, the first of 16 in March, was good value. Gulls aren't regular here on NocMig although there are a pair of Herring Gulls that breed nearby. Two different birds passing were unusual though, constituting the first passage records for the garden with a third on 6th. Oystercatchers were first recorded on 4th and were recorded as migrants on 11 nights but it was evident towards the end of the month that the resident birds had returned with regular display so it was hard to tease out which records referred to these. Blackbird migration picked up with 17 birds across the month from the 4th-31st, up from five in January and February combined. Not huge numbers but movement nonetheless. The first record of Mallard on 5th March heralded the decamping from the Mere to the local ditches for some hanky panky and they have become a regular occurrence and will remain so well into the autumn. I'm sure I get some Mallard passage but making head nor tail of it is impossible. A single Chiffchaff flight call on 5th was a first NocMig record for me and heralded the almost immediate return of this species to the village with two or three territories now audible from the house. A Moorhen on 5th was the first of 19 recorded in March. March 6th held a Shelduck, the fourth garden record and third in a fortnight. Two Wigeon flocks were recorded on 7th and the first Redwing of the month, the first of 51 for the month and similar to Blackbird it was up from 11 records in January and February combined.

Week 2 was relatively unremarkable but Common Scoter passage commenced on 12th. I only recorded on two nights and my first Gadwall of the year on 12-13th was decent along with the first Curlew. A bit worrying is that there local birds I heard nightly last year dont seem to have returned although the second village pair, a bit further away are back. Week three took a while to get going with just the usuals (Redwing and Moorhen plus the resident corvids, owls and Mallards) plus a Grey Heron on 18th, the only record of the year so far, and a flock of Golden Plover on 19th which started a string of 11 records over the subsequent week. The final day of the week, the night of the 20-21st March was the first 'big' night of the year, with two flocks of Wigeon, four flocks of Teal (of 13 in the month), a flock of Common Scoter, three Moorhens, two Coots, two flocks of Oystercatchers, a flock of Curlew and two records each of Redwing and Blackbird. And to think this was just the warm up!

The final decade of the month was electric and whilst we have touched upon the Scoter in the previous post it was incredible for this species. 19 flocks of Common Scoter went over on 21st-22nd plus four Moorhens, five Coots, Oystercatchers, two flocks of Golden Plover, two flocks of Curlew, three Black-headed Gulls and my first NocMig Common Gull. A busy night! Scoters were replaced by my first garden Whooper Swans on 22-23rd when two herds flew over. A third group followed the next night. More of the commoner migrants on 22nd were supplemented by my first Little Ringed Plover of the year just after 8pm. The first Water Rail of the year flew over on 24th, one of three in the last few days of the month. I only missed a single night, 28-29th March in the final 13 nights and each night was brim full of interest. One of just two Song Thrush passed on 24th and on 24-25th there was another big movement of Scoter in addition to the first Greylag Geese of the year. There are a pair breeding about 1km from home and I think these must be the birds I have picked up on occasion since then. A minimum of two Shoveler went over the same night and these are my first NocMig record, and an odd sounding duck for sure. Oddly I have a late spring visual record from the garden and I have seen them in flight during the day down the road at Wansford so perhaps they are passing over silently more often? Needless to say each night had Golden Plovers and Oystercatchers and Redwing and Scoter(!) plus a selection of rallids. A Little Grebe flying over giving the rarer 'scream' call as opposed to the Whimbrel impersonation was the first of the year on 27th March. It was a species it took until May to pick up last year so perhaps isnt too common in early spring round here. I'm going to gloss over the last three nights of the month but they too were full of birds moving, just nothing new or in outstanding numbers. So there we have it, lockdown birding at its best and while I slept. It was exceptional and exceptional fun each day working through it.

Tuesday 6 April 2021

Nocmig 2021 - March Part 1: It's all Scoter

March has been exceptional for Nocmig and until this latest coldsnap I had been recording lots of birds most nights. The big headline has been the sheer number of Common Scoter recorded. Last year I ordered my recorder off the back of the movement and got a few flocks but I don't have a comparison. I think my local geography might be really good for concentrating birds as I am literally at the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds so birds will be funneled along the escarpment and from the top of the wolds, the coast at Barmston, which is 6 miles due east of here, is visible. Add in the passage of a main road and a railway both leading past the village towards the coast and it is well set up to receive bountiful birds which move west to east. 

In total 42 flocks and 881 calls were recorded between 12-31st March. I recorded on 21 nights so this may be incomplete (although most of the missed nights were early in the month). Generally birds reached me ~2-3 hours post sunset after birds had been heard at stations from Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire into the Pennines and onto Leeds and York. It is impossible at this stage to estimate how many birds are involved but hopefully analysis with nightvision will allow some estimates to be made. 

There were two nights of particularly heavy scoter passage, 21st and 24th March which had 19 flocks and 14 flocks respectively. Passage was particularly concentrated on 21st when all birds occurred within an 85 minute window (21:27 - 22:52) and 409 calls were recorded. This, at the time, represented the 10th highest count by number of calls in the world, according to data on Trektellen (I am aware there are higher nocmig counts on eBird but that data is not searchable). Just three days later, on 24th March a further 14 flocks and 340 calls were recorded but this was less concentrated, between 20:58 - 23:52. What does this mean? That the birds originated from different sources perhaps? Or conditions weren't as favourable so there was a staggered exit from Liverpool Bay? It is interesting to speculate and perhaps tagging data will reveal the answer in due course.

I got a few recordings but this is perhaps the best. I didn't get that many direct hits, where you can hear the steam train-like wing noise or the female calls. In part 2 I cover the other species recorded in an excellent month. 

Saturday 6 March 2021

Nocmig 2021 - January and February

Last year I started sound recording the birds which flew over my garden at night. I didnt post enough here about it because I did it a lot and got lots of really interesting birds including Quail, Sandwich Tern and Avocet. At this point, I have processed nearly 1500 hours of recordings so I'm far more experienced although possibly a bit stuck in my ways. I'm posting about this now as I want to do monthly or bi-monthly updates for the 2021 recordings. During the core winter period, nocmig can be pretty slow, with 15 hour nights hosting no birds which can be tough to keep going. Thankfully we are through that now and things have picked up with wildfowl starting to move. 


Prior to Christmas, East Yorkshire hosted unprecedented numbers of Pink-footed Geese, which found the flatlands of Holderness to their liking. This was reflected in nightly flights recorded on nocmig (or just sat at my desk) in November but all the processing and little result through the night meant I only recorded a single night in December, and then I forgot to change the batteries when I went to bed so it didnt make it much past midnight. A brace of Redwing calls were the sum total and I had other fish to fry at the time.

I put in more effort in January, recording eight nights but it was tough going initially. My year list kicked off as I hit record just after midnight at New Year with Mallard, Barn Owl, Redwing and five Song Thrush. Whilst the former two probably havent travelled more than a few miles, the thrushes were much more interesting. One of the pieces of info I read during my lull was that Song Thrush movement continues throughout the winter - they are one of the staples of the quiet months. Redwings move, but in much smaller numbers once they are on their winter quarters. The local Tawny Owl, Blackbirds, Robins and Rooks took the nocmig yearlist onto a heady eight.

The January 1st-2nd was fairly similar although I did record my first Carrion Crow heading to roost and a pre-dawn Starling, taking the yearlist to 10. No Song Thrush movement this time but some pre-dawn Blackbird movements compensated and there were a minimum of three Redwing. My first wader of the year, at least one Golden Plover was recorded at 07:29 on 3rd January giving a couple of calls as it went over. Add to this a Pheasant shouting before it roosted and the yearlist climbed to 12 species. 

Russian White-fronted Geese and a single Pink-footed Goose

Due to the length of the night and the time it takes to analyse the data for meagre returns, midweek recording during this period is difficult so mostly it was Fridays and Saturdays in January. On Friday 8-9th it was slim pickings with no migrants, just the rookery and local Mallards but I recorded again on Saturday 9-10th adding Canada Goose, which was a nocmig lifer, and a disturbed Woodpigeon. The yearlist climbed again to 14 species. Saturday 16-17th January was a goose night with my first two skeins of Pink-footed Geese of the year and my first Russian White-fronted Geese on nocmig. The latter coincided with a widespread invasion and whilst not mega different to the Pinks, I was happy with the identification after several folks gave me their opinions which allied with mine. So sixteen species and two nocmig lifers in two weeks! Not bad. My penultimate recording of the month, on Saturday 23-24th was disappointing with no migrants but my first Coot of the year was picked up on my final effort on Saturday 30-31st January along with a lonesome Song Thrush overhead.

In February, I managed to record six times, weekly until it started to pick up at the months end. Adding roosting Jackdaw on 8th February was probably more down to my laziness prior to this than their absence and there were three quiet nights in the first half of the month. My first decent movement of the year was on 19th February when a minimum of two Teal flew overhead prior to midnight. A second Coot of the year and singles of Redwing and Song Thrush suggested that something had changed. The Teal took the yearlist onto 19 species. There was further movement on Saturday 21st with Wigeon opening this years account and further Teal and my first Golden Plover since 3rd January. Two Shelduck passes on 25th February were the second and third garden records. Initially they were mystery recordings but their true identity soon emerged. Alongside this there were further flocks of Wigeon and Teal, a brace of Coots and singles of Blackbird, Song Thrush and Redwing. The month ended on 28th with my first couple of Moorhen passes and the now expected Coot, Redwing and Song Thrush. A Dunnock bursting into song pre-dawn was my final addition taking the nocmig yearlist to 23 species for the first two months of the year.  

All the details, as ever, are on my NocMig site on Trektellen here:

Saturday 30 January 2021

Holiday in the time of Covid Part 1

Alpine Swifts climbing for the pass at Erendag

The noise climbs as birds strain to gain height. You feel the noise as well as hear it, a roar but remarkably high pitched, the wings of several hundred thousand hirundines struggle upward and then I feel it, the reason for the struggle as a warm breath on the side of my face. The wind gathers itself and the birds climb higher, striving for the pass. The sky is dark now, full of Swallows, wall to wall. Thousands of Red-rumped Swallows, House Martins, Alpine Swifts and Bee-eaters are lost in the morass. A few Common Swifts are spotted and an Eleonora's Falcon joins the throng, like Mercury on the battlefield. A light breeze suddenly turns into something a little more potent and the sky clears and the noise drops away as the dam breaks. All the birds struggling to haul themselves over the 2700m high pass on Erendag are pushed over the top and disappear towards the coast, Israel and beyond.

Red-fronted Serin

This is what greeted me on the 26th August in the Western Taurus mountains. I'd gone looking for Red-fronted Serins and the like but borne witness to an amazing piece of migration. Afterward it felt lonely up there, despite plenty of Swallows continuing to hawk, despite finches and wheatears carpeting the ground. It was one of the finest things I have seen whilst birding. No, strike that, it was one of the finest things I have seen.

A different experience

I was fortunate to escape the virus-laden depression of the UK for a family holiday in Hisaronu, Mugla, Turkey which is between Olu Deniz and Fethiye. The destination was principally chosen due the Covid-19 status of the country as we booked 10 days before we went having lost a holiday to Sierra de Grazalema, Cadiz. The upside was plenty of potential new stuff although I barely had time to draw breath in preparation. The hasty purchase of Dave Gosney's SW Turkey site guide was invaluable. I was only able to get a car for 5 out of 14 days but I tried to make the most of that. I considered trying to go and see the Fish Owls but a 400 mile round trip and the uncertainty of whether I could get to see them dissuaded me. I chose to do a local day, two days in the Taurus Mountains, one morning on the coastal marshes in Fethiye and then some time with the family. I saw a perfusion of birds with big numbers, spectacular species and plenty of diversity.

Babadag from the pool

The first day of the trip was spent lazing round the pool, getting to know our environment. There was a ridge above the hotel which was shielded annoyingly by a line of conifers. Looking beyond this I picked some corvids playing over the top. After a bit of time watching them they resolved into Chough. Hirundines skittered round the pool, both Red-rumped and Barn Swallows and I later found that the Red-rumped Swallows were breeding next to my window. A single Alpine Swift was migrating south along the ridge. The only other additions were White Wagtail, Jay, House Sparrow and Collared Doves all of which were common around the pool area. 

Day two started with a coffee on the balcony and a band of Crag Martins working along the ridge, migrating. Again, the main purpose of the day was some family fun with a good food and a few jars of euro lager. Before it got too hot I had an amble into the pine forest behind the hotel. Venturing out required a mask and it was sweltering but worthwhile. My hopes were pinned on local specialties but alas they weren't to be. All the standard paridae were present with Coal Tit amongst the pines and Long-tailed Tits in the gardens. Blackbirds scurried and a Sparrowhawk darting made it feel like Albion rather than Asia Minor. This continued with Grey Wagtail, Chaffinch and Goldfinch only for a very welcome Hoopoe to snap me out of my pining. A Lesser Whitethroat was a pleasant surprise but hardly earth shattering. A Short-toed Eagle, hanging over the forest, was my first of the trip and my first decent view of one since I visited Kefalonia in 2013. Later in the day a lifer, as a Long-legged Buzzard traversed the ridge. This was one of a pair which presumably nested on the hillside somewhere, as I saw them most days there on.

The summit of Babadag ready for tourists when the cable car starts running

The isolated mountain of Babadag, taller than Ben Nevis, sits above Olu Deniz and Hisaronu and you can drive to the very summit. Its a nervy, steep ascent with adverse cambers, hairpin bends, interesting road surfaces, single track and absolutely no crash barriers In short it was terrifying. Obviously I went up three times in the five days I had the car. It is the closest place to get some of the mountain birds although not all are available. It also gave me a new way to not see Kruper's Nuthatch. The reason for the road is the tourist industry and at the top parascenders hurl themselves off and into the unknown, to land half an hour later in Olu Deniz, far below. It was a delight watching these specks of colour drift on the breeze from mountain to sea. It was less delightful meeting the minibuses which ascend and descend the mountain at breakneck speed making my own, slightly sedate pace seem mundane. These guys must have nerves of steel.

A gurning idiot at 1900m

The birding on the way up was non-existent as I wrestled the car all the way up. It was mild at the height but there was no wind and I was joined by swallows of both flavours and a kettle of 41 Ravens. Another shape lolloped in with the corvids, a female Goshawk. She thundered off, back to her forest kingdom after a less than friendly welcome. A small sylvia dropped over the edge of the cliff and into a bush on a cliff. Gingerly putting my nose over I gained views of a female Ruppell's Warbler. I didn't get a good look at this species the entire trip but there were several seen briefly, in cover or from cars, much like the sort of views I got of Sards across Europe. This was a lifer and another swiftly followed with a Rock Thrush scooting around the as yet unopened centre at the top of the mountain.

After 30 minutes at the top, I decended, checking all the safe pull ins on the descent for Sombre Tit and Kruper's Nuthatch. I didn't see a sausage but I did find a pass to the south of the mountain which went through some farmed clearings. It was very hot by this stage but a timid Lesser Grey Shrike was my first of the trip whilst in the bushes an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler was a first. The only other bird seen aside from swallows and ravens was a Kestrel hunting for small snacks. I returned to the bosom of my family, eager to share with them the excitement of the morning. They, obviously, didn't give a stuff. The afternoon was enlivened by the discovery of a small Spur-thighed Tortoise amongst the rock garden. This was one of several that I found in the grounds of the hotel. In the evenings these were supplemented by Kotschy's Geckos, both of which were lifers. There were also Turkish Geckos about as well but they were rather more familiar to me. My eldest daughter ran regular evening herping clubs for the kids whilst the parents enjoyed the euro lager with social distancing excusing the loud voices.

A Spur-thighed Tortoise

My first trip to the mountains proper had me heading 150km inland towards Seki and 2500m up, to Erendag and the Gogu-Beli Pass. I hit Erendag first, driving through Temel where there were so many Swallows it was insane. It was obvious that these weren't just local breeders but accumulations of birds as every inch of phone line and surface of barn was covered. Small numbers of House Martins and Red-rumped Swallows were in these groups. I climbed out of the village and started to ascend, finding some small water cut valleys along the dirt track road. I got out and I could hear birds but I saw virtually nothing. A ficedula escaped ID and several Lesser Whitethroats took far too long to sort out. A Chiffchaff hweeted and a few sallies from a Spotted Flycatcher were all I could muster when there was suddenly a flurry and a storm of swallows. They were everywhere. I thought I was going to find a few in my hair they were so numerous and close. I pushed on seeing Cirl Buntings in an orchard. I found a stop, overlooking a forest with meadows and hedges infront of me. It seemed a good vista and so it was to prove as a hulking raptor hauled itself into the sky and up the ridge. After ten minutes or so of ascent the adult Bonelli's Eagle disappeared over the ridge. I wasn't aware this species was a goer but I later checked and their records have been blurred by eBird as they are a rare breeder. Trying to relocate it, I espied a distant raptor but this was a brief Griffon Vulture, my only one of the trip somewhat surprisingly. Closer, the meadows held Red-backed Shrike, Rock Bunting and finally, a Sombre Tit in the firs above the road. 

Tawny Pipit

I pushed on, keen to get up the mountain before the heat became problematic. It was less than 20c for the first time during the trip. I got to the ski centre at Erendag and had a poke about. It was derelict despite being relatively new. Poor access must make it a hard spot to get to with about 8km of track between me and the main road. Wheatears were evident and surprisingly they were all northern. I was unaware but Northern Wheatear breeds in the mountains of this area. I was expecting it to just be Finsch's with maybe some passage Northerns. Crested Larks were also everywhere along with my first Tawny Pipits of the trip and a lone Hoopoe. Further still and onto the seasonal farmsteads where families were set up for the summer. Caucasian Water Pipits were now amongst the Tawny Pipits and an unfamiliar looking wagtail gave a buzzy call. There were lots of flava wagtails stalking the alpine meadows, most of which were Black-headed Wagtails with a few thunbergi mixed in. A pale Long-legged Buzzard flushed from a rocky outcrop and descended to the boulder field below. The reason it shifted was soon evident with a Short-toed Eagle getting up and circling in the warming air. It gave a decent show before disappearing up and over the ridge, heading on its way.

Red-fronted Serin

I had got quite high up at this point and I parked my car near to a farmstead. The swallows from lower down were starting to gather and I could hear Bee-eaters although I couldn't see them. I was engrossed in finch hunting at this point and Linnets were my reward for careful scrutiny of them with the odd Goldfinch. I pushed up the goat herding track and I was aware something special was going on with all the aerial birds. The densities were mindblowing and they were pinned in by the pass which was at 2700m. My car was parked at just over 2000m and I hauled my backside up to about 2300m. Wheatears were still very much in evidence. A band of small finches fed on some asterids. They looked rotund and dark. Getting closer they were Red-fronted Serins, my main target of the day. A few Kestrels joined the swifts and swallows overhead and then they were joined by a dark-morph Eleonora's Falcon. This didn't hassle the hirundines and hawked merrily. There was a slight breeze detectable on my cheek and suddenly the numbers of birds overhead increased exponentially. The calls filled the sky and there was a palpable excitement amongst them. The breeze stiffened and the dam burst as the birds reached 2700m and moved on to the promised land beyond. All that was left was the local swallows feeding on the aerial flotsam which was gathered at the pass. 

I was aware I wanted to see the Gogu-Beli Pass and turned on my heel. A Hatay Lizard 
Phoenicolacerta laevis, a large, strong species, also known as the Syrian Lizard and a recent colonist of the area darted amongst the montane shrubs. A Rock Thrush was up on the ridge above me briefly. Quickly I was at the car - how did it take an hours hike uphill and 15 minutes down? More Red-fronted Serins were along a water filled gully. A bumpy descent in the car got me back to Seki in pretty good time but a close Long-legged Buzzard made me stop and a small shape creeping through a boulder outcrop was my first Western Rock Nuthatch. I was expecting it to feel bigger but it wasn't that far from the Nuthatches of home, at least at that distance, despite the different substrate.

Hatay Lizard

Before long I was at the Gogu-Beli Pass. I realised it was a mistake. It was hot, there were no birds and people were at both water taps, either side of the pass. I quickly gave up. I stopped at the dripping tap on the north-western side as there was just a family of four having a picnic as opposed to the cast of 5000 at the south-eastern one. A single Rock Nuthatch was brave enough to ignore them, picking up crumbs and giving me astounding views, looking like a weird Robin from home. I watched for a while but when I grabbed the camera it soon disappeared into the rocks below. It was now very hot and I was knackered so I headed back to base picking up my first Hooded Crows and White Storks on the way.

Long-legged Buzzard

Part 2 on its way shortly. 

Wednesday 27 January 2021

A Professional Update?

Professional, me? That is a laugh. I have however just finished a seven year, nine month and 27 day stint with Wood aka Wood Group and formerly Amec and Amec Foster Wheeler. The vagaries of the oil industry and its decline are responsible for the various changes. I am moving on. For now, it is reflection and remembering some epic birding, some great moments and being cold/wet or both a lot. I spent my first summer in South-west Scotland on the wind farm train and found an American Golden Plover on a hill in Ayrshire. Remarkably, I found the same bird, 100 miles away, at St Mary's Island in Newcastle the following week. It was definitely easier to pick amongst 7 other Golden Plover on the hill! Pete, my close mate and colleague and I shared a couple of autumns of sea watching at St Mary's where we had a flyby Surf Scoter which later settled on the Suffolk/Essex border. A Rough-legged Buzzard in Northumberland was more contentious as I found it and Pete missed it, despite it flying over the land we were both looking at for five minutes. Thankfully the locals also saw it. Pete got his own back in spades with Black Kites and Honey Buzzards.

I have had seven years in Somerset, starting in the winter of 2013/14 and culminating this January. The luxuries of Blackmore farm now a distant memory but I enjoyed the area immensely when it wasnt westerly gales, rain and freezing. There were some good finds including Caspian Gull (8 county records), Wryneck, Bee-eater, Iceland Gull, Waxwing, Leach's Petrel, Siberian Chiffchaff, Tundra Bean Goose, Black Tern, Richard's Pipit, Wood Lark and Cattle Egret (before it was dross) as well as this autumns Red-throated Pipit. I also saw Kentish Plover, Two-barred Crossbill, Hawfinch, White-billed Diver, Great Shearwater, Cirl Bunting, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Bluetail and many other bits and pieces in the South-west during my trips. I met some very decent Somerset folk and counted a lot of birds. I didn't see Little Bittern which is an enduring source of frustration. 

My acquaintance with Goshawks prior to my starting with Wood was occasional and not great. Now, I've monitored so many I cant begin to count. I've seen birds perched up close, endless display, lots of individuals of all ages. Upland raptors are hard to see but gosh are they worth the effort. In fact, I have worked on many projects in the Highlands and saw most of the specialties during surveys including nesting eagles, divers, Pine Martins, Parrot Crossbills, Capers, Hen Harriers, Black Grouse. I spent 2 months stopping an Osprey nest from being disturbed and then got cut out of the press release (haha!). I have also seen more Peregrine nests than anyone else in the UK I'd imagine and had the fortune to rescue a chick last year. I even found a Leatherback Turtle in the Irish Sea! I have been challenged regularly, I've failed often, I've even succeeded on occasion, I've worked with some dedicated professionals and I've made friends to last a life time. I'm not really supposed to post about the new job, so I wont other than to say I have one and I wont be going to site anymore which my wife will love. I am so happy to be able to be home for my family as I have been itinerant for 11 years since I started as an ornithologist and my kids will find it weird that I don't up and out for a week but they deserve my time. I have been privileged and I know it. My scope broke on site about six months after I started and my bins are knackered. I've been using work optics for years now and they travelled with me on occasion. I have just treated myself to a Swaro scope and will be saving for new bins. That is my big reward for my new role along with a Skoda Octavia estate. My Dad would be proud of my sensible car choices at least. My 19 year old self, less so.

Dudes, it's been excellent.   

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

Record, share and compare with BUBO Listing at