Monday, 14 November 2016

Brown Shrike - Spurn Point 31st October

I went to Skinningrove for the Eastern Black Redstart but with the possibility of a nearby Pied Wheatear at Redcar and a Daurian Shrike at South Shields. By 10:00 it was looking like neither of the two supporting birds had been seen when news came through of a Brown Shrike at Spurn. It was a lovely sunny morning and I decided to drive down the coast to Spurn. Arguably it was loosely on the way home to Derbyshire!
I arrived about 13:30 when there were perhaps 30 people watching it at the southern edge of the canal zone. It remained distant, never closer than 100m, but gave decent telescope views and was very actively chasing insects. I took some photos for the record. It was a first for Spurn, second for Yorkshire and about 20th for Britain. It was my second having seen one on the western edge of its wintering range in Pakistan in the late 1970's so it was nice to refresh a somewhat distant memory! 

Brown Shrike - first winter
Birders watching the Brown Shrike late afternoon
Even with poor photos it's surprising how much information can be available which would be difficult to convey with just written notes.
In the photo above the short primary projection beyond the tertials is very apparent, looking closely at the photo you can just make out 5 primary tips. In Red-backed you would see 6 or 7 primary tips  as per the photo of Red-backed taken below on Rhodes at the end of October.
Red-backed Shrike - 1st winter
The short, pointed, outer-tail feather is also visible on the same photograph which is another strong indicator of Brown. The absence of a rufous tail and dark centred tertials are perhaps the best separation from Daurian (L isabellinus isabellinus) and Turkestan (L isabellinus phoenicuroides) Shrikes which are treated as separate species in some taxonomies.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Eastern Black Redstart at Skinningrove 31st October

Shortly after the Easington bird an Eastern Black Redstart was found at Skinningrove in Cleveland and I decided to take a look as it was showing well. They are superb looking birds and I wasn't disappointed.

Eastern Black Redstart
Similar birds were also found at Donna Nook, Lincs and Hartlepool Headland, Cleveland and Cayton Bay, N Yorks

Spurn 25th & 26th October - Red-flanked Bluetail and Eastern Black Redstart

I returned to Spurn on the 26th October, initial searches at Sammy's Point produced a few Goldcrest and single Chiffchaff but by mid-day there seemed to be a few more Goldcrest appearing. Then came news of a Red-flanked Bluetail at Kilnsea Wetlands. I was at Kew so it was only a short drive but I had visions of watching it across the pools. I was very pleased therefore to arrive and find it perched on the fence right by the hide where it sallied for insects for about 15 minutes before disappearing in front of the hide.

Red-flanked Bluetail - first winter female

Whilst there I heard news of a second bird, a male still in breeding plumage at the Point and an Eastern Black Redstart at Easington Cemetery found by Mick Cunningham.
The redstart was distant along the edge of a ploughed field and looking directly towards the sun but after about 45 minutes it came on to a nearby muck heap where Mick had originally found it and gave good views in still rather difficult light. It appears to be of the central asian subspecies phoenicuroides, and only the 7th record for Britain.

Eastern Black Redstart

Siberian Accentor - Easington 16th October

I heard the news of Britain's first Siberian Accentor on Shetland on 9th October whilst I was in France. News that a second bird had been found by Lance Degnan at Easington on 13th October greeted me on my return home. 
I didn't fancy the crowds that would be present immediately following its discovery but was quite keen to see the bird so went over on the afternoon of the 16th.
The bird was still present where it had been originally found on Vicar's Lane and showed on and off until dusk, sometimes approaching to within a few feet.
A fantastic bird and well worth the effort of going to see it.
These records were part of a widespread arrival of more than 200 in northern Europe and which included a further 11 records in Britain!

Siberian Accentor

Gruissan & Carcassonne 3rd - 12th October

Pam and I took up Ryanair's offer of cheap flights to Carcassonne in southern France in early October, it was about £8 outbound and £25 for the return, plus baggage etc. so a very good offer.
We stayed at the Hotel Port Beach in Gruissan for four nights then 5 nights at the Residence Adonis La Barbacane in Carcassonne. Neither were particularly cheap but provided decent accommodation in good locations.
The pools and salt pans in the immediate area around Gruissan had plenty of common birds with large groups of Greater Flamingo and the usual Srardinian Warblers and Crested Larks. The area of Etang de Ayro Ue a couple of kilometres SW of the town had Woodlark and Firecrest and plenty of Chiffchaff and Blackcaps.
Just inland from Gruissan there is a wooded area with deep valleys known as La Clape this area is home to Eagle Owl and possibly Bonelli's Eagle but I didn't see much here but didn't spend a lot of time looking but came across a Preying Mantis.
La Clape

Preying Mantis
The area that impressed me most was the Lac de Pissevache on the coast just north of St Pierre la Mer. This is an area of coastal pools and salt marsh. Although it appears to be a bird reserve there are shooting butts around the perimeter so some hunting must be permitted.
Lac de Pissevache
There were a couple of Black-necked and single Great Crested Grebes on the pool by the campsite and about half a dozen Kentish Plover with Ringed Plover and Dunlin but the site has produced many rarer waders.
Black-necked Grebe
About 100 Yellow-legged Gulls roosted on the pools.  The salt marsh had a decent population of Dartford Warblers. One morning we had three Common Crane circle the pools before continuing south to Spain.
Common Cranes
Just inland there is an interesting deep pool called the Gouffre de L'Oeil Doux which had Blue Rock Thrush and Cirl Bunting.
Gouffre de L'Oeil Doux with Pissevache in background

We made several stops at the migration watch point at the Roc de Conhilac and picked up small numbers of Booted Eagle, Honey Buzzards and what could have been resident Marsh Harriers. On a good day with the right winds several hundred raptors may pass over the rock.

Booted Eagle

We encountered several more Booted Eagles as we drove around with up to 6 in a day.
This late in the year butterflies were not seen in large numbers but most coastal places we stopped had Long-tailed Blue and we saw about half a dozen Two-tailed Pasha including inland around Carcassonne.
Two-tailed Pasha

The birding around Carcassonne was quieter with Black Redstarts and Jackdaws around the old town but we made the two hour drive up to the Pyrenean migration watch point at Eyne.
Black Redstart - male
This is a wide valley at around 1700m which is manned almost continuously through the autumn with sightings posted on the LPO Aude web site

Watch Point at Eyne
The numbers of birds passing here is impressive, whilst we were there flocks of Chaffinches, Siskin, Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit and White Wagtails were moving in the hundreds with several Serin and Citril Finch. Raptors were visible in small groups most of the time but many were distant and a telescope is needed to put a name to the majority although some must fly directly over the watch point. We had 37 Griffon Vulture and Booted and Short-toed Eagles. The wooded areas bordering the valley had good numbers of Firecrest and Crested Tit.
Crested Tit

The area is well worth a visit particularly when there are cheap flights on offer but the migration of birds of prey doesn't compare with Tarifa either for numbers, variety or views. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Southern Spain Part II - Tarifa

We arrived at Tarifa late in the afternoon and checked in to the delightful Meson de Sancho hotel, as I locked up the van I noticed several Short-toed Eagles flying back inland from the nearby coast, presumably to roost overnight having decided not to make the crossing today. I ended up standing next to the van for over an hour and counted 50 Short-toed and 10 Booted Eagles,10 Black Kite, 6 Honey Buzzards, 4 Griffon and single Egyptian Vulture plus 6 Black Stork, 4 Alpine and 15 Pallid Swift all crossing the road above the hotel. A fantastic welcome to Tarifa!
Short-toed Eagle
I was up early the following morning, although it was almost 8:00 before it was properly light. I caught several Short-toed Eagles heading back towards the coast whilst Serin and Robins called from the hotel garden.
Plenty of decent habitat around the hotel pool
After breakfast we headed a few kilometres down the coast to the Cazalla raptor watchpoint. Between 09:45 and 13:00 we recorded the following;
Short-toed Eagle 106
Booted Eagle 104
Black Kite 10
Common Buzzard 1
Honey Buzzard 2
Spanish Imperial Eagle 1 immature
Lesser Spotted Eagle 1
Egyptian Vulture 12
Griffon Vulture 15
White Stork 100+
Black Stork 150
Raptor watching at Cazalla
Booted Eagle
Black Storks
Honey Buzzard - juvenile
Unfortunately the Spanish Imperial and Lesser Spot were distant but had some great views of everything else.
In the afternoon we took the boat trip into the Straits. The Bottle-nosed Dolphins came right up to the boat and included at least one calf, they looked to be enjoying themselves and several animals had a spell of breeching. 
Bottle-nosed Dolphin - adult with calf
Bottle-nosed Dolphin breeching
A pod of Pilot Whales appeared next and again we were treated to boat side views of these superb animals.
Pilot Whale
Birds were few and far between but we managed 4 or 5 Scopoli's Shearwaters and a small flock of terns which looked like Black but were rather distant.
The following morning we went down to the hide at Los Lances beach just West of Tarifa. We had great views of Knot, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and a single Curlew Sandpiper in with the Dunlin. The Kentish Plovers were a little distant as was a group of around 20 Audouin's Gulls with  a similar number of Yellow-legged.
Across the road we had several Tawny Pipits along with the common Stonechats and Corn Bunting.
Returning to the hotel for lunch we added Short-toed Treecreeper and Firecrest to the holiday list and I had nice views of a female Sardinian Warbler before heading to the flooded rice fields of La Janda. 
Sardinian Warbler
We made a slight, but unsuccessful, diversion to the cliffs behind Bolonia following a call from Mick Cunningham to alert us to a Ruppell's Vulture on the cliffs but it left before we got there.
There were large numbers of Glossy Ibis and White Storks in the paddy fields and we had 3 Black-winged Kites along the dirt track that dissects the area, one was reasonably close and peared down at us looking almost cat like, but the other 2 were rather distant and heat haze can be a problem with distant birds.
Black-winged Kite

Further on a small river passed under the track and we had several Red-rumped Swallows hawking overhead.
I got up early the following morning and went down to Tarifa beach with a view to photographing the Audouin's Gulls. They were not quite where they had been yesterday so I had a long walk up the beach but got some photos just after the sun rose.
Audouin's Gull - adult and 2cy
On the walk back I came across two Iberian Chiffchaff fly catching from some stunted pines close to the beach. I was surprised how yellow they looked and wondered if I had misidentified some earlier birds around Los Palacios as Willow Warbler at the start of the week.
Iberian Chiffchaff
We returned to Cabala after breakfast. Birds were a bit higher than our previous visit but we had several hundred Booted and Short-toed Eagles with Booted the commonest. Several parties of Alpine Swift appeared overhead and disappeared just as quickly. A few more Honey Buzzard and some close Griffon Vulture and a single Goshawk gave us some variety before heading back for lunch.
Griffon Vulture
In the afternoon we returned to La Janda and were quickly rewarded with a female Montagu's Harrier and, surprisingly, my first Squacco Heron of the trip. A large flock of Woodpigeon numbering several hundred had not been there two days ago. Further on we found a nice Purple Heron and superb juvenile Woodchat Shrike amongst a scattering of migrants including Whinchat, Redstart and Pied Flycatcher.
On our final morning Phil and I went down to Tarifa beach, a change in wind direction had brought Scopoli's Shearwaters much closer inshore but still distant for photos. 
Scopoli's Shearwater
All too soon we were heading for Malaga airport and our flight home. It was a fantastic trip and I won't forget the circling raptors over Cazalla or Little Swifts at Chipiona. Thanks to all the members of Cambridge U3A for making it such an enjoyable adventure.

Southern Spain 17th - 24th September - Part 1 Los Palacios to Ronda

I have just returned from a fantastic week in Spain with Bird Holidays and a group from Cambridge U3A. We flew to Malaga then drove across to our base for three nights at Los Palacios south of Seville. We stayed at the Manolo Mayo hotel in the town centre which was very nice and well located for the local birding sites.
On the 18th we visited the mixed habitat bordering the River Guadalquivir at Trebujena then drove down to the Bonanza salt pans ending the day on the coast at Chipiona. 
Along the river we had several Wild Boar with young digging around in the soft mud on the riverbank.
Common birds included Fantailed and Sardinian Warblers with a few Chiffchaff, we also had 4 or 5 Spectacled Warblers  in the Suaeda type habitat and several Lesser Short-toed Lark. An Osprey with a blue darvic ring was probably ringed in the UK! 
At the Bonanza salt pans we had our first party of Black Stork passing overhead and a handful of Griffon Vulture. There was a nice group of about 60 Slender-billed Gulls in one area.
There was a very confiding Bar-tailed Godwit which appeared healthy but fed unconcernedly whilst we took photos. 
Bar-tailed Godwit
Other waders were Greenshank, Dunlin and a few Little Stint plus a single Curlew Sandpiper. At least 2 Caspian Tern patrolled the salt pans and I should mention that there were at least 200 Greater Flamingo.
As we left the area we called in at the small pools in Bonanza which provided great views of White-headed Duck plus a single Marbled Teal which was unexpected.
White-headed Duck
Marbled Duck
Chipiona marina is famous for its small colony of Little Swifts and that was our next stop. The birds were still visiting the nests under a loading canopy and we didn't have long to wait until the first bird flew in, this bird and several others were carrying feathers in to the nest which seems odd in late September. A single Pallid Swift was also still visiting a nest and we saw several more of the town. Lance Degnan with another Bird Holidays group saw 20 Little Swifts the following day, so they are clearly well established here.

Little Swift & nest
The following morning we drove to the southern end of the Brazo del Este marshes which comprises of drainage channels, pools and reedbeds. The area is known for the adventive species that have become established here from Africa and we saw Yellow Bishop, Black-headed Weaver, Red Adavadat and Common Waxbill all in reasonable numbers. 

Yellow Bishop
The behaviour of the male Yellow Bishop was striking, he stood atop a tall reed then launched in to the air, appearing to inflate his body by fluffing his feathers then 'buzzed' around looking like a large bee!
The weavers were nest building along one of the drainage channels.
Black-headed Weaver

I have never seen so many Glossy Ibis, they were everywhere and there must have been several thousand. They shared the pools with Spoonbill whilst Cattle Egrets fed on the margins. 
Brazo del Este

A group of 30 Collared Pratincole landed on the muddy edge of one of the larger pools and hawked over head with several Whiskered Terns including a nice dark backed juvenile. A couple of Bluethroat were seen briefly by some members of the group but eluded me but one of several Penduline Tits paused briefly on top of the reeds posing nicely. 

Penduline Tit
Later we visited the northern part of the same marshes and I got some nice photos of the striking Crimson Speckled moth and Banded Groundling which has a very restricted range in Europe. Here rice paddies bordered the pools and drainage channels and there were many crayfish visible in the murky pools. 
Crimson Speckled

Banded Groundling
Butterflies were not common but in one area I came across several Swallow-tails.
That evening we visited an area of open grassland and Parasol Pines waiting until dusk when first one, then a second Red-necked Nightjar took to the wing and briefly calling. 
Red-necked Nightjar site
A largish owl flew by and was probably Long-eared but it was by then too dark to be certain.
The following morning we set off for Tarifa but went via Ronda and stopped nearby for some upland birds. In Ronda itself we encountered several Crossbill during a refuelling stop plus Red-billed Chough over the cliffs.
A few kilometres outside Ronda we stopped in a rocky valley and almost immediately saw a couple of Black Wheatear on top of a ridge. 
A distant Golden Eagle circled above shortly to be joined by a second bird and we were treated to some superb display with the eagle stooping and rolling high above the hillside. 
Golden Eagle
A closer scan of the immediate area produced a couple of Black-eared and single male Northern Wheatear and Blue Rockthrush with several Crag Martin overhead.
We departed for Tarifa - see above