Thursday, April 17, 2014

Brambling, Ferry Meadows

One of two males seen at Ferry Meadows this morning. The other was a rather brighter summer individual.

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla

Canon Powershot SX50 HS

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A few from West Penwith

The beginning of April found us back in West Penwith again, this time in an amazing little campervan from Bumble Campers, a local firm converting a van for us at the moment. More of that another time but first some wildlife from the trip.

One of the best birds was my third Cornish Surf Scoter. This one was hard to see in the wet foggy conditions of Mounts Bay near Penzance, and certainly too hard to photograph. Once the sun came out we took to walking the coast paths and gazing out to sea from our campsite at Treen Farm. Gannets, Manx Shearwaters and Guillemots were on the move at sea with Fulmars on the cliffs, Sandwich Terns in Whitesands Bay and the odd Raven and Peregrine kicking about.

Stonechat Saxicola rubicola

Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus

Herring Gull Larus argentatus


Canon Powershot SX50 HS

Monday, March 10, 2014

Some Wildlife Near Fes

Fes Tanneries
My first trip to Morocco this year was to the Fes area in the north of the country to visit three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the medinas of Fes and Meknes and the Roman site of Volubilis.

Meknes Medersa

As always though the wildlife got a look in. The highlight for me was around 10 Short-toed Eagles plus a few Booted Eagles and Marsh Harriers migrating north over our villa just south of Fes one lazy morning. Other migrants were fairly thin on the ground but it was nice to be among Swallows in early March and the vast numbers of Alpine Swifts around the towns were very impressive. The blue form of Moroccan Rock Lizard was also entertaining at Volubilis. Also there Moroccan Hairstreak was a first for me.

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus

Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus

Crested Lark Galerida cristata

Little Owl Athene noctua

Moroccan Rock Lizard Teira perspicillata

Moroccan Hairstreak Tomares mauretanicus

Acrida ungarica, nymph (presumed ID)

Sickle-bearing Bush-cricket Phaneroptera falcata

Dock Bug sp. Coreus sp.

Sword-grass Xylena exsoleta

Photos Canon Powershot SX50 HS

Monday, February 10, 2014

Eagles and Owls in Netherlands

Caspian Plover, Brown Shrike, Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl. All mouthwatering prospects and at one point all available in the Netherlands recently. It was this tempting combination that got me thinking about making another winter trip to this superb birding destination. I hadn't been for some years but the combination of a large wintering population of quality birds, an active local birding scene and outstanding dissemination of news means it is always a good option. So when my sister, who works for Stena, said she had some free tickets for the Harwich - Hook of Holland crossing going begging I jumped at the chance.

I soon had a willing team of old friends together and a weekend selected for the twitch. In the meantime the Caspian Plover got eaten by a Merlin and the Snowy Owls were reduced to a single bird on Vlieland (an island impractical to get to on a weekend trip). That still left the Hawk Owl and Brown Shrike plus lesser goodies so the trip was still on.

Departure was after work on Friday and a 2 hour drive to Harwich International Port. We were soon checked in, boarded and settled in the Metropolitan restaurant on the Stena Hollandica for a slap up three course meal (included in the free tickets!).

After a comfortable night in the cabins and an included all-you-can-eat breakfast we were on the road heading north towards Zwolle and the Hawk Owl. On the way we stopped by the motorway at Nunspeet and had terrific, if damp, views of Short-toed Treecreepers and Crested Tits.

Generally reliable the owl had not been showing the previous day but had gone missing for a single day before during its long stay so we were fairly confident of relocating it. However after a couple of hours searching in the pouring rain it was clear all was not going to plan so rather than wreck the whole day we drove a short way towards the Ijsselmeer near Kampen and ended up watching Goosanders, many Smew, other wildfowl, waders and a magnificent pair of White-tailed Eagles all on the Vossemeer.

The eagles were amazing entertainment, at first flying into a huge dead tree and breaking off a large branch with their combined weight then the male flying off and catching a large eel and eating on the mud opposite attended by daring Carrion Crows who were eventually rewarded with the left overs.

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla

Nearby one of the many Great White Egrets scattered across the Netherlands showed well enough for a record shot.

Great White Egret Ardea alba

Very happy with the haul of birds here we returned for another go at the Hawk Owl in drier and brighter conditions but it was not to be. So in the failing light we headed south to our hotel in the little town of Zeddam tucked up against the German border close to a bit of rare Dutch high ground. We spent a very pleasant evening in Zeddam finding a cracking little Italian restaurant run by a Sardinian family who provided some excellent food and drink and a very warm welcome. It was fun being Brits in an Italian restaurant on the Dutch/German border hearing people saying 'bon appetite'! An international occasion.

On Sunday we were out at dawn to find a much drier, brighter, but hellishly windy day. Not the best conditions for locating a shrike and sure enough after a couple of hours we were facing the prospect of missing out on both main target birds. But birders are made of sterner stuff and we were consoled for a while by the sight of a Goshawk, which few see often in the UK, and again decided to take a break from the search, this time to do some birding in the nearby Bergherbos woodland. This holds Black Woodpecker which is a good bird by any standards. Unfortunately the wood is very popular with dog walkers, joggers and mountain bikers (being on a slight hill - a novelty for the Dutch) on a Sunday and the wind was not helping, so a distant call is all we encountered of the big woodie. Willow and Marsh Tits, more Short-toed Treecreeper action, Nuthatch and a few Siskins and a Great Spotted Woodpecker would have to do, although a small party of Common Crossbills were a nice addition just before we left.

Soon it was back to the search and still there was no sign of the shrike. So I made a decision to return to the hotel and use the wifi to check the news to see if the owl had been seen that morning. We could easily give up on the shrike and return to Zwolle if it had. It hadn't, but the shrike had. There had been a sighting shortly after we'd left for the wood. Rats! Nothing for it, we would have to go back for a third time and try again. There had been other birders there looking on and off all day but this time we met up with one of the patch workers responsible for finding and reporting the bird. Despite some pretty ropey optics he managed to refind the bird within about 30 minutes! Were we just rubbish or was it a case of the weather improving and knowing exactly where to look? In any case we were very grateful and all enjoyed good if rather distant views of a Brown Shrike that should have been wintering in South Asia, where I might see more of them in a few weeks time.

Our ferry home wasn't until late that evening so we had time to play with and decided geese were the best target. We'd already seen plenty of Greylag, Canada, Egyptian, Greater White-fronted, Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese everywhere and a couple of suspected Bean Geese had passed over us while we searched for the shrike but there were two rarer geese that were also tempting.

Our first site just south of Utrecht was unsuccessful apart from yielding our only Pheasant of the trip :). But we were luckier with the second. With not much more than an hour of useful daylight left we arrived at the goose-mecca of Strijen. This small area of polders west of Dordrecht can be a bit daunting at first. Confronted by thousands of Barnacle and White-fronted Geese it can be hard to see how you are going to pick out the tiny number of rarer species among them. While searching we got good views of another Goshawk, hunting the open wet grasslands in habitat UK birders would not expect to find them, and plenty of Brown Hares.

Brown Hares Lepus europaeus

Then we struck lucky when I picked up a group of 3 small grey geese on the edge of a Barnacle flock. These were soon confirmed as Lesser White-fronted Geese before they flew a short distance to join a fourth bird. A lifer for some of the crew it was good to see them, especially as Chris and I had just missed them on our trip to Northern Greece a couple of years ago.

Finally while scanning the last Barnacle flock Chris located a Red-breasted Goose emerging from one corner of the flock. You could see just how hard it can be to pick these out as the tiny goose was there one minute then vanished among the flock the next. Another lifer in the bag for some. A second Goshawk, a male giving us the best views yet of a species that I've only seen once or twice in the UK, was the last notable bird sighting before we headed back to the ferry port on the last fumes of the hideously expensive Dutch unleaded.

Our timing was perfect and we rolled straight onto the Stena Brittanica and were soon celebrating in the Metropolitan restaurant before retiring to our cabins for another comfortable crossing of the North Sea and the early morning drive back to work in Peterborough on Monday morning.

My thanks go to the rest of the team, Mike Weedon, Chris and Lloyd Park for making this such an enjoyable weekend and especially to my sister Jane for the opportunity to travel in style on the Stena crossings.

Photos and video on Canon Powershot SX50 HS

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Willow Tit at Deeping Lakes

This is a screen grab from the video below and shows many of the salient feature that separate this species from the very similar Marsh Tit: the wrap-around white cheeks, dull black crown and lack of pale base to the cutting edges of the mandibles as well as the very clear pale secondary panel.

More distinctive though is the call which is how I picked up the bird in the first place.

Willow Tit Poecile montanus kleinschmidti

Canon Powershot SX50 HS

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Burghley House

OK, so the deer are captive but also rather cool. The Goosander however is one of 6 wild birds on the lake: 4 males like this one and a couple of females.


Fallow Deer

Canon Powershot SX50 HS

Acleris hastiana and a garden first

It's not only Winter Moths in the winter. This attractive little micro came to a window on Boxing Day. Only the second record for the garden.

Acleris hastiana

In other news my local recorder has finished microscopic identification of the few moths taken throughout the year. There are a few oddities to sort out but this one at least was a garden first.

Haplotinea insectella

Canon Powershot SX50 HS

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Sitta

Over the past few days there have been a few birds that are a little out of the ordinary. Not rare, just not that frequent. Last Sunday a male Bullfinch flew high south along the Nene and a Chiffchaff was in the garden, on Tuesday a Tree Sparrow flew over the house calling (and it took me a few minutes to register that call I hear so rarely these days) and this morning the first Fieldfares and Redpoll of the autumn flew over.

So I nipped up Greenhill this morning to see what was about and came across a couple of Nuthatches slightly out of place around the horse paddocks. Otherwise just some Woodpigeons on the move and a few more winter thrushes.

Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Canon Powershot SX50 HS