Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Whinchat, but no Wryneck

With the first report of a Wryneck in London this autumn at KGV reservoir, I headed over to take a look, and things were looking promising when I passed another birder who had been watching the bird just ten minutes earlier. He then pointed me in the direction of a Hawthorn tree on the west side of the north basin and explained he'd been watching it sat up in the tree until a Sparrowhawk flew over and that's when it then dived into cover!

But despite patiently waiting and watching the Hawthorn tree and the surrounding cover from the bank of the reservoir for some time, I left without success! Although watching up to four Whinchats along the same channel of scrub did keep me occupied.

KGV Reservoir, London,

If this Wryneck follows the same pattern as those of the last few years at Wanstead and Alexandra Palace, then I'm sure it will be around for a few more days yet.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

It's all gone Cuckoo on Wanstead Flats!

After connecting early with the Red-necked Phalarope on the south basin of KGV reservoir (no point posting any images - far too distant in the murk) I headed to Wanstead Flats in search of some more Flycatcher action.

As I searched the SSSI area (knowing full well that tomorrow is the anniversary of last years Wryneck - does lightning strike twice?) I received a message from Mr Croft...

"Crake sp in the brambles east of Long Wood" - whaaaat!! 

Rushing over to Long Wood I quickly found Nick, Bob and Steve looking into and around the said area, but it soon became evident the bird was probably deep within the thicket and any thoughts of a planned flush was virtually impossible, after getting bored watching and waiting I moved on - I then saw Bob frantically waving his arms! He had seen in flight what he had thought was Mr Crofts Crake and it had landed in a large area of long grass - a plan was hatched for the four of us to walk in a line through the grass in hope of flushing the bird to at least get some decent flight views and ultimately clinch its ID - up and down we went, but despite our efforts in the constant rain through long soaking wet grass - nothing!

Further discussions with Bob who had had some time to digest what he had seen in flight and his thoughts were moving more in the direction of Quail - did we now have a Crake and a Quail on the Flats on the same morning - bonkers. Whatever Nick and Bob had seen I saw neither, and was keen to see what else the bad weather had brought down onto the Flats.

I was soon rewarded with this fine juvenile Cuckoo sheltering amongst the branches of centre copse (a patch first for me) and more than compensation for getting a thorough soaking!

Juvenile, Wanstead Flats, London

I also added Tree Pipit and at least three Spotted Flycatchers to the mornings totals, along with a healthy sprinkling of Phylloscopus and Sylvia Warblers, but failed to connect with any Pied Flycatchers.

Juvenile, Wanstead Flats, Londo

With the east coast picking up a bounty of scarce and rare migrants on the back of this weather system, the autumns birding excitement has well and truly kicked off in style - roll on the rest of the long bank holiday weekend.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Eye-catching Spotted Flycatcher

The Spotted Flycatcher is another well publicised British breeding bird in big trouble, and has been on the BTO red list for many years as numbers have steadily declined since the 1960's.

In 2000 a survey by the BTO identified less than 59,000 territories of Spotted Flycatcher in the UK - even at that time it was suggested this was an over estimate. Thirteen years on and I'd hate to guess what this number is now - 30,000, 15,000, less than 10,000 - shocking!

Knowing how difficult is to catch up with these locally in the summer as a breeding bird (I know of only one pair), I'm thankful I can still get my fix of these super little birds in the autumn. Wanstead Flats has to be one of the best places in London to see this Flycatcher in action, as adults and juveniles disperse and head south, briefly stopping over on route to warmer winter climates.

Birding, Photography,Wanstead Flats, London

With news of the first passage arrivals appearing on Wanstead Flats this week, I couldn't resist spending a couple of hours around one or two of there favoured areas on the Flats (unfortunately these areas are also favoured by one or two slightly undesirable gentleman of the woods!).

I'm pleased to say that I did catch up with one confiding bird, fly catching in the evening sun and can only hope there are many more in the next week or two as we reach the peak of there southerly migration - but despite the success of seeing one of these birds, I think I'll stick to birding in the mornings on the Flats, just incase I catch the eye of someone less interesting than a Spotted Flycatcher.

Birding, Photography,Wanstead Flats, London

Monday, 19 August 2013

Marsh Harrier, Rainham Marsh

I've taken a few photographs recently, but this one personally stands out for me - no clever use of Photoshop here, just a bit of cropping and a little bit of luck! 

This smart creamy-headed female Marsh Harrier played ball for the camera when circling the marsh at the back of Aveley Pools, turning and then gliding above the skyline, with the unmistakable sight of the RSPB visitors centre at Rainham Marsh in the background, the bird obligingly flew directly above this unique building just long enough to enable me to capture the image I had in mind.

Rainham Marsh, Visitors Centre, RSPB

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

El Hondo or El Fondo or just El Magnifico

Ever since we booked our holiday, I've been secretly itching to visit one of Spain's greatest wetland reserves - El Hondo (or El Fondo if you're a local). So when the opportunity presented itself I was in the hire car and away - and I didn't get lost!

Close to the village of San Filipe Neri, I chose the visitors centre entrance in the south-west corner of the reserve to start my walk, as I knew this entrance was always open (even if the visitors centre was closed). There are other areas of this very large reserve which are open to the public but these have restricted access on certain days of the week (Click here for access and opening times).

Arriving at the car park, you know you're onto a good thing when there are two species of Shrike on the perimeter fence as you pull up!

Birding, Photography, El Hondo, Costa Blanca, Spain

And the rest of the reserve didn't disappoint - the whole place was teaming with Bitterns, Herons, Egrets and Ibis. I could list them all, but let's just say I had nine different species! Purple Swamphens crashed through the reeds with young in tow, Great Reed Warblers were numerous, as were Fan-tailed Warblers or if you prefer Zitting Cisticola (daft name). A male Montagu's Harrier drifted over the reedbed spooking a family of Black-winged Stilts, a Greenshank and several Little Ringed Plover into action, whilst Bee-eaters called overhead - not knowing where to look next, I continually scanned through the numerous ducks searching for both the White-headed and Marbled variety!

Birding, Photography, El Hondo, Costa Blanca, Spain

A pair of Collared Pratincoles noisily flew past me giving some stunningly close views, and then as luck would have it they decided to land just a few metres away on the dirt track ahead of me - I then realised why, I could hear the sound of a couple of youngsters calling for their parents, as I waited, a recently fledged bird and its slightly older sibbling came out of hiding from the low vegetation and into view.

Birding, Photography, El Hondo, Costa Blanca, Spain

Juvenile, El Hondo, Costa Brava, Spain

And just when I thought I'd missed the two species of duck El Hondo is famous for - bingo! A Marbled Duck casually came into view, swimming right passed the hide (I eventually picked out another three birds) but sadly the infamous White-tailed Duck never materialised!

El Hondo, Costa Brava, Spain

Knowing that I was up against it time wise, as I was expected back at the villa for lunch and an appointment with my new best friend San Miguel! I reluctantly dragged myself away from this amazing reserve - vowing to return again. On that note, I'm hoping to return to this region of Spain in the future and maybe spend a little time in the mountains and upland steppe land in search of Vultures, Eagles, Bustards and Sandgrouse - bring it on!!

Lastly, of all the photographs I took on holiday this had to be my personal favourite (apart from the one the waiter took of the family together) - I just happen to come across this adult Whiskered Tern feeding on a small body of water, near a golf course whilst out driving one day - El Magnifico!

Adult, Birding, Photography, El Hondo, Costa Blanca, Spain

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Birding the salt pans at El Pinet

An early start and under an hours drive away (even less if you don't get lost) from where we were holidaying are the coastal salt pans at El Pinet, which are at the southern end of the Santa Pola Salinas. I had read this was a good site for Greater Flamingo, and had visions of seeing a distant tall pink blob or two in the heat haze - how wrong could I be!

As soon as I reached the car park and looked through the adjacent screen hides, those tall pink blobs were now feeding only metres away! With a couple of hundred birds covering the salt pans including many juveniles this was an amazingly close encounter I hadn't quite expected.

Adult, El Pinet, Spain, Costa Blanca

Adult, El Pinet, Spain, Costa Blanca

Juvenile, El Pinet, Spain, Costa Blanca

El Pinet, Spain, Costa Blanca

Crossing the wooden boardwalks through the pine covered sand dunes on my way to one of the raised platforms hides which strategical overlooked across the salt pans, you could imagine this place being a magnet for passage migrants at the right time of year - sadly mid-summer wasn't that time of year, and the only passerines of note were Iberian Grey Shrike and a Short-toed Lark. But where the pine trees were lacking in birds they made up for it with the loud buzzing sound of Cicadas, the noise was almost deafening - shame I'd forgotten to pack my ear defenders! but still, at least I'd remembered the mosquito repellent.

El Pinet, Costa Blanca, Spain

El Pinet, Costa Blanca, Spain

Apart from the Greater Flamingo there were a few waders also taking advantage of this great habitat including Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover, Common Sandpiper and several smart looking Curlew Sandpiper all starting their moult into winter plumage.

El Pinet, Spain, Costa Blanca

El Pinet, Spain, Costa Blanca

Terns and Gulls were also here in good numbers including the Mediterranean specialities; Slender-billed and Audouin's Gull, Whiskered and Gull-billed Tern, along with the more familiar Little, Sandwich and Common Terns.

El Pinet, Spain, Costa Blanca

El Pinet, Spain, Costa Blanca

Add several Collared Pratincole hawking around the fringes of the salt pans into the mornings mix and my return of birds for a couple hours birding in the heat of a Spanish summer wasn't bad.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Poolside birding on the Costa Blanca

Its been three years since the family last enjoyed a summer holiday abroad - previously opting to stay in the UK, but after enduring the last couple of wet summers, we bit the bullet and paid the massively inflated air fares (low cost air travel during the school holidays just doesn't exist) - but despite the cost I don't think it will be such a long wait until the next time we jump on a plane, as we all had a such a great time.

Our holiday destination was the Spanish region of the Costa Blanca, and a villa in Algorfa, south of Alicante. With the promise of warm weather, blue skies, outdoor pool, quality cheap booze, great food and with a few southern European birds to look out for - there wasn't much to not look forward too.

Without much effort, the list of birds around the villa was starting to tally up with daily sightings of flyover Bee-eaters, Whiskered Tern, Cattle Egret, Turtle Dove, Palid Swift and every day you could guarantee a family party of Red-rumped Swallows flying around the swimming pool, before settling on the TV aerial.

Birding, Costa Blanca, Spain

Spain, Costa Blanca, Birding

Spain, Costa Blanca, Birding

But an undoubted highlight happened whilst lounging around the pool and topping up the suntan (working on losing my t-shirt tan lines) when a light phase Booted Eagle slowly circled the villa - thankfully it circled slowly enough to enable me to run inside and grab the camera.

Light Phase, Spain, Costa Blanca, Birding

Light Phase, Spain, Costa Blanca, Birding

To one side of the villa was an orchard of lime trees with a little bit of scrub, not the most bird enticing of habitats but enough to hold a small group of Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Red-legged Partridge, the odd Hoopoe and even more Red-rumped Swallows.

Spain, Costa Blanca, Birding

Spain, Costa Blanca, Birding, Birding

Spain, Costa Blanca, Birding

But probably the best time of day were the evenings, just before sunset whilst enjoying a glass or two of the local chilled pink vino, it seemed the villa was on the direct flight path of a gull roost with large numbers of Yellow-legged and Mediterranean Gulls flying over.  

Spain, Costa Blanca, Birding

Spotless Starlings were also more evident in the evenings, as were the Stone Curlews who noisily put in a late appearance before the sun finally disappeared for the day - now where did I put that corkscrew!

Spain, Costa Blanca