Sunday, 26 April 2015

Singing In The Rain - A Wanstead Wood Warbler

In 1952 when Gene Kelly performed singing in the rain who would have thought that wonderful performance would ever have been eclipsed, well a Wood Warbler on Wanstead Flats certainly gave Gene a run for his money.

With a wet and overcast morning forecast, I was hopeful these spring conditions would drop in a few additional summer migrants, but with only a handful of the usual Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats on offer first thing, I was keen to add the recently arrived Garden Warbler to the patch year list. So after polishing off the now regular and most welcome Saturday morning Costa Coffee with the usual Wanstead stalwarts, I sloped off to add Garden Warbler to the totals.

I soon found the Garden Warbler singing between Motorcycle Wood and the Birch trees in the SSSI and I was just pulling the camera out from its rain protector when a warbler flitted into view, even without raising my bins, I could see how strong and bright lemon yellow the upper parts were, bloody hell - WOOD WARBLER. Now pointing the camera in the direction of the Wood Warbler it only goes and breaks into song - this was stuff of patch dreams!

A quick phone call to alert my caffeine addicted Wanstead birding colleagues, I did my best to keep track of its movements through the Birch copse - knowing full well how good a bird Wood Warbler is, not just for the patch but for London in general. Shortly after the whole Wanstead crew (Jono, Dan, Nick, Bob, Stuart and a breathless Tim - having sprinted from home) were also all enjoying wonderful views and listening to that soft trill in the rain.

I soon had to leave the Flats as parental duties called - but for the rest of the day I couldn't get that song out of my head - Dee-ah dee-ah dee-ah, Dee-ah dee-ah dee-ah - I'm happy again, I'm singin' and dancin' in the rain!

Singing, Spring, London

Singing, Spring, London

Singing, Spring, London

Singing, Spring, London



Friday, 24 April 2015

Birding Ourika Valley and Oukaimeden, Morocco

A trip to Marrakech wouldn't be complete without visiting the high Atlas Mountains, especially as they are only 90 minutes away.

The road out of Marrakech following the Ourika river valley towards Oukaimeden is full of birding opportunities, and I had to stop our driver on a couple of occasions as I picked up first a Southern Grey Shrike and then a Woodchat Shrike on the telegraph wires.

Ourika Valley,Oukaimeden, Morocco

My main target bird though was Levaillant's Woodpecker which could possibly be found anywhere along our route. Stopping at what I thought might be the most suitable habitat along the river, almost immediately I could here the familar yaffle of a Picus Woodpecker, the bird was quite difficult to pick out amongst the heavily covered vegetation and no prizes will be given for the photograph below, but I did eventually locate the calling bird and good views were had of this North African endemic Woodpecker. I also found familiar UK birds along the lush river valley such as Grey WagtailGreat Spotted Woodpecker, Blackcap and Nightingale, along with a couple of good regional birds African Chaffinch and African Blue Tit.

Ourika Valley, Oukaimeden, Morocco

As we started to gather height continuing our journey towards Oukaimeden, another stop at the side of the road, near to what I think was a small electricity power station resulted in finding another prize bird of the high Atlas Mountains - a cracking male Moussier's Redstart. As I tried to capture that all important record shot, a pair of displaying Booted Eagles called above us, sending the Redstart into cover. Whilst stopping I also picked up a pair of Crag Martins and Ravens along the valley ridge.

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Reaching the top and parking up next to the dammed lake, we had clearly picked the best day weather wise for our day trip - beautiful clear blue skies greeted us and not a breath of wind. Both Red-Billed and Alpine Choughs were numerous, I also found singing male Black Redstart on top of one of the buildings and a small flock of Rock Sparrows, before crossing the dam and heading into the rocky outcrop.

I soon found a male Blue Rock Thrush sat up on the rocks - sadly the views were only brief. I also flushed a sandy coloured Little Owl presumably saharae race out from the rocks as we crossed lower into the valley. Here I found both male and female Seebohm's Wheatear and then amongst the cover of the rocks a smart male Black Wheatear - despite my best efforts, photographing both Wheatears became mission impossible as neither were very approachable, as I lost them amongst the large rocks, and climbing over the rocky outcrop left me breathless in the thinning mountain air - I'm not getting any younger.

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Oukaimeden, Morocco, Yellow-billed Chough

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Moving on a little further towards the ski lifts another male Moussier's Redstart was flirting along the edge of the rocks, but now the increasingly warm and sunny conditions had put paid to getting any decent photographs. I soon discovered much of the snow had retreated and my hopes of finding Crimson-Winged Finch along the snow line weren't looking good - especially as most of the sightings seem to be early mornings. I did however find another target bird Atlas Shore Lark, three confiding birds were feeding around a grass-fringed muddy puddle, leftover from the melting snow.

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Oukaimeden, Morocco

I continued to search for those endemic Finch's without any luck, and even the amazing views couldn't hold the attention of Mrs B forever so I decided to call it a day - a wee bit disappointed not to have seen one of my target birds, but I couldn't complain with what I had seen in the short time I had in the mountains, and with the thought of a Moroccan hammam spa waiting for us back at the riad, the disappointment of missing those Crimson-winged Finch's was short lived - anyway you always need a good reason to return.

Oukaimeden, Morocco
At around 2600m stunning views can be had across the Atlas Mountains from Oukaimeden






Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Birding Marrakech

Apart from the White Storks there are other birds to be found amongst this lively North African metropolis of Marrakech. Common Bulbul and House Buntings are common, with both these birds seen daily on our rooftop garden terrace, along with odd Spotless Starling.

Common Swifts are numerous and fill the skies, with many pairs breeding in the holes in the walls of El Badi Palace, whilst less in number Palid Swift can also be found, along with a speciality of the region Little Swift - I saw most of these birds around the main square Jemaa El Fna. I also managed to pick out a couple of Red-rumped Swallows amongst the migrating Barn Swallows.

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech, Morocco

Having access to a roof top terrace can also be an excellent vantage point for sky watching - especially if you have the use of a sun lounger (well I was on holiday) with a good chance of a flyover raptor. One afternoon I saw several Black Kites and then got lucky with a low and close Booted Eagle right over the top of the riad. And with one or two Cattle Egrets adding into the mix, it's a great way of relaxing for a couple of hours in the Moroccan sun - especially when you have a refreshing pot of sweet mint tea by your side.

Marrakech, Morocco


Monday, 20 April 2015

Return to Marrakech - White Storks of El Badi Palace

It's been 11 years since I last visited Marrakech, and on that visit as the sunset on a warm Moroccan evening, beneath the stars on the roof garden of our riad, I did the decent thing and got down on one knee and popped the question to my then girlfriend - who said romance was dead? Thankfully she said yes, so what better place to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary than a return visit to that very same riad from all those years ago.

Situated just a short walk from the Medina and the main square of Jamaa El Fna, our riad 'Dar Les Cigognes' which translates into English as 'The Storks' is the perfect location for exploring Marrakech on foot, and being directly opposite El Badi Palace, it's also a great location to view and photograph the many pairs of White Storks which nest on the high fortress red walls which circle and protect the palace.

Early morning before the heat of the day and before the light becomes too harsh is a great time of day for photography, so at sunrise around 7am - when I should have still been in bed, I managed a few photographs of the White Storks from the top of the roof garden. With many of the over sized nests now occupied with eggs or young there is much early morning activity, with pairs of birds noisily bill-clattering, then throwing heads backwards so the crown rest on its back as they greet each other - it's an amazing spectacle as early morning darkness turns to light.

With the back drop of Koutoubia mosque and its imposing minaret - the tallest in Marrakech, I couldn't fail to get few decent holiday snaps.

Marrakesh, Morocco

Marrakesh, Morocco

Marrakesh, Morocco

Marrakesh, Morocco, Koutoubia

Marrakesh, Morocco, Koutoubia

Marrakesh, Morocco, Koutoubia




Saturday, 18 April 2015

Aha - Partridge!

Whilst on a short break to Marrakech with Mrs B (more of that little jaunt another time) I almost choked on an olive when I read the news of a rather random but most welcome Red-legged Partridge had been found parading up and down the Flats - not wanting to miss yet another good bird for Wanstead, at the first opportunity I was out at first light searching all the A-typical Partridge habit!

With no sign of the bird early doors, whilst searching I did discover a cracking male Whinchat in the grassland near Alexandra Lake, this was later joined by a male Northern Wheatear - now there's a difficult beauty contest decision. Soon after I was watching my first Common Whitethroat of the year when Nick text to say the Partridge had been seen again south of the Broom fields.

Male, Spring, Breeding Plumage

Male, Spring, Breeding Plumage

Quickly making my way over there, I found the bird hunkered down in the long grass - back of the net, patch tick! Moving closer and trying to get a slightly better view, the bird made a dash for cover and flew into the nearest patch of Brooms, hotly pursued by a Crow. Further searching in the area resulted in a blank, but later as I was discussing Morocco in a bit more detail with Richard the bird came out onto Centre Path in full view, before scarpering quickly back into the long grass again.

Aha!
Before leaving the Flats I also added House Martin and the patch's first Swift of the year, bringing the Patch Year List Totals up to a mediocre but respectable 82 - as Saturday mornings on the patch go, this would probably merit a B+.



Friday, 10 April 2015

Schedule 1 birds - knowing the law

It was good to be back at Vange Marsh my patch from my teenage days. Being the Easter holidays I'd made arrangements for the kids to visit their grandparents just a short drive from this Thames side haven. After a quick drop off I was soon crossing the railway tracks and entering the marsh.

Even though Vange Marsh is now managed by the RSPB and is much more publicised as a nature reserve than it ever use to be, you still rarely see another soul here and that has always been one of its main attractions for me. It's just a shame the RSPB have greatly reduced some of the access, and you can no longer circumnavigate the whole marsh, but I fully understand the reasoning behind this, which is basically habitat and breeding bird protection - and this brings me nicely on to the real subject of this blogpost - Schedule 1 birds.

I toyed with idea of not posting this blogpost due to its photographic content - Bearded Tits. For those not in the know Bearded Tits are listed as a Schedule 1 species and are given additional protection by law during the breeding season and this includes the photographing of them, so why have I chosen to post photographs of Bearded Tits on here then? Why, because I didn't do anything wrong, and I wanted to use the images as a way of highlighting the list of Schedule 1 birds as we enter the start of the breeding season - it's still surprising how many birders/photographers are not aware (or are just plain ignorant) of which birds are on this list. So hopefully by blogging about the subject, along with the addition of a couple of nice supporting images, it might just make somebody think twice about their actions in the coming months, however innocent it might seem.

In this instance I was positioned behind a purpose built screen, where I could hear and see at least four birds flying over the top of the reedbed, when a male Bearded Tit broke away from the group and landed in the reeds just metres away from where I was standing, as a typical camera carrying birder I did the most natural thing I know in the world - I lifted my camera and fired off a dozen shots, pleased with the resulting images I started to question my conscience and thought about whether I have should have done that? But my over riding feeling was yes, it was just an opportunist moment, there was no pursuing of the bird, no tape-luring, no disturbance, just a pure and simple opportunity to photograph a wonderful subject and I took it - as anybody else in my situation would have done. But had I purposely approached the bird too closely, maybe entering into its natural habitat away from the main path and thus causing the bird to change its natural behaviour - then yes, this would be crossing the line and totally unacceptable and deemed a criminal offence, potentially punishable with a large fine or even a prison sentence. These are fine lines but ones that need to be followed and adhered to if we are not to ultimately disturb any breeding bird and especially those on the Schedule 1 list.

There is the question of potentially highlighting the breeding site of these birds by posting their location on this blog, but you don't have to be a genius to work out that where you have a large expanse of reedbed on a marsh in east anglia, there's a good chance you will also have Bearded Tits and Cetti's Warbler and possibly a Kingfisher and maybe even a Barn Owl - all birds which appear on that important Schedule 1 list.

Male, Bearded Reedling

Male, Bearded Reedling

Male, Bearded Reedling

Here is the full list of birds which are classed as Schedule 1. There is the feeling that this list is a little out of touch with recent breeding bird trends, but until such time this list is officially updated we all need to respect the birds which appear on it.

Avocet
Bee-eater
Bittern
Bittern, Little
Bluethroat
Brambling
Bunting, Cirl
Bunting, Lapland
Bunting, Snow
Buzzard, Honey
Capercaillie (in Scotland)
Chough
Corncrake
Crake, Spotted
Crossbill (all species)
Diver (all species)
Dotterel
Duck, Long-tailed
Eagle, Golden
Eagle, White-tailed
Fieldfare
Firecrest
Garganey
Godwit, Black-tailed
Goshawk
Gyrfalcon
Grebe, Black-necked
Grebe, Slavonian
Greenshank
Gull, Little
Gull, Mediterranean
Harriers (all species)
Heron, Purple
Hobby
Hoopoe
Kingfisher
Kite, Red
Merlin
Oriole, Golden
Osprey
Owl, Barn
Owl, Snowy
Peregrine
Petrel, Leach’s
Phalarope, Red-necked
Plover, Kentish
Plover, Little Ringed
Quail, Common
Redstart, Black
Redwing
Rosefinch, Scarlet
Ruff
Sandpiper, Green
Sandpiper, Purple
Sandpiper, Wood
Scaup
Scoter, Common
Scoter, Velvet
Serin
Shorelark
Shrike, Red-backed
Spoonbill
Stilt, Black-winged
Stint, Temminck’s
Stone Curlew
Swan, Bewick’s
Swan, Whooper
Tern, Black
Tern, Little
Tern, Roseate
Tit, Bearded
Tit, Crested
Treecreeper, Short-toed
Warbler, Cetti’s
Warbler, Dartford
Warbler, Marsh
Warbler, Savi’s
Whimbrel
Woodlark
Wryneck

Further information and guidance regarding the Schedule 1 list of birds, including photographing and the potential disturbance of those birds during the breeding season can be found here.