Monday, June 29, 2009

An evening at Frodsham

I waited until the heat had gone down and the tide had come up before I ventured down to Frodsham this evening. Not that it was really worth it. A Dunlin on its lonesome, a drake Eurasian Wigeon moulting into eclipse plumage, and, erm, a Common Gull were the best on offer. Ten Blackwits flew straight over high up as I was getting in the car.

More exciting than the birds were the Painted Lady butterflies, back again, though this time a lot more sedentary and looking quite battered. Small groups of them were displaying over (defending?) clumps of thistles, occasionally going down and landing on them or near them. Are we going to be seeing a mass egg laying session followed by a plague of butterflies in a few weeks? An attempt to digibin one of them:

And finally, a sunset, looking northwest towards Liverpool. You can see the two cathedrals and the Radio City tower on the horizon, John Lennon airport on the left, and Hale lighthouse on the right.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Frodsham No. 6

Waders today consisted of Avocet (1 ad), Black-tailed Godwit (2 ads), Dunlin (21 ads), Ringed Plover (21; 5 ad & 16 juv), Oystercatcher (2), and Lapwing ("quite a few").

A Cuckoo along the track was presumably taking advantage of the bumper Ermine caterpillar crop, which has turned a large proportion of the trees into candy floss.

Two Tree Sparrows were at the far end along with a family of Pied Wagtails, juvenile Goldfinches were out and about, and a couple of Yellow Wagtails were buzzing around over the cereal fields.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"waiting on news"

I hate that phrase. What that phrase really says is "I can't be arsed to expend any effort looking for a bird; I'll wait for someone else to do the legwork for me; I'm a slave to the pager". So, what did I do today? I waited on news, of course. My spidy senses told me that the Royal Tern probably wouldn't be there in the morning, though I did have a feeling it might turn up in the afternoon. Not enough of a feeling to make me actually drive to Llandudno just in case, but enough to make me drive to Frodsham - within striking distant of the M56 and cutting off about 20 mins journey time, potentially decreasing total journey time by 1/3.
Anyway, there was no sign of the tern at all today (bar a single report of it 'possibly' being seen, which was 'well dodge' by the sounds of things), so I enjoyed the delights of number 6 tank.
Return wader passage has begun, with 35 Dunlin (all ads) milling about on the shoreline. A handful of Ringed Plovers (mostly - presumably local bred - juveniles) were there, too, and Lapwing numbers were starting to build up.

At the far end, a Cuckoo was singing away, and a second bird was along the track below no. 6.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sun, sea, sand, and... Storm Petrels

El primer día
Having arrived at Alicante airport sometime just after midnight on Monday morning, I didn't get to the hotel in Benidorm until getting on for 2am. The room was like an oven (the consequence of it being shorts and t-shirt weather outside, even at that time in the morning) and even the 10 °C aircon failed to make much of a dent in the uncomfortable heat. After a rather sleepless night, I got up and headed down through the old town to the harbour to catch the boat across to Isla de Benidorm (erm, "Peacock Island"). First task on the island was a the trek from the boat, over the island, through the gull colony, down the cliffs, and to the cave where we would be working.

It looks quite close 'on paper', but in reality the only route down to the cave was halfway up the island and then down the cliffs and right around the east side. Add to that temperatures of about 35 °C, full sun, prickly plants, and constant mobbing by Yellow-legged Gulls... It was quite a relief to arrive in the cave!

The day was spent monitoring Storm Petrels nests in the large cave and in a smaller cave a bit further round. Much of the time was spent on our knees under rocks...

Some Long-tailed Blues were on the flowers around the island café.

Today was a bit different, namely because we had a film crew in tow. They filmed us walking along the cliffs... then again from another angle. Then entering the cave... then a second time walking a bit slower. I had to do a bit of acting, 'finding' a gull pellet. The speaking part was in Spanish... but thankfully consisted of only one word (aquí). Then I did a 'piece to camera' talking about Storm Petrels and why I was there, in English this time, thankfully.

The only notable sighting was a Quail, flushed from by the path.

Some fun in the evening: flight shots with an 85 mm lens...
Pallid Swifts & a Yellow-legged Gull.

Back to monitoring nests. Bad news though when we found a dead Storm Petrel that was showing signs of being gnawed at by a rat - picture below, not for the squeamish!

An Audouin's Gull was the only sighting of interest.

(Not the actual bird, before someone questions my ethics on what counts as a real bird)

My final day. Most of the morning was spent setting up rodent traps in the large cave. We also checked a couple of nests in the small cave. Then it was off to the airport.

Massive thanks have to go to Ana Sanz and to the staff at the Parque Natural de Serra Gelada (especially Eduardo Mínguez and José "Santa" Santamaria), not least because without them none of the above would have been possible but also because they all went out of their way to make sure my trip was enjoyable and memorable. And for putting up with my less than adequate Spanish!

And the other birds? Well, as you might expect, the trip list wasn't the highest. Here's a list of all species seen:

  • Storm Petrel melitensis - obviously. If I was Dutch, they would have been a tick.
  • Shag desmarestii - groups of non-breeding birds on the island, including white-fronted immature birds with striking pale wing panels in flight.
  • Little Egret - a couple of birds on the island.
  • Common Kestrel - male from the hotel.
  • Mediterranean Gull - 14 over the harbour on Monday.
  • Yellow-legged Gull - common(!) on the island.
  • Audouin's Gull - adult over the island on Wednesday.
  • Sandwich Tern - two in the bay on Monday morning, one on Tuesday.
  • Feral Pigeon - a few on the island. Most of the birds in Benidorm seemed to be white dove-types...
  • Collared Dove - common in the park by the hotel.
  • Pallid Swift - common. Around the hotel, on the island, at the airport...
  • Barn Swallow - a couple from the bus on the way to the airport on Thursday.
  • House Martin - common.
  • White Wagtail - a couple around the hotel.
  • Blackbird - around the hotel.
  • Sardinian Warbler - common on the island.
  • Long-tailed Tit - a flock heard around the hotel on a couple of days but never actually see...
  • Spotless Starling - a starling sp. that flew over the hotel one evening was presumably this species.
  • House Sparrow - common.
  • Greenfinch - a few around the hotel.
  • Serin - a handful around the hotel.
  • Canary - a bird with Greenfinches outside the hotel on one day...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Eye eye

Eyed Hawk-moth at Woolston this morning...

Monday, June 08, 2009

Martin Mere, American Wigeon

Something of a wader fest at Martin Mere this afternoon, with Redshank, Avocet, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, and Little Ringed Plover. The former three and the latter one with a few fluffy chicks out and about.

Two young Avocets suckle from their mother:

Shelduck chicks were also out in force.

Two Marsh Harriers were doing a good job at freaking out the waterfowl, though no sign of the drake American Wigeon in the few hours I was there. Until...
Just as I was about to leave, I had one last scan along the brook. And there it was! "Elusive" was a bit of an understatement for this bird. Between 16:38 and 16:47 I managed to see the bird for a total of about 45 seconds. It spend most of its time close to the near bank, out of view, only showing occasionally. It gave me just enough time to grab 4 shots.
The first, where, bizarrely, it looks like a Shelduck:

The second, where you can probably just about tell it's a wigeon of some sort:

The third. Looking better now!

And as for the fourth, well, need I say any more than "Karl Zeiss award"?

Who ate all the seed?

Decimating our Ruddy Duck population.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ticking time

Fiiinally, chance to go and do a bit of proper birding. It started on Monday night when I headed over to York to meet up with Oliver Metcalf. After two hours sleep, we headed for a day out on the east coast. By the afternoon, we'd somehow managed to end up in Norfolk. Oops.

Migrants on the east coast consisted of a Turtle Dove and two Lesser Whitethroats. At an undisclosed site, this undisclosed warbler was showing well.

With very little else on offer, the best option seemed like a drive south to Norfolk. On arrival, we joined the group of birders (er, "birders") gathered south of Holme. Group conversation was, typically, focused on Black-winged Pratincoles. Distribution, identification, that sort of thing.
Dude 1 "Where will it have come from?", Dude 2 "It probably came in from sothern Europe with the Swifts".
Dude 3 "I thought you said it was a wader", Dude 4 "Yes, it is a wader", Dude 3 "How will I know it's a wader if it's not on the edge of a pool or on the beach?".
Dude 3 (again) "What does it look like then?", Dude 4 "It's got a forked tail and pointed wings, a bit like a Merlin", Dude 3 "How will I be able to tell it's not a Merlin?".
Dude 5 "What's that? Is that it?" , Sensible Dude "No, that's a Skylark".
After a couple of hours we couldn't take it any more and headed south to the relative sanity of Suffolk.

Golden Oriole is always a species that's eluded me in Britain. It probably didn't help that I seldom managed to visit Lakenheath before the end of June, and that was usually for a couple of hours in the afternoon. This year, though, the birds had been helpful enough to nest in view of the path... and it was still early enough that the young wouldn't have fledged and buggered off back into the poplars. Once we'd found the nest (thanks to Andy Gray for his detailed over the phone directions!) we had brief views of the male and prolonged views of the female's tail... plus a few brief views of her on the edge of the nest (below).

After a night in the car, we were back at the beet fields south of Holme for early morning. After a bit of searching, we picked up the bird flying over a field south-west of the reservoir before it dropped back down over the brow of the hill. After a bit of scanning, I spotted the bird in the middle of the field before it hunkered down with only its head visible. By the time it came back out, a pretty bad heat haze had started to develop (below). We watched the bird for a couple of hours before it flew off high towards Titchwell.

We finished the morning with a male, erm, non-Marsh Harrier at Norfolk's worst kept secret site. Two lifers and a British tick (Golden Oriole) in 24-hrs... it's not often that happens these days, even if 2 out of three of them were a bit tarty!