Sunday, October 31, 2010

El Planerón

El Planerón is an SEO nature reserve in the heart of the Belchite Steppes, Zaragoza. It was more-or-less on the way between Bibao and Aiguamolls and broke up the journey across.

Larks were everywhere, with Thekla, Crested, Lesser Short-toed Calandra all seen.
Typical view of a Calandra Lark:

Slightly better views:

Thekla Lark:

A couple of Golden Eagles were floating around and an adult male Hen Harrier passed through.

There were at least two Iberian ([Southern] Grey) Shrikes:

As dusk approached, 170 Common Cranes flew in:

The reserve is famed for it's Dupont's Larks.

As darkness fell, two birds started singing with perhaps a third a little further away, though it was hard to tell with the strong wind carrying the noise across the steppe. The song was a bit like a cross between a slowed down Linnet and that noise on Catchphrase when one of the contestants pushes their button. Then they suddenly they went silent. The reason: two Red Foxes that came trotting across the area the birds had been singing in. I left, Catalonia-bound.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I had planned to take all of my notes from my 3 months in Catalonia this spring, write them up into a nice day-by-day diary type thing and publish it all in blog form. Finding the time has been a bit difficult, though. I've got near to 8,000 photographs from my time out there and it seems a shame not to do anything with them. Admittedly, a lot of them are in-hand shots showing 'interesting' in-hand type things - like Serins with moulted alulas and Spotted Flycatchers with retained secondaries - and at some point I will sort these out and put them on my currently dormant ringing pages.
So, here's the plan: over the course of how ever long it takes me, I will periodically post various collections of pictures from Spain and Catalonia (sorry, I mean "from Spain."). They'll be posted in no particular order and groupings may be tenuous but at least they'll be seeing the light of day and not hidden away deep in some folder on my computer. It also means that, while I'm not getting out too much here, there'll at least be something new to look at on the blog. Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

NW birding

I've been back home in Liverpool this weekend and took the opportunity to catch up with Alex Jones, whom I haven't seen for some time now. We first headed up to Martin Mere WWT, which, for a sunny Sunday, was surprisingly quiet. Whooper Swans were out on the mere along with the usual collection of other wildfowl; also good numbers of Ruff, including one (presumably Dutch) colour-ringed bird, details of which I shall report back once I find out. A good few thousand Pink-footed Geese were out on the marsh; in amongst them one dilute bird, one bird with bright orange legs (but still most definitely brachyrhynchus) and an adult Greenland White-fronted Goose.

Next we stopped at Marshside RPSB. More Pink-footed Geese were out on the saltmarsh and three Grey Partridge were at the old sand plant. The reserve was quite with a flock of Black-tailed Godwits and the usual Teal, Wigeon etc.

Final port of call was Sands Lake, where a Shoveler was present and the blue 'DLS' ringed Mute Swan, ringed as an adult in 1992...

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Friday 8th I headed to Joe's. Saturday morning, we headed west to Cornwall. First stop was Lost Gardens of Heligan where the juv Green Heron was pottering around at the back of one of the 'jungle' pools. We also managed to bump into Joe Ray and Will Salmon, Ashley Hugo, and Alan Davies & Ruth Miller.

From there we kept heading west, stopping off at Hayle where a couple of Little Stints and a Ruff were on the estuary, then onwards pretty much to Land's End and to where we'd be stopping for the week. After dropping our stuff off, we headed into Penzance where we arrived at St Mary's church just in time to see the last of the (Common) Starlings disappear off to roost - no sign of the juvenile Rose-coloured Starling amongst them, though it had been reported earlier. Not to worry, we'd try again tomorrow.

10-10-10: The morning was spent near St Ives ringing with Mark Grantham, Ashley Hugo, et al. A Firecrest was star bird in the net, while four Snow Buntings overhead provided distraction between rounds.
With good numbers of Robins around, I suggested we attempted to sex some using the amount of red on the forehead. I'm sure I've read this somewhere (males with more red than females), although I'll be damned if I can find where. Anyway, here's what three randomly selected Robins looked like:

Sunday afternoon was spent at Porthgwarra. A 1cy Red-backed Shrike was showing reasonably well, even if the photos are horribly over-exposed, and a Pied Flycatcher was flitting on the same fence. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was calling but not showing nearby. However, back at the car park was a second Red-breasted Flycatcher that was showing, albeit briefly.

The evening was spent back in Penzance, arriving earlier than the previous evening... only to find the Rose-coloured Starling had been and gone, arriving even earlier than we had. Oh well, plenty more opportunities. And at least there was a rather good chippy just down the road to keep us happy.

Monday was spent setting up nets around the farm we were stopping on and attempting a bit of ringing, though, with a brisk wind and bright sun, a trio of Robins was the best we could muster.
As was becoming routine, the evening was spent in Penzance. We arrived early. Too early. A couple of hours later the Starlings started to arrive but were soon put up by a hunting Sparrowhawk. Birds arriving throughout the evening were nervous and never landed on the church. The flying flocks were hard to view and there was, as far as we knew, no sign of the Rose-coloured Starling. Roll on 11 O'clock when a report emerged of the bird having been seen in one of the nearby streets.

Tuesday morning was spent in Kenidjack Valley. Two Yellow-browed Warbler were nice - one in the Sycamore to our left; one in the Sycamore to our right.

Despite giving most of the valley a good thrashing, we couldn't find anything better than a few Firecrests.
Determined to get the Rose-coloured Starling, we headed back to Penzance that evening for another try. Not many Starlings came in and, needless to say, there was no sign of the juvenile Rose-coloured Starling.

We spent Wednesday morning at Kenidjack again. Despite being out at dawn and working the valley from top to bottom(ish), the best we managed were two Redstarts, a handful of Firecrests, a flyover Brambling, and a Polecat...

Meet the locals:

Brave (or foolish?) Sparrowhawk with eyes bigger than its tallons:

Next up was a trip to Land's End, dodging car park entrance fees (did you know you can get in for free if you tell them you're going birdwatching?). Pretty quite here, too, with a Chough, a Swallow (one of quite a few over the week) and a couple of Wheatears being the best.

1st-winter female.

The afternoon was spent ringing, with a male Firecrest being the highlight.

A Ruff and a few Med Gulls were the best on offer at Hayle late-afternoon. And then it was time for the usual evening fiasco: a trip to Penzance. This evening, we were both tired, hungry, and wondering how much time spent standing on a pavement in Penzance staring at a church looking for a juvenile Rose-coloured was too much time. Four-getting-on-for-five evenings was, in our opinion, too much and at about 17:45 we jacked it in, headed back to were we were stopping and cracked open the cider... only to read that the bird had arrived at the church at 18:05. I think by that point we were actually beyond caring.

Things have a way of working out, though. Thursday morning we were back in Kenidjack though with nothing more than half a dozen Firecrests to show for it. Later, we heard news of a Red-throated Pipit near Polgigga and, with nothing better to do, decided we'd give it a crack. We joined about 15 other birders who were, erm, stood around chatting. A Short-eared Owl flew over, everyone watched it for a couple of minutes and then cleared off. Seriously. All 15 people there (in about 7 or 8 cars) just left. Which left Joe and myself and no one else. We decided to take a look around the wider area in the hope that the pipit would go rocketing overhead. Needless to say it didn't but we did find...

Oh yes! I first picked the bird up on wires a distance off but we eventually managed to track it down to a patch of brambles where it sat happily in the company of House Sparrows. I should probably say "locate" rather than "find", since a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling had been in the general area the previous day, too. But even so, it was far more exciting than waiting for one to land on a church...

Thursday night was spent at Mark Grantham's house, enjoying a BBQ and playing Wii sword-fighting into the early hours.

Friday was spent being lazy. A bit of ringing in the garden produced two more Firecrests and, down the lane, we thought we had done it again with the starlings when I picked out a slightly smaller, paler bird on wires. That was until I ran back to get the 'scope and was confronted with the sight of a myna sp that had latched onto the Common Starling flock. After a week with no Golden Plovers, they arrived en masse, with a flock of 60 circling over Land's End airfield and several more small parties and singletons passing over the farm, unfortunately all with gleaming white underwings.

Saturday was mostly spent on the road, heading back east. A brief stop in south Devon broke up the journey nicely and added Glossy Ibis to the trip list.



G.I. Joe

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