Saturday, November 27, 2010

About last weekend

Ever since news of the Pied-billed Grebe had surfaced, I'd been itching to go and see it. Not it looked like the most exciting of birds around, and I wasn't really look to see it to "add it to my list", but it would have been a shame not to see such a rare bird that was only 50 minutes from my home in Liverpool. My problem was that I didn't know when I was going to have chance to see it. I was hoping it would winter until at least the 5th December, when I might stand a chance of getting over to Hollingworth Lake and taking a look. Foolishly, perhaps, I even wrote in the BirdGuides 'Bird of the week' piece that it looked settled and hopefully wouldn't move off too soon.
I was up in the northwest for the Northwest Birdwatching Fair on 20th/21st at Martin Mere WWT. Things were slow on Sunday so, with permission from the boss, I bunked off early and headed across to Hollingworth Lake. I arrived at about 4pm in low cloud and drizzle; by the time I'd walked to the nature reserve lake I had about 15 minutes of light left. There wasn't a single bird on the nature reserve lake and a quick scan of the SE end of the main lake didn't reveal anything either. Hmm, perhaps the bird had disappeared into the vegetation and gone to roost for the night - although since Little Grebes seem to be most active around twilight, I would be surprised if Pied-billed Grebes weren't the same.

I was working from home on Monday but, again with the boss's blessing, I took the morning off to head back to Hollingworth Lake and have a second try for the bird. I arrived to find Ashley Howe on site who took away any glimmer of hope I had left of seeing the bird - he had been there all morning and there was no sign of the bird. There were plenty of birders around and people had checked right around the main lake. I gave it a bit of time having a search around for the bird hoping it would pop up in front of me somewhere but, alas, it didn't. The best I could manage was a lone Great Crested Grebe. Not quite was I was looking for...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Office mouse

At BirdGuides, we're fans of all sorts of wildlife... but when a mouse's nest was discovered in the storeroom a couple of weeks back we decided there was a point at which nature could get just that little bit too close. There wasn't any sign of the mouse, though, and with no more activity we thought we'd got rid of the problem before it had begun.
However, a week or so later the storeroom really started to smell of mouse urine; and we found the beginnings of another nest amongst our lighting rigs. Obviously disturbed by our poking around in its home, the mouse was seen running across the office on more than one occasion. So, we set a trap and waited. Several days later, the mouse had triggered the trap but had avoided getting caught. Then things went quiet again.
Until last Friday. Giving the storeroom a good clearout, we found yet another mouse nest hidden away in a rucksack. And we found out what it had been eating: the contents of a seed-filled bean-bag, supplemented with a nibble on some gloves and a good chomp on a Wellington boot. This morning, presumably having been deprived of another nest and its store of food, the mouse was dashing around the office. It soon became clear though that we either had one extremely fast-moving mouse or there was more than one in the office.
During our weekly telecon, we finally caught a mouse. We took it to the park to release it... only to return to find that while we were outside, two more had been seen simultaneously in the office! This could be an interesting week.

The mouse's release in Acton Park, filmed from two different angles:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Colour-ringed Ruff: update

Three weeks ago, I had a colour-ringed Ruff at Martin Mere WWT. Thanks to Jos Hooijmeijer, I now have the details of the bird's movements.
It was originally ringed in spring 2008 near Sneek in The Netherlands. In autumn 2008 it was seen at Martin Mere, before being seen once during the winter at Marshside RSPB. It returned to Martin Mere last winter (09/10) and is now back again.
If you're lucky enough to find a colour-ringed bird (of any species), you can report it online at

Thursday, November 11, 2010

LGRE interview... now online. No dodgy editing here, I can assure you!
And as a bonus, you also get a nice view of my desk complete with multicoloured keyboard.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


At the end of March into April, Little Crakes are numerous and easily observed at Aiguamolls. So much so, there is even a dedicated hide:

"Little Crake hide"

Birds can show extremely well around a small pool connected to a water treatment plant.

Here's a female:

And a slightly less cooperative male:

And here's another male that was on the pool behind the house I was living in:

Spotted Crakes were never so numerous. Here's one we found outside the house:

At least two birds were regularly seen at the ringing site but managed to avoid the cage we had set to trap them. Finally, with a bit of rearganing and some guidance from a wall of chicken-wire, we caught one. Just like every other rail or crake, they kick, they scratch, they peck, and they shit everywhere.

Purple Gallinules are not too common at Aiguamolls and are far more often heard than they are seen. This bird was at the back of the lagoon at El Cortalet:

They are far commoner and much bolder at Ebro Delta, feeding out in the middle of the dry rice fields:

Water Rails were common around any wet area but they seldom stayed in view for long. Here's a bird that was creeping through some overhanging vegetation during the heavy snow in March:

This Coot already had chicks by the 3rd week of March:

Common Cranes would occasionally pass overhead on their way north. This is a medium-sized group that were passing over as I was leaving for work one afternoon:

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Hoopoes were fairly common; there were usually two or three along the drive down to the house I was living in, on occasions up to eight. Despite this, I never did get a good picture of one: partly because they were rather hard to approach, and party because I never did find the time to sit and wait for them to come close enough for a decent shot. Here's the best I managed:

Even in the hand, taking a good photo of a Hoopoe was cursed. I regularly used to flush one or two birds as I was doing a net round but they always used to fly off high, flapping their way over the nets and never getting caught. Finally, after a mad dash to one of the nets to grab the bird before it got out again, I caught one. A 1st summer bird. But disaster! I didn't have my D-SLR with me (for various reasons) and had to make do with some not-terribly-good snap shots from the compact:

I thought my Hoopoe problems had been solved when I caught a second bird, an adult, and this time I had my D-SLR with me. I had a trainee Catalan ringer with me that morning and gave her the bird to ring. No sooner had she got the ring on the bird's leg, the bird performed a clever bit of acrobatics, melting through her fingers and straight out of the caravan door!

Cuckoos were common around the ringing sight. We caught two birds over the 90 days, one of which, amazingly, was a retrap.

Kingfishers are always a pleasure to catch. Well, almost always. One bird we caught was in the very top shelf of the net - it's a good job I've learned to keep my moth shut when looking up at birds in the higher shelves as, half way through extracting the bird, it decided to shower me in copious amounts of fishy excrement. Lovely!

Nightjars were surprisingly common. Driving home in the evenings, I often had to weave around birds that were resting in the middle of the road. Sadly, not everyone was so careful to avoid them and it wasn't too unusual to see the flattened remains of a Nightjar or two on the way to work in the morning. We caught a few in the nets. Handling my first one was slightly unnerving. The look sweet enough:

Until they do this at you:

As if that wasn't scary enough, they also make a really odd noise at the same time. The best I can liken it to is the hissing of hydraulic brakes.

Despite being easy enough to see in the evenings and after dark, finding one in the day was never easy.

Common Swifts were... common. Pallid Swifts were also numerous, though Sod's law dictates that the only birds I ever got decent pictures of were Common:

Rollers bred in the nestboxes along the track to the ringing site. As with the Hoopoes, I never really put in any time trying to get photographs. Here are a few shots I took from the car whilst stopping off on my way to the supermarket one afternoon:

And no trip to Catalonia would be complete without a few parakeets. I saw four species in total: Ring-necked, Monk, Nanday and Mitred. Monk Parakeets were widespread:

But I only saw one Nanday Parakeet, in one of central Barcelona's parks:

Monday, November 01, 2010

Welcome to Catalonia

The house I was living was in the middle of Aiguamolls de l'Empordà Natural Park, overlooking the lagoons at el Matà:

Rather conveniently, there was a tower hide about 40 yards from my front door, allowing me to add Black-throated Diver and Gannet to the 'from the garden' list.

Not long into my stay, it started to snow:

Then the snow started to stick:

And within a couple hours, the view from my kitchen looked like this:

It didn't stop the birds, though. Here's a flock of Garganey (the blobs in the middle) hunkering down:

And the odd sight of a male Yellow Wagtail pottering around in 4-inches of snow:

The next morning dawned sunny, though by this point I was snowed in and with no electricity or running water...

I took a walk down to the beach. Anyone fancy a dip?

One the snow had cleared, it was back to business as usual. Here's the view I had on my way to work:

And here's a peak out of the office window: