Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Book review Britain’s Birds: an identification guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland

We all love a field guide but you certainly don't want another one if its just a shelf filler and never used. However this one offers you something very different as it tries to cover all species and sub species with detailed photographs (over 3,200) showing all plumages and ages. The wildfowl & gull pages are ones I'll be using often as I look to improve my own knowledge.

The passages are clear and to the point and I especially liked the migrations routes. 

The range of photographs are superb and how they are placed together on the same page is very useful to support size comparison. 

My only criticism is the selection of a Robin on the front page. It made the book look like its aimed at just beginners which it certainly isn't.

Congratations to Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop and David Tipling on an awesome publication. 

To order your copy try Wild Sounds In Norfolk who donate to % of their profits to wildlife charities.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Garganey Morton Bagot

A quick early check on Thursday evening informed me a Garganey was back at Morton Bagot and knowing in was a guaranteed nice walk (although muggy) I made the short drive before heading past the log pile towards the flashes. 

The hedgerows were pretty quiet but I noted a couple of Wrens, Long-tailed Tits, four Chiffchaffs, Green Woodpecker, four Linnets and a Lesser Whitethroat before reaching the flash.

As I arrived at the Flashes it was all very quiet except for a Green & Common Sandpiper, two small flocks of Teal and a couple of Snipe. The ducks then took flight after being startled by a long bang towards the far side. As the birds flew past I picked the Garganey up in flight and followed it closely before it landed much closer on the first flash. I immediately called Mike Inskip who had missed it only ten minutes before and was pleased it was still present in my scope when he returned. The ducks did take flight again but this time landing behind the trees on the first flash.

Curlew Sandpipers at Upton Warren

Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper & Shelduck
Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Gypo Goose

A few spare days off after the excitement of Madrid gave me chance to do a bit of extra local birding on the patch but also out and about locally. One such trip was over to the Upton Warren Flashes where three Curlew Sandpipers were present one of which spent more time on its own so perhaps they had arrived in two parties. There has been a huge influx of Curlew Sandpipers country wide over the last week and remains a species I've never seen at Salford Priors.

Other sightings included a rare Little Grebe (only normally see them on moors), five Green Sandpipers,  six Avocet, two Snipe, three Common Sandpipers, 35 Teal, 7 Shelducks and then 2 Egyptain Geese & two Common Terns on the sailing lake.

Raptor watch (Spain Part 4)

Imperial Eagle (Jupiter birding)
Short-toed Treecreeper
Booted Eagle
Black Vulture
Griffon Vulture

Our last stop was at a Mediterranean woodland at Monte de El Pardo on the edge of Madrid. The park was very quiet and our watchpoint was situated above a river where we witnessed a Cetti's Warbler, Moorhen and a Kingfisher. Carlos picked up a calling Short-toed Treecreeper but told me to stay still and then true to his word the Treecreeper landed on a tree close to us. Whilst trying to get a record shot a Spotted Flycatcher revealed itself.

There was plenty of passage of raptors above us including Black Vultures, Black Kite, Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture but no Imperial Eagle for about an hour when finally our target bird came into view being very dark brownish-black with prominent white "shoulders" on forewing and scapulars. 

Full trip list:-

1) Great Bustard
2) Little Bustard
3) Common Kestrel
4) Hen Harrier
5) Montagu's Harrier
6)Common Buzzard
7) Black Kite
8) Booted Eagle
9) Spanish Imperial Eagle
10) Griffon Vulture
11) Black Vulture
12) Bee-eater
13) Hoopoe
14) Kingfisher
15) Monk Parakeet
16) Moorhen
17) Black-headed Gull
18) Wood Pigeon
19) Rock Dove
20) Turtle Dove
21) Collared Dove
22) Red-legged Partridge
23) Pallid Swift
24) Common Swift
25) Short-toed Treecreeper
26) Blue Tit
28) Great Tit
29) Crested Lark
30) Crag Martin
31) House Martin
32) Barn Swallow
33) Red-rumped Swallow
34) Blue Rock Thrush
35) Blackbird
36) Robin
37) Black Wheatear
38) Black Redstart
39) Subalpine Warbler
40) Sardinian Warbler
41) Melodious Warbler
42) Cetti's Warbler
43) Pied Flycatcher
44) House Sparrow
45) Tree Sparrow
46) Spotless Starling
47) Greenfinch
48) Goldfinch
49) Serin
50) Chaffinch
51) Common Magpie
52) Azure-winged Magpie
53) Jackdaw
54) Raven
55) Golden Oriole
56) Woodchat Shrike
57) Iberian Green Woodpecker
58) Coal Tit
59) Hawfinch
60) Firecrest
61) White / Pied Wagtail

If you heading to Madrid I would highly recommend contacting Carlos Sánchez. We had great session of birding and plenty of banter about birds & Athletico Madrid.  <carlos.sd63@gmail.com>

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Sensational Steppes for Black Wheatear (Spain Part 3)

The start of our climb
Crag Martin
Black Redstart
Black Redstart
Blue Rock Thrush
Woodchat Shrike
Golden Oriole (Left) & Bee-eater (right)
Black Wheatear
Black Wheatear
Black Wheatear
Woodchat Shrike (second of session)
Stunning location 
A must see village
 Sardinian Warbler
Subalpine Warbler

One of my target species of the day was the Black Wheatear. Carlos drove to a limestone ravine which would give us our best opportunity however a long walk was needed in hot temperatures.

Whilst it was a tough walk there was plenty of great birds to see along the way starting with a pair of Red-rumped Swallows that were nesting under the bridge which was quickly followed by an endless collection of Black Redstarts that were mostly juveniles. Crag Martins flew around us whilst a Blue Rock Rush dived from side to side of the ravine above us.

After reaching the small car park after a 30 minute walk we set the scope up and started scanning the hillside. Carlos picked up a Melodious Warbler down below us in the undergrowth before we found our first family of Azure-winged Magpies causing trouble before flying into the village where they were chasing other species around. High above us six Griffon Vultures past over and then a Bee-eater calling. We were to get fantastic views of six different Bee-eaters after walking through the village to the peak of the slopes.

After reaching the peak there was no initial views of Black Wheatear however we found two Woodchat Shrikes of different ages. Then after twenty minutes a Black Wheatear appeared on a wall then flew closer on top of a rock. The Wheatear was very distinctive as it was fairly large with a deep chest and broad white rump and black T on the white tail. These unique Wheatears catch their prey using a hop and search technique around walls, cracks in stone or under bushes. 

We were then watching the Bee-eaters fly around us when a juvenile or female Golden Oriole emerged and landed in a large scrub with a Bee-eater. This was another lifer for me and I watched closely through the scope as Carlos had seen many in the past.

On the way back down the slopes at various points we picked up both Sardinian Warbler & a Subalpine Warbler. 

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Bustards on the plains (Spain Part 2)

The plains
Little Bustard at first light
Customary shadow photo
Carlos on the look out
Great Bustards
Barn Swallow
Stork nests on bell tower

I thought I'd got up at the wrong time as I left the hotel and the streets were full at 5.30am with clubbers making their way home after a night of partying. I did seem some what out of place standing on the street corner waiting to meet Carlos a local birder who had kindly offered to show me around three seperate locations if time allowed. Carlos was keen to point out that August is a tough month to bird around Madrid because of the intense heat. 

A forty minute drive took us out to the foot of the Steppe mountains. The steppes and cereal fields are one of the most characteristic Spanish ecosystems. These cultivated plains are disputed to be one of the best places to see Bustards. We parked up with just farms in view when a Little Bustard landed at the far side of the field beside us and then walked towards us before flying over us. In the same field an adult Montagu's Harrier (first of three seen) flew past which was quickly joined by a Marsh Harrier, Kestrel & Red-legged Partridge. 

Next species was the Crested Lark working its way on the dusty road in front of the car where I managed to get a record shot. This was the first of many we saw around this location. Their distinctive whistle call certainly caught your attention.

Moving slightly along the road a bit further to a Bustard hotspot I picked up a flock of around 16 large birds in the distance. A quick turn of the telescope confirmed it was a flock of Great Bustards. These very heavy birds were feeding close to a stable complex and it was great to take in these superb birds.

To celebrate our early morning haul with stopped at a small village for a fantastic coffee by the bell tower where the White Storks breed. The first session ended with a Turtle Dove flying over the car as we headed to our next location.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Hot Birding in Madrid (Spain Part 1)

Pied / White Wagtail
Bernabeu Stadium
Monk Parakeet
Mercado de San Miguel
Tapas time
Flora of Madrid parks
Spotless Starling
Great atmosphere at the Calderon
Botanical Gardens
House Sparrows
                                                      Monk Parakeet
                                                      Monk Parakeet
Monk Parakeet

For a different type of summer break we opted for a five day break in the Spanish capital of Madrid. With a great selection of things to do and see it couldn't have worked out any better as we all enjoyed a fantastic city.

We stayed in a pedestrian part of downtown Madrid which was a perfect location to be based to see all the attractions but also had easy metro links to others areas of the city when we needed them.

The cities Monk Parakeet were the first birds I recorded as we past the Royal Palace followed up by the common Spotless Starling. The European Starlings come into the city during the winter months. Passing the Jardines del Campo Del Morro I picked up my first Iberian Woodpecker on the short grass before it took flight towards the palace. This recently split species are undergoing rapid decline in Spain, which holds the vast majority of the population.

A trip to the Madrid football stadiums netted two Pied Wagtails on the pitch at the Bernabeu whilst the 10.15pm kick off at the Calderon only resulted in some passing gulls high over the stadium.

Like the UK, August isn't a great time to see birds in Madrid however I did find a few special species around the city including three Hawfinches, two Spotted Flycatchers and Firecrest. More regular species included Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Magpie and House Sparrows.

If you read that taking the telefĂ©rico or cable car into Casa de Campo (on the city’s west side) is good for birds we found the opposite except for more Parakeets however the views were breathtaking.

The city is served with some fantastic Tapas restaurants whilst the coffee, wine & beer were all very reasonably priced. A must play visit is Mercado de San Miguel, an indoor market used by all the Madrilenos (what they call themselves), serving everything including paella, coffee, fruit, pastries, wine, beer and tapas. 

This will be part one of four short blogs about Madrid.