Saturday, 27 May 2017

A morning in the brecks

Very nice jaunt to the Brecks this morning. Out of bed a bit later than I would have liked and got caught in some thunder and lightening (not nice when you're out in the open carrying a tripod on your back that would do very nicely as a conductor!).
Anyway, James Hanlon had given me directions for Tree Pipit the previous day and I came across two birds holding territory. Not very obliging for photos though but nevermind.

Tree Pipit - near Santon Downham, Suffolk - 27th May 2017

The same area held Yellowhammer, Stonechat, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat and Woodlark. I could hear a Cuckoo too but didn't manage to see it.

Woodlark, near Santon Downham, Suffolk - 27th May 2017
 
A Hobby zipped over the garden chasing a Starling this evening - too fast for a photo but I love the fact that I can see Hobby from my suburban back garden!!

Friday, 26 May 2017

Brandon Wood Warbler

Checking my phone late on Thursday evening and I noticed a report of singing Wood Warbler near Brandon, Suffolk. So I figured that if it stayed put Friday then it might be worth bringing my gear with me and doing a crafty Wood Warbler twitch post-work.
It was reported as still singing at 5.40am on Friday morning so my gear came with me to work and I managed to see the bird later that day - a good start to the Bank Holiday weekend. Thanks Nick Moran for the directions!





Wood Warbler, Brandon, Suffolk - 26th May 2017
Not my greatest ever Wood Warbler photos. I reckon I did a little better with the one I saw at East Wretham in 2013.
I was shooting at ISO2000, the canopy light was tricky and there was a lot of foliage in the way. But still, cracking bird and great start to the weekend!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Late May Birding

As you could imagine I was keen to get out for a day's birding following a full week cooped up in a hotel.
I thought of a second attempt to see the the Hickling Savi's Warbler (I only managed to hear it briefly a few weeks ago when the cold north wind chilled me to the bone) and perhaps I could tick two birds with one stone if the Caspian Tern would hang around. However, by Sunday morning the Tern had decided to move on so instead I devised plan B.
About eight days earlier I had made an on spec post-work call to East Wretham Heath and managed to find a pair of Common Redstarts. I think I just got lucky because the male wasn't singing. This was my sighting there since 2014 so good to know they haven't given up on the place completely.
I returned on Sunday but despite a two-hour circuit of the place I couldn't relocate the pair. Hopefully they are now nest-building or even incubating and therefore maintaining a very low profile.
A singing Cuckoo was the best otherwise.
From there I headed to Lakenheath, Suffolk to see if any Nightingale's are still in song. I'm not sure when they normally stop singing - I expect quite soon but on Sunday I was still able to locate three singing birds including one that was more than obliging.





Nightingale, Lakenheath, Suffolk - 21st May 2017
I don't think I will ever grow bored of Nightingales. Even in Mallorca where they were common they would stop me in my tracks each time they sang.
Unfortunately the wind was a little strong so I didn't bother to make a very long movie clip.


I still had a little time left to play with and with a report of a Marsh Warbler at nearby RSPB Lakenheath I headed over there to round the day off. However, it was beyond the Joist Fen hide and after a full day dragging my gear around I simply ran out of steam and never made it that far (I was also running out of time too and needed to be back home). Two Cuckoos and three Hobbies were ample compensation though.


Cuckoo - Lakenheath Fen, Suffolk - 21st May 2017
Meanwhile my local area around West Earlham and Bowthorpe is coming into its own with Common Whitethroats and Garden Warblers all present, a Hobby was chasing the local House Martins only fifty yards from home last weekend and a Lesser Whitethroat was happily singing away from some Hawthorn bushes this evening.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Mallorca 2017 - Day Four

Day Four (2nd May)

Our last day and really only enough time to stop en route to Palma to check a spot for Red-footed Falcon.
We had directions from the excellent thread on Birdforum run by Mike Montier Mallorca 2017 - Birdforum.
The area is called Villafranca de Bonany.  I wish we had more time to spend here, lots of unimproved agricultural land - great for Corn Buntings, Short-toed Lark and Quail.
We counted two male and two female Red-footed Falcons and several Kestrel spp. - may have been Lesser Kestrel but the heat haze and distance was too much.
We tried to tear ourselves away from the place and not miss our flight. This female Red-footed Falcon really did her best to make us stay!


Female Red-footed Falcon - Villafranca de Bonany, Mallorca - 1st May 2017

We dropped the rental car off, made our flight on time and were back in good ol' Blightly by teatime. Mallorca once again exceeded my expectations and as I write up my blog I'm back there with the sun on my back, bins 'round my neck and seeing good birds!!

Mallorca 2017 - Day Three

Day Three (1st May)

If previous trips were anything to go by then I was eager to avoid the legions of lycra-clad cyclists along the road to Cuber Dam. Those mountain roads can be difficult enough without having to contend with that too. So we set off from Port d'Alcudia at 7am and had the road to the Tramuntana more or less to ourselves (apart from all those Chaffinches).
When we arrived at Cuber we were only the second car in the car park. We had a quick breakfast (bread roll, cheese, bag of crisps and bottle of water), put some layers on (it was cold) and set off along the path looking and listening for Moltoni's Warblers. I also wanted to try for Spectacled Warbler having missed out this bird on both previous visits (not to mention Madeira and Norfolk - so bit of a bogey for me). I scanned the rocky slope below the pines beyond the heli-pad and after thirty minutes or so had tickable views of a female Spectacled Warbler. No photos but a lifer in the bag at last. Present also was a single Pied Flycatcher on the beach (flycatching from the rocks!!) and a Spotted Flycatcher (Balearic race most likely) - also flycatching on the beach. About twenty yards before the dam I heard a short and scratchy-type sylvia song followed by a few wren-like calls and knew that there was a Moltoni's about somewhere. I called Nick over and within five minutes we had tracked the bird down. We watched it for about twenty minutes as it evaded our attempts to take good photographs but the views were more than acceptable.




Moltoni's Warbler, Cuber Dam, Mallorca - 1st May 2017
A single Raven croaked overhead, a Nightingale sang from the pines and Crag Martins buzzed around the Dam. Eventually the rain came down and we had to head back to the car. However we got side-tracked by four or five Spotted Flycatchers around the heli-pad that just had to be "papped".



Tyrrhenian Flycatcher - Cuber Dam, Mallorca - 1st May 2017
I'm going to shamelessly steal Nick's description of these from his facebook post at the time - I think it describes these birds very succinctly.

"Spotted Flycatcher of the Balearic subspecies Muscicapa striata balearica which is treated by some authorities as a subspecies of Tyrrhenian Flycatcher (Muscicapa tyrrhenica balearica) which is restricted to the Western Mediterranean islands. Whatever its formal taxonomic status the unstreaked breast, white half-collar isolating the darker ear coverts and preference for fly-catching from perches within ~30cm of the ground certainly give this taxon a very distinctive feel.

Couldn't have put it as well myself!

By now the cyclists and walkers were arriving, we packed up and headed back down the mountain stopping for a celebratory expresso at road-side cafe about half-way down. Here we were treated to great views of a singing Firecrest along with a supporting cast of Blackcap, more Tyrrhenian Flycatchers and a male Pied Flycatcher.




Firecrest, Tramuntana, Mallorca - 1st May 2017
While we sipped our coffee Nick read out a tweet saying that a male Collared Flycatcher had been found the previous eveing at s'Albufera - so guess where we were headed for next?
After a short afternoon siesta we returned to s'Albufera and checked for the Collared Flycatcher but no sign. Pity! But we did have Squacco Heron, Stone Curlew, Glossy Ibis, Kentish Plover, LRP, Purple Heron and BW Stilt from the hides overlooking the Sa Roca pools.

Black-winged Stilt, Sa Roca pools, s'Albufera, Mallorca

Stone Curlew, Sa Roca pools, s'Albufera, Mallorca
 We checked some suitable spots for Moustached Warbler without success but fortunately bumped into two UK birders who gave us some decent "gen" and after about two hours we found one bird singing. Not at all easy but persistance won out in the end and we both had good views. A Little Bittern was there also.
We were on our way out of the reserve thinking of driving to Port de Pollenca to search for Scops Owl when we bumped into our friends again. And as luck would have it they had tracked down the Collared Flycatcher once more. Scops Owl plan went on hold and we headed back into the reserve where their excellent directions had us connecting with the bird within ten minutes. And what a bird it was - in fact for me 'Bird of the Trip'. A cracking male Collared Flycatcher.





Male Collared Flycatcher, s'Albufera, Mallorca - 1st May 2017
And the obligatory video of course!


We couldn't top that really. Dusk was settling and dinner was calling, we sensibly decided to put our Scop's Owl plans on ice and call it a day. I was so shattered that even a posing Nightingale wasn't going to postpone dinner (and Cruzcampo) for any longer!

Nightingale, s'Albufera - 1st May 2017


Mallorca 2017 - Day Two

Day Two (30th April 2017)

Revived by a good night's sleep and a leisurely breakfast, we left the hotel (a little later than normal) and headed for the Depuradora and San Bosc area.
We parked at the bus depot and walked the long track to freshwater lagoons. Other birders we met simply drove up to the lagoons but we would have missed stuff had we taken that option.
En route we had a singing (and very obliging) Tawny Pipit, Hoopoe, Thekla Lark, Stone Curlew, Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Whinchat, Nightingale, Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Common Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail, Golden Oriole (2), Redstart (female) and two Pied Flys.


Tawny Pipit, Depuradora, Mallorca - 30th April 2017

Tawny Pipit, Depuradora, Mallorca - 30th April 2017


After Depuradora we stopped for a dirty burger in Port D'Alcudia and then headed north towards the Formentor Peninsula where we spent the afternoon at the Boquer Valley. Obviously our target species here was Balearic Warbler and we did manage to connect with several singing birds at the end of the valley (just as the path drops down towards the sea), but it was windy and they didn't really spend any considerable amount of time singing from the tops of bushes. So, views were had with patience but photographing them was another matter.

Cropped and side-lit shot of Balearic Warbler
Other than Balearic Warbler we had both male and female Pied Flycatchers in olive grove below Casa de Boquer. Sadly there were no sign of any Cirl Bunting (though I did subsequently see some amazing shots of them on the web a few days later - so they are still around the area). We had a male Blue Rock Thrush perching up nicely at about one hundred metres distance (closer than any previous views I've had of this species). In the same area as the Balearic Warblers (presuambly because it was a bit sheltered) we had Common Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Warbler. Passing birds of prey were thin on the ground but we did have a Booted Eagle near the valley entrance.
We finished the day off at the s'Albufera reserve looking for Moustached Warbler but it really was too windy so we decided to call time and try the next day instead. Last birds of the day were Black-crowned Night Heron, Cattle Egret and Great Reed Warbler (heard only).

Monday, 15 May 2017

Mallorca 2017 - Day One

In late April / early May myself and Nick Watmough spent three days on the Balearic island of Mallorca. This was my third visit there following trips in 2007 and 2011 (Mallorca 2011) and for Nick his first. Nick had several target species in mind for his ever-increasing WP list - namely Moltoni's Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Balearic Warbler and Scops Owl. On previous trips I had missed Moustached and Spectacled Warbler so was keen to connect with them and also wanted to improve on my 2007 views of Moltoni's Warbler.......not to mention spending some time in the sun with good birds!

Day one (29th April 2017) consisted of a very early start to connect with our 6am flight from
Stansted to Palma. Things got off to a rocky start with arguments at the Jet2.com desk and with a queue-jumping German at the car rental desk in Palma airport. The things got even rockier following an argument between our rental car and a wall - which of course the wall won! Thankfully Nick had the good sense to arrange full insurance. A tow-truck pick-up and second rental car and we were on our way.


This one's broken - can we have another car please?
First stop (not including the wall) was the salt-pans at Salobrar de Campos. I should add that we had unwittingly coincided our trip to take place at the same time as the largest amateur cycling race in Europe was taking place in Mallorca (Mallorca 312). So on account of significant road closures we avoided the north of the island for most of the day. Which turned out OK actually because it meant taking the road less travelled and visiting several spots I'd not previously been to.
At Salobrar de Campos we parked at the hotel and walked down the track to salt pans. En route we enjoyed the spectacle of 100+ Yellow wagtails in a field (a mix of thunbergi, iberiae and flava). At the salt pans we had 2 Temmick's Stint, 5+ Wood Sandpipers, 2 Greenshanks, a Curlew Sandpiper, a flock of Greater Flamingo, several Kentish Plover, LRP and a distant singing Hoopoe. Also the usual Sardinian Warbler, Zitting Cisticola and Cetti's Warbler were present.
From there we drove on to Cap de Ses Salines. There was little there but we did have a Scopoli's Shearwater from the shore.
Cap de ses Salines Lighthouse
After that we drove to central plains area to look for Red-footed Falcons. We scouted around the area to the north of Maria de la Salut, driving around track but alas no Red-foots. A female Redstart was the best there.
Having had an eventful and very long day, we now headed to our hotel in Port d'Alcudia. We were hoping to have avoided the road closures but were still diverted due to Mallorca 312 race. However driving around the back of s'Albufera reserve we did have a Roller on some wires.
At our hotel / guest-house we were greeted by a very friendly and gentle German Sheperd (called Dakota).
Dakota dog - every hotel needs a welcoming dog!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Easter Birding

14th April has been a good day for me in the past. Red-flanked Bluetail in 2013 and a Cape Clear first in 2008 (Great Spotted Woodpecker). But I wasn't expecting a 'Good' Friday this 14th April. Cold northerly winds didn't dampen my enthusiasm but they did temper my expectations. Still, I would choose hunting for migrants on the coast instead of grafting over a hot laptop any day.
I birded Happisburgh from 8am but had only Chiffchaffs there. Horsey / Waxham was a bit better - two White Wagtails at Waxham Sands, a singing Whitethroat near the pipe dump and six Ring Ouzels in the field near the pipe dump also.
Sunday I popped over to Drayton to see two further Ring Ouzels, a male and a female in a horse paddock off Marriott's Way. A very nice local find by Joseph Nichols.


Ring Ouzels, Drayton, Norwich - 16th April 2017
Monday the weather was a little better. I've been watching and waiting to see if any Nightingales will return to my local spot at West Earlham / Bowthorpe - none so far but a spot I visited in previous years near Lakenheath, Suffolk already had two in song. In previous years I've done quite well photographing them (see 2016 and 2015). Yesterday was harder though.  I'm guessing the birds are just in and being midday weren't that vocal, plus it was cold and a little windy.
One showed briefly on the deck - a little too distant unfortunately.

Nightingale - Lakenheath, Suffolk

This bird - or another sang very briefly right out in the open.



However, "Bird of the Day" - if not "Bird of the Weekend" revealed itself when I was back at the car having my sambos. A singing Corn Bunting! Sadly very scarce now so really a welcome surprise.

Corn Bunting, Lakenheath, Suffolk

Monday, 10 April 2017

Remembering the "Colditz Plover"

It still feels just a little too early to be looking for scarce or rare migrants, but high temperatures, clear skies and a light southerly breeze tempted me out early on Sunday morning.
We started out from Happisburgh in east Norfolk where highlight of the morning was a superb full English fry-up from Hill House Inn

The Flying Scotsman, Hill House Inn, Happisburgh, Norfolk
Other highlights included this Black Redstart at the caravan site.

Black Redstart, Happisburgh, Norfolk

Black Redstart doing its best 'Red Kite' impression
Further 'highlights' included a flock of fifty-plus Sand Martins, several singing Blackcaps, two - three Willow Warblers, two Swallows and seven Common Cranes.

Common Cranes, Happisburgh, Norfolk

Nick's severe 'man-flu' threatened to put an early end to the day but he soldiered on and despite a traffic-jam on the Acle Straight we made it in time to Breydon Water to see American Wigeon, Arctic Skua and Kentish Plover.

Fly-by dark phase Arctic Skua, Breydon Water, Norfolk
Although distant, the Kentish Plover was a fine male bird and along with American Wigeon, a UK tick for me.


Male Kentish Plover, Breydon Water, Norfolk - 9th April 2017
Back in Ireland I had seen one Kentish Plover - the infamous Red Barn, Cork bird in December 2007....the "Colditz Plover" as it became known. I reluctantly removed it from my Irish List when the IRBC placed it in category E.
Here's the story in the 2007 Irish Rare Bird Report;

Appendix 1: Category E records
Individuals considered to be probable or certain escapes from captivity.
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandinus
Cork First-winter, Redbarn Strand, Youghal, 2 December to 23 January 2008, photographed
(D.O’Sullivan et al.).
The exceptionally late date, together with the presence of a vagrant Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens
nearby, initially gave rise to speculation that the bird may have been of the Nearctic subspecies C. a.
nivosus (Snowy Plover). The presence of a metal ring stimulated intensive efforts to ascertain its origin.
Through close observation and almost forensic analysis of fragments of the ring’s inscription, the bird
was eventually traced to Germany, where it had been hatched and reared in captivity, having originally
been taken illegally from the wild. Following a raid on the dealer’s premises by the authorities, this bird
and numerous other waders were confiscated. It was subsequently released into the wild at Greetsiel on
the northwest German coast. Given this bird’s bizarre life history and the exceptional effort that went into
discovering its provenance, it is not without a measure of regret that the record is placed in Ca

You can see the ring on its left leg from this image I took during my digiscoping days.

"Colditz Plover" - Red Barn, Cork - December 2007
I'm not sure if there have been any Kentish Plover records in Ireland since. Probably very few if any - its pretty rare and still a description species there.
So, almost ten years on I have laid the ghost of "Colditz Plover" to rest with this fine male bird at Breydon Water. The real highlight of a splendid day's birding in east Norfolk.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Great White

Today, I thought I would take a look around Bowthorpe for the Great White Egret and while I'm at it I would use my birdwatching permit and pop into nearby Bawburgh Fisheries and see if there would be a Goosander or a Smew or a Slavonian Grebe hiding on one of the gravel pits.
I checked Bowthorpe Marsh / West Earlham Marsh first but no sign of the Egret. I had better luck at Bawburgh Fisheries though,  a quick scan of the first gravel pit and I could see the Egret on the very far side.

Great White Egret, Bawburgh Fisheries, Colney, Norwich
I assume this is a returning bird. I recall looking for a Great White Egret around Bawbrugh itself in February 2013, photographing one at Bowthorpe in February 2015 and one wintering again in 2015/2016. Most certainly the same bird involved all along.

Great White Egret, West Earlham Marsh - February 2015

With a Pike at Bowthorpe Marsh - March 2016
Sadly though no Smew or Goosander or anything else of note. Small numbers of Gadwall, Tufties, Coot and several Great Crested Grebe. A Kingfisher did a quick fly-by as I scoped the Egret.
From there I decided to drive down to Kessingland in Suffolk to check out the wintering Pallas's Warbler at the sewage works. I found the spot but not the bird. All I could conjure up there was a Goldcrest and two nominate race Chiffers.