Monday, 14 April 2014

Portugal in bird pictures

Portugal has some damn good birds!
 European Roller
 Black Kite
 White Stork
 Black-winged Stilt
 White Stork carrying nest material
 House Martin constructing its nest
 House Martins collecting mud
A displaying male Spanish Sparrow

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Scrubs update

It's April and this has got to be the best month to be trampling the sacred grounds of The Scrubs, my beleagured local patch. My early spring wanderings here are due to change, almost certainly for the worst, once work commences on the HS2 and London Underground stations that are to be built immediately north of my patch. No doubt some of that building work will spill over onto the site. I imagine that I may have just one, perhaps two springs left before it's all change.

Anyway, the past few weeks have brought in two Wheatears, up to eight Blackcaps holding territory and around five singing Chiffchaffs. Many of the resident birds are in full song including Song Thrushes, Dunnock, Wrens and Robins. I even watched the latter species courtship feeding recently. Three days ago I recorded a flyby male Ring Ouzel that showed itself for the briefest of moments before heading high to the north.

Today, we had our first Swallows that swept low over the football pitches as they headed west into the grey, rain laden horizon. I also came across the below black-backed gull. At first I thought that I was looking at an adult Baltic Gull given its small size compared to the attendant Herring Gulls. 

Baltic Gulls(Larus fuscus fuscus) are seen by most authorities as a northern subspecies of the more familiar Lesser Black-back (L.l graellsii) whilst others see them as a completely seperate species. The main differences are that fuscus has a black mantle that matches its black wingtips while graellsii has a mantle that is midway in hue between a Herring Gull and a Great Black back (which itself is as black-backed as fuscus). Thus, graellsii has a much darker slate grey back than a Herring Gull and the wingtips are discernably darker as they are black. The other notable difference is that fuscus has a slimmer more elegant carriage than graellsii, a feature made more prominent by the former's longer wings whose tips extend beyond the end of the tail - more so than graellsii.


Just wait until you try to start deciphering the mottled brown immature birds. Anyway, back to the bird that I spied on the football pitches. I was seriously thinking Baltic Gull until I noticed that my bird had pink legs and quite prominent white spots on its primaries. The bird was indeed a Great Black-back albeit a smallish one - perhaps a female. Great Black-backs have pink legs as opposed to the Lesser Black-back's yellow pins. Also, Great Black-backs normally have more white spotting (or mirrors) on their wingtips than their smaller congenor.
 Great Black-back amongst 2nd summer Herring Gulls
Note the slightly bigger size
It's always worth looking at every bird you come across, even if it is in the middle of the concrete jungle. I went home after seeing the Great Black-back to pore over a couple of books to remind myself of its characteristics. Always be open to learning more about the birds that you often take for granted.  

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Champions of the Flyways Bird Race pt 2 plus my Israeli list

White Wagtail
The Champions of the Flyways Bird Race was organised by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The whole thing was steered by the energetic and all around nice guy Jonathan Meyrav with the help of his colleagues. The race featured 24 competing teams of birders from Israel, Britian, Georgia and the US racing around Eilat and the surrounding Negev Desert trying to identify as many species as possible over a 24 hour period.

To cut a long and sweaty story short, my team ended up with a very respectable 140 species. The winners were The Palestine Sunbirders on 169. Second were the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology e-birders on 165. Third were The Digital Stringers on 165 - the highest ranking British team.
 The Media Birders - (L-R) Stephen Moss, Tim Appleton & TUB

Assembled teams awaiting an evening visit from Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse coming in to drink.
Eilat is an amazing region for birding and the cause for this brilliant bird race is also very very worthy. 

Please donate here: - to help protect migrant birds from illegal hunting.

My Eilat and environs bird list

((Little Grebe))
Brown Booby
Night Heron
Cattle Egret
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Great Egret
Western Reef Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
White Stork
Glossy Ibis
Greater Flamingo
Egyptian Goose
Griffon Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
Steppe Eagle
Booted Eagle
Short-toed Eagle
Black Kite
Marsh Harrier
Hen Harrier
Steppe Buzzard
Barbary Falcon
Sand Partridge
Little Crake
Black-winged Stilt
Stone Curlew
Collared Pratincole
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Spur-winged Plover
Temminck’s Stint
Little Stint
Wood Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Spotted Redshank
Marsh Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit
Red-necked Phalarope
Black-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
White-eyed Gull
Heuglin’s Gull
Lesser Black-back Gull (fuscus)
Sandwich Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Common Tern
Crowned Sandgrouse
Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse
Feral Pigeon
Namaqua Dove
Collared Dove
Laughing Dove
Barn Owl
((Scops Owl))
Pallid Swift
Alpine Swift
Common Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
Little Green Bee-eater
Crested Lark
Short-toed Lark
Desert Lark
Sand Martin
Rock Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin
Tawny Pipit
Richard’s Pipit
Water Pipit
Tree Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
White Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail (flava & feldegg)
Citrine Wagtail
Common Redstart
Northern Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear
Mourning Wheatear
White-crowned Black Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
Pied Bush Chat
Song Thrush
Rock Thrush
Scrub Warbler
Graceful Prinia
Common Whitethroat
Lesser Whitethroat
Eastern Orphean Warbler
Ruppell’s Warbler
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Wood Warbler
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler
((Great Tit))
Woodchat Shrike
Masked Shrike
White-spectacled Bulbul
Palestine Sunbird
Arabian Babbler
Hooded Crow
House Crow
Brown-necked Raven
Common Myna
Tristram’s Starling
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Ortolan Bunting

151 species

11 lifers


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Champions of the Flyways Bird Race pt 1

A selection of the birds we encountered on our bird race.
 An Osprey preturbs a passing flock of Feral Pigeons
 Tristram's Starling
 Laughing Dove
 Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
 Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears
 Green Sandpiper
 Spotted Redshank with a Marsh Sandpiper
 Griffon Vulture
 Hen Harrier
A colour-ringed Houbara Bustard of unknown provenance 

Monday, 31 March 2014

The day before the Champions of the Flyways Bird Race

Spent the day with my team mates Stephen Moss and Tim Appleton doing a leisurely semi run through of our route for the bird race tomorrow.

Saw some nice things. Only hope we can see it all again - and some - tomorrow!
 Slender-billed Gull
 Crested Lark
 Nubian Ibex - not a bird, I know!
 Desert Lark
 White-headed Black Wheatear
 Lesser Whitethroat
 Woodchat Shrike
 A male Ruppell's Warbler

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The quest for the holy Quail is over!

The big news from Eilat is that after a lifetime of wanting to see a Quail and failing miserably I am delighted to announce that I saw my first this afternoon. It was practically stepped on my producer and director Stephen Moss, called by British Bird Watching Fair co-founder Tim Appleton and was greatly enjoyed by yours truly. 

Now that's what I call teamwork!
 A great wadi whose name I temporarily forgot. Great place for Ruppell's Warbler
 A male White-crowned Black Wheatear
 A female Bluethroat
 Ruff, Dunlin, stints and a lone Red-throated Pipit at K20 Salt Pans
 White and Citrine Wagtails
 Citrine Wagtail with a White Wagtail
 Black-headed Wagtail
White Wagtail

Saturday, 29 March 2014

First day in Eilat, southern Israel

I'm in Israel at the behest of BirdLife International Israel and others to compete in the Champions of the Flyways Bird Race to raise money and awareness for the plight of million of migrants that run the gauntlet of the many hunters that kill them in North Africa and the Mediterranean.

Along with several other teams from Israel, US and Europe the idea is to see as many species as possible in this amazing region over 24 hours this coming Tuesday. 
 Great scenery
Two minibus loads of birders were shown the lay of the land today in order for individual teams to work out their strategy for the day of the race.
 Some of the rabble
The terrain ranges from urban to out and out desert.
 The Negev
The possible birds to be seen is mind-blowing. Today, despite being in a big crowd we collectively managed to connect with Crowned Sandgrouse, Little Crake, Masked Shrike and even a vagrant Pied Bush Chat.
 Steppe Buzzard
 Lesser Whitethroat
A male  Ruppell's Warbler 
 Spur-winged Plover
A very brown looking Common Swift