Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year from Extremadura, Spain!

I'm hanging out in Extremadura for the first couple of days of the New Year for a bit of rest, relaxation, birding, writing and plotting.

I'd like to wish everyone a peaceful and prosperous 2015 filled with love and lots of urban birds!
 Crested Lark in the forecourt of a petrol station near Merida
 A bunch of Griffons with a solitary Black Vulture
 Female Blackcap
 Male Blackcap
 Zitting Cisticola
Male House Sparrow

Friday, 26 December 2014

Last day at The Scrubs - for this year!

The Scrubs: looking south at The Scrubs
I have to say that 2014 has been a pretty abysmal ornithological year down at The Scrubs. Well, a bit of a lie because we've recorded a couple of great birds with Wryneck and Hawfinch heading the list, plus I glimpsed a possible Waxwing dashing south over the prison this morning. Lists have been a bit of a major problem this year. I've already mentioned it but I'll mention it again - we have very few observers out in our urban field trying to find stuff.

Yesterday, I managed to score our very first Snipe for the year. This bird materialised seconds after I was publicly lamenting the absence of this characterful wader. Another case of The Force in action. If only I was asking for a flock of Sociable Plovers!

This morning I pulled some Lapwing out of the bag to make it 83 for the year - our smallest annual total in 11 years. I also noted some interesting behavior between a male Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few Rose-ringed Parakeets that were unfortunate enough to be sharing the same tree as him. I watched as the woodpecker made repeated physical attacks against parakeets that came too close, chasing them clean out of the tree. He would return again to the branch from whence he came, tap it a few times before launching yet another attack against another hapless parakeet. Despite possessing a formidable looking beak, the parakeets turned tail and seriously scarpered.
Our 1st Lawings of the year
I titled this blog 'the last' because as from Sunday I will be seeing out 2014 from the hopefully sunnier and warmer climes of Southern Spain.

Watch this space!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Birding the Tagus and the Alentejo

Portugal is one of my favourite birding destinations and for European urban birding, Lisbon takes some beating. Over the four days of my Lisbon Tourism sponsored trip I spent the time birding the delights of the expansive Tagus Estuary and the wonderful Alentejo Region which spans the landscape between Lisbon to the north and the Algarve to the south.
 Views around the Tagus
 My guide was my old friend Joao Jara and I was also in the company of nature writer and dragoneer (dragonfly enthusiast) David Chandler. As well as exploring the Tagus we also spend a brief day taking a look at the varied habitats in the Alentejo from the gently cork oak wooded hills to the expensive steppes of Castro Verde.
 Black-winged Kite
 Little Owl
Despite the lack of sunshine and occasional spot of rain we saw a load of good birds including a very obliging female Merlin in the Tagus.
 A male Hen Harrier against the backdrop of suburban Lisbon
By far my favourite area for birding was the Tagus. Despite its close proximity to the city it was absolutely stuffed with birds and is a very important wintering/refueling area. In excess of 5,000 flamingos and 7,000 Teal share this food rich habitat with many thousands of waders and other waterbirds.

This is truly a fantastic urban birding venue.

Lisbon & the Alentejo Region 11-14 December 2014

Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Great Egret
Grey Heron
White Stork – Seems that quite a few overwintered. Some already standing on their nests.
Glossy Ibis – c2,000 on the Tagus.
Greater Flamingo – c1,500 on the Tagus.
Teal - At least 7,000 in theTagus.
Garganey – 4 separate birds found (2 males & 2 females) amongst 5,000 Teal in the Tagus.
Osprey – a couple seen carrying fish in the Tagus.
Iberian Imperial Eagle – c5 seen in Castro Verde.
Booted Eagle – 1 briefly in the Alentejo.
Bonelli’s Eagle – 1 1st calendar year bird watched in the open sitting in a tree in the Tagus.
Red Kite
Marsh Harrier
Hen Harrier 
Black-winged Kite
Merlin - A couple seen.
Red-legged Partridge
Purple Swamphen - A couple seen in the Tagus.
Common Crane
Great Bustard
Little Bustard
Black-winged Stilt
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Golden Plover
Little Stint
Green Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Spotted Redshank
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-headed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Great Black-back
Lesser Black-back
Black-bellied Sandgrouse - c50 all told.
Feral Pigeon
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Short-eared Owl - 9 together in the Tagus.
Little Owl
Great Spotted Woodpecker (heard)
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark - a coupled noted near Mertola, Alentejo.
Calandra Lark
Crag Martin
Meadow Pipit
White Wagtail
Black Redstart
Song Thrush
Sardinian Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Cetti’s Warbler (heard)
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
Iberian Grey Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie
Jackdaw - only 1 noticed in the Alentajo.
Carrion Crow
Common Starling
Spotless Starling
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Reed Bunting
Corn Bunting

110 species

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Tagus Estuary, Lisbon in pictures

Just spend a stupendous four days in the Lisbon area including one day in the Alentejo Region - my favourite part of Portugal. The weather wasn't amazing. Mostly cloudy skies with some rain. Indeed, on our first day it was foggy most of the day.

The most mind-blowing moment was when I witnessed the vast clouds of Glossy Ibis and Greater Flamingo swilling around near Evoa in the Tagus Estuary.

I'll give you more of a breakdown of my trip tomorrow.

 Female Common Stonechat
 Great Bustard
 Eurasian Spoonbill
three of the nine Short-eared Owls in the vicinity

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Serbia 2014 winter owl trip

As you can probably gather, my proposed daily update from the Serbian owl frontier never happened. This was partially down to poor internet but mostly due to being totally knackered by the time we all arrived back at the the hotel in Ecka (pronounced Echka) our base in Northern Serbia near the Hungarian border.
In short, we saw a ton of owls. In four days my group and I easily saw in excess of 1,000 Long-eared Owls. Many of my group had not seen an owl of any description before so I loved seeing their glowing faces!
We wandered around a few small towns urban birding as well as visiting fish farms and open countryside under mostly grey skies with spots of rain on occasion. Despite that and the cold we had an amazing time birding.
 1st winter Caspian Gull
Aside from the owls we also saw a few Caspian Gulls including this confiding bird (above) who posed beautifully displaying its salient identification features including its pink lankey legs, drooped tail-end of its body, largely white head with slooping forehead, pigeon-chest and long, thin-looking black bill.
Collared Doves
I'm already excited about coming back next winter with more people to show them the amazing phenomenon that is the huge numbers of Long-eared Owls that chose to winter in the towns of Northern Serbia.

Trip List
Kikinda and environs, Serbia Nov 30 - Dec 4 2014

Great Cormorant
Pygmy Cormorant
Great Egret
Grey Heron
White Stork
Eurasian Spoonbill
Mute Swan
White-fronted Goose
Northern Shoveler
Common Teal
Ferruginous Duck
Marsh Harrier
Hen Harrier
Common Buzzard
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Common Kestrel
Common Coot
Common Crane
Eurasian Curlew
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Caspian Gull
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Long-eared Owl
Little Owl
Common Kingfisher
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Syrian Woodpecker
Meadow Pipit
Black Redstart
Blackbird (heard)
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Marsh Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Penduline Tit (heard)
Common Treecreeper
Hooded Crow
Raven (heard)
Common Starling
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Reed Bunting

Monday, 1 December 2014

I really love owls! Day 1 Serbia Long-eared Owl Trip

Day one of my TUB Tours trip to Serbia went very well. Over 750 Long-eared Owls plus a possible Short-eared Owl had my group in raptures.

Other birds seen today and yesterday afternoon included a drake Goosander seen in flight over the Danube in Belgrade (a very scarce bird), Pygmy Cormorant, Sparrowhawk and a Marsh Harrier. There were an unusual large number of Long-eared Owls this winter due to an exceptional breeeding season. The town square in Kikinda, the world's Long-eared Owl capital, was alive with owls. We counted just under 500 birds!

A gaggle of owls in Kikinda

Pygmy Cormorant
Great Spotted Woodpecker

Monday, 17 November 2014

Azores: Rare & Scarce Bird Report 2013

For those of you that know me well it will ring true that I am not much of a twitcher these days. I would rather scout my local patch than eke out a skulking rarity lurking on a remote headland on Fair Isle. I would rather wander the expanses of my patch than to even twitch a local rarity.

Rare birds in the country has the opposite effect on me. Instead of rushing to try and see them, rather, it inspires me to find my own rarity somewhere no one is searching or would have thought to have looked. Rarity hunting within the UK is one thing but for some there is a far more important pinnacle to reach in the search for rarities. It is perhaps the ultimate high for those ultra-serious rarity hunters. The Azores is the capital of rares for the international Western Palearctic twitcher. Every autumn sees a delegation of Western Europe's finest decend upon these nine scattered volcanic islands at the extremety of the Western Palearctic, far from anywhere in the middle of the North Atlantic.

Their quarry? The multitude of American stragglers that turn up without fail. Hence the attraction to the European twitchers who would otherwise struggle to get birds like Upland Sandpiper on their lists. The above-mentioned bird report does what it says on the tin. It's a compilation of rare North American migrants with a few Old World species thrown in for good measure. Even visitations from Canada Geese are included, after all they could well be genuine migrants.

Most of the twitchers visiting the islands make a beeline for Corvo, the smallest and northernmost island of the group. It also has very few accommodation options, so things can get a little cozy at times. I visited the islands some four years ago and absolutely hated the vibe on Corvo. However, a short boat ride away is the island of Flores; a much larger island and much less frequented by birders. Much more my cup of tea. There is a move now to try to attract more international twitchers and birders to cover this island. I think that this is a great idea that sits well with my sensibilities. When I visited Flores I ended up being there for a week and it wasn't long before I was swept up with the rarity hunting. But the great thing was that as a result of there being so few sets of eyes looking for stuff meant that you automatically stood more chance of finding your own birds. Between myself and my three companions we clocked up some marvelous sights like five White-rumped Sandpipers flying around until one was suddenly picked off by a hungry (and gorgeous looking) tundra race Peregrine, replete with buffy tones.

However, I digress. The Azores: Rare & Scarce Bird Report 2013 will serve to whet the appetite of any would be intrepid rarity hunter who can afford the airfare to these beautiful island. If I were you though, don't spend all your time on Corvo. Get off to the other islands and become a FINDER.

For a copy of the report please contact Peter Alfrey:

Monday, 10 November 2014


It's not often that I actually go away for an unashamed holiday, a bit of r&r. But that is what I have done for the past five days - spend time chilling and even enjoying cultural highlights!
 Skywatching from the hotel roof
I spent a couple of mornings avidly scanning the skies before breakfast. I was rewarded by passages of low flying finches (mostly Chaffinch), unidentified larks, a few Meadow Pipits, Wood Pigeons with Stock Doves amongst them, a Red Kite, Kestrel, a couple Griffon Vultures, Cormorants and a flock of distant geese. Strolling around the streets also resulted in a fine Peregrine soaring between the office blocks.
 Flamenco star, Sara Baras
I also saw my first ever flamenco theatre production by a dancing genius called Sara Baras. The show was called La Pepa and it was amazing. How she (and the rest of the cast) were able to tap their feet so much for so long was beyond me!
 Real Madrid taking the stage at the Bernabeu Stadium
I also watched Real Madrid (Gareth Bale, Ronaldo et al) put five past neighbours, Rayo Vallecano. The end result was 5-1. Superb atmosphere!

Of course, there was plenty of urban birding to be had in the city's parks.
 Bathing Great Tit
 Iberian Green Woodpecker
 Monk Parakeet
 Great Spotted Woodpecker
Meanwhile outside of town in Pastrana, over an hour's drive west of the capital I stayed in a country house enjoying the rural idyll plus clocking Firecrest, Hawfinch, Serin, Cranes, Griffon Vultures, Cetti's Warblers, Blackcaps, Rock Sparrow, Rock Bunting plus....
 Black Redstart
A great break was had. Now back to the grindstone...

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Had a busy couple weeks recently behind the mic chatting about the virtues of urban birding. It started with a very enjoyable talk at the North Bucks Local RSPB group. It was my second time in front of this group as I also spoke there two years ago. Both occasions were thankfully enjoyed by all.

The next day saw me journeying to Portugal to speak at the ObservaturaNatural in Setubal, a 50 minute drive south from Lisbon. Again, this was my second appearance in as many years. My talk on urban birding in Europe's cities was a hit.

 Images by Vanesa Palacios
Finally, I was honoured to be invited to speak at the RSPB's AGM in Birmingham. It was held in the city's prestigious ICC. The venue itself was a class act. It was fabulous to speak in front of around 500 members. 
Laurence Rose