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

Monday, 17 March 2014

RSPB Rainham Marshes Sunday stroll

 Howard Vaughan, warden with TUB on a similar walk in 2012
I had a lovely Sunday morning/early afternoon co-leading a bird walk at Rainham Marshes in the company of the hugely knowledgable Howard Vaughan and up to 40 eager birders.
 Some of the crowd
We saw a lot of the usual suspects - Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Kestrel and Skylark along with an unexpected couple of Red Kites that materialised distantly before vanishing.
 A couple of male House Sparrows in the car park
 A flitting Chiffchaff
 The same male between bouts of singing
A distant (and fuzzy) Red Kite

Friday, 14 March 2014

London's first Whinchat of the spring shows up at The Scrubs

 Daybreak at The Scrubs
I'm back in the saddle at my local patch having attended it three mornings in a row now, which is more visits than in the past two months!

 Singing Dunnock
A variety of songsters were clearing their throats including Wrens, Dunnocks, Robins, Song Thrushes and at least one male Chaffinch. I also saw a few Redwings on the move, a couple of Jackdaws heading east and at least four Jays along the embankment.

The best bird of the morning was a Common Buzzard that managed to raise the ire of around 150 Carrion Crows, all of whom rose up to escort the predator on its way. The groundsmen reported another Buzzard yesterday afternoon circling over the prison.

The most intriguing record was a very early Whinchat two days ago. It was seen on the same afternoon that a migrant Stonechat was frequenting the grassland. The observer, a visiting birder, was certain that the bird he saw was indeed London's first Whinchat of the spring as it is often possible to confuse juvenile/female Stonechats with Whinchats. A great record. Is this a sign of things to come?
A Carrion Crow on the lookout for passing raptors

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Northern Shoveler

 A female Northern Shoveler
The Northern Shoveler, as its name suggests, is a bit of a northern duck. I'm not speaking about the north of England though. They breed largely, if not wholly, within the Northern Hemisphere taking in North America and the northern areas of Europe and Asia. In the winter they range further south of the equator and can very rarely found as far south as Australia.

Why am I discussing the humble Shoveler? Well, today I saw a beautiful drake fly through the sunlit mist at The Scrubs to reveal itself to me briefly before disappearing off southeast. You may be saying, 'so what', but I was in heaven. My morning had been made and my day set up. The reason for my jubilation was that the drake I saw was only the third time in 20 years that a Shoveler had been seen over my patch.

I remember the first time I ever saw one. It was during the winter of 1977 and I was sifting through the assembled waterfowl at Brent Reservoir when I happened across a flock of what to most people is a common duck. I was mesmerised by the males finery and the spatula-like bill that both sexes possessed. I have always liked Shovelers despite not being a great lover of ducks. The bird I saw today made me realise that even ducks can have an amazing grace about them.
A pair with the male coming out of eclipse plumage

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Wanstead Flats

Football in the park
'What you raisin' your flag for mate? You don't know what it's for'.
'Square it!!! Square it!!!'

Those were the cries that greeted me on my first official visit to Wanstead Flats, Redbridge in East London. Yes, the Sunday League footballers were out in force vociferously playing the game that they love. It's a wonder that any wildlife exists in a place that is totally covered in people during the weekend. It was my first official visit because on this occasion I was escorted around the premises by local Eastend birders and Wanstead Flats regulars, Geoff and Kim Gramlick.
Wanstead Flats
 It actually wasn't my first visit to this fine eastern spot, if the truth be known, because I popped over a couple years ago on a random visit to try to re-find a spring Ring Ouzel that had been reported a few days previously. The site is well covered by a band of dedicated birders who saw over 130 species on the site last year. Over the years they have had some great finds like Wryneck and Stone Curlew plus they regularly get Wheatear, Ring Ouzel and the other migrants that I get at The Scrubs. Indeed, this place has been unofficially twinned with The Scrubs by some birders.
 Carrion Crow
Today was the warmest day of the year thus far and at times I was actually sweating. A far cry from the largely grey and wet winter that we have been enduring. It for days like this that makes it worth hanging on during those cold dark days.
Corvus corone in flight
 Spring was definitely in the air with Blue Tits busily displaying to each other; the males conducting their cute butterfly-flappy flight for the females. This is a display so rarely spoken about.
 Ring-necked Parakeets
 A hung Common Gull
We unfortunately came across this poor Common Gull that had unwittingly flown into fishing wire that was deliberately laced between the trees obviously designed to maim passing birds.
The gull in context
 What kind of imbecile would do that??
Singing Robin
 Songbirds were out in force headed by Robins, Dunnocks and Wrens but I also heard my first singing Chiffchaffs on British soil today too.
 Common Coot
 Black-headed Gull
 Wood Pigeon
 Common Buzzard
We also recorded a Buzzard passing over. Funnily enough, I saw one in roughly the same location the first time I came to Wanstead flats two years ago.
If the Meadow Pipit is the species that has come to symbolise The Scrubs then in my book it is the Skylark that is Wanstead Flats' signature bird. I was told that the site holds some 10 pairs - pretty good for an urban site. Like at The Scrubs, the birders at Wanstead Flats are having problems trying to keep people and dogwalkers out of the grasslands too.
 It was glorious to see and hear them sing

Wanstead Flats is a nice bit of natural London that is well worth a visit and even more so, support. If you ever get there let me know how you got on.