Wednesday 27 April 2016

Champions of The Flyway 2016

On March 29th I was involved in this year's Champions of The Flyway bird race held in Southern Israel. The whole idea was to raise money towards stopping the illegal hunting in Greece. Team Extremadura and I contributed towards raising of $70,000!

Of course, there was birding to be had in and around Eilat and into the Negev Desert. As I arrived a few days before the race I took full advantage of the time sifting through migrants and looking up at the magnificent kettles of migrating raptors.

Full species list is below.  
Crested Honey Buzzard - the rarest bird of trip
Purple Herons
A trio of Glossy Ibis
White-crowned Black Wheatear
Steppe Buzzard
Steppe Buzzards and a Black Kite
Black-headed and Blue-headed Yellow Wagtails
Spur-winged Plover
Black-eared Wheatear

Bird list:

Little Grebe
Brown Booby
Night Heron
Cattle Egret
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Western Reef Egret
Great Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
White Stork
Black Stork
Glossy Ibis
Eurasian Spoonbill
Greater Flamingo
Common Shelduck
Egyptian Goose
Egyptian Vulture
Lesser Spotted Eagle
Steppe Eagle
Short-toed Eagle
Booted Eagle
Black Kite
Marsh Harrier
Montagu’s Harrier
Pallid Harrier
Long-legged Buzzard
Steppe Buzzard
Crested Honey Buzzard
Lesser Kestrel
Sand Partridge
MacQueen’s Bustard
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Greater Sandplover
Spur-winged Plover
Little Stint
Wood Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Marsh Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit
Red-necked Phalarope
Arctic Skua
Black-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Baltic Gull
Heuglin’s Gull
Sandwich Tern
Caspian Tern
Whiskered Tern
Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse
Rock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Laughing Dove
Namaqua Dove
European Nightjar
Common Swift
Pallid Swift
Alpine Swift
Common Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
European Bee-eater
Little Green Bee-eater
Syrian Woodpecker
Crested Lark
Short-toed Lark
Desert Lark
Sand Martin
Rock Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin
Tawny Pipit
Tree Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
White Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail (feldegg & flava)
Common Redstart
Northern Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear (hispanica & melanoleuca)
Mourning Wheatear
Hooded Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
Graceful Prinia
Lesser Whitethroat
Eastern Orphean Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
((Savi’s Warbler))
((Reed Warbler))
Olivaceous Warbler
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler
Wood Warbler
Semi-collared Flycatcher
Great Tit
Southern Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Masked Shrike
White-spectacled Bulbul
Palestine Sunbird
Arabian Babbler
Hooded Crow
Brown-necked Raven
House Crow
Tristram’s Starling
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Trumpeter Finch
Desert Finch
Ortolan Bunting
Cretzschmar’s Bunting
Cinereous Bunting

156 species
9 lifers


Friday 4 March 2016

Undiscovered Owls - A Sound Approach Guide (Magnus Robb & The Sound Approach)

Undiscovered Owls - A Sound Approach Guide
For once, I'm not on the pulse of modern day publishing as this book was originally launched a year ago. Indeed, I attended the launch in the Netherlands. It was a fascinating day of presentations by the various major contributors to the book. Amongst the speakers were Mark Constantine (the main man of A Sound Approach), Killian Mullarney and Magnus Robb. All gave insightful accounts behind the initial ideas and construction of the book.

Owls are an enigmatic family of birds. How many of us regularly see owls? The answer is that many of us don't with fleeting glimpses of birds flashing across car headlights being the best that many of us can attain. It is true: owls are not the easiest of birds to study. What this book has boldly done is to present owls in a whole new light, if you will excuse the rubbish pun. The authors set about recording the owl species in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and in the process they discovered new calls from species that we thought we knew well. They have made the suggestion that the Great Grey Owl of northern Europe be split from the Great Grey Owl of arctic North America and be re-named Lapland Owl. They even succeded in discovering a new owl species, the Omani Owl.

The book comes replete with four cd's containing the calls of the owls - a truly fascinating collection of sounds - that in the engaging text are deciphered and graphically described in sonograms. This is not a throwaway book that you refer to just once. It is a tome that will pique interest and will draw you to explore your environs under the cover of darkness to discover the owls in your neighbourhood.

I applaud A Sound Approach for their ground breaking work.

Undiscovered Owls - A Sound Approach Guide is available from Wildsounds

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Waiting for spring in Mérida

So far, I have been spending a fair amount of time in Extremadura, Spain and in particular it's capital city, Mérida. I have a lot of familiarity with the city having visited it for the past six years. During that time I have amassed a city list of 72 species thus far.
 The view from the Roman Bridge looking west
Mérida is a small city of 100,000 or so inhabitants and is essentially surrounded by countryside. Most tourists visit the city to see its rich Roman heritage as there are plenty of ruins around, not least the Roman Bridge - the world's longest of its kind. It cuts across the Guadiana River seperating the old town from the more recent part of the city on the westside.
 The view from the bridge looking east
Birders also come here, primarily to stand on the Roman Bridge to search for Purple Gallinules foraging alongside the reedbeds. It is indeed, one of the best places in the whole of Extremadura for this oversided moorhen.
 Looking south towards the Roman Bridge
Currently the water levels are artificially low because the local council are clearing the margins of a Water Hyacinth, a virulent invasive alien plant that has been choking everything in its path.
 An ancient house exposed due to the low water levels
The draining has created some interesting looking muddy margins that I was hoping would have yielded a few waders. Instead, I have only been treated to a Common Sandpiper once and a scarce  Pied Wagtail or two.
 Wasteland by the Iron Bridge
My patch is essentially the riverbank on the western side of the Guadiana from the Roman Bridge to the Iron Bridge (a railway bridge) 1.5 miles north downstream. There's an interesting area of land that is currently being churned up by bulldozers. Despite that there are some small areas of thick vegetation, muddy puddles and piles of compost. All looking very inviting to passing migrants. The compost heaps have been crawling with Chiffchaffs with at least 30 snapping up the insects the other day.

I have flushed Snipe and found two Little Ringed Plover from the muddy pools and in the vegetated bits I've watched Hawfinch, Sardinian Warbler, Cetti's Warbler and Spanish Sparrow. From the Iron Bridge sing Spotless Starling and on a reeded island in the middle of the river a pair of Marsh Harriers display.

Anyway, here are a selection of the birds that I have seen in the last month - and spring is not even here yet!
 Crag Martin
 House Martin
 Crested Lark
 Corn Bunting 
 Spanish Sparrow
 Iberian Grey Shrike
 Meadow Pipit
 A leucistic Collared Dove

Sunday 14 February 2016

La Barrosa, nr Cadíz, Alicante, Spain

 A turnstone surveying the scene
Took a brief afternoon stroll around a section of La Barrosa - an extensive and protected salt marsh. The weather was pretty dull, windy with squally rain at times - hardly what you would expected from southern Spain!
 3rd cycle Lesser Black-back
Aside from an array of waders like Common Redshank, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover and Black-winged Stilt, I also managed to glimpse a Yellow Wagtail of the Iberian blue-headed race. An early migrant.
 Yellow-legged Gull
 Greater Flamingo
 Common Sandpiper
 Yellow-legged Gulls
 Lesser Black-back
Lesser Black-back 3rd cycle

Saturday 16 January 2016

Pompey Birding

Happy New Year everyone!!
Sorry it's taken so long to make contact but I'm back for another year of great birds in fantastic locations - God willing.

Today, I was spending time in Portsmouth, Hampshire a city that I have birded in before a few years ago.
Coastal view
I took a random walk along the coastline of this island this morning to eventually end up at Milton Common on the east coast. It was a bright though cold morning with plenty of birds around including the classic Oystercatchers, Curlew, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Dunlin.
 A couple Brent Geese
 A few more....
 Brent Goose
 Tufted Duck
Carrion Crow

Monday 28 December 2015

Storks over my head

A late afternoon walk along the Roman Bridge under ladened skies produced a low flying Stork.

Marsh Harrier on my Mérida patch

Yesterday, I discovered a Marsh Harrier harrassing the local Black-headed Gulls and Coots whilst I stood on the Roman Bridge.
 Marsh Harrier - a probable 1st year female?
It was always just a little too distant for decent photography but I managed to rattle off a few record shots. This bird had clearly buffy forewings and head perhaps more what that a typical female would show.

It's not the first Marsh Harrier that I have seen from the bridge because I had one in mid-October this year when I was co-leading a tour at the time. No doubt they are regular visitors.
 Red Kite 
I also saw a couple Red Kite - a typical winter visiting raptor to the region.
Female Stonechat
Finally, couldn't resist snapping a Stonechat. They are such photogenic little birds!