Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Morocco- Part 1

We arrived at Fez airport around 7.30pm on the 19th May, seems along time ago already! We being Dave, Gill, Chris, Phil, Stephen and myself. Around the airport building there were SPOTLESS STARLINGS several SWIFTS, a NIGHTINGALE was singing as were TURTLE DOVE and COMMON BULBUL. Something I didn't expect was that it was raining, lightly at first but once we were underway, having found our 9 seater Hyundai that was going to take us on our trip, the rain became pretty torrential, interspersed with great flashes of fork lightning!!! This did make the journey a little more tricky than it may have been but with only one wrong turn we arrived in Azrou before 10pm and the tagine was waiting for us, very good it was to.
We woke to bright sunshine, CATTLE EGRETS (one of the commonest bird on the trip) commuted to and from their nests and as we stopped to get supplies, we found LESSER KESTRELS and WHITE STORKS around the town. We headed to the Foret de Cedres and found ATLAS FLYCATCHER within minutes, one of our target species, a nice male singing and showing well. We split up and searched more of the wooded area, finding WOODLARK, FIRECREST, 'AFRICAN' BLUE TIT, BLACK KITE, BOOTED EAGLE, a superb ROLLER as well as many SERIN a single SHORT TOED EAGLE and a distant calling QUAIL. What a great first stop when we got back together the ATLAS FLYCATCHER showed very well again this time with a female gathering nesting material, a SHORT TOED TREECREEPER and NUTHATCH also appeared in the same tree along with a surprise WOOD WARBLER.
Booted Eagle

Atlas Flycatcher

Moving north through Ifrane, the habitat changed to rocky outcrops surrounded by various grasses and wild flowers. Dave found a suitable place to pull over, several birds were singing, THEKLA LARK being the closest, pretty much the next bird was a SEEBOHM'S WHEATEAR, both Atlas Flycatcher and Seebohm's Wheatear are potential splits from Pied Fly and our Northern Wheatear and some bodies already recognise them as their own species as they are very different from the nominate races in both cases. Anyway, while I was heading over to look at Butterfly Orchids with Gill, Stephen shouted 'MOUSSIER'S REDSTART', the orchids weren't going anywhere so when I got to Stephen I managed a quick view of this stunning Redstart ,one bird I was really looking forward to before the trip started. We added BLACK EARED WHEATEAR, ROCK SPARROW and SPARROWHAWK before moving on to Lake Aaoua. I have never seen so many BLACK NECKED GREBES! at least 200 maybe 300 nesting on the lake, quite a spectacle, with CRESTED COOTS, BLACK WINGED STILTS several singing GOLDEN ORIOLES, including a male that sat out in the open albeit distantly, there was certainly a lot going on, the first of many RUDDY SHELDUCK were also seen here plus some more familiar birds, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, COMMON SANDPIPER, GADWALL, POCHARD, SHOVELER, GREAT and LITTLE GREBES. It seemed we were packing a lot into the day and so it continued. Dave stopped at a likely field and we saw around half a dozen CALANDRA LARKS, my fifth lifer for the day!!
Butterfly Orchid

Cattle Egrets in really good plumage

We still manage to make another two stops the first was a real raptor fest!! Dave counted at least 70 LESSER KESTRELS in the air at once, while a distant flock of birds turned out to be 20 HONEY BUZZARDS, below these a GRIFFON VULTURE sailed over the treetops heading north then a LANNER flew along the treeline behind us add to this the LONG LEGGED BUZZARD picked up by Chris and distant SHORT TOED EAGLE, it was difficult to know which way look, did I mention the BLACK KITE!!! After we tore ourselves away, we stopped again at the Foret de Cedres where Stephen and I were lucky to add my sixth tick of the day LEVAILLANT'S WOODPECKER, unfortunately the others missed it but we were heading back this way before going south in the morning.
Levaillant's Woodpecker

Unknown Lizard, as yet.

View from Foret De Cedres

We found the Levaillant's without too much trouble in the morning and had great views of 2 Rollers some more Atlas Flycatchers, Firecrest, Chaffinch (another different race with more greeny grey tones than ours), HAWFINCH, RAVEN, CUCKOO, a singing Golden Oriole, I almost forgot the HOUSE BUNTING, a new bird for me, that was perching on the rooftops and singing away, before we left in the morning!!
The next leg of the journey took us south to Zaida as we made our way through the mid Atlas our first surprise was a small troop of BARBARY APES, they are only found here apart from the feral population on Gibraltar, so this was a real bonus. The scenery gradually changed from forested mountains to slightly drier rocky terrain with smaller bits of vegetation, we dropped in on another lake, which I forget the name of! Here we had SPECTACLED WARBLER, BLUE ROCK THRUSH plus more Seebohm's Wheatear and Moussier's Redstart. We moved on from the lake, keeping our eyes on the roadside rocks and posts, our first WOODCHAT SHRIKE appeared on a wire and a stop in a rocky gorge produced 2 new birds for me, ROCK BUNTING and BLACK WHEATEAR. We found a hotel in Zaida and spent the last part of the day at a site for larks and wheatearsWHEATEAR, a great way to end an enjoyable day.
Barbary Ape

Thekla Lark

Lesser Short Toed Lark

Monday, 30 May 2011

May 18th (very late!!!)

I skirted the edge of the patch today for about 20minutes, after doing a quick bit of survey work for the BTO. I was pleased to hear TURTLE DOVE and young woodpeckers as I got out of the car. There were a few CARRION CROWS and PHEASANTS in the fields. I saw 1 YELLOWHAMMER only, as it landed on a dead branch in an Oak tree. Several SKYLARKS were singing and 2 CANADA GEESE flew into the area and out again in a wide arc. The highlight was probably a male CUCKOO that headed west singing as it went. I did see some more of the Alabonia Geoffrella micro moth and attempted a couple of shots not great but hopefully it gives an idea of it's intricate markings. Apologies for the lateness of this post I wrote it just before I went away but didn't get time to upload the photo before I left, normal service will resume shortly including a couple of posts about the trip to Morocco I have just come back from. All the best.
Alabonia Geoffrella

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

May 17th

The breeze was cool this morning and there were very few birds singing around the car park, it was generally quiet. There was only 1 SWALLOW and no House Martins. 2 LINNETS, 2 GOLDFINCHES and a CHAFFINCH were feeding in the veg. garden. The 2 SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS were again noisy and the GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER was seen carrying food a couple of times. I wasn't really sure where to head this morning but I found myself by the lake drawn by lots of activity round the Holly tree, there were a few GREAT TITS but mainly LONG-TAILED TITS possibly 10-12 which were mostly young birds, I stood for quite some time watching them being fed and exploring the tree, in fact I stood there so long I didn't have much time to check round anywhere else!!

(Click for larger image)

The GREYLAGS were flying around over the wood and then dropping onto the lake and a GARDEN WARBLER sang now and then from next to the boardwalk. As I made my way back a male BULLFINCH landed on a Wisteria in full bloom it would have made a great picture unfortunately I was too far away. I came across a NUTHATCH by the lake and a GOLDCREST but a last scan over the valley produced only a few WOODPIGEONS and STOCK DOVES. Sorry I've gone overboard with the picture size!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Last night and this morning

A quick walk between 6pm and 7pm yesterday evening was all I could manage, most of the people had left and at first I thought the birds had left to! Gradually though some birds appeared a few LINNETS were again in the veg garden and a yesterdays missing LESSER WHITETHROAT started singing. SKYLARKS occasionally lifted and dropped in the winter wheat and a YELLOWHAMMER landed close but just on the other side of the hedge. I looked up and directly above was a CORMORANT flying south, Cormorants are not uncommon here but can be quite sporadic and generally involve birds just flying over, a Cormorant sitting on the lakes is pretty rare. I managed to add BULLFINCH, GARDEN WARBLER and KESTREL out in the fields and as I headed back to the car a GOLDCREST was singing and a BUZZARD drifted low over the wood.

This morning was another brief visit 7am - 7.45am, a slightly scruffy Blackbird checked me out as I got out of the car. I added a few of the regulars as I left the car park then the first bird I saw flying across the valley following the line of the stream was a MUTE SWAN (98), this is only the 3rd record in 14 years and a welcome addition to the year list. The pair of COLLARED DOVES were again on the holiday let and the SPOTTED FLYCATCHER was pretty vocal nearby, there were 2 MOORHENS in the moat and on the lake the Moorhens had young that could be heard in the reeds and were glimpsed a couple of times.

On the lower lake there were 2 GREYLAGS and a female MALLARD that had just 3 ducklings, they are the first I've seen here this year and would normally expect to see 4 times that amount, so maybe there are still a few Mink around or she's encountered some other problem. As I walked back MISTLE THRUSHES were out in the sheep field with 15-20 STARLINGS that also included several young birds. A GOLDCREST alighted for a second or two at eye level two feet in front of me and a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER was using a gate to survey the grass below.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

May 14th

It was moths and a guided walk today, I was at the castle for 4.45am, unfortunately it was quite cool overnight and the moth numbers were low,  we did have one year tick, Mottled Rustic, other moths included Buff-tip, Silver Ground Carpet, Mottled Pug and 3 Poplar Hawkmoths. A couple of days ago Steve found a Broom-tip which was new for the site making 416.
After the moths I spent some time looking across the valley, while I waited for people to arrive for our 7.00am start. Two TURTLE DOVES flew south and a COLLARED DOVE was sitting on the holiday let. While I was scanning an EGRET species flew high north-west, it was a fair way off and trying to estimate size was tricky, it was probably Little but that's more from likelihood than actual ID. A CUCKOO sang from near Digdog Lane and I hoped it would stay around for later.
With 17 or 18 people arriving at 7, the hour or so before they arrived was relatively quiet, I always worry that we won't see much!
Still trying to get a good Goldfinch pic.

The walk started with a CHAFFINCH demonstrating it's song in the car park, a couple HOUSE SPARROWS posed near the offices and 2 SWALLOWS let us approach to about 20ft, the first of many GOLDFINCHES were also seen here. It was a really clear morning, which always helps, we moved on and found a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER in it's favoured area. Near the lake a GREEN WOODPECKER showed nicely on the path, a STOCK DOVE flew over and a GREENFINCH shone out in the good light as it sang from an Oak tree, a KESTREL also dived in behind some nearby willows. There were GREYLAGS and CANADAS on the lake but not a lot else there, through the wood we picked up mostly birds that were only heard, they included MARSH TIT, COAL TIT, NUTHATCH, GARDEN WARBLER and a brief view of a TREECREEPER. By 9.30 somehow we had reached 41 species. After breakfast round the fields we added PIED WAGTAIL, LINNET, which I couldn't believe we hadn't seen already, a single SWIFT flew along the stream, up to 3 BUZZARDS, a single BULLFINCH and 3 types of gull amonst others, brought the final total to 51 species, with out Nightingale or Lesser Whitethroat and unforunately the Cuckoo didn't show either but still the best total on one of these walks so far this year. In addition to the birds we saw a few other things, butterflies were represented by a few Large Whites, Orange Tip and my first Brown Argus of the year also we had a strange pure white butterfly, the size of Small White but no markings to speak of, it might have just been worn or a slight aberrant. Damselflies included White Legged, Large Red and lots of Beautiful Demoiselles also we recorded a Downy Emerald over the lake, finally 5 day flying moths were seen Mother Shipton, Speckled Yellow a Silver Ground Carpet and the micros Nemophora degeerella with those massive antennae and the really well marked Alabonia geoffrella. Overall it was a really enjoyable morning with another nice group of people, making me look forward to the walks planned for the autumn.

Friday, 13 May 2011

May 13th

After several days with out a single raptor at the castle, the first bird this morning was a COMMON BUZZARD sat on the edge of Bull and Birches, other birds in the lane towards the castle included BULLFINCH, GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER and several SONG THRUSHES. Once in the car park a GARDEN WARBLER sang well for a short time and 2 CUCKOOS flew over and were seen again later in veg garden.


The LESSER WHITETHROAT still sang near the car park but still didn't show itself for a photo. As I headed to the veg garden there were several LINNETS, SWALLOWS and a couple of HOUSE MARTINS. A KESTREL  looked like it was patrolling the field edges as I went looking for the SPOTTED FLYCATCHER, I was pleased to find 2 birds present, both being quite vocal.

My first young Pied Wagtail

Back lit Spotted Flycatcher

A scan across the fields towards Digdog Lane produced a low SPARROWHAWK, so a sudden rush of raptors today! Walking back to the car I was struggling to work out what the shape was on an Oak by the lake it turned out to be a GREY HERON. Later, at work, I spent the lunch hour sitting  waiting for a photo opportunity and managed a few photos of a couple of Swallows. Click on photos for larger image.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

May 12th

I had a slightly different type of walk today, I did my usual car park circuit, where I spent sometime trying to get a photo of a family of LONG-TAILED TITS, with no success, a few LINNETS were whizzing around and the LESSER WHITETHROAT was rattling away also a GREY HERON flew over. I stopped to scan the veg garden for a while, hoping for a Whinchat really, although I still haven't had a spring bird here, there were a couple of SWALLOWS, one picking up mud and one on the fruit wires. I then stood for a while by the moat hoping for a photo opportunity but nothing was really playing ball, I did see GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, WREN, CHIFFCHAFF  and a couple of SONG THRUSH. I then met a another bird-watcher, he was looking for amongst other things Marsh Tits, so I offered to help, there are a few places that are favoured and a short circular walk would touch on 4 potential spots, we headed passed the lake which was fairly quiet. Just passed the lake the first area was fairly devoid of any birds although some more Long-Tailed Tits were nearby, the second area, one of my favourites, again didn't produce the Marsh Tits but there were a couple of CHAFFINCH and GREAT TITS and best of all 2 COAL TITS we continued on and found at least 2 TREECREEPERS in a newly opened up area and a NUTHATCH called there, the final area by a small pond finally gave us our quarry, a MARSH TIT, it looked like it was gathering food and then disappeared into the undergrowth, I was starting to feel a bit of a fraud until it showed itself!! We didn't see a lot else after this, I headed for a quick look across the valley for a couple of minutes, while Gavin was heading to Dungeness, which sounded much more attractive than a day at work  :-(  
I have had a great week, so I'm not complaining. Sorry no photos today just a couple from Dungeness on Monday.

Friday, 6 May 2011

May 6th

Moths at 5am, unfortunately there wasn't a great deal to record today, compared to a week or so ago but there was at least 1 year tick in the form of 'Shears'. The aptly named May Highflyer was also recorded today along with Lunar Thorn, Seraphim, Iron Prominent, Shuttle Shaped Dart and Marbled Minor to name just a few. There were around 24 species in total, although I've not checked with Steve, who tends to write everything down while Pete and I struggle with ID!!
There were a couple of different birds today to. I had 2 hours, as there weren't many moths and we were there fairly early, as I headed back to the car to get the camera, a LITTLE OWL watched me go to the car get the camera out and allowed me to get a couple of shots before it flew off, I didn't manage any decent ones though!

Little Owl
I headed to the new orchard as Pete had just told me he had seen the Hoopoe on Tuesday! it's now been around for a month and has mostly been seen west of the car park. There wasn't loads of activity here but it was nice to find another LESSER WHITETHROAT, making possibly 4 singing males present on the estate. A GOLDCREST was also singing here and 5 LINNETS flew over. There is a long bridleway from the orchard to Digdog Lane, I walked the length of it and came across the Little Owl again. I added several COMMON WHITETHOATS, 2  GREYLAGS, 2 GARDEN WARBLERS, 3 YELLOWHAMMERS, 1 REED BUNTING and a pair of BULLFINCHES along the bridleway.

Common Whitethroat
Once in the lane I stood for a short time on the bridge, a NIGHTINGALE was close by as was a TREECREEPER, just as I left the bridge I heard a KINGFISHER, the first since January, after a couple of minutes it returned and flew low over the bridge, giving brief views.
Ramsons, I think

 Walking back through the fields the pair of KESTRELS were seen and a HERRING GULL flew south-west, also the SPOTTED FLYCATCHER was sitting where I photographed it yesterday, I waited 'til it moved, just to make sure!!

Yellow Flag Iris

I'm trying hard to get a good Goldfinch pic. patience I think!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

May 5th

On the entrance lane this morning I glimpsed a BUZZARD lifting off the hedge, it drifted towards Bull and Birches, by the time I got out of the car it had disappeared, but a nice start to the morning. In the car park 2 GOLDFINCH  and a GREENFINCH fed together on the ground and a young BLACKBIRD was being fed whilst sitting up in a Hornbeam. The BULLFINCH is evident most mornings, it called today but didn't give itself away for a photo. I also heard a CUCKOO singing from somewhere in Park Field, the first for a few days, 4 SWALLOWS are still hanging around the veg garden but no sign of the House Martins today. I stopped at the back of the gift shop to look into the garden by the priests house and a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER (97) was calling and investigating the garden, a favoured spot for quite a few years now and usually where the first one turns up. 3 MALLARD were on the moat with a MOORHEN and a CHIFFCHAFF sang from the overhanging Oaks.
Distant Spot. Fly.

In the fields I didn't really add a lot today the NIGHTINGALE gave a couple of murmurs as if it really just wanted a rest from all that singing, a KESTREL drifted over the trees along the stream, 1 HERRING GULL flew north-east and a COLLARED DOVE headed west, there may be 1 pair here but they are not an everyday sighting for me. A scan across the valley produced a couple of STOCK DOVES, 8 GREYLAGS and a PIED WAGTAIL.

Sorry same Chaffinch keeps posing (must know I need help!)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

May 4th

Even though May is a great month for birds, most of the summer visitors that we're likely to get are now here, so this month tends to be enjoying the songs of the new arrivals and looking for evidence of breeding regulars, with hopefully a surprise thrown in here and there. This morning there was plenty of song, COMMON WHITETHROATS dominating proceedings, once again the LESSER WHITETHROAT rattled from the same hedge. Although he has been singing now for a while I've only seen him a couple of times, generally staying deep in the middle of the hedge(that's him not me!). A GREY HERON croaked loudly as it flew south and SONG THRUSH was in full song from the by the gardeners cottages. I could hear the NIGHTINGALE from the cottages, which are a good few hundred yards from it's favoured area, I always find that pretty impressive how their song carries. Nearing the lake 2 GOLDCRESTS were very vocal and my first BLACKCAP of the morning was heard, usually there have been at least 2 or 3 birds heard by this point in the walk. Through the wood a MARSH TIT  was heard from the undergrowth and a TREECREEPER sang from near the stream.
My most exciting find today wasn't a bird or an animal,as such, it was tracks, around the newish pools as you leave the wood there were a dozen or so deer tracks, probably Roe. I've never seen deer on the estate and very rarely find any sign of them, so it was great to know they are about! After I finished looking at the tracks a fast flying bird caught my eye, a male MANDARIN headed towards the stream, the first I've seen for a while. Walking back there were half a dozen SWALLOWS over the fields, 3 YELLOWHAMMERS were singing and a male REED BUNTING flitted off the top of the hedge. I met Stephen further on, he had seen a Little Owl on his way in, on a post by the last layby before the car park.

This Pheasant flew up from by rares hedge

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

May 3rd

A cool bright start, with very little wind to speak of compared to yesterday, there were a couple of GOLDFINCHES in the car park and a PHEASANT called from Park Field. I made my way towards the lake via the veg garden, as usual. I could hear a couple of COMMON WHITETHROATS and saw them both display, a LESSER WHITETHROAT rattled in the same hedge. It looks like the HOUSE MARTINS could stay around this year, they are certainly investigating a nest box put up under the eaves of the cottages, which is good. At least 8 SWALLOWS were heading out over the veg garden and pasture, the most so far this year, a single CANADA GOOSE flew along the valley as 2 GREYLAGS flew towards the lake, as I got to the moat a SWIFT (96) flew over the gardens proper, I rang Stephen, as I had seen his car in the car park, to let him know there was one about as he answered 'Are you ringing about the Swift?' he was, evidently, the other side of the garden by the lakes! Walking round the fields there were several LINNETS, YELLOWHAMMERS and the NIGHTINGALE was singing, also the 2 KESTRELS were next to the stream again. The only other additions today were a nice bright GREENFINCH and a HERRING GULL drifting slowly south-west.