Sunday, 20 November 2016

In Search of the Lynx

A couple of weeks ago I did a first and embarked on a Naturetrek holiday, so an organised group holiday with guides etc.. Expectations were high but that's always as it should be with any wildlife watching, always be optimistic.
The first day we all met successfully at Seville airport and we met our guides Byron and Laura for the first time and introduced ourselves to one another (12 in the group). An hour and half or so later we were in El Rocio on the edge of the Coto Donana reserve. El Rocio was a real surprise, comprising of dust filled streets instead of tarmac with an amazing wild west feel, horses were the norm and cars out of place. We spent the first hour or so before sunset scanning the dried out lagoon, it looked fairly deserted but soon ZITTING CISTICOLAS appeared, STONECHATS and a distant herd of RED DEER. Further scanning added RED KITE and the first SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE of the trip albeit distant, a few late HOUSE MARTINS drifted over the town joined by a few RED RUMPED SWALLOWS. A nice start to the trip. CRIMSON SPECKLED and VESTAL moths added a bit of variety with a SMALL COPPER and BLUE TAILED DAMSELFLY finishing off the first days sightings.
Sun sets on our first day


After a great meal the night before and sufficient breakfast we were off into the reserve, CATTLE EGRETS welcomed us and I picked out KINGFISHER on one of the only standing bits of water in the half light. Eyes were peeled as we made our way around the territory of one of the worlds rarest cats. WILD BOAR followed a few sightings of RED DEER and Tom did well to pick out a BUZZARD perched in the early morning mist and occasional flocks of AZURE WINGED MAGPIES (Iberian Magpie by it's new name) ghosted through the low trees, with no signs of Lynx after our first stint we parked up and scanned a large open area, SARDINIAN WARBLERS rattled in the nearby bushes and a flock of GOLDFINCHES were just visible. 8 CORN BUNTINGS flew overhead and when Anna drew our attention to a STONECHAT, Tom again scored with the first GRIFFON VULTURE of the trip sat out in the open on the edge of the mist. Gradually the mist cleared and everyone had good views of the Vulture, WOODLARKS sang as Peter called out and got us onto a fine male HEN HARRIER, unfortunately it headed away and wasn't seen again. Returning to our minibus we headed further into the open area where THEKLA LARKS showed close to the bus and LITTLE OWL and HOOPOE were added perched on a ring of old Eucalyptus stumps. Another trawl round the area was fruitless and we went for lunch.
After lunch, a quick look near the hotel produced an unexpected pair of PENDULINE TITS. We then did the same routes looking for Lynx with no luck then headed towards a more open area, the posts were dotted with WHEATEARS, STONECHATS and good numbers of KESTRELS. A small piece of standing water near a visitor centre held BLACK WINGED STILTS, RUFF, GREENSHANKS and GREEN SANDPIPERS, just a bit further on we found a flock of late LESSER KESTRELS and a STONE CURLEW came up from one of the large fields.
One of many Griffon Vultures enjoyed on the trip

Actually quite cute..........

Red Deer

Fine male Penduline Tit

Finally got a close Hoopoe


Today was our last morning in Coto Donana before a 4 hour journey to Sierra Morena.
We once again headed into the park, the KINGFISHER was again sitting on the pipe on the edge of the small piece of water, David managed to see it this morning. Unfortunately the mornings search proved fruitless again, we did see WILD BOAR again lots of RED DEER. A new route and another stop somewhere slightly more open proved eventful SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKES appeared in what seemed like every bush and Anna and Andrew saw a large bird of prey fly into a distant tree, closer inspection revealed a fine juvenile SHORT TOED EAGLE which kindly flew almost overhead after it's brief stop. A RED FOX scuttled across the open with an unfortunate rodent firmly gripped between it's teeth.
The next move was to head towards our final destination in the Sierra Morena area.
on the way we stopped again at some standing water, a BLACK STORK was seen near several WHITE STORKS along a drainage ditch. On a larger bit of water there were maybe 5000 GREATER FLAMINGOS!! Here too were loads of NORTHERN SHOVELER, BLACK WINGED STILTS and a few other waders but highlight for me here was my first ever MARBLED DUCK found by Byron.
By the time we got to our hotel it was almost dusk, Andrew and I headed out for a quick walk and found NUTHATCH, LONG TAILED TIT and CRESTED TIT.
Young Short Toed Eagle

Fox and prey

El Rocio our first base - felt like the wild west

El Rocio

Impressive part of 5000 Flamingos!


With impressive pieces of doorstep toast devoured for breakfast and hooting TAWNY OWL added to the list we headed out to the hills, 30 minutes later we were viewing across grassy slopes dotted with trees and bushes, A GRIFFON VULTURE looked down on us from a rocky outcrop as we scanned for any sign of movement, a chorus of bellowing RED DEER were hard to ignore and some impressive stags wandered in out of view. Laura found a MOUFFLON somewhere near a small farm but it disappeared quickly. A DARTFORD WARBLER appeared behind us giving good views. I then saw a pair of white and brown legs standing beside a distant tree trunk eventually the animal moved and it was another MOUFFLON a fine male this time everyone got on in and it stayed in view for several minutes. Our next stop was on a dam just another 5 or so minutes further on, it was very impressive and a beautiful setting. Two HAWFINCH flew over as I got out of the van and 10-15 CRAG MARTINS whizzed around the dam, BLACK REDSTART was seen below the dam and Tom found our first SPANISH IBEX, the first of several in the area. A couple of distant raptors caught my eye and we added CINEROUS VULTURE to our growing bird list, Laura found an exceptionally cryptic male IBEX with just horns and head showing!! as well equally impressive finds of BLUE ROCK THRUSH and ROCK BUNTING, both distant. I noticed another two birds of prey breaking the horizon sitting on a rocky slope, Byron checked them out and they were GOLDEN EAGLES, we watched them for a time including a memorable encounter with one them locking talons with a Vulture. All this before lunch!
During lunch we saw SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE, CRESTED TIT, HOOPOE, COMMON REDSTART and many GRIFFON VULTURES, we had split up a bit so not everyone saw all these, me included.
After lunch we went to the other side of the dam after a short stop at the hotel. Here we were greeted with a nice feeding flock of birds, more HAWFINCHES zipped around a LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER stayed just long enough for ID only. KINGFISHERS and GREY WAGTAILS were along the river and a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER but still no Lynx. We also spent time here looking for Otter but without success.
Dartford Warbler

Female Spanish Ibex

Crag Martins

A nice view for lunch


Today we did the reverse of yesterdays itinerary starting along the river, it was tough going a few things gave themselves up gradually, the undoubted highlight was a superb SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE that sat in the open giving giving excellent scope views, eventually it, and another flew directly overhead, real shame the light wasn't better but brilliant views nonetheless. Still around the river area the first GOSHAWK of the trip made it's way powerfully through the trees on the opposite hillside. A picnic lunch was abandoned as the rain came in but on our way back to the hotel it cleared and we found a nice viewpoint to have lunch. IBERIAN MAGPIES were feeding just below us and above GRIFFON and CINEROUS VULTURES circled above. The preparation of the picnic was interrupted when Andrew caught a glimpse of something crossing the road in the distance, everyone scanned furiously but couldn't relocate what Andrew could only put down as being a LYNX, real shame for all but exciting all the same. Consolation was in the generous and extremely tasty pasta for lunch!
The afternoon saw us back at La Lancha scanning the hills, a WILD BOAR lots of RED, and a few FALLOW DEER were all we could muster. A smart GRASS SNAKE, halted our progress on the way as it idled its way across the track in front of us. More VULTURES took centre stage in beautiful late afternoon sunlight.
Poor light - Iberian Magpie

Ditto - Spanish Imperial Eagle

Cirl Bunting

Red Legged Partridge

Grass Snake

Another Griffon

and again...

Cinerous (formerly Black) Vulture


So here we were on our last morning, it was back to the river and after a walk along the track we were rewarded with an OTTER as it showed itself briefly right under the bridge we walked to, almost everyone saw it before it retreated into the rocky bank. KINGFISHERS again whizzed up and down the river below us. We only had a short time, but we also added ROCK SPARROW to the trip list, a HAWFINCH sat close by on a pine and a male BLACK REDSTART caught everyones attention with it's bright white wing flashes. A SERIN called but never came into view. BYRON and LAURA walked back to the vans and soon returned and we were off...
So no LYNX but a really enjoyable holiday and fantastic company throughout with two really good, friendly and knowledgeable guides.
Thanks to all, looks like we'll have to do it all again one day.......

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Eastern Promise..........

A long overdue trip was loosely planned a few weeks ago, dates were set but final destination was to be decided, the favoured place was Spurn in East Yorkshire with any Cornish valley the next choice depending on what the weather was predicted to do. As it was the weather pointed towards the north east coast and my first visit to Spurn, staying in the newly refurbished Obs. We set out around 2.30am Tuesday 4th October, we being, pretty much lifelong birding friend Stephen Message and myself.
Around 7.50am after skirting the Humber for a while we arrived at the Warren, one of the trapping areas at Spurn. A short walk along the point brought us to the breach that has washed away the access road to the point itself, here were plenty of waders and a few Robins flitting around, small flocks of TREE SPARROWS headed south, with plenty of pipits and thrushes for company. Without major excitement but with plenty of promise we headed back with the intention of dropping stuff off in the Obs, we were delayed by the arrival of lots of locals at the ringing station where a Blythi  type LESSER WHITETHROAT was being shown. At the Obs the garden held loads of Thrushes and 2-3 YELLOW BROWED WARBLERS, the local pub garden of the Crown and Anchor just about out did the Obs with 4 Yellow Broweds, we added another at the Church and ended up with at least 10 for the day. Bags dropped we got out for a longer stint in the field. Thrushes continued to drop out of the sky these included 1 FIELDFARE and loads of SONG THRUSH and REDWING, We added a new bird to the Obs garden list when Stephen picked up a RING OUZEL as it descended out of the bright blue sky, one of 6 seen during the day. BRAMBLINGS were also arriving in lesser numbers although these numbers grew over the 3 day visit.Along Beacon Lane a strange Pipit called reminiscent of Red Throated but could not be relocated and a bird flushed by a dog walker appeared to disappear until Stephen flushed it, it called and immediately this Bunting was obviously something more interesting with a few brief views for confirmation we had just found a LITTLE BUNTING.. nice within just 2 hours of arriving! The day continued to produce some nice birds a RED BREASTED FLYCATCHER played hide and seek in the pub garden  until it gave some nice but brief  views a HAWFINCH whizzed over as we waited for the RB FLY. Later on a couple of miles away we saw ROSE COLOURED STARLING in Holmpton a few PINK FOOTED GEESE were heading down the coast. A surprise bird caught Stephens eye as a LONG TAILED SKUA headed out of the Humber to the sea. The variety was good and expectations high. As the day wore on news broke of a real gem of a bird about 90 minutes away, a decision had to be made.........
Blythi type Lesser Whitethroat

Roe Deer just for something different

Yellow Browed Warbler in Pub garden

Ok seems like a no brainer to anyone wanting to see good birds and new species but we're passed that stage after years of chasing other peoples birds so that was it, Spurn was where we were going to look for and hopefully find our own birds like the Little Bunting yesterday. So it was, a drive to Canal Scrape a look in the hide and great views of JACK SNIPE in the bag. Next was a search of the bushes to the south, a WHEATEAR flew up from the field and I noticed a bunting very close grovelling very close to the entrance to the field, after a couple seconds the bird showed again and LITTLE BUNTING no.2 was in the bag, this also made honours even as Stephen had found yesterdays bird! Next Stephen got reasonable flight views of a Pipit that which looked interesting, it became more interesting when it called like a TREE/OLIVE BACKED? unfortunately we think it disappeared over the sea wall and remained unidentified. A quick look at the sea and a chat with a local birder talking about the still present tempter to the north, suddenly that little voice in our heads said "lifer still there... 90 minutes.........." Away we went!!!

After an extremely windy Colin McRae style drive and almost exactly 90 minutes later we were at Bempton Cliffs RSPB, staring into a small copse which held the treasure. A short wait and the EASTERN CROWNED WARBLER  showed not well for me, so I was after better views, unfortunately we got distracted by the news of a Black Browed Albatross which had gone south before we arrived apparently seen heading back north, a dilemma again so 20 minutes was spent staring out to sea waiting for it's appearance, it never did.. so back to the Warbler and finally some fantastic views of this Mega bird, just the 4th for the country 3 of which have been on the east coast Mainland. After all the excitement a visit to Flamborough seemed like a bit of an anti climax as yesterdays birds had moved on and the wind made viewing tricky, we left with adding REDSTART to the list and a couple more YBW's. Food and the Crown and Anchor beckoned.
Little Bunting find...

Lots of shadow removal!!

Wow.. just stunning  EASTERN CROWNED WARBLER

As Above


Day 3, we walked from the Obs, a YBW called again in the pub garden and after trawling through loads of crests and Chiffchaffs we finally found a FIRECREST just passed the pub, a SHORT EARED OWL flew over head, the first of three for the day. We added RING OUZEL at Beacon lane and a couple flocks of BARNACLE GEESE flew south, meanwhile BRAMBLING and ROBINS were everywhere. At Canal Scrape 5 JACK SNIPE and 3 DUNLIN gave great views and more surprisingly a PURPLE SANDPIPER dropped out of the sky and started swimming amongst the WIGEON!!! eventually it saw sense and flew to the safety of the near bank. We spent the whole day re-doing the circuit to try to find something different which almost certainly lurking somewhere waiting to be found. Just as we were ready to leave a Rustic Bunting was found in an area only accessible to Friends of Spurn we stepped a few feet inside but decided as the bird had flown and a 4 hour drive ahead we'd head back and get our stuff for the journey home. There was one last stop at Sammy's Point where one of my favourite birds showed well as they generally do once tracked down GREAT GREY SHRIKE, great end to a memorable introduction to Spurn what a fantastic place, we were lucky we caught the winds right and as I write so more great birds are being reported shame we couldn't stay longer...
Purple Sand - Canal Scrape

Loving Jack Snipe :-)

Spot Fly near Obs

Great Grey finale

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Cornwall to Oare

I set off to Falmouth on Saturday morning at just before 5am, excited at the prospect of the day ahead. A delay of an hour and a half didn't dampen my spirits, I arrived with 30 minutes to spare and ready to get aboard my ak wildlife cruise.
It was a steady start as we headed 25 miles east before heading straight out to sea, the highlight of the first couple of hours were MED GULL (several), immature LITTLE GULL and SANDWICH TERN for the birds in the water were many COMPASS JELLYFISH and a single OCEAN SUNFISH. As we headed further out a couple of MANX SHEARWATERS appeared and lots of GANNETS. The Gannets were key, as we spotted a large flock diving on the horizon, Captain Keith headed towards them and from a distance we saw something large break the water and splash down, loads of Manx Shearwaters appeared our first STORM PETRELS showed as we got closer, next it was COMMON DOLPHINS, before the shout of WHALE! rang out a 19ft MINKE WHALE was lunge feeding around the boat we waited and watched and managed to see the whale at least 5 or 6 times at one time passing right under the boat. Really exciting stuff and whatever happened after that didn't matter.
As it was we soon had a couple of SOOTY SHEARWATER on the list plus GUILLEMOTS, RAZORBILL, ARCTIC SKUA and lots more STORM PETRELS. Everything calmed down eventually and the after checking a couple more feeding frenzies we headed back I did have a brief siting of a single BOTTLE NOSED DOLPHIN, unfortunately it didn't re-surface. An ATLANTIC GREY SEAL high up on a rock was the final addition to the list as the sun started to disappear behind The Lizard, a very enjoyable 7 hours.
Ocean Sunfish

Loads of Gannets

Manx Shearwater

Inquisitive Common Dolphin

Storm Petrel

Storm Petrel


Atlantic Grey Seal

The following morning it was a case of where to go, with the report of Roller on the Lizard, I decided to give it a go, setting off from the National trust car park, I was again drawn by the sea, plenty of MANX SHEARWATERS were pouring passed after nearly an hour I picked up a large Shearwater, CORY'S SHEARWATER came close then headed out to sea a real bonus, they were being seen at Porthgwarra but I didn't really expect to pick one up myself, I tore myself from the sea and watched many SWALLOWS over the fields and found 2 CHOUGH further along the cliffs. a small cove produced several CHIFFCHAFFS, WHITETHROAT, 2 WHEATEAR a couple STONECHAT and that was about it. I found that i had missed Ortolan and Icterine Warbler, although i did manage a few minutes with a local birder looking for them but to no avail. I headed back to Kent.
Restronguet Creek - No Pelicans

Cornish Chough

With the afternoon of the Bank holiday Monday unexpectedly free for me I headed to Oare Marshes with the prospect of lots of waders, I wasn't disappointed, highlights included 13 LITTLE STINTS, 19 CURLEW SANDPIPER, 3 SPOTTED REDSHANK, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, 4 WHIMBREL, GREENSHANK, BAR TAILED GODWIT plus all the regulars. The cast was added to by several YELLOW WAGTAILS, SAND MARTINS, SWALLOWS and HOUSE MARTINS.
Bird of the day though was an OSPREY seen heading along the Swale and then turning south, other raptors included MARSH HARRIER, HOBBY, SPARROWHAWK, KESTREL and BUZZARD. A really enjoyable afternoon in good company meeting Rob of Robs Birding blog and twitter and a couple of birders from London, enjoying a day out in Kent.
Golden Plovers

Little Stint

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Good Birds.....poor pics!

Over the last few weeks in my quest to reach 400 species in the UK before I'm 50 (without going really mad) I have gone just a bit further afield. Norfolk to be precise with the draw of GREAT KNOT and CASPIAN TERN, two birds I was yet to see in the UK. The plan was to go to Lincolnshire in fact and look for the Caspian Terns then head onto to Titchwell to look for the Great Knot. This plan didn't quite come to fruition as the day in question the Caspian Terns disappeared. I did however catch-up with and was very happy to join the small crowd on Titchwell beach and watch the Great Knot most of the morning of the 19th June, it never came close but good scope views were more than adequate to pick out all the necessary features, in amongst the 100's of Knot gathered on the beach. So 395 was now the total of my British list. It was nice to see several LITTLE TERNS, LITTLE GULLS and a large flock of COMMON SCOTER on the sea during the morning.
With half a day left to meander through Norfolk and no sign of the Caspian Tern, I headed off to do something I had been meaning to do for years and that was to look for SWALLOWTAIL butterflies at Strumpshaw Fen near Norwich. It was easier than I thought and busier than I thought, just as I approached the visitor centre a group of camera clad enthusiasts were clicking away at two of these special insects, I gladly joined in, a few hundred shots later, my thoughts turned to another insect I had never seen NORFOLK HAWKER, a short stroll into the meadows and several of these beauties were found patrolling their own little stretches of water filled ditch. The meadows were dotted with Southern Marsh Orchids to add to the Bee Orchids I'd seen close to the Swallowtails. An hour or so in the hide looking over the marsh produced a couple of HOBBIES, MARSH HARRIER (3) and a few flitting BEARDED TITS.
That evening I returned home to the news a Caspian Tern was seen at Breydon Water. Thankfully after disappearing for a couple of days it was refound and on the 26th I headed back up to Norfolk. Once I found the ASDA car park, I was soon watching this brute of a tern, firstly through a bit of heat haze but eventually after a bit of time close enough for the haze not to be a problem, again not amazingly close but great scope views. this time on the way back I popped into one of my favourite places Dunwich heath and watched a few feeding parties of DARTFORD WARBLERS and STONECHATS.
The local patch has been a bit neglected so still on 101 for the year. I did however head up to the Isle of Grain yesterday and enjoyed good views of the RED BACKED SHRIKE that has been there for a week or so now, it was also nice to bump into Sean and Barry while there and have a quick catch-up.

Heavily cropped Great Knot!!!

Swallowtail - Strumpshaw Fen

Southern Marsh Orchid

Norfolk Hawker
Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

Dartford Warblers

Young Stonechat

Red Backed Shrike

Red backed Shrike