Thursday, 21 September 2017

Hunstanton to Holme

Thought I'd make the most of some time off to get out birding this week before heading up to Shetland at the weekend.

I haven't walked this route in ages so I thought I'd give it a try. It has a good reputation and even I have have found some good birds here in the past - barred warbler and red backed shrike when we used to live in Hunstanton.

To be honest is was pretty quiet although there were more migrants about that at the weekend despite the wind being in the south. Highlights being

Chiffchaff - 8
Blackcap - 4
Wheatear - 1
Hobby - 1 west chasing the mixed swallow/house martin flock
Pink footed goose - 75 in/off sea over the NOA obs
Dark bellied brent goose - 4 on sea at Gore Point
Stonechat - 6

Not a great deal but better than being stuck indoors

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The dark side of the Wash

A birding day took me, Simon and the Colonel across the county boundary and into the badlands of Lincolnshire to Frampton for a boys' day birding. There has been so many birds about again this year and we had high hopes for a good day especially as Les hadn't bee to the reserve before.

As well as a bit of quality #bants with the team in the visitor centre there were a few birds from the windows to get us started. An adult and juv tree sparrow were showing nicely on the feeders right outside the window, adult yellow wag on the waters edge and a nice wood sand feeding on one of the close islands.

The water levels from 360 hide were nice and low but most of the small waders had moved onto the grassland near the seawall as the water levels had just been dropped there exposing a nice load of new food so we have to be content with close views of both little and great white egret along with the whooper swan that has been hanging around for the summer.

East hide was the best spot for the waders, according to Toby who was now giving us a personal guided tour while he checked the water levels and tweaked the sluices, so we headed in that direction. A small group of dunlin were feeding by the path on the way up to to the hide but we need the the height of the seawall later to see the area properly. From the hide, another small wader flock contained several ruff and 2 smart juv curlew sands. A small group of brents, the 1st I've seen of the winter, dropped in.

From the seawall it was much easier to see the birds both on the grassland and the saltmarsh. A nice little group of ca25 yellow wags were feeding at the bottom of the seawall although they were very flighty, probably because of the hunting kestrel and sparrowhawk we saw later in the morning. 
The great thing about viewing the grassland was the extra height to look down into the vegetation where many of the small waders were feeding. 80 dunlin in a couple of groups along the bank contained 8 little stint, 20 ruff and a nice little party of 4 spotted redshanks. Wigeon numbers were already building up with several hundred feeding close to the back. Before heading off for lunch, a group of other birders pointed out a distant peregrine perched out in the saltmarsh.

Following a rather filling lunch of sausage, chips and curry sauce, we ended the trip at the Roads Farm reservoir looking for the red necked grebe. Amongst the wigeon and little grebes the bird was actually quite hard to locate especially as it was diving loads to start with. Once it had managed to swallow a tricky fish it settled down and showed well. Although they are a regular species off the Norfolk coast in winter it was good to get some nice  to get such good views. We didn't manage to add any more wood sands to the list (there had been 3) but we did have a calling green sand close by that we didn't see.

All in all it was a good day. Lots of birds, plenty of bants and good company.

Friday, 15 September 2017

A day too late...

Sadly that always seems to be the case with me that I am always busy when it comes to decent seawatching off Titchwell and this week was no different. 

Although I did manage to sneak down to the beach for a short while (seeing a couple of Manx and a flock of 11 bonxie) most of the day was spent sorting out the last of my things in the office so missed out on all the action once again. A calling yellow browed warbler outside the office was decent compensation though.

Although the winds had dropped by the evening I still decided to get out early and see what was moving. Despite it being still very dull on the walk down to the beach the 2 juv little stints were still present on the fresh marsh with the dunlin flock but light wasn't really good enough to look for much else.
The wind really wasn't going to help bring any birds in close now it had gone the west and died but there were still a few bits about. The short eared owl was still about hunting around Thornham Point along with a couple of marsh harriers.

There wasn't much movement on the sea with only 9 bonxie and 2 arctic skuas in the 90mins I spent watching although the wildfowl passage was good. Without the strong north wind, many of the duck flocks were staying far out and the haze meant that identifying them impossible. On jizz, most of the flocks looked like teal and wigeon. I must admit I was a bit fed up with missing out again so headed off. 

My brief watch did record
8 pintail
173 teal
31 wigeon
6 RB merganser
3 shelduck
1 razorbill
3 sandwich tern.

On the walk back down the path, the juv curlew sand that had been found by Alan Davies was showing well right under the path with the dunlin flock.

On the way home I decided to have a little walk around the Choseley barns arrea, Although the area around the barns is much quieter these days for birds, the field margins in the whole area are excellent. The farm have been planting wild-bird mixes along many of the field margins and they are really doing the trick. In the 'dip' south of the barns with millett content within the mix id proving very popular with the small finches. 20 linnet, 20 goldfinch, 10 yellowhammer and a rather smart corn bunting were feeding by the road. The margins run between the barns south to the village and I'm sure will only get better as the winter weather arrives. Fingers crossed that is something good turns up in the flock that people behave...

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Flying visit

Popped up to Cley yesterday for the first time in ages to catch up with Simon in the CleySpy shop and to pick up my new bins (more about this in the coming weeks). Having been all over the place in the morning there wasn’t really time to go out onto the reserve but the birding from the shop was pretty good all the same. The panoramic view over the reserve despite being distant gave some good views.

The small wader flock had included several curlew sands and it was just about possible to pick out one of the juvs feeding with a ruff on the back of the closest lagoon. It was good to see a lot of dunlin about as it seems to have been a quiet period for them recently at this end of the coast. Everything got stirred up when a young harrier did a fly past and then the hobbies arrived. Having a big panoramic view meant you could follow both hobbies at they took turns chasing the dunlin flock; both birds taking in turns doing stoops onto the flock from high up. After 10 unsuccessful minutes they have up and disappeared.

While we were checking out some of the bins, both Simon and I called a hobby coming over the carpark and flying straight towards the CleySpy shop and going over the roof. The large size and brown plumage meant it wasn’t a hobby but something more interesting. We rushed outside expecting to see the bird heading inland over the fields but were rather surprised to see it sat on the roof staring back at us!! The initial shock wore off as it was soon apparent that the bird had escaped from somewhere as it was sporting a full set of leather jessies and bells.

Overall the bird was brown with dark brown markings on the breast, upper belly and thighs pointing towards one of the parents being saker but presumably it is a hybrid. 
Whatever it is, it was impressive to see at such close quarters and attracted much attention for the short time it was present.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Cyprus day 11 - the last rights

We had a few hours this morning before the flight to get in some last minute birding but there was a problem, it was blowing a hoolie!

It was suggested that we try the sheltered picnic area around the Asprokremmos Dam. Even here was windy and we only managed a female pied fly and a cuckoo.

We'd heard that there had been some crakes at Agia Varvara so decided to give it a try. The stream by the ford was dry but a lucky meeting with some birders informed us of some water storage tanks further up the valley.
There were other birders there when we arrived and there were already a bunch of herons in flight; 8 greys and 2 smart adult purples.
Moving to the 2nd tank I instantly saw a pale bird creeping around the waters edge in the corner. A dash to unpack the scope was required but worth it to add our final species to the trip list, a lovely female little crake.

Sadly it was time to head for the airport with the last minute little crake taking the trip list to 111.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Cyprus day 10 - last full day

A quick walk around the block first thing produced a pair of nest scraping stone curlew but little else.

We headed for the Akamas today with the hope of adding a few more species to the list.  A couple of stops in the hills failed to add long legged buzzard for dad's list but the views out over towards Paphos were impressive.

The first stop was the caravan park just beyond the Baths of Aphrodite, a slightly random place of old caravans under the olive trees. It was however, great for birds. As soon as we got out of the car there were blackcaps everywhere. I would say that there were at least 50 birds throughout the area.  Every olive seemed to have several feeding. Mixed in with them were a few other things.
The wood warblers, probably 3 of then, look absolutely stunning in the bright sunshine, the yelow and green so bright contrasting with the white underparts. A nice showy nightingale performed well, male collared fly, 3 female pied fly were present and at least 2 whinchat.
Surprise of the morning was the 'long legged buzzard' I spotted from the car as we headed back. Thankfully the bird was still about by the time managed to stop. The bird didn't 'look right' and getting the scope on it I realised it was a Bonellis eagle. Well happy with that ( we didn't get the buzzard for dad in the end)

We headed up towards Smiyies picnic site for a walk around. Good numbers of serin were present today and we had nice views of ortolan, female masked shrike and a smart male marsh harrier overhead.

Final stop of the trip was Evretou Dam. The drive down was rather interesting and not recommended if it has been wet or you have a low car but our hire car made it fine.
The muddy margins around the end of the lake had several squacco heron and 3 species of wader. 4 common and a marsh sand had already been added to the list but a summer plumage greenshank was new.

The sun was particularly hot so we retired to the pool and shade around the villa for the last few rays

Friday, 21 April 2017

Cyprus day 9 - Ringing pt2

We were lucky enough to be able to join Richard and Mike again for another ringing session.

This time we headed for their river site to the south of Polis. On the journey over we finally managed to catch up with long legged buzzard for the trip. We also had a harrier and falcon sp over the car that remained unidentified. Just before we reached the ringing site a cracking roller was sat on the roadside wires. Apparently they breed in the farm close by.

Richard and Mike had already been on a net round so there were bags of goodies waiting for us. Being in a river valley the species composition was very different. In the olive grove last week it was mainly blackcap, this week it was reed warbler (30).

The main highlight of the morning was an adult spotted crake, only the 6th to be ringed in Cyprus and a new bird for Richard. You forget how small they are and have a wing length the same as a blackbird (122mm).
The best of the rest, and they were all good birds,  we're 3 olivaceous warbler, 3 great reed warbler, spotted flycatcher, female ortolan bunting, tree pipit and turtle dove.

We had another impromptu ringing demo with another birding group visiting. They arrived just at the right time to see great reed, ortolan and the turtle dove in the hand. Another great opportunity to tell the stories about ringing

There were also some good birds around the site with long legged buzzard, 2 redstart, wood warbler, 2 female black&white flycatchers and a spotted fly.

We have been incredibly lucky with the hospitality shown by Mike and Richard allowing us to join them and ring many of the birds that were caught. Over the two session we've spent with them we've caught nearly 200 birds, handled some nice species, made some good contacts for the future and most importantly learnt loads.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Cyprus day 8 - didn't go far

Rest day today so we didn't go far. Headed just up the coast to Cape Deprenon. The area looked great with some nice fields and nice well vegetated gardens. Pretty quiet for birds apart from a nightingale and a female black & white flycatcher in the 'nice garden'. The walk around the coast was 'interesting' requiring a combination of climbing, scrambling and paddling!!
Clearly an area of wealth with one villa having 3 porsche parked outside!

The gorge at Arakas was a really impressive walk. Several singing olivaceous warblers at the bottom of the valley but it was the narrow steep sided gorge that was the highlight. Tight and narrow which must be an incredible sight with a big flow going through it.

We decided to walk from the bottom of the valley up to Mavrokolympos Dam in the hope of finally getting good views of Cyprus warbler. Sadly not this time but we did have squacco heron and common sand on the res, 3 ortolan and a day-calling scops owl.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Cyprus day 7 - Akrotiri

The usual pre-breakfast walk produced a similar range of birds to the last few days although I did get good views of stone curlew and finally good views of a pair of black francolin that have been calling near the villa.

After breakfast we headed east to the Akrotiri peninsula in search of wetland birds.
First stop was Akrotiri Marsh and a meet up with Melpo from Birdlife Cyprus to have a look at the habitat works I had been involved with a couple of years ago. The improvements were looking good, plenty of cattle grazing, new fencing, pools and a nice tower hide. Still lots of work to do but a great start.
The site was pretty quiet for birds though. A few ruff, a couple of squacco heron and a hunting marsh harrier. From the tower hide, 4 fudge ducks were sculking in the reed edge, hopefully the females were on nests...

The gravel pits area was completely dead apart from a yellow wag and a squacco heron and the small chapel was quiet too holding Woodchat, 2 pied and a spotted fly, ortolan and an olivaceous warbler.

Zakaki Marsh did add mallard for the trip but that was all. We did finally find some waders along Lady's Mile but they were all ruff apart from a smart summer plumage marsh sand. Further along was a small group of black winged stilt and 10 close greater flamingos, closer than the pink haze on the main lake.

Final stop of the day was the impressive view over Kensington Cliffs. We had good views of 4 displaying Eleanoras falcons but the Cyprus warblers were really tricky in the strong wind. There were at least 6 calling birds but I only got brief decent views of one.

Overall it was a slightly disappointing day with the lack of waders but good to look round Akrotiri Marsh at the work.

The day did add some new species and pushes us over 100 species to 104.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Cyprus day 6 - Upcountry

Was a little surprised to have rain falling for an early walk around the villa patch but it didn't last very long. The first part of the walk seemed to be quiet with fewer migrants than recent days. Just past the taverna we flushed a cuckoo from the coast path and then there appeared to be a movement of hirundines with barn and red rumped swallows, house and sand martin and a few swifts. The highlight was a female pallid harrier over the fields but sadly it didn't hang about.
19 glossy ibis flying west offshore just as we got back.

Today's plan was to visit the Troodos mountains in search of the Cypriot races of jay and coal tit.
On arrival at the visitor centre carpark we were greeted by a female masked shrike and ticked off the Jay straight away. Although we knew it would be cooler at the higher altitude, going from 20 to 8 degrees was a bit of a shock. Fleece and gloves required.

A walk up the path into the forest quickly added the coal tit to the list. A particularly smart looking bird with its extensive black throat extends down onto the upper breast. The white head stripe seemed much reduced too.

Good views were had of short toed treecreeper, Cyprus wheatear and  a male masked shrike. We also added wren, chaffinch and blackbird to the trip list.  An unexpected surprise was a feeding family of crossbill.
Lunch stop didn't produce any birds but we did find some nice orchids. The power of social media identified them as giant orchid.

What I thought was going to be a random stop in the vineyards at a lower level on the way back turned into a bit of a surprise when I recognised the route. It turned out that I had visited the same place when out here with work a couple of years ago. We didn't get black headed bunting this time.

Final addition to the list was a group of beeeaters heading east over the villa late in the afternoon.

Trip list now on 92