Thursday, February 26, 2015

Last day in Extremadura - and back home

The closest I got to Spanish Imperial Eagle this trip - some injured birds at the rehabilitation and education center at Sierra del Fuentes in Extremadura. Will try again in late March.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nice day in Extremadura

Spent a nice day birding and working in Extremadura (the perfect combination?). I met up with two local birders from Merida, Carlos and Angel, with whom I will be doing fieldwork later on in spring. They courteously took me around in the morning to some nice sites south of Merida. We first checked an agro-steppe site - Finca Palacio Kemado. It was very cold but pretty good with 6 Little Bustards, several Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Black-winged Kite, many Calandra Larks and few Short-toed Larks, and in nearby open woods we had some early migrants. Highlight for me was a Western Orphean Warbler, and we also had Cuckoo and Whitethroat.
Our next stop was the mountains near Matachel and Hornachos Mts. We kept our eyes up to the sky most of the time as this is a good area for raptors. We had Golden and Bonelli's Eagles, and about 15 Black Vultures, but we didn't find the hoped-for Spanish Imperial Eagle. We had a few Lesser Kestrels as well.

Black Vulture

Pretty scruffy

Thekla Lark

Lots of eagle-food around - Red-legged Partridge

After saying goodbye to the guys, I followed their advice and headed over to Castilla Alange, to look for Black Wheatear. I hiked up the rocky hill to the castle, and walked and searched all over the place, but no bloody wheatear was to be seen. There were some other typical mountain species - 1 Alpine Accentor, 1 Rock Bunting, some Blue Rock Thrushes, Rock Sparrows and Crag Martins. 

Blue Rock Thrush

When I reached back down there was again some good raptor action low overhead. Nice to see an adult male Bonelli's Eagle with a 2cy female (his daughter from last year?).

Bonelli's Eagle - adult male

With Crag Martin

Bonelli's Eagle - 2cy female. Interesting how immaculate the plumage is, no wear at all.

And then they interacted a bit - the juvenile chased after the adult: 

 Very close size comparison

Eurasian Griffon

Castilla Alange

How I missed flowering almond trees

Monday, February 23, 2015

Portugal - Peniche

I am in Portugal now for a few days of meetings. Had a very long day today - drove from Campo Maior in the east all the way to Peniche in the NW. I met one of Portugal's Great Bustard experts who lives there. Managed half an hour of driving along the coast after lunch. Very impressive, wild coastline. Quite many birds around - many gulls (mainly yellow-legged, 1 med), some Cory's Shearwaters, a few Shags, Gannets etc. 

Yellow-legged Gulls

I was very pleased with myself for finding a Glaucous Gull at the fish harbour - in fact a much-desired WP tick. Later on I found out from local birders that there are three there...

Glaucous Gull

Peniche beach. In reality the horizon was straight - this is a panoramic artifact...

Not far from Cabo Carvoeiro, the westernmost point of continental Europe, Berlenga Island in the back:

Sunday, February 8, 2015

No glauc no glory

At last managed to get out this morning after two very busy weeks indoors. My main target was to see Glaucous Gull - the last remaining easy WP tick for me in the UK. There have been several reported over the last few days, but I was slow and failed to connect with the easier ones at Sheingham, Cromer, Cley etc. Today I followed up reports from yesterday and birder along the east coast - Horsey, Winterton etc. Of course there was no sign of a gingery brute gull (will have to wait for another occasion), and in fact not too much at all. One Black-throated Diver off Horsey, 4 flyover Snow Buntings at Winterton, some geese and that's it.

Sanderlings among lazy seals

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Living Dead

Yesterday I visited the Natural History Museum at Tring for the first time. As a keen birder from an early age, I grew up on Hadoram's myths of the endless aisles there. Now that I live not too far away from Tring I had a chance to finally visit this fascinating place. The main purpose of my visit was a project I am doing on Nubian Nightjar subspecies - hope something useful will come out of it. I went there with Quentin who is doing a project on Snow Buntings, and we met up there with Yosef who's working on his moult project there.
The NHM is quite an amazing place indeed. The incredible amount and diversity of birds found in their bird collections is unimaginable. It is an invaluable resource for any ornithologist. The opportunity to work with huge sample sizes, available at NHM, is impossible to achieve in a lifetime in the field. 
However, my excitement of seeing so many birds was slightly shadowed by the fact they were all dead. Very dead. Most birds I saw were collected in the late 1800's or early 1900's. Quiet a few of the species receive attention and are the focus of research, but I guess that some of the thousands of cupboards there remain untouched. So to think about how many birds were 'collected' (laundered term for shot) is sad. For instance I walked past the Brown Fish Owl cupboard and couldn't resist having a look - I shuddered a bit when I saw a couple of hundreds of these majestic owls lying there, each one of them was taken down by someone many years ago. I know that back then people didn't know better etc., and I acknowledge the importance for modern science to have this incredible infrastructure for research, but still it's just sad. Or Gurney's Pitta, how much I sweated in the jungles of Khao Nor Chuci in Thailand in 1999 until I finally managed to see one of these gems - one of the most excelling birding moments of my life. And at NHM, half a cupboard full of this Globally Endangered species. The only, and big, consolation is the good science that does come out of NHM, contributing back to conservation, that to my eyes justifies these mighty collections nowadays.

Anyway, I worked efficiently to get the data I need on the nightjars - here's a quick sample:

Nubian Nightjar subspecies - typical males:

And before leaving I had time for some 'fun':

White Wagtail subspecies - all 2cy males in spring / summer:

'Isabelline' Shrikes - adult males:

Gurney's Pittas RIP 

All images in this post are copyright of The London Natural History Museum (Yoav Perlman).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Birds and poeple - Brilliant day in NW Norfolk

Wow, what a day. So good to be out for a full day, great company, brilliant birding, good weather - can't ask for much more can I? 
Headed off with James to the NW coast. Started off at Snettisham RSPB as the tides were right. The main departure of the roosting Pink-footed Geese was a bit too early for photography, but the 10,000 (?)-strong noisy mass was very impressive as they passed overhead and headed east towards their feeding sites in N Norfolk:


And then as the tide came up the shorebirds started moving towards the roost at Pit 4, so we followed them there. Unfortunately, the hides that were destroyed in the December 2013 have not been restored yet. So, if anyone from the RSPB reads this, please make some effort to get these hides operating again, because at the moment the viewing conditions are not welcome. Anyway, we managed to find ourselves an inch and a half of clear view, and watched the thousands of Knot and Oyestercatcher fly in to roost. Knot in a very tight flock, Oystercatcher in a looser, noisy group. Nice to catch up with some good friends there.

And when they fly up for some reason, the show begins:


Over above the mudflats impressive whirling flocks of Barwits and Knot did their obligatory performance, but we were a bit too distant to appreciate:

On the way out this pretty drake Goldeneye was attractive enough:

Our next stop was Huntstanton Tesco. First coffee and sandwiches, then we crossed the road to the coach park where Waxwings were seen over the last few days. Apparently the berries on their bush have all been eaten up, so they are more mobile now. As we approached James spotted from a fair distance one Waxwing perched just above the Pay and Display sign... I asked James: "It will let us approach, won't it?". James answered: "Of course.". I thought to myself, let's put the coffee and sandwich aside for a second and get an insurance distant record shot. James laughed at me, but sure enough two clicks later and it was up and off and gone. Despite searching through gardens and hedges in the general direction where we saw it flying too, it wasn't relocated.


Melanistic form of wankwing

We headed south and paid the Wolverton Triangle a quick visit. James has a tradition of trying for the Golden Pheasents there each time he is in the area, and always fails. Today was not different...

Then we continued on to Welney WWT. Short walk into the main hide, and we arrived just before noon feeding session. There weren't too many swans about, only 20 something Whoopers and more mutes. However they are so pretty and impressive that we enjoyed the entertainment very much. Unfortunately the main hides are shit for photography (next time we will book the photography hide in advance).

Whooper Swans


I was impressed by the local guide Katy who talked really well while feeding the swans:

There was a bit of pushing and shoving when Katy was feeding:

Pochard - so pretty, deserves some focus, don't you think?

By the Nelson-Lyle hide there were 13 Tundra Bean Geese - quite distant so digiscoped them with Swarovski ATX 95 and Canon 7D: 

Eurasian Wigeon -  digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 95 and Canon 7D

On the way back onto the A11 we encountered some mixed flocks of Whooper and Bewick's Swans loafing in the fields:

And near Prickwillow (love this name) we had a hunting Barn Owl - unfortunately for the bird and for us it had one bad eye - always on my side...

Bad eye

Thanks to James for his good company and driving!