Thursday, 15 March 2018

An owl from the past

Back in mid April 2005, I located a Long-eared Owl nest on some land south of Newark. It was in the top of an old pear tree, and the give-away was a head poking out of the top, with two ear tufts... Back then I did a bit of ringing with Jim Lennon from South Notts Ringing Group, so we headed out one evening in mid June with a triple ladder to ring the chicks - four in all. 




One of these birds was found with a broken wing earlier this month, by the A1 at Long Bennington - just 6-7km away from the ringing location Unfortunately it was sufficiently badly injured that it had to be put down; and at 4677 days since ringing, it was just 23 days short of the BTOs longevity record (held by a bird from Aberdeenshire). What a shame.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Bucket list bird

Who doesn't want to see a Snowy Owl? Ever since not seeing the Felixstowe bird back when ever that was, I've wanted to see one, although I've never been tempted to drive far, figuring one will turn up within striking distance eventually. Eventually was this Friday; of course I couldn't go then, what with work. However, with my parents up for the weekend, my suggestions of a family trip to Norfolk on Saturday were not taken seriously (they had, after all, just driven up from Suffolk). We did have a quick outing to Collingham on Saturday, though, where I finally caught up with some Smew for the year - two drakes and three redheads.

Sunday was Mothering Sunday, and we had both sets of family around. Everyone departed just before 4, and having shown Amy yet another picture of the Snowy Owl, she suggested I just go and see it, presumably so she'd get some peace and quiet. So I did. My worry was running out of daylight, althugh the A17 was relatively painless, so after parking up at the Snettisham RSPB carpark and yomping south I had the bird in my sights at quarter to 6. Snowy Owl! Phew. 

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

It showed nicely for the next 35 minutes or so, sat on the inner floodbank. It started to get a bit more animated as dusk fell, stretching its neck and head bobbing, then taking flight and dropping down behind the bank, before reappearing, which it did once more; it then flew past those few of us who were still lingering, swerving in flight at a rabbit, and then powering southwest along the floodbank on its huge wings. What. A. Bird. The consensus seems to be it is a first-winter female, based on the extent of dark barring, but I'm not going to pretend I know anything beyond the basics about ageing or sexing this species. 


The Wash at dusk

Sunday, 25 February 2018

More Kumlien's action

A fairly uneventful patch visit (and belated WeBS count at Girton) yesterday produced two new species for Patchwork Challenge, Peregrine and Cetti's Warbler - the latter very noticeable before Christmas, but absent since, until today. Across Collingham and Girton there were a total of 29 Shelduck and 5 Oystercatchers. Spring is on its way (ish).

My lack of a gull fix at Cotham Landfill this week meant I decided this morning to spend some time at Kilvington Lakes, mainly to try and catch up with the Kumlien's Gull again. There were no big gulls on West Lake initially, but around 9am a few Herring Gulls turned up, with the Kumlien's flying in around 9.20 - there were no more than 25 big gulls present by then. It showed well until my toes froze off and I went home to warm up. 


Kumlien's Gull

Kumlien's Gull
Kumlien's Gull
Kumlien's Gull
Kumlien's Gull

Saturday, 24 February 2018

In search of Iberian Lynx

Nearly a year ago, I was contacted by Dave Read (who runs Lanius Bird Tours), asking if I would be willing to help co-lead a trip to southern Spain, in search of Iberian Lynx. I didn't need too much persuading, and having been there a year ago, was confident that I'd be able to help deliver the goods.

And so, in mid-January, myself, Dave and six guests headed off to Andalucia. Arriving in Malaga, we picked up our minivan and then had an enjoyable couple of hours birding the Desembocadura del Guadalhorce, a nice little wetland reserve just a stone's-throw from the airport. The main lagoon here, in the south-eastern part of the site, held most of the bird interest, with 4 White-headed Ducks, several Black-necked Grebes, 3 young Greater Flamingos, a few Black-winged Stilts, and hoards of flycatching Chiffchaffs, as well as other bits and pieces such as Audouin's and Med Gulls, Greenshank, Water Pipit, Southern Grey Shrike, Monk Parakeet and Zitting Cisticola. But best were two very confiding Booted Eagles perched up in a tree. A quick look at the sea was productive, with 12 Kentish Plovers on the beach and 5 Gannet, 2 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Bonxies offshore. 


The entrance to the Desembocadura de Guadalhorce
White-headed Duck, showing well
Great views of Booted Eagle
The most productive lagoon
Birding on the beach

It was then on to the town of Andujar, and just beyond, reaching our accommodation at the Complejo Turistico Los Pinos in the Sierra de Andujar. We arrived after dark, and after a freshen up, enjoyed the first of several excellent rustic Spanish meals in the hotel restaurant, along with several other wildlife groups. A calling Tawny Owl wrapped the day up.

The beauty of Los Pinos is that it is on the way up to the main Lynx viewing area, so we were up and out in good time the following morning, settling in for our first session on the La Lancha track. Of course, we grilled various people for news of recent sightings - a Lynx had been seen the day before, and the previous week a mating pair had shown extremely well over several days... So we were hopeful. However, our morning's scanning was fruitless, with interest coming from a good selection of birds including several Griffon and Black Vultures, at least 3 Spanish Imperial Eagles, a couple of Little Owls, an Iberian Woodpecker, a few parties of Crag Martins, one or two Firecrests, a Southern Grey Shrike, several Dartford and Sardinian Warblers and 2 Chough. In addition, there were two distant Mouflon, plenty of Red and Fallow Deer, and reasonable numbers of Rabbits (noticeably more than last year).


Los Pinos at dawn
Prime Lynx habitat
Some of our group in action
Black Vulture
2 Spanish Imperial Eagles and attendant Magpies
Dartford Warbler
A rather distant Mouflon
Red Deer stag

We broke for lunch, heading slightly further up the track and stopping above the Embalse de Jandular. We couldn't find any Spanish Ibex, but there were a couple of Short-toed Treecreepers in the eucalyptus trees, a few Siskin flying around, and several Hawfinches. On to the dam, we located 2 Blue Rock Thrushes, 2 Rock Buntings and a Golden Eagle over the hill on the opposite side of the reservoir.


The Spanish Ibex area, below the Embalse de Jandular
Water levels 20m below full levels in the reservoir...
Hawfinch

It was then back to the La Lancha track, where we remained until the later afternoon. Again, no Lynx, but this is a beautiful place to spend time not seeing what you're looking for. Deciding to pack up late afternoon and head back to Los Pinos, we were just leaving the area when it became apparent that a small group were getting quite excited about something... I jumped out and ran over - they were onto a Lynx! However, I struggled to get onto it; when I did, it was closer than I was looking. I saw it for a split second, turned to the others to start getting them onto it, and when I turned back it had vanished. And despite waiting another 40 minutes or so, it didn't reappear. It had presumably dipped into a bush or under a rock. So, a slightly frustrating first day for all concerned!


Around 25 people looking for an invisible Lynx
The sun going down on our first full day
The last few 

We were back out on the La Lancha track the next day for another try. Again, the morning was fruitless, save for the same selection of mammals and bird as yesterday, with the addition of 2 Crested Tits plus a very close Spanish Imperial Eagle overhead. Again we spent lunch above the Embalse de Jandular, this time locating 3 male Spanish Ibex, and then another 3 females from the dam.

There's a Lynx out there somewhere...
A ropey shot of a super bird
Spanish Ibex - nice looking beasts

Returning to the track, I was beginning to feel the pressure - and I wasn't sure that any of us would stomach a third day looking! However, our luck changed - we happened to be stood near a group of photographers who were positioned on a small mound, and the shout went up from them - Lynx! After a bit of a panic, we worked out where they were looking, and over the next hour or so we all enjoyed excellent views of this animal, as it worked its way down the valley, dipping in and out of sight and getting gradually more distant. Superb. 


Iberian Lynx!
A fairly small animal in a big landscape
Working it's way down the valley
What an animal

And when I say 'we all' enjoyed excellent views, there were probably around 100 people lined up. I was slightly taken aback by some of the comments I got when I posted a picture of this on Twitter, with several along the lines of 'that looks awful'. I guess none of them have ever been to a twitch to see a rare bird (yeah right). Being a Saturday, it was (inevitably) busier than the day before, as I think a lot of Spaniards had come up from the coast, or down from Madrid. Plus, the sighting had a concentrating effect, with everyone previously having been strung out over maybe 2km of track. And actually, it wasn't awful at all, with various nationalities united by in their excitement at watching a brilliant animal, and it was heartening to see that maybe three-quarters were Spaniards. But I guess some people expect exclusivity - and if that's what you're after, don't visit this area at a weekend during the peak Lynx period. 


Shock! People enjoying wildlife


Buoyed up by our success, we headed back to Los Pinos, encountering a sounder of 8 Wild Boar, before celebrating with several beers in the bar.


Boar enjoying the late afternoon sun

Our third full day began  before dawn on the bridge below the dam at the Embalse de Encinarejo. An Eagle Owl called somewhere off to the south, and Dunnock and Wren were new, but our main quarry, the Otters, didn't show. Apparently these have been very tricky this year.


Looking down river below the Embalse de Encinarejo
No Otters today. And look at all those people, shock!

We cut our losses and drove north for an hour and a half to reach the Campo de Calatrava for late morning, an area I 'discovered' last year. We spent a couple of hours driving the tracks that cross this agricultural area either side of lunch. The birding was good, with 100+ Great Bustards (mainly wary, but one party allowing closer approach), c.80 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, 6 Black-bellied Sandgrouse, c.200 White Storks flying NW, 2 winter plumaged Dotterel (something of a surprise), c.20 Golden Plover and a few Lapwing, plenty of Calandra and Crested Larks, several Marsh Harriers and Buzzards, and a big numbers of Chough, including a group of around 100 that came together at one point, circling overhead. Little Bustards were notable by there absence, but a Granada Hare provided some mammalian interest. 


The drive north
Our group on the Campo de Calatrava
Big skies
Distant bustards
A big group of Chough
Great Bustards in flight
One of two Dotterel
Some closer Great Bustards
Fantastic birds
Black-bellied Sandgrouse, heading off
Calandra Lark

Lunch was spent by the Laguna del Prado on the eastern side of Pozuelo de Calatrava. This held small numbers of Shelduck, Teal, Shoveler and Mallard, plus 2 Black-winged Stilts and a Black-tailed Godwit. Two parties of Cranes, totalling 130 birds, circled over north. 


Laguna del Prado
Circling Cranes


We detoured on the way home to the Castillo de Calatrava, a site that Dave had found online. The walls of the castle and the surrounding crags and slopes produced a good range of birds, including several Rock Sparrows and Thekla Larks, a Black Wheatear, 1 or 2 Black Redstarts, at least 4 Blue Rock Thrushes and 15 or so Crag Martins


Castillo de Calatrava (this is the 'new' castle)
The track up
Rock Sparrow on the ramparts
The best I could manage of the Black Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Thekla Lark
The view from the top

 Our last day came round too soon, but there was still time for a bit more birding before our flight home. En route to Malaga, we stopped at Fuente de Piedra for a couple of hours. The lagoon had more water in it than last year, and as a result there were plenty of Flamingos - around 1500 were counted a few days previously. Single Red Kite, Snipe and Common Sandpiper, 5 Red-crested Pochard, 2 Stone-curlew and a Wryneck (which only I saw) were new for the trip, as were 3 Ravens we saw whilst driving (a surprisingly scarce species around these parts). 


The eastern end of Fuente de Piedra, viewed from the visitor centre
One of the lagoons by the visitor centre
More water than last year

 And so concluded a very enjoyable trip. This really is a first class short winter birding and mammaling trip - I would happily go back again next year given the chance!


Mammal list:
  1. Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus - 1 seen on 19/1 for a moment on the La Lancha track, and probably the same animal seen very well the following day
  2. Spanish Ibex Capra pyrenaica - 6 below the dam at the Embalse del Jandula
  3. Mouflon Ovis musimon ­- 2 from the La Lancha track
  4. Red Deer Cervus elaphus – frequent in the Sierra de Andujar
  5. Fallow Deer Dama dama – frequent in the Sierra de Andujar
  6. Wild Boar Sus scrofa – 8 on the La Lancha track
  7. European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus ­– daily in reasonable numbers
  8. Granada Hare Lepus granatensis - one on the Campo de Calatrava


Bird list (with comments on notable species):
  1. Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 
  2. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos­ 
  3. Shoveler Anas clypeata 
  4. Gadwall Anas strepera 
  5. Teal Anas crecca 
  6. Common Pochard Aythya farina­ 
  7. Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
  8. White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala – 4 at Desembocadura del Guadalhorce in Malaga
  9. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 
  10. Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
  11. Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus
  12. Gannet Morus bassanus
  13. Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
  14. Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 
  15. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 
  16. Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis­
  17. Little Egret Egretta garzetta
  18. White Stork Ciconia ciconia­ 
  19. Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus
  20. Red Kite Milvus milvus
  21. Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus 
  22. Black Vulture Aegypius monachus – several from the La Lancha track
  23. Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus­ 
  24. Buzzard Buteo buteo 
  25. Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus - 2 at Desembocadura del Guadalhorce in Malaga
  26. Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti – at least 3 adults on the La Lancha track in the Sierra de Andujar
  27. Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos – 1 just north of the dam at the Embalse del Jandula in the Sierra de Andujar
  28. Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus 
  29. Kestrel Falco tinnunculus­ 
  30. Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus
  31. Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 
  32. Coot Fulica atra
  33. Crane Grus grus 
  34. Great Bustard Otis tarda – 100+ at the Campo de Calatrava
  35. Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 
  36. Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus 
  37. Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 
  38. Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva 
  39. Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 
  40. Dotterel Charadrius morinellus – 2 on the Campo de Calatrava
  41. Greenshank Tringa nebularia
  42. Sanderling Calidris alba
  43. Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucus 
  44. Snipe Gallinagi gallinago­ 
  45. Great Skua Stercorarius skua
  46. Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 
  47. Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 
  48. Audouin's Gull Ichthyaetus audouinii - 1 at Desembocadura del Guadalhorce in Malaga
  49. Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus
  50. Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus­ 
  51. Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis
  52. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata­ – c.80 on the Campo de Calatrava
  53. Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis – 6 on the Campo de Calatrava
  54. Feral Pigeon Columba livia­ 
  55. Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus 
  56. Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto­ 
  57. Eagle Owl Bubo bubo - 1 calling on the El Encinarejo trail in the Sierra de Andujar
  58. Tawny Owl Strix aluco
  59. Little Owl Athene noctua 
  60. Hoopoe Upupa epops 
  61. Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 
  62. Iberian Woodpecker Picus sharpei 
  63. Wryneck Jynx torquilla
  64. Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis 
  65. Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 
  66. Black-billed Magpie Pica pica
  67. Jay Garrulus glandarius
  68. Jackdaw Corvus monedula
  69. Raven Corvus corax 
  70. Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax­ 
  71. Crested Lark Galerida cristata
  72. Thekla Lark Galerida theklae - several at the Castillo de Calatrava
  73. Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra­ 
  74. Skylark Alauda arvensis 
  75. Woodlark Lullula arborea 
  76. Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 
  77. Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus 
  78. Great Tit Parus major 
  79. Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
  80. Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus­ 
  81. Nuthatch Sitta europaea 
  82. Short-toed Treecreeper Cethia brachydactyla  
  83. Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
  84. Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla 
  85. Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti 
  86. Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 
  87. Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
  88. Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata 
  89. Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala 
  90. Zitting Cisticola Zisticola juncidis 
  91. Robin Erithacus rubecula 
  92. Black Redstart Pheonicurus ochruros 
  93. Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura - 1 at the Castillo de Calatrava
  94. Stonechat Saxicola torquatus 
  95. Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius 
  96. Blackbird Turdus merula 
  97. Song Thrush Turdus philomelos 
  98. Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus 
  99. Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor 
  100. Dunnock Prunella modularis 
  101. White Wagtail Motacilla alba 
  102. Water Pipit Anthis spinoletta 
  103. Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 
  104. Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra 
  105. Rock Bunting Emberiza cia
  106. Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
  107. Greenfinch Carduelis chloris 
  108. Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 
  109. Linnet Carduelis cannabina 
  110. Serin Serinus serinus 
  111. Siskin Carduelis spinus
  112. Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes 
  113. House Sparrow Passer domesticus 
  114. Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis 
  115. Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia – several at the Castillo de Calatrava