Friday, June 26, 2015

Melodious Warbler - Marsh Lane NR

It took me a while to get there, around three weeks actually which is around the length of time the Melodious Warbler had been present at Marsh Lane NR.  Arriving in overcast conditions, the bird was tirelessly vocal favouring one particular tree where it was seen clearly at times dashing around with brief sedentary interludes while it pontificated from the tops.  Felt a bit sorry for it - just want it to find a mate.  My luck was in too as within half an hour of arriving, the heavens opened which meant that I had to leave this tardy individual to continue singing in the rain.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Marsh Warbler and Lakenheath

The weather is generally nice this time of year and now I can really make the most of my days off.  The next target was the Marsh Warbler at Narborough.  This bird had been present for a few days, singing regularly and at times showing well, and only two hours from home.

A tardy start but getting there at just before midday, a wait of an hour and half was required which was a little agonising but eventually cranked up it’s song.  This bird is truly bonkers.  It was all over the shop taking off Blackbird as well as other unrecognisable songs, a kaleidoscope of sound as it moved around the reedbed and into its favoured tree where it was seen well between the foliage.  It sang for twenty minutes before running out of steam and no doubt sat low in the reeds panting furiously until the next round of audible mayhem.  Incredible how this bird had to contend with the roar of RAF Tornadoes thundering out of Marsham.

Also there was a showy singing Garden Warbler, a Water Vole showed well for short period munching on reeds, my first ever Large Red Damselfly flew downriver, and a Painted Lady landed in the car park of the Ship Inn.

Then onto Lakenheath – always a pleasure to visit this site.  The clouds had rolled in and there was the threat of rain that didn’t materialise and it remained quite humid with a warm breeze.  Three Hobby were typically dextrous as they hawked Dragonfly over the fen.  A couple of Marsh Harrier were present with a male seen with what appeared to be nest material.  Cuckoo seemed to be everywhere, with at least five seen and a couple singing.

My surprise was a Quail flushed from long grass along the riverside path which represents half a new bird as I had only heard them in the past.

It was generally quiet but a wonderful place to enjoy a bit of solitude.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A mega Whimbrel and a mega mega Wheatear

Lucky lucky me.  Don’t feel I say that very often but what happened today, was having recently picked up a cheap second-hand car, I decided to head out on my first twitch in my own car for around 4-5 years.  What a feeling.  So bombing it down (70mph) the M23 toward Church Norton, a report came through of a Black-eared Wheatear at Acres Down in the New Forest.  Tentative news at first then confirmation of an ‘eastern’ race bird.

So we carried on bombing along (70mph) and strolled up to the spot where this stunning ‘fall-of-your-seat’ Wheatear was popping around the heath admired by a large assembled crowd.  The contrast of the jet black mask and wings against the pure white crown, nape, and underparts was just an amazing sight.  What a bird and again so lucky to be on the road on the day it turned up.

And then onto the Hudsonian Whimbrel which after a bit of a wait, emerged from the long grass and scampered around before disappearing once again.  The head pattern appeared much more prominent than the ten or so Eurasian Whimbrel that were present there, also appearing darker but maybe that was the light.  Unfortunately I didn’t see it fly, as it is all about that dark rump with this neartic wader – had to see that dark rump you know, but it kept it’s pants on and refused to fly.  Pants to that, but that’s ok because I saw it and I also know who the real star was today.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Walthamstow Marshes - Crossbill

A text from Jamie Partridge and after a few mid-morning chores I headed over to the Marshes where we sat at the raptor watchpoint (!) where earlier three Common Buzzard passed through.  We picked up a Hobby dashing through in ambitious attempts to turn it into a Redfoot, with another seen later on.

Three Swallow were also seen suggesting possible breeding activity nearby, but maybe straggling migrants.

Put two birders together and all they seem to talk about is what could be possible at this time of year.  I think the June doldrums were mentioned (which I think has been officially cancelled for 2015), the possibility of Crossbill perhaps but surely a bit too early by my reckoning.

Walking round to the north marsh, a flock of finches appeared from the right, bulky in appearance. And then they called, and then I called, seven Crossbill flying northeast, possibly a pair with five juveniles. A great bit of prophetic insight there, nailed on Cross(bill), and in Numbers. Blessed.

zoomed in photo courtesy of Jamie Partridge

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Summer hasn’t really got started but this afternoon was gloriously sunny and with it being a Sunday, I knew that the local areas were going to be heaving with locals.  So I camped myself in the circle at the Waterworks and craned my neck to the skies.  Two Common Buzzard were the best of a total of 43 species seen in two and a half hours in and around the Waterworks.

Also noted was a Painted Lady flying through, calling Marsh Frog, and a few Banded Demoiselle.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Catalunya 2 - Cap de Creus Natural Park

This was planned a little more, without getting too detailed with an itinerary. Not too much further on from the Aiguamolls de l'Empordà is the rocky peninsular of Cap de Creus accessed through meandering roads up to the heights that overlook white pixelated towns below and the cobalt blue seas. The views are simply stunning and habitats include a variety of pine woodland and areas of scrub and rocky escarpments layered with wild flowers and busy invertebrates. The road has a number of pull-offs where tracks lead through the Natural Park allowing time to spontaneously wander through and observe anything that may be lurking in this panoramic environment.

Stopping the car at the foothill by the quaint town Vilajuiga by Quermanco Castle, a short walk through a plantation where a Melodious Warbler sang, and a Red-Rumped Swallow flew over with a flock of Common Swift.  It was hot though, so I moved on up the headland.

Stopping at another lay-by, I walked into a small pine.  On hearing the song of bird I didn’t recognise, I waited until I caught sight of what was a Western Orphean Warbler, in fact two that flew past and over into an adjoining woodland.  Also here were a couple of calling Wryneck that I was unable to locate.

The route continued, views everywhere, stopping off regularly to explore the area.  Smart Woodchat Shrike sat on top of small bushes, always much smaller than I imagine, jangling Serin, the alternative jangle of Corn Bunting, and a couple of passing Common Buzzard.

One area that we spent more time held at least four singing Western Orphean Warbler, three calling Wryneck of which one sat on an exposed branch unperturbed by my close proximity, a single Spotted Flycatcher, a Woodchat Shrike, and a few Hoopoe flying through the woodland.

Stopping off at a strangely subdued coastal town of El Port de la Selva, the journey continued toward the Cape itself with an operational lighthouse, and plenty of tracks around the jagged rocks and around the extreme tip of the peninsular.  The sea mist that could be seen as a bank of cloud out to sea slowly rolled its way in onto land, creating a bewitching and surreal scene as the strong sunlight attempted to pierce through the shroud of mist that had blanketed the headland.

Heading back up the main road through the Natural Park, a 12th Century monastry de Sant Pere de Rodes sits high up on the hill.  A path runs from the Car Park to the monastry which winds round the steep ravine.  Along this path, two cracking Rock Bunting sat close in before disappearing off, while Nightingale and Melodious Warbler sang from the olive trees.

Further up was a short but strenuous scramble up to the ruins of Sant Salvador castle which we negotiated with self-confessed fortitude.  Here I can only say that views were too much for the eyes to fathom, the skies were clear and the sun was beating down relentlessly, the cool breeze providing a comforting refreshment.

I don’t need to go to Spain to appreciate great wildlife and amazing scenery, we have that here, but just being away does provide the ultimate escapism.

Thank you to the lovely Kat for the photos taken on a Samsung Camera Phone

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Catalunya 1 - Parc Natural Aiguamolls de l'Empordà

So I lost my camera - the last hour of my trip dropping off the hire car and dashing off to the Terminal.  A recently typical mental aberration that doesn’t come as a real surprise, but the pain of losing such a prized possession has taken a while to get over.  Maybe not the camera per se, but the seven hundred photos I had taken on such a wonderful trip to a beautiful part of Spain.  The thing about cameras and photography is that it is intrinsically entrenched into the creative soul.  A profoundly personal item of modern technology, harmonising sight, mind, and soul with the physical realities of our surroundings.  It was perversely like mourning a dear friend.

Deep breath.  I’ll carry on.

The plan was to spend a few days on the Costa Brava, but to stay clear of the main resorts such is my reluctance to spend time with hoards of British tourists from the ‘egg and chip brigade’.  Yes call me a snob – I don’t really care.

And thus, I found a place called Llafranc, not too far from Girona, an hour and half drive north from Barcelona El Prat Airport.  And what a gem of a place it was.  A small ‘resort’ accommodating a few white washed hotels set within a skimming stones throw from a modest golden sandy beach with  a smattering of unpretentious cafes set along the waterfront.  The cove settled within an arboreal headland rising up on either side, with a small ‘sailor-made’ harbour that fitted neatly into the bay.
It was a relaxing place to be for a few days.

Inevitably, we wanted to get out of the local environs and visit a couple of sites to explore the natural areas that Spain has in abundance.

Aiguamolls de l'Empordà

Details here

What a place this was and it really took me by surprise.  None of these involved any prior planning, so consultation with a map, a car, and plenty of time in fine weather was set up perfectly for a decent walk.

Driving in, a European Roller was seen sitting along wires – I couldn’t stop but observed this striking bird for as long as I could without driving into a ditch, and sadly the only one I saw on the trip.  It was a stonking start.

The five Euro ‘exit’ fee was a modern-day bargain for what this reserve offered.  The car park itself filled with the sound of singing Nightingale, not our elusive subspecies, but the confiding Spanish form, hopping around grazing insects from the short grass, and exploding into song from the scattering of trees.

The visitor centre was much like what we expect at our flagship nature reserves, a haven for information with attentive and informative staff.  There were several routes around the reserve, but taking the main route through the woodland, the lusty and intense song of the Nightingale resounded from each tree, numbers of which I had never experienced before.  Just joyously numerous.  Gated areas overlooked fields with avenues of trees and nesting White Stork, some with maturing young still in the nest watched by vigilant adult birds, a few pairs in the throes of courtship displaying  their diagnostic ‘bill-clattering’.

The path enters the coolness of the scrub and woodland canopy, and the exposed meadow and marshland areas.  This was post migration, birds were generally now in-situ but there was still plenty on offer here.  The first hide overlooked the largest expanse of water where a couple of Great White Egret sat on the middle island, with two Black-Winged Stilt feeding in the shallows.  Toward the back of the flood, two drake Garganey dabbled with the common wildfowl and Great Reed Warbler belted out their extraordinary throaty exclamations.

Continuing further along the path, a Melodious Warbler sang from the treetop, and a classic Honey Buzzard drifted low over.  A couple of Purple Heron stalked stealthily within the marsh, with around a dozen Greater Flamingo wading in the pools dwarfing the frenetic Black-Winged Stilt.
Cuckoo were also evident with a few active singers, a Kingfisher darted through the woodland and over the pools, and Blue-Headed Wagtail were present in the meadows.

The path eventually arrives at the beach, alive with sun worshipers without being crowded.  A camping/caravaning site is located there and an outdoor café to relax in the warmth of the sunshine.

Wandering back, I took the opportunity to explore a different path that led to a hide overlooking an open area where a Marsh Harrier took time hunting over the glade, where a Purple Heron alighted from the deep grasses.  Four Cattle Egret dressed in smart tangerine breeding plumes flew in.

Walking out of the hide, there was an open area of marsh where an adult Squacco Heron sat low in the short reeds, it’s head exposed and ochre streaks visible on this stunning bird.  Dragging myself away, I heard the diagnostic call of the European Bee-Eater connecting shortly after with the nest site where it appeared at least a couple of pairs were breeding.

It wasn’t at all bad for a spontaneous excursion.

Thank you to the lovely Kat for the photos taken on a Samsung Camera Phone