Moussier's Redstart - Morocco - February 2019

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Saturday, 16 March 2019

Seaford Head 16/3/19

This morning I fancied a change and thought maybe the shelter of Hope Gap might give me a chance of my first summer migrant of the spring. After a brief search I was delighted to find a male Wheatear feeding along with some Rock Pipits and Stonechats. Nothing else of note on the Head however.

The Cuckmere continued its form with the long-staying Glossy Ibis in situ, and the mobile Hooded Crow was yet again great to see. A minimum of four Mediterranean Gulls were also in with the larger Gulls.

Wheatear at Seaford Head

Glossy Ibis in Lower Cuckmere
The Cuckmere floods continue.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Lower Cuckmere 15/3/19

The misery of strong westerly winds continue, but with the Cuckmere in fine fettle the winds are all forgotten. Today, I nailed my third patch tick in under two weeks with a sublime Hooded Crow(Water Pipit and Barn Owl being the ticks). Back in the 80's they were almost annual, but certainly in recent times it's somewhat of a mega for the patch, and still a rare bird to see in Sussex, despite the recent long-staying Pagham bird. 

After yesterday's report on the SOS website, I was playing it cool and not expecting to find the Crow, with March birds always being brief encounters with presumably continental birds making landfall and continuing on their way. However, with plenty of Crows feeding on the flooded fields and finding lots of food, I was relieved to re-find the Hooded Crow late morning in a field just north of the A259. It later re-located to the SW side of the Cuckmere associating with the Gull flocks and the Glossy Ibis, that was also still present along the central hedge line. Three Mediterranean Gulls of all ages were also present among the many Black-headed and Common Gulls that are taking advantage of the floods.

Hooded Crow at Lower Cuckmere

If going for these birds, take your wellies.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Upper Cuckmere 5/3/19

A decent morning in the Cuckmere today. Yesterday on a brief visit I was certain I had a Water Pipit but it flew off fairly quickly. So today I ignored the Glossy Ibis still in its favoured ditch and got to the area of saltmarsh on the first meander north of Exceat.

There were many Pipits about including a few Scandinavian Rock Pipits among the commoner petrosus' Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits. After a while, a striking Water Pipit was eventually found, and over the next half hour, a total of three Water Pipits were found (including one with a poor supercilium), with at least three (no doubt more lurking) Scandinavian Rock Pipits. A long awaited patch tick and totally unexpected to have three birds, yet alone one present. Sadly despite having my converter on, the photos below are at most poor record shots.

The Glossy Ibis was still present when I left the area.

Water Pipit (probably my best ever view
in the UK). The white underparts
were particularly conspicuous.

A Water Pipit feeding behind a 
Scandinavian Rock Pipit

Scandinavian Rock Pipit

Cattle Egret seen on Sunday morning

Friday, 1 March 2019

Upper Cuckmere 1/3/19

An after work twitch for my second patch Glossy Ibis that was found yesterday by the Eastbourne SWT. Easy to find late this afternoon as it was working the ditches roughly two fields north of Exceat Bridge. Nothing else about other then a large roost of Black-headed Gulls along the river, but no sign of the Spoonbill.

Glossy Ibis at Upper Cuckmere
The last bird here I was lucky enough
to find, way back in 2012. As far as I'm aware,
this is only the third record for the Cuckmere.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Western Sahara & Morocco (Birds) - February 16th-23rd

Last spring whilst on Mt Caburn photographing Burnt Orchids, Ewan Urquhart phoned me regarding a trip being put together for the Western Sahara, being organised by Steve Babbs. The main idea for visiting was to hopefully connect with the many exciting night mammals that occur along the Aousserd Road leading eventually into Mauritania, but covering almost the whole width of the Western Sahara. Such mammals include the Sand Cat, Fennec Fox and Ruppell's Fox, along with many other highlights, with the Western Sahara being the most accessible region to see these special animals.

Knowing about the exciting birds that one could encounter along this road meant that it took me only a few seconds to commit to this trip. Sadly Ewan was unable to make the trip and so it was myself, Steve Babbs, John Dixon and Jake Everitt.

We flew with Ryanir from Stanstead to Agadir arriving on the evening of the 16th February. Our hire car was a jeep and was surprisingly comfortable, and just as well as after landing we had a 16 hour drive down to Dakhla, our base for most of the week. Many checkpoints held us up on the way down, but my limited French seemed to help, but the same can't be said for Steve who had a classic Del boy moment when he asked what 'Orange' was in French at a supermarket one morning. The ridicule lasted all trip!

Due to the nocturnal element of the trip the entire mornings were spent sleeping, followed by a Tacos lunch (the only likely choice around), then stocking up on supplies (normally dangerously hard French bread and warm cheese) before finally getting on the 200km Aousserd road at around 4pm allowing three hours of birding before the night vigils of spotlighting.

This routine only lasted four nights as we couldn't be bothered to spotlight anymore, and with a 16 hour drive back to Agadir it was a sensible decision to spend the remaining two nights tracking back north, and what an excellent decision this was, as we came across some memorable migratory encounters and some class birds around Oued Massa.

This blog post concentrates on the birds seen during the trip including a few photos below along with a 'highlights' checklist. The mammals will be on the next blog post.

The 'famous' Aousserd Road.
Ignoring the Canary Islands, the red marks
to the south indicate the Aousserd Road,
with Agadir in the north.

Moon rise over the Western Sahara.
This sight greeted us most nights as we started
our gruelling spotlighting sessions.
  1. Ruddy Shelduck - small numbers just north of Laayoune.
  2. Marbled Duck - ca. 30 along river just north of Laayoune.
  3. NORTHERN BALD IBIS - ca. 80 on beach at Oued Massa.
  4. Eurasian Spoonbill - two spectacular migrating flocks were seen coasting north.
  5. White Stork - two circling along road north of Laayoune.
  6. Greater Flamingo - many encounters on Oueds.
  7. Eurasian Griffon Vulture - one bird migrating north 130km north of Laayoune.
  8. Western Marsh Harrier - many seen migrating north.
  9. Long-legged Buzzard - ca. 10 along the Aousserd Road.
  10. Lesser Kestrel - a couple seen around Oued Massa.
  11. Lanner Falcon - three birds near the town of Aousserd.
  12. Barbary Falcon - two near the town of Aousserd.
  13. Barbary Partridge - one flushed at Oued Massa.
  14. Quail - one singing at Oued Massa.
  15. Cream-coloured Courser - frequently encountered along the Aousserd Road.
  16. Pomarine Skua - one immature bird flew north on way south to Dakhla.
  17. Audouin's Gull - sporadic sightings along the coast only.
  18. Slender-billed Gull - small numbers around Dakhla.
  19. Caspian Tern - small numbers around Dakhla.
  20. 'African' Royal Tern - three birds off Dakhla.
  21. Barn Owl - one along the Aousserd Road.
  22. PHAROAH EAGLE OWL - one lucky encounter near Oued Jenna, Aousserd Road.
  23. Pallid Swift - many around Laayoune and Oued Massa.
  24. Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark - only a pair seen in flight along the Aousserd Road.
  25. BAR-TAILED LARK - many along the Aousserd Road.
  26. GREATER HOOPOE LARK - relatively common along the Aousserd Road.
  27. Thekla Lark - very common.
  28. TEMMINCK'S LARK - five birds found along the Aousserd Road.
  29. DUNN'S LARK - only three birds found along the Aousserd Road.
  30. Great Spotted Cuckoo - a first-summer at Oued Massa.
  31. AFRICAN DESERT WARBLER - one seen carrying food at a known site along the Aousserd Road.
  32. CRICKET WARBLER - common in Oued Jenna and surrounding dry river valleys.
  33. Subalpine Warbler - found plenty at Oued Massa.
  34. Zitting Cisticola - common around Oued Massa.
  35. Spectacled Warbler - a single seen south of Oued Massa.
  36. MOUSSIER'S REDSTART - common around Oued Massa.
  37. Black Wheatear - common in flat rocky areas.
  38. Red-rumped Wheatear - a few pairs encountered along the Aousserd Road.
  39. WHITE-CROWNED BLACK WHEATEAR - a single bird seen at Aousserd.
  40. Desert Wheatear - two males seen along the Aousserd Road.
  41. FULVOUS BABBLER - common around Oued Jenna.
  42. MAGHREB MAGPIE - common around Agadir.
  43. Brown-necked Raven - seen daily along the Aousserd Road.
  44. HOUSE BUNTING - a few pairs around Oued Massa.
On top of all the highlights, we were treated to some fine migration whilst tracking back northwards back to Agadir. A couple of coastal spots produced two mammoth flocks of Spoonbill (120 & 350), a flock of Greater Flamingos, 'iberiae' Yellow Wagtails, streams of Barn Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows and also many Marsh Harriers and Kestrels. Photos below are in date order.

Temminck's Lark

Thekla Lark
Showing the upturned lower mandible nicely.

Dunn's Lark
Dunn's Lark habitat

Dunn's Lark in flight showing the brown
central tail feathers protruding to the tip.

Greater Hoopoe Lark
Despite many birds seen, they sadly eluded
the camera.

Desert Wheatear

Red-rumped Wheatear

Cricket Warbler
Only encountered where acacias were occurred.

Southern Grey Shrike

Fulvous Babbler
Only encountered along dried out water courses
where obvious vegetation occurred.
Oued Jenna

Cream-coloured Coursers

Eurasian Spoonbills

Greater Flamingos

Eurasian Griffon Vulture

House Bunting at Oued Massa

Moussier's Redstart at Oued Massa
Surprisingly numerous around the Oued.

Maghreb Magpie
Common around the Agadir area.

Northern Bald Ibis at Oued Massa
Oued Massa

Friday, 15 February 2019

Owls to (rare) Woodpeckers 15/2/19

Yesterday whilst walking behind Peacehaven, at around 7pm a Tawny Owl started calling continuously in the scrub west and adjacent to the golf course. With the bright moonlight and my helpful torch, I obtained good perched views as it sat upon a hawthorn. This was my first Tawny Owl in Sussex for nearly three years, and certainly my first in this general area. Carrying on with the Owl theme, a Barn Owl was in its usual spot between Woodingdean and the AMEX stadium in the early hours this morning on my way to work.

After some lengthy delays today due to the freezing fog at Gatwick, I only had a mere twenty minutes to go ahead with my plan of trying to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on my way home. After a deviation, I arrived at a large expansive forest and immediately upon arrival, I was positive I could hear some light drumming. Thankfully it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and a superb male at that. The sighting lasted maybe 15 minutes, by which point I was running late with the school run, and reluctantly left. Being the first day this year where the temperature has reached 13 celcius, I was fairly confident of finding a LSW. Any cooler and I might not have bothered, as previous years have also had this trend at a number of Sussex sites.

Off to the Western Sahara tomorrow for a week, with blog posts being added on my return.

male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Monday, 11 February 2019

Goshawks in West Sussex 11/2/19

At last a day off coinciding with a lovely morning to be out in the field. This time of year is obviously very good for displaying Goshawks and I wasted no time in positioning myself over a large expanse of woodland in the north of the county, and straight away with the first scan a female Goshawk was seen displaying. Later on after a bit of a walk to try other viewpoints a male Goshawk was also seen well. Other raptors seen were two Red Kites, Sparrowhawk, Buzzards and a Kestrel.

Lots of other birds about and most were singing away and taking advantage of the fine weather. A male Crossbill was certainly the highlight of these. Five Bramblings and many Siskins were also found in the same area.

Afterwards I walked a superb looking valley hoping for a burst of song from either a Willow Tit or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Sadly neither of these but a Woodcock was flushed, and a nice group of Roe Deer were found.

male Goshawk

Perfect conditions for Goshawks

No Willow Tits here