Hooded Grebes - Patagonia - November 2016

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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Lower Cuckmere Caspos 7th & 11th December

Two visits in five days in grim conditions but seemingly productive conditions produced a total of five Caspian Gulls (three on the 7th and two on the 11th) and two Yellow-legged Gulls. As per usual my phone-scoping photography isn't ideal. Dungeness are getting decent numbers currently so no doubt more will turn up the in the coming weeks.

The 7th December produced a second-winter and third-winter that are shown below, and an adult.

a very smart third-winter Caspian Gull taken in the pooring rain

second-winter Caspian Gull taken in the same conditions.
This was the only photo I managed of this very long-winged individual. 

The 11th produced two third-winters as pictured below, at times standing next to each other.

a lovely pose but quality is poor, yet looking lovely through the scope.
This bird was extremely long-legged and had some obvious streaking on the nape.

both birds together, sort of......the bird on the right pictured above and below.

a lucky shot showing the black in the receding tail band, large white mirror on P10,
solid black subterminal band on P5, long grey tongues reaching into the black primaries
but not as much as the adults. 
(two third-winter Caspian Gulls)

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Fuerteventura - 8th & 9th December 2017

With constant positive news and some lovely photos coming out of the Dwarf Bittern on Fuerteventura, my interest in seeing this bird was becoming more and more intense. I am in no means a Western Palearctic lister, nor do I keep a list of this region, however having been to Africa five times and still yet to get even a sniff of a Dwarf Bittern, I felt it was a good decision in trying to see this bird. With staff travel flights at £37 return I needed no more pushing, and Friday morning I set off to LGW for an early on time departure bound for the Canaries.

I felt I only needed one night having been here back in 2014 and finding everything I needed to, but it turns out I only needed the one night regardless if I had visited before or not.

Dwarf Bittern on Fuerteventura - 5th record for the Western Palearctic region
Upon landing I quickly got my hire car and it was only a 15 minute drive to the Barranco de Rio Cabras, and after a bit of confusion I found some parked cars seemingly abandoned in the middle of the desert like landscape. Once on site, I was pleased to see Gordon Beck further up the Barranco, and also to then realise I was standing next to the WP's highest lister, Ernie Davies. Initially there was no sign of the Bittern, but with such pristine looking habitat I was sure a dip wasn't imminent. Some good birds including Egyptian Vultures, Trumpeter Finches, Hoopoes, White Storks, Fuerteventura Stonechats & Fuerteventura Blue Tits kept the spirits high.

Egyptian Vulture

White Stork
the 'car park' in the distance

After a short time I located the Dwarf Bittern by accidentally flushing it from a small pool, and the five of us after initially only getting flight views, found the bird by a dam where it remained for a good few hours, at times showing very nicely as it hunted along the Barranco. Not only this, a Barbary Falcon flying over was an added bonus, as was the fantastic supporting cast of islands goodies.

initial tantalising views of the Dwarf Bittern

Dwarf Bittern

Berthelot's Pipit - a common sight around The Canaries

Barranco de Rio Cabras
With fantastic views and with the bird moving down the channel I decided to leave, and now it being late afternoon I thought this would be the best time to see a Houbara Bustard, and so I set off to a site I saw some a few years just north of Antigua at km 18. Despite the windy conditions, driving around this small site eventually yielded a single Bustard. Again really nice views.

Houbara Bustard
With time now getting on I set off for the hotel just south of the airport where I may have drank a bit too much, and this resulted in a slightly later start then originally planned the next day, however this still meant I was the only birder on site back at the Dwarf Bittern. With no disturbance in the Barranco today, some good birds were seen with two each of Spoonbill and White Stork, Spectacled Warblers, Ruddy Shelducks, more Fuerteventura Stonechats and Blue Tits, Trumpeter Finches and plenty of Berthelot's Pipits. It took me about an hour to locate the Bittern, this time it flew in from further down channel and landed nearby to me where it showed very well for a few minutes before flying further up the Barranco. I wasn't too fussed about going in search again so I left the site, but soon came to an abrupt halt as in front of me a Cream Coloured Courser ran across the road, and instead of running off to the distance, it just stayed put allowing such a close approach. 

Trumpeter Finches

male Fuerteventura Stonechat

Dwarf Bittern - just beats the Courser below

Cream Coloured Courser - couldn't have asked for better views
I was very satisfied with the mornings birding here and therefore I wanted to try and complete the 'Fuerteventura collection', and so headed to Los Molinos for Black-bellied Sandgrouse where eventually two were spotted flying around, only being picked up by their calls as I was trying to dose off in the car. Also in the goat pens here was a small flock of Lesser Short-toed Larks and more Trumpeter Finches.

Lesser Short-toed Lark
With the Sandgrouse in the bag I wanted to visit the valley a few km south of Betancuria at Vega de Rio Palmas which can be a good site for wintering migrants. What I wasn't expecting were two new Dragonfly species, these being Scarlet Darter and The Epaulet Skimmer. Birds were plentiful here with Ring Ouzels being very conspicuous, my only Sardinian Warblers of the trip and a complete surprise in the form of a Laughing Dove. I could have stayed in this dry riverbed all afternoon but sadly I had to get to the airport for my flight home. A staggeringly good trip cleaning up on all targets.

The Epaulet Skimmer

Scarlet Darter

My personal highlights from the two days:

Dwarf Bittern - 1 adult
Fuerteventura Blue Tit - common at Barranco de Rio Cabras & Vega de Rio Palmas
Fuerteventura Stonechat - common at Barranco de Rio Cabras
Trumpeter Finch - common 
Egyptian Vulture - at least 6 birds around Barranco de Rio Cabras
Berthelot's Pipit - common
Cream Coloured Courser - 2 seen on flat land above Barranco de Rio Cabras
Houbara Bustard - single bird west of FV-20 at km 18 north of Antigua
Ruddy Shelduck - most inland water sources held this species
Barbary Falcon - single bird at Barranco de Rio Cabras
Spoonbill - 2 flying east at Barranco de Rio Cabras
Lesser Short-toed Lark - flock of 9 at Los Molinos
White Stork - pair at Barranco de Rio Cabras
Black-bellied Sandgrouse - pair at Los Molinos
Sardinian Warbler - common at Vega de Rio Palmas
Ring Ouzel - common at Vega de Rio Palmas
Laughing Dove - single bird at Vega de Rio Palmas
Spectacled Warbler - common
Southern Grey Shrike - common

Barbary Ground Squirrel 
Scarlet Darter
The Epaulet Skimmer

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Recent Stuff

Couldn't resist another look at the Black Guillemot on the 30th November. No
sign of the Glaucous Gull although it was seen briefly on the 1st Dec.

Great Northern Diver showing much better in Newhaven Harbour on 2nd Dec.

A very obliging Turnstone at Newhaven Harbour. Very few Gulls knocking
about at low tide once again, in what is now a prime time to see a Caspian Gulls.
Today, after my parkrun, I walked over Rodmell Brooks but found very few birds, with the meagre highlights being a showy Cetti's Warbler and several Snipe. I also turned a sheep the correct way up as it had decided to take a lay down a bit too far. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne 29/11/17

With work this morning I only managed to get to the harbour for midday. Despite searching for a while I eventually found the Black Guillemot, and a superb county tick it was to, and a welcome relief after dipping the Worthing bird by a few minutes back in 2015. Whilst searching for today's bird I glanced out at sea with my bins and a long way out sat a white-winged Gull that was obviously a Glaucous Gull and thankfully it followed a boat into the harbour and landed on the flats nearby. My camera decided to die after three shots and the bird soon flew off out to sea not to be seen again. The Black Guillemot continued to show nicely for another hour. 
Afterwards at Newhaven Harbour the Great Northern Diver was still present. 

On Sunday after work I went to Staines Reservoir for the Horned Lark, maybe a potential IOC split one day.

one of my three photos taken with my proper camera before the battery gave up.

Glaucous Gull at Sovereign Harbour - initially distant out at sea it was good to 
capture it (1st image) flying around the harbour before going out to sea again.
Above shot phone-scoped but shows the bill colour well.

Black Guillemot at Sovereign Harbour - a great find by Richard Bown and
many thanks to JFC for letting me know straight away. A very welcome
county tick of this rare south coast bird.

Great Northern Diver in Newhaven Harbour - not its best angle showing more
of a banana bill shape then anything else.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Seaford Head & Lower Cuckmere 23/11/17

With very few Gulls assembled in Newhaven Harbour this morning I moved over the Harry's Bush, Seaford Head where I scanned the few Gulls that were there (not the hoped for 5000 Great Black-backed Gulls that roosted at Dunge last night) and to my delight a first-winter Caspian Gull was present, but not for long as it flew off five minutes after finding it. It had a yellow colour ring on its right leg so I presume its of a German origin. A couple of argentatus Herring Gulls were also present and a North Thames Great Black-backed Gull was also seen, but too distant for any detail.

Afterwards I quickly checked Harry's Bush and to my surprise there was a very showy Continental Coal Tit in the Tit flock there.

first-winter Caspian Gull in the Lower Cuckmere bearing a German ring 
(not that you can see it on these images). Hopefully the first of many this winter.

Continental Coal Tit in Harry's Bush

Friday, 17 November 2017

Andalusia, Spain  14th Nov - 17th Nov 2017

Another independent Eade tour devoted to finding 4-5 targets in southern Spain. Planning was very easy with regular up to date sightings on eBird for my main targets, and with staff travel flights (return to Seville) and cheap hotels for two out of three nights (slept in car the first night) it worked out costing around £160 for the trip. Key birding sites were navigated too using the app maps.me which is very accurate but a bit misleading when it comes to motorway exits, but enough guessing gets you there. Even better it can run on airplane mode meaning no data is being used on the phone.
Landing early afternoon I quickly picked up my Budget hire car and drove north for 50 minutes to Rio Viar seeing the following highlights:

Hen Harrier - 1 ringtail
Azure-winged Magpie - 75
Hawfinch - 10
Spanish Sparrow - 50
Common Waxbill - 30
Black Vulture - 2

Crag Martin at Rio Viar
despite seeing hundreds of Azure-winged Magpies,
this was the only photo I managed

bridge at Rio Viar
I then headed further north to Guadalcanal where I based myself that night. Birding the cultivations north of here produced a good abundance of farmland birds. The following was seen:
Chough - 2
Iberian Grey Shrike - 2
Iberian Green Woodpecker - 2
Crested Lark - 50
Azure-winged Magpie - 50
Dartford Warbler - 3

Black Vulture near Guadalcanal

sunset at Guadalcanal

As light faded I grabbed some cheap food and found a suitable lay by, that was until I got woken up by the police knocking on my window at midnight. All was good and despite it being 5 degrees outside I had a reasonable nights kip.
Dawn broke at 7.45am and I again birded the same area as last night seeing plenty of migrants overhead including some surprise Bramblings. My main reason for being here was to see Spanish Imperial Eagle, seemingly a good wintering area. No doubt I had to wait for it to warm up so I drove up to a Mirador surrounded by olive groves which turned out to be a alive with birds. Over the next couple of hours the following was seen:

Firecrest - 2
Rock Bunting - 1
Crested Tit - 3
Short-toed Treecreeper - 1
Ring Ouzel - 3
Woodlark - 4
Griffon Vulture - ca. 150
Black Vulture - 5

Thekla Lark near Guadalcanal - admittedly this was a retrospective id.
When scrolling through these I noticed the dense spotting on the breast
and therefore I considered Thekla rather then a Crested Lark. The
short bill with a slight up-curving to the lower mandible, short clean white
supercilium, obvious white eye-ring, virtually no primary projection and
short crest are all in favour for Thekla, but by no means straightforward.

Rock Bunting at Guadalcanal Mirador

Sardinian Warbler at Guadalcanal

Black Vulture over Guadalcanal

Sunrise at Guadalcanal

view from Guadalcanal Mirador

With no Eagle and wanting to carry on I headed SE for two hours (Black-shouldered Kite being the highlight) where I ended up in the middle of nowhere near to Lantejuela birding various cultivated fields and a small birding park, the former supposedly supporting a very large flock of Calandra Lark, but despite much driving around I couldn't find any, but plenty of farmland birds however. Walking through one of the fields produced lots of Crimson Speckled Moths and a couple of Red-veined Darters. The park held some waterfowl but nothing special up until dark where I then drove further south to Olvera for my attack at the mountains the next day. Highlights for the afternoon/evening were:

Stone Curlew - 7
Black-winged Stilt - 4
Greater Flamingo - 4

one of many Crimson Speckled Moths near Lantejuela

Black-shouldered Kite

Stone Curlew near Lantejuela

my first hotel after sleeping in the car last night.

Due to the very cool temperatures in the early hours I didn't leave my hotel until it got light, and with a 45 min drive to the pass above Grazalema, this gave the area time to warm up. The area around Grazalema was very good and I finally clocked my first target, a Black Wheatear, whilst plenty of other bits were on offer:

Blue Rock Thrush - 2
Rock Bunting - 1
Woodlark - 4
Firecrest - 2
Crested Tit - 2
Redwing - 1

a welcome trip lifer - Black Wheatear at Grazalema Pass

Grazalema Pass - the Wheatear slope above the treeline

looking west from the pass

I then had a 2 hour drive to the SE section of the Donana National Park which turned out to be a bit of a dive, but I made the most of it and soon found my second target, a group of White-headed Ducks. Really pleased with this I carried on searching more pools around the area and found some more, plus the following:

Red-crested Pochard - 2
Western Swamphen - 1
Booted Eagle - 3
Avocet - 1
Black-necked Grebe - 1
Night Heron - 6

White-headed Ducks being another welcome lifer

Griffon Vultures over Donana NP

the grim pool that held the trio of White-headed Ducks

With now time to spare, I plucked on heading around the other side of the park (frustratingly having to go via Seville as no other route option) where I came across around 150 White Storks catching the thermals which saw me driving at 130kph whilst looking up at the Storks through my binoculars. I eventually made it to El Rocio and birded the main lagoon there until dark. I revised eBird and through this found the line of trees a certain Eagle roosts at, and there it was, a superb adult Spanish Imperial Eagle. Despite being distant, a very nice view of this beast and another welcome tick for the day. The lagoon also played host to thousands of Greylag Geese coming into roost that created a lovely sight. Totals for El Rocio are as follows:

Greylag Geese - 15000
Marsh Harrier - 2
Zitting Cisticola - 5
Common Waxbill - 30
Azure-winged Magpie - 40
Black-winged Stilt - 20
Black-tailed Godwit - 50

Spanish Imperial Eagle at Donana NP......obviously

Greylag Geese coming into their roost
I stayed the night in El Rocio and woke up early to scan the small reedbed on the north side of the main body of water. The Eagle was still in the same tree and I got some lovely views of a male Bluethroat. A few other bits about but time ran out and I was soon driving to Seville Airport where maps.me App took me through the centre of Seville that was thankfully quiet, but very scenic.
Totals for the morning are:

Cetti's Warbler - 5
Bluethroat - 2
Spanish Imperial Eagle - 1
Golden Plover - 20
........plus lots of common waterfowl.

Cattle Egrets leaving their roost at El Rocio

Spotless Starlings at El Rocio

sunrise at El Rocio

The trip ended on 100 species of bird including three lifers as listed below.

Little Grebe - singles seen on most water bodies
Black-necked Grebe - single bird on Lagunas de Martin Miguel, S.d.Barrameda
Cormorant - small groups around water bodies
Greylag Goose - thousands at El Rocio, Donana NP
Gadwall - small numbers at El Rocio, Donana NP
Teal - common in Donana NP
Mallard - seen on most water bodies
Pintail - small numbers at El Rocio
Shoveler - seen on most water bodies
Wigeon - small numbers at El Rocio, Donana NP
WHITE-HEADED DUCK - 3 on pool along Camino Collarado, Sanlucar de Barrameda and 12 on Laguna del Tarelo, Donana NP.
Pochard - 1fem on pool along Camino Collarado, S.d. Barrameda
Red-crested Pochard - 2 fem on pool along Camino Collarado, S.d.Barrameda
Greater Flamingo - 6 (4 juvs) at La Laguna, Lantejuela
Grey Heron - small numbers on most water bodies
Cattle Egret - small flocks regular in southern areas.
Night Heron - 6 at Laguna del Turelo, Donana NP.
White Stork - ca. 150 thermalling above Jerez
Moorhen - common around water bodies
Coot - common in Donana NP
Western Swamphen - single bird seen very well on pool along Camino Collarado, S.d.Barrameda
Griffon Vulture - commonest raptor
Black Vulture - only small numbers around Guadalcanal
Red Kite - common throughout
Common Buzzard - widespread but rarely encountered
Hen Harrier - 1 ringtail on route to Rio Viar
Marsh Harrier - a couple at El Rocio
Sparrowhawk - 1 at Guadalcanal Mirador
Black-shouldered Kite - only in the southern parts often at roadsides
Booted Eagle - only a couple seen at Sanlucar de Barrande
Red-legged Partridge - common around cultivated areas
Golden Plover - small group at Donana NP
Stone Curlew - a party of 6 near Lantejuela
Lapwing - common in cultivated areas
Common Snipe - single figures at El Rocio
Black-winged Stilt - a couple at Lantejuela and many at El Rocio
Avocet - only one seen at Lagunas de Martin Miguel, S.d.Barramede
Black-tailed Godwit - ca. 50 at El Rocio
Common Sandpiper - 2 at Laguna del Tarelo, Donana NP
Green Sandpiper - a couple in Donana NP
Yellow-legged Gull - only small numbers in Donana NP
Black-headed Gull - very few in most areas visited
Woodpigeon - common
Feral Pigeon - common
Collared Dove - common
Great Spotted Woodpecker - a couple at Grazalema and one in Donana NP
Iberian Green Woodpecker - 2 north of Guadalcanal
Crested Lark - common throughout
Thekla Lark - 1 retrospectively identified just north of Guadalcanal
Skylark - small numbers at various places
Woodlark - only at higher elevations at Guadalcanal and Grazalema
Crag Martin - common at high elevations plus at Rio Viar bridge
House Martin - 1 at El Rocio
Meadow Pipit - common in most areas
White Wagtail - very common
BLACK WHEATEAR - 3 at Grazalema Pass
Stonechat - small numbers in most areas
Black Redstart - common
Song Thrush - common at all higher elevations
Mistle Thrush - single figures north of Guadalcanal
Redwing - 1 at Grazalema Pass
Ring Ouzel - 3 at Guadalcanal Mirador
Blackbird - rarely seen at higher elevations in most places
Blue Rock Thrush - a pair seen at Grazalema
Robin - common at higher elevations
Bluethroat - 2 (incl 1 male) in reedbed at El Rocio
Zitting Cisticola - common in lowlands
Cetti's Warbler - common at El Rocio
Sardinian Warbler - everywhere
Dartford Warbler - north of Guadalcanal and Grazalema Pass
Blackcap - seen frequently in olive groves, mainly at higher elevations
Chiffchaff - common around Donana NP
Firecrest - small numbers at higher elevations in pine trees
Crested Tit - a couple at Guadalcanal Mirador in olive groves and Grazalema Pass
Great Tit - small numbers at Guadalcanal
Blue Tit - small numbers at Guadalcanal
Long-tailed Tit - one flock encountered at Rio Viar
Short-toed Treecreeper - 1 at Guadalcanal Mirador
Azure-winged Magpie - surprisingly common except in higher elevations
Magpie - in most areas
Chough - a pair seen north of Guadalcanal
Raven - a few pairs around Guadalcanal
Jay - a pair seen at Grazalema Pass
Iberian Grey Shrike - a couple north of Guadalcanal and 1 at Donana NP
Spotless Starling - those looked at were all this species and were very common
House Sparrow - common
Spanish Sparrow - only two large flocks encountered, one at Rio Viar and one at Lantejuela
Siskin - a few encounters mainly at higher elevations
Serin - common
Goldfinch - common
Greenfinch - only seen at Rio Viar
Hawfinch - good numbers approaching Rio Viar
Chaffinch - common
Brambling - 3 over Guadalcanal
Linnet - common
Common Waxbill - surprisingly common around water bodies
Rock Bunting - 1 at Guadalcanal Mirador, 1 at Grazalema Pass
Corn Bunting - very common in cultivated areas