Friday, 29 August 2014

Birding til dark

Fewer waders on the patch tonight - 7 Curlew, but only 1 Green Sand, and nothing else apart from Lapwing. The best of the wildfowl were 3 Wigeon, whilst juv Common Tern and a Yellow Wag flew through.

I got myself to the new gull roost on Ferry Lane Lake with a bit more time tonight, although it was depressing that not long after 8 it was really already getting too dark. Aside from c.150 Lesser Black-backs again, there were two Herring Gulls (not Yellow-legs), maybe 1000+ BHGs, and a handful of Common Gulls. I left at 8.25pm (really too dark to do anything with the gulls...), with a Little Owl yelping off to the west. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Waders yesterday

On the patch yesterday: 1 Ruff, 1 juv islandica Black-wit, 2 Dunlin, 1 Ringed Plover, 5 Curlew, 3 Green Sands and 1 Common Sand - all on Mons Pool. Also c.150 Lesser Black-backs roosting on Ferry Lane Lake, plus one large lighter-mantled adult gull which came in late; probably a Yellow-leg, but in the half-light I couldn't rule out Caspian... of which several had been reported earlier from Spalford Pit at Girton.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Madeira part 2 - the land

After the excitement of the sea, my land-based birding in Madeira was a bit more sedate. Having seen all the island and regional endemics previously, I didn't feel the need chase around after anything, but did see all of the island and Macaronesian endemics available; Madeiran Firecrest in Monte Tropical Gardens in Funchal and at Rabacal; three Trocaz Pigeons at Rabaçal; and Canaries and Plain Swifts pretty much everywhere. Berthelot's Pipit was a little trickier, with 3 on Deserta Grande and several on Ponta de Sao Lourenço. The well marked race of Chaffinch was also fairly widespread.

Berthelot's Pipit
Berthelot's Pipit

I made no effort to see anything else, and didn't even visit Lugar de Baixo, which is something of a rarity magnet. Therefore, everything else was seen incidentally as a result of non-birding activities - and the only migrants were several Turnstones along the coast around Funchal, and a Grey Heron off Ponta de Sao Lourenço. 

Aside from birds, the butterflies were good, albeit limited in number; I never got tired of seeing a huge Monarch float past! Madeira Graylings proved easy to see (e.g. Monte Tropical Gardens, Rabaçal and Curral das Freiras), but Madeiran Speckled Woods were harder work in the laurel forest. Other species included one brief Madeiran Brimstone, (Madeiran) Small Copper, Long-tailed Blue and Lang's Short-tailed Blue.  

Long-tailed Blue
Madeiran Grayling

Madeiran Wall Lizards also proved easy to see, and must be incredibly abundant, basking n walls and feeding up in the canopy of bushes and shrubs - and also mugging tourists for their lunch! 

A moulting Madeiran Wall Lizard
Madeiran Wall Lizards - fond of cheese...

Whilst on a levada walk at Rabaçal, I came across one almost gone over orchid, which I'm assuming must be the island-endemic Dactylorhiza foliosa. I'm afraid I didn't look at any of the other plants...

Dactylorhiza foliosa

Monday, 25 August 2014

Madeira part 1 - the sea

We have just come back from a 10 day, 'non-birding' holiday to Madeira. Having been there in 2007, I had seen all the regional endemics before, but the timing of my last trip had not been good for seabirds. So this trip had a couple of strategic boat trips (plus an apartment with a sea view), with the aim of picking up at least three lifers...

The apartment sea view paid dividends in the first few minutes, with my first ever Bulwer's Petrel; this species was seen in variable numbers over our stay, with up to 50 in one seawatching session, but they were always hugely outnumbered by Cory's Shearwaters - one evening I estimated there were several thousand on view, although other times there were very few. A couple of Bryde's Whales and dolphin sp. were added bonuses, which could be readily located by groups of feeding Cory's, and a Great Skua was my only one of the week.

The view from our apartment

However, the real seabird business came across three organised trips:

1. Madeira Wind Birds - Birds, whales and dolphins trip

We had one afternoon session out with Wind Birds in their RIB. This was a great experience, and were had barely left Machico before our first Fea's-type Petrel dashed past, followed soon after by another. The third was closer, arcing over the boat and allowing a half-decent shot of it, showing an almost all-dark underwing and a chunky bill - without doubt a Desertas (Fea's) Petrel. Awesome!

A distant Pterodroma...
That's more like it - Desertas (Fea's) Petrel!

As well as lots of Cory's (some very close), a single Great Shearwater lingered for a while, and quite a few Bulwer's Petrel zipped past, proving to be very tricky to photograph well. Non-avian highlights were a young Leatherback Turtle, a pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, and a brief Bryde's Whale. All very good. 

Great Shearwater
The same Great Shear
Bulwer's Petrel - about the best photo I could manage...
Young Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Submerged Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, with spots
A dinner-plate sized young Leatherback Turtle

2. Madeira Wind Birds - Zino's Petrel night expedition

As I couldn't justify spending over 500 Euros on Wind Birds' Zino's Petrel pelagic, the next best thing was to visit their breeding site on Pico do Areeiro. The experience of sitting on a high mountain peak, with an incredible starry sky above and the eery bleating of Zino's Petrels nearby is one I wont forget for quite a while. The flutter of wings just metres above our heads was tantalising, and after a while we had two silhouette views of a Zino's Petrel as they flew over the ridge we were sat on. Not great for assessing their size, underwing pattern or bill structure, but tickable in my book!

3. Cruise to the Desertas Islands on the Bonita da Madeira

Organised through Wind Birds, this was a whole day trip. Although not nearly as good as the RIB excursion for seabirds, I never-the-less notched up 8 Pterodroma petrels, presumable all Desertas (Fea's), but none were exactly seen closely. Bulwer's Petrels proved to be frequent, as were the ubiquitous Cory's Shearwaters; no surprises on the bird front though.

Bonita da Madeira, moored at Deserta Grande
Bugio, the only location in the world where Desertas Petrel breeds
Cory's Shearwater
Cory's Shearwater
Cory's Shearwater
Cory's Shearwaters

Actually, the best part of this trip was seeing a Monk Seal when we set anchor at Deserta Grande; although c.40 individuals are present in the Desertas, their breeding site is at the southern end of Deserta Grande and they are not frequently seen on day trips; one of our companions on the trip had been across 7 times and had never seen one. Not only one of Europe's rarest mammals, but the rarest seal in the world. The cruise back produced more Spotted Dolphins and a couple of Pilot Whales close to the boat, as well as some flying fish. 

Monk Seal
Monk Seal
Monk Seal
Pilot Whale

Back to the patch

Having been in Madeira and various other places over the last couple of weeks, today was my first patch visit in 15 days. Aware I had missed the first Great White Egret for the site in that period (oops), I was keen to see what was going on down there. 

Despite it being quite cool and damp, it was feeling pretty birdy, with lots of mud on the Silt Lagoon and at Mons Pool. As a result, there were actually a few waders around - 1 juv Ruff (the year's first for me), 1 juv islandica Black-wit, 5 Green Sands, 1 juv Greenshank, 1 juv Ringed Plover, 3 Curlew and 1 Snipe. Other bits 'n pieces included a couple of fly-over Yellow Wags and plenty of warblers in the hedges.On to Meering, and another Greenshank was on the Eon Lagoon, and a Turtle Dove was still kicking around. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014


After a wet morning in Derbyshire at Hen Harrier Day (maybe more on that in another post), I headed to Girton to do my WeBS count, then realising that like the idiot I can sometimes be, I had left my scope at home. So I went to Meering Marsh instead for a walk round, where a scope is less essential. Highlights were an actual wader, in the form of a Greenshank, plus what was presumably yesterday's female Mandarin and a Snipe. In addition, a Swift passed over heading south (seemingly all departed from Newark's skies now), and there were quite a few warblers in the scrub, with Reed, Willow, and Lesser and Common Whitethroat all in evidence. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Another duck addition

The complete lack of wader habitat at Collingham/Mons Pool is sort of being made up for by a succession of scarce ducks; after recent Scaup and Common Scoter, I added a Mandarin today to my patch yearlist. A female (or maybe an eclipse drake?), it was a bit distant (and heat hazy) hence the rubbish pics.


Around 200 Lapwing failed to conceal anything more unusual; in fact the only other wader was a single Green Sand from the viewing screens, where there were also 16 Teal, 8 Gadwall, 3 Shoveler and a Wigeon, continuing the gradual build up of winter wildfowl.

Elsewhere, an obliging Migrant Hawker was in my garden in Newark, but it appears that all the Swifts have now disappeared; the last I saw were 7 over Sherwood Avenue on Thursday, with 13 over the house on Tuesday. Always sad when these depart. 

Migrant Hawker

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Another Black-wit

Another islandica Black-wit at Mons Pool tonight, plus 2 Curlew and just 1 Green Sand; also 13 Teal.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Let's have a chat

Yesterday's patch visit was pretty uneventful; water levels on Mons were up, and there were very few waders around (one Common Sand). However, rounding the corner at the Silt Lagoon, a juvenile Cuckoo was sat in the track - I got some rubbish photos through the windscreen. It didn't seem too bothered by my presence, and flapped around after invertebrates. I'd like to think this bird was raised locally, but who knows. Onward to Meering, and after pulling some Himalayan balsam, I was pleased to find a female Gadwall with a brood of 4 half-grown young. 

Juv Cuckoo - digi-binned through my car windscreen

Today, and things were much the same; nothing much of note at Collingham/Besthorpe, more balsam pulling, and then a look at Meering. Tonight's star bird was a super little Whinchat lurking in the ruderal vegetation in the northeast corner of the Eon Lagoon.