WELCOME

Welcome to my blog. If you live in Surrey and birding is your obsession (to get out of bed at some ridiculously early time of the morning, no matter what the weather, to go and look at birds isn't normal behaviour, believe me) and you're still a bit of a novice (like me) then, hopefully, this blog is for you.



Wednesday, 13 July 2016

THE WALTHAMSTOW ROSEFINCH

It's been a case of back to the grindstone this past couple of weeks. Re-living holidays can only last so long, especially with the British summer to bring us back down to earth with a bump.

The couple of occasions I've been birding since returning from holiday, however, haven't been too bad weather-wise, and both times have produced decent birds.

I couldn't help but twitch the Common Rosefinch at Walthamstow Marshes. I took the decision to travel there by train early last Wednesday morning prior to going to work.

The journey to north London was tortuous, taking three hours. I have the misfortune of travelling to London by train a fair bit at the moment and the dispute between Southern Rail and their guards has caused no end of anger and frustration.

None more so than last Wednesday. Even at 6.30am there was chaos – cancellations, delays, trains arriving but not leaving. I really feel for those who travel at this time of the morning every day of the week. I'm just glad I usually only have to go to London three times a week at the most, and even then well after rush hour.

I ended up on the Bedford train to Blackfriars, followed by the tube to Liverpool Street and the overground to Clapton. After that it was a walk of just over a mile, along the River Lea and on to Walthamstow Marshes.

It's strange place – a decent nature reserve next to the urban sprawl of the Hackney borough. It reminded me of Beddington, the difference being I could venture out there after dark if I had to. I did for the Long-eared Owl last year.

I wouldn't do that here.

But it is well worth a visit for the wildlife during the day. Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting were all plentiful. Common Tern breed here, as do Peregrine Falcon.

It's also a popular destination for one particular Common Rosefinch. It had stuck around for a few days, which was fortunate for me, and had been seen, predictably, ten minutes before I had arrived.

It had already struck up a routine – a circuitous route that took it over the river to some feeders at the back of some flats, followed by the Crown and Anchor pub, some bushes on the marsh side of the river, followed by some trees either side of the railway line.


The Common Rosefinch enjoyed a variety of vantage points
I stood next to a favoured tree and it wasn't long before the Common Rosefinch perched high up and started to sing. It stayed for a couple of minutes, partially hidden by leaves, before heading off, calling, to another vantage point.

It was quite mobile, but was a smashing bird to see and to hear – a male in summer plumage. The first sighting was the best I would get (hence the rubbish images) but it flew around a fair bit for the next hour, including posing on an aerial on the flats.

And that was that – I had to head back into London for work.

My next birding destination was Margate on Monday. I had to take my mum to a hospital appointment in the afternoon, and on the way to her bungalow at Palm Bay I was forced to stop when I noticed ten Mediterranean Gull on the grass by the road between the Bethesda Medical Centre and Foreness Point.
Mediterranean Gull
I've begun to tot up a reasonable bird list on my visits to Margate and Cliftonville, with these gulls being a new addition. At some point I must spend a couple of mornings here during the autumn to see what turns up. It's a great spot.


A Corn Bunting in full song
Corn Bunting in flight
On my way home that evening I quickly stopped off at Foreness Point. Along with plenty of Meadow Pipit, I spotted a pair of Corn Bunting. I'd clocked one the last time I had been down, so it was good to see these birds had taken up residence here.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

THE HOLIDAY IN A NUTSHELL – MALLORCA PART 5

The week in Mallorca flashed by but will live long in the memory. A week full of wonderful moments, especially while staying at our amazing villa.

Barbecued King Prawns and chilled Mallorcan white wine – bliss
During the week I saw 10 lifers, plus one heard-only (Scops Owl). The regular visits of a group of Eleonora's Falcon during the second half of the week was amazing, as was seeing a stunning Blue Rock Thrush along the Boquer Valley, but there were two other more common bird species that regularly entertained and enchanted in equal measure.

Spotted Flycatcher were delightful company during our stay at the villa
I was entertained by Spotted Flycatcher, nearly as bold and inquisitive as Robins are in Britain (the Robins in Mallorca, by the way, are a rarity at this time of year as they tend to head north to the mainland to breed), and enchanted by the song of the Nightingale. It was a pleasure to be woken first thing in the morning by these wonderful songsters, as well as listening to them later at night.
Woodchat Shrike
Black Vulture and Red Kite circling high over the villa
Griffon Vulture
The was never a dull day. A pair of Woodchat Shrike hung around the villa most days, as did a pair of Raven high up in the rocks at the back of the villa. Black and Griffon Vultures often circled overhead, while after dark Scops Owls called to each other every night.
video
A moth - no idea what it is
Ditto
But it wasn't just the bird life that was fascinating. There were plenty of butterflies around, including one the size of a small bird. Steve Gale helped me with the id of this one – it was a Two-tailed Pasha – that flew directly past me one afternoon before flying over the trees and out of sight. There were, predictably, plenty of moths during the evening (one or two here – if someone can help with id that would be good), plus a few very confiding dragonfly (see below – no idea what they are!).

A dragonfly - no idea what this is either
Another dragonfly– a red one this time
One of the more remarkable, and unexpected, sightings happened on the last evening at around 11pm, while I was staring out at the night sky, soaking up the peace and tranquility before venturing home the following morning.


I was aware of movement to my left and then a small animal, about the size of cat, casually trotted past the terrace directly in front of my feet, about a metre away, before disappearing into the night again. A Pine Martin was completely unfazed by my presence (he was probably aware I'd had a few glasses of wine and wasn't a threat). Another first!

The view from Vall d'en Marc
MALLORCA BIRD LIST (18 June 2016-25 June 2016)
Night Heron (2 Albufera)
Cattle Egret (c30 Albufera, 3 Vall d'en Marc)
Purple Heron (3 Albufera)
Red Kite (1 Vall d'en Marc, 1 on drive back to Palma)
Booted Eagle (1 Boquer Valley, 1 Vall d'en Marc)
Griffon Vulture (1, 7, 8 Vall d'en Marc)
Black Vulture (2 Vall d'en Marc)
Kestrel (pair Vall d'en Marc)
Eleonora's Falcon (16, 8, 13 Vall d'en Marc)
Purple Swamphen (3 Albufera)
Black-winged Stilt (c10 Albufera)
Avocet (4 Albufera)
Stone-curlew (4 (heard only) Vall d'en Marc)
Little-ringed Plover (c6 Albufera)
Kentish Plover (c8 Albufera)
Yellow-legged Gull (2 Vall d'en Marc, 2 Albufera)
Common Tern (3 Albufera)
Scops Owl (c4 (heard only) Vall d'en Marc)
Common Swift (c750)
Hoopoe (1 Vall d'en Marc, 1 Albufera)
Woodchat Shrike (pair Vall d'en Marc, 1 Pollença)
Raven (6 Vall d'en Marc, incl. pair)
Crag Martin (4 Boquer Valley)
House Martin (2 Boquer Valley)
Cetti's Warbler (c4 Albufera)
Balearic Warbler (3 Boquer Valley)
Sardinian Warbler (numerous - incl. Vall d'en Marc, Boquer Valley, Albufera)
Zitting Cisticola (c6 Albufera)
Spotted Flycatcher (numerous, incl. Vall d'en Marc, Albufera)
Nightingale (c6 Vall d'en Marc)
Blue Rock Thrush (1 Boquer Valley)
Serin (c2 Lluc Sanctuary, c2 Albufera)
Crossbill (c10 Lluc Sanctuary, 2 Vall d'en Marc)
Cirl Bunting (c6 Vall d'en Marc)

Friday, 8 July 2016

S'ALBUFERA NATIONAL PARK – MALLORCA PART 4

The S'Albufera National Park, south of Port d'Alcudia is one of the finest wetland reserves in Europe, and while I didn't have a great deal of time to pay it a visit while in Mallorca I still had to go there.

What is so apparent in Mallorca, especially if you are located in the north of the island, is that nowhere is very far to get to. Back in Britain, a twitch to the coast usually takes about an hour and a half to get to from Redhill, often much longer, whereas the S'Albufera reserve was only 30 minutes away from the villa.

In fact, the walk down the footpath into the reserve proper probably took as long as the drive there.

Typically, as with many reserves in Britain, it doesn't officially open until 9am – long after the best time of the day to go birding. We also had the misfortune to bump into a couple of wardens as we ventured down the path to the reserve centre at 8.30am.

They insisted we couldn't enter the reserve for half an hour, even though the gate wasn't locked and the walk to the centre itself is about a mile and would be open by the time we got there. Also a couple of joggers came past from their direction and nothing was said about them!

Anyway, we hung around for a while until they had gone and continued on our walk. The reserve entrance and path runs alongside a canal with plenty of reeds and decent habitat. We missed a Little Bittern that flew down stream, seen by a Swedish birder we had earlier bumped into, but it was still full of activity.

Night Heron
There were plenty of Spotted Flycatcher around the entrance and Cetti's Warbler, and as we walked down the path a Hoopoe flew over. It wasn't long until we noticed a Night Heron perched in the bushes on the bank opposite. Further along the path we came across a roost of Egrets in the trees, at least 30 Cattle Egret, with a few Little Egret and another Night Heron.

Roost of Cattle Egret and Little Egret
Once at the centre (which was still closed after 9am) I ventured to some of the hides in the immediate vicinity, the first being the closest hide to the south.

There were plenty of Black-winged Stilt on the reserve
 The wetland habitat had dried up quite a bit but there was still plenty to see. There were numerous Black-winged Stilt, some with young, likewise Kentish Plover and Little Ringed Plover. Two Purple Heron flew over the scrap, landing in the distant reeds, while directly in front of the hide one of two Purple Swamphen showed exceptionally well.

A Purple Swamphen came up close to the hide
A walk over the footbridge to the north featured another Purple Swamphen, plenty of Coot (but none of the Red-knobbed variety), and two more Black-winged Stilt flew overhead.

Little Ringed Plover

Black-winged Stilt with Kentish Plover

At the first hide on the north side of the canal, another Purple Heron flew over, plus more Black-winged Stilt featured, as well as Avocet and Common Tern.


Purple Heron
Cetti's Warbler
Reluctantly, I had to leave well before I wanted to. The reserve is huge and so full of decent birds, it would day an entire day to get the most out of it.

A Common Tern at the S'Albufera nature reserve
Not to worry, it had been a great morning, which concluded with four Zitting Cisticola calling and flying around the footpath on the walk back to the car. The reserve is a must for any birder visiting the island. I think a trip there during migration will be on my agenda at some point in the future.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

ELEONORA'S FALCON SPECTACLE – MALLORCA PART 3

Birding is one of those interests where one should never expect certainties. Before Annie and I went to Mallorca, I wrote down a list of birds I hoped to see. It was a pretty long list – many were more wistful thinking than others – and I had at least 15 birds I'd never seen before on it.

After three and a half days I'd already totted up six of these, but the one glaring omission was Eleonora's Falcon.

Having walked the Boquer Valley on the Tuesday morning without spotting one and deciding not to drive to Cap de Formentor, I was beginning to wonder where one would eventually appear, if at all.

We took a well-earned afternoon off and lazed on the terrace of our fabulous Vall d'en Marc villa in the Marc valley, about five miles west of Pollença.

It was such a great place for seeing birds, with more sightings of Griffon Vulture, Woodchat Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher, Sardinian Warbler and Cirl Bunting.

As the sun dropped lower, the Nightingale began to sing once again in earnest. We had plenty of wine in the fridge to increase our mood for relaxation and I got going with cooking a light evening meal – Spanish Omelette.

It was 7.30pm, the sun had disappeared behind the rocks at the back of the villa but was shining on the mountainside opposite. The air was warm. It was an idyllic environment.

With the air still, it was noticeable that there were a few insects flying around us. As I served up our evening meal out on the terrace, I happened to look over to the east and noticed a number of birds flying around above the track towards the main road.

My luck was well and truly in.

At least ten Eleonora's Falcon were feeding above the track, just 200 metres away. My serving of omelette would have to wait.

What happen next will stay with me for a long time. The Eleonora's Falcons flew closer and closer until they were feeding almost directly above the villa and the surrounding valley. It was a magnificent sight.

An unexpected treat – Eleonora's Falcon feeding above the villa
They stayed for at least an hour. As the light faded, we were able to sit and watch these wonderful birds, 16 of them in total, quietly going about their business, floating around the valley feeding on insects as we also ate our meal and drank our wine.


It was an unexpected treat, and one that would be repeated twice more during the week. Eight Falcons returned to feed two days later and 13 again on our last evening.

Eleonora's Falcon clutching and eating an insect in flight
The Friday night spectacle was equally memorable. I hadn't seen the falcons at first while scouring the vista with my binoculars that evening, but what I saw was amazing.

I thought I was looking at a swarm of insects in the distance, but in fact it was at least a 1,000 Swift frantically feeding above the ridge of the mountains. In amongst them were the 13 Eleonora's Falcon, also gorging on a feast of invertebrates.

The flock of Eleonora's Falcon returned twice more during the week
The Eleonora's Falcon are notable for changing their eating habits during the year. Normally they will feed on insects, such as dragonflies, which they catch in their talons and eat on the wing, but during their late-summer breeding season, they change their diet and feed on other birds. What was interesting here was that the Swifts and Falcons were happily feeding alongside each other. Later in the summer the Swifts would be potential prey themselves.



We were extremely fortunate in that the villa was situated down the western end of the valley, which created a funnel-like effect and an area where insects would accumulate during the evenings – and as a result so would this group of Eleonora's Falcon.

Monday, 4 July 2016

BOQUER VALLEY – MALLORCA PART 2

If you go abroad a fair bit and you like birding you must come back to Britain, stare up at the sky and wonder, what's the point?

I've felt a bit like that since coming back from Mallorca this past ten days. We are creeping into July, with the weather still disappointing, and birding locally has become fairly predictable. OK, so there are a few rarities around the country to check out but most are too far away to really want to make the effort. A Common Rosefinch at Walthamstow Marshes would be a bird I would like to see, but it is situated in area of north London which is a pain to get to. I have contemplated taking the train, but, in all honesty, I can't muster much enthusiasm.

My apathy is mainly due to recently having witnessed some amazing birding spectacles in Mallorca, so it will take something unprecedented back home to get me motivated.

I know I will get back into the groove come the autumn, probably after yet another poor summer, but by then I have the intention on heading off somewhere else for a week in the sunshine again before the gloom of winter is back upon us.

As I wrote in the previous post, I had four target birds to see in Mallorca, and by the third day I had seen the first of these, a Black Vulture.

The number one target, however, was Eleonora's Falcon. These raptors are the jewel of Mallorca, and a species any birder visiting the island will be hoping to see. They are incredibly rare visitors to Britain, but there are several hundred pairs breeding on the Mallorcan coast, including along the cliffs of the Cap de Formentor.

We decided not to travel up to the winding road towards the lighthouse, as it would have meant spending half the day away from our precious villa, a place Annie and I were becoming quite attached to and reluctant to leave for too long. Our time on the island was supposed to be for a holiday, first and foremost, and making an effort wasn't high on the agenda.

The Boquer Valley
However, I was keen to walk along the famous Boquer Valley, not far from Port de Pollença, one morning. The valley is a must for birdwatchers, particularly during migration in spring and autumn, and a place where one may see Eleonora's Falcon, as well as my two other target birds, Blue Rock Thrush and the warbler endemic to the island, the Balearic Warbler.


We left the villa very early so as not to be caught out in the fierce sun late in the morning. The problem with setting out at first light appeared to be the fact the birds didn't seem to be that active, and all was quiet with the rising sun shaded by the sheer rock face on the eastern side of the valley.

The cove at the end of the Boquer Valley
By the time we had walked along the 1.9 kilometres to the cove at the end of the valley we hadn't seen much apart from plentiful Sardinian Warbler and a few House Martin.

There is always the nagging worry you look forward to a morning at a popular birding site and end up seeing very little! I needn't have worried, though. As the morning warmed up so did the birding.

Balearic Warbler (just right of centre)
The area of the valley just before the terrain drops down towards the sea to the cove is apparently a prime sport for Balearic Warbler. And it wasn't long before I heard one singing in the distance. I caught a brief glimpse of it as it flew around the scrub, and then a second one began to sing, slightly further away.

This one was less mobile, and eventually I locked on to my first Balearic Warbler through the scope, singing high up on a bush. It stayed put for a couple of minutes before darting off to other areas further up the valley.

A stroke of luck, then!

Things began to pick up on the walk back. A couple of Crag Martin flew by, another first for me and then another treat as we approached a stone wall that cuts across the path.

Crag Martin
Decent bird sightings are often about luck, being in the right place at the right time and I was just about to have a fantastic stroke of it.

I saw a dark bird fly low across the wall before landing on it directly in front of us. A look through the scope confirmed my hopes – a stunning Blue Rock Thrush that had recently collected food.
Blue Rock Thrush
Walking back another excellent sighting – a Booted Eagle flew down the valley heading south.

Booted Eagle
Looking across towards Port de Pollença before we arrived back at the car, I noticed two more Crag Martin were feeding above the fields.

It had been a good morning. No Eleonora's Falcon, alas, but I wouldn't have to wait too long before the highlight of the week.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

BACK TO BIRDING – MALLORCA PART 1

What a wonderful week. It's been a couple of weeks since Annie and I went to Mallorca for a holiday. We hired a magnificent villa with a pool about five miles west of Pollença on the edge of the Serra de Tramuntana, the mountain range that stretches down the north-western edge of the island.

Our gaffe for the week - not bad...
The view was stunning – and ideal for raptor watching
We were able to get a fantastic deal through James Villas, and the Vall d'en Marc villa surpassed our expectations. It was huge, with four bedrooms – all en suite. It had a balcony where you could sit and have breakfast immediately outside two of the bedrooms, and a large terrace area in front of the spacious living area downstairs which was perfect for relaxing in the shade and just staring at the magnificent view in front of you.

We couldn't believe our luck. 

What we also couldn't believe was the weather when we first arrived. It had been threatening to rain after we ate a hearty late lunch in Port de Pollença. 

Then about an hour after we unpacked our suitcases and had walked around admiring our new home, a thunderstorm passed over which dumped rain of biblical proportions for about 20 minutes. You couldn't see the mountains ahead of you it was so heavy. 

I had already been looking out for birds before the storm. Around the perimeter fence a couple of Spotted Flycatcher darted around, perching on the fence, as did a Cirl Bunting. A Raven cronked overhead. 
Spotted Flycatcher
As the week went on, these birds would become a regular feature, as would the sound of Nightingale singing in the trees. Listening to their song first thing in the morning, and later while we ate various barbecued fish and king prawns and drank lovely bottles of Mallorcan white wine during warm evenings out on the terrace, will stay with me for a long time.

Once the storm had rumbled by we were able to settle down with a glass of wine after a long day travelling and look out at the mountains. A pair of Cattle Egret flew past, and as the light dimmed a couple of Stone-curlew called out down in the valley somewhere. 

As it got darker the first of many calls from at least three Scops Owl echoed around the valley. 

A good start.

Sunday was a day for relaxing around the villa and an opportunity to look round my new local patch, which extended back down the track for about 400 yards towards the main road.

Male Cirl Bunting
Female Cirl Bunting
First thing in the morning, as the Nightingale sang, along with Cirl Bunting and the added chatter of Sardinian Warbler, I noticed another bird perched up on the wires at the end of the villa. It was a Woodchat Shrike, one of two local birds I would see often during our stay. Later, I fleetingly caught sight of a Hoopoe that I flushed out of a tree.  

One of a pair of Woodchat Shrike – a regular sighting
throughout the week
Added to the list were a Griffon Vulture and a Booted Eagle, along with three Raven, a pair of vocal Kestrel, a Yellow-legged Gull, and another Scops Owl calling during the evening.

On Monday we headed up the mountains for lunch near the Lluc Monastery, where we ate snails followed by kid goat. Sounded great, but both were too salty for our taste. Never mind, it was a lovely setting, and we were accompanied by a number of Crossbill flying around the pine trees, and a few hidden Serin.

I had a wish list prior to our visit, with four species in particular at the top of it: Eleonora's Falcon, Black Vulture, Blue Rock Thrush and Balearic Warbler.

Disappointingly, we didn't see one raptor while we were up in the mountains, but I made up for it once we were back at base.

Two Woodchat Shrike – be lucky to see one in Britain!
Another walk around the patch resulted in the pair of Woodchat Shrike in the trees, and then I spotted a huge vulture circling high up.

A Black Vulture circling high above the villa
It took a bit of study, but its shape, and the fact its wings hung lower than a Griffon Vulture as it circled, plus its very dark appearance against the sky and greyish-white legs made it a nailed-on Black Vulture.

I was delighted with that, but the best day of the holiday was yet to come.