Thursday, 20 July 2017

Belfast WOW

Back at WOW after three weeks to find dropping water levels and even more gull and tern chicks. Again we had over 30 species including common sandpiper and little egret. The Mediterranean gulls have moved off the island and can turn up anywhere on the reserve. At one point we saw three but a passing black back put everything up and we lost them. This happened several times, mainly with lesser black-backs but also with hooded crows and buzzard. The hoodies work in pairs, one comes in and everything lifts up to give chase, meanwhile the second one flies in behind looking for a snack in the now unguarded nests. Fortunately they have not been overly successful as the vegetation is now about two feet high and the chicks are well hidden. The estimate is at least 250 tern nests on the reserve.
Med gull
Common sandpiper

2017
199: Black-necked grebe
 
Bangor West
66: Raven
  
Belfast WOW
89: Little egret

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A two owl day

 
The grand tour of Scotland and England was mainly a family trip but I managed to squeeze in a couple of half days in the field. The ferry across produced a lot of Manx shearwater, gannet and guillemot. Scotland was as expected but produced some nice views.

Swallow

Swallow

The Kelpies

Falkirk Wheel
Druridge Bay and Widdrington
On Saturday July 8th I went looking for spoonbills at Widdrington and little owls at Druridge. Anything else was a bonus. Cresswell was too high for waders and I moved on to Druridge Pools and got whooper swan, wood sandpiper, little ringed plover and blackwits. The owl site at Druridge gave three good birds but no owls. There was however a juvenile green woodpecker sitting on a fence where the owl was supposed to be. Then I checked the field behind me and had two red-legged partridge in the wheel tracks of a large barley field.  A check on another owl site produced a bird on the wall which turned out to be a yellow wagtail. The spoonbills were a no show at Cresswell, Druridge and Widdrington, and appeared to have moved on as I also checked these sites the following evening at dusk. I also saw yellowhammer, skylark, whitethroat and sedge warbler in a list of 56 species. It is some time since I have birded this area in summer so it was a nice change to sit in the heat and have long clear nights.
Saturday also saw a quick visit to the all singing all dancing new Hauxley reserve which seems to have become goose central, they really will have to do something about the sheer numbers of greylag and Canada geese. I had a quick look round and was glad to see new feeders close to the centre, but had no time to walk the new circular route.
Sunday saw a quick trip to St Mary’s lighthouse which had a flock of 25 golden plover flying in off the sea. I then decided to try Druridge again at dusk having had advice from Bird Forum as to where I should be looking and BINGO – two little owls showing well as they say. Thanks to the two other birders who were there and helped me along even though I spooked one of the owls as they were trying to photograph it. I said I would go on to Cresswell and try for the barn owl only to be told it was flying around the fields behind me!! BINGO – a two owl day!!
Clearly I need to visit again in the summer as I added 5 birds to my NE list – little owl, wood sandpiper, green woodpecker, red-legged partridge and yellow wagtail. I have a very clear memory of going to Cresswell in 1994 to look for yellow wagtail rather than watch the World Cup final between Italy and Brazil. I didn’t miss any goals as it was a 0 – 0, but I didn’t get the wagtail either. Never mind, 23 years later it’s in the bag and on the list.
Bawtry
The plan was to look for honey buzzard at Clumber Park but they haven’t been seen there recently and appear to be no longer breeding. The park itself is wooded and pleasant but the main area round the house was wall to wall people and huge numbers of Canada and greylag geese. Like Hauxley – they have a problem.  A quick about turn took us to Potteric Carr a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve on the outskirts of Doncaster with breeding bittern. Like so many urban reserves it is an oasis in a sea of concrete and is well worth a visit if you are in the area. You can take as long as you like as there is an exit system operating once the reserve closes – remember to leave your car outside the car park which is locked. We managed a couple of hours in late afternoon and were rewarded with marsh harrier, green sandpiper, avocet, singing chiffchaff and black-necked grebe. 

Bolton
Nothing untoward in Bolton but I had a look at my list when I got home and discovered that in seven years of occasional visits I have not recorded peregrine, curlew, house martin, rook, grey wagtail or meadow pipit!! Some of these are probably omissions others need to be looked for. Either way I need to get out more instead of playing with the grand children – only joking Freddy.
Belfast RSPB and North Down  unsurprisingly report no change.

2017

192: Manx shearwater

193: Yellowhammer

194: Skylark

165: Green woodpecker

196: Red-legged partridge

197: Little owl

198: Barn owl

199: Black-necked grebe

Bangor West
66: Raven
  
Belfast WOW
88: Wood sandpiper

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

July stagnation

Not been a lot to say recently as ticks are harder to find and the spring rush has tailed off into summer. Now is the time to get the optics serviced ready for the autumn reverse migration. We are off to England soon, so hopefully something will turn up en route in Scotland, Tyneside, Bawtry or Bolton. Meanwhile a quick summary of late May, June and very early July.

The North Down patch is stuck at 66, hopefully I can still make 70 but I have got most of the expected species. The pool at the top of the Glen produced a little surprise in the form of breeding mallard.



Belfast WOW added blackcap and wood sandpiper. The black-headed gull chicks are everywhere and we have 10 or 11 Mediterranean gull chicks as well as the first common tern chicks. There are broods of mallard, moorhen, coot, shelduck, goldfinches and greenfinches. The mute swans did not breed and have flown off.


All common terns

.....or gulls

Moorhen feeding

Non breeding blackwit

Failed breeder on the way back?
 Some brightly coloured godwits have popped up recently and it is possible that they are failed breeders who have returned early. As you can see last Thursday was a bit wet and the NE wind was hammering the rain into the windows making observation a problem. This combined with less than average light and a low tide meant waders were at a premium. Nevertheless we still managed over 30 species including sand martins. We think these are from the colony at Kilroot and we are keeping our fingers crossed that they might look at our sand martin bank!! Passing motorists had to take avoiding action as the swallows and house martins were hunting up and down the road at ground level. Every visitor commented on the numbers and height at which they were hunting.

Rathlin Island on Saturday gave up 35 species in dull wet weather. We went to the West Light and the RSPB reseve and then walked to the harbour. Some notable omissions on the list might necessitate a visit in August but I was able to add puffin, great skua and kittiwake. Mistle thrush was a bonus otherwise the list was as expected. We were treated to a tractor rally - 14 of them had driven up to the reserve. Three were local the rest came over on the ferry as day trippers!!

Tractor rally

West light

Guillemot central

Puffin - a 2017 tick


Harbour view - just.
In the 1980s I ran trips to Rathlin to see the birds and we used an open boat called the St Martin. I needed 20+ people to fill the boat an off we went with Peter McCurdy sitting at the tiller in the stern. The crossing itself was an adventure never mind the birds and at that time we marvelled at seeing buzzard and chough. Then along came the MV Canna and the open boat was a thing of the past. Now the Canna has been replaced as well by the Spirit of Rathlin which segregates cars and people. I came across the St Martin on the beach in Church Bay and as you can see the years have not been kind to her and I felt a twinge of regret for the old days when crossing to Rathlin was not for the faint-hearted. Then I remembered being seriously seasick a couple of times on the St Martin and recalled Ecclesiastes 7:10 " Do not say ' Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." 

St Martin
2017
188: Wood sandpiper
189: Kittiwake
190: Great skua
191: Puffin

Bangor West
66: Raven
  
Belfast WOW
87: Blackcap
88: Wood sandpiper

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Back to the patches

Last week's good weather saw me back to patching the coastal path and WOW. A walk along the coast added gannet, house martin, and meadow pipit, while I watched two ravens displaying over Castle Park.

WOW and Kinnegar finally delivered the little gull which I have managed to miss for the last two weeks. The black-headed gulls have fledglings and the common terns are on the island now that the CDs and tape have been removed. A lot of the terns seem to be nesting on the far shore as they clearly couldn't wait long enough. There are at least three pairs of Mediterranean gulls and Arctic terns have been seen but we are unsure if they are nesting as they are hard to find in the blizzard of gulls and terns on the two islands. A passing buzzard was mobbed by everything in sight including a lapwing so we may have a nest. There is also a lesser black-backed gull nest. The gulls and terns don't seem to bother too much with it, yet when a passing lesser black-back gets close to the island there is mayhem.The two mute swans are still on the nest and have been for some time, we suspect they may have lost the first clutch and are having a second go as there was a period of 10 - 14 days when the nest was unattended. The feeders remain busy with fewer of the usual species about. This week we had chaffinch, bullfinch, goldfinch, redpoll, linnet, reed bunting and great tit. We have also had hooded crow, wood pigeon and moorhen scavenging underneath.

Black-headed gull chicks on the island

Common tern staking a claim

Bhg chicks on the shore

Med gull smack in the middle of the picture.
2017
183: Arctic tern
184: Sedge warbler
185: Meadow pipit
186: Gannet
187: Little gull
 
Bangor West
63: Gannet
64:House martin
65: Meadow pipit
66: Raven
  
Belfast WOW
86: Little gull

Friday, 26 May 2017

Majorca 2017

Majorca 2017 was just as good as 2016, but with better birds and more of them. We had a car for a few days and were able to get a bit further afield to Lluc Monastery, Cuber Reservoir, Cap Formentor, Albuferata, and Son Real as well as the local stuff round Puerto Pollensa. We also had longer at Albufera but still didn’t get round the long walk. There is so much to see there you could spend most of the day in one or two hides.The migration was in full swing and the weather was kind for birding. Most of the good bird pictures were taken by my good friend and birding pal David (Dusty) Miller who has a better camera and more patience than me. Thanks for the memories!!

Several evening visits and a dawn chorus to the Boquer Valley produced spotted and pied flycatchers, woodchat shrike, blue rock thrush, wheatear, serin, crag martin, whinchat, black redstart and cirl bunting.

Looking towards Puerto Pollensa from the Finca terrace

La Finca, the terrace is in front.
 
Woodchat shrike by David Miller

Blue rock thrush by David Miller

Cirl bunting by David Miller
Can Curassa gave good views of spotted redshank, common sandpiper and yellow wagtail plus our first singing nightingale.We took the bus there, birded for an hour, lunched at the restaurant and walked back along the beach road. The inland lanes might have offered a better alternative but not the Audouin's gulls. 
Can Curassa
Audouin's gull by David Miller
Next day we took a bus to Cala de San Vincenc and walked out to the headland and back. Stunning views plus osprey, shag, and redstart. 

Cove Blanc looking east

Cala de San Vincenc bay
The same evening we went to the front for coffee and an ice cream and walked up through a small local park to get back to the hotel. As you can see from the photographs it is only about 200m long and 50 m wide and is an urban environment with dog runs, playground, exercise equipment etc., but it was dripping with warblers. I have never ever seen as many. 




Having read about “falls” of birds on the east coast of England where there are so many birds you don’t know where to look I finally experienced something similar for myself.  The birds were mainly willow warbler and chiffchaff but there were also garden warblers, whitethroats, spotted and pied flycatchers, wood warblers and redstarts. I literally had no idea where to look next and every time I focused on something another bird moved and caught my eye. An English birder who was also there said it had been like that for three days. Later in the week it still produced birds but less numbers and less variety.If you are fortunate enough to be there in April or May and are staying at that end of the resort it is worth checking. It runs towards the coast from the Boquer Valley roundabout.

Next day we picked up the car and headed for the mountains. We had been warned about the MAMILs but were totally unprepared for the sheer numbers of them. We reckoned there were 7 - 800 crawling up and about 3 - 400 zooming down. Some even passed us on the way down. The visit to Lluc took us into the mountains and we were rewarded with booted eagle, black vulture, more nightingales and two firecrests at close range in the botanical garden

Lluc monastery
Botanical garden
 By the time we arrived at Cuber it was 3.00pm so our walk was short on small birds apart from even more nightingales. We did however see more small eagles, red kite and raven. Unfortunately vultures eluded us.
Cuber reservoir
  The next day was spent at Albufera which delivered in spades. The egret roost on the way in had cattle egret, little egret, squacco heron and night heron. The full list is in the 2017 firsts but the highlights were osprey, all three plovers, stone curlew, little stint, green sandpiper, cetti’s warbler, reed warbler, great reed warbler, and collared pratincole.  A late lesser kestrel over the hotel was the icing on the cake.


Cattle egret by David Miller. Taken on the way in
Red-crested pochard on the Gran Canal behind the hides

 The following photos were all taken by David Miller from the Es Cibollar hides. I had to be brutal in selection as David had quite a few images.

Black-winged stilt

Common sandpiper & Kentish plover

Curlew sandpipers and Kentish plovers

Green sandpiper

Little stint with ringed plovers
Spotted redshank
Three good ticks, avocet, stilt and spotshank.

We then moved to the Es Colombars hide where we had not been in 2016, Again all the photos are David's.
View from the hide looking north to the power station

Gadwall

Little egret

Pochard

Marbled teal

Little ringed plover eyeing a passing chopper

Stone curlew
Stone curlew

We then legged it back to the Sa Roca hides with a few stops en route and were fortunate to connect with the bird of the day and a squacco heron. 

Collared pratincole

Squacco heron
All this and we still haven't done the long walk round the perimeter or found the Son Bosc deck. Nothing else for it we will have to do a return visit. PS on the way out we came across this as well.

Osprey
Cap Formentor gave us pallid swift, but we were a little early for Eleanora’s falcon. However the views are stunning the sky was blue and the sea was azure. The views are mine by the way, I can get views but not birds.



On our last day we visited Son Real – a sort of folk museum with added birds.  We had brilliant views of hoopoe, whinchat, serin and sardinian warbler, plus a couple of tortoises at the water hole. On the way home we detoured to try and find the way to Son Bosc and Depuradora. We missed the viewing platform but a couple of English birders put us on to bee-eater, turtle dove and thekla’s lark in the 5 minutes we were there.Again all the photos are David's
Hoopoe behind the ofices on the way to the dolmen

Linnet at the "Big sink"

Sardinian warbler (F). Apologies to those who heard me call it a lesser whitethroat!!

Serin near the offices

Spotted flycatcher at the "big sink"

His name is Speedy

Distant whinchat

Pied flycatcher

Oi flycatcher, are you havin' a barf?
Thekla lark
The total for the trip was 87 species of which 49 were 2017 firsts. No lifers this year but hey, you can’t have everything!!

2017
133: Swift
134: Red kite
135: Yellow-legged gull
136: Audouin's gull
137: Crag martin
138: Sardinian warbler
139: Spotted flycatcher
140: Pied flycatcher
141: Woodchat shrike
142: Blue rock thrush
143: Spotted redshank
145: Yellow wagtail
146: Nightingale
147: Wheatear
148: Hoopoe
149: Serin
150: Osprey
151: Redstart
152: Whinchat
153: Garden warbler
154: Whitethroat
155: Wood warbler
156: Black vulture
157: Firecrest
158: Marbled teal
159: Red-crested pochard
160: Night heron
161: Cattle egret
162: Squacco heron
163: Kentish plover
164: Red-knobbed coot
165: Purple swamphen
166: Black-winged stilt
167: Stone curlew
168: Collared pratincole
169:  Little ringed plover
170: Little stint
171: Green sandpiper
172: Reed warbler
173: Great reed warbler
174: Lesser kestrel
175: Pallid swift
176:Marsh harrier
177: Curlew sandpiper
178: Bee-eater
179: Thekla lark
180: Turtle dove
181: Cirl bunting
182: Booted eagle