Friday, 12 April 2019

On the banks of the Glaze

Photo: Cowslip
I was pleased to discover a wonderful array of flowers growing along the banks of the river Glaze at Hope Carr today. These included a few of my early spring favourites such as cowslips, wood anenome and butterbur. Meanwhile two Cetti's warblers sing between the footbridge and the road bridge and an over wintering green sandpiper still frequents the muddy banks of the river along with an occasional little egret.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Hope Carr

The leucistic black-headed gull is still being seen on and off at Hope Carr. Migrants are flooding in now, today with 200 sand martins, two house martins, 10 swallows, 10 singing blackcaps and 12 singing chiffchaffs. Last Monday there were two little ringed plovers, and less obvious migrants include a pair of shelduck, five oystercatchers and 39 tufted ducks. The Cetti's warbler is still singing.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Black Guillemots on the Great Orme

Great to see at least five black guillemots off the Great Orme today, a site first for me. It's looking like this species is now breeding on the Orme, which is wonderful news. The Great Orme has always been a top spot for birding in North Wales, but with black guillemots and chough now breeding it's almost unbeatable.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Melanistic Great Tit, Hope Carr

In a previous post I mentioned a leucistic black-headed gull which occasionally visits the sewage works at Hope Carr. At the other end of the pigmentation scale there is a partially melanistic great tit on territory in the centre of the site best seen from the path through the middle. Apart from a much wider black stripe on its breast and belly, it looks pretty much like a normal great tit, just one which has been covered in soot.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Common scoter, Hope Carr

Hope Carr today, a female common scoter was a site tick for me and there was still a green sandpiper on the sewage works. Twelve goosander were on the main lake and 26 tufted ducks across the site.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Bits and pieces from Hope Carr

With the Blyth's reed warbler now fading in the memory, I usually find myself alone at Hope Carr. Not really much new happening at the moment, one or two green sandpipers are occasionally seen, a pair of Mediterranean gulls perhaps, up to six chiffchaffs and every now and again I hear the Cetti's warbler singing. I guess that the Blyth's reed warbler could still be there, but with nobody looking and even I'm spending only around 10 minutes per visit in front of it's favoured bramble patch, it's going to take an amazing stroke of luck to re-find it now.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Lesser Kestrels, Mertola

Lesser Kestrel Mertola

Just an hours drive from the busy Algarve coast is the fabulous walled town of Mertola on the Guadiana river, with its medieval castle and former mosque . It's a very scenic place and there are many good reasons for visiting, but from a birding point of view the highlight is undoubtedly it's lesser kestrels. These beautiful falcons breed in colonies in the town and when I first visited Mertola around 25 years ago, the main colony was apparently in the Convento de São Francisco on the outskirts of the town, but looking over the river  in that direction from our wonderful accommodation, I couldn't see any falcons in the vicinity. Of course it was only February so perhaps there were birds yet to return, but there was certainly plenty of lesser kestrel activity around another building right on the edge of the cliff. with at least five birds present.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Sierra Aracena

Sierra Aracena lies to the north west of Seville and makes for a good stop on our way to Mertola. From a birding point of view it's  particularly good place for black and griffon vultures, and it's place where many woodland species can be found which are perhaps not quite so easy elsewhere, and in the past I've seen lesser spotted woodpecker, woodcock and short-toed treecreeper here.

Today we walked from Alajar following trails to the village of Linares de la Sierra and back, a round trip of about 8 miles. The woodland on this walk is mainly cork oak and there was a colourful understorey of gorse, not the same species that we have in the UK, it was altogether a more delicate plant, more like Petty whin Genista anglica though not that species either. My best guess is Genista hirsuta. Sometimes it's best to enjoy the spectacle and not worry too much a out the finer details!

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Marbled duck and Ferruginous duck, Doñana

After a great couple of days walking in el Rocio we headed for the bright lights of Seville. Of course I didn't take the highway, I chose instead to weave our way in the general direction of Seville via the lanes and tracks which I know so well from many years visiting the area. We saw many great birds on the way, but just as we were about to leave the area, I spotted a night heron roost of about 150 birds. I knew that the ponds in this area often hold red-knobbed coot so I stopped and had a quick look over the first pond we came to. No coots of any description, but right in the middle of the pond a drake ferruginous duck. An excellent result!

Spurred on I stopped at the second pond. This time there were a few Eurasian coots but they were soon forgotten because in the reeds were at least seven marbled ducks! This was a real result. Marbled duck is a very rare species these days, and very difficult to find. Unfortunately they were well tucked into the vegetation and most were asleep, so with time pressing I watched them for 10 minutes before heading back to the car and we shot off for tapas and sangria in Seville. Like I said previously, there's more to life than birds and there are two ways to look at this. You could say that it was an opportunity missed because I didn't hang around for hours waiting for a better photo opportunity of a very rare species, but the alternative viewpoint is that this was never meant to be a birding holiday so to pick up marbled duck on the way was a remarkable achievement and I should be content with that. I prefer the latter way of thinking, it makes for a much easier and ultimately more satisfying life!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

el Rocio

el Rocio is utterly unique and provides an excellent base, the gateway to Doñana. Of course I've been here many times before, but for Elaine it was her first visit and even as a none birder she was completely blown away by the place.

The best way to approach the town is from the south, you drive through mile after mile of seemingly never ending stone pine woodland until at last you come to La Rocina bridge where suddenly the whole marsh opens up before you with hundreds of flamingoes, glossy ibis, spoonbills, egrets, ducks and waders, with the impressive church in the background surrounded by the white buildings of el Rocio, and apparently wild horses splash through the water. Closer inspection reveals many purple swamphens, spotless starlings, waxbills, Sardinian warblers, azure-winged magpies and depending on the time of year and how lucky you are, white-spotted bluethroats, penduline tits, red-knobbed coot, marsh terns and an array of raptors, plus many more species. All easily viewable from the promenade and if you've selected your hotel wisely, most easily viewable from your hotel balcony. This is top quality birding in an amazing setting requiring a minimum of effort. Of course from el Rocio you can explore deep in to Doñana and for details of how to do this please see a more complete trip report of mine to the area from December 2017 by clicking the following link Southern Iberia including Doñana, rice harvest spectacular.

However the current trip was a mainly walking holiday with birding a secondary activity, so I had to content myself more or less with what we saw in the vicinity of the town and on our walks. Our walk today started at the hotel, went along the promenade and through stone pine woodland.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Apparent influx of Audouin's Gulls, Algarve and Adalucia

Audouin's gull is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all gulls and it's also one of the rarest in world terms, with a population (I think) of about 10,000 pairs. It's strictly pelagic and does not usually occur inland or scavenge on rubbish tips like many other species of gull. Audouin's gull provided me with possibly the highlight of this trip, I've never seen so many in the region before. In Portugal I saw at least 45 individuals at seven sites where I had never recorded them before, from Faro to as far west as Carrapateirra, just north of Cape St. Vincent. Then when we moved towards Doñana and Seville we came across the largest flock I have ever seen away from the breeding sites, a minimum of 148 birds in the marina at Mazagon, Huelva. Some birds at the latter location sported white darvic rings and one of these I was able to read, which has provided me with at least some information as to the origin of these birds, see below. I'm not really sure if these are unusual numbers and if they are, why they should be occurring now, but certainly in 30 years of visiting the area I've never seen so many.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Alvor and Cape St. Vincent

Alvor is just to the west of Portimão in the western Algarve. It's a really good place for birds with a large saltmarsh and impressive board walk, and the town itself is picturesque and worthy of a visit.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Red-knobbed coot at San Lorenzo golf course

Continuing our walk from Praia de Faro, we crossed a foot bridge and then walked back along the edge of the San Lorenzo golf course and through Ludo salinas. As well as a wonderful walk of about 8 miles, it's also a fantastic place for birding, with a wide variety of habitats including beach, ocean, sand dunes, salinas, woodland and best of all a freshwater lake with a hide. From the hide it's possible to see a fine array of typical southern Iberian species depending on the time of year, including purple swamphen, glossy ibis, occasional ferruginous duck, little bittern, spoonbill, azure-winged magpie, waxbill and much, much more. I've been here many times previously so I wasn't expecting any surprises, but in the days leading up to the trip, I'd heard a rumour that there was a red-knobbed coot on the lake, which would be a new Portugal tick for me, so of course I was interested in seeing it.

On arrival in the hide I mentally ticked off all of the usual suspects in a sweep of the lake, but then noticed that the main coot flock of perhaps 80 birds was on one of the fairways at least 400m away. I didn't have a telescope with me and at that range with just binoculars I had no chance. We were staying nearby so I resolved to return at dawn the following morning.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Praia de Faro walk

Praia de Faro is a glorious walk along a lengthy and spectacular beach with the crashing waves of the open Atlantic ocean. Our holiday to this part of southern Iberia always starts here and the walk continues over the footbridge across the saltmarsh, along the edge of the golf course and back to the car via Ludo salinas. Dramatic though the beach is, it can seem a fairly quiet place for birds at times but in actual fact there are plenty of very special birds around.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Hope Carr sewage works

Anybody who cares to divert their attention from the Blyth's reed warbler at Hope Carr, and instead look over the sewage works next door can find some interesting birds. Apart from a 1st winter / female black redstart, up to four green sandpipers are present, also several grey wagtails and lots of pied wagtails and meadow pipits. There is a black-headed gull flock of around 200 birds which occasionally includes an adult Mediterranean gull and a magnificent leucistic black-headed gull. Unsurprisingly both of these gulls regularly frequent the Pennington Flash gull roost, the Mediterranean gull has a metal ring on its left leg and is a probably the female which has been returning to the Flash for years, whilst the leucistic bird is back for at least its second winter.

Given the release this week of an adult ivory gull which was taken into care at Stranraer, the appearance of the leucistic bird at Hope Carr was understandably a heart stopping moment! Even the 3rd winter Iceland gull which feeds at Atherton and roosts at the Flash put in an appearance a couple of weeks ago, leaving yellow-legged gull as the only regularly occurring Pennington Flash gull which I haven't seen at Hope Carr.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Show time! The Return of the Blyth's Reed Warbler

Incredibly, after six days of no-show, the Blyth's reed warbler put in the performance of a lifetime today at Hope Carr! I arrived on site at 9am and expected to be alone. However I immediately spotted Andy who urgently gestured me towards him. The Blyth's reed warbler was just a few feet away and showing amazingly well. Andy had already put the news out and soon we were joined by the original finder, Phil and the three of us watched the bird for 30 minutes or more before we were joined by Ray and Dave. This was Dave's first attempt to see the bird and within 30 seconds he'd seen it and photographed it! The bird continued to show well until at least 2pm when I left, and reports on the Manchester Birding Forum suggest that it was still showing well to at least 4:20pm. No idea where that performance came from today or if it will be repeated tomorrow, although one thought occurs; the bird was feeding actively all day. Perhaps tonight is the night it leaves? Who can tell with this bird.....

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Black redstart, Hope Carr

On days when the Blyth's reed warbler doesn't show there's still plenty to keep me entertained at Hope Carr. Star of the supporting cast over this past week has been a 1st winter / female black redstart which showed well but briefly in the sewage works compound and on the perimeter fence on one afternoon and again the following morning. Chances are it's still around but once it disappears to feed on the ground amongst the various machinery and buildings it's a very difficult bird to spot.

Other highlights have included woodcock, little egret, two peregrines, green sandpiper, up to four chiffchaffs, 40 shoveler, 80 teal, six goosander and a variety of woodland birds including willow tits and bullfinches. In total I've now recorded what I consider to be an impressive 73 bird species at the site in the past two weeks.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Clues to the survival of a Blyth's Reed Warbler in winter

Early in its stay, the Blyth's reed warbler at Hope Carr disappeared for three and a half days during a period of harsh, freezing conditions, the worst of the winter so far, and led to speculation that it had either moved on or more likely died. After all, what could an insectivorous species find to feed on in such harsh conditions? I think that this photo helps answer the question.

The prey item is I think a spider egg sac, or possibly a moth pupa, both of which I guess form a staple part of its diet especially when temperatures are sub-zero and adult invertebrates are inactive. The brambles are probably full of egg sacs or pupa such as this, attached to the bottom of leaves or bramble stems or other vegetation and they don't disappear or die just because of a few freezing nights or heavy snow. For the warbler it's like visiting the frozen food section at the supermarket! I don't know enough about the ecology of reed warblers to know if feeding on egg sacs and/or pupa is just a winter thing or if it happens all year. It would be interesting to know, but I guess that it's not that common or surely more insectivorous birds would over winter? Just as blackcaps change their diet from insects to berries in the winter, perhaps Blyth's reed warblers change from adult prey to pupa / eggs in winter? Actually the thought occurs to me that since this is probably the first ever overwintering Blyth's reed warbler in the UK and possibly even Europe, that this is probably also the first occasion that a winter food item of the species has been recorded in this country / continent. In the afternoon when temperatures rose slightly the bird was also seen briefly flycatching.

The Blyth's reed warbler showed better than ever today in glorious sunshine at Hope Carr, but it's still a difficult bird. Plenty left saying that they only had fleeting glimpses, and even more left without a photo, so I'm happy with these photos from my little bridge camera! The weather forecast for the next two days is for heavy rain / sleet / snow / sub-zero temperatures so it was good to see it feeding up so well today.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

A great couple of days at Hope Carr

Well, I've spent a lot of time at Hope Carr over the past week, probably in access of 24 birding hours, and most of that has been standing in front of a bramble patch waiting for a single bird to give itself up. It's been an uncomfortable experience standing in mud next to a sewage works in wind, rain, sleet, snow, fog and often in sub-zero temperatures, but it's been well worth it!

After an absence of three and a half days, the Blyth's reed warbler decided to put in another appearance today. I never really believed that it had gone given the weather we have had recently, but I was starting to think that perhaps it was dead. However as predicted, as soon as the first rays of sunshine emerged through the clouds today, the mildest day since last Sunday, a "tak, tak" call was heard from the brambles and shortly afterwards the bird began to show. I arrived on site at 10:15 just as the bird finally showed well for the first time and I saw it very well on and off until about 12:30. For most of this period the bird was very vocal, though for the last half hour or so it more or less stopped calling. Much appreciated by the many birders who finally managed to connect with it.

However it's not just the warbler which has made the past few days so special, there's a decent supporting cast as well. Putting in a regular appearance are two green sandpipers, chiffchaff, adult Mediterranean gulls, tree sparrows, grey wagtails, meadow pipits, 100+teal, 20 shoveler, 30 gadwall and 15 tufted ducks. Even better, on Monday a flock of 9 whooper swans flew over, on Friday a 3rd winter Iceland gull flew over and today a juvenile marsh harrier was added to the list. If I saw that lot plus the warbler anywhere locally I'd be delighted, but when it's just a two mile walk through farmland from my home it makes me think that maybe I should visit more often.....

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Hope Carr

An unseasonal reed warbler was found on Sunday at Hope Carr nature reserve on the outskirts of Leigh and just a couple of miles walk my home. Even though it was initially reported as "only" a Eurasian reed warbler, it immediately piqued my interest because I don't ever recall hearing of them overwintering before, though with climate change perhaps it does occasionally happen in southern England these days. So it was worth a look anyway I thought, but I also wanted to see it for insurance purposes.... it wouldn't be the first time that a species on such an unusual date was later re-identified from photographs as something much rarer, and thankfully so it proved once again.

I decided to have a look for the bird on Monday, if nothing else it was a bit different to my usual walk around Pennington Flash. I arrived at about 9:30am to find two birders had got there before me and they provided me with two pieces of contrasting news; the first was that the bird had not been seen so far today and the second, it was now considered to be a Blyth's reed warbler, identified from photos and video taken the day before. So my hunch had proven correct, but the main part of my plan was that I should see the warbler which was no closer to happening...... the bird wasn't seen all day Monday.

The weather forecast for Tuesday was pretty grim, snow or sleet showers for most of the day, occasionally heavy. It didn't sound great and the temptation was to stay indoors, especially following the no-show the day before. However I decided that it was worth another look for what would be a new bird for me and I arrived on site at 10:15am, again joining up with two other birders. Today the news was better, they had just seen the bird in a patch of dense bramble. After a nervy 10 minutes without any further sightings, eventually I managed to relocate it in a different bramble patch just as the sun was breaking through the clouds. It showed very well on and off for the next 30 minutes or so and was heard calling frequently with a harsh "tack", quite unlike anything uttered by Eurasian reed warbler.

Apart from the call it's the emarginations on the primaries which help clinch the identification but seeing those was beyond me today and my photos are nowhere near good enough. However others have taken much better photos and confirmed the identification. Finally after it's brief appearance, the sun disappeared for the day and the bird shortly afterwards. A fantastic Greater Manchester tick, a fantastic inland record and a great winter record, possibly the UK's first ever overwintering Blyth's reed warbler.

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