Saturday, 30 December 2017

Desert wheatear, Whitby

Desert wheatear

We travelled through snow and ice across the wild North Yorkshire Moors to the beautiful coastal harbour town of Whitby. Hard to believe as we crossed this bleak and hostile landscape that our target was a bird which breeds in the equally harsh yet meteorologically opposite arid steppe and desert zones in North Africa and the Middle East. Desert wheatear is a regular, annual, late autumn / early winter visitor to the UK, though goodness knows why. It should be wintering on the edge of some desert in Africa or south west Asia, yet here it is, the picture of health, thriving on a coastal footpath on the east coast of the UK, a region notorious for it's icey winds and certainly not noted for its desert like habitats. Nor is this bird a one off, in fact it was the second desert wheatear I have seen between Christmas and New Year on this stretch of coast in recent years.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

The scoter experience, North Wales

A favourite day out of mine at this time of year is a trip to the North Wales coast where one of the the highlights is the opportunity to view the scoter flocks which feed offshore. I know that this isn't everybodies cup of tea due to the often extreme viewing distance and the difficulty in picking out individual birds, but I just love the shear spectacle of thousands of black ducks on the water and the challenge of finding something good.

However more on that subject later, because on arrival at Llanddulas today and before we got the scopes out to look through the scoter, we headed 200m down the beach from the car park to the mouth of the river Dulas where for a few days there has been a glaucous gull feeding on the carcass of a harbour porpoise.

No matter how many glaucous gulls I see, and this was about my fifth this year, I never tire of seeing this magnificent gull, the second largest in the world after great black back.  This year has been exceptionally good by recent standards, because often these days I can go a year or two without seeing glaucous gull and I would consider Iceland gull to be the commoner of the two white winged gull species.

This bird might be in the first winter of it's life, but technically it is not in 1st winter plumage. Due to their very late moult, Glaucous gulls do not have a true 1st winter plumage, just varying degrees of worn juvenile plumage. This bird is in juvenile plumage.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Caspian gull, Pennington Flash

Twenty four hours ago I was watching Caspian terns in Portugal in temperatures around 19'C, now I'm watching a Caspian gull at Pennington Flash in snow with the temperature more like -2'C. Painful though it is though, this is too good an opportunity to miss since it's a first for the flash. Notice that it has a yellow ring on its left leg which may suggest German origin, but unfortunately it could not be read. Found by John Tymon on a day which produced an unusual number of large gulls at the flash, by recent standards.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Southern Iberia including Doñana, December 2017

This was a trip to Southern Iberia from 2nd December to 9th December, taking in some of the best birding areas in Europe. We flew to Faro in Portugal and hired a car to drive into Spain almost as far as Cadiz and spent two days in Doñana. In total we saw an impressive 139 species including the majority of the so called target species of the area. The main purpose of the trip however, was to experience the impressive spectacle which is winter birding in Southern Iberia!

I offer guided tours of Southern Iberia and various other localities. If this trip report inspires you to join me, please click here.

Sunday 3rd December 2017 - Ria Formosa and Quinta do Lago

Touch down Faro, Portugal at 7pm. It was dark so no birding distractions to worry about, just pick up the car, drive to the hotel and get out for some food. The following day we were out at dawn....

Ria Formosa is a great place to start a holiday to Southern Iberia. It breaks you in gently, allows you to see a few of the specialities of the peninsular, and offers up a variety of habitats, including saltmarsh, salinas, freshwater and stone pine woodland.

Today we parked near the airport and walked to Quinta do Lago, a golf resort some 2.5 miles distant. It's a decent walk offering lots of good birding.

Azure-winged magpie (and a hoopoe!)
Quinta do Lago is a great place for seeing azure-winged magpies, in fact it would be virtually impossible not to notice them flying around the greens and fairways of the San Lorenzo golf course where they are joined by the equally stunning hoopoes and offer great photo opportunities.

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