Birds of Italy

Marble Parrot table-top, in the Pitti Palace Royal Apartments

Despite the fact that this was an entirely cultural trip, I even left my binoculars behind – first time I’ve done that since pre-1972!, we did manage to see a few birds. Black Redstart, House Sparrow and Rock Pigeon around the city streets, Long-tailed, Blue & Great Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Serin, Collard Dove, Magpie, Starling and Kestrel in the parks and gardens, along the river Cormorant, Great & Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mallard, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed, Herring / Yellow-legged Gull, Cetti’s Warbler, Pied Wagtail, Hooded Crow and Stonechat, from the train Moorhen, Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard, and over Florence city walls a single Swallow – Spring is on it’s way!

We also found a few interesting birds in amongst the historical artefacts. This picture, in the Pitti Palace collection, was amazing! Approximately 12″ x 15″, it looked like an OK water colour of a group of birds. Look closer and you see it’s made up of thousands of tiny mosaic tiles, no more than a millimetre square!



Florence – Spring City Break


The conveniently located, if a little noisy, Atlantic Palace Hotel – Florence

We’re on our way home from a short city break to Florence – on Jane’s ‘bucket list’ and a place she’s wanted to visit for ages. We flew EasyJet from Luton to Pisa, caught the train to Florence and stayed at the Atlantic Palace on Via Nazionale – equidistant between the train station on the Duomo. All very easy and convenient. We visited a few of the many cultural attractions including: the Cathedral, Dome, Baptistry and Campanile; the Uffizi; Museo Horne; Palazzo Pitti; Ponte Vecchio; Piazza Della Signoria; Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo and did a couple of City walks. On our return we stopped-off and did the sites in Pisa. Looking forward to a rest now!

A few general views from the historic centre of Florence – beginning with the utterly amazing Duomo

Statue of Brunelleschi, key figure in the design & construction of the Duomo – a founding father of the Renaissance

The Baptistry

and the Campanile – we climbed both the tower and the dome!

Jane ‘leaning on a lamp-post’ and The Dome, at night

The interior of the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo  – an un-missable stop on any cultural itinerary

Containing this incredibly old and amazing sculpture

and the Penitent Magdalene by Donatello, carved in wood, mid 15th c

Interior of the Horne Museum – my personal favourite

Ponte Vecchio bridge at night

View from inside the Royal Apartments, Palazzo Pitti – during a not infrequent down-pour

One of the paper-making shops

Exterior of the Bargello Museum – the old gaol and one of the oldest buildings in Florence

Finally, in this introduction, a bit of street art.. probably be in a museum in two hundred years time!











Azorian Adventure

We’ve just returned from a weeks holiday, with friends Bob & Sue, birding on The Azores, visiting just two islands of this Atlantic archipelago, Sao Miguel and Terceira. Winter is probably not the best time to visit but with flights at less than £50 per person, very good value accommodation and excellent food, it was too good an opportunity to miss. In the end we managed a total list of 66 species, including: 17 species of duck and water birds – seven of which were American, 16 species of wader including two American, eight species of gull including two American and both common ‘white-wingers’ and a few other odds and ends like Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret, Great Northern Diver and, of cause, Azores Bullfinch – subject of my previous blog. Not too shabby an outcome really. Definitely to be recommended.

Azores Bullfinch or Priolo – the only totally new bird of the trip


Several of the more common residents have endemic races, like Buzzard, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Goldcrest, Chaffinch and this Blackcap


Glossy Ibis was a bit of a surprise as it flew over our heads at Paul da Praia 


We saw seven species of American duck and water birds – most were on the ‘town pond’ of Paul da Praia, on Terceira. These are two male Blue-winged Teal


Followed by three Lesser Scaup 


This Redhead – looking not unlike our own Pochard, was usually in the company of the Ring-necked Duck. We had up to three males and two females, but they never came particularly close


American Wigeon was the fifth species of New World duck we saw on the ‘town pond’ of Paul da Praia – one of two rather flighty males


Equally difficult were these two male Wood Duck – seen on Largoa Azule


To round off this section, American Coot at Cabrito reservoir – our 7th species of American wildfowl and water birds for the trip


Of the fifteen species we saw at the amazing wader hot-spot of Cabo da Praia quarry, Semi-palmated Plover was by far the rarest – looking not unlike our own Ringed Plover, it was at times, difficult to find


There were plenty of winter Sanderling coming and going. This one is with Little Stint – one of three seen


Curlew Sandpiper, again in winter plumage, could have been mistaken for Dunlin with just a cursory inspection


Kentish Plover, along with Sanderling, were the default wader species at this remarkable spot


Knot are always nice to see, even in their rather drab winter plumage


The gull action came mostly in the form of two American species, this Bonaparte’s Gull appeared to spend most of it’s time at Canada do Quinhão Grande – roosting at Cabo da Praia quarry. At least we think it was the same bird. Photographed here, at the first site with Black-headed Gull


And again at the quarry


These American Ring-billed Gull – four in total were seen on the beach at Praia da Vitoria with a single Common Gull



Further gull action came in the form of the two common ‘white-wingers’, Glaucous and Iceland. The first, a 1st winter Glaucous on the beach at Praia de Monte Verde


The other, an Iceland Gull – 2nd winter, at the marina in Ponta Delgada


To finish off with a couple more regular but no less interesting species, beginning with Spoonbill, feeding unperturbed, near the cafe at Sete Cidades


Waxbill, a well established escape, seen at several locations around Sao Miguel


The Azorian race of Common Buzzard, seen here in the rain – not an uncommon weather feature of these islands!


Cattle Egret, one of two, seen at Canada do Quinhão Grande – a bit of eye-balling go on here


And to conclude, Great Northern Diver – in the outer harbour at Praia da Vitoria


For a full annotated species list from our trip, click this link.

Priolo Perfecto


We’re here in The Azores having a ‘cheeky week’ birding – well it would have been rude not to accept Mr Ryanair’s kind offer of flights for under £50 a pop! We’re with our long-time birding friends Bob & Sue, staying at the incredible Casa do Jardin on Sao Miguel, a former palace, set in the Botanical Gardens in Ponta Delgarda. Being here means that the top priority was to see Azores Bullfinch, or Priolo as it’s know locally. Probably one of the rarest species on the plant – now confined to the Laurel forests of eastern Sao Miguel, on this remote archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic. With the expansion of forestry and the threat of invasive species putting pressure on it’s habitat, the Priolo was down to an estimated 30 – 40 pairs by the 1970’s. Following successful International conservation measures the population is now thought to be around ten times that number. But don’t get me wrong, they are still pretty tricky to find! Most keen birders hire a guide but, based on some excellent information from several recent sources, we were able to locate them at a couple of sites. However the cloud never lifted off the mountain top and, as a consequence, it was pretty gloomy the whole time we were there – limiting photography to a few record shots.

Priolo look like a chunky version of our own female Bullfinch (the sexes are similar) 



Please vote for N&N 2018 Eco Hero


The big news today is that the Peoples Vote has now opened for the Norwich & Norfolk 2018 Eco Hero Award. I only agreed to be nominated in the hope that any publicity it generates will help raise the profile of Felbeck Trust – the trustees, volunteers and friends who are FT and our current campaign to raise money to purchase Spurrell’s Wood. Their are some genuinely worthy candidates – please vote by visiting the N&N ECO Awards website (click here) and please pass on the link to family, friends and acquaintances. Your vote would be much appreciated!

Australia 2017 – snaps from the cutting room floor

Here are a few photos from our recent trip to Australia, which didn’t make it into the original blogs. Thanks to Alex Berryman for dragonfly id and to Dan, Mick et al for help with bird id

Champagne Celebration for Dan’s 400th

Dan celebrates his 400th HBOC tick in style! (photo courtesy of Jane Williams)

The final day of our recent outback adventure was spent in pursuit of Dan’s 400th species in the Hunter Bird Observers Club area. He’d been creeping closer to the target over the past few months and we had hoped that our recent pelagic might produce the goods, but it was not to be. On his journey out west, to meet up with us for our ‘back O’Bourke’ holiday, Dan ticked up Crimson Chat, number 399. The weather out west has been particularly dry of late – at one place we stopped, the aboriginal drinking pools at Byrock, it hadn’t rained since 26th October 2016. This weather has forced birds, usually only seen in the red centre, to seek water further east – bringing them into the upper Hunter in unprecedented numbers. We’d only just reached the western edge of the HBOC recording area when I saw a Kingfisher on the wires from the car. We pulled over for Dan to check it out – Red-backed Kingfisher. A great bird to see this far east and, more importantly, his 400th – cue champagne celebration!

And the cause of all the fuss, Red-backed Kingfisher. Only seen once in the HBOC recording area prior to the current unprecedented  influx – we came across at least five

Other scarce birds in the area, in addition to the Crimson Chat which was still present at Durridgere, included Black Honeyeater – record shot of one of two males seen

Western Gerygone

We saw more than a dozen Pallid Cuckoo, all female  – rarely seen in these numbers in the Hunter. 

The scarcer Black-eared Cuckoo  

As we headed for home from the Upper Hunter –  this delightful Spotted Harrier bade us farewell

A great bird to end a memorable days birding – bringing Dan his 400th and taking my overall Hunter list to 314. Not a bad total for a tourist – accumulated in only six weeks birding in the region. Until the next time…