AND year round-up

 

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Glossy Ibis – one of the AND ‘stand-out’ birds of the previous twelve months

For those of you interested in ‘local patch’ birding, I’ve just published a brief round-up of the birds seen during the previous twelve months on my local patch, in North Norfolk – posted on the second anniversary of my Aylmerton Nature Diary blog – just click this link.

Spain 2016 – highlights

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White-headed Duck – iconic species of this part of Spain

We’ve just got back from a two week holiday in Spain. The first week we spent with Joe and Gabi, who were over from Chile for a month, touring the delightful hill-top towns of Andalusia – eating, drinking and catching up. The second week we spent birding with Jake, our youngest son and our long-time birding friends, Bob and Sue. As has become our custom over the past few years, we stayed in the old town of Tarifa and amused ourselves visiting the various birding hot-spots of the region. The only draw-back this year was the weather, with strong easterly winds for the first few days and unseasonably hot temperatures – reaching 43 degrees on a couple of days. Nevertheless we still managed to clock-up over 170 species, the highlights of which included White-headed Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Common (or Garden) Bulbul, Rufous Bushchat, Bald Ibis, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Black-shouldered Kite, Little Swift, Eleanora’s Falcon, Red-necked Nightjar, Black Wheatear and a trio of ‘escapees’, which were all new for our Western Palearctic list  – Monk Parakeet, Yellow-Collared Lovebird and Black-headed Weaver. The raptor passage was the best we’ve ever experienced, with hundreds of birds most days – usually involving Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and Booted Eagle, with notable numbers of Egyptian Vulture and Short-toed Eagle. Passerine migration was also heavy with several ‘falls’ encountered, mostly involving Redstart, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warbler. Prize for the oddest bird however goes to a near-completely albino Bee-Eater, seen briefly with hundreds of regular birds, near Casas de Porro.

Spotless Starling, a common species in southern Spain

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Little Swift, much less common – a few pairs breed along the coast between the Coto Donana and Tarifa. We saw an unprecedented flock of eighteen near Chipiona 

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But it’s the raptor migration over Tarifa which is the big draw at this time of the year – 2016 was an excellent year. This pale phase Booted Eagle was typical 

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This Short-toed Eagle got caught out by the strong winds and was brought down on the cliffs above the Straits of Gibraltar 

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There was a good passage of Egyptian Vulture this year – this was a particularly close immature

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La Janda ‘produced the goods’ despite the water-levels being high – including a variety of waders, heron sp. and this obliging male Montagu’s Harrier, eating a Crayfish 

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This year we decided to go to look for Bald Ibis from the successful release scheme. Here is one of the staff involved in the project, with some nifty head-gear

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and here are some of the increasing population, seen near Barbate

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It’s not all about rare and scarce birds either – some more common species gave excellent views. This Stonechat for instance 

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or this Firecrest

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Tawny Pipit appeared more numerous this year. We saw five at Los Lances alone

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Black-eared Wheatear are always a ‘crowd-pleaser’

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To finish with, a couple of the less easy to catch up with species of the area. Common (or Garden) Bulbul – one of Europe’s rarest breeding species. Seen near the public car-park in Tarifa

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Azure-winged Magpie, are very difficult to find in Andalusia – we travelled to Antequera to find this species

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Red-necked Nightjar – more common but difficult to find some years. This one was roosting by the side of the track at La Janda

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Finally, just a few of the many hundreds of White Stork, forced down by strong winds on La Janda, during their long migration south

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Another great ‘do-it-yourself’ trip to this top European birding destination, made all the more easy through John Cantelo’s excellent website and site guide.

 

Swurple Pomphen

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Western Purple Swamphen, Minsmere, Suffolk

Nearly twenty years ago there was a report of a Purple Swamphen – or Gallinule as they used to be called, somewhere on the River Ouse, near Ely. Excitedly, we dashed off after work to twitch it –  after all, even in those days, this was a very scarce bird in southern Europe and an unthinkable addition to the British list. We needn’t have bothered as it turned out to be an escape, of the Asian race I think – still, a nice bird all the same!

It was with some scepticism then that I read the first pager message at the weekend of another Purple Swamphen – this time at Minsmere. However, with a recent bird in Brittany and other sightings in eastern France, momentum for this bird being accepted as a ‘first for Britain’ began to build. Monday we were tied up  at Cley NWT and yesterday morning I was doing some planned conservation work on our local village pond. We set off for Minsmere after lunch, arriving there amidst sunshine and showers. The bird was being reported on a regular basis on RBA and our confidence levels were high. The usual gleeful tales of ‘it’s still there’ and ‘showing well if you hurry’ greeted us along the path to South Hide – from where, incidentally, I saw my first Stilt Sandpiper. We got to the spot and indeed it was still there and showing well! Well briefly in the reeds before going missing for ten minutes at a time, that is, only to reappear further along the reed bed. We watched it in the late afternoon sunshine for a hour or so before heading home and fish’n chips. A very nice bird and, hopefully, a British ‘tick’ in the making.

A few more record shots of this rather smart bird

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Post Script

For a slightly better photo of Western Purple Swamphen, go to my blog ‘First foot in the Algarve’ – featuring some of the better birds seen on a recent trip to Portugal.

Caspian Tern – Breydon Water

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Caspian Tern, Breydon Water

Having been present for several days already, this morning, I decided to go and have a look for the Caspian Tern, at Breydon Water. As is the norm for this site, the bird was distant on arrival and heat-haze had already begun to effect visibility. I had to walk a considerable way along the north wall before getting acceptable views and a couple of grab shots. It’s been nearly thirty years since I last saw this species in Norfolk.

A couple more shots of this relatively scarce bird in Norfolk

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Great Knot undone

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Great Knot, adult in summer plumage, Titchwell

Having ignored the news of the Great Knot ‘showing well’ at Titchwell for 24 hours, I finally decided, given that the weather was not conducive to ‘dragon hunting’, to have a go. When I got to Titchwell, there was a dense sea fret hanging over the fresh marsh, the last reported location, making viewing near-impossible. Apparently the bird had just flown off towards the beach anyway! As I was on a tight time-table I decide to try my luck on the shore. Thankfully, the adult, summer plumage, Great Knot was in the flock of several hundred ordinary Knot, roosting on the tide-line. I managed brief and distant glimpses, through dripping optics before, eventually, the flock returned to the fresh marsh and I could watch it, albeit at some distance and still in the mist, from Parrinder hide. Altogether though, much better views than the Breydon bird of a couple of years ago.

A couple more shots of this lovely bird – shame about the weather!

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And now in Black & White

We saw seven species of woodpecker on our recent trip to Hungary. Black, Green and Wryneck were pretty easy to sort out – the other four black and white ones needed a bit more care and attention.

Unlike in Britain, Great Spotted Woodpecker in Hungary is generally a species confined to mature woodlands. Similar to Syrian, with reasonable views, the plain breast, bright red under-tail coverts and the black chin-stripe continuing back through to the nape, create sufficient difference to allow identification.

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Syrian Woodpecker are predominantly birds of parks and gardens. The broad white cheek-patch with an absence of a black line running across it, pinker under-tail coverts, slightly longer bill and pale nostril feathering (yeah right!) making identification possible, with reasonable views.

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Smallest – but not by much, is Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Largely confined to mature woodland, identified by scarlet crown, an ‘open-faced’ appearance – resulting from only a faint moustachial stripe and pinkish streaked flanks and belly.

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Last of this ‘B&W quartet’ is White-backed Woodpecker. Restricted to mature forests with plenty of dead and decaying timber – this is a tricky species to find, let alone see well. Whilst only slightly longer than Great Spotted, it’s a chunkier, more powerful, bird altogether. Long bill, pinkish streaked belly and white cheek-patch interrupted by partial black ear-covert bar stopping short of the crown, all aid identification. Side views of perched birds (see below) reveal broad white horizontal covert-bars.

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Ural unblocked

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Ural Owl – Hungary

We spent yesterday in the company of Zoltán, top Saker Tours guide, on a day trip to the hills across the Tisza river, north of the Hortobagy. We clocked-up over a hundred species, the undisputed star of which was Ural Owl – a Western Palearctic tick for me and a bird we missed on the GPOG trip to the Czech Republic. We also saw three other owl species – Eagle, Long-eared and Tawny. The latter being a ‘grey phase’, and a possible trap for the unwary Ural hunter.

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Other highlights included three species of eagle – Short-toed, Eastern Imperial and Lesser Spotted, and six woodpeckers – Syrian, Green, Great & Middle Spotted, White-backed and Black. A pretty good day by anyone’s standards I’d say!

More photos to follow.