Sunday 27 May 2012

Up with the lark

The Lower Derwent Valley
Early start in the LDV was worth the effort, with a smart drake Garganey on the pool at Wheldrake and the whole place alive with singing warbler and displaying waders. The water has dropped now, though is still high for the time of year. A little later a Wood Sandpiper got up out of the refuge and flew around for a while calling. It appeared to head over towards Swantail. The east wind got up as I headed back to my car at about 7am, though the hoped-for Black Terns hadn't made an appearance. Intriguingly, a duck flew past with a couple of Tufted Ducks which looked very much like a Scaup. Sadly they landed out of site on the refuge...At least two, possibly three Cuckoos were a welcome sound.

On to Thorganby which had dried up completely. Another Cuckoo calling.

North Duffield Carrs still had plenty of water and a scan revealed a pair of very active Garganey which spent the next hour or so flying all over the place. At one point one bird landed in the pool in front of the hide.

Three terns heading east should have been Arctic but were Common. A Ringed Plover called overhead and a single Dunlin flew off high east.

Heslington East

In the afternoon got out again for an hour so went down to Hes East. Had a look at the western scrape first where last week's Temmick's had been. Three Greenshank - nice! On to the main lake to sit for a while to wait for a White-winged Black Tern to arrive. Sadly it didn't. However, after sitting for 20 minutes, I stood up for a scan only to flush a Turnstone from the shore about a metre away! It must have been creeping along the north shore out of sight of each other until it reached me. Mad. It flew across the water and landed on a pile of stones. How apt. A decent wader this far inland- standard fayre at my old haunt of Grafham Water, but my first in the York area.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Temminck's Stints at Hes East - MEGA!

Following the report of a Temminck's Stint at Hes East yesterday, which sadly eluded everybody, I was relieved to get a message this morning to say there was now two! Shot down there, to find a happy Nige Stewart and friend leaving. They gave me good directions - thanks guys! Soon found the two birds among the grass on the edge of the scrape where last autumn I had seen a Little Stint. Typical furtive individuals sporting summer plumage, one being more heavily marked than the other, with dark spotted scapulars contrasting with the plain grey back when seen from the rear.

Last night I had look down the LDV (should have gone to Hes East!), and saw little in the way of migrants apart from two Dunlins at North Duffield. A very fine Tawny Owl was sitting on a roadside bough near Skipwith at 7.45pm and gave me a fine view as I stopped alongside. A Barn Owl at Crockey Hill was the only other bird of note.

Monday 14 May 2012

Cyprus #4 Spur-winged Plovers

One of the birds I had hoped to see in Cyprus was Spur-winged Plover/Lapwing. I found them easily at Paralimni Lake, near the shooting club (note the slightly alarming gunfire on the video clip below).

Also, c20 were around the lakes at Larnaca, including several from the hide overlooking the fresh water reservoirs. I will always think of these birds as 'plovers' though they look clearly like their Lapwing cousins in the field.

Adult Spur-winged Plover, Paralimni

Cyprus #3

Ashy-headed wagtail (probably), Larnaca

Black francolin, Protaras

Greater flamingoes, Larnaca

Lesser grey shrike, Cape Greko

Greater sandplover, Larnaca

Spur-winged plover, Larnaca

Wood sandpiper, Paralimni


Monday 7 May 2012

Family Holiday Birding #2

28th April, Cape Greko
Up early to hit the Cape, my mind full of Bateleurs and Hypocoliuses. The weather conditions were not too inspiring, but this would be my first taste of Cyprus birding proper. Having checked out some suitable areas yesterday afternoon, I headed straight to the seaward end of the big fields and decided to work a circuit inland to the ridge and back.

Leaping out of the car full of anticipation I was greeted by a cacophony of calling Chukars and Crested Larks. Three small birds flew off the track into a bush - Ortolans - nice! A churring warbler crept on to the top of the same bush - a male Spectacled Warbler and first of many.

I walked towards the ridge, pausing to scope a covey of Chukars on the path. Attractive birds.
As I watched,z a pale pipit walked into view - a Tawny. Spectacled Warblers sang all around and I suddenly noticed another bird on top of a bush - a Red-backed Shrike. This was heaven!

I became aware of a persistent 'zit' high over the barley fields - a Zitting Cisticola, emitting a noise that would accompany me during my Cyprus birding trips.

I headed for the ridge. Bird on a bush - smart male Whinchat. Another bird on a bush - Red-backed Shrike. Another bird on a bush - spanking male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear. Onwards, more Chukars and Spectacled Warblers. A Nightingale sang briefly from thick cover. I was hoping this might be a Thrush Nightingale, but sadly not this time. The day began to warm up. Red-rumped Swallows and Swifts sailed across the ridge at close range. A falcon appeared and obligingly landed on the telegraph wires. Just a Kestrel!

Nevermind. A few moments later and a bigger raptor came in off the sea - a big streaky immature Goshawk looking really unfamiliar in the Mediterranean sun and really puzzling me for a few moments.More Spectacled Warblers and Crested Larks.

Two Willow Warblers moved through the bushes adding a touch of the familiar, while a rasping female Black-headed Wagtail dropped in out of nowhere and landed on a bush, next to another Red-backed Shrike.
Then I spotted a pale bird on a bush across the ridge - surely not - a female Masked Shrike! A bird I was really hoping for in Cyprus but not convinced I would see. I was doubtful I would get near to where they breed and wasn't expecting a migrant! The bird seemed to be taking a bath by flopping about with it's wings spread on the dew-soaked bushes. At first I thought something was wrong with it, but shortly it had a bit of a shake and then started to hunt. A lovely bird.

I wandered back to the car a little delerious, adding a trio of Spotted Flycatchers, another Whinchat and more Ortolans to my tally. And it was only 7.30am! I munched a bit of pitta and a banana and headed up the headland to have a look in some different habitat. Near where the track down to the head proper leaves the road, there is some stone pine woodland. I thought this would be worth an hour.

It was starting to get warm. Most frustratingly, I immediately could hear an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler singing like a clunky Reed Warbler, from the depths of a thicket. It was just impossible to see! I begrudgingly continued, adding several Turtle Doves and more Spotted Flycatchers to the notebook. I headed onto a grassy slope, where a bird that flicked up on to a wire proved to be my first Cyprus Wheatear. Nice, though I wanted to see a male really. I became aware of a pickup heading across the grassland straight towards me. Here we go, I thought. In the minute or so it took the vehicle to reach me, I thought at best I am going to get an earful for trespassing, at worst they may relieve me of my bins and scope. The two burly looking Cypriots barreled up to me in a cloud of dust. The driver opened his window and said "You must be very careful, there are lots of snakes here." He rolled his window up and drove on, leaving me somewhat perplexed. It is true that the Cypriots are the nicest people! I didn't see any snakes.

I flushed a Tree Pipit next, which flew around calling, reminding me of October on the east coast of Yorkshire. Then my previous bird of the morning was eclipsed when I clapped eyes on a stunning male Masked Shrike. It was very confiding, hunting from the top of some dead twigs, and catching a couple of grasshoppers. What a belter and a fine end to one of the best couple of hours birding I have ever had.

Family holiday birding #1

A fantastic week of sun, sea, sand, haloumi and Spectacled Warblers in sunny Cyprus. Decided to stick in the east of the island so as to minimise travel. We stayed at Protaras, a few minutes drive from the legendary Cape Greko, kind of like the Cypriot Portland Bill and with some stonking rarities to it's name. It would be the end of passerine migration, but I was still hopeful, plus there should be a few Southeastern European species that would be new for me.

Some highlights:
26th April, Protaras area.
Our first stroll down to the beach and I found several Blackcaps feeding in flowering bottlebrush trees. The first of these had yellow pollen all over it's throat, which for a minute made my pulse quicken! A familiar call heralded Bee-eaters heading north up the coast. Several shot over at low altitude, closely followed by a Cuckoo moving over the sea. So a few migrants about then! After the kids had enjoyed their first paddle and ice cream, we wandered back to the gardens around the apartments. I decided to have a check of how easy it would be to get up the hill overlooking the village, which kind of reminded me of Beeston Bump at Sheringham. Sadly, it wasn't immediately obvious and would need a bit of a scramble - another day perhaps.

On the short walk back to the apartment, I flushed a grey and white bird. It landed on a low branch - big white primary patch reaching the wing-edge, pale grey rump, broad white tertial webs with fine white tips - a female Collared Flycatcher - smart! The bird showed well for a few minutes before melting away.

Lots of hirundines were overhead and back on the balcony I soon picked up some smart Red-rumped Swallows.  A little while later and alarm calls got me grabbing for my bins again, as a male Lesser Kestrel circled overhead. Later that afternoon as we enjoyed a dip in the pool, both a Peregrine and a Hobby moved north and the Lesser K put in another appearance.

Early in the evening we headed downtown. Movement in some fruiting apricot trees proved to be a whole gang of migrant warblers. Several Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps gorged on the rotting fruit or chased the flies. Suddenly, a beady yellow eye stared out from behind a leaf. Then, a large, adult Barred Warbler hopped into view - corking and an unexpected end to a great first day.

Danger: Deep Water

Flogged the LDV this morning with Reg. Failed to find a Red-rumped Swallow, or a Honey Buzzard leaving it's roost, despite really trying hard. Little of note, apart from two Greenshank at North Duffield, two Common Terns at Thorganby and two Grey Partridges near Skipwith Common. It will probably all happen tomorrow when I am back at work...

Sunday 6 May 2012

Floods in the valley

Quick look down the valley this evening on the off chance the Hes East Red-rumped Swallow had done a U-turn and gone to Wheldrake. The site is very wet but is accessible, with wellies, though to get to Pool Hide would require wading through deep water - we didn't bother. I'm not sure what effect the deep water will have on the grassland at this time of year, but it will certainly have been disasterous to many nesting birds.
Two drake Garganeys on the floods, plus 67 Tufted Ducks and a single drake Pochard. Stacks of hirundines over the water which I grilled but without success. On to Thorganby where another drake Garganey was present, plus an impressive 207 Tufted Ducks and equally impressive 79 Shelducks. A Barn Owl finished things off nicely.
Earlier, a first visit to YWT Garbutt Wood north of York, revealed 3 Garden Warblers, 2 Tree Pipits and a single singing Redstart.

The North Wind

Headed over to Spurn early with Reg. Went to Sammy's Point first - a Yellow Wag dropped in, then two male Ring Ouzels were found nearby in the first paddock. A flash of white revealed the first of many Wheatears, grounded by the freezing north wind. These are a bit late for British birds, though did not look like leucorhoa, so presumably Icelandic or Scandinavian birds. Further on, we had a look at the Humber and found a smart adult Spotshank among the hordes of Redshank, Dunlin etc and a female Marsh Harrier moved across the fields towards Spurn.Warblers were plentiful in the bushes further down, with Lesser Whitethroats, Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps all noted. Sadly, we missed the best of the bunch - see later!

On to Spurn, we drove to Chalk Bank and did a circuit all the way to the Point and back. It was quiet initially, with the first notable bird a Short-eared Owl flushed at close range by the lighthouse. Shortly, a Merlin whipped along the dunes and then a calling Black Redstart was tracked down - a female, on the wall by the parade ground. We had a good thrash of the point bushes, and picked up a pair of Pied Flycatchers, with a third calling bird remaining unseen close by. Sadly, a Wryneck was found simultaneously by another birder, but eluded us. A male Siskin dropped in to the poplars and then we decided to head back for lunch. On the way back, I found a female Redstart and a Whimbrel flew over. Reg up ahead was scoping a bush - when I got there he announced another female Redstart sharing a bush with a Whinchat. So things were picking up.

We picked up a radio from Adam and decided to head back to Sammy's to have a look for the Wood Warbler that we had failed to find earlier. On the way, we stopped just near Rose Cottage to grill a corking Wryneck that Steve Exley had found which was feeding on the footpath right out in the open. A cracking view!

Down at Sammy's the Rouzels were still feeding in the same area. After a while without seeing the Superphyllosc, a message came through from Mick Turton, also at Sammy's that he had just flushed either a Monties or a Pallid Harrier which was now flying south towards Kilnsea Wetlands. Panic! We ran back up out of the bushes to the bank top so we could see over the fields. For the next few minutes there was radio panic as everyone tried to find out what was happening. The bird went away from Mick and out of view without us seeing it. Shortly however, I picked up the bird coming back north, low down over Long Bank dyke. It looked really interesting! Guttingly my scope was in the car - Reg got on it straight away and announced that it had a really clean cut white collar with a dark boa to the rear. Through my bins I could make out plain apricot- orange underparts and darkish secondaries, but we were looking down on the bird which prevented us getting clear views of the underwing. The bird's jizz was not at all rakish like a Monties and looked quite broadwinged, despite being small and falcon like. I got on the radio and relayed it's movements as it headed off towards Easington. Mick and another birder got on it though more distantly than before as it moved north to Skeffling. Surely a Pallid!

I went back to the car to get my scope just in case the bird returned, but sadly it didn't. Frustrating as without my scope and due to our angle I hadn't seen enough to clinch the bird, though it's apparent juvenile plumage and structure pointed firmly to Pallid. We staked out the Wood Warbler which eventually showed albeit briefly. Well worth the wait as these are such little crackers. It stood out like a white and yellow beacon in the tree it was in. A smart Cuckoo landed nearby too.

We next did the Triangle and saw a smart male Redstart. After a quick chat with Adam back at the Warren, we headed for the pub. Just along the road, a harrier suddenly banked up out of Clubley's - a Hen Harrier! So, a three harrier species day! We had a look near the Blue Bell after a tip off and found a smart White Wagtail along with 2 Whinchats and a load of Wheatears. The cold north wind was freezing us again, so we headed to the Crown for a well-earned pint.

Post-script. A juvenile Pallid Harrier was reported Sunday morning from Spurn. Presumably the same bird lingering - let's hope the ID has been nailed!

Super Cyprus

Cracking week in Cyprus with the family. Some really good birds seen, including this Masked Shrike - a migrant at Cape Greko. More later...