Monday, 12 December 2016

Birding in the Algarve, Portugal (07-11/12/16)

Arriving at Faro Airport, even at 9am, the first thing that struck me was the heat. Coming from England, where we had needed to scrape the ice off the car before leaving, and arriving in Faro where it was t-shirt weather. The mild climate, made birding very enjoyable, not to mention that it provided the perfect environment for a fantastic array of wintering birds. The most obvious of which were visible on our drive to Aljezur, where we were staying. Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis littered the sides of the road and most fields, along with Iberian Magpies Cyanopica cyanus exploding from most bushes, sometimes in sizeable flocks of over 50 birds. Unfortunately, the day was taken up primarily with trivial tasks and it wasn't until the evening that I could actually walk the land around the house. The evening sun illuminated the shrubbery and a few birds were still flycatching in its golden glow. On my ten minute walk before the sun completely disappeared I was able to pick up on two sylvias, Sardinian Warbler Sylvia Melanocephala and Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata a nice duo to observe on your back door step.

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia Melanocephala

The 8th dawned, and once again it was a clear day, with the sun beating down as always. No time was wasted, and I set about exploring the area more thoroughly. Both Dartford and Sardinian Warbler were still chattering in the undergrowth, occasionally visible through the thick cover. Birds still seemed quite active many calling as part of the dawn chorus. Included in the mix were Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus Collybita, Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major, Serin Serinus serinus and of course both sylvia warblers.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major

On the wires a group of three Woodlarks Lullula arborea were singing accomponied by some Spotless Starlings Sturnus unicolor. A flight of Crag Martins Ptyonoprogne rupestris circled overhead, occasionally being lunged at by a hungry Kestrel Falco tinnunculus. Moving on to a more overgrown area, I was instantly greeted by a Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis which flushed from the dense undergrowth and a small group of four Cirl Buntings Emberiza cirlus trilled nearby.

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus

Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis

Finally, I approached the stream running along the bottom of the valley, where I had heard a faint call reminiscent of Yellow-browed Warbler the evening before. Once again I picked up the distinctive "tsew-wit" call of a Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus, and this time there was no doubt in my mind. The bird did eventually show itself, its citrus supercilium s out from behind the leaves. Incredibly, there were a mere 20 records of this elegant species from 1985-2010, with irruption years since then producing dozens more. It is still a description species in Portugal, but whether this is because of a lack of coverage or that this is still a scarce sibe is unknown. However, I would favour the former, due to reports of a wintering population in Iberia.

Yellow-browed Warbler (record shot) Phylloscopus inornatus

Back to work on he 9th again, sorting out various problems with the house, a brief walk around the area produced very little new, but the same birds were still on show. An errand trip saw me and my father head out to Portimão in the afternoon. I saw this as an opportunity, to visit a nature reserve en route. I was dropped off at 15:30 with an hour an a half to run round Ria de Alvor before the sun would set. A magnificent pair of Black-winged Kites Elanus caeruleus hunted not to far from the road, but a tight time schedule didn't leave me much time to admire them.

Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus

Once at the reserve, there was a half an hour walk to the actual salt marsh. However, this was far from uneventful, more Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis easily reaching double figures called from around the paths, triple figures of White Stork Ciconia ciconia were also visible, accompanied by the usual Portuguese specialities including Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cyanus, Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis, Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild, Hoopoe Upupa epops and Sardinian Warbler Sylvia Melanocephala.

Stonechat Saxicola rubicola

White Stork Ciconia ciconia

The salt marsh itself borders onto the sea (or rather Ocean) creating a wide variety of habitats. On the beach, groups of waders were feeding on the invertebrates, mostly birds we are familiar with in Britain, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Ringed Plover Chaadrius hiaticula, Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus, Knot Calidris canutus, Redshank Tinga erythropus, Greenshank Tringa stagnatilis, Sanderling Calidris alba and Dunlin Calidis alpina.

Dunlin Calidris alpina

Separated by a bank of mud, the lagoons held a completely different selection of birds, Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia sifted through the water next to resting Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus among other waders like Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria and most notably Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus! On the passerine front the highlight was my first ever Bluethroat Luscinia svecica, a full male seen for a total of 3 seconds.

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus

The 10th saw very little change in terms of diversity, another stroll around the area produced no new species, instead I was adamant on photographing a Sardinian Warbler Sylvia Melanocephala, since they had evaded my camera thus far.

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala

The 11th was our last day in Portugal, I spent as much time checking the local area as possible which turned up a fly over Rock Bunting Emberiza cia and a pair of Nuthatch Sitta europaea (not quite on the same level). Before boarding the plane at Faro back to London Gatwick, we stopped at Ria Formosa, one of Portugal's most famous wildlife reserves.

Ria Formosa with roosting Little Egret

It was just before 4pm when we arrived, which left little time to explore, but I did my best. The reserve once again held a magnitude of wildlife, over a hundred waders could be seen feeding on a single lagoon, mostly made up of Redshank Tringa totanus, Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Sanderling Calidris alba and other common wintering waders. The first birds I saw on exiting the car were two Booted Eagles Aquila pennata, a pale morph and a juv. thermaling up among a group of White Storks Ciconia ciconia. On the reserve, you were surrounded by the calls of various warblers, Sardinian, Willow and even Zitting Cisticola. A Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus hovered above one of the lagoons, occasionally diving into the grass, flocks of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa flew over, relocating to another lagoon, Little Egrets Egretta garzetta fed in the shallows and huge numbers of Coots Fulica atra and Gulls Larus were to be seen.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa

Black-winged Kite Elanus Caeruleus

Further on, another lagoon held an astounding amount of avifauna. There were flocks of White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Shoveler Anas clypeata, Wigeon Anas penelope, Teal Anas crecca, Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus and Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus!

Flock of Wigeon Anas penelope

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia

The lagoon was a veritable mecca for wintering birds. As the sun began to set, I had to make my way back, but not without one last scan, which revealed a Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia and Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis feeding and diving into the lagoons.

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia

Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis

It was a huge shame that I only had an hour to enjoy it, I worry about the countless birds I must have missed.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Black-bellied Dipper, Needham Market

Being in Ipswich, I took the opportunity to visit Needham Market, Suffolk. Here, along the quaint little River Gippling a Black-bellied Dipper Cinclus cinclus cinclus had taken up refuge. The trip proved its worth, when after a short wait, at the weir just north of Hawks Mill, I was greeted with fantastic views of this rare subspecies. I was left to enjoy the bird to myself for almost an hour, before the fading light forced me to leave.

There are an incredible 13 subspecies of Dipper in the world, distinguished solely by plumage colour, only three of which actually occur in Britain and Ireland. Hibernicus and gularis are residents to the UK, with the former being found in Ireland and western Scotland, whilst the latter are the commoner and reside across the rest of Britain. The third Subspecies to occur in Britain is cinclus, this species is more commonly found in northern Scandinavia, western France, northwestern Spain, Corsica and Sardinia. However cinclus does occasionally venture further afield during its winter dispersal as weather becomes unbearable in the higher regions of Scandinavia and the odd bird is spotted along a stream somewhere in Britain, interestingly this is the nominate race of this species.

Hibernicus and gularis are near impossible to separate, but Black-bellied Dipper is an easier task. Instead of having a chestnut brown belly and vent, which our British Dippers have, it is replaced with a darker more deep brown close to black.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Bardsey week 7 (08-14/10/16)

Another good week on Bardsey, this time with a stand out highlight! Calm winds continued to flow from the east for the entire week, provoking an imminent rare. The week got off to a good start, when a Red-breasted Flycatcher was found in one of the nets at Cristin, I was busy watching a Yellow-browed Warbler when the news came through, but I still made the short run to the observatory to find the bird wasn’t even being processed yet. Once the bird was ringed, it was shown to those who were interested. The day also produced a couple of Ring Ouzels, which were another pleasant surprise and a female Redstart along the West Side.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Common Redstart

On the 9th, I was fortunate enough to get two ringing ticks in one day. It began with a Yellow-browed Warbler which was caught at Ty Nesaf in the morning. Followed by a Water Rail caught in the Heligoland Trap in the afternoon! Yellow-browed Warblers continued to increase in number and a total of 14 were recorded on the 9th, making a new record for the island!

Yellow-browed Warbler

Water Rail

Yellow-browed Warbler

By the 10th the relentless easterlies had brought with them a large number of crests, 114 Goldcrests were logged, the largest number this autumn so far. Their numbers should be increasing over the next few weeks, since they didn’t reach their maximum until close to the end of October last year. Thrushes were also moving through this week. The nights are getting longer, the temperatures are dropping and winter is coming, this all lead to the beginning of thrush movement through the island, largely featuring Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings. Plenty were caught in the nets this week, allowing us to enjoy close views of this charismatic bird in the hand.


Little Owl

The 11th and 12th were much the same as before, it wasn’t until the 13th when it kicked off. In the morning a Radde’s Warbler was found at Plas Withy, I was only a few hundred metres away so I made a run over to the site. We put up the nets in the Withy, I retreated from the withy and searched for the bird. A large Phyllosc. flew into the north side of the withy, and after some scowering I picked up the bird, sitting in some brambles. The bird then flew towards me and landed in a patch only 10m away at most! I was able to enjoy great views for about 20 seconds before the bird flew off and disappeared. Despite extensive searching the bird wasn’t relocated until the afternoon, when the bird was seen at Nant and was trapped shortly thereafter. An absolutely amazing experience to see a Radde’s Warbler in the hand!

Radde's Warbler!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Bardsey week 6 (1-7/10/16)

My sixth week on Bardsey shall forever be known as the week Yellow-browed Warblers eventually hit the island. The week began with a few common migrants, small numbers of Wheatear were still making their way through. Most impressive though were two Lapland Buntings, having picked them up calling, flying over the South End, I eventually pinned them down, where they showed reasonably well before relocating with the Meadow Pipits again.

Lapland Bunting

The 2nd brought the autumns first Firecrest, but it wasn’t until the 3rd that the first Yellow-browed Warblers graced the shores of Bardsey: one in Ty Pellaf Withy and another at Nant.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Both Yellow-browed Warblers stayed into the next day, now joined by a scattering of Merlins across the island. A Flava Wagtail, flew over the Narrows, but more impressive was a Pintail found on Henllwyn, quite an island rarity! The 6th was dominated by birds of prey for me anyway, a Short-eared Owl flushed from the Wetlands was quite a nice surprise and a good start to the day. Unfortunately, later I found a female-type flycatcher in the Withies which I never managed to see again, but as a consolidation an Osprey was picked up flying south. The 7th held another island rarity, in the form of a Shoveller! A good bird to get on my Bardsey list since it was an island tick for the Warden as well! The best of the rest were more Yellow-browed Warblers, a Little Egret and a calling Ring Ouzel.

The nights on Bardsey are epic. With almost no light pollution, the milky way is easily visible as well as millions of stars and even some planets. Perfect for star trails!

The night sky over Llŷn Peninsula from Bardsey

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Bardsey week 5 (24-30/09/16)

The had a slow start, strong southerlies continued to batter the coast, and made viewing conditions less then suitable. Personally I recorded very little until the 26th. However, the first two days were not utterly wasted. Some paperwork was actually done, and two Sooty Shearwater made a brief appearance as they glided by the west coast, backlit by the evening sun. Not to mention a Wryneck which I kicked up near Ty Capel, presumably the long staying individual, taking a break from hiding and actually having a feed.

Turnstones battling the winds

As I said the 26th was where the week improved, by late morning the clouds had parted and the sun was beginning to heat up the island. I undertook my usual census route around the Wetlands, Withies and Lowlands. I noted an increase in both Chiffchaff and Goldcrest numbers, which was visible in the observatory garden and the withies. As I made my way through the withies, I sneaked a glimpse of a Hippolais warbler, following some waiting, I eventually identified it as a Melodious Warbler. The bird remained in Cristin Withy until the 30th, occasionally giving close views.

Melodious Warbler

The 28th brought with it the last large movement of hirundines. A good number of Swallow and House Martin were seen throughout the day, moving through on their migration back to south Africa. The totals at the end of the day showed that more than 400 Swallows and just under 100 House Martins had moved through, in the course of the day. The next day, we encountered the last large Manx Shearwater movement. An astonishing 2180 went past, the largest number to pass the island in the last week of September by a country mile! The winds must have been favourable because in six hours of seawatching, I also had six Pomarine Skuas, one Arctic Skua and three Bonxies.

The Melodious Warbler eventually went into the Withy nets on the 30th. Another bird was found at Nant, an extremely elusive brown job, which I won’t go into, but combining what the staff saw on the bird, it could only have been a Blyth’s Reed Warbler! (click the name for some blurry shots of a brown thing)

Melodious Warbler

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Bardsey Week 4 (17-23/09/16)

Southerlies and westerlies continued to prevail over the island this week, despite this there were good numbers of migrants passing through. The most common of course being Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. The numbers are still to reach their peak, and are steadily on the increase. Amongst them are the occasional Spotted Flycatcher or migrant warbler, for example Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Reed Warbler. Chats are still passing through in good number, including Stonechat, but especially Robins, which have numbered up to 70 or so birds on some days. The odd Whinchat or even Lapland Bunting have also cropped up and both Grey Wagtail and Snipe have been seen passing through almost daily.

 Manx Shearwater

 Spotted Flycatcher

However, the highlights of the week have been more Wryneck, and the incredibly confiding waders on Solfach. It’s been very enjoyable being able to see Wryneck on almost a daily basis, and even having the privilege of encountering a slightly more showy individual.


As I said earlier the Waders on the beach have been posing for the cameras and have allowed for some enjoyable photography sessions. Not to mention the number present. Turnstone are numbering up to 80 or so birds whilst Dunlin are breaking 20 and Ringed Plover are managing double figures. The occasional Knot or Sanderling have also been present.

 Ringed Plover

 Purple Sandpiper


We’ve taken advantage of the number of wader and attempted woosh netting twice, both times having reasonable success, with almost 20 birds caught in the second session.

Moths continue to be trapped in the garden, largely consisting of Square-spot Rustics or Lunar Underwings, but other more interesting species have also been caught, including another Convolvulus Hawkmoth.

Convolvulus Hawkmoth

Oh, I almost forgot, the Melodious Warbler is also somehow, still in the observatory Garden smashing its way into its fourth week here! How I’ve not got a single picture of the bird is beyond me…