Monday, 30 May 2011

Spanish Fiesta. Part I, Sierra de Guara

Right, after all the excitement of the Lesser Yellowlegs, better make a start. It all started with an Easyjet flight from Luton to Barcelona. There was no sign of Lorraine Chase selling Campari after all. However, there were two groups of hen parties at the check-in queue.

You could tell they were hen parties because they all wore specially printed T-shirts to mark their auspicious occasion. With one group having "Debbie Does Barcelona" printed all over them, with rather suggestive names of each young lady on the back.

"I wonder which poor sod is going to have to sit next to them?" I thought. Well, would you believe it, it was me! Actually there was no need to worry, because "Curvy Carly" and "Juicy Jude" were actually very nice, probably because they were sober!

But anyway, good luck to both hens, Debbie and Angela, as I left them behind and on the road out of Barcelona. About three and a half hours later, arriving at the little village of Loporzano, and to the Boletas guest house for the first three nights.

Birds seen along the way included Booted Eagle, Thekla Lark, Spotless Starling, White Stork and what turned out to be the only Sparrowhawk. After dinner and wine (there'll be a recurring theme regarding wine!) there was a calling Scops Owl from the garden.

The area around Boletas isn't really the high Pyrenees, more an area of foothills I suppose, called the Sierra de Guara. I was advised of a few areas to try for birds, all within a short distance of Boletas. The first stop was San Julian De Banzo.

As the temperature rose, up went about 30 Griffon Vultures and my first Lammergeier, woohoo! Also around the farmland were Red and Black Kites, Turtle Doves, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, Serin, Subalpine Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Tawny Pipit, a calling Quail and Bee-Eaters.

The next spot to try was the Vadiello Dam.

This can be a good place to look for Wallcreeper and Alpine Accentor earlier in the year, but too late now. More Griffons here, plus an Egyptian Vulture, Choughs, Alpine Swifts, Blue Rock Thrush.

A rather scrubby area around the Castillo De Montearagon:

turned out to be Wheatearville, with 2 Black Wheatears, 1 Black-eared Wheatear and 3 Northern Wheatears. Also Rock Sparrow and Spectacled Warbler here.

The last spot for the day was a gorge at Piraces. Supposedly a good spot for Eagle Owl, maybe one would appear roosting in a cliff. There wasn't one, but there was a Short-toed Eagle, another Black-eared Wheatear, Orphean and Dartford Warblers, 2 Egyptian Vultures and a brief churr of a Nightjar.

The next day started with another spot to try for Lammergeier and other raptors, at Santa Cilia De Panzano. Again, plenty of Griffon Vultures at this spot, and it took quite a while longer before another Lammergeier appeared. Also around were 3 Honey Buzzards, a Common Buzzard, 2 Golden Orioles, Cirl Bunting, Sardinian Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher.

A bit more higher up next, to Santa Eulalia de la Pena, with some pretty spectacular cliffs and views.

By far the largest numbers of Griffons here, and a wonderful sight of a flock of around 50 Choughs!

Decided to finish birding around this part of the trip with a walk around Loporzano. There's a White Stork nest, with three young, on the the church tower.

Nightingales and Corn Buntings were really common throughout this part of Spain, and also in the farmland surrounding Loporzano were Melodious and Subalpine Warblers, Serin, Woodchat Shrike and this Red Kite.

The hospitality, food and wine at Boletas really was lovely, so it was a little sad to move on. But move on I did, towards the Hecho valley in the high Pyrenees.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Lesser Yellowlegs!

Buenos Dias Amigos! I will get onto my trip to Spain eventually. But as Sir Alex Ferguson would say, "birding, bloody hell!"

I wasn't planning on going anywhere today, due a combination of tiredness from the travelling back and a consuming a rather large amount of alcoholic beverages while watching the Barcelona v Man United game. That was until around 3pm, when a rather nervous-sounding Andy was on the other end of the phone. "You'd better get down Uttoxeter, there's a Lesser Yellowlegs here!" What?!?!?!?!

Nice one Andy, and thank goodness I got back from Spain in time! For the record, this is the third record of Lesser Yellowlegs for Staffordshire. Following on from birds at Blithfield in 1979 and Knighton Reservoir, on the Shropshire border, in 1995.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Yay Sanderlings!

Did I say I'd be happy with one Sanderling? Well how about 9? Oh my giddy aunt!

That's definitely it for blogging now, until my return from Spain. So on Friday morning, off to Luton Airport. I wonder if Lorraine Chase will be there?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Some Time Off Work

Azerbaijan? It's not even in Europe! Oh well, at least I won five quid with Sweden finishing third. I've been concerned with Eurovision for the last few years, in this post-Wogan era, that's it's getting serious and rather dull. Thank goodness for Moldova, that's what I say. Oh, and Jedward!

Anyway, with that nonsense done for another year. I've got a couple of weeks off work now. On Friday I'm off birding in the Spanish Pyrenees for a week, really looking forward to it. So not sure if this will be my last blog entry before I go.

But I've checked Uttoxeter Quarry the last couple of days, and a nice number of passage waders building. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but 30 Ringed Plover:

And 19 Dunlin:

Is a decent showing, and slightly larger totals than yesterday. Pity there's nothing rarer with them, like a Broad-Billed Sand! Oh ok, I'll settle for Temminck's Stint. Actually, I'd be happy with a Sanderling!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Prediction Time

Wow, what a day in store tomorrow. With both the FA Cup final and Eurovision Song Contest!

Personally, it would be great to see Stoke City win tomorrow. As a Burton Albion supporter, perhaps I shouldn't be saying that? Although being in the same county, as a Brewer, Stoke City has never been on the "Radar of Hatred", or even Stafford Rangers. That previlege lies with both Derby County and Tamworth. But tradionally, the big rival of the past, during the fifties and sixties, was Nuneaton Borough.

But anyway, what's going to happen in Dusseldorf tomorrow? Well reader, watch out for Sweden. In fact, I'm off down the betting shop now!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

May Madness

There's not been much time for blogging recently, because there's been too many birds to either try to find, or to twitch!

Back to last Tuesday. I was heading to Burton for the evening anyway, so it was very useful that a lovely female Dotterel had been found at Whitemoor Haye. Very useful!

Then Wednesday, when another evening twitch was on. This time, a Wryneck found in the morning at Marshes Hill, just east of Knypersley Reservoir. It's an area that I knew wouldn't be quick to get to from home. Didn't get there until about 6:45, and no sign of the Wryneck in about an hour's wait. So that was a dip unfortunately, but useful to know where the place is.

Then to this weekend. On Saturday, with Blithfield being pretty quiet, Uttoxeter Quarry was an improvement with now 2 Wood Sandpipers around.

As for today. I'd just parked up in Uttoxeter for another check of the quarry, when the pager mentioned a Purple Heron at Ogston Reservoir in Derbyshire, sat in a tree next to the dam. I have a terrible record of dips for Purple Heron in Britain, and with plenty seen abroad I've never made an effort to twitch one for a long time. Not even the Doxey bird in 2005.

So I thought it's about time that changed. Less than an hour later, along the A50, A38 and through Alfreton. Setting up the scope in the public hide, the Purple Heron was still sat in a willow on the other side of the reservoir, next to the dam wall. Most of the time the bird was preening and stretching it's wings, then more difficult to see when the sun came out. This picture is reminisicent of those "magic eyes" that used to be popular, but the Purple Heron is there!

After about half an hour in the tree, the bird took off, had a fly around the reservoir for a bit, then got higher and moved off north-east. With my biggest bogey bird finally out of the way, no point in staying around now, so headed back towards home.

So during the afternoon, at Uttoxeter Quarry the 2 Wood Sands still around, but also a Greenshank around this time. And a Blithfield there was a Black Tern between the causeway and Beech Tree Point. I'd also been informed of a Grey Plover in Blithe Bay, a stunner apparently. I can't disagree with that!

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Beast from the East, and a Bird Race

You know certain winds around the world are given a name? Like the Sirocco, which blows north from the Sahara? Or the Fremantle Doctor in Western Australia? Well for the last few days here, that's what I'm christening this wind. For migrant waders and terns round this neck of the woods, it's been magnificent.

Back to Friday. Thanks to that T-Mobile advert I didn't have to watch the royal wedding. So a bit of birding in the Trent valley to start with, doubling up as a reconnaisance mission for Saturday's bird race. 2 Arctic Terns and 2 Greenshank at Whitemoor Haye, followed by 3 Black-tailed Godwits at Branston Gravel Pits.

Just about finished at Branston when I was informed of a Bar-tailed Godwit and a drake Garganey at Uttoxeter Quarry. I was getting there eventually.

And so to Saturday's big bird race day, with Paul Shenton of Birding for Fun, the name of which is a fine sentiment.

I'm not sure how I managed to stay awake all day, but I did. Starting on Cannock Chase at first light, about 4:45am, collecting a variety of woodland and heathland species like Redstart, Tree Pipit, Cuckoo, Stonechat, Wood Warbler. Next port of call was Aqualate Mere, where there was a useful selection of duck, including Pochard, and reeling Grasshopper Warbler, but unfortunately just missed out on a passing Marsh Harrier.

Then onto Belvide, with very good reason thanks to a pager message. A short amount of time in the Scott hide produced 2 smashing adult Little Gulls and an Arctic Tern, in amongst a few Common Terns.

The feeding station in the plantation was also rather useful, with Tree Sparrow and Willow Tit here. A quick look at Gailey produced our only Little Grebes of the day, but not much else.

Doxey was next, and this was where we had our best find of the day, when 8 Whimbrel flew over Tillington Flash near the metal hide, and then over the cemetery. Also a few other birds to bump the list up, such as Goosander, Moorhen, Teal, House Martin, Redshank.

A quick check of Tad Bay at Blithfield got us Goldeneye and Wigeon, two good'uns there that we wouldn't have got elsewhere. This "Beast from the East" wind had really got up by the time we got to Whitemoor Haye, where we managed Hobby overhead and Greenshank on the main gravel pit, but any farmland birds here were impossible due to the strength of the wind.

By now, it was heading towards 3pm. Croxall and Branston were scratched from the agenda to give us more time elsewhere. Uttoxeter Quarry was next, where the Garganey and Bar-tailed Godwit were still around, plus Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail, and another Whimbrel.

By now it was getting towards late afternoon and we still need to go further north. This should add a sense of urgency for the rest of the bird race.

Into the Churnet Valley, and a strange sense of urgency now, where we picked up Pied Flycatcher and 2 Mandarins at Dimmingsdale, and Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Treecreeper round Oakamoor. A quick pit stop, and then to Tittesworth, where we picked up a few more to the list, included the first Curlew of the day. It's odd when you've seen more Whimbrel than Curlew!

The rest of the evening until dusk was spent driving round the moors. But apart from Peregrine at the famous site of The Roaches, Red Grouse and Meadow Pipits, we just had to admit defeat with the strong winds up there, which was a shame really.

In the end we finished with a total of 105. I've never done a bird race before, and you don't hear of them being done any more, don't know why. But it is good fun, quite tiring (still recovering now!), and makes for a good adventure.

The weather conditions helped us with picking up migrant waders, terns and Little Gull, but did hinder us with some of the passerines. For example, Garden Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat were missed, as were Bullfinch and amazingly, Coal Tit! Sparrowhawk was also missed.

Not surprisngly after all that, I slept like a log and didn't get up that early on Sunday, but the wader and tern passage continued unabated. You know when something good is happening when even Croxden Quarry was producing a Bar-tailed Godwit and 5 Arctic Terns over the course of the day.

And at Uttoxeter Quarry, a Wood Sandpiper had now arrived. The Bar-tailed Godwit still around, but no sign of the Garganey. Not the best picture of a Wood Sand you'll ever see, but it was there. And I did mention it was windy?