Sunday, 26 June 2011

Some Black-tailed Godwits, and some help for Paul Simon

As the song goes, there ain't no cure for the summertime blues. But some Black-tailed Godwits can help, the first sign of autumn! These four were at Croxall yesterday:

And this one was at Uttoxeter Quarry this morning.

That's about it this time, at least it's improvement on last week. Watching some stuff from Glastonbury this evening, in particular the living legend that is Paul Simon. One of his most famous songs is, of course, "Fifty Ways to Leave your Lover".

But Paul, you only mention five ways (Slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. Don't need to be coy, Roy. Hop on the bus, Gus. Drop off the key, Lee). But what about the other 45 ways? So far, I can think of:

Just run away, Faye.
Drop her in a ditch, Rich.
Feed her to a shark, Mark.

Only 42 to go! Admittedly, that last one could be classed as murder rather than just leaving.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

And it's all going quiet over 'ere

Well, you can tell spring is over now. My birding's been very quiet over the last couple of days. Other than YL Gull at Uttoxeter Quarry, Common Tern at the JCB lakes in Rocester, and some Yellowhammers in some farmland near Cheadle, that's been has good as it's got.

Bit of a culture shock actually, because the spring passage was so good here. By local standards anyway, I'm sure someone from Norfolk reading this would be laughing. Hopefully things will pick up soon.

Either side of last week's dipping of the White-throated Robin, there were a couple of birds to look at. First one was a female Red-breasted Merganser at Uttoxeter Quarry. I had a quick look at it, didn't stay long because of the pollen, suffering quite badly at the time. Andy got this picture though.

Then last Monday evening, had a look at the snoozing Spoonbill at Blithfield. Snoring away in Tad Bay, I think one or two birders have done that in the past!

One thing I have been doing recently, while things on the birding front have been rather quiet, and to keep away from pollen, is catching up on the podcasts of the Talking Naturally website. I've found them very enjoyable so far, informative and entertaining.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Oh fffffffff.......

...fiddlesticks! Should've gone to Hartlepool straight after work on Friday. But having said that, I would've had to stop for a bite to eat on the way, and you don't know what the motorway traffic would be like. So on a Saturday morning at Hartlepool Headland all there was, was an empty bowling green.

As for the wall by the doctors garden, the ladders had been and gone:

Rumour has it that Roger Waters is to re-enact this twitching episode from earlier in the week, in future live productions of The Wall. Probably to "Comfortably Numb"!

Hartlepool is, of course, famous for the monkey that was hung by the locals, after they thought it was a French spy.

Well after this, I think there were quite a few suicidal birders who wouldn't have minded being put out of their misery. But if it's gone, there's nothing you can do about it. Actually, a bit of a seawatch during the morning was much better. There were 4 Manx Shearwaters, 1 Red-throated Diver, Common Scoters, Eiders, Little, Sandwich and Common Terns, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots. Who needs the Robin?

I gave up on it at the end of the morning. At least I know Hartlepool Headland and all the main birding sites on Teesside very well, so I headed for Greatham Creek and Seal Sands for a bit.

This is Seal Sands. Picturesque eh? With it's nuclear power station on one side, chemical works on the other.

Despite all that, what's left of the Tees estuary is great for birding. Pretty quiet on the whole this time, as you might expect for the time of year. But plenty of Common Seals, some Avocets and Common Terns. And the rest of the weekend was spent with my niece and nephew, which is never a bad thing.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A pair of quality birds

And with everything on Spain well and truly blogged. I still can't quite believe we had that Lesser Yellowlegs at Uttoxeter Quarry you know. Certainly on the Sunday afternoon it felt like a dream.

But last Tuesday after work was a glorious evening, and some well savoured time with the Lesser Yellowlegs. It showed wonderfully well, then flew off later.

Then on Monday evening of this week, I decided to take a look at the Red-necked Phalarope at Blithfield. Thinking that it being in Blithe Bay, it could be close enough to have it's picture taken. Quite pleased with the results actually.

Even before that Robin decided to turn up at Hartlepool Headland, I'll be visiting family in that part of the world this weekend anyway. I'll finish off this time with some unfortunate choice of words on Test Match Special.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Spanish Fiesta, Part III. The plains and back to Barcelona.

Right, better finish off this epic tale (eh?).

So after picking up a new car in Pamplona and driving round the Zaragoza ring road, eventually arriving around the plains at Belchite (pronounced Bel-Cheetay, and not Belshite!) during the middle of the day. Heading straight to El Planeron.

El Planeron is one of the main areas of steppe/semi-desert habitat, close to my hotel. A drive around the track, just to suss the place out really, had excellent views of 4 species of Lark (Calandra, Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed and Thekla), Stone Curlew and both Marsh and Montagu's Harriers. But by gum it was hot! It was pleasantly warm in the Pyrenees, but here the temperature peaked at 35 degrees celsius. Quite a shock to the system, too hot for me!

Considering the heat, I decided to try a spot for Lesser Kestrels, about an hour's drive away in Los Monegros. I'd heard conflicting stories about this spot. One group staying at Boletas told me that Lesser Kestrels there were dead easy, whereas Cristian told me that this colony had gone, and sadly Lesser Kestrel numbers are crashing all over Spain. Although I had a feeling that Cristian's local knowledge would be correct, I had to check it out for my own curiosity.

On arrival at some roadside derelict farm buildings, there were about six Kestrels up in the air and coming down to land on the rooves, along with Jackdaws and Choughs. All the male birds I could see were Common Kestrels. Oh dear, there's going to be some disappointed birders. But there's a lesson here, you've got to check them for yourself. Don't just turn up, look at some Kestrels and go away just assuming they're Lesser Kestrels!

I'd had enough at this point, so drove over to check into my last hotel. Trouble is, the room was just as hot as outside! This also explains the lack of photos so far. An evening check of El Planeron also yielded a Southern Grey Shrike and Whinchat. The main reason for sussing out El Planeron was to come here at dawn the next morning to try for Dupont's Lark. At which point I went into Rolf Harris mode:

Getting here before sun-arise, an absolute cacophony of Lark song. I had to remind myself of Dupont's Lark with my MP3 player (very useful to recognise yourself with unfamiliar bird song!), there were certainly around 3 or 4 Dupont's Larks singing all around the car park. And what an evocative song it is too!

As it started to get light at least you can then try to scan for them. The nearest I got was when one Dupont's was singing away, as soon as I got the binoculars in that area, a bird dropped from a bush down onto the ground straight away. Damn, it could've been Dupont's I suppose, but to be honest it could've been one of five different species of Lark. As the sun gets higher the Dupont's Larks start to quieten down. There are a couple of ponds by the roadside here, which had excellent views of Melodious and Great Reed Warbler.

For most of the day it was very tough going again with the heat. Trying to drive along some more tracks in the Los Monegros area, managed to see a Roller and a couple of immature Golden Eagles, but that was about it.

Then towards the end of the day, things started to cloud up a bit, and only now it felt like I could stand outside of car, with no beating sun. Things really got going now back at El Planeron, where I managed another immature Golden Eagle, 3 Spectacled Warblers and best of all, a Pin-tailed Sandgrouse through the scope. Brilliant, and what a relief!

I suppose I should've tried again for Dupont's Lark the next morning, my last in this trip. But I didn't because I knew I'd be back home late, in the early hours of the Saturday. And typically, by the time I left the plains the temperature had cooled right down.

Anyway, a few hours of driving back to Barcelona. Along the way, some schoolboy humour was had at a motorway service station. I missed this chance in Portugal, not going to miss it this time!!!

If you didn't already know, then next to Barcelona airport is the Llobregat Delta. Which was an excellent place to finish off. Highlights here included 4 Collared Pratincoles, 16 Audouin's Gulls, 7 Gull-billed Terns, 2 Purple Gallinules, 1 Kentish Plover, Spanish Yellow Wagtail. And all sorts of other birds that you just wouldn't see in the Pyrenees or the plains.

And if you're really bored, you can try some plane spotting as they come in to land at the airport.

So that was it. Ending up with a bird list of 139 and 13 lifers, and got through an unbelievable amount of red wine!

Whilst waiting in the airport, the departure terminal gradually built up with FC Barcelona supporters, using flights to Luton, Gatwick and Stansted to get to Wembley for the champions league final. We all know what happened there. The plane to Luton was rocking to Barcelona chants, they even tried a mexican wave at one point!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Spanish Fiesta, Part II. The High Pyrenees

On the way to Hecho is a place called San Juan de la Pena. There are two monasteries here, the old one built into the side of a cliff. Next to the new monastery, which is now a hotel and restaurant, is some productive woodland.

A walk through the woodland track yielded Crested Tit, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper. Eventually, the track leads to a viewpoint, giving a magnificent view of the Pyrenees.

Down the bottom of the view here, a Black Woodpecker flew past and Bonelli's Warblers were singing. Bonelli's Warbler has an interesting song actually, like a shortened Wood Warbler.

Before carrying on west to Hecho, I drove back through Jaca and north to a couple of ski resorts way up in the mountains, Astun and Candanchu. As you can see, the scenery on a sunny day is magnificent.

There were a few birds around, like Linnet, Black Redstart, Water Pipit, 2 Dippers and a Grey Wagtail, and Citril Finches. But unfortunately I couldn't stay up here that long, I did feel perculiar and being over 2 kilometres above sea level, I can only put it down to the altitude. Thankfully the Hecho valley is at a much lower altitude.

Next morning, a first try for Wallcreeper at the Gabardito area of the Hecho valley. A walk eventually takes you through to this area of cliff.

A birding group were already here, and had already seen both a male and female Wallcreeper. After a short wait, the male popped his head round the corner for a while, then took flight. What a brilliant sight a Wallcreeper in flight is, part Hoopoe, part butterfly! Also in the Gabardito area were Citril Finches, Alpine Swifts, both Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, a Golden Eagle and a Chamois.

After the Wallcreeper had flew off, I got talking to the birding guide, who was also staying at the same hotel in Hecho. "You've got time to get over the Pierre St. Martin, for Alpine Accentor!". What a good idea. It's about a two hour drive away to the north-west, and just over the border into France. The altitude wasn't a problem here either, even though you're above the clouds!

Well I say above the clouds, after about an hour and a half, the clouds came in and it became impossible to see anything. But before then there were Ring Ouzel, more Citril Finches, another Lammergeier and excellent views of Alpine Choughs.

But no Alpine Accentor or Rock Thrush. Never mind, worth a try, but Rock Thrush was still possible back towards the Wallcreeper site at Gabardito and carrying on along the path. So the plan was to go back there in the evening, when cooler to walk. In meantime lets explore further up in the Hecho valley.

I really wished I hadn't bothered. That's because along the mountain road, I really thought I had cleared a large rock in the road. I didn't, and it caused a huge puncture in the tyre wall, and no spare was supplied! Luckily for me, very lucky in fact, the birding group staying in my hotel were only a short distance away, looking at Marmots. Many thanks to Cristian Jensen Marcet of Audouin Birding Tours for giving me a lift back to the hotel, and helping out with the emergency breakdown phone line, in Spanish!

Thankfully it didn't take too long for the breakdown truck to arrive, the car was taken to a garage in Hecho and a taxi was arranged for me to pick up a new car in Pamplona the next morning. So at least I wasn't going to lose too much time in getting to the plains the next day, but it did scupper trying to see Rock Thrush that evening. Oh well, worse things happen I suppose.