Monday 29 February 2016

Little Owls and Firecrest

Today was about birding locally and meeting lots of local birders on our travels. First up was a visit to a Little Owl at an undisclosed site, well undisclosed to us, everyone else seems to know of the location. I sometimes think that we are on the lower end of the birding food chain - we are the last to know what is going on. Anyway we found the location and the bird was home, actually to our delight it was "birds" as we managed to spot what is obviously a pair.

Next stop was for the pair of Red Crested Pochards on Ivy lake at Chichester Gravel Pits. A big thank you to Sarah, without whose help we would probably never have found the birds. They were well hidden under the trees at the back of one of the islands. During our time of observation we were joined by Alan Kitson and Bart Ives, both remained for a short while. We hung on hopeful that the birds would come out to feed but in fact they seemed to be going deeper into cover. Word filtered through that Owen Mitchell had a White-fronted Goose on East Lake so we departed, hopefully for a better photo opportunity. Fat chance, the bird was miles away but it was a good looking adult and begged to be photographed properly. Martin led the way and by outstanding guile and field craft, navigated us into a position for a better shot. Nice to meet Andrew and Peter, the birder list was now growing, obviously fine weather on the last day of winter was enticing everyone out.

On the way back to the car we had a final try at the RCPs, now they were barely visible but we did give them a further ten minutes to pose but they declined. Two displaying Great Crested Grebes, sparking is the term I would use, definitely interested but not ready to go into that wonderful ballet routine.

We couldn't finish early so we made our way up to the "triangle" in Peppering Lane. Not a lot flying, a couple of Skylarks and a lone Buzzard. Out in the field of rape seed was a pair of Grey Partridges, so the three ticks for the day were in the bag. Our final venue was WWT Arundel where Martin had previously found a Firecrest near the Sand Martin hide, we searched diligently but found nothing, we were  making our way back to the VC when we came across a familiar figure hunched over a 500mm lens - Trevor - who was also searching for a Firecrest. Pooling our resources we finally found a specimen, with the help of several other birders. The snapping was frantic, trying to nail an impossible target that failed to stay still for a fraction of a second.

We wound up the day with teas and cakes in the restaurant and caught up on the birding tales of recent months. A cracking day out - just need to have a revisit to nail that pesky Firecrest.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Long-billed Dowitcher and Goosanders

Whilst it is nice to bird away there is something about birding on your local patch, it's just that our patch stretches from Lymington to Dungeness. So we found ourselves in search of the Long-billed Dowitcher down at Pennington Marshes. It didn't take long to find the bird - well not long to be shown where it was by a kind local birder if the truth be known. Initially the bird was semi hidden in the company of three Snipe but obligingly emerged for a photo shoot.

I also recorded two ringed Mute Swans, I will pop off a report and wait to see if they have an interesting history.

Having started so well we decided to visit Mark Ash to see if we could locate an early Lesser-spotted Woodpecker but it was a dip. So too our regular Tawny Owl - it would appear that he has gone to reside elsewhere.  We finished up at Eyeworth Pond at Fritham where Martin was looking for some Marsh Tit shots and I thought we may find some recently reported Goosanders, Happily we both came away satisfied. The icing on the cake was the superb weather - spring has to be just round the corner.


I suspect that there are plenty of fish in Eyeworth




Tuesday 16 February 2016

More Fuerteventura Birds and Butterflies

Late one afternoon we staked out the fig trees on Tindaya Plain, hopeful that a Houbara would turn up. To say it was slow was an understatement, just two Cream-coloured Coursers ambling by.

Then the resident Raven entertained us, dining on the old figs, the heat was soporific but when a large, odd looking, brown animal crossed the road just yards in front of us I was bolt upright and wide awake. I had never seen anything quite like this and between us we hadn't got a clue to its identity, two more appeared, this time behind the car and further away, but I managed a quick shot. Subsequent research reveals that they are Canary Island Wild Dogs, take a look at the coat of arms of the islands - guess what? Two big brown dogs!


The final surprise came as three large Yellow-legged Gulls landed close by and joined the Raven feeding on whatever insects were popping up in what is virtually a desert.

We couldn't leave without a final visit to the agricultural areas around La Oliva. When we arrived a Kestrel was terrorising a flock of Trumpeter Finches, What a hoot, the birds sat on the top of a berm and directed a constant stream of alarm "Paaaaarps" at the post squatting Kestrel.

I finally investigated the Shrike's nest and recorded the juveniles.


As we left, one last Hoopoe graced us with his presence.

Whilst the primary targets for the holiday were avian oriented I couldn't ignore the chance of some exotic butterflies. I knew that Monarchs could be found at Betancuria and that Plain Tigers occurred in the car park at the Oasis Park Zoo down in La Lajita. Also a posting on Sussex Butterfly Conservation by Neil Hulme suggested that the place was alive with the African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna  so I was disappointed not to find one. Another mistake was not to photograph the large whites, I had dismissed them as "too common" when they are possibly are a separate species from our UK residents. Tolman states that Pieris brassicae are not known to occur in the Canaries - others disagree.

My holiday list:

Canary Islands Large White, Pieris cheiranthi??   La Oliva but everywhere in shaded 

Small White, Artogeia rapae                                     La Oliva but everywhere

Green Striped White, Euchloe belemia                    La Oliva

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui                                  everywhere in huge numbers.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta                                 La Oliva

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus                       Tindaya Plain

Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli                    La Oliva and Betancuria

Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous           La Oliva and Rosa de los Negrines

Monarch, Danus plexippus                                        Betancuria

Plain Tiger, Danaus chrysippus                                Oasis Park, La Lajita

Greenish Black Tip, Elphinstonia charlonia             Rosa de los Negrines and El Cotillo

I haven't done any butterfly photography in hotter climes before and failed to realise just how active and unapproachable they can be. The Plain Tiger never came close enough for a macro shot so I resorted to using my 400mm f5.6 - it was either that or climb up into the ornamental flower beds at the zoo. Well that's my excuse anyway.

The Monarchs were deceptive too - they seemed to flop about but were actually quite quick and never really settled. The most obliging subject was the Lang's I had three and when the sun went in they posed perfectly. Whatever, here is what I managed to capture.

Geranium Bronze

Green Striped White

Lang's Short-tailed Blue


Plain Tiger


Wednesday 10 February 2016

Fuerteventura Birding (3)

It would be a hard act to follow the Houbara episode but I had a plan and several more birds that I wanted to see. So after breakfast we headed off for the Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura's largest expanse of freshwater. Turning off the road at Las Parcelas we scanned the goat farm - alas no birds present just the usual large and angry dogs. As we approached the dam we were greeted by a Southern Grey Shrike - they literally are everywhere. Amazingly we had the place to ourselves so took time to scan the water. Ruddy Shelducks are obvious - there must have been at least 300 on the water and scattered on the banks, all making a tremendous noise. We also found Coots, several Black-winged Stilts, there should have been more but the water levels were high and there was minimal exposed mud. In fact we found more when we visited the other end of the dam.

The bird that I really wanted to see was the Fuerteventura Stonechat, normally known as "the chat" and according to reliable information two pairs inhabited the barranco below the dam. So I set off down the track into the valley, the temperature on the top was a pleasant 22 degrees, at the bottom where there was no wind it was uncomfortably warm! No matter, as I reached the river bed which had a good trickle of water flowing, I was greeted by a very obliging male chat who was soon joined by his mate - an easy life tick and good photos to boot. I continued down the path and soon found the second pair and a third male interloper.


Berthelot's were everywhere and I also flushed Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover.  Ruddy Shelducks, Pied Wagtail, Little Egret and Trumpeter Finch completed the list. There is no doubt that water is the key to good birding on a desert like island. I noted lots of dragonflies, damselflies and other interesting insects but I concentrated on the birds, mentally noting that a return visit would be in order. Ha! - the weather on my subsequent return was much cooler and a half gale was blowing down the barranco - not an insect to be found. One of the dragonflies was obvious - the Lesser Emperor but of course all were hyperactive in such heat.  As my water supply ran out I thought that I should return to the car - we had other birds to see.

Down at the other end of the dam there is a massive goat farm and the Black-bellied Sandgrouse take advantage of the feed put out for the thousands of goats. Sod's Law prevailed all the goats were in the most distant fields though there were literally hundreds of sandgrouse flying about - mainly between the barranco and the goat fields. Don't be put off by the entrance to the farm - just drive to the end of the track and park adjacent to the blue containers. Anyone we saw just waved, not the same as in the UK where the usual greeting is "get orf my land"

The path down to the barranco is a bit precarious but it is well worth it, I finally got some shots of BbS, albeit at a distance and the Black-winged Stilts obliged.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse - my holiday bogey bird - perhaps next time!

Time to be off again, this time Betancuria where the African Blue Tit can be found, I also wanted to find a Monarch butterfly and as the temperature was on the up I was confident. Immediately after we had parked in the lower car park, 1 euro for the whole day, about one thirtieth of what Brighton City Council charge, I saw a "lolloping" Monarch and managed some shots. Just a few more yards into the town and I heard the distinct tones of an African Blue Tit, not vastly different from our home grown variety. We waited patiently and sure enough one emerged and posed for us.


In the town centre Monarchs were everywhere, so whilst Liz went shopping I staked out a patch of Decaisne's Viper's Bugloss and Bougainvillea. Plain Tigers had been reported but I saw none, though whilst snapping the Monarch I was photo bombed by a hyperactive Striped Hawk Moth which I just managed to capture. 

On return to the car park I heard the scratchy call of a Sardininan Warbler, sure enough, in the palms right next to the car there were three of them and not one would come out into the clear to be snapped. God knows what the other tourists thought of the mad Englishman peering into the bushes.

Finally, exasperated, I gave up as there was one more place to visit - the Mirador de Las Penitas where I had a date with some well known Ravens.

After a long drive, some of it through some narrow mountain roads, we arrived back at the hotel and had a well earned drink to celebrate a very successful three days, time for rest and some shopping in Caleta de Fustes.