Monday, 28 March 2016

Mallorca in early March (Part 2)

This was only our second ever trip to Mallorca, the first being about 4 years ago, before my 'obsession' as my wife calls it of photographing birds. I prefer to call it an overwhelming and uncontrollable need!
Anyway, I said in Mallorca part 1 it wasn't specifically a birding trip so we did visit places not known for their birding. One of these was the Talayotic site of Ses Païsses, just outside Arta in north eastern Mallorca. My wife has a keen interest in things ancient and archaeological and we'd managed to miss this during our visit in 2012.
The talaiots or talayots, are Bronze Age Megalithic structures on the islands of Minorca and Mallorca. There are at least 274 of them dating from between 1,300–900BC. The good thing about this one was that there were a number of Serin in the trees around the site!
Talayotic site of Ses Païsses
Joking aside, it is well worth a visit and with a 2€ entrance fee, not exactly costly. 
There were indeed Serin at the site and a Firecrest which nearly landed on my head but I didn't manage to get a photo of that. The Serin were obvious by their calls but still very difficult to locate in the canopy. I usually only managed to find them when they flew up and circled before landing again; if I spotted where they'd landed I could track them down. 
 After the ancient site we headed out on some directions taken from the internet on what was listed as a good birding route on a minor road called Carretera Camidels Racó just to the east of Arta which leads to the coast at Cala Mitjana. The first section through farmland certainly contained a lot of small birds, including various finches- particularly Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Serin. This is also supposed to be a good place to see Cirl bunting but I didn't see any. 
Following the track from a parking area at the far end takes you down to the coast. There were numerous Yellow-legged gulls on the beach at Cala Mitjana.
Yellow-legged gulls at Cala Mitjana

Where the dunes met the beach I noticed my first Thekla larks, 5 in fact, and spent a happy 30+ minutes following them around trying to get a decent shot. They weren't too bad to approach but would occasionally spook and fly off but usually only 20 or 30 metres away, so I could start my stalking all over again.

On the return walk I spotted an Audouin's gull trying to get a drink from a puddle of fresh water but it was immediately disturbed by some people walking past. I sat quietly on a rock with a clear view of the puddle and waited until the walkers had passed, sure enough the gull landed again and I got a few shots of it.
A little further back around the headland I saw a pair of Audouin's gulls attracted to another puddle, this was obviously the way to find these gulls, find a freshwater puddle!

Quite a few orchids lined the track on the hillside, I photographed a couple in the hope of identifying them later but I am a novice when it comes to orchids.
Possibly Ophrys tenthredinifera, the Sawfly Orchid.
Orchid, sp unknown. Maybe a variant on the above?
The Bóquer Valley. 13/03/2016
 Mid March is a bit too early for the spring (and autumn!) migrants for which this valley is best known, but it had the potential to offer some good views of resident species.
We'd followed some overly complicated directions from the internet to get to (and miss) the car park for the start of the walk, but in reality it is very straightforward. The rough ground used as a car park is at a roundabout on the  Ma-2200 ring road around Port de Polenca (the Avinguda de Bocchoris is off the same roundabout). Park here and follow the path at the back of the car park.
It got off to a good start with a very obliging Black redstart but we never saw any Cirl buntings, supposedly worth looking out for here. A little further on we saw a distant Blue rock thrush but it was impossible to get any nearer as it was down in the valley beyond a wall, I managed a record shot only.
Black redstart ♀
A view of the Boquer Valley
 A pair of Sardinian warblers were feeding just off the path and I followed them around the scrub for several minutes taking photos. The male was a bit more secretive so I didn't manged many shots of him.
Sardinian warbler ♀
As the path nears the sea it slopes down quite steeply in places and a multitude of separate tracks break away from it where people have chosen their own route. Some of these tracks are much better than others but it seemed impossible to tell which was going to be the best other than by trial and error. We sat and had a rest just before reaching the beach - we'd managed to do the walk on the same day that an organised community beach clean was going on which meant there were already 50+ people in the little bay where the paths were heading.
Scanning the sky for the Raven I could hear calling I saw my first Black vulture, it was slowly gaining height above the mountains surrounding the bay. In total we saw 5 (or 6, it was difficult keeping tracks on each one). I took some shots but they were a long way off and badly silhouetted against the bright sky.
Black vulture
On the return, retracing our steps, we had a decent view of a Booted eagle and a fine male Stonechat briefly perched nearby while we had lunch. I'd hoped to see a Balearic warbler which can often be seen on sections of the walk apparently, but like the Cirl buntings, we didn't manage to find one.
Booted eagle
 Stonechat ♂
Part 3 later - S'Albufera reserve, Ses Salines etc.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Mallorca in early March (Part 1)

Mallorca is how it is written on my map so I'm sticking with that - if what I've read is correct it became Majorca for those that couldn't pronounce the 'll' - which I read is pronounced as a 'y' so it ought to be Mayorca??
Anyway, enough of that, we had 10 days there from the 9th to 18th March. It wasn't organised as a birding trip but I would seek out what I could when I was there. The best time to catch the spring migration seems to be around the last week in April but that wasn't possible for us, so we settled on these dates to have a break from the cold grey skies of the UK.
Leaving Gatwick in rain and the temperature barely into double figures, we arrived at Palma airport - in rain with temperatures barely into double figures. I wasn't expecting glorious sunshine and 25°C all the time but had thought that traveling the best part of 1000 miles south would offer some improvement on the climate. However, we couldn't change it so made the best of it.
10th March
The first full day started wet but the rain did stop intermittently and we even saw the sun on occasions, but it was still only about 11°C.  We'd stopped at the edge of the road (not something that you can do very often we found, so many of the roads had nowhere to pull over so it could be quite frustrating if something was spotted when you were driving, it could be nearly a kilometer before you could safely stop), not far from the town of Campanet in the north of the island. A verge under a stone wall had recently been strimmed and several different birds were feeding in the debris. First to catch my eye was a female Black redstart.
I quickly lost interest in that when I saw what I was convinced was a Whinchat. I have photographed these in Kent, usually on their autumn migration, but they are difficult to approach, so if this one came close it might give me my best shot of one. It did come close and revealed itself to be a female Stonechat, there had been something about its posture (1st photo) that had made me think Whinchat, but seeing it close by it was obviously not (2nd photo).

In fact I never saw a Whinchat at all which was a bit disappointing.
The strimmed edge had also attracted Greenfinches, a Robin and a couple of Siskin which I didn't see but my wife did. The light wasn't good by now and also, despite being on a small road in what can only be described as a 'one horse hamlet', some form of  vehicle came past about every 60 seconds - or more accurately within 10 seconds of the birds returning after being scared off by the previous vehicle. I made a note to return in better light to have another go.
11th March.
Great excitement in the morning, sunshine could be seen through the slats on the louvered doors so we wasted little time in getting out. Driving along scenic tiny lanes through olive groves and cultivated fields I spotted something in the young corn. Unusually there was somewhere to pull in and get the car off the road, at the entrance to a gated and locked driveway. I walked back and could see larks moving about but they were too far away for a photograph. A male Stonechat was flying down from a low branch but again was a bit far off. I looked up, having wandered rather further from the car than intended, to see another car behind mine waiting to access the drive - I couldn't believe it, the gates didn't look like they'd been used all winter and within 5 minutes of me stopping I was in someones way!
View to the Tramuntana mountains along the gated driveway.
We moved on and found another place to stop, in a field gateway that clearly hadn't been used in some time, it was overgrown and looked like the gates would need a bit of work to open so hopefully we wouldn't be in the way here.
A couple of Ravens were cawing overhead and a Black redstart was looking suspiciously like it was feeding young in a very gnarled olive tree but it seemed much too early in the season? We waited but it never returned to the tree again so possibly it had just found somewhere to eat its grub in peace.

 Other highlights for the day were a Cattle egret, a Blackcap feeding on as yet unidentified berries in the village of Mancor de la Vall, and best of all a Booted eagle flying overhead, a bird of prey we saw quite often.

A last note here about finding peace and quiet - we'd parked the car and walked along a gravel road to nowhere in particular. Female Black redstarts were feeding everywhere you looked, a lovely male Stonechat was flitting around, and Crag martins were swooping and wheeling over a nearby field of sheep. It was blissful, the only noise was of the sheep bells tinkling in the valley below. I sat on a rock and soaked up the sun and waited quietly as the birds started to accept me and venture a little closer. 
Within 10 minutes a large tipper lorry pulled up immediately behind me, engine running, the driver got out and locked the gates he'd come through, he wasn't there more than 3 or 4 minutes but the peace had been shattered and the scent of the pine trees replaced by diesel and exhaust fumes. 

Part two coming soon, with Thekla lark, Audouin's gulls and Black vultures.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Forest Farm Nature Reserve, Cardiff, Wales

I hadn't realised quite how long it has been since I last wrote a blog, it's not that I haven't done anything, on the contrary I've done a lot and not got around to writing it up.
I was inspired to write this one after I'd revisited the Forest Farm Nature Reserve on the northern outskirts of Cardiff. I'd been a few times before but had only ever taken the same, relatively short route around it. This time I got talking to someone in the hide and he informed me of another part to the reserve which I'd not known about and has improved it considerably for me as a place to visit.
It first came to my notice a couple of years ago when my daughter who lives in Cardiff did some work there repairing paths etc as part of her employers commitment to offer staff the chance to volunteer for projects in the community. During her time there she saw a Kingfisher and was sure I'd be interested in a visit - now I can't keep away!
The reserve straddles the last remaining section of the Cardiff -Merthyr Canal in a piece of woodland consisting mainly of Beech and Oak. There are two hides overlooking small reed pools and a third hide - the recent discovery for me, at the old farm buildings which was Forest Farm.

The two reed pools offer a very good chance of seeing Kingfishers, as does a walk along the canal, but this is less productive if you want to photograph them. Both reed pools have perches for the Kingfishers, but the second of the two hides - further along the path from the canal, is better, being closer to the water, and can give excellent photo opportunities. 

Unfortunately during my various visits I have only managed to see Kingfishers along the canal, and this time for the first time at the 1st hide. Looking at the Friends of Forest Farm Flickr site Flickr photos it is easy to see that I've been unlucky not have seen them closer but it is all a question of time.
I went there 3 times during my recent visit to Cardiff and during those visits I saw quite a variety of birds, a full list is shown at the bottom of the blog. What made the difference this time was a visit to the hide at the old farm. There are numerous feeding stations and consequently a large number of field and woodland birds were visiting. The arrangement of feeders and sticks and logs wasn't perfect for photography but did give very close views of lots of birds.

Because of the almost constant arrivals and departures of birds from the feeders it wasn't a great surprise to see a Sparrowhawk swoop through the gap, this time without catching anything, but obligingly sitting in a nearby tree for a minute or two.
A short walk from the farm takes you to the Taff Trail, a long distance footpath along the River Taff, or turning off it, back into the nature reserve. I'd been told that there were a couple of Goosander on the river so as I left I took this route and sure enough, fishing along the edge of the river was a male Goosander. The light was quite poor so I was on a high ISO and low shutter speed, but I did manage a couple of shots.
It's not often you get the chance for a photo with a Kingfisher and Goosander in the same shot, but here is one from the river - a little distant but a record shot none the less.
For details of the location of the reserve, see the link Forest Farm location and from the site you can read more about it.
Species list for January 7th, 8th 9th.
Kingfisher, Sparrowhawk, Bullfinch, Reed bunting, Heron, Nuthatch, Coal tit, Great tit, Blue tit, Buzzard, Robin, Mistle thrush, Song thrush, Blackbird, Magpie, Jackdaw, Crow, Wood pigeon, Collared dove, Dunnock, Mallard, Snipe, Moorhen, Goosander, Jay, Greater spotted woodpecker, Goldfinch, Chaffinch.
Goldcrest heard and others saw a Bittern but unfortunately I didn't see it.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Otmoor reserve, Oxfordshire

Otmoor is a nature reserve of wet meadows and reedbeds only a few miles from Oxford city centre. But if you've never been there it can be a little tricky to locate. The car park is off Otmoor Lane in the village of Beckley, but we didn't see a single signpost saying RSPB Otmoor until we reached the car park! If you drive east along the High Street in Beckley, with the Abingdon Arms pub on your left, at the end of the High Street (you continue straight ahead rather than following the road around to the right). It looks like a dead end but Otmoor lane is a left turn obscured by the last house on the left. If we hadn't asked someone we would have assumed this was a dead end and driven somewhere else.

We stopped for lunch first at The White Horse Inn, a tasty Thai meal, and while sitting out on the patio in the sun, a couple of Red kites drifted overhead - several times, I think they were looking at our lunch!

Red kite overhead at the White Horse, Forest Hill.
Although South Wales is undoubtedly the best place to visit to see and photograph Red kite, the area around Oxford especially along the M40 corridor and from Wendover and Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire south past High Wycombe and into South Oxfordshire there are numerous pairs and it isn't uncommon to see 5 or 6 together - often more.

As I parked the car in the RSPB car park I noticed a juvenile Brown hare which was paying little attention to its surroundings, I was able to approach fairly close to get some shots but the light was against me for a lot of them so only limited success.

I was soon distracted from the Hare by the sound of a Turtle dove calling. I saw it on an overhead wire alongside the path. Luckily for much of my route to it I was screened by a hedge, so I was able to get quite close before having to step out for a photo. It seemed fairly unconcerned by my presence and after a few seconds observing me continued its calling. Unfortunately there was a large ceramic insulator next to the dove and it rather spoilt the view but I took lots of shots before attempting to get into a better position - I was able to walk right past the bird to take some shots without the insulator but these don't show the beautiful patterning on the wings.

Click photo to enlarge.

Ideally it would have been nice to see one in a tree rather than the stark power lines, luckily for me that is exactly what happened on my return visit. This time wasn't supposed to be a visit to a bird reserve, it was just coincidental that we happened to be in the area and I happened to know Otmoor reserve was nearby!

My last 'bird on a wire' for the day was a male Reed bunting which was singing away happily but completely silhouetted with the sun behind him, again, I was able to walk past (and directly beneath) it without it flying off so I could get a better shot with the sun on it.


With a couple of hours to kill before collecting our daughter and all her possessions from university, I used my powers of persuasion to convince my wife we should return to Otmoor. No sign of the Hare today but the Turtle dove could still be heard calling. I saw a large group of birders using binoculars and scopes to watch it but it was too distant for a photo. However, on following the path to the hide I realised we would be walking right past the dove in the tree if it didn't fly off in the mean time. It didn't, I managed to finally get a decent photo of a Turtle dove in natural surroundings.

We didn't see much of note on the rest of the journey to the hide but once there we watched a group of 5 distant Red kites swooping around, a Sparrowhawk gave a fly by and two Brown hares sat grooming themselves in the field for a good 20 minutes. On the return along the path to the car park I spotted a pair of Common terns, they sat side by side for a while and then mated.

We were about to walk on when my wife spotted a small wader at the waters edge, I borrowed the binos' and couldn't believe my luck, it was a Little ringed plover, a life tick for me - it wasn't a particularly good view but you could see the dark bill, yellow eye ring and pale legs. I am surprised I've not seen them before, they get a 'Green' status according to the RSPB website whereas the Ringed plover is an 'Amber' status and I see dozens of these every time I visit the beaches in winter and occasionally during the summer as well.

It is only a record shot but nice to see one all the same.
A few birds were using the feeders set up near the path, a Great spotted woodpecker, plenty of Goldfinches and Great tits and a few Greenfinches. The feeders were a little bit too far away for a great shot but I sat quietly by the fence and managed a half decent Greenfinch.
We didn't have long at the reserve but it is certainly worth a visit if you are anywhere near Oxford.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Two countries in two weeks, Wales and Italy

I realise I haven't written anything for a while, it takes quite a bit of time to locate and resize the photos and then to write the blog. So to catch up a bit I'll condense my two recent trips into two blogs. We were flying to Italy from Bristol airport with our daughter and her boyfriend who both live in Cardiff, so we spent a few days in South Wales before our flight. This first blog covers our time in S Wales, the second. our time in Italy.
13/05/2015. A recommendation from one of my Flickr contacts was an RSPB reserve at Gwenffrwd-dinas 
which was reputedly good for Pied flycatcher, high on my list of 'must see' species, amongst other desirable's. It was a lovely spot, and Pied flycatchers were indeed present. But, before even reaching the reserve, we passed through Llandovery, a small town, north and just outside the Brecon Beacons National Park. As we approached the town, the sky was awash with Red kite. A field had been cut for hay or silage and was being collected. Up to 20 Red kite and a few Buzzard were circling the field to pick up anything that may have been disturbed or revealed during the harvest.

I took lots of shots but as always with the little Canon SX50, it was quite difficult to get a focus on moving targets and also I failed to set the exposure compensation correctly for the bright sky, so most of my shots are silhouetted to a certain extent. A shame as it was the greatest concentration of of Red kite I'd ever seen (apart from over the M40 when I am driving). Apparently there is a feeding station nearby which offers photo opportunities on a daily basis, so the birds are clearly regularly in the area - maybe next time!
At the Gwenffrwd-Dians reserve, a board walk leads you through a damp wooded area, lots of nest boxes had been fitted to the trees and sure enough, stand patiently for a few minutes and Pied flycatchers appear.

 They never came particularly close during my time there but I guess if you dedicated an hour or two to the cause the opportunity  to get some closer shots may well occur. My wife was with me and although she is interested in birds, she's not that interested! The board walk ends and the path continues around the side of a hill, it involves a little bit of scrambling up rock steps in places but generally it was easy walking. It was a beautiful spot and apart from the occasional RAF fighter plane screaming over head, was very peaceful. 
The path around Gwenffrwd-Dinas.
At one point we stopped to watch a Treecreeper on a nearby trunk, it had a beak full of insects and after a couple of minutes it dived into a split in a dead tree. 

It was feeding young, and from our vantage point beside a larger tree it  pretty much ignored us. We stood and watched the pair come and go a few times when I became aware of something flying about overhead - it was a Great spotted woodpecker, but rather than fly off, it hid around the back of a tree and then flew a few yards to another tree. I saw it several times - and then I saw the hole in the tree we were stood next to. It obviously had a nest in the tree and we were preventing it from returning. We moved off leaving both Treecreeper and GSW to feed their young in peace. The other bird of note for me was a Tree pipit. It was singing from the lower branches of a tree and then parachuted down to the ground in a very graceful descent. After a few moments on the woodland floor it would fly back up and start singing again. We stood and watched it for several minutes. 
Because of the low light levels in the wood I wasn't able to get a photo of the flight display but I did get a few of it when in the tree. I'd seen one in Germany last year but this was the first UK one to my knowledge (I may have seen them years ago in Blean Woods but not sure if we saw them or just went to look for them, it was so long ago).
Other notable species seen at the reserve were Nuthatch, Grey wagtail, Willow warbler, Spotted flycatcher and Marsh tit. One I was hoping to see but didn't, a Redstart.
Back at the entrance was a feeding station for finches etc and a pair of very nice Yellowhammers came in to feed giving me my best shots of them to date.
Another excursion, on the 15th May, was to the Gower Peninsula, and again we were blessed with fabulous weather. The peninsula was the first place in Britain to be designated as 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty', a designation it lives up to very well. Our first stop was at Oxwich for a coffee and a brief look at the Nature Reserve. There wasn't a lot about from the hide while we were there, a lone female Gadwall floated about, a Willow warbler called from outside somewhere and a distant Heron drifted on thermals into a field.
Obviously used to getting scraps from visitors a Robin sang lustily from a fence where we'd stopped for the coffee and piece of cake and earned a reward, other than that it was pretty quiet.
We took our time but ended up at Rhossili Bay and Worm's Head, the bay is about 3 miles of sand and when we were there only a handful of people were walking on it. I spotted a muddy puddle near the village which the House martins had also discovered, collecting mud to make their nests. I was able to sit down by a wall a couple of metres from them and take lots of photos without them paying me much attention.
After a walk along the beach we headed towards Worm's Head which you can reach at low tide, we'd left it too late to attempt, but if you do cross the causeway you have to leave plenty of time to get back otherwise you can be stranded until the following low tide. 
Overcrowded Rhossili Bay and the now flooded causeway to Worm's Head.
A compliant Meadow pipit sat on the wall for me and also a Pied wagtail was nesting somewhere in the stone wall near the car park and was quite used to the people walking past - although they definitely spot when you pay any attention and pretend there is no nest  to be seen by wandering aimlessly about with a grub (and some dried grass) in their beak!

I got a new photo tick (not a very good photo mind you) on the headland, a very agitated Kestrel was chasing off a pair of Raven, I looked around and was just in time to grab a couple of shots. I'd seen the occasional Raven on the cliffs in Kent but hadn't managed to get a photo.
On a separate walk, on the road between Marcross and Monknash, a Brown hare bounded along the road towards us - it suddenly saw us and hesitated before turning around and setting off the way it had come, only to turn again as the tractor which had disturbed it in the first place rumbled up the the road. It finally weighed it's options and darted through a gap in the hedge to find freedom in a large field. Luckily I was able to get a couple of shots off before it went.
This just about concludes the few days in South Wales, although we did spend another day on our return from Italy, where we had a short walk along the remnants of the Glamorganshire Canal at Forest Farm in Cardiff. The few shots of this can be seen on my Flickr site either side of here.
Next stop, Italy.