Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Meanwhile, we’ve been walking and driving the local patch: Tavira and Santa Luzia. Greater Flamingo numbers are now up to around 200 and there are almost as many Spoonbills. We improved our Stone-curlew count yesterday with a flock of 67 just down the road here and this morning we’ve seen 18 species of waders, plus Caspian Terns, Slender-billed and Audouin’s Gulls. A particular eye-catcher amongst the many Grey Plovers was this individual.
Sunday, 27 September 2009
From the photographs you could almost think it had snowed but this is, of course, an area of saltpans and the 'iceberg' is a huge pile of freshly harvested salt.
As soon as we got out of the car, we were adopted by this pesky dog that stayed with us the whole time we were there, mostly walking about 20 or 30 metres ahead of us flushing any birds within range - very frustrating. Only a Common Redshank put up any resistance, flying around just above the dog scolding it and kicking up quite a fuss just as it might have done if it had young to defend.
Among the morning's highlights were Little Bustards (30), Spoonbills (200), Black-necked Grebes (100), Caspian Terns (10), Black Terns (4), Audouin's Gulls (c300), Slender-billed Gulls (spread out in small groups and difficult to count) and Stone-curlews (40+). Migrant passerines included Northern Wheatears, Whinchats and Yellow Wagtails.
The absolute highlight though was what was almost certainly a Marsh Sandpiper. It was the right size (compared to the Common Redshank, Ruff and Black-winged Stilts that were with it), its legs looked yellow and its bill was black and straight. Unfortunately, it was just too far away to be 100% sure and there was no way for us to get any closer to it. After we had been watching it for just a few minutes, it flew even further away and we weren't able to re-locate it. Maybe we'll have another look tomorrow...
Saturday, 26 September 2009
On the edge of town a Subalpine Warbler, a Cetti’s Warbler and a Common Redstart got us off to a decent start and when we started around the saltpans we soon saw as many as 17 species of waders including a Green Sandpiper and a couple of Common Snipe that flew over. We didn’t get chance to look carefully at the hundreds of gulls but at least a dozen each of Slender-billed and Audouin’s were amongst them. Most numerous now are Lesser Black-backs and we can expect to see numbers of Mediterranean Gulls increasing over the coming weeks.
Ducks included Mallard, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler and Gadwall, there were Little Grebes, Little Egrets, Spoonbills, Grey Herons and 200 or more Greater Flamingos. Two Kingfishers were presumably birds that have arrived to spend the winter with us and the same is true of the many Chiffchaffs that were feeding low in the scrubby vegetation alongside the resident Sardinian Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas. Soon they will be joined by Bluethroats.
No photography today so here are a couple we prepared earlier (as they say) of today’s most numerous waders.
Friday, 25 September 2009
Away from the water, a Blue Rock Thrush was exactly where we expected it to be and a Northern Wheatear was also entirely predictable.
Thursday, 24 September 2009
On the way back we stopped for an hour or so at the Alvor Estuary where we had an enjoyable walk and saw the expected Greater Flamingos, Spoonbill and a selection of waders that included Greenshank and Little Stint.
Sunday, 20 September 2009
As we headed north from Ventura we saw what is the only other species, apart from Island Scrub-Jay, that has never been recorded outside California - the Yellow-billed Magpie. Again they are easy enough to find although there have been reports recently of a decline in numbers. We also called in at Nojoqui Falls County Park where within just a few minutes of each other we found two vagrants from the eastern USA - Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Canada Warbler. As always when we find 'rarities' on tours we put word out about these birds as soon as possible.
Our one full day in the area was divided between Morro Bay State Park and Montaňa de Oro State Park and in terms of the number of species recorded this was the best day of the entire tour. Many of these were shorebirds, with Marbled Godwits, Willets, Western and Least Sandpipers and Greater Yellowlegs particularly numerous.
From Morro Bay we continued north along the picturesque Big Sur coast to Monterey stopping regularly to admire the scenery and to look for birds mainly on the sea - scoters, loons, grebes and cormorants. We also stopped at Piedras Blancas to see Northern Elephant Seals. Hunted nearly to extinction years ago for their oil-rich blubber, these remarkable mammals are now protected and have made a remarkable comeback.
Check Mate. It's amazing who you meet in such places! By chance, also there for the boat were old friends from the West Midland Club, Bob Normand, Jim Winsper and Mike West with their wives (a group that I also bumped into on a similar boat trip in Texas some years ago!), Mike Hodgson who I have met several times when leading tours in Lesvos, David Patick from Huntington, WV who June and I met in Texas earlier this year plus another tour group from the UK.
It proved to be one of the smoothest boat trips I've ever been on - the sun shone, there was very little wind and the sea was calm - and we saw an excellent variety of seabirds and marine mammals. Notable amongst the birds were Tufted and Horned Puffins, Rhinoceros and Cassin's Auklets, Pink-footed, Sooty and Buller's Shearwaters, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Black-footed Albatross, Sabine's Gull, Long-tailed, Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers and South Polar Skua. And, of course, there were whales and dolphins...
After 10 days along the coast we headed inland to spend some time in and around Yosemite National Park. One of these days was taken up by a visit to Mono Lake, famous for its abundant brine shrimps which along with the countless alkali flies that inhabit the shoreline provide food for huge numbers of birds, especially Eared Grebes, California Gulls and Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes. It is estimated for instance that more than one million Eared Grebes congregate on the lake each year to moult and to feed up in preparation for their migration and there is enough food for them to double their weight during this time!
Next stop: Tavira...
Monday, 14 September 2009
A quick check on the internet soon gave us the answer – A ROSE-COLOURED STARLING had been reported in one of the gardens that morning. With a promise that he would phone if the bird was spotted again I returned to work.
At about 10.00am on Saturday Peter B phoned to say the bird was around. Grabbing my bins I headed north. But to no avail, I arrived to find that the bird had disappeared. Four Buzzards and a Hobby gave some consolation but...
The general consensus was, that to stand any chance of seeing the Starling I would have to be in Tittensor before 8.00am the following morning.
Sunday dawned foggy and quite cool but I was on the road by 7.15am. I arrived to see quite a few cars already on the car park but no-one in sight. Heading towards the church I soon found the main group looking at the roof tops. I was dismayed to be told I’d just missed great views of the bird but was hopeful that it would soon pop in to view again.
It was my lucky day - before too long someone spotted the bird as it swung around pecking hungrily at a fatball in one of the gardens. Everyone rushed to the spot and all managed good views of the bird . After a few minutes it flew and its pale colouring was then more apparent. So there it was my life bird – a juvenile looking (just as described in the Collins Field Guide) like a washed-out young Common Starling!
Many thanks to the residents of Tittensor for welcoming us with good humour and patience.
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
The return from a trip to Austria of Peter’s telescope and binoculars coincided this morning with the sun shining over nearby Doxey Marshes. It was an opportunity to see how the newly-repaired optics would perform and perhaps also to find some migrants.
We spent a couple of hours wandering across the reserve, twice popping into the only hide to dodge the showers. From a birding point of view it was predictably unproductive with just 33 species recorded but it was good to see more than 100 Lapwings and a dozen or so Common Snipe. Given the date and seeing the reports of passage waders down the road at Belvide Reservoir, we really might have expected to see more. However, for some reason management of water levels on the reserve seems to be a problem again and both ‘wader scrapes’ had way too much water on them to be of much use – one even had a Great Crested Grebe diving in it! We did think earlier in the year that this long-running problem had been resolved but obviously this isn’t the case. Very disappointing!
As usual Canada Geese were overwhelmingly the most numerous species – we counted more than 350 – and at least eight Barnacle Geese were also present. A couple of Lesser Black-backs were amongst the many Black-headed Gulls and the ducks included a few Tufted, Shoveler and Teal – all pretty unexciting.
A Common Buzzard and two Kestrels were probably the morning’s highlights and it didn’t take too long for attention to turn to photography.
The main thing is that Swarovski have done a good job sorting out the optics and it will only be a few days now before some quality birding in California (Peter) and Portugal (June).
It was sad to read this morning of the death of Mrs Marion Paton of Patagonia, Arizona. Almost anyone who has been birding in SE Arizona in the last 20 years or so will have visited Birders’ Haven or Patons’ yard as it became known. This is probably the most famous of all the birdwatching gardens in the USA and one that our Avian Adventures tour visited again as recently as May this year. Mrs Paton and her late husband, Wally, generously allowed birders to just walk in through their gate and sit down in front of a row of feeders at the rear of the house to watch the wonderful selection of hummingbirds, finches, buntings, orioles, woodpeckers and more. As someone has already written elsewhere, the Patons typified all that is good about birding and will be sadly missed.