Monday, 29 August 2011

Gailey Grebe

We’ve not had a great deal of time for birding while we’ve been in the UK but a Red-necked Grebe at Gailey Reservoir, just 10 miles away, eventually proved irresistible. The bird was first seen on 15th August and is still present today.

Red-necked Grebes are mainly winter visitors to Staffordshire and this one seems to be only the second to turn up in August, a previous one being seen at Tittesworth Reservoir in August, 1996.

Over the years, Chasewater and Blithfield Reservoir have been the most popular Staffordshire waters to host Red-necked Grebes but there has been one previous record at Gailey, a long-staying individual in February 1972 (which Peter also saw!).

Attempts to photograph the bird were hampered by the fact that we left Canon cameras and lenses in Portugal but we have just acquired a Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ-100 and so were able to at least get a record shot in very unfavourable conditions. We’re hoping that the Panasonic will prove to be a handy alternative to the heavyweight gear but we haven’t yet had an opportunity for a proper try-out.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Birdfair 2011

We’ve been in the UK for a few weeks, escaping from the baking heat of the Algarve. Day after day with temperatures of 30° and higher are not to our taste! Not only are July and August the hottest months, they are also the most popular with tourists and so we have also been avoiding the crowds!

Another very important reason to be in the UK in August is the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water or simply Birdfair as we are encouraged to call it these days. We’ve just got back from this year’s event, having had, as always, an exhausting but most enjoyable weekend. For us this is definitely one of the highlights of the year, something we wouldn’t want to miss.

Osprey – a breeding bird at Rutland Water, but this was the only one we saw during the weekend!

Our main purpose in being at Birdfair is to promote Avian Adventures and the birdwatching tours that we lead for them. The brochure detailing their 2012 programme of tours has now been published and is available on their website. For us it includes six tours in Africa, three in the USA, two in Costa Rica and one in Cuba – it’s a good job there are two of us! And, of course, we’ve also been promoting the Algarve.

Marquee 3 - once again, our home for three days.

The Avian Adventures stand where Sering Bojang and Ray Tipper seem unimpressed by Neil Glenn’s fisherman’s tale.

Bonifence Byamukama from Uganda with one of his country’s Gorillas. He says they are closely related and we reckon we can see a likeness!

Just as good a reason to be at Birdfair is that we get to see so many old friends – people who have been on overseas tours with us, those who have been birding with us in Portugal, guides and ground operators from all around the world and lots more – all with a common interest in birds. It was a weekend of non-stop talk!

For the second year running Stuart Winter was launching a new book. The Birdman Abroad includes accounts of Avian Adventures with Peter in Arizona and The Gambia.

With more than 20,000 people now attending each year and a total of more than £2,000,000 raised to help save birds and their habitats in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, Birdfair continues to grow year on year. This year the chosen conservation project was Birdlife’s Flyway Campaign, one that just about every birder can identify with.

The Birdfair mural, a regular feature following the theme of the year’s chosen conservation project.

One migratory bird that has been getting lots of publicity recently is the Common Cuckoo. Five of these birds were caught in East Anglia back in the summer and fitted with satellite tags so that their movements can be tracked. “Our Cuckoo” (given the name Chris) is currently in southern Chad. You can follow the progress of all five birds via the BTO website.

Our visit to the BTO ringing demonstration coincided with the trapping of this Lesser Whitethroat.

Another well publicised bird at Birdfair was the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one we have yet to see other than on television like this one.

Lots of fun to be had too!

Next year’s Birdfair will be on the 17th, 18th & 19th August – put it in your diary!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Bempton Cliffs

We see Northern Gannets at all times of the year off the Algarve coast but largest numbers are in October and November when thousands, including many juveniles, pass by Cabo de São Vicente. Most are heading south to spend the winter off the coast of West Africa but some will opt instead for the Mediterranean. Generally it is the young birds that travel furthest and some of the longest distance ringing recoveries are of British bred birds found dead in their first winters (in Guinea Bissau, Israel and Turkey).

British breeding birds, (219,000 nests were counted in the last full survey), represent more than half of the world population. Mostly they favour offshore islands but an exception is the RSPB reserve at Bempton in Yorkshire where several thousand of them nest on cliffs on the mainland.

It was to Bempton that we took ourselves for our first day’s birding after arriving back in England but this wasn’t just to see Gannets. There is something really special about colonies of breeding seabirds and no matter how many times one sees them on film there’s nothing like actually being there to experience first hand the wonderful smell and the noise. It's something we can't do in the Algarve. Also, have you noticed how film makers always seem to concentrate on the ‘sexy’ birds like Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots without ever mentioning that their soundtrack is largely being provided by Kittiwakes! That 'kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake' call is an essential part of the seabird colony experience and it was good to see so many juvenile Kittiwakes on the cliffs.

We were too late in the season to see many auks but there were a few Puffins and the odd Guillemot or two remaining. It was also nice to see Fulmars again and we were delighted to find Tree Sparrows along the clifftop trail, another bird we haven't seen for quite some time.

On our way home we stopped off at another RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands on the south side of the Humber Estuary. Here we enjoyed a real ‘tringa-fest’ - Greenshanks, Common & Spotted Redshanks, Green Sandpipers and a Marsh Sandpiper, some of our favourite birds. It was also good to see what most people still seem to refer to as Bearded Tits (rather than Bearded Reedlings), a species that hasn’t yet found its way to Portugal and so another treat for us!