Saturday, 30 August 2014

Coming soon to a golf course near you?

This week, the American Birding Association Checklist Committee voted unanimously to accept the Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) as an established exotic in south-eastern Florida and added it to the official ABA Checklist.  Birds have been present in Florida for 20 years and there have been numerous records of breeding; without doubt the population is now self-sustaining. Although the species is found elsewhere in North America (e.g. Arkansas, California and Texas) those populations are not yet regarded as being established and presumably therefore are not ‘tickable’ but it seems likely to be just a matter of time.

Egyptian Geese were introduced to Britain as early as the 17th century and have bred in the wild for over 200 years.  Until comparatively recently they were more or less confined to Norfolk but there has been a gradual increase in numbers and fieldwork for Bird Atlas 2007-11 has shown a significant recent range expansion including scattered winter records from Shetland, west Wales, Cornwall and even Ireland.

In Holland, too, there has been considerable expansion and the population there has been estimated at about 11,000 pairs, or 50,000 individuals post-breeding.  There are also breeding populations in France and Germany.     

This week’s Noticiário Ornitológico included a record of 13 Egyptian Geese at the Alqueva reservoir near Évora in eastern Portugal, close to the border with Spain.  This continues the trend that we have seen this year for increasing reports of this exotic species in Portugal.  In June and July birds were seen in the Algarve at Lagoa dos Salgados.  These latest birds were seen on 23rd August south of Roncão and they represent the largest flock seen so far.  Not so long ago reports of Egyptian Geese were referred to as escapes from captivity but this description has now been dropped and the reality surely is that these birds are arriving from the established and expanding feral populations in Northern Europe.  

Two of the most obvious field marks of the Egyptian Goose are the chestnut eye patches surrounding its yellow eyes, and a brown chest patch.  There is also a brown stripe that forms a collar around the nape of the neck.  The bill is pink, with a black tip and a dark base. The male has green secondaries, but a large portion of the adult wing is white. The white usually remains hidden when the bird is at rest, however, the white wing feathers are easily seen when the bird is in flight. The under tail coverts are cinnamon colored:  the upper tail is black.  The sexes look alike, but the female is slightly smaller.  Juvenile birds are similar to adults but lack the distinct facial markings.

Of course, the Egyptian Goose isn’t really a goose at all; it is believed to be most closely related to the shelducks (genus Tadorna) and their relatives, and is placed with them in the subfamily Tadorninae.

Egyptian Geese are native to sub-Saharan Africa where they are widespread and numerous; we have seen them on most of our visits to Africa.  In many areas they are regarded as agricultural pests because they sometimes feed on or trample crops and in South Africa they occur in large numbers on golf courses where they cause physical and financial damage to the courses and are a nuisance to golfers and golf course managers.  In Holland they are reported to be aggressive towards breeding waders.  We do wonder therefore whether we should be looking beyond the novelty of having these birds arriving and instead considering the potential for them to quickly become an unwelcome nuisance.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Norfolk & Lincolnshire

It would seem that on Sunday the only rarities seen along the North Norfolk coast were June and Peter.  However, although there was nothing very unusual to see, we had a decent day’s birding and the weather was kind to us throughout.  We were strangers in what was once very familiar territory, visiting for the day with friend Keith Lievesley. 
We began at Titchwell (RSPB), moved on to Cley Marshes (Norfolk Wildlife Trust) and later on the way back had a good walk over Blakeney Freshes (National Trust).  Each area showed signs of the damage caused by the exceptional storm surge that took place on 5th December last year but it was remarkable to see how well they seem to be recovering.

A fairly relaxed day in this relatively uniform habitat produced a modest 72 species.  One of the most numerous of the waders was Ruff and it was the only one that we photographed.

So infrequent are our visits to Titchwell that we hadn’t previously seen the much-maligned Parrinder Hide.  We had read about it and seen it described as, amongst other things, “too posh”, “ridiculously expensive” and “a monstrosity” and certainly it does seem a bit over the top.  Just the size of it was a surprise!  Who would have imagined something like this when Norman Sills first came to Titchwell as the first warden in the early 1970s?

The hides at Cley Marshes are probably more to our liking - Daukes Hide is surely a much more attractive structure.  However, the visitor centre here, like the Parrinder Hide at Titchwell, is also a building that divides opinion.  The mere fact that it can be found on TripAdvisor is for some people enough to view it as a tourist attraction in its own right and it certainly houses a seriously commercial operation.  It was the first time we have been asked to sign for Gift Aid when paying an entrance fee for a reserve - but why not?

Daukes Hide

Cley Marshes Visitor Centres - the new and the old

It was the first time we have looked out to sea from Cley and seen not just passing seabirds but also about 90 wind turbines!  We still can’t bring ourselves to like them at all!  We preferred to look east along the shingle bank towards Sheringham.

Several times during the day we met people who have been birding with us either through Avian Adventures or Algarve Birders.  They were all first encountered at Titchwell, which has now perhaps replaced the East Bank at Cley as the place to bump into people you know or at least recognise.

The East Bank

Cley-next-the-Sea viewed from Blakeney Freshes

After our walk at Blakeney we drove to Wells-next-the-Sea and as we struggled to negotiate the narrow section of the A149 through Stiffkey we were looking forward to fish and chips.  When we arrived, long queues at both shops on the front were another reminder (as if we needed one!) that this was a Bank Holiday weekend.  We quickly decided that continuing to Hunstanton might be a better plan and so it proved although we cut it fine, being the last to be served before closing time at the excellent Supafry in Greevegate.

Monday could not have been more different; it was a public holiday and the weather performed accordingly, pouring rain no doubt ruining countless events that had been a long time in the planning.  We were not immune and suffered a good soaking during our visit to Deeping Lakes, a Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust reserve, near Stamford.  We took a circular route through the reserve and along the bank of the River Welland, sheltering in a couple of hides while looking at various gravel pits where Great Crested Grebes were feeding young and Cormorants also seemed to be finding plenty of food.  An artificial Sand Martin nesting bank would have been more interesting to see earlier in the summer and we would love to see one like it in the Algarve.  June did at least get to see one of her favourite Green Woodpeckers, so our trip wasn’t all in vain.

This sign at Deeping Lakes appealed to us pedants.    

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Birdfair 2014

We’ve just enjoyed another great weekend at the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water, three days of talking birds, travel and photography with a bit of cricket and football on the side!

As usual we were on the Avian Adventures stand promoting tours all over the world but there were plenty of opportunities to talk about the Algarve ("lots of birds and sunshine and less than three hours away from most regional airports in the UK")!

It was really nice to meet up again with so many friends, a great number of them, like Mavourneen Pearce (above), from overseas.  We re-lived quite a few past birding trips but also made plans for several more in the next few months.

The cover of the Avian Adventures brochure for 2015 features a Collared Araçari photographed in Honduras by James Adams.  Here Gerry Griffiths drinks a toast with James to the success of next year’s tour there.  See here for details!

We were in Marquee 3, seen here during a relatively quiet moment late on Sunday afternoon.

At the 2011 Birdfair we sponsored the BTO’s satellite-tagged Cuckoo, Chris, not realising at the time that it was named after Chris Packham.  Anyway, it proved to be a good choice as Chris is the only one of that year’s Cuckoos still to be transmitting.  Chris is currently in Italy on the way back to spend the winter in Africa and we have our fingers crossed for his continued survival.  It’s great that our stand in Marquee 3 is directly opposite that of the BTO as it gives us the chance to pop across during any quiet moments to talk to their staff who are working on projects such as this.

It looks as though June is about to be attacked by Findlay Wilde's Hen Harrier!  There were frequent reminders of last week’s Hen Harrier Day and if you haven’t already signed Mark Avery’s petition, you really should.  It's good to see that well over 15,000 people have so far signed.

Television presenter and President of the BTO, Chris Packham, has been a great supporter of the Hen Harrier campaign; he signed countless copies of his latest book.

The SPEA stand was one of several promoting Portugal and its birds.  Currently SPEA is mounting a campaign against the illegal trapping of birds, which is becoming an increasing problem in Portugal.  Details of how you might make a donation to help with this campaign can be found here.

Amy and Sering Bojang enjoying a joke with Neil Glenn - Sering’s combination of rubber boots and sunglasses rather summed up the weekend weather.  Neil was much involved in collecting football strips for Kits 4 Causes.

Although it’s called Birdfair, increasingly we’re seeing wildlife other than birds being featured.  Butterfly Conservation, Buglife, Bat Conservation Trust and the British Arachnological Society were just some of the organisations trying to get birders to look at a bigger picture, which most of us probably do.

There is a really good nature reserve and lots of birds at Rutland Water or at least that’s what we’ve been told!  Year after year we go the Birdfair but somehow never seem to find time for any birding.  Nevertheless, we are already looking forward to Birdfair 2015!