A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Mega!!! Rock Thrush at Pwll-du, Gwent, South Wales!

There are a number of birds that Alex has on his British list over me that are going to be pretty hard to topple – Marmora’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Cream-coloured Courser all spring to mind as being the ones that will try and see it out to the bitter end. Having not gone for the female Rock Thrush that turned up at Spurn back in spring 2013, despite there being a fine spring male on the Scilly Isles back in April earlier in the year, this was still a species I had not yet managed to grip back. 

Fast forward to a wet Thursday in the middle of October when the welcome news of an adult male Rock Thrush broke, having been found at Pwll-du Quarry in the heart of deep south Wales. With photos emerging later that day and a number of happy twitchers connecting, my opportunity to grip back on this mega Mediterranean stray suddenly looked set to be a real possibility. 
Rock Thrush - Pwll-du, South Wales
Common Rock Thrush at Pwll-du, South Wales
With clear skies and a strong Redwing passage later that evening, it was touch and go as to whether the bird would indeed stick around, but sure enough, after a slow start on Friday morning and again on the Saturday, the reports of it still being on site came trickling in.

Making good time down the motorways and arriving in the welsh valleys after lunch, a quick ten minute stride up the muddy track later and rather surprisingly we were instantly watching our prize - one fine male Rock Thrush perching proudly in a bare tree right in front of us, just one happy photographer stood below it rapidly clicking away.
Rock Thrush - Pwll-du, South Wales
Rock Thrush - Pwll-du, South Wales
With the crowds of birders on site rapidly descending on the tree the bird soon flitted across to a nearby slope where it immediately began to probe the soft mossy tussocks, providing great scope views for all assembled. Whilst nowhere near in the same league visually as the earlier male on Scilly, the Pwll-du Rock Thrush was still every bit as charming, hints of chestnut orange coming through on the belly and flanks, whilst also sporting a back flecked with numerous delicate white speckles.
Rock Thrush - Pwll-du, South Wales
Having lapped up the views for around 20 minutes or so, the Rock Thrush suddenly took flight, flying strongly over the hillside and down the other side of the valley, apparently flushed by two people breaking the skyline on the top of the hill behind it we later heard.
Pwll-du, South Wales
The views from Pwll-du!
Despite extensive searching on the slopes and in all three quarries for the rest of the day, the Rock Thrush sadly couldn’t be relocated, and we felt extremely lucky that we’d arrived when we did – one more service station stop and we could have been facing a very painful dip and a return visit the following weekend!

Alex's great little video of the Rock Thrush

With 28 accepted records at present this was by no means a “mega mega”, but it was still a great bird that I had been wondering when I would get another opportunity to see, especially having never even seen one abroad in Spain. 

Having so far been around for a good two weeks, the Rock Thrush is still present now, having seemingly set up home on the welsh mountainside and developing a taste for the abundance of mealworms that have been laid out for it by opportunistic photographers - although whether this is doing its health any good is another matter entirely. 

Being just a few miles away from both the Blorenge Marmora’s Warbler and the Newport Yellowthroat, who knows what other treasures and grip-backs this little corner of Wales can deliver – an adult Cream-coloured Courser perhaps parading on one of the hillsides would certainly be most welcome……
Pwll-du, South Wales
Rock Thrush - Pwll-du, South Wales

Monday, 23 October 2017

MEGA!!!! Scops Owl in Ryhope, Durham!!

Scops Owl is a species I’ve always wanted to see in Britain, coming in at number 9 on my top ten most wanted species. Having always loved owls, this quirky, angry looking miniature bird of prey has always been a firm favourite of mine when visiting falconry exhibits, and the only birds I’ve seen in the wild are a pair that were flying around a park in northern Spain several years ago, in the pitch black and just managing to make them out through the inky darkness as they sat perched in the trees, “bong”ing away in that characteristic and bizarre manner.
Scops Owl - Ryhope, Durham
Scops Owl in Britain!
It’s been over ten years since the well-known Oxfordshire bird back in 2006 (bar a few records on the northern Scottish Isles and Scilly in between), therefore when the message popped up on my phone of a Scops Owl found in Ryhope near Durham I nearly did a double take, even more so when it transpired that this was actually the real deal and not another ‘car alarm’ false start as has been reported in the last few years.
Scops Owl in Durham!
Photos of the bird sat roosting soon began to flood social media as expected (all with ‘that leaf’ obscuring the top of its face!) and it became extremely hard to sit back and watch as scores and scores of birders connected.

Luckily the Scops stayed put and we eventually found ourselves making our way up north in order to try and see this remarkable little owl for ourselves - thankfully still in the same Elder bush it was first found in when we arrived and showing well for the small crowd of birders that had gathered round to admire it. Scops Owl in Britain – result and relief!
Scops Owl - Ryhope, Durham
Scops Owl - Ryhope, Durham
Scops Owl - Ryhope, Durham
Sat relatively out in the open half way up the bush we were treated to excellent scope views of what can most certainly be a difficult bird to see well – I definitely wasn’t expecting to connect with one on British soil any time soon that’s for sure, and especially not showing so well! 
Scops Owl - Ryhope, Durham
Phone-scoped shot of the Scops
A roosting Scops Owl during the day on mainland Britain is the best it’s going to get as far as this often cryptic and well-hidden species is concerned, and luckily this individual stayed around long enough for the majority of those who wanted to see it to connect. Luckily the Scops had chosen to roost in a tree that couldn’t be approached too closely, thankfully alleviating the risk of someone getting too close for comfort and flushing it.
Ryhope Village Dene - Durham
The Scops bush....
Ryhope Village Dene - Durham
....and its admirers
With no sign in recent weeks the question remains as to whether it finally has moved on to continue with its migration south to Africa for the winter, or if it is merely keeping a low profile out of sight in an as yet undiscovered roost - either way this was an absolutely top notch bird and one I’m extremely glad I got the privilege to see so well on mainland Britain. With 84 accepted records in Britain to date this is by no means a “mega mega” but it was still an absolutely superb bird that was most definitely worth travelling for and a bird on my personal wish list for Britain. 
Scops Owl - Ryhope, Durham
Scops Owl - Ryhope, Durham

Fuerteventura Birding Trip Report (24th October - 28th October 2016) - Species List and Locations

Day 1 – El Jarde – Vega de Rio Palmas (24th October)


Berthelot’s Pipit – 24th OctoberEl Jarde Bustard Reserve (Plentiful throughout).

Trumpeter Finch – 24th OctoberEl Jarde Bustard Reserve (c10 individuals around goat farm and later 2 more showing well on fence. 1 more individual around goat farm at Embalse de los Molinos).

Cream-coloured Courser – 24th October El Jarde Bustard Reserve (4 birds showing well by the track. Only birds of the trip).

Houbara Bustard – 24th OctoberEl Jarde Bustard Reserve (1 bird showing distantly but well through the scope in the reserve section. A further 3 birds showing well through the scope on the plains at Embalse de los Molinos).

Ruddy Shelduck – 24th OctoberEl Jarde Bustard Reserve (2 birds at the side of the track. Also seen at Mareta de Fimapaire, Barranco de la torre and c85 at Embalse de los Molinos).

African Blue Tit – 24th OctoberBetancuria (2 birds showing well and a further two later on. One also seen at Vega de Rio Palmas).

Fuerteventura Chat – 24th OctoberVega de Rio Palmas (Showing well. Also seen at Mareta de Fimapaire and Embalse de los Molinos). Male and female seen.

Barbary Partridge – 24th OctoberVega de Rio Palmas (Two seen on mountainside and a further 12 in the village itself).
Swift species also seen at Puerto del Rosario (probable Plain).

Cream-coloured Courser - Fuerteventura
Cream-coloured Courser

Day 2 – Mareta de Fimapaire – El Cotillo (25th October)


Laughing Dove – 25th OctoberMareta de Fimapaire (2 birds seen flying and perched in trees around houses. A further individual seen at goat farm at Embalse de los Molinos)
Laughing Dove - Fuerteventura
Laughing Dove

Day 3 – Caleta de Fuste – El Jarde (26th October)


Bulwer’s Petrel – 26th OctoberCaleta Corcha bay – Castillo Caleta de Fuste (50 birds on passage – relatively distant).
Caleta Corcha bay - Fuerteventura
Caleta Corcha bay

Notable Species:

Cory’s Shearwater – Numerous seen on passage whilst seawatching. Large flock offshore at El Cotillo and several flying past at Caleta de Fuste
Egyptian Vulture – Scattered throughout. 3 at Embalse de los Molinos with others at Barranco de la torre and El Jarde Bustard reserve.
Black-winged Stilt – Large numbers at Embalse de los Molinos and scattered individuals at Barranco de la torre.
Kentish Plover – Single bird at El Cotillo lighthouse
Black-bellied Sandgrouse – Flocks seen at El Jarde Bustard reserve and Rosas de los Negrinos
Hoopoe – Frequent throughout
Lesser Short-toed Lark – Huge flocks feeding at El Jarde Bustard reserve
Sardinian Warbler – A small number seen at Vega de Rio Palmas
Spectacled Warbler – A handful seen throughout the trip, several at Mareta de Fimapaire
Southern Grey Shrike – Numerous throughout
Spanish Sparrow – Numerous throughout

Additional Species


Mallard
Gannet
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Spoonbill
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Kestrel
Moorhen*
Coot
Avocet
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Grey Plover
Sanderling
Turnstone
Dunlin*
Common Sandpiper*
Greenshank
Bar-tailed Godwit*
Whimbrel
Pomarine Skua
Yellow-legged Gull
Lesser-black backed Gull
Sandwich Tern
Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove
Collared Dove
White Wagtail
Robin
Raven
Linnet

Also: Swift sp
Parakeet sp

*Species not seen by myself

52 Trip Totals
10 Trip Lifers

Mammals:


Barbary Ground SquirrelSeveral seen throughout the trip. Numbers at Vega de Rio Palmas and Mareta de Fimapaire
Barbary Ground Squirrel - Fuerteventura
Barbary Ground Squirrel

Friday, 20 October 2017

Fuerteventura Birding Trip Report - Day 4 (Thursday 27th October 2016)

Day 4:

With our final full day dawning and having cleaned up on all of our target species, we decided to head over to the Embalse de los Molinos – another excellent site on the island that like El Jarde held most of our objective birds. This was our best site of the trip in relation to both the quality of species found as well as sheer numbers and we managed to see everything bar Cream-coloured Courser here in terms of our main targets.
Montaña de Tindaya - Fuerteventura
Montaña de Tindaya - the views on route were stunning
Montaña de Tindaya - Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Arriving from the northern approach from Col. De García Escamez, our first birds of note were three Black-bellied Sandgrouse powering over the flat sandy plains before landing behind a ridge, shortly followed by two Kestrels hunting over the steep embankment. 
Embalse de los Molinos - Fuerteventura
Heading further down the track we were stunned to see an impressive number of Ruddy Shelduck resting on the muddy sun-baked pool on the left hand side, while three Egyptian Vultures provided a masterclass in aerial supremacy as they cruised effortlessly overhead. 
Egyptian Vulture - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Egyptian Vulture
Egyptian Vulture - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
complete with ring...
Looking closer we discovered one of the birds sported a yellow ring on its leg, indicating it was part of the wide scale monitoring programme of the Egyptian Vultures that make Fuerteventura their home. A rare bird on the Canary Islands, considerable efforts have been made to conserve the species and this has now resulted in a steady increase in their numbers to around 270+ individuals. Being a sedentary subspecies of Egyptian Vulture also known as The Guirre, these Canary Island birds are currently only present on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, so it was great to get such good views as they sailed past us.

Heading further up the track, the now familiar Berthelot’s Pipits scurried along the gravel overhead, while the Canary Island subspecies of Raven wheeled above us. Arriving at the small sandy pull in above the reservoirs, we set to work scanning the area for notable birds, checking the water for anything unusual. Spanish Sparrows hopped around the fences beside us, but there was no sign of the Trumpeter Finches and Fuerteventura Chats that are often reported. Looking across to the water resulted in yet more Ruddy Shelducks, bringing our total for the site up to over 80, while an impressive count of 24 Black-winged Stilts probed in the shallows. 
Black-wiinged Stilts - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Black-wiinged Stilts
There was also a smattering of the more familiar birds here at the Embalse, with a pair of Greenshank, a Common Sandpiper, a handful of Little Egrets and stealthily hunting Grey Herons making up the numbers. With vagrant Red-knobbed Coots and Marbled Teal often reported from Embalse de los Molinos, we scanned the water in the event one was present during our visit, but looking directly in to the sun meant the hundreds of Coot and Mallards were in silhouette.
Embalse de los Molinos - Fuerteventura
Keeping our eyes peeled for Barbary Falcons – the steep rocky slopes looked superb and an ideal location to find one – a large shape drifting into view revealed a migrant Marsh Harrier heading towards the water, sending the Black-winged Stilts and Ruddy Shelducks in to a panic and providing the perfect opportunity to see these large ducks in flight, their cream and bottle green patterned wings looking a treat in the sun.
Embalse de los Molinos - Fuerteventura
Turning our attention to the plains behind us, it was only a matter of minutes before I had picked up a Houbara Bustard creeping through the gravel, shortly followed by another two individuals slightly further left over towards the horizon. 
Houbara Bustard - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Houbara Bustard! Extreme phonescoped record shot!
Houbara Bustard - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Houbara Bustard - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Still relatively distant and only visible through the scope, we still had much better views than on our first day, and we watched as the birds (the two presumably a pair) worked their way foraging through the sand towards us. With their impressive black and white plumes billowing in the wind, they were most certainly one of the star species of the trip, and we watched on as they crept along on the horizon.
Houbara Bustard - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Houbara Bustard - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Embalse de los Molinos - Fuerteventura
Having had our fill of the Houbara Bustards and with the Canary Islands sun beating down we decided to head back, stopping to admire a small group of six Little Ringed Plovers feeding in a shallow puddle by the side of the track, clearly fuelling up en-route during their long migration south.
Little Ringer Plover - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Little Ringer Plover
Embalse de los Molinos - Fuerteventura
The goat farm at the entrance of the track turned out to be especially productive for birds, and we logged a number of Hoopoes feeding amongst the mud while a large flock of Spanish Sparrows fluttered in and out of the roof tiles. A Southern Grey Shrike also sat perched on the nearby cacti, calling vociferously and occasionally hovering in an attempt to catch prey.

With the area looking like a great spot for Trumpeter Finch, I soon spotted a small grey bird perched on the top of a large rock in the yard, and getting my binoculars on it did indeed reveal our sought after finch, this time a male complete with chunky red bill. 
Trumpeter Finch - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Trumpeter Finch!
With our birds at Reserva de El Jarde being flushed by another vehicle before I could get a proper record shot, I was pleased that this individual was more obliging, perching happily on the rock and allowing several photos before it flew off over the valley.
Trumpeter Finch - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Scanning the outhouse buildings revealed our final Fuerteventura Chat of the trip, whilst a third Laughing Dove sat perched on the guttering before flying off and joining the several Collared Doves in the surrounding cacti patch.
Laughing Dove - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Laughing Dove
Laughing Dove - Embalse de los Molinos, Fuerteventura
Tefia Windmill - Fuerteventura
Alex decided on a spot of windmill sightseeing on the way back... he's come a long way! 
Tefia Windmill - Fuerteventura
The Tefia Windmill
Tefia Windmill - Fuerteventura
Tefia Windmill - Fuerteventura
With the end of the afternoon spare we headed back for one final stop at the beautiful Corralejo Dunes, a picturesque end to the trip which saw a few more waders added in the form of the many Sanderlings, Whimbrels, Turnstones and Ringed Plovers scurrying across the rocks and on the tideline. A solitary Dunlin and a pair of Grey Plovers joined them further up the beach, while a flock of 15 Avocets flying overhead were a nice but surprising addition.
Avocets - Corralejo Dunes, Fuerteventura
Avocets!
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Leaving the rolling dunes behind for the last time and heading back into the town, we enjoyed a delicious final evening’s meal at the local Asia Garden Chinese restaurant – highly recommended for a bite to eat and providing one of the best Cantonese chicken dishes I’ve ever tasted. A firm favourite - although I won’t hold out much hope for a takeaway home delivery via air-mail any time soon!
Cantonese Chicken - Fuerteventura
Delicious Cantonese chicken!!
European Rhinoceros Beetle - Fuerteventura
Several European Rhinoceros Beetles were on the path outside the hotel - duly rescued out of harms way by Alex
With our bags packed the next morning ready for our afternoon departure, the drive back to Puerto del Rosario was uneventful in the form of avian life, a single Southern Grey Shrike and pair of unidentified parakeets flying across the road the only species of note.
Lanzarote
Views of Lanzarote on the drive back to the airport
Lanzarote
Corralejo Dunes - Fuerteventura
Having achieved all of our main targets (bar the omission of the uncommon-on-Fuerteventura Barbary Falcon) in the first two days, our trip had been an unprecedented success, this rugged and picturesque island delivering on all fronts. With the desert specialists of Fuerteventura easy to come by and the island offering a taste of the African climate, my first foray in to Canary Islands birding had been an incredibly enjoyable experience, paving the way for a second excursion to the lush volcanic island of Tenerife the following spring. 
Fuerteventura Chat - Fuerteventura
Fuerteventua Chat
Cream-coloured Courser - Fuerteventura
Cream-coloured Courser
African Blue Tit - Fuerteventura
African Blue Tit
Trumpeter Finch - Fuerteventura
Trumpeter Finch
Ruddy Shelduck - Fuerteventura
Ruddy Shelduck
Berthelot's Pipit - Fuerteventura
Berthelot's Pipit
Laughing Dove - Fuerteventura
Laughing Dove
Barbary Partridge - Fuerteventura
Barbary Partridge
Houbara Bustard - Fuerteventura
Houbara Bustard
Alex's great video showing the birds of Fuerteventura during our trip

With great birds, fantastic scenery and incredible views I’d highly recommend Fuerteventura to anyone looking to enjoy the specialist avian delights and desert habitats that cover this spectacular mountainous island. 
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
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