Thursday, 22 August 2013

Clayheads on Tour - Portugal/Spain August 2013

This year's family holiday (28th July to 4th August) was centred on Isla Canela, in SW Spain just over the border from Portugal. The location meant I was close enough to visit Coto Donana, and close enough to pop to Castro Marim in Portugal, a site I didn't have time to visit in 2010 on my previous visit to the Algarve. 

I found very little information on birding around Isla Canela, but there was a mention of it in "Where to watch birds in Southern and Western Spain (Garcia and Paterson). Its a relatively new resort which has yet to be finished due to the economical problems out there. There are quite a few empty plots of land and the apartments built are still yet to be sold. It was very pleasant though, nice and quiet, not many British and quite Spanish. 

We birded most days around Isla Canela. Its in the marshes and there are quite a few creeks to check, as well as the harbour at Punta del Moral, the next town along. Highlights were four Greater Flamingos feeding in one of the channels, Spoonbills over, plus a nice selection of waders with Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Turnstones, Greenshank all seen in varying numbers. It was all easy simple birding. Around the hotel we also saw Pallid Swifts, Mediterranean Gulls on the beach, Hoopoe, a male Montagu's Harrier. It kept us occupied when we couldn't travel far.

We only visited two other places during our trip. Both were excellent venues and resulted in some fantastic birding. First, was Castro Marim. It was only a 25 mins drive from Isla Canela; up over the bridge and across the border. The first visit was late in the afternoon to the salt works (as described in Gosney's guide - site 5). At first, the pans looked empty, but once you started scanning it was packed with birds. There were over 200 Audouin's Gulls, loads of Flamingos and White Storks, Cattle Egrets, a Gull-billed Tern was flying around, two male Monties, 20+ Black Terns, was a breathless ten minutes. We decided to return in the morning.

Castro Marim by the Salt works

We read the Gosney guide again and the following morning we visited the eastern side of the salt pans (Gosney site 3). We drove along a rutted track that was almost impassable in parts. We drove as far as we could until we reached a large dip, and we didn't dare attempt to drive on. We visited this area three times in all, it was that good. The pans attracted waders, and each visit there would be something different. We had flocks of summer plumaged Curlew Sandpipers, summer plumaged Knot, Sanderling, a few Little Stints. One visit we found three Caspian Terns, a few Audouin's Gulls, a Woodchat plus loads of Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, White Storks, Flamingos, Stone-curlew, Kentish Plovers....the list goes on. The main reason for coming here was for my first tick of the trip - Slender-billed Gull. Our first visit saw one, then two on the next and on the last visit we found a flock of twenty!

Caspian Tern at Castro Marim

Our big trip out for this holiday was a day trip to Coto Donana, about 1hr 45mins drive away. I had attempted to get a guide for the day to show us around but I had failed. All guides contacted said they were either too busy, too far to travel or it was too hot and not many birds around. So we guided ourselves. I'd read a suggestion that the northern part with the paddyfields would be still wet even in mid summer, and so that's where we headed for.

Our first stop was the first paddyfield we came across on the road to Dehesa de Abajo. It was certainly an eye opening start to our day. The wet area was full of birds, with 100+ Glossy Ibis, 20+ Wood Sandpipers, 70+ Little Egret, 40+ Ruff, 20+ LRP, 40+ Black-winged Stilts plus numerous White Stork and Cattle Egret.

the paddyfields

We carried on to the visitor centre at Dehesa de Abajo. The warden was extremely helpful although he didn't speak a word of English. Fortunately, there were quite a few pictures of birds around the centre. We pointed to them; he pointed on a map or shook his head and smiled.

We drove down to the large lake just below the visitor centre. This is the Canada de Rianzuela and had been recommended by the Algarve Birders as a site for RED-KNOBBED COOT. We walked the whole length of the road across the bottom of the lagoon, flushing c100 Night Heron and one Squacco Heron as we did. Again, it was a magnet for birds. It read like a good visit to Westport, with 400+ White Stork, flocks of Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts and Spoonbills, 15+ Black Kite overhead, Great Reed Warbler, two Gull-billed Terns, two Great White Egrets, three Curlew Sands, three Whiskered Terns, ten Red-crested Pochard, a Ruddy Shelduck and six Marbled Ducks - one of our reasons for visiting the area was to get Marbled Duck definitely on my West Pal list, although quite a few of my British ones are probably quite genuine.

We drove a short distance up the road to Canada de los Pajaros, a site the friendly warden had pointed on a map to. When we arrived, there were 30+ Red-knobbed Coots, all with neck bands on. With careful studying, we found two without. And they were feeding a chick as well. Second tick of the day in the bag.

We returned to the visitor centre for some refreshment as it was now 36C and rather warm. We walked down to the two hides this time, thinking we could sit out of the heat and look for more Coots. We gently plodded down and sat in the hide.

The path down to the lagoon in 36C. Such lush green vegetation

Almost immediately GAS realised his legs were being bitten. We looked down and there was a swarm of flies all low down in the hide, exactly where your legs go. We soon left and walked over to the other hide. We saw a family party of warblers near to the reed bed. On first glance I assumed they were Reed Warblers, then I though they were a bit big, but they didn't look like Great Reed Warblers. They were also grey. I had a thought, played Olivaceous Warbler song on my phone and over the whole family party of Western Olivaceous Warblers came to investigate - my third tick of the day and my fourth overall. We knew there was no chance of seeing WHITE-HEADED DUCK or SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE, but we can save them for another day.

Then again, what's wrong with this White-headed Duck seen at Blithfield in September 2002!

Monday, 19 August 2013

August Catch Up

Apologies for the lack of activity on the blog recently. This was due to a technical error meaning I couldn't post anything. I've sorted it now by installing Google Chrome instead of IE. 

I was away for the start of August in Spain (that write up will be following shortly). On August 5th, we headed over to Leicestershire to see the long staying Night Heron at Thornton Resv. It was a very enjoyable trip for several reasons. Firstly, I hadn't seen one in Britain for five years. Secondly, it turned into a pleasant sunny evening following heavy rain. Thirdly, it was a tick for one of the younger Clayhead members and finally, it was my 33rd birthday. (These last two statements may not be totally true in some respects). 

New Clayhead member young Christopher W staring wistfully at the Night Heron on the opposite bank

Night Heron - for some reason my camera just didn't like this bird. Here's a moby shot

And so onto this weekend, Saturday 17th August. It had been widely predicted that the winds were spot on for a good seawatching session at Porthgwarra. There had been quite a few sightings recently of FEA'S PETREL going past and we thought it was too good a chance to miss. A trip was arranged. Unfortunately CJW was working, but PLo joined us for the trip. We arranged to meet at the rather early time of 01-00hrs at PJ's house. All was going well until PJ decided to get up later than everybody else. We eventually set off at 01-45hrs, arriving at Porthgwarra at 07-30hrs

It was hopefully going to be a good watch, but there was one slight snag. From 09-00hrs onwards it was forecast to rain, probably not stopping until 16-00hrs. We were told that this would make the seawatch even better, as disorientated seabirds would literally be feeding out of our hands. I had a feeling it would just make us wet. 

Following two previous trips out in the rain - here and here - we were well prepared this time. Simple little things all help - like waterproof trousers and coat, plastic bag to wrap your phone and wallet in, leave your brand new camera in the car, a spare set of clothes in the car, a bin bag for your scope, a bin bag in your rucksack to keep your food dry, an umbrella each - we had it all. 

For the first two hours it wasn't too bad. It stayed dry and we saw a distant Great Shearwater plus the close in Manxies just below the cliff enabled us to sift through and find several Balearic Shearwaters. It didn't start raining until about 09-30hrs, but then it did rain. Those ill-prepared ran off. Those with umbrellas sat it out. Those without umbrellas sat it out too. The wind whipped up, the visibility went and you basically cowered inside your umbrella. You needed two hands to hold it, plus it you got the direction of the wind wrong, you ended up with an inside out umbrella. 

When it did finally stop raining, passage increased. We had two distant Cory's go past, quite a few Storm Petrels plus endless Manx Shearwaters. As soon as it stopped raining, it started again. We had another long deluge at 13-00hrs, but then it eased off. And again, the activity increased. Unfortunately, as the birds started going past, the drizzle continued. With the shout of a Great Shearwater close in, I turned and my umbrella was at the wrong angle. It was soon in a different shape. PJ was already on his second umbrella. PLo was struggling optically. My bins were wet as well, but they were still just about usable. My scope was under my bin bag. We had two very close in Great Shearwaters both just below the cliff face, giving us excellent blurry misty views. By 14-30hrs, we were beaten and we squelched back to the car.

The amazing sight of PJ's umbrella. It just shows how strong the wind was (or that it wasn't a well made umbrella)

It hadn't been the spectacular Fea's Petrel twitch that we had dreamt about. We were soaked to the skin and for the majority of the time we were sheltering under our umbrellas. Looking back at the day from the warmth of my kitchen we saw two Cory's Shearwaters, four Great Shearwaters, seven Storm Petrels, three Balearic Shearwaters, a Bonxie and great views of a Basking Shark. It wasn't a bad day after all! 

PJ managed to sketch this whilst under his umbrella

Monday, 5 August 2013

Clayheads on Tour - Corsica


Myself and Mrs PJ had always fancied visiting the island of CORSICA, her reason to sample the many fine French wines & Cuisine mine to add 3 more ticks to my Western Pal/World list.
July is always a quiet month so nothing to worry about back home then, but it is also quiet abroad with very little still singing so the birding was at times a slog.
The main target was the endemic Corsican Nuthatch which wasn't that hard to connect with. Nuthatches can't resist investigating when they hear what they think is a rival Nuthatch on their patch and sure enough in the third area of woodland in the Restonica Valley where I played the call in one flew. I had good views through the scope but it never really came within camera range so I've had to get me pens out.

Corsican Finch was a bit trickier, I saw one at the top of the Restonica Valley on the first morning and 3 near Vivario and that was it.

Never connected with Bearded Vulture though, the French don't like the name ' Lammergeier' which means Lamb killer as they feel its undeserved and they are probably right.

I looked for them at Haut Asco and the Restonica but had no luck. I did see Golden Eagles at both sites however including 4 in the air together plus a flock of 25 Alpine Choughs at Haut Asco.

PJ at Haut Asco

Other noteable species during the week included Crag Martins, Alpine & Pallid Swifts, Mamoras Warbler, Moltonis Warbler, Bee Eaters, Cirl Buntings, Scops Owl and loads and loads of Spotted Flycatchers. Red Kites are also very common.

Italian Sparrows are also obviously common but worth mentioning since they have now been promoted to full species status.

Everything was going swimmingly until Wednesday when I received a Tweet from Cheshire informing me that a Caspian Tern had roosted that night at Acre Nook. The fact
that it was in Cheshire didn't bother me much I had seen one in that county before, I just had this feeling that knowing my luck it would probably visit Staffs at some point.
Thursday evening came and it was back at its roost site but no reports as yet from Gods country so that was ok,  then on Friday lunch I checked my phone and noticed that I had had not one but SEVEN phone calls from Brian Carthy !!! This meant one of two things either the phone was going off in his pocket or the dreaded had happened !!
 Now I have always been quite lucky with Terns in fact me and Terns really do get on!! It started back in '88 when I visited Anglesey on the same day as the Bridled turned up, I got the Gull billed a year later at Blithfield, then there was the Royal Tern in Llandudno which I managed to twitch with minutes to spare, I refound a Whiskered once in Norfolk the list goes on but to think that a Caspian Tern would wait for me till I got back from holiday on Sunday lunchtime !! people have been locked up for less.
Saturday dawned and the Caspo was again at Rudyard ( the place that Mr Kipling was named after incidentally ) well it had certainly turned up an exceedingly good bird this time.
A pattern had emerged it roosted at Acre Nook and fed at Rudyard probably doing so since Thursday at least so.... surely not !!
Our final morning, always sad when your hols are over but this time there may be a little icing for my cake.
 First however we had to drop the car off at the airport, now the good people at Avis had faces like smacked arses when I handed over the keys,  but as I said,  a dab of T Cut and it would buff up a treat !!

Back in Blighty I waited till I was in the Terminal building before switching on my phone as instructed and the first two texts were from Mr Locker and they read.....
Sun 12:51pm - Caspo back at Rudyard at 12pm
Sun 1:01pm - Still there 12.45pm
Typically my case was the last to come of the plane I grabbed it off the conveyer and we were off. With the aid of the Sat Nav we made to Rudyard in record time via a series of country lanes and at 2.30pm there it was sitting on the mud, the best bird in Staffs since the Belted Kingfisher - I really do love Terns.