Sunday, 26 July 2009

Birding on the Costa de La Luz in Winter

If you are perhaps toying with the idea of a winter break, then take a look at what is on offer including our guest house, Hoopoe Cottage
All with birding leader Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides

Here are Some of The Wintering and Rarer Resident Birds Of Cadiz Province - Western Andalucia, Spain

Row 1 (top) L - R:
Black Stork - Last year we counted over eighty-five Black Storks in one small area on the Rio Guadalquivir
Black Vulture - visiting or part migrant birds can turn up anywhere during the winter months, usually young birds in the company of or near Griffon Vultures
Black-necked Grebe - Huge ‘rafts’ of these lovely birds can often be found if you know their current locations. This bird is in summer plumage
Bluethroat - One of the prettiest passerines from central or the north of Europe that comes to winter here
Row 2 L-R:
Penduline Tit - Another great little bird to watch feeding on the bullrush heads. A great one to photograph too!
Glossy Ibis - Good numbers of birds are around in the wetter areas particularly rice fields. The southern populations have literally exploded in recent years. A real success story.
Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture - is an African species that has become more common seen within Griffon Vulture groups in recent years.Northern Senegal would be the normal extent of it’s northern range
Great Spotted Cuckoo - Early migrants returning often in December from a short stay in Africa. Often seen in groups of 10-25 birds in Andalucia before heading north
Row 3 L-R:
Atlas Long-legged Buzzard - A rare bird on the southern coast but one that can be seen with luck or knowledge of locations
Dartford Warbler - Another passerine, this one is from the ‘sylvia’ warbler group. A resident, like it’s cousin the Sardinian Warbler, which occurs in good numbers in Spain and Portugal
Lanner Falcon (ssp. erlangeri) - This North African bird is quite special to catch up with in Cadiz province. Winter is the best time to look for them. The photo shows a juvenile bird
Great Egret - Spreading steadily from the east of Europe their presence is more conspicuous each year. As large as a Grey Heron and with a leisurely, flapping flight
Row 4 (bottom) L-R
Western Reef Egret (Heron) - Pure forms like this one are often found on the wetlands here. There are also hybrid birds that are crosses with Little Egret x Western Reef Egret
Stone Curlew - Wintering flocks can be up to fifty birds on good winter months.
Hen Harriers - Seen in small numbers in southern Iberia in winter
Little Bustards - Winter and spring are often the best seasons to look for and find these lovely birds. The photo shows two displaying males in spring

Row 1 (top) L - R:
Red-knobbed Coot - One of the most sought after birds in the south of the Iberian peninsula.
Spanish Imperial Eagle - Still is one of the world’s rarest Eagles and a very much desired bird in our immediate area where we can show to show fellow birders
Little Bustard - Always tricky to locate on your own, but we know where they flock in winter
Black shouldered (winged) Kite - A bird of prey that is expanding in Europe. Most birds leave for Africa (Chad) in winter but some birds are still to be found locally
Row 2 L-R
Bonelli’s Eagle - A good number of Adult birds cross The Strait to the foothills of the Atlas mountains in Morocco but juvenile birds tend to stay in the warmer parts of south-western Spain and practice their hunting skills
Northern Bald Ibis - 2008 saw this re-introduced bird breed independently for the first time in Europe in hundreds of years. Flocks of free-flying Northern Bald Ibis can be located with luck or you can secure the services of a guide
Pintailed Sandgrouse - Winter and early spring are the best times to listen out for these wonderful birds. We know where they go and can show photographers and birding enthusiasts
Greater Flamingo - Wintering birds turn up in huge numbers in the south
Row 3 L-R:
White-headed Duck - One of the rarest European ducks and another bird on most birders wish-list
Common Crane - Cadiz province holds over two thousand birds each winter between the months of November and March
Row 4 (bottom) L-R
Short-eared Owl - Scarce part-migrant owls turn up regularly in the south each winter
Red-necked Nightjar - They are here - finding them takes patience and local knowledge in winter
Purple Swamphen - One of the most interesting marsh birds to watch feeding. Purple Swamphens (formerly called Purple Gallinule) can cause damage to growing rice crops and are sadly persecuted by the rice producers.
Griffon Vulture - One of the most numerous southern raptors with huge colonies, starts breeding in January. With a massive wingspan often exceeding two and a half meters, this is one of the most visible of all the raptors in the skies above western Andalucia

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Back on Great Bird Island, Antigua

Bridled and Sooty Terns fly in huge numbers around the cliffs

I'm still editing photos from the Caribbean. Mike Weedon and I took loads of shots of Boobys, Terns Frigates and I managed to get a few distant pics of a Red-billed Tropicbird flying around the edge of the island.

This Magnificent Frigatebird tried to rid itself of parasites and dust in mid-air

It has a good old shake to itself...

Magnificent Frigatebirds

Red-billed Tropicbird

Bridled Tern - Note the paler gray upperparts and the very long supercilium which ends just behind the eye rather than in front of the eye as in a Sooty.
And now the Sooty Tern - see the difference between the two 

Sooty Terns in flight

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Back in Andalucia

Regardless of all the great travelling I get up to and all the new places I explore, it's always lovely to return home to Andalucia. Travelling abroad means of course less time with my family which is the number one downside - especially when the girls are off school and we can have fun together down on the beach or at home in the pool. The good thing is that this is normally my quiet time - a lull before the migration southwards starts again in ernest when bird and birdwatchers head south to watch this incredible spectacle

For the last week we've had the pleasure of Brian Minshull and his two lovely daughters, Tessa and Ellen. The girls are a few years older than our two daughters but they have all got on really well playing in the garden or in the water. Patty took all four down to one of the great beaches at Barbate while Brian and I did some birding.

Sardinian Warbler

It was fairly hot and the wind was blowing warm air from the south. Birds were plentiful and as we expolred the military land near our house we quickly picked up Black-eared Wheatears, Collared Pratincoles, Greater Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipits, Corn Buntings, Crested Larks and a few very pale coloured Common Kestrels. I showed Brian an area within the Military land which was particularly good for Rufous Bush Robin. Unfortunately there was an excersise on with some Navy radio people with large transmitters and the like ('Honest Guv' - I didn't see a thing...'), so we retraced our tyre tracks in the dust

We stopped off for a cool drink at a friends place then continued down to La Janda where Glossy Ibis, Green Sandpipers, Yellow Wagtails, Cattle and Little Egrets, Black-winged Stilts and Eurasian Spoonbills fed in the rice-fields with hosts of White Storks.
A flock of over one thousand Calandra Larks lifted from a sunflower field and flew around us dispersing in various directions! What a magnificent sight to see all those chocolate coloured underwings beating in the afternoon sunlight!

There wasn't too much in the way of raptor activity although a female Montagu's Harrier and a couple of Marsh Harriers took to the air in the vast agricultural plain.

A first year Gull-billed Tern looks quite different from adult birds

We watched an adult and juvenile Gull-billed Tern, an adult Black-crowned Night Heron and one juvenile Purple Heron were also seen.

Glossy Ibis are such a common bird in Andalucia and each year they push out in every direction looking for new feeding and breeding grounds. Many are 'ringed' in the Coto Doñana each spring/summer and some of the ones seen today bore numbered rings.

At the beginning of the week there was some activity nearby our house with over thirty-five Black Kites moving across the marismas, some Egyptian Vulture appearances and daily fly-pasts from Griffons. Most days too the reident Short-toed Eagles could be seen from the main road.

Still a rare and threatened bird, the Egyptian Vultures breeding numbers are still very low in Europe.

A Booted Eagle came over our house a few weeks ago

Passing Black Kites seen from our swimming pool!

The more uncommon form of Black-eared Wheatear has no black throat patch on the male.

An adult Woodchat Shrike takes a breather from insect catching. There are lots of juvenile bird around as well and Brian saw a Great-spotted Cuckoo pass over our garden on it's way south - one of the earlier migrants that pass through Cadiz province to cross The Strait of Gibraltar, alarming all the smaller birds in the gardens and local woodlands. Cuckoos often fool birders and birds alike with their similar flight appearance to that of a dashing Sparrowhawk!
More news soon - I might even put up some more Caribbean photos.....Should I?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

West Indies - Montserrat - Orioles & Devastation

Map of the Lesser Antilles group of Islands (Click to enlarge)

What about the history of of Montserrat?

Landing on Montserrat with a local twin-engined Islander aircraft from Antigua. Only 15 mins. flying time away.

Our residence Olveston House Montserrat, an excellent place to unwind set in a lovely three acre garden

One reason to visit Montserrat was to support the island economy and to learn and encourage those involved in the Montserrat Oriole Project

Storm clouds gather as a tropical storm brings more rain to the tropical forests of Montserrat

A rather worn Gulf Fritillary butterfly

A Red-Rim Butterfly in the Northern forests of Montserrat

Taking a boat trip south to do some sea-watching and the volcanic devastation of Plymouth and the habitat loss

Plymouth comes into view from the boat. The sulphur cloud hangs over the town from the Soufrière Hills volcano

The Montserrat Oriole suffered a dramatic decline since 1997 when the island's volcano erupted, forcing 10,000 people to flee their homes. Pyroclastic flows has since made two-thirds of the island uninhabitable and destroyed the main habitat of this sensitive oriole. Here's what Wikipedia say about pyroclastic flows:
"A pyroclastic flow (also known scientifically as a pyroclastic density current) is a common and devastating result of certain explosive volcanic eruptions. The flows are fast-moving currents of hot gas and rock (collectively known as tephra), which travel away from the volcano at speeds generally as great as 700 km/hr (450 mi/h).The gas can reach temperatures of about 1,000 °C (1,830 °F). The flows normally hug the ground and travel downhill, or spread laterally under gravity. Their speed depends upon the density of the current, the volcanic output rate, and the gradient of the slope."

Ruins of Plymouth

Lying beneath millions of tons of ash, rocks and mud, Plymouth the former capital of Montserrat lies abandoned since the mighty eruption from the Soufrière Hills volcano in 1997

Most of the houses were abandoned so quickly that all personal items remain - clothes, furniture, crockery, books, photographs and some say that even the banks vaults still hold money....

The once colourful streets of Plymouth

On of the most endangered birds on the Lesser Antilles - the stunning Montserrat Oriole
This lovely adult male showed off his acrobatic skills in the forest under-canopy, searching for insects.

The Montserrat Oriole

A young male