Monday, 31 May 2010

Rufous Bush Robin Display

One of the most delightful summer migrants to watch in Spain and Portugal is the Western Rufous Scrub Robin Cercotrichas galactotes galactotes
It is a member of the Thrushes or Turdidae family and it seems that the name has changed again to Rufous Scrub Robin after it was officially 'split' on the taxonomic list with now Eastern (syriaca)and Western sub-species (galactotes) listed. There are another three sub-species further east through Middle-East to Asia.
It's one of the most sought after birds to spot by visiting birders and an extremely entertaining one to observe. In Cadiz province, I have noticed that they co-exist closely with Woodchat Shrikes, another summer migrant, The Shrikes arrive earlier than the Bush Robins and both share the same territory with the Shrikes sitting higher up in smaller trees and bushes, keeping a close eye out for aerial predators like Sparrowhawk or Goshawk. Like all birds when alarmed, they let out a series of warning calls or repetitive chattering which alert their neighbours the Bush Robins who seem to concentrate or watch out for animal predators that hunt at lower levels like the various snakes, Mongoose or Weasel. Of course they do squabble and fight, sometimes chasing each other around the small olive trees (acebuche), but they do display this sort of working relationship during the busy breeding season where the likelihood of predation is at its highest level.

Displaying males are great to watch and put on an elaborate dance, showing their beautiful plumage off to the watching female or even females. (both sexes are similar but the display lets you who know are the chest-beaters!)
A small rock or ledge seems to be the preferred display point. The bird uses its long, flicking tail to the utmost effect, spreading it wide like a fan, closing it and then flicking it up straight, almost touching the back of its head. Then the wings pop out in an arc and a fluttering motion takes place. The bird then puts down the tail, stretches forward with wing in and leans forward with his head and bill straight.
Most of the time during this display the bird is singing and the tail and wing movements are repeated over and over with the bird often hopping onto another perch. to perform more of this entertaining spectacle.
Have a look at the sequence of shots, the unmistakable tail pattern, body colouration, especially of this sub-species which does look a lot brighter or 'rusty' than the Eastern birds that I've watched in Turkey or Greece.

If you do manage to see these great birds at any time during your travels, you'll come away with the feeling that this was indeed a very special moment

Monday, 24 May 2010

Awakened in the night by Rednecks

Bee-eaters waken us all up on migration, flying at night and being quite loud, 'churring' as they fly past but Red-necked Nightjars have been landing in our garden and have been calling at various time throughout the night....Actually, I didn't mind...but don't tell the others!

Stop, no...wait a minute ! Common Kingfishers don't hang about for anyone!

A Short-toed Eagle hunting. One of the few larger eagles that hover

Close-up of a migrating Honey Buzzard over our home last week

Honey Buzzards were seen most mornings last week and some new arrivals passed over our house in the early evenings, as well at first light on some days. It's always lovely to see them pass so close as the whole family were in the pool! Quite special moments for the kids too and I think we are really privileged to watch their beautiful forms flap past on their onward journey north.

A rather leuchistic Calandra Lark is nesting close to where we live. This is just a lack of pigmentation in the feathers of the bird with this one being fairly uniform. I'll be checking to see if any offspring have taken on the same genetic charecteristics

Woodchat Shrike up close

Collared Pratincoles

Flitting Bonelli's Warblers through cork oak branches in the forest of the Alcornocales Parque Natural

Collage of some of the more sought after birds down this way - Your chance to win a virtual coconut by identifying all twenty-0ne (well, twenty-two really) species.....

Black-crowned Night Heron is quite a mouthful. Why can't we just call them 'Kwak' like the Dutch..?

Some Bee-eaters already have chicks and are busy feeding

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Back on The Strait (and narrow...)

A couple of day tours and some early morning recces by yours truly got me straight back into the groove after island hopping from the Med to the Agean. All in all, travelling to different birding locations to watch the ongoing spring bird migration was quite unique for me. Western migration across The Strait of Gibraltar traditionally takes place earlier in the season than eastern migration through Turkey and Greece and it was interesting to take in eight days on Corsica where birds hop form North Africa through Sardinia and onto Corsica, making their way northwards to Cape Corse for the final 'hop' to mainland Europe. I liked Corsica and I must say that Lesvos wasn't all that bad too! Great birds on both islands and stunning scenery on both but particularly on Corsica.

Back home, our summer migrant breeders the stunning Egyptian Vulture never fails to please those looking for a rare bird

Red-legged Partridge aren't rare but their colourful beauty speaks for itself

Green surrounds of spring as Griffon Vultures seek out food

Short-toed Eagles are certainly looking their best in spring on The Strait

Both forms of Booted Eagles are a common sight right now

The dark form being often tricky to identify at a greater distance

Booted Eagles

and two species migrating together

Rock Sparrows are fairly difficult to find ... but if you know a few good spots...

Lesser Short-toed Larks are always on birder's lists to be seen! We have a few around the Barbate area but better numbers can be seen further west to the Guadalquivir basin

Collared Pratincoles have young right now. I counted 40+ pairs close to our home today. As I was driving along the track pratincoles were walking in front of the vehicle, keeping their dark brown eyes on me, feeding as they went on flying ants and other insects. Short-toed Larks, Calandra Larks, Crested Larks, Tawny Pipits and Yellow Wagtails were busy collecting food for their young. The profusion of flowers and of course insect life after two wet winters all adds up to making this a successful breeding year for lots of species.

Small groups of Honey Buzzards continue to arrive on the coast and I was out with Bob and Roz on Monday watching them come in amongst the thirty or so Northern Bald Ibis that were flying along the coast towards Barbate. Incidentally, the Ibis are breeding again close to Barbate and lets hope it's another success.

Kentish Plover male - I couldn't resist taking his pic...

Western Bonelli's Warblers are doing really well since aerial fumigation stopped in the Alcornocales forest. This practice was turning the largest natural cork-oak forest in the world into a silent forest. Now we have good numbers of Bonelli's, Spot Fly and some Pied Flycatchers breeding!

A male Black Eared Wheatear (without the dark throat patch)