Saturday, 30 November 2013

Catching up - La Janda the best raptor watching site in Andalucia

I'll try and post the trip to Extremadura soon but first I would like to show you some of the highlights from La Janda in from mid to the end of November. Black-winged Kites are more obvious and without trying we saw five the other afternoon in La Janda.

Rats, mice and voles are the main source of food and there are plenty of rodents around as the rice field harvest is over and these small mammals try and find new shelter.

This lovely male Blue Rock Thrush is quite confiding and seems to be fairly tolerant of me creeping towards him.

This week we saw five Bonelli's Eagles in one afternoon and a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle (scroll down) as well. This shot of a first year Bonelli's was taken with an Egyptian Mongoose (by the fence on the left of the photo). There was no attempt to take the mongoose and I think that their ferocity and bad taste are legend.

Jackdaws love to fly and hassle the big eagles. This is a sub-adult Bonelli's

This younger Bonelli's underwing and body shows up well in the late afternoon sun

                                More Bonelli's sub-adult views

Common Snipe

Black Storks at La Janda this week. We saw six on the 30th of Nov, Mostly juveniles.

 Fresh carcass for the Griffon Vultures means a fresh hairdo. There was some tension here as two birds disputed who was where in the pecking order...

There are good numbers of Marsh Harriers here  with over forty birds counted in one afternoon.
There were at least six Hen Harriers but as yet I haven't seen any Pallid  but one was reported by Paco Chiclana on the 14th at the Espacio Natural Doñana, close to the town of  Aznalcázar, Seville province.

Lovely late afternoon sky over the cut rice fields near Benalup-Casas Viejas.

A White Stork passes below a flock of incoming Common Cranes at La Janda. More came in this morning from the north and there must be now over one thousand birds between Benalup and Facinas.

A view of Barbate and the the Torre de Tajo on top of the cliffs that lead to Cape Trafalgar.
Taken from the summit of the Sierra de Retin.

The juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle taken at La Janda on the 30th of November.

A report on the tour to Extremadura from the 19th - 26th Nov. coming soon...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

'The Crane and Goose Concerto' Brandenburg, Germany, October 2013

It's not only mass migrating Cranes that attract birders to Brandenburg, Germany. South-west of Berlin is the most northerly population of Great Bustards in Europe and happily they are doing really well.

Day 1
Sunday October the 20th 2013

Our London flight went without a hitch and from the rain at Gatwick we landed in sunshine at Berlin's Schonefeld airport. After a super-fast collection of our mini-bus we were soon on the autobahn circumnavigating the southern side of Germany's capital city. A few birds were seen en route with Common Buzzards sitting on top of the roosting poles that the farmers put up for them and some Jays, Ravens, Northern Lapwings, Grey Herons and Great Egrets feeding, sleeping or flying across the countryside.

After stopping off for a light lunch en route we continued on to our hotel at Semlin.
There was still a few daylight hours left so we explored the lake and the surrounding open fields where we found lots of Greylag, Tundra Bean Geese and Common Cranes in flight. At the hotel we dropped off our luggage and then took the last few hours of daylight out in the fields finding a few Rough-legged Buzzard and Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and a few distant Marsh Harriers hunting across the old flooded meadows towards the West Havelland area. Three Whooper Swans were seen feeding on the winter wheat and there were many Mute Swans, Grey Herons and Great Egrets dotted through the landscape.

Day 2
Monday October the 21st 2013

A pre-breakfast scan across the lake at our hotel in Semlin revealed lots of Great-crested Grebes, Coots and Mute Swans. Common and Black-headed Gulls were on the lake and a few White Wagtails, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Greenfinch and Chaffinches were seen or heard in the surrounding habitat.

Around Berlin and the surrounding countryside the old DDR or Eastern Germany was very much a place where the Eastern Block used to practice military manoeuvres fearing that these vast open plains would be the grounds for any potential tank battles. Happily Germany is united and many of those huge military areas have been cleaned up and turned into nature reserves or leisure areas where you can sail and watch birds on the nature areas. West Havelland in particular is an important stopping off area for migrating and wintering cranes, geese and swans from the north and is also the place where you can see the most northerly group of Great Bustard in Europe. The landscape is pretty flat but the birds and volume of quiet areas in the countryside are wonderful.

We travelled across country towards Buckow and Nennhausen in search of Great Bustards. Just across from the Great Bustard centre we found a group of 10 females that were quite close in a rape-seed field. We met Torsten Ryslavy, one of the Great Bustard project biologists from the reserve centre who gave us some information before we visited the centre and it's exhibition area.
Close to the centre is a large protected area which is part agricultural land and part uncultivated strips in which taller natural vegetation is allowed to flourish. Many Roe Deer graze here and there are two observation tower hides which give great views across the slightly undulating landscape. The first hide was being painted and access wasn't possible although we did see many Fieldfares, some Redwings in the taller trees. The second hide provided us with our first good views of Hen Harriers with two birds seen hunting. Rough-legged Buzzards were watched sitting on the ground or hovering while hunting. Common Buzzards were also present and we saw some of the extremely light breasted Common Buzzards that come from Scandinavia with a few Sparrowhawks and one Goshawk being pursued by Hooded Crows. A short while later Ravens were watched as we saw another two groups of distant Great Bustards from the second hide.
Red Kites were seen cruising over the landscape as we made our way across country to watch the arrival of mass cranes and geese come in to roost at Linum ponds. 
As we drove to Linum we spent a lot of time stopping off to watch many groups of cranes and open fields full of mixed Geese  tucked between the many woodland strips. From here we took a walk around some of the eastern ponds before taking up a good position with the setting sun behind us. The weather couldn't have been better to watch this sunset spectacle and it was dark when we arrived back at Semlin.

Day 3
Tuesday October the 22nd 2013

Travelling across to the Gulpersee we took a walk along the shoreline and woodland strip on the south side of the lake. A huge raft of duck and geese were looked through and we found Widgeon, Goldeneye, a pair of Smew, Common Pochard and two Red-necked Grebe. Great Crested Grebes and Mute Swans were abundant and sifting through them we found two Whooper Swans. A distant White-tailed Eagle flew and put up thousands of geese across the lakeside and we had fleeting views of the massive raptor as it went out of sight.
Great Spotted Woodpecker and Middle-spotted Woodpecker were seen as a parties of smaller passerines were watched along the pines. Eurasian Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit and Blue Tit came in as did a group of Siskin and a we also saw and heard a few overflights of Brambling, Goldfinch and Chaffinch.
Taking the road across more flooded Meadows towards Havelberg we stopped to watch a perched sub-adult White-tailed Eagle in a dead tree. Setting up the scopes we had great views of this fine bird of prey that makes the geese so nervous when they take to the air. Fortunately they do spend most of their time sitting around and if you can find a close bird then you can take the opportunity to study this fine creature.
We stopped in Havelberg and had lunch then walked through the old town along the River Havel before continuing eastwards to the beech woodland around the Wöplitz area. Here we had some better views of Marsh Tit and heard a Black Woodpecker and saw a flock of calling Hawfinches as they passed overhead. There were many signs that Wild Boar had been feeding and we met one of the foresters who told us about the local control of these abundant creatures that always seem so elusive but nighttime would be best to catch up with these mammals.

Day 4
Wednesday the 23rd of October 2013

We drove on the minor roads across country towards Netzen and to the nearby Strengsee, stopping occasionally to watch groups of Common Cranes, Lapwings and many species of Geese. This large lake holds good numbers of wintering duck and geese and is like most lakes and flooded meadows a protected area. Parking down a country track we took a walk along along a canal stopping to watch a Common Kingfisher take off from its perch and quickly fly off. Several small birds were seen in the tops of the trees and Robin picked up a lovely Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. Bramblings and Yellowhammers came and went as Chaffinches flitted around with Great and Blue Tits. Some distance down the track we found another Lesser-spotted Woodpecker which was more obliging and gave us great views. A few Song Thrushes and Blackbirds came past and more Bramblings flew overhead.
On the lake good numbers of Teal, two Pintail and two Goosander were seen and a few more Red-necked Grebes as well swam and fed with the other wetland species. Again this lake held thousands of geese with Greylag and Tundra Bean Geese being the most common. We hadn't seen many butterflies but a nice Peacock was seen by Margaret.
We had a picnic lunch at the lake then drove off towards the Great Bustard hides again to watch the Hen Harriers. From hide no.2 we watched an incoming Goshawk out hunting low across the coarse vegetation and managed to watch it come past, getting great views of this powerful raptor. The Hen Harriers put on a wonderful hunting display and this time we saw both adult male and females and three juvenile birds in the same area.

Day 5
Thursday the 24th of October 2013

Our last day went well after we departed our hotel. Taking advantage of the sunny skies and hoping for one last look at the crane filled skies we drove the short distance to the Great Bustard reserve. En route we had to pull over and watch as thousands of cranes lifted off several fields from behind a ridge, their calls ringing in our ears and the sheer quantity almost filling half of the sky. This was an incredible sight to witness and we looked around for any aerial predators that had spooked them. Within a few seconds we saw them. Two White-tailed Eagles were flying from the back of the last of the group and now hundreds of Greylag and White-fronted Geese had also lifted off in panic as these huge eagles flapped and glided above. Many of the cranes came in to land near some nearby fields where some tractor drivers were cutting and collecting silage. The cranes are used to farm machinery but the eagles are much more wary, so safety in mind most of the birds came in right in front of us. We stayed for a while changing positions and getting a bit closer but the views were stunning and as a few Red Kites, Common and Rough-legged Buzzards came over we couldn’t have asked for such a good start to the day.

After checking out one of the bustard hides and seeing many of the males feeding and taking to the air, we spent time with a good selection of Hen Harriers with adult males and females being seen as well as some bright looking juveniles that hunted low over the numerous Roe Deer in the meadows. A few Sparrowhawks and Common Kestrels were seen and a single Goshawk came from the tree line low and fast putting up the Lapwings, Fieldfares, Redwings, Yellowhammers Tree-Sparrows and Skylarks that were feeding.

We took our picnic lunch at another field entrance where a few hundred cranes were noisily coming and going and watched a good flock of male Tree Sparrows line up in the sun on top of the nearby farm buildings. Many species of geese were on the move, some high flying other birds descending to feed near the many groups of cranes and as we departed on our journey to Berlin we felt very content to have had such a lovely impression of this undiscovered part of Europe.

Thanks to all for such a lovely visit, your companionship and good humour throughout our stay.

Stephen Daly November 2013

I'll be leading the next Brandenburg 'Crane and Goose Concerto' will be run in March with Limosa Holidays and The Travelling Naturalist


Tundra Bean Goose Anser serrirostris rossicus
 Flocks were flying overhead on all days and watched at many sites.
Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus
 Good numbers seen every day.
Greylag Goose Anser anser Very common and seen in huge numbers each day.
White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons albifrons
 Seen on every day of the tour.
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
 Numerous and seen every day.
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus
 A few seen on two days. The warm weather most likely had kept them in the north.
Gadwall Anas strepera
 Common at most wetland sites.
Wigeon Anas penelope
 Fairly common on the lakes especially at the Gulpersee.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Common and seen every day.
Shoveler Anas clypeata
  Common and seen on every day.
Pintail Anas acuta
 Small groups seen on a few days.
Teal Anas crecca
Pochard Aythya ferina
 Common at most lake sites.
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula Seen on two days.
Smew Mergellus albellus
 Seen only once on the Gulpersee.
Goosander Mergus merganser A few seen on the Strengsee.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
 Very common.
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Abundant.
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena Quite few pairs seen on the Gulpersee
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
  Common and seen every day.
Great Egret Ardea alba
 Common and seen on every day
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis. Some roosts seen most days.
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
  Seen in one’s and two’s most days.
Red Kite Milvus milvus Seen on four days.
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla Seen on two days with perched views and excellent close views in flight.
Marsh Harrrier Circus aeruginosus
   Single birds seen on three days.
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
  Seen most days with some excellent comparative views of both juveniles and adults birds from one hide.
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
  Singles hunting every day.
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
 Two birds seen hunting on two days.
Buzzard Buteo buteo
  Seen most days including the very light Scandinavian birds.
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus
  Seen in small numbers on most days.
Great Bustard Otis Tarda  Great views each day some close views of both males and females with young.
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
  One to a handful seen and heard on every day.
Coot Fulica atra
 Abundant and seen on every day, in huge flocks.

Common Crane Grus grus  Huge numbers each day probably the most impressive bird in sheer numbers and sound.
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
 Large flocks seen most days.

Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria Delayed arrival with warm weather with small group seen only one day.
Common Gull Larus canus
 Locally numerous
Herring Gull Larus argentatus argenteus/argentatus Fairly common on all lakes.
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus Abundant both on water and in the fields.
Feral Rock Dove Columba livia domestica Numerous seen every day.
Stock Dove Columba oenas
  Small flocks in flight and seen in the surrounding fields in low numbers.
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Numerous and seen on every day.
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
 Common around towns and villages.
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Single birds seen twice on different canals.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor  Good view of two birds on the Strengsee woodlands.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius  Three birds seen in woodland on one day of the tour.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
  Fairly common seen on four days.
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
  Surprisingly only one bird seen.
Jay Garrulus glandarius
 Fairly common seen every day.
Magpie Pica pica
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
 Common and seen every day.
Hooded Crow Corvus corix Numerous and seen on every day.
Rook  Corvus frugilegus  Small numbers seen most days.
Raven Corvus corax Seen in small numbers most days.
Willow Tit Poecile montanus
 One heard at the Strengsee.

Marsh Tit Poecile palustris Seen on two days.
Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus
 One heard at the Gulpersee woodland.
Great Tit Parus major
  Fairly common and seen every day.
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
 Fairly common and seen every day especially at the hotel gardens.
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus europaeus
  A party of six seen in woodlands at the Gulpersee.
Penduline Tit  Remiz pendulinus A single bird seen at the Strengsee.

Bearded Reedling  Panarus biarmius Watched on three days, often fleetingly.
Sky Lark Alauda arvensis
  A huge flock arrived on the 23rd.
Chiffchaff   Phylloscopus collybita A few birds seen on the 22nd.
Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla Fairly common in local gardens.
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
  Six birds seen at the Gulpersee.
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes  One birds seen and heard only once at the Strengsee.
Nuthatch Sitta europaea
 One birds seen in woodland near Havelberg.
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris Seen on three different days.
Starling Sturnus vulgaris
 Very common.
Blackbird Turdus merula Fairly common and vocal.
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
 Watched most days with a big influx on 100+ on the  23rd.
Redwing Turdus iliacus
  Seen on a couple of days.
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
 Low numbers seen on four days.
Robin Erithacus rubecula
  Singles every day.
Black Redstart  Phoenicurus ochruros Only one birds seen on the tour.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
 Common widespread.
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Good numbers in the countryside. Seen most days.
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
 Only seen on one day of the tour.
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
 Common seen each day.
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
 Watched on two days with some small flocks seen in the countryside.
Greenfinch Chloris chloris
 A few birds seen and heard most days.
Siskin Spinus spinus
 Fairly common each day with small flocks seen.
Goldfinch  Carduelis carduelis Noted on two days.
Linnet Linaria cannabina  Noted on three days.
Hawfinch Cocothraustes cocothraustes  Around a dozen birds seen on the 22nd.
Corn Bunting  Emberiza calandra Seen every day.
Yellowhammer Emberiza citronells Good views on two days.


Red Fox Vulpes vulpes
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus

Red Deer Cervus elaphus

Daubenton’s Bat


Large White

Red Admiral



Migrant Hawker