Sunday, 22 March 2015

Returning to Normality

Having been back in the UK for a few days now I've had more than enough time to reacquaint myself with my favourite local sites. A few brief visits to the patch have been fairly productive on the feathered front and all round enjoyable as a result of the pleasant weather. I finally managed to add Linnet to the 2015 patch list with a pair seen briefly on the outskirts of Stobswood Pools whilst I am 80% I heard a Willow Tit calling from the woodland adjacent to my house.  I will not being ticking this just yet however and as the months progress I would have to be extremely unlucky not to unearth at least one of these skulky woodland critters. Stobswood Pools have as ever been a hub of activity with two parties of Whooper Swans numbering in at 15 and 36 respectively stopping off at the site for a brief siesta on route to Iceland. Goose numbers have tailed off drastically with only c60 Pink-Footed Geese remaining alongside 16 Canada Geese and the Barnacle Goose that likes to put in an appearence every fortnight or so. I wonder where it goes? Anyways, with the Ross's Goose having fled the site I will have to find something new on which to fixate my attentions! The pools themselves continue to exhibit a decent array of ducks with 18 Tufted Duck, 4 Gadwall, 25 Wigeon, 8 Mallard, 2 Pochard, 4 Shelduck and c15 Teal remaining. Breeding waders continue to flood back to the site with 25 Curlew, 32 Lapwing, 16 Snipe, 6 Oystercatcher, 3 Ringed Plover and 2 Redshank present at the last count. Avocets however still remain conspicuous in their absence though there is plenty time yet. Elsewhere on the home front Skylarks and Meadow Pipits appear to have monopolized every patch of available grassland whilst a few choice woodland goodies were noted included 2 Nuthatch, 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Mistle Thrush and 4 Song Thrush. Five Tree Sparrows remain in the vicinity of the allotments near Stobswood Village with a Green Woodpecker continuing to yaffle in the same area. Aside from these however the only other species of note comprise a few Grey Partridge, Buzzard, Kestrel and Goldcrest. No returning migrants as of yet but hopefully by the time I return from the Cairngorms on Friday the area should be ablaze with hirundines and warblers.. A little too optimistic perhaps? 

"What you looking at"
Quite the size difference
Saturday found me pottering down the coast in search of the Bearded Tits at East Chevington though as ever the Reedlings eluded me. 5 Scaup on the large pool were an adequate compromise however, more so given the presence of two rather handsome drakes. 4 Great Crested Grebes were also noted here whilst 50 Goldeneye, 75 Coot, 12 Mute Swan and perhaps 20 Tufties milled around alongside a few Gadwall, Little Grebe and Moorhen. Failing to pick out the long staying Black-Necked Grebe or the drake Pintail I soon opted for half an hour spent ogling the feeding station and was soon rewarded with good views of a host of common odds and ends. Among these; 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 5 Long-Tailed Tit, 3 Coal Tit, 4 Reed Bunting and the ever present Great and Blue Tits. Departing the site for a snoop around Druridge Pools 2 Stonechat were unearthed in the dunes and a Water Rail called from the far reed bed. Not a bad haul..

Druridge Pools as ever proved somewhat quiet in comparison to Chevington. A single Stonechat was easily picked up in the sand dunes whilst a scan of the large pool turned up little other than 2 Goldeneye, 4 Tufted Duck and a rather sleepy Cormorant. Half an hour peering out of the Budge screen proved somewhat more enjoyable with a nice variety of ducks on show, the highlight of which was 3 drake Shoveler. 2 Grey Herons were noted stalking the outside of the pools whilst maybe two dozen Lapwings lazed about in the shallows alongside a few Curlew and a single Redshank. Both Canada and Greylag Geese were extremely vocal here; squabbling amongst themselves over the very limited amount of breeding space whilst other interesting bits 'n' bobs included a few Goldfinch on the feeders, a partially ermine Stoat and five fly over Stock Doves. All in all not a bad few days. Between Monday-Friday It appears I will be staying in Aviemore and visiting the Cairngorms for the very first time. Though the purpose of the trip is so I can attend a job interview in Inverness I intend to fully capitalize on the trip and aim to nab a few overdue lifers including Ptarmagin, Capercallie and Crested Tit.
I will leave you with a few more Barbary Ground Squirrels from Fuerte

It's not a Chipmunk I swear.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Trip Report: Fuerteventura

Having arrived safely home following an amazing week in the Canary Islands I will now take some time to recount some of the wild highlights of my week in the sun. Free time and by default, birding were severely restricted during my time in Fuerte. Indeed the purpose of the trip courtesy of Operation New World was to develop my surveying and interpersonal skills, with the aim of helping me find employment in the conservation sector. I will talk more about Op New World at a later date but for now will attempt to sum up a series of spectacular wild encounters stemming from a week on the warm, windswept and wonderful island of Fuerteventura. With no less than nine new species of birds added to the life list alongside innumerable reptiles, butterflies, mammals and coastal beasties there was certainly no lack of things to keep me amused between fieldwork and presentations..

Anyone who knows me will know that was an aspiring ornithologist the feathered things more often than not take precedence whenever I venture outside. Much to my surprise bird life was far from abundant on Fuerteventura and each and every species required a fair amount of effort on my behalf; with the exception of the numerous Yellow-Legged Gulls that proved to be a mainstay during our visit. Despite the relative low abundance of birds a little perseverance turned up a few goodies in close proximity to our hostel at Pozo Negro. Among these a few familiar faces including; Swallow, House Martin, Common Sandpiper and a ridiculously confiding Whimbrel. Less familiar was the addition of a few Spectacled Warbler in the adjacent scrub whilst 4 - 5 Berthelot's Pipit provided my first lifer of the trip. Perhaps the highlight here was the addition of a Black-Crowned Night Heron on our second morning. I was later informed that is species is listed as a "scarce migrant" in the Canaries, making the sighting all the more memorable.

Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Moving a little further afield to a series of arid areas away from the coast Egyptian Vultures were noted in double digits; at times giving fantastic views as they floated overhead no doubt waiting for one of the islands plentiful feral Goats to keelover . The Canaries subspecies of Vulture was one of my most longed for species upon arriving in Fuerte and is easily the most attractive vulture I have seen to date. Not a hard feat given the fact I have only seen the ghastly looking Hooded and somewhat more handsome Palm Nut. Anyways; the dryer areas of the island also threw up  a number of extremely confiding Southern Grey Shrikes; one of which put on a splendid show not 2m from our group on which its subliminal charm was largely lost. Both Feral Pigeons and Collared Doves were abundant here whilst Marsh Harriers were noted on two occasions and at least 5 Kestrels were observed during the week alongside yet more Berthelot's Pipits and the odd Linnet.

A day of Phase 1 habitat surveys threw up the perfect opportunity to do some "serious birding" in rather pleasant (and green) river  valley towards the east of the island. The unrivaled highlight of the trip, at least for bird brains like myself this area provided a host of treats including a further three lifers. Among these Sardinian Warblers were numerous; particularly when mobbing the ever present Southern Grey Shrikes. Spanish Sparrows were equally prevalent where urbanization encroached on greenery though both of these paled in comparison to the third "new species"; a stonking Ruddy Shelduck that had laid claim to one the remaining areas of open water at the site. Elsewhere here a pair of Egyptian Vultures were observed at their nest; located high up on cliff face over looking our position and a few Goldfinch and Spectacled Warbler flitted to and throw around the site. Departing the site an odd looking raptor locked in combat with one of the sites many Ravens soon revealed itself to be a Honey Buzzard; another less regular visitor to the Canaries whilst a Swift noted overhead initially went down as Common and was largely ignored. It was only when I arrived home that I was informed that both Pallid and Plain Swifts are far more numerous on the island thus I undoubtedly missed a 10th tick.. Drat!

Egyptian Vulture (N. p. majorensis)

Yellow-Legged Gull (Larus michahellis)

Other goodies observed during our stay included 3 Kentish Plover noted among a sizable flock of Ringed Plover as we conducted a visitor impact assessment of a stretch of dunes near Puerto del Rosario. These were wholly unexpected a left me with a gleeful smile for the rest of the week. Little Egret and Dunlin were also noted here whilst further exploration of the site also turned up Turnstone and both Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gull. Saving the best until last however the unequivocal highlight of the trip goes to the endemic and endangered Fuerteventura Chat, formally known as the Canary Island Chat before its population crashed as a result of desertification and over grazing by goats. Only one of these glorified Stonechats was noted during our stay; a female which showed fantastically a short walk from our hostel in keeping with the confiding nature of the chat family. Not a particularly stunning bird but one I was extremely keen to see knowing that only c1200 of these birds remain in the wild. The issues relating the the birds decline were clear for all to see on Fuerte with goats destroying the floral community in all but the most inaccessible of places and tourists taking liberties wherever they saw fit. I do not hold out much hope for this wondrous little bird should things continue on their present path..

Fuerteventura Chat (Saxicola dacotiae)
Feathered things aside Fuerteventura also provided a host of other goodies including the endemic Haria Lizard and Eastern Canary Gecko; both of which were somewhat plentiful. Mammal species noted include a large number of Barbary Ground Squirrels and a single Algerian Hedgehog; both of which are deemed as invasive on the island. Butterflies were abundant in most locations with Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow perhaps the most numerous followed closely by Green-Striped White, Red Admiral and most impressive of all; the African Monarch. All of these species, both large and small, common and scarce made for a brilliant week in the Canaries. When combined with the experience gained from my work with Op New World the myriad of creatures seen have helped forge one of my best travel experiences to date and I will almost certainly visit the island again in the future. Who knows, maybe this time I will be able to catch up with a few of the more elusive bird species such as Houbara Bustard and Black-Bellied Sandgrouse.

Algerian Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus)

 Barbary Ground Squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus)
Haria Lizard (Galliota atlantic)