Monday, 20 May 2013

Out of my Area: Leighton Moss

Yesterday morning I packed my bins, my scope and my Eurovision hangover, and was out of the house at 6.30. I headed to Paisley to meet the folks from the Renfrewshire bird group, and from there we took a warm, cramped coach ride to Leighton Moss.

We breifly stopped off at the Eric Morcambe hide first, checking in on the waders and wildfowl. Quickly allowing us to rack up Avocet, Little Egret, Shelduck, Black Tailled Godwit, Redshank, Curlew, Teal, Black Headed Gull, Gadwall and - from the side of the path - Sedge warbler, Long Tailled Tit, and Cetti's warbler. Then it was back on the bus to the main reserve.

Avocet from the Eric Morecambe hide
After 3 hours and 30 minutes on the coach I was beginning to realise just how antisocial I have become in my time on Cumbrae. Explaining that I was heading to look for bearded tits first, I slunk off in the opposite direction to everyone else, heading for the public hide and the scrapes.

The first thing I found was the insects, the air was thick with them; and they were obviously feeding the host of warblers that I could hear in the reeds. As i looked above the reeds a marsh harrier was lazily flapping to gain height. I rattled off a few blurry shots in case I was the only on to get a glimpse that day (I needn't have bothered).

Then, as I stood at the edge of one of the scrapes, there was a bouncing flash of honey brown, a long tail, and bright underside - bearded tit. Tick. 

The causeway was a fly smorgasbord

Blurry Harrier
 When I got tired of the flies and increasing numbers of people I headed back toward the main reserve. Catching up with Gary and some of the others on the way. From their view over the marsh we could watch 3 harriers working the reed beds; then another raptor broke the skyline, too light underneath for a marsh harrier. What do you know, Osprey (we later caught up with the same individual sat in a tree at the Greisedale hide).

As I left the others and headed back towards the hides I past Eddie, who said he'd had marsh tit at the feeders about 40 mins before. But as I wandered round I couldn't catch sight of one. I checked out the other hides and added Pochard, Great Crested Grebe, Tufted duck and Shovellor to the list, then decided it was time to sample the reserve's supplies of coffee and cake (They're both excellent by the way).

With 30 minutes left until we were due back on the bus I nipped down to the feeders, finally adding Marsh tit to the day total (and the year list), and getting great vies of bullfinch and nuthatch.

Nuthatch at the feeders

Marsh tit at the feeders

I just missed the last ferry on the way home, so I decided to head down to Portencross to see what was moving off-shore, then kip in the car. I added Shag, Razorbill, Gannet, Herring and Greater and Lessser Black Backed gulls, and Cuckoo to the day total.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Fun in Faro: you can talk the talk, but can you stalk the stork?

Having hardly been abroad before, I was looking forward to getting away the week before last (and hoping birds to my list), this time at a conference in beautiful Faro in the Algarve.  I meant to do a couple of posts about this latest week “out of my area”; however, work is manic. So here are the Cliffs Notes.

Day 1: BT godwit, Common Tern, Turnstone, Swift, Swallow, Shelduck, House Martin, Goldfinch, White Stork.

My trip started off in an optimistic fashion. I spent the 2 and a half hour flight spent flicking hopefully through the Collins guide. Then – as we came into land – I saw my first White Stork, flying low over the marsh. On the way to the hotel my taxi driver (who I had told I liked birds) drove via a couple of stork nests specially. Arrived at my hotel in at 17:30; grabbed a quick shower, put on a thick coating of factor 30, picked up bins and camera, and headed for the harbour.

The first thing I noticed was the swifts. Having not seen any swifts at home yet, the cacophony of screams was brilliant. A great reminder that summer wasn’t far away. I quickly located a prospective restaurant for dinner, but decided to walk a little further along the shorefront (and try to identify a possible boat trip for Sunday morning).

Looking out over the marsh I saw the familiar shapes of turnstone and common tern, both displaying, as well as a number of feeding godwit and turnstone. Further out another stork was feeding, and all the time the was the sound of the swifts. Walking back I saw another loner take up a seat at the afore mentioned seafood place. And that’s how I met Michiel, who also studies microplastics (and is also a keen birder). A networking win!

Stork nest, Faro marina

Day 2: White Stork, Curlew, Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe, Cattle Egret, Turnstone, Swallow, Swift, Sand Martin, Black Winged Stilt, Little Tern, Mallard, Dunlin, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Starling, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Knot, Azure Winged Magpie.

Breakfast at 7:30 and out by 8. Trying to catch the coolest part of the day, I took a walk down to the harbour to see what was moving about. The swifts were still filling the air, running low alongside the walls of old Faro. I decided to duck into the shade of the old city, and found more stork topping the old buildings like statues.

From there I walked south along the coast, picking up Black Winged Stilt, Cattle Egret, and Little Tern on the way out of town. At the side of the cycle path a number of small warblers were moving amongst the low scrub. After 10 minutes of intermittent views I concluded Sardinian warbler, but I’m happy to be corrected!

Sardianian Warbler

Black Winged Stilt feeding happily amongst the fly-tipped plastics

I turned back as it began to get warm, just in time to see a hoopoe shoot across the road. I considered hopping a boat trip and getting to see a little more of the wetlands; however, by that point I was already a tomato, time to go skulk in the hotel before conference registration.

And then –  just when I thought the fun was over – Michiel and I decided to take a wander round the university grounds as the other delegates checked in, just giving us enough time to catch a few azure winged magpie (not to mention a brace of mosquito bites in my case). Then it was time for introductions, networking and free sangria, before heading back to the hotels.

Day 3: Serin, Hoopoe, Azure winged magpie, Bee-eater, Pied fly catcher, House martin, House sparrow, Swallow, Swift.

Today was a full day of networking and lectures, and an opportunity to catch up with the other microplastics researchers at the conference. Today’s new face was Tomas from CEFAS, who also works on microplastic impacts.

At the break between sessions I took my camera out to where we’d seen the magpies the day before, on the way down to the trees a hoopoe lifted and headed out over the scrub. There were four magpies moving between the trees and the cut grass, and today they were joined by a number of pied flycatchers, moving between the branches of the pines. I heard something I didn’t recognise, scolding me from the trees. Something bright and small was chasing between the low branches. After

At lunch I stuffed as much food I could fit into my face then headed out with my binoculars. I could hear something else I couldn’t recognise coming from the far side of campus. Regretting my choice of sandals I made my way through the gravel to the chain-link, just in time to see a bee-eater lift off in pursuit. Over the next 20 minutes I watched 3 birds move between the dead trees ask the hawked for insects.


Azure winged magpie


Throng at the plastics posters
Day 4: Serin, Jay, Greenfinch, Azure winged magpie, Bee-eater, Pied fly catcher, House martin, House sparrow, Swallow, Swift, Collared dove, Goldfinch.

A complete blur of a day; mainly focusing on my lurking around my poster, trying to hand out as many business cards as possible, and trying to eat my bodyweight in free cake. In the evening I avoid the crowds in favour of lounging in my hotel watching episodes of Castle.

Day 5:  House martin, House sparrow, Swallow, Swift, Collared dove, Goldfinch, Sanderling, Sardinian warbler, Yellow wagtail, Collared pratincole, Little ringed plover, Dunlin, Kentish plover, Crested lark, Little Tern, Gannet, Grey heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Little egret, Probable Andouins Gull.

Last day of the conference. Everyone that went to the banquet the night before looked very queasy at breakfast, I wasn’t sure if Jen was going to feel well enough for the trip to Ilha Deserta, but I scoffed as much as I could anyway. It’d be rude to let anything go to waste.

The morning revolved around impacts assessments, MSFD, good cake, and bad coffee. But after lunch Jen, Michiel and I hopped in the first taxi out, made quick change at the hotel, and ran to the pier. A 45 minute boat ride and we were on the fringes of the Atlantic and as soon as we were ashore we struck bird.

A pair of large larks was moving by the boardwalk. We weren’t sure whether we had Thekla or Crested lark; the individual we saw up - close was very darkly marked on the breast, however, looking at the long beak, red underwings, and VERY pointed crest, we went with Crested.

Crested Lark
The island itself is around 3 km in circumference, low scrub, with a bar and a gull colony at its centre. We headed out on the Atlantic side of the island, walking along the sand. Michiel and I hung back to get a very over the scrub, and soon picked up Kentish plover and yellow wagtail. Then a pair of dark, sandy birds lifted from around 50 meters away, one looping back, one flying swiftly across the island; almost barrel chested, white undersides, sharp wings and a forked tail – Pratincole!

Just as we were celebrating this, an imm. gull we didn’t recognise went over. Short, heavy, reddish bill with black tip – long wings – white head – dark eye – dark legs – dark “hand”. It was Michiel that called Andouins gull, and I’m not going to argue with him!

We cut inland across the gull colony – getting better sighting of the various gulls and wagtails on the way – and make our way to the quieter inshore side of the island. Here were picked up a range of waders, more little tern, and Sardinian warbler (and I begin to properly burn in the sun).Then the other caught us up, and we made our way back round toward the jetty; where we sat on the seawall together – watching the fish and geckos - while we waited for the boat.


Kentish Plover

On the way in we were chillier, and more intent on sharing our opinions of the trip; but we got brief sightings of little ringed plover and spoonbill. All in all, those snatched hours out on the island with new friends were the highlight of the trip. Much more enjoyable that running between seminar rooms in the heat (however good the talks were)! I can only apologize to my new friends for how long it’s taken me to post this. I hope I see you all next year!