Friday, 31 December 2010

Merlin brightens the day

A really dull and wet day.  We decided to go out anyhow.  Leaving our village of Cesseras we were pleased to see a young male Merlin flash across the road.  This species is quite scarce here so a bonus.

We checked Lac de Jouarre but only one Tufted Duck and c300 Mallard.  Two Great Crested Grebes also there and 12 Cormorant and a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls.

Despite checking two more sites nothing except three Cirl Buntings.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Out to the Coast again

After a late morning shopping trip to Narbonne we took a picnic to the coast.  First we took the road from Bages to Peyriac sur Mer.  We noted some large rafts of Coot and scattered flocks of Greater Flamingos. There were also plenty of Little Egrets and a few Great White Egrets and a freshwater area held 15 Great Crested Grebes.

We moved on to Mandirac near Gruissan but things were similar to the previous visit except for 2 Cattle Egrets one of which posed conveniently with a Little Egret.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Local Walk

After a mild, sunny day yesterday spent mostly inside today was dull,cloudy and cool.  Nevertheless I took a walk with my 13 year old grandson Morris around the garrigue surrounding our house.

Birds were not numerous but we did find two superb Firecrests, a group of 7 Cirl Buntings and a flock of 10 Meadow Pipits.  Two Kestrels hovered overhead.

Our main reason for the walk was to look out for Wild Boar (Sanglier).  They have been a number of daylight sightings recently and we hoped we might too be lucky.  These wild pigs are pretty numerous around here and we see where they have been regularly.  Mostly it is because of their footprints in soft ground but also from damage done to local properties.  This includes digging up freshly planted plants and in particular bulbs.  Also they will dismantle dry stone walls to get at snails living deep in the structure.

Wild Boar are extensively hunted all over France but despite this they are still spreading their range.  Indeed Sanglier is a much sort after item on the menu of our local restaurant in Fauzan.

Anyway we found plenty of signs but no animals today.

Monday, 27 December 2010

A Lovely Day

A super day today but I got up rather late having sat up listening to the Test Match - England rubbing Aussie noses in the dirt happens too rarely to be missed.

We decided to go to Bessan and explore the rough grassland and low input agriculture for Little Bustards.  Immediately on arrival a flock of 50 were seen high up and moving away from our area.  They eventually dropped down and despite a fairly thorough search we did not see them again.  We did find a pair of superb Hen Harriers, several Buzzards, 2 Woodlarks and 7 Skylarks.

Moving on we tried the harbour at Vendres where 18 Little Egrets had found a thawed out ditch and in the harbour itself there were two Black-necked Grebes.

We then tried the road by the sewerage works at Pissevache and discovered a new bird for me in France on the shallow saline lake.  Amazingly two redhead Goosanders.  On a lake further on there was a patch of unfrozen water and a good number of wildfowl.  These included 125 Shelduck, 150 Shoveler, 200 Teal, 50 Wigeon and 30 Mallard.  Additionally 90 Greater Flamingos looked very uncomfortable tip-toeing around the icy edges to feed.  Meanwhile a Marsh Harrier flew by.

On the way home two Cattle Egrets were noted at Cabresac.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Birding again

The only bird I saw yesterday was on my plate.

Today I walked around Minerve twice as Rod Leslie had seen an Alpine Accentor down to 15 feet yesterday.  No luck today but good views of Blue Rock Thrushes again and lots of Blackcaps and Black Redstarts.

Unuasually for this site 12 Yellow-legged Gulls flew over high up.

The weather was cold with bitter northerly winds but not a cloud in the sky.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Freezing here again!

Gale force winds today from the north with horizontal sleet/snow.  The latter not laying I am pleased to say.

Not much time for looking for birds with the festive season upon us but just a few hundred yards from my house a flock of 8 Woodlarks were feeding by the side of the road, and a ring-tail Hen Harrier flew by overhead.

Happy Christmas everybody!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Break in Shopping

After a hectic morning shopping in Narbonne where an unseasonable Red Admiral was the highlight we took a drive around the Mandaric area near Gruissan.  There were plenty of Little Egrets and 6 Great White Egrets the latter being a winter visitor in this region. Three or four Marsh Harriers were busy hunting the reedbeds and putting up flocks of Teal.

We enjoyed an amusing few minutes watching a Buzzard feeding on the remains of a dead Coypu on the roadside.  The bird wanted to move off but could not pick up the remains of the mammal.  It therefore nervously remained allowing good photo opportunities.

A Kingfisher hurtled across the road and about a dozen Greater Flamingos stood in the water with their heads under their wings fast asleep.

Two male Blackaps were in the olive tree in the garden this morning.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Marshland walk

Together with my son Jeremy and grandson Morris (13 yesterday) we walked around the big marsh near Capestang.  The weather was dull, windy and very muddy under foot.

The area is mainly enormous phragmites reedbeds but with some rough grazing marshes and open lagoons (photo shows the area on a better day).  The strong wind suggested that reedbed birds would be difficult to find.  A couple of Stonechats caused no such problem and three Little Egrets , a Great White Egret and a Grey Heron flew overhead.  Further on 2 Reed Buntings broke cover and up to 6 Marsh Harriers were quartering the wetland.  Additionally a couple of Cetti's Warblers sang from deep in the vegetation and a Coypu swam across a lagoon while others moaned from deep cover.

Heading on down the central path it was Jeremy who first spotted a small bird running along the edge with the reeds.  Its cocked tail gave Jeremy the confidence to call "Bluethroat" and that is what it was.  A splendid male feeding in the open but the light far too dark to get a picture.

If that was not enough as we were still discussing the previous bird a Bittern flew out of the reeds and continued across the track once again disappearing into cover.  It was now getting darker and colder and we headed back to the car.  Driving away we noticed a couple of flocks of Corn Buntings feeding around the stubble fields a sight now so difficult in the UK.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Sun shines today in more ways than one

Our day was brightened last night when Jeremy and Saskia arrived in the small hours with our three grandchildren Morris, Tara and Holly.

After a damp start the sun emerged by lunchtime and the garden was full of hoards of birds.  Mainly Starlings and House Sparrows but also c30 Goldfinches.  The olive tree continues to attract birds with a female Blackcap and a Sardinian Warbler in attendance.

Picking up weed seed were also a pair of Cirl Buntings.  They are very timid birds and do not allow close approach.  Photographing them is a real challenge.

I hope to get out for a walk this afternoon especially when the grandchildren have woken up.  We need to collect some pine cones for Christmas decoration.

My daughter Bronwen is still snowed up in Cheltenham and we fear she may not be able to join us this week.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

True Cost of Exotic Species

There has been a lot in the news lately about the true cost of exotic or introduced species to World economies.  I find it hard to get my head around the enormous sums quoted but if these well respected reports wake up politicians to the true effects then it must be good.

Nature conservationists and other landowners have been saying for decades that the great numbers of exotic species in the UK alone were damaging our native biodiversity and therefore affecting our economy.

The UK has a long history of introduced species some going back to the Roman Empire.  Farmers are up for removing North American Grey Squirrels but when you remind them that Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges will have to go as well then they go white and very quiet.

Not only would it be an overreaction to try and remove every alien species it would also be impossible both financially and logistically.  Constant research is required to target species which are creating the biggest problems.  We already know enough to encourage an eradication of Grey Squirrels.  Apart from their effect on native Red Squirrels they cause immense damage to forestry interests as well.  It would be an enormous task but not impossible.  Local authorities are already doing a lot to remove Japanese Knotweed especially where it causes great damage to buildings.  Various alien water plants escaping from garden ponds are also a massive threat to our wetlands.

The secret is to recognise the potential of exotic species and remove them before they become too established.  In East Anglia the Coypu, a large rodent introduced for its fur escaped to wetlands but was successfully eradicated before its spread became too expansive.  This proves that eradication programmes can work.

One of the problems with eradication in the UK is the sentimental approach taken by many members of the public particularly with mammal and bird species.  The extreme of this are the various Animal Rights groups who cannot be convinced that any creature should perish whatever the arguments.  The latter were responsible for releasing hundreds of North American Mink into the countryside an action that has caused enormous harm to native species. Birders are not exempt from these emotions as many were upset at the partial removal of the Ruddy Duck from the UK to stop hybridisation with the threatened White-headed Ducks in Spain.

It is a big problem and as agricultural changes have meant the death knell for many of our native species so too will unchecked advances of exotic introductions.  So many exotic creatures are imported as pets and when owners get bored there is a real danger of these being let loose in our countryside.

Now that politicians can appreciate the effects of this on our economy maybe they will act.  It is hard to see how they can do that though at a time when their own cuts are diminishing the size of the wildlife & countryside agencies.

I guess by now you can tell that is been raining all day and I have not been out.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Butterflies & Birds

I caught Natural World on BBC last night and have to say that was one of the finest programmes on British Butterflies I have seen.  Some wonderful eccentric characters although I was concerned about the guy from Worksop releasing captive bred species all over the place.  This is not helpful for those recording butterflies and he did not say where he got his captive stock from.   Even so some great footage especially the chrysallis emerging from the caterpillar.

Looking out of the lounge window early on a pair of Stonechats were perched on weed stems in a field next door.

The wind dropped here today and although the temperature only reached 8 degrees I took a walk in the Cesse and Brian Gorges at Minerve.  I hoped for Wallcreeper or Alpine Accentor but could find neither.  The micro climate of the Gorges provides a good habitat for wintering Blackcaps and I certainly saw at least 20.  A magnificent Firecrest showed itself for a few minutes but the highlight was two separate male Blue Rock Thrushes.

A quick check elsewhere revealed a few Black Redstarts, Sparrowhawk and Raven.

The weather is obviously still grim in Northern Europe as my son Jeremy and his family are still stuck in Holland with no immediate news of when they will get away.

Friday, 17 December 2010

End of a Black Redstart

Weather slightly improved today and a bit milder at 8 degrees.  Conditions bad elsewhere and my son Jeremy and his family are stuck in Amsterdam and did not arrive today as scheduled.  Hopefully tomorrow.

Cleaning out my son's house prior to his arrival I noticed bird droppings behind the glass of his gas fireplace.  Closer investigation showed the dessicated corpse of a female Black Redstart lying amongst the imitation logs.  The bird had obviously descended the flue and could not find its way back out.  A horrible end!

The chimney will have to be fitted with a grill as soon as possible as the local population of Black Redstarts is quite numerous and they are always found on the buildings.

Not much esle to report today except a movement of Starlings no doubt pushed south by harsher conditions to the north.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

It's Cold Here Too

After arriving on a balmy Monday we are now receiving freezing north-easterly gales.  Temperature today -2 but feels much colder in the strong winds and snow flurries.

Last evening a Red Kite sailing across the road looked way out of place as most birds of this species from France are in Spain now.

I have now lined the garden with feeders but most birds seem to like an olive tree in our garden which is absolutely dripping with fruit.  Starlings, Chaffinches and Greenfinches dive into its dark green foliage to gorge themselves on the ripe fruit.  Perhaps the most surprising birds are the Sardinian Warblers which skulk about on the ground picking up scraps but fly up for bigger morsels when the Starlings move on.


Apart from large flocks of Serins in the vineyards there are also many thousands of Starlings a roost near here yesterday far outnumbered the one seen at Ham Wall, Somerset last Saturday.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Back again

I have been out of action since last Saturday having arrived in France to find I had no internet connection.  This has obviouslt been rectified.

Prior to catching a plane from Bristol we stayed overnight with Stephen and Susanna Moss in Somerset which gave Stephen the opportunity to take us to Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall Nature Reserves on Sunday afternoon.  A brisk walk failed to produce the Great Grey Shrike but did reveal Cetti's Warbler, 2 Whooper Swans, Sparrowhawk and Woodcock.  Best of all though was witnessing the massive Starling roost which amazingly draws in hundreds of visitors to witness the aerial ballet performed by thousands of birds coming to roost.

Arriving in France at Beziers Airport birding was immediate as a large group of Little Bustards flew up as the Ryanair plane taxied in.  This area is superb for these birds with several hundred being present.  I do worry though about their habit of congregating on the airfiled for their future and the aircraft.

It was pleasantly warm at 16 degrees on arrival on Monday but the temperatures have now plummeted to around freezing but with clear skies and sunshine.  Not many birds seen around the house yet but a single Sardinian Warbler skulking under an olive tree and a Black Redstart roosting under our terrace were welcome.  Several Robins are obvious around the hillside which at least remind us Christmas is near.  The Robin is much more a Christmas bird here as they are only winter visitors arriving in September and leaving in early April.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Preparing for a migration

Not been very active the last two days as preparing to move over to our place in France for the Christmas period.

I have been discussing with others the plight of Bitterns in the recent freezing conditions.  Once birds begin walking about in broad daylight on open ice you can be sure they are already in trouble.  It is great to get such views and also photographs, but my experience with these superb birds tells me that they will be starving.  Hence efforts particularly at Kenfig Nature Reserve are being made to supplementary feed the birds.  This might be necessary elsewhere.  If you know of Bitterns wintering where you are why not find out if they need help.

These wonderful birds have been increasing their breeding numbers and range in the UK as a result of intense conservation measures.  It would be a shame to lose any birds just as things are picking up.  The RSPB have now put out a request for feeding too and fish like sprats or herring are entirely suitable.

Picture by David Hosking

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Out at last!

The recent couple of very cold days has made me reticent to move far but this morning I did make it even though the outside temperature was -7 degrees when I left home.  I was making my way to Kidwelly but on the way just past Idole I spotted a Woodcock feeding on the grass verge.  I had to turn round, drive back a bit, turn again and get level with the bird.  There was no place to pull off so I put on the hazard warning lights and got a shot or two off before traffic began to appear again.

I then moved on to Burry Port Harbour.  No divers or grebes but a Little Egret and Kingfisher in the yacht basin.  Three Cormorants were posing beautifully hanging their wings out to dry and a Grey Heron by the harbour wall looked ready to succumb to the harsh weather.

I turned round and went back to Kidwelly Quay.  A Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Goldeneye and a few Tufted Duck were surrounded by about 800 Teal.  A Spotted Redshank obligingly flew by and Lapwings and Redshank were more approachable than usual.  The nearby filter beds at the Sewerage Works had three Chiffchaffs feeding amongst large numbers of Starlings, Robins and Pied Wagtails.

Before returning home I checked out the Tywi Valley near Cilsan Bridge where I counted 30 Whooper Swans with about 50 Mute Swans.  Under the bridge a female Goosander, Snipe and 100 Wigeon were discovered and 10 Fallow Deer were feeding on a hillside field.

Returning home I was delighted to see that my Siskins had grown to flock proportions with 3 on the niger feeders.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Raptor's plight

Another walk in the cold bright weather today.  Not much about except I did see one or two very weak looking Buzzards sitting around and allowing close approach.  This is definitely not normal here and I can only assume these birds are very hungry.  The hard ground even stops them finding worms which often keeps them going when times are hard,

I have not seen a Red Kite here for a few days and I am assuming they may be staying close to one of the feeding stations just now.  How valuable this effort is in such prolonged hard weather and must have played an enormous part in helping particularly young birds to make it to their first breeding season.  This feeding must have played a big part in the Welsh Red Kite population increase,  These sites also provide food for corvids and Buzzards too.

I hear today that the British Association for Shooting and Conservation have asked their members to show constraint in their shooting activities.  This includes Woodcock and Snipe.

More good news on my feeders with a male Siskin joining yesterday's female.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Walk in the cold

The cold goes on.  Indeed last night felt like the coldest yet of this spell.  Filling up the bird feeders it was the first time they were covered in frost.

I took a walk up our lane to my neighbours Rob and Biddy's farm and hiked through ice covered fields.  After leaving the farm buildings where there were hoards of Starlings and a Nuthatch on an array of feeders I moved along a hedge line and immediately flushed a Woodcock which towered away only to land again behind the farmhouse.  Continuing my route I soon flushed a Snipe as well.  I was by now astonished to see that most ditches and streams were running noisily and not frozen as I expected.

Moving on I was conscious of the continous calling of Ravens and to a lesser extent Buzzards.  I wondered if this was because of their need for food.  Coming to another gate I flushed another Woodcock which this time dropped down into the wooded valley.  I was astonished to learn recently that hoardes of foreign hunters pay to come to the UK to hunt Woodcock and Snipe.  I must say I find that unnecessary particularly in such hard weather.

Reaching the highest point by a small road I looked across at the Black Mountain covered in snow and thought how cold it must be up there at over 2,000 feet.

I walked back through our village where a few Redwings picked around for food and a Marsh Tit called from a copse before I returned home glowing from the warm clothing and a the bright, sunny but cold weather.

Some good news today in the garden - a female Siskin with the Goldfinches on the niger seed feeder.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Weekend in Gloucestershire

I have spent the last couple of days mainly visiting my daughter Bronwen in Cheltenham.

Saturday saw me heading to Slimbridge first thing.  It was cold and with ice and snow still around when I arrived just before 10am.  I was surprised to find a Winter Festival event taking place and even more surprised to meet the guys from WildSounds and Country Innovation.

I am glad I decided to go around the reserve first even though it was so cold.  Good numbers of Bewick's Swans were in and very active either washing on the Rushey Pool or feeding out on the frozen levels.  Large numbers of Pochard, Pintail and Wigeon also noted.  I spent some time sitting around the feeders and did see a couple of Bramblings but even though I caught quick glances of Water Rails none came out to pose for the camera.  I did get some shots of a lone Rook hanging around the feeders.  Then the rain came down and I headed indoors.

Wandering around the Festival the first obvious thing was the lack of public making all the exhibitors look very disappointed.  I did chat to a very friendly young lady from Rectory Farm, Great Easton alongside Eyebrook Reservoir in Rutland.  She was manning her stall for Eyebrook Wildbird Feeds ( and she explained how the farm was diversifying by growing wild bird food and allowing permissive paths for birding on the farm.  I must pay a visit when going to the BirdFair next year.

We set off for home today in much better weather but stopped for a sandwich at the Speech House Arboretum car park in the Forest of Dean.  Here a number of local people spread bird food on a large fallen log and some very good shots of our woodland birds can be obtained.  It was busy with cars today but it did not stop the Nuthatches and many tit species from coming very close.

I suppose I should acknowledge that Beryl and I have been married for 46 years today.  Quite unfashionable nowadays.I really do appreciate her love and support over the years and also becoming my birding companion both here, and in some very exotic foreign locations.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Time to put the birds first!

The prolonged cold is surely enough for at least voluntary bans on wildfowling.  Hunters have been seen in Wales still going out even though wildfowl are struggling to find ice-free conditions to roost and feed.

Those ornithologists regularly ringing should also consider whether their normal operations are viable for the birds.  Keeping birds away from food in the current icy conditions for even 15 minutes might be enough to affect their wellbeing.

For more details on how both these operations should be conducted try and also

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Back to Birds

Weather is still confining my birding to the garden and generally the village. 

I am still energetically keeping up with filling the feeders and the numbers of birds visiting the garden are increasing.  Starlings are the most numerous and Chaffinches continue to increase but still no Brambling.  There were two new visitors to the feeding area today - a Redwing feeding on a nearby holly tree and perhaps more surprising for here a Mistle Thrush feeding on berries from a different bush.

For the first time for days the temperature has lifted a bit with our lane showing tarmac exposed for most of its surface.

Maybe it will continue to ease off and give some respite to the birds.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A Living Wales

I know I often talk rubbish but it seems obvious to me that you cannot leave the safeguarding of our environment to politicians, especially in Wales.  The re-emergence of Badger culling in West Wales against all the sound scientific evidence and a defeat in the law courts beggars belief.  It seems that one stubborn woman is determined to have her way and appease her farming friends. I hope she is aware that there is an election next May.

Today I spent some time reading a consultation document called A Living Wales.  This document has been published by the Welsh Assembly.  I could not believe that WAG consider fishermen and farmers to be the sole stewards of biodiversity in the countryside.  Most of the latter have exploited and continue to exploit the countryside and species for their living.  There is nothing wrong with this as long as there are checks and balances. WAG has obviously forgotten about the many nature conservation bodies working in Wales.  Surely the future of biodiversity in Wales is best pursued by a partnership of fishing and farming interests together with nature conservationists, recreation bodies and all who have an interest in the countryside.  This is already working well in many areas of England.

I note that the new agri-environment scheme for Wales Glastir has received a lukewarm reception by even farmers who already do much for wildlife on their farms. I heard that only 25% of farmers have signed up for this new initiative.  I reckon that even if 100% had come forward the prescriptions would have led to little improvement for the lot of our wildlife.

There are many LBAP groups and other WAG quangos set up to discuss nature conservation in Wales. The trouble is there seems to be a lot of discussion but too little action.

If we ever need reminding of the stupidity of some politicians you only have to find the Curlew statue in Cardiff Bay by the hotel.  After barraging acres of precious estuarine mud and destroying the habitat of many species of shorebirds for largely cosmetic purposes, the erection of the statue seems like a memorial or is someone taking the micky?

Never mind I still remain an optimist!