Sunday, 30 January 2011

Another splendid day on the Carmarthenshire Coast

The bright but very cold weather persists even to the extent that considerable icing was visible on the estuaries today.

I started at The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Llanelli but everywhere was completely frozen.  Mitigation for this was meeting Wendell Thomas, Barry & Sandra Stewart and others for a hot cup of coffee.

I moved on to Sandy Water Park hoping to see the Bittern still there at 10am this morning.  I did not see the Bittern but did spot an adult Mediterranean Gull amongst hundreds of gulls getting fed by the public.  There were also many obliging ducks especially Gadwall posing for the camera.

I next tried the road to Pembrey Airfield where I found an obliging close Mistle Thrush and even closer group of Snipe.  Onward to Kidwelly Quay where there were hundreds of Redshank and Dunlin and good numbers of Teal. Scanning down the river I could make out thousands of Oystercatchers with smaller numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Curlew.  A lone Greenshank flew by as well.

I checked out the Sewerage Works where amongst the many Reed Buntings and Chaffinches there were 2 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest.

I finished up at Ferryside but still could not find the elusive Avocet.

A good day out which did not quite make up for a defeat by Australia in the One Day Cricket International or Andy Murray once again falling at the final hurdle.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

What's the truth about English Forests?

There is an awful lot of hot air at the moment about the Government's apparent plans to "sell off" English Forests.

It is true that in recent years most state owned forests have made great strides in allowing public access. Walking, cycling, bird and mammal watching etc all seem to treat the forest sensitively especially for its wildlife.  There has also been a lot of recreation which surely must boost the Forestry Commission's coffers.  Car Rallying, Off road motor cycling and musical concerts hardly do anything to enhance the enjoyment of a forest or benefit wildlife.

Some of our English forests are obviously of heritage value. Two I know well are the Forest of Dean and the New Forest.  Government hints that these will be handed over to charities to manage with an appropriate sum to carry out the work.  Commercial forests will be leased long term to private bodies.

Apart from the obvious heritage forests and those of high nature conservation value I cannot see what the fuss is about.  Most forests are large dark blocks of exotic conifers often planted on more valuable heathland or bog and frankly if they could all be felled and the more valuable habitats restored then England would be a better place.  A good example of misinformation was a BBC reporter on the news this morning standing by a hillside of exotic pines talking about losing these "Iconic Lanscapes".  What a load of tosh!

I think it is a good idea to be reviewing our forests just now.  Many may well be better off in private hands and if funding is achieved then Heritage Forests may well be better managed by local people in the form of charities.  One thing is certain that at the moment the Forestry Commission both manage the leisure and nature conservation issues and the commercial production.  Caroline Spelman, Environment Minister quite rightly points out that this is a situation not good for the long term protection of English forests.

Those dark blocks of exotic pines have made some input to our biodiversity.  Red Squirrels hang on in some Northern blocks and populations of Crossbills, Siskins, Nightjars and birds of prey like Goshawks have benefitted and expanded their populations.  What is needed before any action takes place is an audit of English forests to establish which are the most important for quality leisure and wildlife.

Having said that though many foresters will point out that most have been planted to provide timber and wood pulp as commercial products and not for leisure or wildlife.

I am sure the debate will continue for some time yet.

NB - I seem to have lost the ability to post photographs at the minute.  If anyone has any idea why that is please let me know

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Along the Carmarthenshire Coast

Checked out my feeders this morning.  Lots of Starlings, a pair of Marsh Tits and 5 Siskins.

The weather brightened by lunch time so picked up Julian Friese and set off for the coast.  We began at Burry Port Harbour where an obliging Rock Pipit posed in the bright sunlight and then walked on to the lighthouse.  The usual huge flocks of Oystercatchers were on the beach with small numbers of Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls and a single 3rd winter Mediterranean Gull.  The wind was very cold so we moved on.

We headed back towards Kidwelly passing a large flock of Fieldfares and a Peregrine before moving on to Kidwelly Quay.  We were impressed with large numbers of Lapwings (we estimated about 2,000 in the area of the town altogether) and a noisy flock of about 200 Golden Plovers.  Lots of Teal and Redshank as usual and a high total of 18 Goldeneye on the main channel.

Ferryside was the next stop with plenty of birds still obvious on a rising tide.  Oystercatchers were the most numerous with about 500.  There were dozens of Curlews and about 100 Black-tailed Godwits and just 3 Bar-tailed Godwits.  A couple of Dunlin and 5 Ringed Plovers were also noted but no sign of the Avocet.

Also during the trip we noticed Red Kites at Carmarthen and Llandeilo.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Dull day so catching up

A really dull grey day today so catching up on post received during the Xmas period.

Nothing new to report except my first Siskin for the year a female on the niger feeder.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Housekeeping Day

I spent most of the day grappling with the confusing online application process for getting a visa to visit India.  Got there in the end after two goes.  On the first attempt I entered Peterborough, United Kingdom as the place of issue of my passport.  The end result was that the Visa form printed that section as Peterborough United. Amazing isn't it?

Anyway got the bird feeders going again in the garden and the local avifauna were quick to respond.  Two Nuthatches were first in followed by the usual tits and finches.  Very challenging was the arrival of both Marsh and Willow Tits.  The ID of these similar species is still difficult at times unless you hear a call (not possible behind the kitchen window) or get very close views.  We did achieve it with a bit of help from binoculars. Marsh Tit pictured of course.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Back home in Wales

Home again leaving behind France for at least another couple of months.

Anxious to get out and see some of the birds on my patch.  I began with three Bewick's Swans at Rhosmaen.  This species is much scarcer here than Whooper Swan.

Then on to Talley Lakes for a look at the wildfowl.  Perusing 50 Tufted Ducks I soon found the female Ring-necked Duck (picture of a captive taken at Slimbridge).  Also there were 5 Goosander and 4 Goldeneye.

A quick look from the bridge at Edwinsford revealed a Dipper too.  Year list up to 100 so far.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

More Birdsong

Most of today in the garden and a quick walk around Minereve.  More birdsong today with midday temperatures reaching an amazing 21 degrees.

Great Tits, Serins, Mistle Thrushes, Song Thrushes, Collared Doves and Cirl Bunting all in full song.

At Minerve nothing much except a Blue Rock Thrush and a Sparrowhawk.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Clod Bird

Spent most of the day in the garden planting trees etc.  Could not help noting a small flock of Corn Buntings feeding in surrounding scrub.  They are a very common bird in this part of France and their jingling song is heard daily in Spring and early Summer.

How does it do so well here when it is declining so fast in the UK?  Simply the agriculture in the south of France is so low key and large areas of fallow,weedy land and garrigue are available.  The insect population in summer is enormous and that ensures good size broods.

When I was a kid in Suffolk my Grandmother and my father always called Corn Buntings "Clod Birds".  I guess they can look like a dull brown clod on a ploughed field.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Dark side of the French

Last Friday a flock of about 2,000 Starlings arrived on our hill and most of our neighbours noted this slightly unusual occurence and enjoyed the aerial antics and vocalisations of these birds.  Suddenly at least two shots rang out from one French owned farm and then a single shot from another farm at the other end of the hill.  At this time we were walking around our local campsite with the French owner who was also captivated by the birds.

She was furious at the shooting and over the last couple of days we have picked up similar outrage from Dutch and Irish neighbours.  It is hard to explain why the birds were shot.  They certainly were not killed for food.  Maybe there was a perceived threat to the vineyards or local property.  Sadly it is most likely an act of complete ignorance. Whatever we returned home to find a shot Starling in our driveway.

This is the first time any of us at Montcelebre have experienced such behaviour.  We are aware of local hunters but they seem to be OK and concentrate their efforts on Wild Boar and Rabbits which they obviously eat.  We all feel a bit helpless as we live amongst local people and cannot see a way of stopping this sort of incident in future.  It may be though that there will be few less volunteers to harvest grapes at one particular vineyard in future years.

On a brighter note an Eagle Owl was calling in the distance last night as we returned from supper with a neighbour.  Also this morning a superb male Hen Harrier swept down the valley in front of our house.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Dance of the Flamingos

Another wonderful day reaching 20 degrees and me in a polo shirt for the first time this year.  We decided to take a run down the coast starting at Etang de Vendres.  Nesting has begun for Grey Herons and c40 were already on nests.  Seven Red-crested Pochards sailed below us on a lagoon but two Mute Swans flying past were really unusual for this part of France.

Moving on to Port de Vendres we noted a Chiffchaff, 3 Black Redstarts and a Stonechat.  On the river nearby was a single Black-necked Grebe.  Next stop was Pissevache where a Sandwich Tern was the highlight.

On to Gruissan and certainly the most entertaining part of our excursion.  We found about 50 Greater Flamingos performing their amazing display.  The whole line marching this way and back and shaking heads and emitting loud goose-like calls.  Every now and then they stop and spread their wings like the preverbial flasher in the dirty raincoat.  Very entertaining.  A ringtail Hen harrier flew by as we left.

Our final look at Mandirac produced a Tree Sparrow and a White Stork.

Friday, 14 January 2011

First sense of Spring

Waking today to bright sunshine and no wind it was no surprise that 18 degrees was achieved by midday.  We took a walk with our neighbour Jeanne  around her land.  She owns the local "Camping Naturiste" so you can imagine we do not visit when she has guests.  She has a wonderful view looking out south over the Aude plain to the Corbieres and Canigou at about 10,000 feet in the Pyrenees.

After lunch we looked again at Minerve but nothing much to report.

Later I went into the Cesse Gorge in the hope of calling Eagle Owl.  No luck yet but a Sparrowhawk tried hard to catch some pipistrelle-size bats to no effect and 20 Rock Sparrows came into roost in bushes on the side of the Gorge. My photo above shows Rock Sparrow (in front) with female House Sparrow conveniently posing near my garden.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Storks and Tern

A pleasant sunny day and we set off to the coast and the villages of Bages and Peyriac de Mer.  Approaching Bages we soon noted 5 White Storks soaring overhead.  Now when you see a small number of this species in winter you have to be reminded that a small number of free flying birds are present in the nearby African Wildlife Park in Sigean.  The situation was more confused a few minutes later when passing Bages we encountered another 24 White Storks soaring high in the sky and eventually making their way off to the north.  Surely not early migrants!  BWP reveals that the first breeding birds arrive in Germany in late February so maybe these were on the move.  Too many anyway to all come from Sigean.

We enjoyed a superb fish lunch in Bages at Restaurant La Table du Pecheur.  Expensive but food absolutely wonderful.  If you are ever in the area try it as a treat.

After lunch we explored the Gruissan and Mandirac area.  There was little to report apart from the usual Marsh Harriers, a lone Sparrowhawk and a ringtail Hen Harrier.  What was exciting and not unexpected was a Whiskered Tern which flew across the road in front of the car at Mandirac.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Crossbills turn up

Not for the first time a small flock of 10 Crossbills were touring our hill this morning moving from pine belt to pine belt.  This is not the first time I have seen them here but they normally appear after June.  At the latter time I assume these are birds which have already bred and are wandering in search of food.

This time of the year often sees Crossbills already sitting on eggs so their appearance now is something of a surprise.

After night time gales it has been a wonderful mild day here and I heard at least one Great Tit singing loudly.  Spring comes early to this part of Europe and resident birds can often be nesting by the end of February.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Etang de Capestang again

A gorgeous day today so I headed back to Etang de Capestang to try and get some better pictures of Penduline Tits.

There were less species than on previous visits and only three Penduline Tits found.  I did get better light on them but they kept in a tamarisk bush and annoying shadows spoiled my efforts.

There were up to six Marsh Harriers displaying in the clear skies and three Great White Egrets were on the marsh.  Water Rails were calling everywhere and I managed to see 7 albeit very briefly on each occasion.  As I made my way back to the car a ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting the area.

Good News!  The Cricket and Tigers tour is on in February so I will get to India again but this time to watch Australia v New Zealand and India v England in the World Cup.  We will also visit Tadoba National Park and the Sundabans as well.  Not only Tigers, Gaur and Sloth Bears but loads of birds too.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Day of the Grebes

Yesterday was mild with some sunshine but foggy in patches on the coast.

We visited a few places but Port La Nouvelle was the most fruitful.  The Harbour and in particular the entrance and the sea was full of grebes.  There were quite a few Great Crested Grebes and 20 Black-necked Grebes.  One Black-necked Grebe caught a fish right in front of me too.

Not much else to report but saw a few Greater Flamingos beginning to do their head shaking display.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Clutching at straws

Buse variable is the French name for our Common Buzzard and how apt it is.  We have all seen the complete range from almost dark chocolate brown to very pale individuals often misidentified as Rough-legged Buzzards.

There are dozens of Buzzards in this part of France in winter and the whole spectrum of plumages is present.  One pictured is the palest I have ever seen and almost white.

Weather still awful here but better conditions forecast for tomorrow.

You can tell I am clutching at straws.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Work in the garden

Another dull and damp day.  We catch up with work in the garden but no birds of note seen.  Photo shows the house and garden in Spring.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Dull as ditch water

A dreadful day of low misty cloud and drizzle.  I stay home and we catch up with jobs around the house.

House Sparrows and Starlings our only companions.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

High altitude visitor at last

After a quick shopping trip to Olonzac market we returned as the sun appeared.
I immediately set off for Minerve for yet another attempt for Alpine Accentors.

As I got out of the car in the bottom of the gorge the usual plethora of Blackcaps and Sardinian Warblers were all around me and two Blue Rock Thrushes flew overhead.

I pressed on along the path at the bottom of the cliffs, a route I had followed on all my previous visits.  Then suddenly a bird popped up on to the rocky ledges by my side.  Bingo! A superb Alpine Accentor.  Even though the sun was out the bird frustratingly kept in the shadows making photography tricky.  I kept at it for some time and finally the bird flew up onto a wall in the sunshine.  Sod's Law I could get close but was looking straight into the sun.  Ah well I caught up with one of these gorgeous birds at last.  Finding them in winter beats walking miles up to high altitude in the Pyrennees in summer.

I also checked out a Bonelli's Eagle site but no activity yet.  I did see two bees and a grasshopper in the midday sun.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Sandwich Terns in January

We awoke to cloudless skies with a cool breeze and got out quick to the coast and more birding.

Our first stop was the sewerage works and reedbeds at Lespignan. A horse paddock had 2 Water Pipits and a White Wagtail whilst a single Tree Sparrow fed with Goldfinches, Serins and Linnets.

We pressed on to Port De Vendre and the new marina.   There was a feeding frenzy of Cormorants taking place with hundreds flying in and plunging into the River Aude for what was obviously an abundance of fish.  Hordes of Little Egrets lined the stony banks trying to pick up morsels from the free for all.  A Black-necked Grebe picked its way through the melee giving photographic opportunties.

We then moved down to the beach flushing 2 Crested Larks and a Black Redstart.  The beach was entirely deserted of people and seemingly birds.  We walked along the tideline and suddenly I heard a Sandwich Tern.  What a surprise!   Three came into view and commenced fishing in the surf.  They seemed very unseasonable indeed.  Returning to the car a Common Sandpiper flew out from the jetty followed by a Grey Wagtail.

We moved on to Pissevache stopping first at the sewerage ponds.  Greater Flamingos were incredibly close and I managed quite a few photos.  A single male Red-crested Pochard looked splendid as did a male Pintail.  A male Hen Harrier quartered the reeds together with 2 Marsh  Harriers and a Buzzard.

We then drove down through Gruissan and ended up at Mandirac again.  Three Great White Egrets, a Cattle Egret and many Little Egrets were present.  A ring-tail Hen Harrier and 3 Marsh Harriers were hunting low over the pools constantly harassing c200 Teal.

Another great day in fantastic light.  Year list now at 71.

Day made better by the Canaries getting a point at Middlesborough and moving into 2nd place in the Championship.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Weather improvement

Bright and sunny today but a bit of wind and colder.

Walking around Minerve no Alpine Accentors again and unusually no sightings of Blue Rock Thrushes.  Added Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Black Redstart and Woodlark to my Year List though.

This afternoon spent some time checking out two Golden Eagle nest sites.  No birds present yet and the nest used last year looks damagede by the high winds.  I look forward to their return.

A flock of c20 Fieldfares is a bit unusual here and they were added to the list.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Great Start to the New Year

Trying to ignore the effects of local wine I awoke grateful that I had reached the New Year and my 68th birthday.  Time to start the 2011 list.

I met up with friends John Andrews and Ron Bennett at the marsh at Capestang for our first birding trip of the year.  We set off as usual full of optimism.  The day was still without a breath of wind and also mild but the promised sunshine did not appear leaving a dull day.  Great White Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron and Linnet were all noted within minutes.  Continuing on we noted a Southern Grey Shrike not a common bird hereabouts and perhaps an omen of a good day.

Stonechats, Meadow Pipits and Cetti's Warbler were soon added to our list as we reached the corner of the track across the marsh.  Here we were really in luck finding about 20 Penduline Tits feeding with a few Blue Tits.  We were amazed that all the Pendulines were males.

Walking on Kestrel, Marsh Harrier and Buzzard were all seen as well as a small group of Reed Buntings.  More Penduline Tits including a female were found and in all we counted over a dozen Chiffchaffs in the reeds.  A small group of Bearded Tits went by and then a splendid male Bluethroat ran in and out of cover with typical cocked tail.

Scanning the edges of dykes a couple of Water Rails appeared and many more screamed in the dense reeds.

On our return walk we encountered a female Bluethroat and watched a hundred or so Lapwings and c20 Shelduck on a flooded field.

Driving home and crossing an open area near la Viala a bird with a heavy undulating flight turned out to be a Hawfinch - Wow! What luck!

A fantastic day with a total of 51 species recorded before darkness fell.

A perfect birthday with Norwich City's 1-0 victory over league leaders QPR a bonus present.