Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Different Day

How weather can change here.  Low cloud all day but temperatures only down to 27 degrees but with a hint of moisture in the air.

Birds really hard to find and all day I only saw a distant Montagu's Harrier over the garrigue and a small family group of Cirl Buntings in the garden.

Juvenile Cirl Bunting

The day finished with a violent thunderstorm which at least brought welcome rain to the parched vegetation.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

A Wonderful Morning

Another glorious warm sunny morning.

After a quick visit to Olonzac market I returned to sit on a shady seat and just take in the myriads of butterflies in the garden.  There were familiar Meadow Browns and Large Whites but also Clouded Yellows, Swallowtails, Great Banded Graylings and Chalkhill Blues.


I also noted a small fritillary which had me stumbling around with the camera.  I concluded it was a Spotted Fritillary which should be quite common in this area.

Spotted Fritillary

Spotted Fritillary

Whilst doing all this the air echoed to the calls of migrating Bee-eaters and 26 Honey Buzzards heading south in wonderful light.  We can look forward to more of them I hope over the next few days.

Hone Buzzard

In the meantime thanks to my friend Ian Dawson who ha identified the peculiar green spider which spent several days in my lounge here in the spring.  It is Micrommata lingurina a Southern European species which has turned up in the UK probably brought in with imported vegetables etc.

The green spider

Spiders and other insects are beginning to fascinate me so I must start some other lists.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Phew! Its's too hot even for birds

Temperature reached 35 degrees today and so staying in shade and relaxing was the order of the day for us and wildlife.

Butterflies were an exception and I was delighted amongst others to note two Southern White Admirals gliding through the garden.

Southern White Admiral

In late afternoon I drove up to the higher meadows at Bois Bas.  I noted more Bee-eaters on the way and family groups of Kestrels, Stonechats and much appreciated Red-backed Shrikes.  A Cirl Bunting was still in full song.

Female Red-backed Shrike

Back home the Rock Sparrows gathered again before roost.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Down south again.

Tonight finds us at our house in France again.  The cool, damp weather in Wales now seems days ago.  One day last week I had to resort to a hot water bottle.  Here this afternoon it was a very warm 32 degrees.


Driving here from Beziers we noted one or two family parties of Rollers on roadside wires.  They appear to have had a very good breeding season.


As we put out the garden furniture we were greeted by a small flock of Bee-eaters.  This species is at the peak of its migration here now and within a couple of weeks they will all be gone

Rock Sparrow

Just before dusk a flock of 70 Rock Sparrows gathered on overhead wires by the house before moving off to roost in the Cesse Gorge.

Great to be back here and with the prospect of lots of migrating birds.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Hunting with dogs again!

I am hearing that Westminster is thinking of repealing the Hunting with Dogs Act.  I have to say that fox hunting is not a conservation issue as far as I am concerned so I will not lose much sleep on that score.

Red Fox

What I am concerned about though is that hare coursing is allowed back.  Our Brown Hare population is not as healthy as it was and coursing could push it to the brink.  It is bad enough that there is still a considerable amount of illegal coursing in our countryside and the police are working hard to eradicate this problem.

Brown Hare

I guess we will have to wait and see when this matter gets debated but I do not hold out much hope that it will be dropped.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Wild Hobby Chase

Acting on a tip off Julian Friese and I took some time today to find possible breeding Hobby in Carmarthenshire.  This species is regularly seen now in summer but only once have we found a nest and proved breeding beyond doubt.  We had been informed that a pair had been seen passing found and then the bird with the prey had flown towards some likely trees. 

Cothi Valley

We were on the spot in the beautiful Cothi Valley just after 10am but the heavens opened and heavy rain saw us abandoning our efforts for later.  We returned at 4pm and kept watch for over an hour.  No sign of a Hobby but glancing up above an adjoining hillside we could see at least 20 raptors soaring and playing on the wind.  Buzzards outnumbered Red Kites by 60/40.  It was a magnificent sight and distracted us for some time. In the surrounding hedgerow a group of Bullfinches also caught our eye.

Common Buzzard

Red Kite

Disappointed at not finding Hobby we moved down to the river itself and at a convenient bridge picked up Grey Wagtail and Dipper.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Back from the Fair

I have just returned from my 22nd British Birdwatching Fair.  There have been 23 but stupidly I missed the first one because I did not think it would catch on.

The event is now a static entry in my diary - I cannot miss such an opportunity to meet up with old friends and meet up with some new ones.  People come from all corners of the World and the persistant telling of birding stories and experiences continues almost non-stop for three days.

I reckon I progressed each day at a rate of 5 metres an hour.  There are so many people to meet.  Many friends from my native Suffolk, a few from my now adopted Wales, some from overseas and members of the so-called Birding Celebrity Lists.  The latter included the One-Show's Mike Dilger, Nick Baker,Mark Carwardine, Jonathan Scott of Big Cat Diary and Simon King.  The meeting friends bit culminated with a splendid supper with my mate Bill Oddie and Pete Dunne and colleagues Shiela and Marlene from Cape May Bird Observatory in New Jersey, USA. I have visited the latter several times and we have all become good friends.

With Bill a few years ago

I also took part in one of the events on the big stage called Just a Linnet.  This is based loosely on the BBC Radio 4 programme Just a Minute.  Panel members were Dr Rob Lambert wacky Historian from Nottingham University, Mike Dilger, Stephen Moss author and TV producer and yours truly.  Author Dominic Couzens tries to keep order as Chairman and we try to keep an audience of several hundred amused.  I am convinced some slight of hand in the scoring enabled Dilger to push me into second place this year.

Pete Landsdown a pal from Wales and Tour Leader for Birdfinders

It really is a great experience each year to meet up with up to 20,000 birders, have such a great time and now raiseup to £250,000 international bird conservation projects run by BirdLife International.

I cannot wait for next year.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

It's BirdFair Time again!

I am busy getting ready to set off for Rutland Water this afternoon for my annual pilgrimage to the British Birdwatching Fair.

Marquee 3 at the BirdFair

For me it is and always has been THE event of the year.  First and foremost the BirdFair raises tremendous amounts of money for nature conseervation across the World.  Nowadays at least £250k per annum is raised and you can imagine how far this can go in some parts of the Globe.  The various projects are administered and led by BirdLife International.  This year it is the Great Flyways of the World that will benefit.

Good friends Marek & Hania from Poland

The BirdFair is also a great way to meet up with old friends and make lots of new ones.  It is a wonderful opportunity to discover what is happening in the Bird World too.  What are the latest optics?  What new books are available?  What new technology gadgets are now out?  Where can I go for an exotic birding holiday?


You can also visit the large and magnificent Rutland Water Nature Reserve and see some birds including an Osprey.

Bill Oddie

Most birding media stars are there too. Here you can rub shoulders with familiar faces and attend loads of lectures and special events.  There is an excellent bar and refreshments.

Wildlife Trusts Stand - Marine Life

If you have not been yet then why not come along from Friday to Sunday?  You will not regret it.

See you there!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Minsmere nostalgia

I was in my native Suffolk last weekend for a family funeral on Monday but Sunday gave me a chance to have a walk at Minsmere.  Visiting this famous reserve is like meeting an old friend.  My involvement there goes back to the early 1960's when I was volunteer on the reserve.


I would visit the reserve mainly at weekends and after early morning birding would spend the rest of the time helping with building the scrape.  Endless hours of pushing heavy barrows full of shingle or maybe planting trees.  I mused as I walked down the central path at being part of a group that planted the sallows and alders that now screen that route over 40 years ago.  I wondered how many of the modern day visitors realise that many of the Marsh Sow-thistle plants in the reeds were transplanted by us volunteers from marshes nearby.  Indeed I wondered how many visitors realised that the reserve was created as the vision of one man - Herbert Axell.

Herbert Axell MBE - by Eric Hosking

Birds were a bit scarce on Sunday - I failed to see the Ferruginous Duck which had been present for some time.  I did note how successful feral Barnacle Geese had been in raising a good number of goslings and wondered whether that was a good thing.  A Hobby rested on a mud bank and a Spotted Redshank flew over calling.  Reaching the sluice I looked out to sea and discovered 35 Common Scoter moving south.  These were followed by 7 Greenshank and 9 Whimbrel.  Most noticeable were the swarms of Ladybirds many of which landed on me and my telescope.

Barnacle Geese & young

Back at the Reserve Centre dozens of Red Admiral butterflies were feeding on the many buddliea plants at the rear of the toilet block.

Sizewell outfall

Red Admiral

 Time to leave my old friend again and quickly check out Sizewell outfall.  I was pleased to see that the sizeable Kittiwake colony continues to thrive there and subsequently watch a large flock of "Commic Terns" and a few Little Gulls feeding by the outflow.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Seabirds again

We went back to Fishguard today in really splendid weather.  In fact we started at Strumble Head where the sea seemed to be boiling with birds.  I was too late for sightings of Bonxie and Long-tailed and Arctic Skua but the frenzy in front of me was worth seeing.  The predominate species was Kittiwake with hundreds feeding in large groups on the surface of the water.  They were accompanied by hundreds of Manx Shearwaters and a smaller numbers of Fulmars. 


Also on the sea were large rafts of Guillemots with a few Razorbills.  Good numbers of Gannets were soaring around and plunge diving into the sea and it was on these occasions that one or two Harbour Porpoises appeared as well.  It really was a splendid sight but by noon the numbers began to decline.


We moved back to Fishguard Harbour for toilets and a splendid ice cream and then walked out along the central jetty.  Using the telescope I was stunned to see a dolpin breach the surface just by the harbour entrance but sadly I could not be sure of its identity.  I suspect it was a Common Dolphin as animals of this species have been seen recently here.  Our persistance soon rewarded us with a Black Guillemot and as we walked back to the car a Gannet came right into the Harbour and conveniently flew overhead.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

All at sea

This weekend we have been visited by our daughter Bronwen and her friends Ade & Claire and in turn their young daughters Amy and Jodie.  The latter are really keen on dolphins so we all went to New Quay on the Ceredigion coast for a trip see these spectacular mammals.


We cruised down the coast south alongside spectacular cliffs.  The main ledges were now devoid of Guillemots and Razorbills but there were still a few Kittiwakes feeding young by the nests.  A few Cormorants and Shags were loafing around and up to 30 Oystercatchers flew south.  Three Sandwich Terns also moved south together with a single Fulmar and a Mediterranean Gull.


Just at the turning point of our voyage suddenly three Bottle-nosed Dolphins appeared feeding quite close to the shore.  The girls were ecstatic.

Bottle-nosed Dolphin

We finished off in Fishguard Harbour with a visit to the Seatrust display on marine life and enjoyed an ice cream.  Finally we had a fish and chip supper before returning home.

Jodie & Amy

Two more converts to the cause.

Monday, 1 August 2011

A journey north

Sorry for the silence but been having a few IT problems.

Manx Shearwaters

We went north yesterday in the hope of seeing the shearwater feeding frenzy around Borth.  No luck but plenty of Manx Shearwaters heading south and also a few Gannets.  The weather was lousy wih light rain and poor visibilty.

Green Sadpiper

We moved on to Ynyshir where the weather was a bit kinder and we took a short walk after a picnic lunch.  Green Sandpiper, 3 Little Egrets and one of the local Ospreys cheered us up.  Two Snow Geese of dubious origins were with the Canada Geese.

We stopped off again at Borth but still damp and fewer birds than before.