Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Market Day

We went down to Olonzac market as usual on a Tuesday and got out quickly as it was crowded and getting hot already.  Getting back I sat in the shade in the garden.  The Woodchat Shrike was still on the wires but much closer today.

Woodchat Shrike
 Butterflies were obvious again but a fantastic Southern White Admiral was an addition as it glided across the garden.

Southern White Admiral
There is a dearth of birds at the moment but each day species which must be early migrants are seen.  Bonelli's Warbler, Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher have all passed through.  Today a juvenile Crossbill called from one of our pines and I have to say that was a bit more of a surprise.

Monday, 30 July 2012

An Evening Out

Another very hot day so I contented myself watching the Cross Country Equestrian Olympic Event. I did make a brief sortie into the garden to see what was happening.  A rather scruffy Woodchat Shrike was perched on the overhead wires and making forays down into the garden for prey.  Twice he caught what looked like a small lizard.

Woodchat Shrike hunting from the wires

Insects were obvious with the usual Scarce Swallowtails but I did notice a Brown Argus.

Scarce Swallowtail
Brown Argus
Hummingbird Hummingbirds were about too but as difficult as ever to photograph.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

After watching the Olympics for the rest of the day I ventured out at 7pm.  It was cooling off now and some birds were obvious.  One or two Hoopoes, lots of Woodchat Shrike families and also a very active Roller family.

Young Roller
I finished off sitting by a roadside first listening to singing Nightjars and then being entertained by one calling and chasing insects right in front of me.  Life is great!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Butterfly Spectacular

After a thunderstorm the night before last the air has freshened considerably but it is still warm.  Yesterday I went out hoping to find some wildlife.  Passing Minerve I noticed a couple of Alpine Swifts over the village and reaching the Foret de Minervois a Sparrowhawk passed carrying prey. I was in the forest for a good reason.  I concentrated on a sunny bank which is a favourite place for finding butterflies.  This was a good day.

Glanville Fritillary
I was concentrating on photographing these glorious insects and if I did not identify them immediately doing so later from the photos.  I stayed about 45 minutes and logged Clouded Yellow, Pale Clouded Yellow, Great banded Grayling, Scarce Swallowtail, Chapman's Blue, Glanville Fritillary, Spotted Fritillary Wood White and Cleopatra.  There will be others I missed but the air was full of butterflies in a way that sadly rarely happens in the UK any more.

Chapman's Blue
Spotted Fritillary
On my way home I drove through local vineyards noting Hoopoe, Bee-eaters and Rollers.  Late last night as I closed up the house a Little Owl called from our hillside.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Too Hot even for Wildlife

The weather has been stifling.  Daytime temperatures hovering between 35 -40 degrees for some days.  Some welcome cloud has kept today below 30.  First some good news about the baby Scops Owl.  Its parents found it and hopefully fed it that night so all should be well.


So few birds about.  A distant Short-toed Eagle is the only raptor for the last day or so.  Juvenile Nightingales croak from the hedges and a few juvenile Sardinian, Subalpine and Melodious Warblers have been seen.  A bonus this morning was a juvenile Green Woodpecker a species I have not seen in the garden before.  The Woodchat Shrikes continue to frequent our area and a Hoopoe has been turning up in the mornings.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Coastal look and Fluffy Finale

We took a drive south to Port Leucate.  There were plenty of Little Terns and Kentish Plovers on sandbanks but also some almost fully grown juvenile Black-winged Stilts.  They give the impression of being quite shocked to discover they have such long legs and seem not sure what to do with them.

Juvenile Black-winged Stilt
We also had a look around the Franqui area and found Hoopoe, 15 Bee-eaters, and quite a few juvenile Shelduck.  A large Coypu also posed for the camera.

Juvenile Shelducks
Returning home there were messages on my phone all from Susan from Oupia.  She, Tim and Rod Leslie had been handed a juvenile Scops Owl which had been found on the path adjacent to their house.  There are Scops Owls in the immediate vicinity so after I had dashed over to photograph the fluffy fledgling it was lodged in a fig tree in the hope that the parents would find it after dark.

Juvenile Scops Owl
I hope to report good news on this wonderful little bird.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

It Pays to Look Up

Strong winds made seeing any birds tricky but whilst strimming this morning I did see an unusual species for here and at this time of year.  I have seen occasional Lesser Whitethroats in spring but the one today was quite a surprise.

Griffon Vulture

I was called away from watching the Tour de France by Beryl who was staring upwards at 3 Griffon Vultures making their way south.  Good day for Brits on Bikes but what on earth has happened to the England cricket team?

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Birds Hard to Find

I started the day by returning to the Lesser Grey Shrikes to see if I could get some photographs.  It was difficult and I could not emulate Jonathan Theobald's splendid shot.  There were plenty of shrikes to see and I met two young people working for LPO who told me there could have been  3 pairs nesting in the area.  that would make sense as there were a number of birds spread over a wide area.  I also noted 2 Golden Orioles before moving on.


Near Fleury a Roller posed nicely on some wires and I checked out Pissevache again.  A Common Sandpiper and Kentish Plover were the only waders seen.  I also drove south to Gruissan but little more here.  At Mandirac a Purple Heron appeared and there were plenty of Black-winged Stilts.

Black-winged Stilt

This evening  I joined the Aude LPO to look for Eagle Owl chicks.  No luck there either but we did hear a snatch of Nightjar song.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Success For One Pair of Rare Birds

I got up early and went down to the coast to check out a pair of Lesser Grey Shrikes which had been found by Jonathan Theobald earlier this summer.  This is a very rare species now with probably only 20 pairs in France.  Sites are kept quiet to protect this species and the good news is that they have fledged at least three young so hopefully all is well with one site.

Lesser Grey Shrike - photo Jonathan Theobald
I also checked Capestang on my way home but it is very dry and not much sign of birds.  An evening drive produced a dogfight between a Short-toed Eagle and a Peregrine near to Minerve.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Whew! It's Hot

I got up early and started cutting grass and the temperature was already 24 degrees.  By 10.30am it was getting too hot so I stopped.  By noon the thermometer showed 38 degrees.  You cannot do much birding in such heat although the Woodchat Shrike was still around the garden and I did see it feeding a young bird.  Also a Nightingale churred in the hedge and an Orphean Warbler made its way through the garden.  Cirl Bunting and Turtle Dove were also noted.

Cicada close-up

It was insects that caught the eye today.  Myriads of butterflies with lots of Southern Marbled Whites, Cleopatras, Great Banded Graylings, Scarce Swallowtails and Berger's Clouded Yellows.  I also found a Hummingbird Hawk Moth and caught a glimpse of a gorgeous Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth.  Cicadas were bolder than usual and I managed a photograph.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Back in Paradise

After just a day or two in Wales to get the garden in order we set off this morning for Bristol Airport to fly the 2 hours to our house in Languedoc, France.  At the Airport we perhaps not surprisingly bumped into friend Mike Dilger of BBC TV's One Show on his way to Inverness for more filming.  Soon we were in the hot sun with temperatures in the 30's.  On the way from Beziers we noted a Roller sitting on a tree by the roadside and as we pulled into our driveway a Woodchat Shrike flew to a hedge at the back of the property.

Woodchat Shrike
We had supper with our good friends Susan & Tim in nearby Oupia.  An idyllic experience as hordes of Swifts and a smaller number of Bee-eaters hunted insects over the house.  A single male Montagu's Harrier flew over high up and as dusk approached a Scop's Owl kept up its sonor like call just prior to us leaving.

Male Montagu's Harrier
As I write this it is gone 11pm and the insect chorus outside is deafening.  My friend Ron Bennett who lives nearby always refers to this region of France as Paradise.  It is difficult to argue with that.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


Well back in Wales again very jetlagged and trying hard to get myself down off the high of being in such a marvellous place as Alberta, Canada.  Gazing out into our rampant garden (the rain has caused considerable growth) this morning my attention was drawn to a Magpie flying past.  This species is so familiar to us that we hardly comment unless they are trying to find the nests of our garden birds.  The reason for mentioning this is because we have also been very familiar with magpies around my son's garden in Calgary.

Magpie Pica pica
The Magpie in my Welsh garden is of course Pica pica and very familiar to us all.  In Canada the Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonicus was for many year considered the same as Pica pica even though its range is in Western North America which means there is a huge distance between the two populations and they probably have never met.

Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonicus
Obviously there must be genetic differences detected by scientists perhaps using DNA which prove the two populations are separate species but I can discern little in the field to tell the difference.  Sometimes I think the American bird has a shorter tail but I am sure that may be my eyesight.  What is definite is the call of the American bird is much different to ours.  Their main call is higher pitched and shriller, so different you would think it was from some other species.  

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Big Day Out in the Prairies

Black-necked Grebe feeding chick

Our last real chance of a big birding trip before returning home to the UK.  We decided to head for the Prairies and started at the now familiar Frank Lake and started at the hide.  Black-necked Grebes are now feeding quite big young and are the main attraction from the hide.  Moving outside there is a constant movement of American White Pelicans and White-faced Ibises going to feed.

American White Pelican
White-faced Ibis
There seemed to be quite a bit of evidence of wader migration with a flock of 25 Short-billed Dowitchers and a few Lesser Yellowlegs.

Short-billed Dowitchers
 After this stop we decided to drive on east for an hour to Macgregor Lake.  This is an enormous stretch of water in the middle of miles of fairly flat agricultural fields.  You only need to bird one small area where there is a shallow lagoon behind the dam and also the car park/picnic area.  We checked the lagoon first which was full of waders.  The most numerous were 40  Lesser Yellowlegs followed by about 20 Stilt Sandpipers then 7 Marbled Godwits, 5 Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, 3 Black-necked Stilts and 8 Wilson's Phalaropes.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Also around the lagoon we found a pair of Grey Partridges with young, 2 Western Meadowlarks and hordes of Red-winged and yellow-headed Blackbirds.  From the dam there were a pair of Western Grebes and young.  We then took our lunch to the car park.  There were plenty of birds here too.  A gang of ring-billed Gulls watched us hoping for a snack and a splendid Loggerhead Shrike perched on posts around us.  Flocks of Black Terns flew backward and forwards to their nesting areas and a pair of Western Kingbirds were catching flies from the nearby fence.

Loggerhead Shrike
Western Kingbird
After lunch and a break we began the drive back.  generally the drive is pretty boring being 60 kilometres of dead straight road.  We did have a bit of excitement though and considerable luck.  I spotted a peculiar shaped bird on overhead wires.  It seemed to have long legs so we turned round and went back.  What a  surprise as the bird was an Upland Sandpiper.  I had never seen a wader sitting on wires before but my son tells me he often sees this species doing this near Fort St.John in the north.  As we turned again we found another Upland Sandpiper this time posing more normally on a post.

Upland Sandpiper on overhead wires
Upland Sandpiper
Eventually we returned to another part of Frank Lake.  It was now very hot and we did a quick survey of some pools where we found a Least Sandpiper with the resident Wilson's Phalaropes and Willets.

After all that it was off to a local farm to buy a Saskatoon Pie for supper and home.

Urban Rabbits

White-tailed Jack Rabbit

My son Jeremy and his family live on Signal Hill in Calgary, Alberta.  This is a very well developed area to the South-west of the city with houses fairly close together.  There is little to no habitat of any sort except well manicured lawns and verges.  Yet at dusk and dawn you might catch a glimpse of what the residents call rabbits.  They are in fact White-tailed Jack Rabbits and to me resemble hares more than rabbits.  They apparently live under sheds, houses etc and come out to feed when the area is quiet.  In winter they turn white.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Great Grey Ghost of the Woods at last!

This morning I got up at 5am and headed back to the owl site.  I was there by 5.55am but nothing at the spot I had been told.  I drove on down Grand Valley road a bit further just as the sun started to appear.  Looking to my left and to me great delight sat a large bundle of feathers on a fence post.  I stared through the binoculars finding it difficult to keep my hands steady in the excitement.  Then its head turned - Wow!.  My quest was over at last a Great Grey Owl.

A distant Great Grey Owl
I took as many photographs as possible whilst being eaten alive by mosquitos.  Another vehicle arrived carrying another photographer.  Not wishing to spoil his fun I drove off.  getting about 5 miles down the road I stopped.  What was I doing?  I had been hoping to see this bird all my life and now I had left having watched it for just under an hour.  I turned round and drove back.  The other photographer was standing just 10 feet from the bird.  He smiled when I got out and indicated I should join him.  The next hour was breathtaking.  This great bird treated us with complete disdain as it hunted the meadow.  I took over 200 photographs before withdrawing.  One of the greatest moments of my life.

Great Grey Owl
Great Grey Owl
Thanks to my pal Bob Abrams in Virginia USA who emailed me last night and suggested I should get up early if I wanted to see this bird.

Swainson's Hawk
To end a good session a great Swainson's Hawk on the way back for breakfast.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Family Day Out

We all set off for Cochrane and visited the Glenbow Ranch Provincal Park.  The day was very hot - over 30 degrees and the walking steep through grassland and small woods.  Birds were surprisingly easy to find with House Wren, Warbling Vireo, Chipping Sparrow and Clay-coloured Sparrow all being found.  Best of all a splendid Vesper Sparrow sang from a fence post.

Vesper Sparrow
After a cool drink we moved on to downtown Cochrane for an ice cream.  There was an amazing long queue but efficient staff soon got us served and we were able to reflect on the historic "wild west" buildings.

Beryl and I pressed on after the rest of the family had returned to have another go in the Great Grey Owl territory.  Passing a lake we noted Canvasback, Red-necked Grebe and 2 Double-crested Cormorants.  Again no sign of owls but we stopped to see an American Badger a new mammal for us but sadly we could not get a photograph.

Barn Swallow

Finally we stopped to look at 2 Barn Swallows and reflect how much more colourful they are than the European race.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Wild Owl Chase

When abroad seeing owls is difficult.  You need some local knowledge to see most of the species.  I have never seen Great Grey Owl anywhere and before I left UK I discovered a pair had been seen hunting just north-west of Calgary.  Today I tried twice with no luck but I did find a large nest in an aspen which could have been used by this species.  I might try again.


On the way to the owl site a large pond revealed American White Pelican, Double Crested Cormorant and Red-necked Grebe while a small area of water produced 3 Goosanders and a Killdeer.  I also stopped to photograph a Raven on a fence post.


We also spent some time along the Powderface Trail and found 2 White-crowned Sparrows, Wilson's Snipe, Common Yellowthroat, Lincoln's Sparrow and an Osprey carrying a fish. As we left the area we located another bull Moose by the side of the road.

Beautiful British Columbia

Up early yesterday as we are driving to Banff National Park and then across the border into the Provence of British Columbia.  Entering the Park we take the Bow Valley Parkway a minor road where I photographed Wolf on my last visit.  There are signs up indicating Wolf activity but none this morning.  We did locate a magnificent Elk stag which quickly moved off into the forest. Further on feeding on the roadside we did encounter 2 Black Bears.

Black Bear
We then stopped off at Lake Louise village for a coffee and toilets and were greeted by our only Clark's Nutcracker of the day in the car park.

Clark's Nutcracker
We were now ready to press on to our destination Emerald Lake in BC.  It is only about thirty minutes drive from Lake Louise so we were soon there.  Our first task was to have a picnic lunch then some of my family decided to rent a canoe and discover this beautiful place.  I opted for walking.

Emerald Lake
I set off around the lake first of all noticing a single Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) which was all I could find on the water.  Further on an Osprey flew high over the forest and a pair of Chipping Sparrows were gathering nesting material on the path.  There were lots of swallows in the area and I picked out some Violet-Green Swallows amongst the Barn & Tree.  The forest and open areas were full of American Robins all busily collecting food for their young. I also caught a glimpse of a Golden-crowned Kinglet.

American Robin carrying food.
Returning back along the trail I heard a distant but persistant call reminiscent of a woodpecker.  At first I thought it was coming from the far side of the lake but then I realised it was from a tree between me and the near shore.  Moving about 3 metres off the path I discovered a hole in a tree where the racket was coming from.  Within minutes I was photographing a pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers feeding young.  What a treat!

Male American Three-toed Woodpecker
After collecting everybody together we set off for the nearby small town of Field where we enjoyed supper at a pub called the Truffle Pig.  It was excellent.  Starting off for Calgary we had not gone far when we noticed at least 3 Mountain Goats on rocky cliffs right down by the road.  This is very unusual as they are usually white dots way up in the mountains.

Mountain Goat
Back now in Alberta we drove a little way up the Ice Parkway but no mammals.  We did see 3 Lesser Scaup and hear the electronic song of Varied Thrush.  We retraced our steps leaving the park but found nothing else and continued the long drive home in the dark watching the Calgary Stampede fireworks as we approached the city.  Another great wildlife day.