Sunday, 30 September 2012

An Hour of Raptors

After one and a half days deluge the rain finally stopped today at lunch time.  At 3pm we took a walk on the hill behind our house and soon noticed birds of prey moving from north-east to south-west.  Most were Short-toed Eagles and we counted 101 by 4.30pm.  This included a "kettle" of 60 birds soaring high and then peeling off and then proceeding onwards.

Short-toed Eagle

We also noted 3 Red Kites, Common Buzzard, pale-phase Booted Eagle, 3 Sparrowhawks, 2 Hobbies, 2 Raven and a single Crossbill.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Rain, rain and more rain

Black Redstart
It has been raining steadily here since we got up this morning without any let up.  It is somewhat unusual at this time of year but is so gloomy that our reactive security lights have stayed on all day.  It must be miserable outside as a Black Redstart has spent all day sheltering in our covered terrace even trying to get into the lounge on two occasions.  Ah well it will do the garden good.

Friday, 28 September 2012

A Trickle of Migrants

It was hard work today looking for migrants but in the end I did manage 2 Common Redstarts, Wheatear, 2 Chiffchaffs and a constant flow of Swallows with the occasional House Martin. Indeed about 200 of the former were resting on wires in Cesseras this evening.

Resting Swallow
I checked out the vineyards at Cesseras but could only find a massive flock of 1,000 Goldfinches gleaning the remains of the sunflower fields which have now been harvested.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Preflight Birding

I had to pick up some people from Beziers Airport this afternoon so spent the morning birding at Bessan.  It was slow at first but a lot of Swallows were moving south.  I did find 3 Woodlarks and then 2 Corn Buntings and a Fan-tailed Warbler.  Three Common Buzzards were hunting the area and 2 Common Swifts drifted over.  Eventually I picked up 5 Little Bustards flying in two groups which was my main reason for the visit.  Red-legged Partridges obviously had a good breeding season there because I saw a covey of 30 and another of 12.

Little Bustard in flight

I took a look behind and around Beziers Airport but only a couple of Buzzards and a Whinchat.  As the Ryanair flight arrived a large raptor got up from beside the runway.  To my amazement it was an adult Bonelli's Eagle and was so close I could see it had a full and bulging crop.  It had obviously been enjoying a meal when the aircraft disturbed it.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Shorebirds on the Salt Pans

After visiting the market in Olonzac this morning and with a good forecast we set off for the coast and had lunch in Gruissan.  Afterwards we drove out to the beach and headed south.  We found a group of Kentish Plovers with 3 Ringed Plovers and 5 Little Stints before we stopped to walk out over the salt pans.

Gruissan Salt Pans with pink bloom

We were delighted to see many Greater Flamingos were present with quite a few young birds.  Three Sandwich Terns flew over and a Black Tern hawked for insects.  We were soon looking at small groups of shorebirds most of which were Sanderlings and Dunlin..

Closer inspection revealed quite a few more Little Stints, Ringed Plovers and a superb Curlew Sandpiper.

Curlew Sandpiper
The best was still to come.  Looking once more through the flocks I was so pleased to find a juvenile Red-necked Phalarope bobbing around like a cork on the water and spinning around like a top as it fed feverishly.

Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope.
A great decision to visit the Salt Pans.  We moved on to the wet meadows at Le Petit Tournabelle which were still good but I imagine levels will drop soon as the adjacent rice fields are harvested.  We counted 10 Great White Egrets, the usual squadrons of Cattle and Little Egrets and a single Glossy Ibis.  Scanning the fields we also noted 6 Wood Sandpipers, 3 Ruff and 2 Lapwings,

Glossy Ibis

Arriving home just before sunset there was still time for excitement.  Beryl called me just in time for me to see a Hobby chasing after a group of migrating Swallows which had been moving all day.  A great finish to a good day.

Monday, 24 September 2012

A Splendid Hour

Most of today was sunny periods but with a near gale force northerly wind.  Then something magical happened about 6pm the wind dropped completely and the sky cleared to give warm sunshine.

Male Common Redstart

At that point birds were beginning to move to their roosts and c20 Rock Sparrows were on the overhead wires at the bottom of my garden.  It was then I kept seeing Pied Flycatchers everywhere.  I estimated that about 20 were around my garden soon to be followed by 2 Black Redstarts and a superb male Common Redstart,

Short-toed Eagle

If that was not enough 5 Short-toed Eagles passed over heading south.  Nothing for hours then an hour of good birds.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

More Birds Today

Once we woke to a dull, damp cloudy day but on looking in the garden there were plenty of birds about.  A Pied Flycatcher was the only summer migrant but increased numbers of Cirl Buntings and Chaffinches were very obvious.

Young Cirl Bunting

We drove off late morning to have lunch with our friends Paul & Jan at Pouzolles and en route encountered 2 Short-toed Eagles and a Buzzard.  After lunch Paul and I had a look around his patch but birds were harder to find.  A solitary Honey Buzzard did fly over as well as a number of Swallows.  Entering a small wood after seeing a few Long-tailed Tits we had brief views of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which was my first in 2012.

Honey Buzzard

Heading home just before 7pm we really struck gold when an Eagle Owl flew low across the road right in front of our vehicle.  A stunning view of a super bird.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Hard Going

The weather has been as boring as the birdwatching of late.  Low cloud and no wind and a little dampness as well.  A Common Redstart was in the garden first thing and at lunch time a Red Kite drifted over.  This prompted me to go out and look around.


Checking the vineyard roads I found a Stonechat and then suddenly there were lots of small birds feeding by a sunflower field.  Most were Goldfinches and Linnets but there were also quite a few Rock Sparrows.  A little further on a group of eight very mobile Wheatears suggested some real migration.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Some Signs of Migration

Getting up this morning I was immediately conscious of more bird activity in the garden than of late.  Small groups of birds were moving through the shrubs.  At first I could only see residents like House Sparrows, Sardinian Warblers and Cirl Buntings but after a while Blackcaps began to appear in good numbers.  A Common Redstart and a couple of Chiffchaffs followed and then a more obvious Pied Flycatcher.

Pied Flycatcher

Then after a while a winter visitor came into view - a splendid Robin only normally present here between September and April.  We then went to our neighbours John and Hanne for coffee and much the same in their garden with lots of Blackcaps a few Black Redstarts and a Pied Flycatcher.

Red-rumped Swallows

Also this morning I heard the unmistakable call of one of our favourite birds here.  Suddenly four Red-rumped Swallows appeared overhead with a single Barn Swallow and House Martin. They stayed around for at least half an hour giving wonderful views.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Back to Birds

After a couple of days ranting about the outrageous situation regarding Badger cull proposals in England it was back to looking for birds today.  We began by driving to the Gruissan/Mandarac area and checked out lagoons and reedbeds first.  The wind meant that birds were keeping low and only a Marsh Harrier and a Great White Egret were noted.  On the return drive a single Honey Buzzard fought the wind to keep moving south.

Wet meadows at Le Petit Tournabelle

Next we checked the wet meadows at Le Petit Tournabelle.  Conditions here are superb at the moment.  There were lots of Cattle Egrets and Little Egrets and 4 White Storks.  Waders included 10 Lapwings, 15 Little Ringed Plovers, 5 Wood Sandpipers, 3 Snipe, 3 Curlews and 5 Ruff.


We moved over to the Gruissan salt marshes where 8 Greenshanks, 5 Redshanks and a Common Sandpiper were found.  Near the Roc 4 more Honey Buzzards went over as well as 5 Marsh Harriers and 4 Sparrowhawks.  Hundreds of Sand Martins were also feeding as they made their way south.


We then decided to drive up to Pissevache but there was hardly any water there except on the Sewerage Lagoons where a lone Osprey was hunting.  Two Green Sandpipers flew up noisily and at the back of the lagoons a superb immature Goshawk flew low across the marsh putting up everything in sight. Then it was off for a bit of shopping in Narbonne and home.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Plea for Badgers

Further to my previous post please sign the Badger Petition organised by 38 degrees.  Just go to

The petition has passed 50,000 but if it reaches 100,000 then The Prime Minster is committed to having a debate in the House of Commons on this contentious issue.

The Gloucestershire farmers already have their licence and are raring to go.


Monday, 17 September 2012

Disgraceful Persecution of Badgers in England

The news that a licence has been issued to a consortium of farmers in Gloucestershire has surely been greeted with real anger by nature conservationists.  What makes this decision even more unpalatable is that the licence has been issued by Natural England a Government Agency whose job is to protect our wildlife.  How uncomfortable it must be for staff of that organisation to be forced to do this by their political masters.

This decision has also been slammed by Lord Krebs who has carried out substantial research on this subject and says this action is entirely stupid and will not eradicate TB in local cattle herds.  Many scientists agree that this decision may make matters worse.  One can only then assume that the decision to go ahead is purely political and a sop to the farming community which mostly votes for the Tory element of the Coalition.

I repeat what I have said many times before.  What happens after thousands of Badgers have been slaughtered and TB is still in the cattle?  What will farmers and the Government say then?  This point was well accepted in Wales where a vaccination programme is under way.  Is it because the Welsh Assembly Government is of a different persuasion that the Coalition cannot bear to take the same path.

The fight against this nonsense must go on.  Credit to people in the public eye like Brian May of Queen and TV Wildlife Presenter Bill Oddie for speaking up for The Badger Trust.  If you feel like I do make sure your local MP knows your feelings on this matter.

The whole business is a disgrace and will do nothing to rid farmers of TB in their herds.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

France Again

We are back at our French house arriving in bright sunshine and temperatures in the mid-twenties.  Very pleasant!  I can see a lot of work though.  A violent thunderstorm last week has damaged my driveway and that will have to be put right.


On the drive from Beziers Airport a Roller and a Southern Grey Shrike were noted and this evening a Pied Flycatcher and 3 Rock Sparrows were seen from the house.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Back to Reality

In response to reports of excellent seabird watching at Strumble Head I set off there today full of hope.  Getting into position it was obvious from other observers there that the excitement of previous days was not being repeated.  Things worsened as I missed the call for a great Skua before it disappeared behind the headland.  It was not that bleak hundreds of Guillemots were passing with smaller numbers of Fulmars, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Manx Shearwaters and Common Scoter.  Then as the morning progressed it went very quiet.

Grey Seal pup

I went back to the car and my wife pointed out that some Grey Seals were on the beach and there was at least one newborn pup.  I set off down the lighthouse steps and sure enough there was the pup with mother lurking just offshore.  Another female was up on the beach on the east side waiting to give birth and a third was struggling in vain to make the beach at all.  Hopefully she will have made it as the tide continued to rise.  Getting back to the car i was just in time to see a dark phase Arctic Skua fly by.

Female Grey Seal struggling to get on to the beach
 After a picnic lunch we stopped at Fishguard Harbour for a welcome ice cream and I walked along the beach towards the flagpoles.  A few waders were present which included c50 Oystercatchers, 2 Curlew, 3 Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, 7 Turnstone, 2 Redshank, 2 Dunlin and 5 Ringed Plover.  Two Wigeon were also feeding amongst the rocks.

Dunlin at Fishguard
It was then off home seeing to beautiful Red Kites en route and beginning to appreciate the wealth of wildlife in Wales again.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Last Leg

For the last couple of days of our Brazil adventure we travelled down to the Atlantic Forest south of the city of Belo Horizonte.  We stayed in a lovely period hotel on St.Barbara which gave us easy access to the National Park at Caraca which is privately owned and contains a wonderful monastery.

Caraca with its monastery
A closer look at the Monastery
The grounds of the Monastery are very good for birds and we certainly saw a lot.  A small colony of Crested Oropendulas were very noisy and we watched Masked Water Tyrants and Velvety Black Tyrants by the car park.  The kitchen garden was a good spot and we found Long-tailed Tyrant, a group of White-naped Jays, 3 Dusky-legged Guans and a wonderful feeding White-vented Violetear.

Masked Water Tyrant

Velvety Black Tyrant

White-vented Violetear
For all the action in the gardens it was the fabulous forest that we had come for.  We tried two or three trails over two days and were well rewarded.  The trick is to find flocks of birds moving through the canopy and hope you can pick some out.  Trogons call from high branches and generally sit still so they are a good bird to start with. Such a bird turned out to be a splendid Surucua Trogon.
Surucua Trogon
We visited one particular trail by a small stream for a very special bird with a great name.  The Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper literally hops about by stream banks keeping out of sight for long periods.  It took quite a while for everybody to get a glimpse and for once I was last by about 20 minutes.  A bridge by the road was a really good spot and here we had great views of Swallow-tailed Cotingas.

Swallow-tailed Cotinga
 Once deep into the forest things got more difficult.  We did have wonderful moments watching many species of tanagers with very impressive names.  Black-goggled, Burnished-buff, Brassy-breasted and Gilt-edged were all observed in these woodlands.  Blue Manakin was seen by most and also White-bellied and White-browed Warblers.  In a more open area lots of grassland birds to appreciate with the star being Great Pampa Finch which looked a bit like our Corn Bunting.  An impressive Fork-tailed Flycatcher also entertained us hawking for insects.  Gasps of awe were audible when at least 5,000 Biscutate Swifts appeared in one large flock circling overhead.

Great Pampa Finch

Fork-tailed Flycatcher
The finale of our trip was after a superb supper in the Monastery dining room to gather with others outside the church on a terrace where monks laid out food and called a very shy animal in the forest.  This practise has gone on for years and is somewhat surreal.  At first only a Hog-nosed Skunk appeared to grab some food but eventually a beautiful red-coated long-legged Maned Wolf ventured up the steps for all to see.  This animal may not have been a regular because it was very nervous and would not approach the food.  It was impossible to get pictures of this but even so it was a privileged end to a fabulous trip.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Heading to the North

Cliffs at Penhasco near Chapades

Leaving the Pantanal proper we headed north beyond Cuiaba to an area of hills covered in dry cerrado forest and great sandstone cliffs at Chapades.  Close to our accommodation was a wonderful trail built into the cliff.  A bit hairy at first but finding birds soon put any fears to the back of our mind.

The Cliff Trail

Birding the Cliff Trail
Finding birds here was not difficult.  Hordes of Yellow-chevroned Parrots roosted on the cliffs in the evening as did Green-and-red Macaws.  sadly both species were too distant to get photographs.  Small groups of birds moved through the vegetation near the trail and we managed to find Swallow Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, Planalto Hermit, Sooty-fronted Spine-tail, Streaked Flycatcher, Black-tailed Tityra, White-lined Tanager, Burnished -buff Tanager, Barred Antshrike and Cliff Flycatcher in a couple of visits.  The highlight for many was a flock of White-collared Swifts feeding noisily close to the cliffs.

Male Barred Antshrike

Cliff Flycatcher
We also spent some time exploring more open cerrado forest which I have described in an earlier post.  Next post the final leg of the journey. 

Monday, 10 September 2012

Reflection on a Marvellous Trip to Brazil

A Happy Man - Look behind you!

Brazil may be famous for its amazing football team and for Salsa dancing and even nuts but it is also a wonderful place for watching wildlife.  Together with nine friends we decided largely on the Pantanal because of its reputation of being the largest wetland in the World and giving excellent chances of seeing Jaguars as well as many bird species.

Entrance to the Transpantaheira

We were not disappointed.  As soon as we entered the Transpantaheira a dirt road which runs for 148 kilometres south crossing over 120 wooden bridges we realised how amazing this place is. We had flown over 6,000 miles from London via Sao Paulo and Brasilia to reach Cuiaba before heading south via Pocone.  We arrived in the Pantanal proper in the afternoon and were making our way to our first lodge Pouso Alegre.  Just before dusk we stopped on a bridge by a large area of water to watch our first feeding group of birds including the huge Jabiru Storks, Wood Storks and Cocoi Herons.  Dozens of Black-crowned Night Herons were also emerging to feed.  We watched the sun set over hordes of Yacare Caiman gathered at the edge of the water.

Sunset over the Caiman
We arrived at our Lodge in the dark and were excited at the prospect of dawn.  We were out by 6am and exploring the open grassland and park-like woodland.  I should mention that the best time for visiting is the dry season and it was hot and humid as we set forth.  Early morning noises were being made by Buff-necked and Plumbeous Ibises nesting in the taller trees.  Rufous and Pale-legged Horneros together with Thrush-like Wrens kept up a strident chorus.  It was truly a day of woodpeckers with at least 5 species being seen.

Buff-necked Ibis
With so many birds to see it was difficult to know which way to turn. Striking Vermilion Flycatchers hawked from low branches, Chaco Chachalacas were deafening as they gathered in the tops of trees and then suddenly our first looks at Hyacinth Macaws the biggest parrots in the World.  This impressive species faced extinction not long ago.  It is a species that has recovered because of eco-tourism.  Local landowners put up nest boxes and encourage the birds knowing people will pay to come and see them.

Hyacinth Macaw
Our next destination was Southwild Pantanal a lodge alongside the River Pixaim.  Here a tower has been erected close by a Jabiru's nest and Mark one of our group was soon taking advantage of this.

Mark and Jabirus
We enjoyed several river trips here finding many birds.  the highlight though was the return at dusk when the sky would be full of Nacunda Nighthawks and enormous Bulldog Bats and the occasional Great Potoo cruising along hoovering up the masses of insects.  The atmosphere was really special.  Most lodges had feeding station close by which brought birds close to our rooms. Many species were present but Toucans and Aracaris were great to see so close.
Toco Toucan

Chestnut-eared Aracari
Perhaps the commonest bird in the whole Pantanal is the Yellow-headed Cardinal which come to feeders in their droves.

Yellow-billed Cardinals
We headed as far south as the road would take us to Porto Jofre before the River Cuiaba barred any further progress.  It was very hot here with temperatures reaching 45 degrees on three days.  An impressive set up with a small lake with enormous lily pads.  A good place to watch Wattled Jacanas using them to quickly cross the water.

Giant Lily Pads

Wattled Jacana
This is the place though for Jaguars and we had two river trips and saw this magnificent beast on both occasions.  The feeling of privilege as you moor up just yards from a truly wild animal which treats people like me with total disdain is hard to describe.  Jaguars are also doing very well here with total protection and co-operation with land owners also looking after their needs.

A male Jaguar at rest
We headed back north birding all the way seeing specialities of the area like Maguari Storks and also hordes of Snail Kites.

Maguari Stork

Snail Kite

We spent the last day and night on the Pantanal at Pousada Puival where we obtained our best view of Greater Rheas wandering over a vast grassland.  This is a working cattle ranch and we were taken to a large stretch of water where many birds were gathering to roost.  We did fail though to find a Giant Anteater.

Greater Rheas
We have to be eternally grateful to my good friend Ecuadorian Xavier Munoz.  Through his company Neblina Forest Tours he organised the whole trip and acted as our guide.  His knowledge of South American birds and other wildlife is outstanding and his energy and leadership enabled us to see so much.

Xavier Munoz
 In my next post I will talk a little about the other areas we visited in our Brazilian adventure.