Monday, 29 October 2012

Quiet Time


Returning from France it has been a quiet time here.  I have got the garden feeders going again and some birds have taken an immediate interest.  Nothing special but I always enjoy watching the antics and activity of the local Nuthatches.  Not many wintering Chaffinches yet so no chance of a visiting Brambling.  I am off to Bedford to give a talk this week so maybe get out later this week.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Disgrace of Policeman turned Egg Collector

Upson travelled to North Wales to steal Chough eggs.

There can be nothing worse than a "bent copper"and when we hear occasionally of corrupt policemen it always sends a shock through the system.  For the wildlife community the discovery today that  an officer from my native Suffolk has been found guilty of stealing the eggs of protected bird species is very shocking indeed.  Colin Upson 52 of Sotherton, Suffolk had collected 650 wild birds eggs including species such as Golden Eagle, Cettis Warbler, Hawfinch and Chough whilst travelling around the UK.  Perhaps the most shocking news was that most of the eggs were collected in Suffolk whilst he was carrying out his police duties.  These included Woodlark, Marsh Harrier and Kittiwake eggs the latter being taken from Lowestoft Pier. Although he had detailed records of his crimes hidden away he tried to claim that the eggs belonged to a relative and were taken when it was not against the law.

Upson took the eggs of Marsh Harrier in Suffolk

Upson was allowed to retire before this case came to court and it is therefore understood that he is receiving his full pension.  This frankly adds insult to injury and one hopes when he is sentenced that he will get the maximum of six months in jail.  When a serving police officer knowingly breaks the law it weakens the trust that the public have for authority. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Stay of Execution for English Badgers

Today's announcement by the Westminster Government that the planned Badger cull in the West Country is to be delayed until next year is good news particularly for these iconic animals.  What the Government mean exactly is not clear.  They claim the decision was made because it is too late into the season to carry out their plan.  That sounds nonsense to me.

Has the anti-cull campaign meant nothing to them?  Has the fact that the eminent science community has described their plans as unworkable and more likely to spread TB amongst cattle had no effect?  Have the 100,000+ petitions signatures made no impression?  This coalition does really take the public for idiots.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Back in the UK

Awaking this morning in France it was still raining hard for the fourth consecutive day.  Thankfully as we were packing up to leave it topped and sunshine at last.  This brought out the birds with at least 6 Black Redstarts feeding on the grassy areas including a superb male.  A Corn Bunting briefly sang from a nearby bush, 8 Rock Sparrows were wheezing from telephone lines and 2 Blackcaps fed in a small bush.  There were lots of Serins, Chaffinches and Goldfinches around the house and I also had a brief view of a Tree Pipit.

Tree Pipit

Back in UK heavy fog all the way home so on arrival got the wood stove going and prepared for cooler weather.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ce n'est pas normale

The phrase used as a title is what people have been saying to me in various tongues everywhere I have been travelling in recent years and they are talking about the weather.  We are well aware of the horrendous spring and summer in the UK but what about elsewhere?

Floods in North Norfolk UK

When in Alberta, Canada in June/July we experienced several consecutive days of 30 degrees.  Very unusual said the local news.  Alberta only reached 30 degrees twice in 2011 and then in August.  In Brazil consecutive days of 45 degrees were described by locals as much hotter for the time of year.  Friends from Alaska describe recent unseasonal flooding which threatened their home.  Tonight I heard the President of Greenland describing enormous changes in his country's climate and said nobody could deny accelerating climate change was here to stay.

Almost snowless Rocky Mountains in summer 2012

Here in the south of France we have enjoyed very warm sunny weather throughout the autumn. Ce n'est pas normale has been heard often. Even two days ago myriads of butterflies were still on the wing.  Plenty of Great Banded Graylings, Clouded Yellows and Painted Ladies.

Painted Lady

This all changed today.  We awoke to low, dark cloud and persistent rain.  Although mild (20 degrees) it has been so dark that our sensor security lights have never gone off.  What is more  we are forecast this weather until Sunday.  Ce n'est pas normale.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Brrrrrrrrrr! It's getting colder

Although bright and sunny it was really cold first thing this morning.  The air so clear that early snow was very visible on Canigou and its sister Pyrennean peaks. On our return from market we  drove under a splendid Red Kite.  Getting closer to home I noted a number of small birds around our community so set off in pursuit.


In lower vegetation I found at least 20 Chiffchaffs in quite a small area.  After these migrants most of the birds found were winter visitors.  A Fieldfare called from thick pine woodland and several Song Thrushes broke cover.  Two Corn Buntings were probably residents as was a singing Woodlark.  Chaffinches were pouring overhead and so were quite a number of Siskins.  Winter is not far away.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

In the Garden

Have been at home all day doing some work in the garden.

Male Blackcap

Whilst taking a break I noted 2 Black Redstarts, a Common Redstart, 2 Chiffchaffs and 9 male Blackcaps all taking a bath together in a bowl of water under a pine tree.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

To the South

We needed a little shopping in Narbonne so first decided to go south as far as Port Leucate.  We checked out the small pools by the main lagoon but the only waders found were 27 Ringed Plovers and 2 Kentish Plovers.  we then headed up to Cap Leucate looking forward to seeing a completed Visitor Centre.  What a disappointment - No visitor facilities yet but a glass fronted restaurant with great views over the ocean.  The menu price of 49 euros will surely mean this will not last long.  A big case of priorities wrong.

Little Egret feeding frenzy

It was then down to Franqui where we watched groups of Little Egrets and Black-headed Gulls feeding feverishly together.  Checking out the small sewerage farm we found only 3 Common Snipe.  We moved on to Port La Nouvelle and sat munching sandwich by the pier.  I scoped c80 Cormorants flying south in a large "V" and also picked up 6 Gannets fishing out to sea.  This is the first time I have seen this species off the French Mediterranean coast.


Heading for the shops there were c100 Greater Flaminogos and 200 Coots at Bages.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A Feel of Autumn

The feeling this morning was one of impending autumn with small flocks of finches etc all over the garden.  Lots of Goldfinches, Serins and Chaffinches with quite a few Starlings gathering to feed on our figs.  I also noted at least 6 Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff as well as 2 of our resident Sardinian Warblers.  Perhaps predictably a Sparrowhawk soon arrived and just as rapidly the garden cleared of birds.


I took a look around the hills nearby and did catch a glimpse of a Dartford Warbler.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Not Much Today

Male Chaffinch

Not much today but quite a lot of Chaffinches moving south first thing.  On the way to Olonzac market the Southern Grey Shrike was on his usual perch.  Just before dusk a Pied and a Spotted Flycatcher were hunting for insects in our garden.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Two Hoots

Tawny Owl by Roger Tidman

We have just had University Challenge interrupted by a Tawny Owl calling loudly outside our lounge door.  This is the second year running we have had this species here.  Previously we had Eagle Owls in the area but these have not been heard for 2 years so that is maybe why Tawny Owl is here?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Wildlife Trusts take positive action for Badgers

I am so impressed with the Wildlife Trusts and their positive action on the Badger and TB in cattle issue.  As well as lobbying for the ridiculous Government action to be stopped many of the 47 Trusts and especially those like Gloucestershire and Somerset are vaccinating Badgers on their land against TB.The named Trusts are of course in the target area for immediate culling of these animals.  These Trusts have also made it clear that no animals will be culled on their reserves.

This action is commendable and whilst acknowledging that TB in cattle herds is distressing for farmers and their livelihoods they are prepared to take scientific backed action to try and address the situation.

My only criticism of the Wildlife Trusts is that although news of this action is on their website it is not hitting the national media headlines in the same way that the NFU led publicity about culling has done.  The general public deserve to know that conservationists are not just protesting without doing something very positive to address this problem for farmers and Badgers.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Keeping Local

I stayed around the house today.  Weather a bit duller and birds not obvious at first.  Late morning 2 Common Redstarts in the garden and a flurry of Swallows overhead.  A bit of a surprise was a Short-toed Eagle passing south.

Sardinian Warbler

I took a short work at 5pm - noticed more evidence of Robins in quite a few places.  Also Woodlark, 6 Rock Sparrows and Jay,  Sardinian Warblers appear to have had a good year with some good flocks containing juveniles.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Another Day on the Coast

Picking up my pal Paul Williams in Beziers we started a day watching coastal sites.  We started by looking over Etang de Vendres where we found 2 Great White Egrets, 2 Marsh Harriers and a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by Starlings.  A group of 40 Little Egrets feeding altogether was also notable. We had more luck at Pissevache where recent rain had put a flush of water into the lagoon where c60 Dunlin, 6 Little Stints a 5 Ringed Plovers fed busily.

We moved on to Gruissan and found many more waders on the salt pans.  At least 70 Dunlin, 30 Little Stints, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, 4 Greenshanks, Grey Plover, Black-winged Stilt and Bar-tailed Godwit.  A solitary juvenile Black Tern hawked for insects around the lagoons and a solitary Wheatear was also present.  A Kingfisher flew in front of us and another close group of feeding Little Egrets numbered 50.

Juvenile Black Tern
There were many Greater Flamingos feeding on the lagoons - maybe 300.  It was also good to see a good number of young birds amongst the pink throng.

Juvenile Greater Flamingo
We moved on to the wet meadows at Le Petit Tournebelle where one Pectoral Sandpiper still remained.  A count of 28 Snipe was notable and 2 Curlew Sandpipers, 5 Little Stints, a Ruff, 10 Wood Sandpipers and 12 Little Ringed Plovers were also present.  Looking on other fields the Glossy Ibis and 10 Lapwings were still there.

A Pectoral Sandpiper
A sad end to the day was when we attempted to visit a small marsh on the edge of Narbonne.  Here we found a large concrete plant and fences and lorries barred our way.  Does this mean the end of this super little marsh where I have seen Great Reed & Moustached Warblers, Bearded Tits, Penduline Tits and nesting Marsh Harriers?  I hope not

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Good Birds over Lunch

We visit friends Serge & Francoise for lunch today.  They live a bit higher up than us but enjoy a beautiful view which includes the Mediterranean Sea.  Serge has recorded over 160 species from his garden so we expected something.

Common Redstart

We were not disappointed as a Honey Buzzard cruised low overhead and later 2 Buzzards (looking ever so much like Steppe Buzzards) flew over with 5 Sparrowhawk,  The stars were the myriads of Common Redstarts, Pied Flyactchers, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs which fed constantly in front of us.  Common species but all feverishly fattening up for the next step of their migration.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Quieter Day

A beautiful day but much quieter as far as birds were concerned.  Hirundines were moving in big numbers again but today the majority were House Martins.  Coming back to the car from the market in Olonzac I found a Tree Sparrow calling from a local garden.

Tree Sparrow

Back at home a solitary Griffon Vulture flew over the house late morning.  Checking the hills behind Minerve I found a total of 10 Stonechats, a group of 4 Wheatears and a splendid Southern Grey Shrike.

Monday, 1 October 2012

More Raptors and Wetland Birds

Waking this morning to sunny skies and a northerly breeze.  It was soon obvious that raptors were still on the move.  Between 10am and 11,30am I counted 41 Short-toed Eagles, 6 Griffon Vultures, 2 Red Kites and 6 Sparrowhawks. Thousands of Swallows and House Martins were passing over constantly.  A quick look round revealed 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Common Redstarts and lots of Blackcaps.

One of the 41 Short-toed Eagles passing over our house

Inspired by the morning experience I set off for the Gruissan area. Between Cesseras and Olonzac a splendid Southern Grey Shrike sat on a snag by the roadside.

Southern Grey Shrike

I headed first for the wet meadows at Le Petit Tournebelle because I had been tipped off the 2 Pectoral Sandpipers had been there for a few days.  After a lot of searching through the telescope I found one Pectoral amongst about 10 Wood Sandpipers, 2 Ruff and 3 Snipe.  On another meadow the Glossy Ibis was still with the egrets.  Coming out of the meadows I counted 25 White Storks and a single Black Stork in the rice fields.

Little Stint

I then moved on to the salt pans at Gruissan.  There were still 200 Greater Flamingos and still a good show of waders.  In all I discovered c60 Dunlin, c20 Little Stints,6 Avocets, 2 Redshanks, 2 Sanderlings, Curlew Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit and Greenshank.  There were also 12 Shelducks.  As I left a Sparrowhawk flew over and 2 Marsh Harriers made my total to 10 for the afternoon.

Marsh Harrier

A great day for watching migrating birds.