Friday, 31 May 2013

Birding With a Friend

I went out birding today with a new friend Alan McBride.  We met in France earlier this year and yesterday Alan and i went north through Carmarthenshire and into Ceredigion.  Alan has spent over 30 years living in Australia so is keen to get familiar again with European birds.  We started at Gwynfrryd and Dinas and predictably found Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Wood Warbler and Redstarts. A Dipper flew down river and Grey Wagtails were also about. A Cuckoo called, Tree Pipits sang from the hillsides and a single Yellowhammer singing was good news.

Yellowhammer singing
We moved on up around Lyn Brianne and  noted a few Wheatears, Whitethroats and Whinchats. We pressed on noting the usual Red Kites and Buzzards and ended up in Tregaron.  We first went up to the Teifi Pools where I have not been for years.  It was pretty dead up here except for a few Meadow Pipits and Wheatears.  A visit to Strata Florida did not bring much more.

Meadow Pipit - Alan McBride

We stopped at Cors Caron for a walk and admired the birds on the feeders.  Two splendid Redpolls were in attendance and a Great Spotted Woodpecker made regular appearances.  In glorious sunshine we went out on the boardwalk admiring great clumps of Bogbean and Cotton Grass and spent a while admiring the aerial ability of a few Swifts.  Way in the distance we caught a glimpse of Eddie the Golden Eagle which has been in the area for some years looking enormous against the kites and buzzards nearby.

Swift _Alan McBride

It had been a good day and it made even better by supper at the YTalbot back in town.  Our evening finished with another drive across the Cambrian mountains although we saw few birds.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Is Natural England Still Fit For Purpose?

If it was not bad enough that Natural England staff will be asked to sign the death warrants of hundreds of Badgers in the West Country the news has recently leaked that the agency issued a licence for a Buzzards nest to be destroyed and the adults taken into captivity to safeguard a commercial pheasant shoot.  In their response Natural England and Defra said that issuing the licence did not threaten the future of the species.

Pheasant - an introduced species

They just do not get the point.  Natural England has in its brief a duty to nature conservation so it seems perverse that they would allow a protected bird of prey to be treated in such a way just to further a commercial activity.  Perhaps we should not be surprised that Richard Beynon a Government Environment Minister is an active supporter of shooting and owns large tracts of land for this purpose.

Common Buzzard - protected or what?
 It is so sad that Natural England has been allowed to sink to such depths.  When I think of all the magnificent people past and present who are committed to nature conservation and who have been part of the agency and its predecessors I wonder what they think of the current situation.  I am convinced that we can no longer depend on Natural England to look after our wildlife.  With the publication of The State of Nature report last week the NGO's are going to have to really step up to the plate if we are to redress the balance.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Making Hay whilst the Sun Shone

This evening I drove over to the Hay Festival to take part in an event which involved the discussion of the Language of the Environment.  I was part of a panel which also included Jane Davidson former Welsh assembly Minister for the Environment, Margaret Lloyd Jones Wales Chair of the National Federation of Women's Institutes and my old pal Stephen Moss wildlife author and TV Producer.  Our Chair was Andy Fryers Hay-on-Earth Director.  The event was organised by the RSPB.

RSPB Dinas reserve in Carmarthenshire

The large audience was very well informed and as well as putting forth our own views we discussed a number of questions from the floor.  These included everything from the links between health and enjoying wildlife to the fear that exists amongst the older generation because they worry that today's generation are starting from the wrong base when assessing our wildlife.

Red Kite

On the way to and from I enjoyed seeing many Red Kites and Buzzards soaring in a perfect summer sky.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Wonderful Day at Dinas

The RSPB Reserve at Dinas in Carmarthenshire is a wonderful area and with luck at this time of year you can see most of the Welsh speciality birds.  The weather today was superb and a walk behind the reserve along the river was very productive with Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts and Tree Pipits very obvious in good numbers.  A Cuckoo called from high on a hill and overhead Buzzards and Red Kites were noted and we spent quite a while watching and photographing a pair of Grey Wagtails.  Looking up again a female Goosander flew upstream.

Male Grey Wagtail
Later we walked through the reserve itself.  The place was crowded with only one parking place in the car park and one or two cars parked on the road.  The reserve looked great.  Walking along the boardwalk we eventually saw a splendid male Pied Flycatcher and also saw and heard one or two Redstarts.  A single Wood Warbler sang in the taller trees and a Dipper was feeding in the river.  The only down side was two families who were walking off the boardwalk with a labrador dog off the lead which was creating havoc with the ground nesting birds.

Before heading home we drove up to the Llyn Brianne Dam where we managed to find Wheatear and Whinchat and also lots of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks feeding on the short turf.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

An Evening Chorus of Birds

I was feeling in need of an evening walk after a session at hospital today going through the ordeal of a colonoscopy.  the outcome of that was very positive so birds once again filled my head.  I was thinking about looking for signs of our local Barn Owls so walked up our lane and joined neighbour Rob Donaldson to walk over his land.  Rob has created some fine meadows and woodlands as well as having a very boggy marsh of rough grasses and sedges.  It is here that the owls which nest in our old school house often hunt.

Male Blackbird - a splendid songster we take for granted

Well we failed with the owls but discovered something else.   Rob has been hard of hearing for some time but has just taken delivery of a spanking new hearing aid.  As we walked he kept getting excited about the cacophony of bird song.  "Just listen to those Blackbirds" he kept saying.  I then realised that Rob had been unable to hear what we all take for granted for some time.  It was a marvellous experience to share with him the songs of those wonderful Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap.  Sadly I never got him on to a reeling Grasshopper Warbler but the smile on his face and the general excitement of his rediscovery made me very happy.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Wood Warbler in the Bag

Wood Warbler - photo Richard Crossen

As I hoped I found a singing Wood Warbler back in Carmarthenshire close to Taliaris just a mile or so from my house.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Back to Wales via The Brenne.

La Crapaudine

Whenever we drive down to our place in the south of France we always stop off at The Brenne which is in the centre of the country and breaks up the journey so well.  We stay in a wonderful Chambre D'Hote know as La Crapaudine in Rosnay and run by Max and Thierry.  It is a real heaven of a place and worth the effort.  Waking yesterday in glorious sunshine House Martins and Swifts were energetically circling the place whilst a superb Black Redstart sang from the top of a building.

Black Redstart singing
We had time for a bit of birdwatching before we set off north.  We saw and heard a Savi's Warbler and was generally impressed with the number of warblers singing everywhere.  One Melodious Warbler sat up for just a second or two whilst belting out his very unmelodious song.

Melodious Warbler
One of the species of note was Red-crested Pochard. I normally think of this duck as a Mediterranean species but numbers here are very high.  Thirty years ago when I first visited the Brenne there were none but in the last decade they have colonised.  In 2012 over thirty nests were discovered but there seem to be even more birds this year.

Red-crested Pochards

Pair of Red-crested Pochards
We also had many other great sightings including pal Tony Williams who directed us to a hide which we never found.  We did have good views of a Honey Buzzard at close quarters sitting in a tree but I failed to get a decent photograph.  Now time to look for a Welsh Wood Warbler. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Moving North Again

Well we are all packed up again and heading north first thing tomorrow morning.  We head first to The Brenne and hope to get some birding in before moving on to cross the Channel by The Tunnel on Friday evening. Back in Wales Saturday afternoon.

Black-necked Grebes in summer plumage will be a feature of the Brenne 

We have had a great month with some excellent weather.  Some good wildlife moments as well.  We are already planning our next visit to Paradise.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Out of its Skin etc

Ocellated Lizard enjoying the sun and shedding its skin

Whilst having breakfast this morning we noticed an Ocellated Lizard crawl out from under our roof tiles and begin basking in the warm sunshine.  It was also shedding its skin.  We have known for some time that we have many of this large species on our property either living in drains or in the roof.  In the garden a pair of Woodchat Shrikes are together again and let's hope they nest as well as last year.

Bee-eater - one of the new colony
Two pairs of Woodchat Shrikes were on territory and a single female Red-backed Shrike was also present on vine wires.

Female Red-backed Shrike

There seemed to be a lot more Turtle Doves about most picking up grit on the roads.

Turtle Doves
The weather has been very warm today so let's hope it carries on tomorrow.

Coming back from Olonzac later mornign two Black Kites were hunting over vineyards and a male Montagu's Harrier was over the garrigue.  I checked the vineyards in the eveing and there are definitely about 4 pairs of Bee-eaters which have formed a new colony.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Taking It Easy

Nightingale sitting out in the open

After the exertions of the last two days I have had an easy time today.  First I failed to hear any Wryneck calling this morning so I guess it was a migrant that moved on.  We went with neighbours John and Hanny for lunch at Oupia and went back to their place for a cup of tea.  I managed to miss a Red Kite flying by but did see a female Pied Flycatcher, a pair of Melodious Warblers, Black Redstart and heard numerous Nightingales singing.  One of the latter sat out in the open delivering its wonderful song.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Another Day in the Carmargue

Following on from my visit in January I thought I would try a spring visit with my friend Ron Bennett.  We set of at 6.30am and first stopped at the canal to the west of Etang de Scamandre in the Petit Carmargue.  A Bittern was booming the air resounded to the songs of Great Reed Warbler, Reed Warbler and Cetti's Warbler.  Plenty of Red-crested Pochards and Great White Egrets were also obvious.

Great White Egret
We moved on into the Carmague proper and stopped by Mas d'Agon where we heard another Bittern and also saw quite a number of Purple herons and a Squacco Heron.  Common, Whiskered and a couple of Gull-billed Terns were feeding here where we also saw our first of 5 Hobbys for the day.  Despite careful scrutiny we could find no Little Bittern.

Coypu - a common sight everywhere

We moved on to La Capeliere and apart from 7 Night Herons had a very disappointing visit with little else.  A check further south near the Tour de Val did produce 2 distant Collared Pratincoles. Towards the end of the day we did begin to see many groups of Glossy Ibis.  Despite searching the western side of Etang Vaccares we saw little else except Greater Flamingos.  I really will find it hard to return here as the birding is much more productive here in Languedoc.

Mediterranean Gulls are common in the Carmargue

Returning home a Wryneck was singing near my garden.

Extras from Yesterday

Red-crested Pochards at Pissevache

In my haste yesterday I did forget to mention 17 Mediterranean Gull, 7 Whiskered Terns and three male Red-crested Pochards at Pissevache and 4 Rollers at Fleury.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Rarity Returns

Today I made a quick visit to the area where the very rare Lesser Grey Shrike breeds.  This is a declining species and in great danger of extinction in France.  I was delighted to see one bird had returned and was sitting on the same overhead wires as last summer.

Lesser Grey Shrike - photographed last year
Returning home via Capestang a Black Stork flew north.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Spot On!

If you look at Field Guides you will see that Rock Sparrows are shown with a bright yellow spot on the throat.  To see this feature in the field is incredibly difficult especially as birds often sit in a hunched position. I was watching a flock of over 50 Rock Sparrows this evening in our local vineyards and was photographing one individual on a small building.  When I looked at the pictures there clearly was a very prominent yellow spot.

Rock Sparrow revealing the "yellow spot"
Today was otherwise fairly uneventful.  I did have a wonderful ten minutes watching a male Golden Oriole calling and feeding in my back hedge and later a Woodchat Shrike was singing from the top of a pine tree.  I am hoping the latter is part of the pair which nested by the garden last year. 

Tawny Pipit
 Also in the vineyards the small number of Bee-eaters have dug some nest holes in a sandy bank so I am hopeful that a new colony is forming.  A late Black Kite hurried north and a splendid Tawny Pipit posed for a while.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

North to The Gorges of the Cevennes

We decided today that we would go and enjoy the Gorge Jonte and the Causses Mejean in the Cevennes.  Leaving Olonzac we noticed a few Bee-eaters on a dead tree and one or two Rollers taking up their territories in the plane trees by the Canal du Midi between Homps and Capestang.  We pressed on to Millau crossing the amazing Foster designed bridge and made our way to the Gorge Jonte.

Gorge Jonte
After stopping a while to watch an impressive array of Griffon Vultures overhead and a couple of Choughs we moved up a narrow road to the Cause Mejean.  Here we had a fleeting glimpse of a Camberwell Beauty butterfly. We headed first for the amazing open area on the road linking the hamlets of Drigas, Hures, Le Villaret and Nivoliers.  First we had a sumptuous lunch at the Auberge Le Chanet at Nivoliers.  Afterwards we started looking for wildlife.  First we counted 14 Choughs on an unimproved meadow and then went back to Le Villaret to search for Rock Thrushes.  We failed with this species (perhaps they have not arrived yet) but did find plenty of Northern Wheatears and a couple of Tawny Pipits.

Northern Wheatear male
Northern Wheatear female
Looking around us we also admired a wonderful array of Common Pasque Flowers on both sides of the road.

Common Pasque Flower
Pasque Flowers galore
We were standing by the roadside by the Przewalski's Horse enclosure although we only saw four today.  What we did see though was a National Park warden drive up to the top of a hill and put out food for vultures.  Within minutes we watched about 60 Griffon Vultures and 3 Black Vultures tucking in. 

A digiscoped image of the vultures.  Two Blacks to the left of the Griffons.
Moving on we found a Western Bonelli's Warbler and a splendid male Yellowhammer.

Male Yellowhammer
Finally we sat in the Gorge Jonte for a little tea and watched hundreds of Griffon Vultures coming to roost.  We also picked up a Green Woodpecker, 2 Red Kites and a pair of Egyptian Vultures.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Out with The Danes

Wild Boar

First thing we observed 6 Honey Buzzards flying north in the sunshine.  Today I had offered to take the very nice Danish people I met the other day out to see some birds.  So this morning Jette and Arvid Jebens, Karen Engelstoff and Elsa Larsen joined me first to the local Bonelli's Eagle site.  As we arrived three female and 4 young Wild Boar crossed our path.  Watching the nest from a safe distance we had now views of the adults but were pleased to see two big chicks standing up and trying their wings which had already developed primary feathers.  In bright sunshine we listened to Nightingales, Orphean and Subalpine Warblers and admired a Crag Martin and 6 Alpine Swifts overhead.

Alpine Swift
We headed up into the hills near Boisset and found breeding Whitethroats and Stonechats and a male Red-backed Shrike on territory.  We also picked up 5 Honey Buzzards heading north. Coming back down to Minerve we checked the Peregrines and found they were feeding three hefty young.  My Danish friends had not seen a Roller so we set off for the vineyards.  Immediately we noted a super Roller sitting on a dead tree.

Heading on we found the now familiar Bee-eaters and a very obvious Tawny Pipit.  Further on we admired some Rock Sparrows and an Ortolan Bunting sang briefly but sadly did not reveal itself.  We returned to Montcelebre for a welcome cup of tea,  Just before dusk the male Pied Flycatcher showed itself in the garden.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Still Keeping it Local

Female Pied Flycatcher

We started a gorgeous day by doing more work in the garden.  I checked out the birds and could find three Pied Flycatchers a male and 2 females.  I also noted a female Common Redstart which was the only other passing migrant.  The breeding birds of the area are also very active now.  Numerous Serins are in the area as are singing Corn and Cirl Buntings.  Nightingales provide a perfect musical backdrop and a male Orphean Warbler now sings daily from our neighbour's garden.  Great Tits are busy too and we have a pair of Blue Tits nesting somewhere which is a first as they normally only visit us in the winter.

Wild Tulip

We decided to go out after lunch as Beryl was keen to see some of the wild flowers before they went over.  First we headed for Fauzan where a super male Montagu's Harrier was hunting the vineyards. We stopped near the top of the Cesse Gorge to look at an array of Pyrenean Snakesheads and Wild Tulips of the race australis.  We also admired a handsome Violet Carpenter Bee basking on a telegraph pole exactly where it had been a week ago when the Honeyguiders passed this way.

Violet Carpenter Bee
We moved on then heading towards the back of Minerve.  We paused to check that the Peregrine was on her nest and she was.  Further on we encountered a female Montagu's Harrier over the garrigue.

Female Montagu's Harrier
Our next destination was the meadows near Bois Bas.  Here there is an impressive display of hundreds of Green-winged Orchids.  It is an impressive sight.  We were also pleased to see a male Red-backed Shrike back in its breeding area.

Orchid meadow at Bois Bas

Green-winged Orchid
Before returning home we decided to check out the local vineyards again.  We found the Bee-eaters again and about four pairs seemed interested in a sandy roadside bank which could turn out to be a nesting site.

Moving on we found a Turtle Dove and the first female Red-backed Shrike of the Spring. 

Barn Swallow
There are still hundreds of hirundines passing north with almost feverish intent.  This Barn Swallow looked a trifle tired as it rested in a vineyard.

Giant Peacock Moth
As I was writing this there was a familiar banging on our lounge window shutter and going outside I found a Giant Peacock Moth ( 3 inch wingspan) flying under our front light and occasionally colliding with the shutter.  This is an annual event at this time of the year,  As I shut the door a Tawny Owl called in the distance.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Closer To Home

I had lots of grass cutting to do today so was going to be in the garden most of the time.  Early on there were lots of passerines in the garden.  Most were Willow Warblers but also a Spotted Flycatcher, a male and female Pied Flycatcher and a female Common Redstart.

Willow Warbler
After the hard work was done and lunch taken I decided to check out the local vineyards and it was quite productive. I started first at the section below Cesseras and immediately discovered 12 gorgeous Bee-eaters feeding and perching on wires.  I also located a Woodchat Shrike, Red-backed Shrike and heard a Quail calling.  Finishing off this section 3 Honey Buzzards flew north.

One of the 12 Bee-eaters
I then crossed the road to the section below Azillanet and found two more Woodchat Shrikes and heard another Quail.  I also photographed a Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola) sitting up and for once quite silent.

Fan-tailed Warbler
Finally enjoying supper on our front terrace we watched a pale morph Booted Eagle flying north over our garden.