Monday, 29 July 2013

Evening at Elmley

After a day of meetings it was time see some of the wonderful wildlife at this National Nature Reserve.  Last night I managed a Barn Owl but tonight was very exciting with masses of waders gathering on muddy areas. These were mostly Lapwings and Redshanks but also 2 Avocets, Black-tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper and a few Snipe.

Common Snipe
We also came across a pair of Ringed Plover with three really cute young ones.

Adult Ringed Plover
Juvenile Ringed Plover
Pressing on we noted lots of Grey Herons and Little Egrets and a good number of Marsh Harriers.  The highlight for me was a wonderful confrontation  with two Brown Hares one of my favourite mammals.

Brown Hare in the evening sunshine
Brown Hare stretching
One of our two meetings today was with three wildlife photographers Keith, Trevor, and Lesley who visit Elmley frequently.  They will be a great asset to the reserve I dedicate this blog to them.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Back in Wales

We arrived back in Wales last night to pleasant but slightly cooler and more bearable weather.  Tonight there is a pleasant warm rain which the land obviously needs.  Our garden looks wonderful and so luxuriant.  Bird life is scarce with our feeders empty but I did hear a snatch of Blackcap song.

Elmley National Nature Reserve

Tomorrow I head east for Kent for an Elmley National Nature Reserve meeting then on to Suffolk to see my brother.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A Night For Harriers

Firstly last night we had a fierce storm but little rain.  The outcome was that we had no electricity for three hours so I could not post yesterday.  After the storm we found an adorable Stripeless Tree Frog under our terrace table.  They are fantastic little frogs with big suckers on their feet and this one jumped onto my leg for some time.

Stripeless Tree Frog - photo John Van Enem
First thing this morning there was a bit of bird activity at the back of the house and I discovered a pair of Woodchat Shrikes and three young.

Adult and juvenile Woodchat Shrike
Juvenile Woodchat Shrike
This evening as things started to cool I decided to drive around local lanes looking for birds.  There a few Hoopoes, Bee-eaters, Woodchat Shrikes and a Roller. Travelling between Aigne and Azillanet I had splendid views of a male Montagu's Harrier hunting and then soaring high up a lone Honey Buzzard.  I drove on through vineyards flushing a female Montagu's Harrier and headed up from Siran into the Garrigue.  This is a great area for harriers.  Before returning home I saw a further 12 Montagu's Harriers including pairs with 3 and 2 fully fledged young.  Also I found a couple of juvenile Red-backed Shrikes and a Tawny Pipit before calling it a day.

Juvenile Montagu's Harrier
Then the best news of the day.  My brother John is off the life support machine and making steady progress to recovery.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Back to my Beloved Marsh

I left home just after 6pm to meet up old friends Ron, John and Andy and new friend Janet.  Because of a number of Little Bittern sightings at the marsh at Capestang we decided to sit on the edge of the village of Montels and watch for evening feeding activity.  As I left our hill a good omen in the shape of a dark phase Booted Eagle appeared overhead.

Etang de Capestang from Montels
We all met up and started watching about 7pm.  There was plenty to see and we watched 2 Whiskered and a single Gull-billed Tern before beginning to find plenty of Night Herons moving to and fro.  A few Purple Herons, Grey Herons and Little Egrets were also noted as was a Green and Wood Sandpiper.

Night Heron
Ron was the first to call Little Bittern and everybody but me got on the bird and another a few minutes later.  How very frustrating.  We added 8 White Storks and a single Black Stork flying on the far side of the marsh.

Black Stork
I then felt a need for a bush so wandered off.  On my return I was aghast at the news.  I had just two more sightings of male Little Bitterns.  We waited and I called Stone Curlew flying down to the marsh and as we were watching it Ron called another Little Bittern and this time I thankfully picked it up.

Little Bittern - photo by David Hosking
My confidence and reputation was restored and we estimated that we had seen at least 3 different male Little Bitterns suggesting at least three nests.  Three more Stone Curlews came into the marsh to drink and then the most amazing record of the night.  A male Cuckoo began calling regularly from the marsh.  We all agreed on what it was but none of us had heard a male Cuckoo calling at this time of the year.  Indeed many adult Cuckoos will already back in Africa.  We packed up and left in a full moon and there was still time for me to see a Little Owl by the roadside near Olonzac and a male Nightjar on the track close to my house.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Early Morning On The Coast

I got up early and left for the coast around Gruissan. Reaching the rice fields my obliging Purple Heron was still present but in a more dangerous position for pulling up in the vehicle.  I did get a few shots and indeed counted 18 Purple Herons on the rice fields. There was also a White Stork and 60 Black-winged Stilts.

Purple Heron
I moved on to the wet meadows where I estimated c200 Black-winged Stilts, c30 Wood Sandpipers, Redshank and Lapwing.  There were dozens of Little and Cattle Egrets and a single Great White Egret. A Black Kite flew over and flushed three Glossy Ibises which settled down to feed.  These birds are surely from the growing Carmargue population but white plastic rings suggest they originated from the Coto Donana in Spain.

The three Glossy Ibis
I headed off to Gruissan proper passing a flock of 12 Whimbrel on the way and drove out to the beach and round to the salt pans.

Gruissan salt pans
There were at least 100 Greater Flamingos, c40 Avocets including a lot of chicks, c30 Little and c40 Common Terns.  Not much else except another Whimbrel, 4 Ringed Plovers and an Oystercatcher.  Driving back I counted 60 Kentish Plovers in a flock by a lagoon and 6 Little Stints flew over calling.  I then decided to drive to the lagoons and reedbeds at Mandirac.  It is difficult to see nowadays but I found a way of walking in and discovered another 50 Black-winged Stilts including chicks plus a couple of Common Sandpipers.  A White Stork flew over nearby. I was a bit surprised to also see a couple of Great Reed Warblers.  There was quite a bit of hirundine migration with Swallows and Sand Martins passing south all morning.  I did encounter a nice group of the latter resting on wires.
Sand Martin

Gathering of Sand Martins


It was now very hot and I need to get home.  Several Rollers and Bee-eaters had me stopping and I got some shots of the latter.

Bee-eater with food
Also heading for home I found a Red-legged Partridge with chicks.

Red-legged Partridge
An enjoyable morning but I am still thinking of brother John.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Still Close to Home

With the continuing heat I stayed close to home and was rewarded first thing by a Weasel running across my garden.  This the first time I have seen this species for a number of years.  Later I checked out the numerous insects feeding on our lavender bushes. I was delighted to find a superb Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth.  Such a little jewel but difficult to photograph.

Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth
The Cicada chorus is incessant everywhere just now and walking through on of our rose arches I came face to face with this chap.

As I was watching the insects a shrill call erupted overhead and our local pair of Short-toed eagles appeared posturing to each other.  Sadly they were very back lit so the photograph does not do the occasion justice.

Short-toed Eagles
This afternoon whilst listening to Test Match Special and our total domination of the Australians I picked up our first real autumn migrant this year when a young male Redstart joined the Black Redstarts and a Subalpine Warbler in the garden.

Young male Redstart
I must confess I spent a lot of time thinking about John my brother who is seven years my senior.  He was taken seriously ill this week and is currently in hospital on a life support machine.  I hope he makes it.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Keeping Cool

Melodious Warbler

With temperatures again in the late thirties today we have been keeping in the shade.  Early this morning a juvenile Montagu's Harrier hunted nearby and I saw few other birds except a Melodious Warbler and a Sardinian Warbler both in the garden.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Maybe - Maybe Not

Still very hot but I took a drive in the hills above Minerve.  I drove a rough track to the top of a heather covered peak and waited and watched.  Plenty of Woodlarks about and also a family party of Stonechats.  Cirl Buntings too were still singing.  Suddenly a large dark raptor appeared to my left plummeting fast down the hillside.  I only saw it for about 4 seconds before it disappeared below me.  If you asked me to guess what it was I would have said a hunting Golden Eagle.  Sadly I did not see enough.  Maybe it was or Maybe it wasn't.

Coming home I almost ran over a super Hoopoe feeding by the roadside near my house.

This evening I went looking for the Eagle owl I saw last week but no luck.  Instead I was treated to a super display by a female Nightjar.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Blimey It's Hot

Every day has been warm and very humid with the odd thunder storm in the evenings.  Today was no different with the day time temperature reaching 35 degrees.  I took a trip out late afternoon and found plenty of Bee-eater and Roller activity in the usual areas.

Male Black Redstart

I took a look at Homps sewerage ponds where there were 3 Black-winged Stilts, a Wood and a Common Sandpiper.  I headed up above Minerve but found nothing of note but did see a lovely male Montagu's Harrier and a Short-toed Eagle on the way back.  There was also a superb male Black Redstart in the garden on my return and a family group of Subalpine Warblers.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Raptor Activity

Male Montagu's Harrier

We took a trip east to Pouzolles for lunch with friends and the journey saw a Black Kite which is now a daily event. Either these are local birds of the vanguard of migrants from the north.  We also encountered a male Montagu's Harrier hunting.  We have also started to see more of this species as their young begin to fledge.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Couple of Birds

A juvenile Scop's Owl from this time last year

Busy in the garden today and the only bird of note was a Black Kite going over.  This evening under a new moon I walked outside to enjoy the spectacle when a Scop's Owl flew past and landed in one of our almond trees and called just once.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

By The Coast

Shopping was needed in Narbonne so we started with a birding trip to the coast first.  Leaving home we passed a male Montagu's Harrier near Olonzac and later noted a Roller and Black Kite near Capestang. We headed for Lespignan and then realised it is Bastille Day which explained the heavy traffic.  We found a Turtle Dove and plenty of Fan-tailed Warblers and moving on found a Lesser Grey Shrike just where we expected.

Fan-tailed Warbler
We passed on through the minor road at Fleury counting 7 Rollers and a single Lesser Kestrel.  Eventually we ended up at Pissevache where there was little water on the shallow etang.  We found three Mediterranean Gulls, 15 Kentish Plovers and c40 Sandwich Terns before we moved on to Gruissan.  We spent the rest of our time at the rice fields at Le Petit Tournabelle.  There were hordes of birds on the flooded meadows.  We counted 130 Black-winged Stilts, 30 Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpiper, 7 Lapwings and a single Ruff.  A Black Kite flew over and flushed a mixed flock of Cattle and Little Egrets.  Finally 11 Glossy Ibises flew over and carried on south.

One of 130 Black-winged Stilts
Common Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
We moved on to the nearby rice fields and immediately came across a White Stork.

White Stork
Moving on we counted 9 Purple Herons feeding in the rice fields and one particular bird was very co-operative.

Purple Heron
Close-up of Purple Heron
Success at last!
A truly great day.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

A Day Out and New Friends

Bonelli's Eagle habitat.

My friend Jonathan came over this morning with Eric Dempsey and his girl friend Hazell from Ireland and we set off to look for Bonelli's Eagles.  I had seen two healthy chicks in May and we went to see if we could see the family.  Sadly we did not and the birds may have left the area.  We did see 3 Crag Martins, a Red-rumped Swallow and 5 Griffon Vultures.

Griffon Vulture
We stopped off for a chat and drink with Jaquie, Stuart and Marnie Gregory and then moved on to Minerve.  By now it was very hot and birds hard to find.  Rock Sparrows wheezed on the rooftops and the local Swallows were panting on overhead perches.

Barn Swallow panting
A thunderstorm saw us seek shelter in a bar and beers and ice cream reinstated our energy for more. We found Black Redstart, Swifts galore, a few Alpine Swifts, Crag Martins and a dozen Red-rumped Swallows.  A Short-toed Eagle passed by and we eventually found a Blue Rock Thrush. We moved on to look for Roller but a heavy rain shower meant we missed out.  We did see some Bee-eaters, a Black Kite and a juvenile Montagu's Harrier before returning for a quick supper.

Red-rumped Swallow
Then at 8pm we drove off and liaised with French ornithologist Yvon and he directed us to a quarry near Mailhac where we had the most marvellous views of a male Eagle Owl which flew in land above us called once and went off to hunt.  Later we heard a concealed chick calling and a Nightjar flew over our heads.  The owl was a lifer for Eric and Hazell and it always great to share such a moment with new friends.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Catching Up

Apart from cutting some grass I spent some of the day catching up on what birds were around.  We went to Olonzac for the market and I heard and saw several Rock Sparrows.  Later I found a singing Golden Oriole at Cesseras as well as a Roller feeding young in a hole in a plain tree.  The new colony of Bee-eaters in the vineyards is thriving with four pairs taking food to their burrows.  Three Woodchat Shrikes in the vineyards including 2 young.

Checking out Minerve I found a single Alpine Swift and 6 Crag Martins.  At home a Short-toed Eagle was hunting nearby.  The butterflies again were amazing.  I added Spanish Gatekeeper, Small Skipper, Swallowtail, Speckled Wood, Small Copper and a new one for me False Ilex Hairstreak.

False Ilex Hairstreak
I think I have identified the above correctly.  I was looking for Ilex Hairstreak but this was in my garden.  It looked paler than the darker Ilex but I would be glad of confirmation from anyone reading this blog.

Monday, 8 July 2013

France again

We arrived at Beziers Airport just after 4pm Continental time.  The drive to Montcelebre produced two superb Rollers sitting on roadside perches.

Arriving home we noted we had a lot of work to do on the garden.  Our lawns are "wild flower meadows" with hordes of butterflies as we hoped.  Large numbers of Great Banded Graylings on all the buddleias and elsewhere Scarce Swallowtails, Spanish Gatekeepers, Clouded Yellows, Pale Clouded Yellows, Cleopatras and Western Marbled Whites.

Great Banded Grayling
Western Marbled White

Looking forward to tomorrow and finding more insects and some local birds.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

South to France

Southern White Admiral

We leave again tomorrow morning for a midsummer visit to our French place.  Gardening chores beckon but we should enjoy the myriads of butterflies which swarm over the area in July.  It always happens that when we head off the weather improves in UK as well.