Monday, 28 October 2013

A Welcome Anti-climax

Cormorant drying its wings at Burry Port.

Well! well! It never happened here.  Despite storm warnings and some heavy rain the high winds failed to materialise around here.  Nevertheless we took a trip down to Pembrey Harbour at lunch time just in case.  Everything was pretty normal with c250 Oystercatchers, 111 Ringed Plovers, 9 Dunlin and 4 Curlews roosting on the beach.  Checking the channel there was just a Great Crested Grebe and then looking towards Burry Port we could pick out 27 Dark-bellied Brent Geese.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Coming home we stopped briefly at Cilsarn Bridge where the river was running even higher.  No sign of Otters today but I did count 12 Wigeon.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Battening Down the Hatches

We are being told to take precautions as the worst storm for five years is heading our way overnight.  Winds up to 90 miles per hour and heavy rain will strike early in the morning.  I can recall the 1987 hurricane really well and the destruction in Eastern England. I would urge people with woodlands not to panic if hardwood trees come down.  We found in that great storm that if they can be left then regeneration will take place from the trunks and new trees will soon grow.  In the 1987 storm most of the conifers on the Suffolk coast were down but this was a positive thing for wildlife as the Forestry Commission redesigned the forest incorporating areas for Woodlarks and Nightjars and planted many more hard woods.

Forest damage in Suffolk in 1987

I hope the weather abates so I can get out to the coast and look for displaced seabirds. I am sure many may get blown into the Burry Inlet and who knows what might turn up?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Geese Over

Canada Geese in flight

Standing outside my house at 6.30pm a skein of 22 Canada Geese flew high over my house in a south-west direction.  I have never seen more than a pair in our village before.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A Sunny Moment In The Gloom

Thanks to a tip off from pal Julian Friese Beryl and I went immediately down to Cilsan Bridge on the River Tywy which is just 10 minutes from our house.  Within a short wait we were treated to a cacophony of shrill high pitched whistles and then a female Otter appeared coming fast down river.  She was answered equally loudly by a smaller animal (presumably a cub) and they greeted each other in mid stream and then disappeared into the riverside vegetation.

The female Otter who performed so well this afternoon

A few minutes later the female appeared again and swam with great pace in the flooded river under the bridge still calling loudly and made her way into the bank under some willow trees.  Overhead Buzzards, Ravens and a Red Kite hunted.  What a truly magical moment!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

First WEBS Count for 15 years

I began counting birds on estuaries probably 40 years ago and when I moved to Wales I thought it was probably time to retire from standing in all weathers on some bleak point.  When Terry Wells our local BTO representative mentioned he needed somebody to count from Kidwelly Quay I relented and decided to give it a go.  After all the count point is just yards from the car park and the counting area well contained.  So at 8.45am I was in place.  the weather was cloudy and windy at first but the sun did poke through before I finished at 11.15am.

From Kidwelly Quay at low tide - taken this summer

Pintail & Wigeon
The tide was as high as I could remember but began to drop really quickly.  As soon as the first mud was exposed then feeding birds were feverishly active.  As the cycle progressed more waders appeared and particularly wildfowl numbers in creased.   Redshanks and Dunlin were the most numerous but I also found single Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper.  There were 9 Greenshanks, 3 Black-tailed Godwits, 57 Curlew and 280 Oystercatchers.  Wildfowl were represented by 452 Teal, 131 Wigeon, 128 Pintail and a Red-breasted Merganser. 

Juvenile Cormorant feeding close to the Quay

Seven Cormorants, 5 Little Egrets and a Little Grebe also put in an appearance and 2 Ravens flew over croaking away.  Perhaps the only surprise were 3 juvenile Swallows battling south in the strong wind.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

In The Garden At Last

Long-tailed Tit

A respite in the wet weather allowed me to get into the garden and cut the grass.  A Red Kite called as it soared overhead before a flock of tits announce their arrival with Long-tailed Tits calling noisily. It seems the latter have done OK this year and at least 16 were in the flock.  Blue Tits and a Goldcrest made up the rest of the flock and despite my efforts no Yellow-browed Warbler could be found.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Bit of a Cock-up with my Lizard ID

I posted a shot of a lizard in my garden which I labelled Iberian Wall Lizard but my dear friend Barry Stewart suggested I may have got that wrong and it was instead a Large Psammodromus Lizard a species that occurs in Iberia and South-west France.

Large Psammodromus Lizard

Well having investigated myself I have to agree.  It is a species I have never come across before.  Thanks Barry.

Back In Welsh Sunshine

After a couple of days of rain the sun came out in Wales today.  I ventured out and started by calling in at Kidwelly Quay.  I caught up with fellow Carmarthenshire birders Wendell Thomas and Rob Hunt.  Whilst with them we noted 2 Barn Swallows, 8 Greenshanks and 2 Ruff.  There was also about 200 Redshanks, 60 Dunlins and 70 Curlew.

Barn Swallow

We then split and I set off for the WWT centre at Penclacwydd.  I wanted to catch up with Glossy Ibises which had been seen there recently as I had never seen this species in Carmarthenshire. I did not have to wait long before a Glossy Ibis flew in and began feeding.  In a few more minutes a second bird joined the first and then they flew off before a third bird then came in.  There have been up to 5 as once again this species invades the UK.

One of the Penclacwydd Glossy Ibises

Wendell Thomas then joined me again and watched 4 female Pintail amongst the more regular wildfowl.  It really was a wonderfully warm day with a Cetti's warbler singing loudly and there were lots of insects about including Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies and a splendid Comma butterfly.

Comma in the Penclacwydd sunshine

We moved on to the British Steel hide where a large roost of waders had assembled on the rear pool.  There were at least 700 Black-tailed Godwits as well as 210 Knot.  There were also c60 Wigeon.

The Wader Roost

Black-tailed Godwits, Shoveler & Teal

Checking out the estuary side we found 5 Greenshanks, 8 Little Egrets and a Peregrine.  A wonderful day and I look forward to getting out again if we can have more of this fine weather.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Crossley ID Guide to Britain & Ireland

When I was first shown a copy of Richard Crossley's ID Guide to Eastern Birds (that's American birds of course) I was both stunned and speechless.  Richard had certainly thought well outside the box in putting that award winning volume together.  Nevertheless it was different.  For a start the author has used photographs set against a background of the sort of habitat you are likely to see them in and encompassed as many attitudes and poses that he can of any given species.  He has also arranged the species in a different order which is a challenge for many of us who are more traditional.

The Barn Owl plate with Cley windmill in the background

Well now Englishman Richard has brought his successful format to the British Isles.  The book only covers 300 species but concentrates on those you are most likely to see if you go about your birding on this side of the Atlantic.  The plates are generally fantastic and the background really stimulating.  If you look carefully you may be able to identify some of them.  It must be a tricky business taking so many individual images and collating them to make up a meaningful scene.  Having said that the plates have been achieved quite well only one or two images look a bit wooden or maybe out of place.  One or two look a bit like the magnificent displays one used to see in the better natural history museums.  They do the job very well giving the reader an opportunity to look at a species in all its plumage as well as in flight.  One plate does amuse me no end.  Red-throated Pipit is placed against a background of a village cricket match with a plethora of the birds feeding on the edge.  As a keen cricketer until old age took over I would loved to have played on this ground as I have still never seen Red-throated Pipit in the UK.

Long-tailed Tit

The introduction deals with using the book and a section on how to be a better birder including the old fashioned but still essential practise of taking field notes when observing birds.  Richard and his co-author fellow Englishman Dominic Couzens continue throughout the volume to make life as easy as possible to identify the different species of birds. The various sections are very innovative and include Swimming Waterbirds, Flying Waterbirds, Walking Waterbirds, Upland Gamebirds, Raptors, Miscellaneous Larger Landbirds and Songbirds. A weird decision you might think but it works.

  The authors make it quite clear that this book is aimed at beginners.  If not for those just starting out on birding then also for people who struggle with the conventional guides and need more options to make sure they know what they are seeing.  It achieves this but as a seasoned birder of 70 years I can see why I would turn to this volume especially on matters of ageing and sexing species.  I cannot find much to criticise but I was disappointed to discover that quite a few of the distribution maps are inaccurate. For example no Ospreys are shown nesting in Wales, Curlew is not shown to nest in East Anglia and Common Gulls are not shown as nesting in Suffolk and there quite a few more. In addition I found the use of the BTO codes in place of complete names annoying.  I understand the authors reasons for using them but I do not believe they are as widely used amongst birders as they think.

Having said this with the new BTO Atlas just a month away it will not affect the use of this enterprising and barrier breaking book.  If you are just starting out birding you will love it and in my opinion if you have been birding for a while you will still find it very useful.  At £16.95 this is a snip. I am looking forward to using mine in the field.

The Crossley ID Guide Britain & Ireland
Richard Crossley & Dominic Couzens
ISBN 978-0-15194-6
304 pages, 310 colour plates and 250 distribution maps

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Freezing Northerly Wind

The temperature dropped 10 degrees today and the wind became very strong and cold.  Not much to report but  group of at least 20 Blackcaps moving through this morning.

Thanks again to Barry Stewart for identifying my giant grasshopper as an Egyptian Locust.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Working in the Garden

Large unidentified grasshopper

We had a few tasks around the house today so not many birds noted.  There seemed to be a passage of finches mostly Chaffinches and a few Meadow Pipits.  Local Black Redstarts kept us company.

Southern White Admiral

Insects were very obvious with butterflies very obvious.  I noted Clouded Yellow, Wall, Cleopatra, Large Tortoiseshell and a super Southern White Admiral.  Additionally I photographed a very large grasshopper and I have no idea what species it is.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Morning on the Marsh at Capestang

Central path at the marsh at Capestang.

I met up with five friends for a walk across the marsh at Capestang.  As we started off we had Bluethroats very much in mind as Janet one of our number had seen one here a few days earlier.  Arriving at a likely spot we were thrilled and amazed to find four of these delightful birds of which one at least was a White-spotted male.

Male White-spotted Bluethroat - photo by David Tomlinson
Moving one we stopped to look at an amazing Crayfish making its way slowly towards a ditch.

 We moved on hearing Cetti's Warblers singing noisily and flushed 6 Snipe and another Bluethroat. A bit further on a Green Sandpiper flew up and a Little Grebe was on open water.  Suddenly 6 Bearded Tits flew "pinging" in the reeds.

Male Bearded Tit
After this we began to pick up raptors overhead and after an hour of watching our total was 6 Common Buzzards, 5 Marsh Harriers, 4 Sparrowhawks, 4 Kestrels, 3 Red Kites, 3 dark phase Booted Eagles, Goshawk and a Hobby catching insects as it moved south.

Marsh Harrier
 Reaching the bend we noted our sixth Bluethroat and turned around.  Walking back we added 2 Great White Egrets, Common Redstart, c30 Teal and 4 Cormorants soaring high overhead.  A wonderful morning with great birds in good company.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Hare Brained

A bit more on my possible Mountain Hare a day or two back.  Roy Dennis has confirmed that his research suggests that the wild population from the Alps is still in decline so if my animal is what I think it is it is still a mystery.

Red-legged Partridge with leg ring.

Talking to friend Stuart Gregory he tells me that the local Red-legged Partridge population is augmented annually by massive releases just like Pheasants in the UK.  That would explain a photograph I have of a ringed Red-legged Partridge. At least the partridge is a native species.  Stuart has also been trying to establish two rabbit warrens on his land in conjunction with local hunters.  The main reason for this is to try and ensure plenty of prey for the local pair of Bonelli's Eagles.  Stuart has been amazed to hear that the rabbits will be obtained from breeders and he reckons that the stock may not be locally resourced or indeed pure wild stock.  It is therefore reasonable to assume that my Mountain Hare was part of a release and may have been a hybrid or indeed anything else.

Brown Hare

Possible Mountain Hare

I include photographs of my hare again and a Brown Hare for comparison.

A Few Raptors at Last

We went to have coffee with the Gregory family near St.Jean de Minervois and on our return saw a Short-toed Eagle battling south in a strong NW wind.  Reaching La Caunette mobbing Jackdaws drew our attention to 4 Common Buzzards and 3 Red Kites which we followed along the ridge almost to our house.

One today's Red Kites

Late afternoon a Common Buzzard flew over our garden and then unbelievably a Black Woodpecker again which land in the woods opposite our house.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Some Coastal Migration

The rain has disappeared when we woke so we decided to go to the coast in the hope that birds might be moving again.  Approaching Pissevache 5 White Storks appeared overhead and when we drove towards the coast we picked a superb pale phase Booted Eagle which sadly was always viewed looking into the sun producing a poor photograph.

Booted Eagle

We also noted a Hobby and 2 Alpine Swifts battling their way south.  Stopping at Pissevache we found 3 Marsh Harriers and a distant Osprey flying over La Clape.  We moved on to Gruissan and looked on the meadows at Le Petit Tournabelle.  Plenty of gulls and a few Little Egrets with a solitary Glossy Ibis.  The highlight was 10 Ruff.

Driving towards the Canal de Robine there were 70 White Storks feeding in a flooded field with lots of Black-headed Gulls and 5 Cattle Egrets.  We checked Mandirac where only 2 Great White Egrets were of note and when we retraced our steps the storks had increased to 106.

White Stork with undercarriage down

Part of the large flock of White Storks
I should also mention that we counted 17 Sparrowhawks during the day moving south. Heading back towards Narbonne we stopped to admire 2 Red Kites heading south.  This reminded us that we will soon be returning to Wales.

Britain's Day-flying Moths

I have just received a copy of Britain's Day-flying Moths the latest from WILDGuides and a credit to authors David Newland, Robert Still and Andy Swash.

These guides really are tremendous.  I picked up a copy of the Hoverflies in the same series at the BirdFair and thought how it might change my life.  I recently bought a new macro stabilised lens so I could photograph insects and I can see this latest volume being both a great stimulation and assistance.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth - one of my favourite day-flying moth species
This volume begins with introductory sections covering identification of moths rather than butterflies, classification, life cycle and behaviour, ecological importance, the impact of habitat and climate change, recording and monitoring and conservation.  There is also a helpful section on which habitats to search for these wonderful insects. In the species accounts excellent photographs illustrate the flying insect and there is copious text describing each one. In addition a table reveals the conservation status, where found, the flying period, forewing length and larval food plant.  Distribution maps also accompany each page.

At the back of the book there is a handy and usable checklist and a section on conservation and legislation.

Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth - one of the most beautiful day-flying moths.
This book is a must have for anyone interested in photographing and just learning about very visible moths in the daylight hours. Personally I cannot wait to get out and start using this book in the field.

I have already discovered that the bizarre white insects which look like a cross which occur on our windows here in France are in fact White Plumes.  I had not actually realised they were moths.

I should point out that the photographs in this review are mine and not from the book.

Britain's Day-flying Moths published by Princeton University Press
David Newland, Robert Still & Andy Swash
224 pages - 200 colour photos - 155 distribution maps

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Rain And A Robin


What a dreadful day!  Low cloud, persistent rain and almost darkness all day.  I lost hope of birds until a lull in the downpour over the lunch period.  Then a number of birds were seen feeding in the garden.  Three Cirl Buntings, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Sardinian Warblers, 3 Chiffchaffs, 6 Blackcaps and a Pied Flycatcher appeared.  In addition a splendid Robin came into view.  This species is a winter visitor here and this was the first of the autumn.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Trip Round The Hills and a Hare Raising Moment.

I was showing my friend Philippa around our area and as we left Montcelebre a male Sparrowhawk flew in front of the car carrying prey. We drove first to St.Jean de Minervois and then headed west.  We saw few birds until we reached the Boisset area.  A Peregrine appeared briefly overhead and a splendid Wheatear performed right in front of the car.

Northern Wheatear

Moving through Boisset we noted a Black Redstart on the church roof and stopped to admire the splendid display of Autumn Crocus.  At Bois Bas there was a family of 5 Stonechats and a single Common Redstart.  We finished up in Fauzan where we noted 3 Woodlarks and a female Ring Ouzel. Heading back a Short-toed Eagle was being mobbed by a Kestrel.

Mountain Hare
Mountain Hare
Just before dusk Beryl drew my attention to a hare which had just run up our drive and was standing near my car.  I was able to get a number of photos and although I knew it to be a hare I was puzzled because it did not look as big as a Brown Hare and had a white collar and all white tail.  Checking guides I am sure this is a Mountain Hare but in the only book I have it says they are only found in the Alps in France.  I have seen Brown Hare in this area but never this species before.  How did it get here?  There has been lots of hunting today so maybe it was frightened into the sanctuary of my garden.  Maybe hunters are releasing them for sport?  If anyone thinks I have got this wrong or knows more about their distribution in France please let me know.