Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Cairngorm Birding ... Snow Bunting ... Scottish Crossbill ... lots of Goldeneye

Walking through the mist high up on the Cairngorm plateau not far from Ben Macdui and the sound of singing Snow Buntings came through the still air ... with visibility at around 100m there was nothing in sight ... then as the cloud cleared a little a male Snow Bunting cut a ghostly figure perched on a flat boulder and performing occasional low song flights ending in a little glide back down ...


... and just a moment later the air cleared to reveal this smart bird ...



... before more cloud piled in to close down visibility again ...

Goldeneye were present on almost all the water bodies we looked at ... the River Spey, small and large Lochs ...

... these young juveniles were on a small Loch who's water level was severely down ...


... and two adult females consorted regularly in a quiet spot along the shore of Loch Morlich where we stayed ...



... the all dark bills indicating non-breeding state ...



The low woodlands were teeming with Siskins and Crested Tits were widespread ...

In the Abernethy Forest in a small stand of scots pines a group of crossbills including adults and juveniles fed while constantly giving 'excitement calls ' ... largely hidden in the thick foliage they showed occasionally through the gaps ...




... the head shape was not the typical domed shape of Common Crossbill, rather the crown was flattish ...



... the bill shape was robust, rather elongated but not that of Parrot Crossbill ...


... the sonograms confirmed their identity as Scottish Crossbills ...








Book Review : Wilding by Isabella Tree (The return of nature to a British farm)



As soon as I received this newly published book I recognised the author's name - I had read her account of the life of John Gould ( The Bird Man : 2004 ) a decade ago and remembered finding it an absorbing and fascinating read.

Then as I was about to start on the book I got a message recommending that I read it ! ... this does not happen every day ... I could hardly wait !

The book tells of the 'rewilding' of a large estate farm in Sussex.  Significantly, the word 'rewilding' has been avoided and this is for the very good reason that this project has not attempted to recreate a wild landscape according to the model of an imagined past - rather, it is based on the idea that a new equilibrium will be established once the land has been freed from the influence of insecticides, herbicides, artificial fertilisers and the interventionist hand of man.

The author in the first chapter recounts meeting Ted.  From him she describes learning about the complex ecology of oak trees.  This sets a nicely anecdotal tone that introduces a whole gamut of fascinating information about the oak.  It tells of the unwitting damage that is often done to these trees by inappropriate farming practices.

Then each chapter unfolds in discussing sometimes processes like the introduction of grazing animals and sometimes the way in which such scarce and declining species as Nightingales and Turtle Doves have recolonised the land simply because it has been left to establish whatever form of wildness happens once human interference is removed.

The writing style is wonderfully lucid and engaging.  I never once found myself having to re-read a sentence to get the meaning of it ( so often I have to do this with some well respected writers ).  And I was constantly enthralled by the emerging story that each chapter tells - while at the same time I was picking up a plethora of related information thrown in along the way.

The central message of the book is one of letting nature find its own balance once it is allowed to do so.  The author contrasts this approach with the frequently adopted conservation schemes designed to create what is seen as the ideal habitat for a particular species to inhabit.  She interestingly points out that conservationists will often mistakenly assume that the habitat where a declining species is found is its preferred habitat rather than the one that it has in desparation been forced to retreat to.

The book is a remarkable tale of how an economically failing farm was made viable by relinquishing conventional farming strategies.  And in addition to the farm's economic salvation, wildlife has benefitted hugely.

While rejoicing in the burgeoning wildlife on this estate, it is as well to remember that the project is largely propped up by agri-environmental funding currently under the umbrella of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.

Let us hope that in a post-Brexit world the government of the day will be sufficiently enlightened as to fund poor quality farmland for the benefit of wildlife.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Whinchats in the sunshine ... Geltsdale Reserve ... a singing Grasshopper Warbler ...

July is not renowned for its high level of passerine activity ... but it was all happening this morning ...


Whinchats were active and vocal in the warm sun with only a pleasantly light breeze ...




... and performing occasional display flights against the azure sky ...







... a Mistle Thrush perched on a wire and watched me walk by ...


... Reed Buntings were singing just everywhere ...


... and Chiffchaffs fed in the low canopy ...


... while a Willow Warbler sang lazily from a bush in between sessions of preening ...


Lesser Redpolls zipped back and forth over the alders but were less obliging for the camera than other species ...


... but a Grasshopper Warbler showed unexpectedly well as it reeled from a bracken frond ...




A few days ago a fly by Osprey was a welcome addition to my garden list ...





Thursday, 21 June 2018

A slow jaunt through France ... back to the north French coast and across The Channel ... Part 5

Part 5   Barfleur and Cherbourg to Poole

On arriving at Barfleur on the Normandy coast in mid-June it was grey and murky with temperatures in the low teens ... a Corn Bunting sang doggedly and a Common Whitethroat managed some phrases ... on the high tide a couple of breeding plumage Dunlins probed along the tide wrack along with about ten Tundra-type Ringed Plovers ...

The coastline generally offered lean pickings although the fishing harbour was attracting a hundred or two large white-headed gulls ... these were almost entirely Herring Gulls but among them, a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull ...


... whereas most of the gulls were intent on probing among the seaweed and scattered dead fish ...


... the Yellow-legged Gull spent its time either walking around or standing still ... it joined an adult Herring Gull for a while ...


... and also a first-summer Great Black-backed Gull ...


... but was largely solitary ...


... until flying off on its own ...


The ferry crossing was quiet ... only one or two Fulmars, Kittiwakes and a few Gannets passing by ... although one stayed with the ship for a few minutes ...



... and within a mile or so of the English coast a small party of Manx Shearwaters flew across the bow ...



Then back on home soil ...

The lasting impression of the trip was one of having had quite a comprehensive experience of the many species that occur in southern Europe and that we encounter only rarely ( if at all ) in Britain ... Bonelli's Warblers, Rollers, Crested Larks ... and so on ... no new species for me but an in-depth look at some lovely birds ...

While looking through the gulls at Barfleur, where there were four species of large white-headed gull ( Great and Lesser Black-backed where present also ) I pondered on the situation on the Mediterranean coast with its one species ... it was great seeing Yellow-legged Gulls and having good views of different age groups but there was only that one species ....




Wednesday, 20 June 2018

A slow jaunt through France ... and into Spain ... Thekla Lark, Alpine Swift,Red-rumped Swallow ... Part 4

Part 4

Across the border into NE Spain

The juxtaposition of rocky headlands and coastal marshes makes for rich birding habitats ... the Cap de Creus which has been very creditably saved from Club Med developments is an exciting area  ...  one of the iconic species there is Thekla Lark ... the song came from a little rocky summit amid the vast almost bare landscape of rock with a few vegetated gullies ...



... the quality of the song was very different from the piping wistful notes of Crested Lark and had more of a chattery nature ... The dense breast streaking and darker mantle colour stood out ... then a short low song flight ...


... Blue Rock Thrushes were also present in this ideal habitat for them ... but a pair of Red-rumped Swallows put in an all too brief appearance as they disappeared over a ridge ... equally tricky were some Alpine Swifts around the lighthouse ...


... along with Pallid Swifts ...



The dunes near San Pere Pescador ( also well protected by extensive roped-off sections ) held good numbers of Crested Larks ...


... so much sandier in colour than the Theklas and performing higher song flights ...



... this area had pools where Black-winged Stilts showed nicely ...


The most exciting wetlands nearby are at the reserve of Aiguamolls d'Emporda ... here White Storks breed with about ten nests easily visible ...



... and the Nightingales were equally as confiding and showy as at Collioure ...



... and a Melodious Warbler was less wary than those in France ...



... the fields that only a few decades ago had been rice paddies now held a wealth of wetland species ... and good numbers of Black-winged Stilts were on nests ...


... while some fledglings were alread making their way in the world ...



... Glossy Ibises fed in drier areas ...


... a few migrant Whiskered Terns lingered ...


... as did a couple of 1st-Summer  Little Gulls ...



... feeding adult Flamingo ...


... and immature ...


were remarkably confiding ...

The larger water bodies attracted some herons ... this Night Heron put in a brief appearance ...


... a Great White Egret flew in ...



... and the only Spoonbill of the trip showed its bill for a few seconds before resuming a roosting position ...


... a Marsh Harrier was seen off by ever vigilant Black-winged Stilts ...


An afternoon walk to the Etang Europa part of the reserve initially seemed less productive but proved to be worthwhile as the drier habitat yielded calling Stone Curlews and singing Corn Buntings ...



... the Cattle Egrets were doing their archetypal thing ...


... and gave some nice views ...




... the Yellow Wagtails were similarly white in the throat to those in the Gruissan area but showed even weaker supercillia, with none in front of the eye ... perhaps these had more of a cinereocapilla influence in their genes ...


... some Bee-eaters hawked over a cereal field, perching sometimes on the tamarisks ...


... around some derelict farm buildings a flock of about twenty Monk Parakeets fed noisily but posed nicely on fences ...


... in contrast with earlier birds that had called from palm trees but remained hidden ...


... a Purple Heron flapped its elegant way by ...



Heading a little way inland to Garriguella we stayed for a few days in the hospitable company of Charles-Etienne and Christine at their Mas hidden away in the rolling hills amid olive groves and the occasional small vineyard ...
... a Short-toed Eagle circled over a ridge and Sardinian Warblers chattered away in the bushes while more distant Bonelli's Warbles sang from the taller trees ...
Hoopoes sang from outside the bedroom window at dawn ...


... before the breakfast of exquisite scrambled eggs and fruit prepared by Christine, a Subalpine Warbler flitted briefly from a bush and a Raven croaked ...

... as we walked the tracks that criss-crossed the little hills a Goshawk sailed into view and quickly departed ... a Cirl Bunting sang its rattly song ... and Hoopoes duetted ... 

... before an excellent dinner of barbecued fish produced by Charles-Etienne, along with lovely accompanying dishes by Christine, a flash of yellow was a male Golden Oriole flying up from feeding on one of the terrace areas ...

... after some territorial confrontation one of the Hoopoes resumed its perch on the eucalyptus tree ...


... we were sorry to have to collect our van from the olive grove and head north ...