Friday, 28 October 2011

'My' Cuckoo crosses the equator

Back in August, I sponsored one of the BTO's sattelite-tagged Cuckoos; I decided to sponsor Kasper since, at the time, he wasn't getting much attention.  Lyster was still in the UK, Clement was making waves by taking a westerly route through Iberia, and the other two birds – Martin and Chris – had taken what looked, on paper, to be exciting routes.  Kasper, on the other hand, had taken a seemingly boring route of straight lines down through Italy and into Africa.  In actual fact, though, this route had taken Kasper over the high Alps and across one of the widest stretches of the Sahara.  With knowledge of this, his route didn't seem so boring any more!

In another exciting addition to Kasper's journey, news came today that he has rocketed south from his last location and is now residing south of the equator.

In other Cuckoo news, Lyster – despite being the last Cuckoo to leave the UK – has now leap-frogged Clement and has headed south as far as Equatorial Guinea.  Both Martin and Chris are still in the Congo rainforest, whilst Clement has stayed in Nigeria.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Productivity Plummets

Portugal - day 5

Today we headed northeast to Parque de Natureza de Noudar, near Barrancos on the Spanish border.  The park was fantastic; well equipped for visitors and also with accommodation for those who wanted to stay in the area for longer.  It was also, in my opinion, the most breathtaking location we've visited this week as far as scenery goes.

Highlights from the park were varied and included an Otter in the river that marks the border with Spain and hundreds (if not thousands) of Crimson Speckled moths.  The biggest surprise, however, came from the skies with an unexpected White-rumped Swift.

Also at least one Black Vulture.

Crag Martins were extremely common and we also caught up with species such as Rock Sparrow and Cirl Bunting.

Part of the park's "being well equipped for visitors" includes golf buggies, which visitors can take out for the day to explore the trails.  We couldn't resist.

(Almost) sunset on our final full day in Portugal:

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Portugal - day 4

It's been another long but highly enjoyable day. We headed south, to Algarve, where we started with a boat trip. Highlights included a wide range of wader species, a Slender-billed Gull, and a some Fiddler Crabs.

Next we visited some salt pans where we found a a Caspian Tern and a flock of Audouin's Gulls and more waders.

At a second site, we came across Booted Eagle, a juvenile Little Tern, a juvenile Common Tern and several more Caspian Terns.

At Quinta do Largo pool we got good views of Purple Swamp-hen and a juvenile Littler Bittern, plus Pochard, a male Tufted Duck, Red-crested Pochard, and plenty of Azure-winged Magpies.

We finished the day at a fantastic little reserve, Castro Marim—a series of working salt pans in the very southwest corner of Portugal—before heading back to Mértola for dinner with the mayor...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Portugal - day 3

This morning started much as yesterday did, less the Azure-winged Magpies and with the addition of a Little Owl and a Blue Rock Thrush.
Red-rumper over breakfast

Then we stepped things up a gear (ha) and headed for... the steppes.

Again, I'm keeping this brief since we're only just back at the hotel after our evening meal and I'm quite keen to get off to bed.

Despite the 34 °C temperatures, the birding has once again been fantastic.  We started with another Black Vulture, Calandra Larks and good numbers of Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

Soon we came across four eagles in the sky above us; two Bonelli's and two Spanish Imperial!

Spanish Imperials make Bonelli's look like tiddlers...

Then we had excellent views of Great Bustard.
This is uncropped:
Damn autofocus!

And here's what (predictably) happened next:

Thankfully these birds were slightly more co-operartive, though they were more distant (this photo has been cropped):

Two Hen Harriers and some Little Bustards were soon added to the day list.

Here are the two species in the same photograph. You might have to trust me on the Little Bustard part:

Good numbers of Red Kite were seen over the day, after a bit of searching we managed to find a late Lesser Kestrel, and we finished the day with absolutely stunning views of an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle perched on the ground.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Portugal - day 2

Another brief update after a full day in the field.

We've just got back from a fantastic meal of traditional local food in a local restaurant—typical of all our meals so far on this trip.

A bit of pre-breakfast birding-from-the-balcony produced Azure-winged Magpie, Sardinian Warbler, irbii Long-tailed Tit, and Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows mixed in amongst the House Martins.

Highlights from today have been eight Great Bustards (all females), a Black Vulture along with 20 or so Griffon Vultures, immature Bonelli's Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, plenty of Thekla Larks, a Garganey, several Dartford Warblers, Blue Rock Thrush, lots of Iberian Grey Shrikes, and probably other things that I've forgotten to mention.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Portugal - day 1

So, here I am in Portugal.  I'll keep this brief since it's been a long day and my bed is calling.  I left a grey and drizzly Heathrow this morning along with Alan Tilmouth and two hours later I was in hot and sunny Lisbon.  We were met at the airport by João and José from the Mértola tourist board and ace birder João Jara from Birds & Nature then, along with Jan Södersved from Finnish birding magazine Linnut, we headed off to the Tagus Estuary to start as we meant to go on—birding.

We got off to an excellent start with massive numbers of White Storks, Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis and Greater Flamingos.

Also in the area were flocks of various waders, at least five Great White Egrets, and two Black-shouldered Kites.

After a spot of lunch, we headed to some small salt pans adjacent to the estuary; here we found large numbers of Kentish Plover, our first Black Redstart of the trip, and at least one Little Stint.

Nearby, at a fantastic private spot, we found three Ospreys, more Black-shouldered Kites (they soon went from  "wow look, Black-shouldered Kite" to "oh, it's only another Black-shouldered Kite"), a Peregrine, our first Spotless Starlings, and a small flock of Azure-winged Magpies feeding on what looked like an old bee's nest.

Next up, João J. took us to a spot on the edge of some farmland that turned out to be a veritable category C lister's dream.  In one ditch we had Black-headed Weavers (two males and a handful of female/juveniles), four Yellow-crowned Bishops (a moulting male and three female/juveniles), and more waxbills than you could ever have wished for.  Plus Great White Egret, Squacco Heron, Kingfisher, and more Black-shouldered Kites thrown in for those who like their birds a tad less... aviary.

Cat C overload

Weaver, Bishop & Waxbill - trusted solicitors since 1832

Then, a mere 90 minutes later we'd gone from coastal salt pans and feral finches to bustard county.  Admittedly it was after sunset and there wasn't any point in stopping—we're saving it for another day—but we did pick out some roadside Southern Grey Shrikes and more Azure-winged Magpies as we made our way to Mértola town, which is where we'll be based for this week.

So far, I'm extremely impressed with the birding that Portugal has got to offer—hopefully that will continue through the week!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

More mothy migrants

So whilst the team is leaping up and down to the window every few minutes to try and catch a glimpse of the Yellow-browed Warbler which still seems to be in the garden, or patrolling the lengths of the lonnens in the hope of a Wryneck or Red-breasted Fly, I've been finding migrants in a much more laid-back fashion.

I've set an MV Skinner each night we've been here, and amongst the plethora of attractive Red-line Quakers, I struck (rather modest admittedly) migrant gold. A Dark Sword-grass was a welcome addition to our moth list amongst commoner migrants such as Silver Y.
Dark Sword-grass
Also present in the trap were some striking Canary-shouldered Thorns, a dashing Green-brindled Crescent, a sprinkling of Lunar Underwings, some surely unseasonable Angle Shades and this rather winsome pair - Large and Small Wainscot. It certainly makes a change from the usual London fodder of Tree-lichen Beauties and Square-spot Rustics. 
Large and Small Wainscots
One of the up-sides of getting up relatively early to turn off the trap is witnessing the first fringes of dawn over the castle. I have to report I did go back to bed. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

Working away

We've swapped Acton for Holy Island this week. Highlight so far has been a Yellow-browed Warbler and a (potentially rarer on a local level) Great Spotted Woodpecker in the garden, and a female Hen Harrier hunting over nearby fields.
More to follow tomorrow, hopefully!