Friday 31 July 2009

Hope he makes it.

Thursday 30th July 2009

When a young Hedgehog no bigger than a Tennis ball appeared in my garden yesterday and was bullied by a couple of Magpies I just had to intervene. After seeing off the Magpies I found some mealworms in the kitchen ( we can always have chicken in tonights curry instead) which the Hedgehog ate with a relish. Jan wanted to put it in a cardboard box but thats where I drew the line. I'd done my bit, it would have to make it on its own from now on. If a migrant bird is found exhausted or a bird is clearly stunned from flying into a window is seems right to take them into care to protect them from predators while they recover. However that is an entirely different situation to 'collecting' weak and dying creatures and treating them like pets. Whatever, good luck to our little visitor.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Problems with wind


28th July 2009

Do you suffer from wind? I do, and I guess most birdwatchers are affected by it one way or another. It can be your best friend when it comes to carrying migrating birds to our shores or bringing pelaegic species to the landlocked counties of the Midlands. It can also be your worse enemy when your trying to keep your optics still and making your eyes water, or as happened to me today making it difficult to hear anything. I managed to get to Bentley Woods which is about as far as I can drive at the moment. The wind was getting up and whistling through the trees. I wouldn't be able to hear any Crossbills or anything else unless they were practically overhead.

As it happened the Crossbill flock (159) was quite noisey and quite close as the birds flew from one group of pines to another, so I didnt have too much trouble locating the flock. There about 20 birds, mostly males. They were also flighty and mobile soon flying off to an area of the wood with no access. I guess I was lucky as they didnt reappear for at least an hour while I looked for butterflies and moths along the paths. Found Small Copper and Painted Lady as well as the commoner species. There has been a large influx of Crossbill into the UK so they may well turn up in other local woods with pines, particularly if they have spruce and larch.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Garden Watch

Sunday 26th July 2009

Nothing to do with Bill Oddy, its what I've been reduced to for the last couple of days. I injured my back shifting some slabs in the back garden so I haven't been out and about much. Serves me right I should leave gardening to the Alan Titchmarsh types and stick to mowing the lawn and trimming the hedge but having said that I managed to trim the cable the trimmer was attached to so its back to the dark ages and cold steel. Garden watching can be good though just not very often. My garden list is quite good for an estate location, Pied fly and Woodcock being the highlights many years ago. Im lucky that Im surrounded by Bungalows on one side so I've got plenty of sky to look at. Usually theres just flocks of racing pigeons belting through, a couple of Woodpigeons are always around and a few assorted corvids. Theres been a small passage of gulls this morning and there are still Swifts about, very low as the cloud increases from the west and the temperature drops.
Anyway back to Garden watching, a Garden tick this morning about 6am, a Little Owl flew over, followed by a Grey Heron at a rather more sedate pace. Not quite as good as a few folks in Leicester though who can add Common Crane to their garden lists this morning.

Friday 24 July 2009

Talking Heads

Friday 24th July

Ok, I know now. 3 Thursday clubbers knew it was Talking Heads straight off. Mike - ex DJ and Gentleman raver, Twitcher Steve and Chairman Bruce.

Thursday 23 July 2009

'We're on the road to nowhere'

Wednesday 22nd July 2009
'We're on the road to nowhere' Who did sing that popular little ditty? I really should know that but my memory for such things is not what it should be. When I go to the brewery tonight I'll bet at least 4 of our little ensemble will know.
Anyway about yesterday. Decided to have a potter round Mill pool, Alvecote but didn't get very far before my pager told me I should be thinking about trying to get a lift to Kent. I put the notion to the back of my mind and continued to focus on the four Common terns circling round the pool in a strong wind. The pager messages continued. The Blue cheeked Bee eater was sitting in a bush, flying out to sea, showing well. The bird was clearly a bit flighty, best to stay in good old Warks. and look for a female/juv Marsh Harrier or as they call them in several other counties Black Kites.
The pager was playing with my mind as the Bee eater messages kept coming in. The bird was flighty but kept coming back to the same area. A guy called Dan from Staffs was offering a lift to Kent. Go for it. I met Dan Pointon on the M69 and we set off for the M1, M25 etc. Dan was in contact with a number of friends who were either already there or on route so we were pretty well informed on what was going on. As we drove through Northants the news was that the bird had gone missing. It had done this before so we decided to journey on. As we got to the M25 there was still no further sign so the fact that we were travelling at crawl speed didn't matter too much. When we did reach the Dartford tunnel the bird had not been seen for 2 hours so it seemed sensible ( if you can use that word regarding twitching ) to stop at Thurrock services and wait for news as well as avoid the long tailback of traffic going through the Dartford tunnel.
I think Thurrock services would confuse the most sophisticated of Sat. navs which might account for the fact that it wasn't particularly busy. Another reason might be the extortionate price of drinks: a small coffee £2.79, a small bottle of water £1.99. So we sat there not drinking coffee watching people imitating pythons as they hyper extended their jaws in trying to consume a Mega-burger without getting yellowy gunge on their best driving up and down the M25 outfits. Dan and I also talked about all things birding; people, twitches, suppression, even birds. At one point went along the South coast recalling the rare birds that had occurred at the various headlands but I think we drew a blank when we came to most of Sussex. I can remember not remembering where Winspit was/is. Anyway at 6.00pm we got back in the car and headed home. Cheers Dan, nice to meet you. As for the Blue cheeked Bee eater, its probably sitting on a dead branch of an Oak tree at Alvecote waiting for Roy to find it.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Saving our Songbirds

19th July 2009

My beer glass is usually half empty rather than half full which is supposed to make me a pessimist . What it really means is that I enjoy my beer. I do get pessimistic about the rapid decline in many of our birds populations though, amongst other things. Its easy to get depressed about the price of beer, politics, the state of the nation and Cricket but its the countryside I worry about most. Where are our Skylarks? Birds have given me so much pleasure since I were a lad, its sad that future generations will only enjoy many species as scarce vagrants rather than as part of our local wildlife. I must be careful not to sound like an RSPB leaflet.

I said yesterday I hadn't seen many birds, that wasnt true, I saw alot of Woodpigeons and Corvids and quite a few Swallows and a few Swifts. What I should have said was I didn't see or hear any Songbirds. It was fairly typical English farmland fields of Cereals, beans and Hay with hedgerows, ditches and scattered bits of woodland. There were good numbers of Butterflies mainly Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Whites but no Skylarks, Yellowhammers or Linnets.

I read an article in the Daily Mail yesterday by Robin Page, farmer and broadcaster discussing the reasons for the decline in Song bird populatons. Many are well documented such as changes in farming methods but he also cited the 'bunny hugging' mentality of many conservation bodies.
If we want biodiversity and balanced ecosystems we must address the issue of predation as well as creating more reed beds and putting up nest boxes.
Nobody likes to see animals injured but lets get real. I saw a piece on some TV programme last week which showed the work of an Wildlife hospital. The time, money and effort wasted on 'rescueing, Magpies, Crows, foxes and Grey Squirrels was beyond belief. Somebody thinks they're doing a great job in keeping a three legged fox alive in a cage for the rest of its life. Would they show the same compassion towards a rat. They're all 'vermin' species. All these predators take a huge toll of Song birds. Perhaps saving vermin species eases our consciences as we teararse round the country lanes mowing down rabbits and anything else that gets in our way. I'm not too worried about rabbits. Their breeding rate will ensure a healthy if fluctuating population. Its the supply of winter food their carcasses provide for predator and scavenger species that creates a problem. Robin Page pointed out that the populations of predator species such as Magpies, crows and foxes are being maintained at artificially high levels because of the smorgasbord of food on our roads during the winter months when normally only the strongest individuals would survive the lack of food. You only have to look in your back garden.The dominant species in my garden are Blackbirds, Magpies and Woodpigeon.
I rarely see a Song thrush or a Wren. Corn Buntings, Skylarks, Turtle doves and Grey Partridges have declined dramatically in North Warwickshire in recent years. They may soon become extinct unless we take steps to improve their habitat and control predation with actions based on fact and common sense rather than 'bogus sentimentality' and emotion.

Saturday 18 July 2009

A quiet day - not a Skylark to be heard !

Wasp Beetle

Common white wave

18th July 2009

A walk around Birchley Heath and Bentley Woods produced very little this morning. A presumed female Sparrowhawk stooped from a great height but no sign of the Raven seen the previous day. A couple of Common White Wave Moths and a Wasp Beetle were the more obvious representatives of the insect world.

Monday 13 July 2009

Cyprus - June 2009



Troodos mountains

Bush fire



Collared Pratincole

Jan and I had booked a non birding holiday in Cyprus. No scope no camera, but we both took our bins. Migration would be over so it would be a nice relaxing break. 'Wasnt it about here you saw that Pallid Swift' said Jan, as we drove from the airport. 'Pallid Harrier dear, Pallid Harrier' I replied. We started to reminise as we drove the short distance to our usual hotel in Paphos. Nothing had changed just a couple of new faces at the reception desk, but everything else was the same. I always feel very at home in Cyprus
Over the next 14 days we visited all the places we were familiar with. Agios Georgious on the Akamas peninsular is a favourite but we were horrified to see a huge area fenced off for development. They really are doing their best to ruin the place as bit by bit the coastline is covered with concrete. On the fringes of the Akamas it really is a case of Paradise Lost. We were to find other examples of prime birding habitat being lost to property development.
On day two we went to the north coast to Latchi and then on to Smyllies trail (its spelt differently on every sign you see) via the village of Neo Chorio. There are some lovely walks around this part of the Akamas but again new villas and complexes are springing up on the edge of the forest. It was surprisingly hot for early June but we did manage a new short nature trail starting from the picnic area. Not many birds but plenty of Butterflies, mainly Great banded Graylings. We did hear a Long eared Owl at the picnic site and heard Black Francolin near Latchi. We saw a few more species as we drove back through the countryside. Rollers were numerous on the wires but only one Shrike, a single Lesser grey Shrike. Other birds included Red rumped Swallow, Swallow, Ortolan, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Cyprus Wheatear and Hoopoe.

We enjoyed alot of short walks over the next few days as I adapted to non birding mode and gradually became more relaxed. I still kept my eyes open though and was delighted to find a pair of Calandra Larks at Mandria as Jan enjoyed the last rays of the evening sun on a quiet bit of beach. Mandria, an area of rich agricultural land next to the sea is a migration hotspot in the spring but again is beginning to suffer from the property developer. On another visit to Mandria beach we found a very confiding Collared Pratincole which I attempted to photograph with Jan's compact camera. Despite the new housing estates there are still a good number of bird friendly fields and to be honest an increase in greenhouses and polytunnels might pose a greater threat. We'll see. Other birds seen at Mandria : Stone Curlew and Turtle Dove c20

The highlight of this non birding holiday in a birding sense was a trip to Troodos. The wooded slopes and peaks around the village were alive with birds, many of the woodland species being endemic to Cyprus. Birds seen on non birding walk along 'Atalantie Nature trail: Jay, Pallid Swift, Common Swift, Coal tit, Wren, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Spotted Flycatcher, Short toed Treecreeper, Cyprus Wheatear, Black Redstart, Masked Shrike, Crossbill, Serin, Swallow and House Martin. A Scops Owl called close by but kept well out of sight. The most remarkable sighting though was of Eygptian Vulture seen well, low over the trees but for just a few seconds. A very rare bird in Cyprus, unheard of in June! I'll submit the record but I know it will never be accepted but I know what I saw.
So a good day, goodness knows what we'd have seen if we had been birdwatching.
On the way back along the Motorway we stopped to watch a Bush fire. Luckily the sea was close so the four helicoptors could fill their water buckets very quickly. Just as well with the strong wind blowing the flames towards a housing development in the hills. The helicoptors were amazingly accurate in dropping each load of water, quite dramatic to watch.
Later in the week we visited Kourion a Roman settlement on the way to Limassol. Very interesting and very cultural I'm sure but it doesn't do a lot for me. Having already visited the Roman ruins/mosaics on the virtually birdless Paphos headland I was in danger of suffering an overdose of Roman archeology. We had a quick non birding drive to Phasori reed beds to allow me to recover but no water no birds except a few Cattle Egret. And a quick non birding stop at Zakaki pool which did have water and where we happened to notice a few birds : Whiskered Tern c10, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Black headed Wagtail, Moorhen, Coot and two Green Sandpiper. On the way back we had to stop for a juvenile Great spotted Cuckoo on the road.

Another walk took us from Agious Georgious to Lara bay. A few Alpine swifts flew over the island and a small flock of Linnets fed on the scrub behind the beach. Yellow legged gulls flew aimlessly up and down the shore. Sardinian warblers showed on the stubby bushes. We enjoyed a coffee at the Lara beach cafe but there was no sign of any Turtle 'nests' which are supposed to occur here. We did find evidence of Turtles on the way back though. Metal frames had been erected to protect the eggs but it seemed a rather half hearted effort and a few people were sun bathing or even parking their 4x4s very close to the mounds.
We tried walking around Anarita Park but the tracks and paths we tried to follow usually petered out but we did notice Spectacled, Fan tailed and Sub alpine warblers as well as Corn Bunting on our wanderings.
We revisited Smyllies trail and Jan spotted a Chameleon on the edge of the track. It was the first one I'd ever seen. It did just what it says on the tin. Changing colour completely as it moved from some dead leaves to green grass.A little further on a bird flew up from the track ahead of us, either a Green Sandpiper or a Black winged Pratincole!! I'll say no more.

For a non-birding holiday it had been full of interest for both of us.

The Tame flows on

13th July 2009

Very gradually getting back into local birding more for a bit of exercise than expecting to see much. Picked up Spotted Flycatcher for the year at a site near Atherstone but missed out on a Quail which was heard also near Atherstone. I visited Kingsbury W.P. last Friday, - that place depresses me. Its going down hill fast. It was full of kids when I went. I've nothing against most kids, and I think Outdoor Pursuits is real education but not next to a Nature reserve. Fishers mill was a bit desolate too just one Green Sandpiper and a Little Egret. A Lesser Whitethroat showed well along the canal but where have all the Common terns gone?
Next day I had a wander round Mill pool, Alvecote. Little Egret and a few Sedge warbler were about it. Loads of Butterflies though plus Roy and Adam flitting about.
Today I started at Middleton and walked to the north pit at Drayton Bassett. 2 Green Sandpipers were on Middleton Lake and another one at Fishers Mill. I was surprised how much bird song there was Reed warblers everywhere, Whitethroats, Garden warblers, Blackcaps and Linnets were all in good voice. The north pit was busy with gulls and a couple of noisy Oystercatcher. Best birds of the walk were a couple of juvenile Hobby.

Sunday 12 July 2009

Almost done

The group - first day

Im actually very happy, just knackered


Lunch somewhere else



Grasshopper sp

Snake charmer

Same Tortoise 10 minutes later

The group - last day

'Underlay' factory

Silver studded Blue

Southern White Admiral

Black eyed Blue

Pine Chafer

Bath White

Southern Comma

Praying Mantis

Nine spotted Moth

Queen of Spain Fritillary

You'll be delighted to see there are a few more images from Turkey yet, mainly insects but a few group shots and the odd tortoise!

Friday 10 July 2009

Two to go

Honey Buzzard
Our Coach

Tawny pipit

Crimson winged finch

Citrine wagtail

Citrine wagtail


Black Redstart -Phoenicurus semirufus

Long legged Buzzard

Our Turkish friends

Lesser spotted Eagle

Horned Lark

Horned Lark

Grey necked Bunting

Grey necked Bunting

Extinct volcanoes and lava flows

Mount Ararat

Day 14

This was to be our last full day of Birding, after a night I would never want to repeat, probably brought on by a combination of Sun stroke, poor hygiene and salad. Anyway I was determined to get up next morning as there were still two birds I desperately wanted to see. So I sat quietly in the the bus and hoped. Chris had given me a rehydration powder and I'm sure it helped a lot.

Anyway we were to on the road to Iran passing convoys of car transporters full of French and Asian cars. We were heading for the Caldiran plains. Our first bird of the day was a Honey Buzzard sitting on a roadside rock- a photo opportunity not to be missed. I must thank the driver at this point for allowing me to use his head as a tripod as Vaughan and I took advantage of the only open window on the bus, the drivers.

We stopped at a rocky outcrop next to some pools. To my relief there was not going to be much walking involved in today's birding as we were told to sit down and wait for the birds to come down to the pools to drink. There were clearly birds about Tawny pipit, Crimson winged Finch, Snowfinch, Black Redstart, Rock Thrush, Citrine Wagtail, Linnet, Twite, even a juvenile Common Rosefinch but not the bird we wanted.

I happened to be standing next to Vaughan when he spotted our quarry.'Mongolian Finch'! A pair of Mongolian finches were at the waters edge under the bank next to me. I just had time to get my bins on them and they were off. It was nice to get such close views but I would have liked to study the birds for a bit longer. The rest of the group had to wait rather longer but I think everyone was rewarded in the end, and I did get a much longer look as well thanks to Christine who found a pair displaying on the far side of the water.
A pair of Black Redstart on the edge of the lava field were interesting. Clearly a different race to the photogenic bird that wintered at Coleshill, Warks. This bird showed more characteristics of the Middle eastern race, semirufus, than the Turkish race.

I was feeling remarkably well considering the previous night but it just goes to show the therapeutic qualities of Birding. Trips to the Scillies on the N.H.S. - there's a thought.

I wasn't going to have any lunch but when I got back to the coach Yeltsin was Bar b queing lamb.
The smell was wonderful. Despite the the gastric upheavals of the previous night and the possible consequences I couldn't resist. It was great, no bread no salad just mountain lamb, best lunch of the trip!

The birding was not quite over as we also had amazing overhead views of a Steppe Eagle as well as more Short toed Eagles and Long legged Buzzards.

After lunch we drove on to the Ishakpasa Palace near Dogubayazit. Soner led us to a hillside above the palace where he eventually located a Grey necked Bunting. Vaughan played the magic tape and the bird responded well giving us all good views. We drove on past the amazing lava flows from Mount Tendurek to our final hotel at Dogubeyazit under the shadow of the impressive snow covered Mount Ararat, a few kilometres from the border with Iran. The following morning we drove to Van to pick up a flight to Istanbul and from there back to London.

So that was it. What a triumph, I'd seen 210 species on the trip plus a few more Id only heard. That included 20 new species which far exceeded expectations. I'd met some great people and had a load of interesting experiences. This is noway an advert for Birdfinders but we had been very well led throughout and the team at the front of the bus Vaughan, Soner, Yeltsin and the driver had coped with everything Turkey could throw at us with a 'joke' or a laugh never very far away. Thankyou.

In conclusion I would add that no living creatures were injured as a result of this Blog. Mosquitoes dont count as several suffered summary executions and the mechanic in charge of brakes at the depot our coach came from should seriously consider his position.