Sunday 12 November 2017

Old Bolingbroke Dec 2015-Nov 2017

After just shy of two years in our little cottage in a little village in Lincolnshire, we have moved out and we're both back up north in Preston. 
Prior to Danni getting a job in October 2015 at Operation Wallacea, I had never really even heard of Old Bolingbroke. Little did I know that it would be the village where Danni and I got our first home together and where I would learn how to be a dog owner and a place to where I'd fall in love with it. 

Our house was called Middle Cottage which was built in 1920 and was a tiny cottage in a row of three terraces. It was certainly not the most sophisticated of houses, but had an awful lot of character with interior walls made of mud and horsehair, more autumnal spiders than a garden shed and temperature extremes that causes no sleep during the summer and the necessity of coal fire in winter.

I managed to complete one full season and one half complete season of Patchwork Challenge in and around Old Bolingbroke with 115 species seen in 2016 and a further 5 species added in 2017. Highlights included (most recently) a male Hen Harrier flying east high over Bolingbroke Castle being mobbed by corvids, several records of Water Rail in the castle moat, at least three pairs of Turtle Dove breeding in the village, Osprey and several Red Kite sightings. Probably my most prized sighting of the two years came from a very small pond to the immediate south of the village which held a female and two drake Common Scoter in April 2016. 
Three Common Scoter
During 2017, I basically moved away from Old Bolingbroke as early as March when I got a job based in Warrington, but did go back as much as I could to visit Danni and also make sure the house was lived in whilst Danni was away. I therefore wasn't able to get as much birding done in 2017 as I'd have liked, but did get out when I could. 

Bolingbroke also saw me get back into all things ecology and I regularly trapped moths in the garden recording 240 species including five species of hawkmoth. 

I also recorded 18 species of butterfly, 19 species of mammal of which five were bats, 8 species of Odonata and 5 spcecies of Reptiles/Amphibians. Highlights from this included Harvest Mouse (lifer) and Great Crested Newts in my garden, Water Vole in a stream close to the house and several sightings of Grass Snake. 

For anyone that has followed me on Twitter or visited my house, you will know I have an interest in aviation which grew exponentially whilst living in Lincolnshire. It's difficult not to be interested when you live so close to the heart of Bomber Command history from World War 2. Old Bolingbroke is next door to East Kirkby, the home of NX611 Just Jane, a taxiing Lancaster Bomber. It is only ten minutes drive from Coningsby, the home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with the only flying Lancaster Bomber in Europe as well as being home to 3, 11, 29 and 41 squadrons of the RAF operating Eurofighter Typhoons. Eurofighters became a big love of mine whilst living there and I'm most of the way to completing the set of all Eurofighters made for the RAF with about 80% seen to date. The real attraction to this part of Lincolnshire is of course the Dambusters however with everywhere having some great history including Woodhall Spa only 25 minutes drive and Scampton an hour away. The history was not far away though with the house next door to Danni's office being a former home of Guy Gibson during the latter stages of the war. 

I was slightly upset to leave Lincolnshire on the birding front because, although I did some fantastic birding during my time there, I don't feel I did the county justice with not too much time spent at Gib Point and only a handful of visits to Donna Nook. Whilst there though, I managed 200 species with highlights within Lincolnshire being Caspian Tern, Siberian Stonechat, Black-winged Stilt, Rough-legged Buzzard, White-rumped Sandpiper, 2 Broad-billed Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Pallas's Warbler, White-billed Diver, Ring-necked Duck and of course Western Swamphen! I also managed to find a Rose-coloured Starling, Smew and most recently I managed to do the impossible and find some Hawfinch in inland Lincolnshire!

It has been a fantastic two years in Lincolnshire and it's somewhere Danni and I will always cherish to have lived. What a wonderful place to have as a first home and I will always remember it for being the place where I realised I wanted to ask Danni to marry me. 

Thank you Middle Cottage!

Wednesday 31 May 2017

Iberian-type Chiffchaff - Kelsall, Cheshier - 31st May 2017

 After work this afternoon, I popped down to Kelsall, Cheshire to have a look at the reported probable Iberian Chiffchaff. It was singing on arrival and certainly sounded the part. It did several bursts of classic Iberian-type song, although after a while on site it began to mix collybita chiffchaff song into its repertoire eventually coming out with collybita/ibericus/collybita/ibericus etc bursts. The call is something that's worrying me as all I heard was about 50 collybita-like 'hueets' and not a single 'reed bunting'-like 'seeoo'. I don't know how variable Iberian Chiffchaffs are in call, but I don't think that's the best indicator for a pure bird if an ibericus at all
Physically, I thought it looked very good. Almost half way between Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. It was bright, with blotchy lemony throat, lemony rump, bright yellow undering coverts at the carpal, bright supercillium with slight kink behind the eye, all pale lower mandible, dark brown (not black) legs, quite long wings and obviously pale rump contrasting with the mantle. 

I am not experienced enough to say either way, but I do personally think it has Iberian genes, but maybe not a pure bird.

Monday 8 May 2017

Norfolk! - 7th May 2017

Norfolk is fantastic. I've always wondered what the big deal is with Norfolk. I know it's had a wonderful history, but in recent years, it hasn't really outshone the surrounding counties like the reputation suggests. However, yesterday Danni and I spent the day in Norfolk and it really was like birding abroad.
We started off at Hickling lifering Savi's Warbler which is a bird I've wanted for a good few years and one that was really top of my list for targets for 2017. I managed a couple of views of it in flight and very briefly perched, but managed to hear is singing well on and off for a couple of hours. A really cool, powerful song. Also here, Common Crane, Spoonbill, Bittern and several Bearded Tits and singing Grasshopper Warblers.

Onto Potter Heigham Marshes, we were not expecting this to be so excellent. It was like one of the best looking wet marshes you can think of in Spain and it held 2 Black-winged Stilts we observed mating, Curlew Sandpiper, 5 Wood Sandpiper, 2 Grey Plover, Greenshank, Turnstone, 2 Spoonbill, Little Ringed Plovers, lots of Ruff, Dunlin, Avocet and Ringed Plover. In addition gosling Egpytian Geese, Greylag Geese and a Short-tailed Field Vole provided some cuteness

Next, onto Titchwell where there wasn't really all that much, but we couldn't help but pay homage to the legendary Red-crested Pochards on Patsy's Pool. The highlight of the day meant we left Titchwell quickly to head to Holme Nature Reserve. An adult male Red-breasted Flycatcher showing remarkably well in the car park and performing to the assembled crowd. My fourth Red-breasted Flycatcher and my first male. What a bird! What a place! What a day!

Friday 28 April 2017

Mallorca birding - 18th-23rd April 2017

Tuesday 18th- Sunday 23rd April 2017

Flights, accommodation and car were booked through flying out on the afternoon of the 18th with Ryanair from Manchester-Palma. We arrived late evening after sunset and picked up our brand new Skoda Fabia from RecordGo rental cars at the airport. In the past, my friends and I have struggled to rental cars abroad due to only having debit cards and most companies require (or at least used to) credit cards for the allowance of the excess insurance. This was not a problem with RecordGo and it all went smoothly. They take out c£55 worth of Euros to cover a tank of fuel which you can choose to fill up or leave it and they will give you back the difference. As it proved, we only used half a tank which cost £30, so we’d advise leaving the fuel for them to fill up. The total holiday package came to £260 each with an extra £150 on food and fuel etc. 

Books and information used:

Finding Birds in Mallorca by Dave Gosney. I’ve used his books in the past and due to their compact size and weight, they’re very useful. This is also as recent as 2012 and gives a British birder’s perspective on birding abroad. For the two main sites we visited, it essentially couldn’t have been more accurate. Very much worth the money.
The Birdwatching Guide to Mallorca by  John King – This also proved very useful, albeit somewhat out of date being 22 years old. The list of birds at the back as well as tourist information, other wildlife information and most importantly, the advice to drive up to the mountains before 8am to avoid the cyclists proved invaluable.

Tuesday 18th April – Flights from Manchester with Ryan Air 17:05 and landing at Palma c20:45. Picked up hire car and drove along the Ma-13 (the main motorway) to Alcudia which took about 40 minutes. For the duration of the trip we stayed at BelleVue club resort in Alcudia in the self-catering building blocks which proved to be a useful location with some nice restaurants, but the room itself left a lot to the imagination. If you’re intending on long days with early starts, this probably isn’t the place for you as the walls are thin and we were kept awake until 04:30 one night.

Wednesday 19th April – We arrived at s’Albufera nature reserve car park (next to English bridge) at 07:30, headed along the access track to the visitor centre and then turned north, heading over the canal bridges along the northern track to the power station. We then came back to the visitor centre and did the track loop to the south viewing the Sa Roca pools. Following this, we moved to the Es Cibollar pools north of the canal where we spent most of our time and finally walked west to the raptor observation tower.  After a quick stop back in Alcudia for some lunch and a rest, we headed to the old salt pans of Ses Salinetes just north of C’an Picafort and walked along the track to the top of Depuradora de S’Illot.

Thursday 20th April – Our focus for the day was the Formentor peninsular with the first stop being the Boquer Valley. We spent most of the morning here arriving just after 07:45 (an Irishman was coming out of the valley as we arrived having seen nothing at all, so maybe wait for the sun to come up). The winds on the 20th were really strong North Easterlies, so the SW-NE running Boquer Valley proved hard work, as did the peninsular. We walked all the way to the northern end of the valley for the main target – Balearic Warbler – and then came back, spending some time at the Casada Boquer (the castle like building by the car park) looking for migrants. Next we headed up the single road to the Formentor peninsular and stopped at the first obvious Mirador with a car park. At this point, the cyclists were already out in force, so driving was slow. Strong winds made birding and even standing very difficult, but we persevered and carried on, whilst dodging cyclists and buses. We got as far as the Mirador at Km 16.8 (page 18/19 in the Gosney book) and did a quick sea watch before giving up on the cyclists and heading back to Port de Pollenca. Having some lunch here next to Hotel Pollenca park, we checked the beach for Audouin’s Gulls and then called it a day.

Friday 21st April – We set off at 07:00 and arrived at Cuber Reservoir (in very cold conditions) just after 08:00. We walked anticlockwise around the reservoir because the cold temperature and very much shaded southern side of the reservoir made us believe the sunnier patches to the north would attract more migrants earlier on. The wind had dropped significantly, but there was still a chill in the air. We spent almost all morning here stopping off on the way home at mirador overlooking the Torrent de Pareis (Gosney page 24, note 5). Late afternoon we checked the C’an Cuarassa tracks to the south of Port de Pollenca and finally had a good look just after dusk at the Hotel Pollenca and the park by the Guardia Civil building unsuccessfully looking for Scops Owl.

Saturday 22nd April – Our three main site targets were out the way, so we arrived at s’Albufera again, though slightly earlier. The wind had dramatically dropped and the heat was noticeable, even earlier on. We spent more time around our favourite areas from the first visit, namely the Es Ciboller pools, Sa Roca pools and the northern end of Ses Puntes track. We then headed to Depuradora de S’Illot taking the first exit at both roundabouts at C’an Picafort and turning right at the bus depot. We ended the birding at Tucan marsh at the northern end of Alcudia.

Sunday 23rd April – We had to leave for the airport at 06:30 meaning no birding was done, but the drop off of the rental car was very easy and check in to the Easyjet flight home was very smooth.


S’Albufera: This is a real gem of a site and reminds me a lot of Aiguamolls de l’Emporda in Costa Brava. The gates and in fact reserve are open from 8am-6pm in April-October. There is however a gap in the wall to the left of the gate which can be used and we ran into a few staff before 8am and we had no problems, so I guess it’s quite well known us Brits love a dawn. Do stop in at the Visitor Centre though for a free permit. This helps them gauge numbers and presumably helps the conservation through funding of the site. The site itself holds 800 pairs of Moustached Warbler and is supposed to be one of the most reliable sites in Europe for them. On the first morning, it was quite windy and we didn’t have a single sight or sound of Moustached Warbler with just one Sedge Warbler heard. Walking along the access track, you’ll come across the sound of Fan-tailed Warbler ‘zitting’ to the left and the ‘underwater trumping’ of Little Egrets, Cattle Egrets and Night Herons in the colony across the channel as viewed from the left bend in the track going over the bridge. As you go over the bridge, you’ll see the Ses Puntes track running south. On the first visit, it was windy here, but this was the only time we saw Osprey. On the second visit, we spent a while at the first platform, with the first Moustached Warblers (lifer for me) being seen and heard from here. We had at least 4 from here. There were several singing Great Reed Warbler from here as well as a Grasshopper Warbler. We also had an adult Hobby over from this platform. The Sa Roca pools has two hides and provides excellent views of Stilts and Plovers, with particularly good numbers of Kentish Plovers. Here we had two Collared Pratincole (a well overdue lifer for me), Snipe, Purple Swamphen and good numbers of Red-crested Pochard. In addition, on the first day, a Temminck’s Stint was with the plovers. Following the track round from the hides, you’ll come across a small pool (noted to have tame Red-knobbed Coot in Gosney, but we didn’t have any). Here we had phenomenal views of two Great Reed Warblers singing and a Balearic ‘badius’ Woodchat Shrike. The three bridges across the channels provides you with good opportunity to see Red-knobbed Coot (lifer for both) with two neck-collared birds being seen over the two visits as well as Western Swamphen and Eurasian Coot. Matthew Meehan saw a female Little Bittern from the first bridge on the 22nd April. Straight on from the bridges is a track running north to a Power Station and Es Colombars pools. A couple of raised platforms along here provide good views of herons, in particular Purple Heron flying low over the marsh. It’s also suggested this is a good spot for Moustached Warbler, but we had a single Sedge Warbler and that was it. The star for me was Es Cibollar pools to the north of the channel. Here there are two hides that provide phenomenal viewing of waders including Wood Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Avocet, Common Sandpiper and even the Temminck’s Stint. Also on the pool were a flock of 30 black Spotted Redshank, 5 Little Stint, Ruff, Snipe, adult Curlew Sandpiper, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover and stilts. There was also a Marbled Teal (lifer), a pair of Garganey and Shoveler. Over the marsh, we were treated to five minutes of excellent birding, with a Gull-billed Tern and a Caspian Tern moving east over the site and a male Red-footed Falcon drifting north showing the dark falcon with silvery primaries on the upper wing.  Finally, the track to the west had a well-known viewing platform for raptors. We had good numbers of crag martin from here as well as a pair of Red-knobbed Coot just below us and the male proved very bold and walked on the path and even stood on Danni’s foot! Amazing! This track was the host to the only snake on the trip with an in-shed Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) which was a lifer and was seen under the most bizarre of circumstances! Several Iberian Water Frogs were heard calling all over the reserve early on.

Ses Salinetes – We just visited these salt pans once, which is a shame as they seemed excellent, but we three Marbled Teal here as well as badius Balearic Woodchat Shrike and just beyond the pools, at the Son Bosc area, an amazing Nightingale, a flyover Hoopoe and singing Thekla Lark (lifer for Danni). In addition to birds, we had Bug Orchid, Black-tailed Skimmer and Clouded Yellow here.

Depuradora de S’Illot – The road leading up to the water treatment works from the bus station was a real gem. Here we had at least 3 Tawny Pipit about a third of the way down the track. The fields just south west of the cross road held two Stone Curlew and several Hoopoe in the area. The open area at Son Bosc also held a Tawny Pipit and two Stone Curlews were flushed by horse riders. The actual water treatment pools were a tad disappointing, but Tufted Duck was added to the trip list as well as a pair of White-cheeked Pintail which are obviously escapes but were interesting to see how aggressive they were. We also saw the only other reptiles of the trip. A European Pond Terrapin and a large Wall Lizard sp we assume was Ibiza Wall Lizard.

Boquer Valley – I almost don’t need to give a run down of this site as it essentially is exactly the same as page 12 and 13 in the Gosney book. The fields and fig trees around the Casada Boquer held Wryneck, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher. One thing I will say about the Casada Boquer, is you have to pass through two metal gates. It wasn’t obvious you can pass through here as it looks private, but it’s fine. There is just a sign saying ‘no dogs’. Past here you come across some large boulders. We had Blue Rock Thrush and Crag Martin here. There were loads of Serin the valley and half way down, we picked up the first Booted Eagle over the eastern valley sides. Once you can see the sea, you should come into low lying vegetation. This is the best area for Balearic Warbler (Lifer for both). Once you get away from the endless calls and song of Sardinian Warbler, you may be lucky to hear a gentle tack of this endemic Sylvia. We found a pair in a clearing with lots of pale grey rocks on the ground. They were feeding chicks, so we kept our distance and allowed them to come to us rather than the other way around. The male gave one song flight which was as delicate as they were in appearance. If you go looking for them, please don’t use tape lure. You really don’t need it. If you suspect breeding too, please be respectful. Over the water in the high winds, lots of Scopoli’s Shearwater were passing east.  We also had a small patch of Bertolini's bee orchid.

Formentor Peninsular – The first mirador you come across has a decent car park and an impressive viewpoint. We had a single pass of an Eleanora’s Falcon (lifer for Danni) as well as a Peregrine from here. There’s good numbers of Raven and a few Blue Rock Thrush and just below the viewing point, there’s a colony of Crag Martin. On our much calmer second visit, we had a flock of c40 Balearic Shearwaters (lifer for Danni) on the flat calm sea, but nothing else. We only really then tried to get to the lighthouse at the end and with so few stopping points and so many cyclists, we sort of gave up. We had a quick seawatch from  km 16.8 picking up Bealearic Sheawater for the trip .

Cuber Reservoir – walking round the reservoir anticlockwise, we views the groves to the north east of the reservoir which held Firecrest, Wood Warbler, Wryneck, balearicus Blue Tit, loads of Chaffinch, hundreds of Pied Flycatcher (literally!) and most bizarrely a calling Scops Owl. There were also two Water Pipits on the edge of the reservoir. Above the reservoir we enjoyed views of 2 Black Vulture, 5 Griffon Vulture, 3 Booted Eagle and a Red Kite. As you walk round the reservoir onto the southern side, you’ll come across some low lying pines. Here we had a pair of Moltoni’s Subalpine Warblers (lifer for both), which proved hideously elusive and we failed to get photos of either. Just round from the dam wall, there appeared to be a Crag Martin colony with a couple of Cirl Bunting here too. Apart from that, the reservoir proved quiet, but after we had got to the dam wall, we were inundated with tourists.

Tucan Marsh – This looks like a great little place with Night Heron, Purple Heron and Great Crested Grebe (the only one we saw) being highlights. I can easily imagine good numbers of terns and maybe even White-headed Duck on here, but we only managed to fit in one visit.

C’an Cuarassa – This site proved to be slightly disappointing, but maybe that was because we went in late afternoon. We didn’t see any starlings at all, which was a shame, but we had Woodchat Shrike, Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail (iberiae), Corn Bunting, Nightingale and a few showy Sardinian Warbler here (though they were pretty much everywhere!)

The hotel – as a little extra, we had an almost constantly calling owl from outside our hotel every evening which proved to be a Long-eared Owl (I had written it off as immature Tawny until we got back and had a good look at the pics). Really cool to have just outside!

A really enjoyable few days in Mallorca and visiting some excellent places. I’d highly recommend it and I’d consider going back maybe in early May next time when the Eleanora’s Falcons and Honey Buzzards are properly in. The length of time we spent was about right too. If we’d had longer, we’d have explored the salt pans to the south and maybe spent a bit more time in the mountains, but it did the job for us. I hope this has been useful.
Purple Heron - s'Albufera
Black-winged Stilt - s'Albufera
Kentish Plover - s'Albufera
Wood Sandpiper - s'Albufera
Viperine Snake - s'Albufera
Serin - s'Albufera
Red-knobbed Coot - s'Albufera
Western Swamphen - s'Albufera
badius Woodchat Shrike - Ses Salinetes
Marbled Teal - Ses Salinetes
Red-crested Pochard - Ses Salinetes
Marbled Teal - Ses Salinetes
Bug Orchid - Ses Salinetes
Clouded Yellow - Ses Salinetes
Marbled Teals, Eurasian Coot and Black-winged Stilts - Ses Salinetes
Wryneck - Boquer Valley
Bertolini's bee orchid - Boquer Valley
Sardinian Warbler - Boquer Valley
Balearic Warbler - Boquer Valley
Balearic Warbler - Boquer Valley
Balearic Warbler - Boquer Valley
Booted Eagle- Boquer Valley
Audouin's Gull - Port de Pollenca
Audouin's Gull - Port de Pollenca
Audouin's Gull - Port de Pollenca
Audouin's Gull - Port de Pollenca
Audouin's Gull - Port de Pollenca
Audouin's Gull - Port de Pollenca
Audouin's Gull - Port de Pollenca
Wood Warbler - Cuber Reservoir
Wood Warbler - Cuber Reservoir
Black Vulture - Cuber Reservoir
Night Heron - s'Albufera
Cattle Egret - s'Albufera
Great Reed Warbler - s'Albufera
Red-knobbed Coot - s'Albufera
Temminck's Stint and Kentish Plover - s'Albufera
Avocet - s'Albufera
iberiae Yellow Wagtail -s'Albufera
Tawny Pipit - Depuradora de S’Illot
Tawny Pipit - Depuradora de S’Illot
Hoopoe - Depuradora de S’Illot
Collared Pratincoles and Black-winged Stilt - s'Albufera

Trip List 116
Balearic Shearwater
Scopoli's Shearwater
Great Crested Grebe
Little Grebe
Western Swamphen
Red-knobbed Coot
Water Rail
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Night Heron
Marbled Teal
Tufted Duck
Red-crested Pochard
Red-legged Partridge
Griffon Vulture
Black Vulture
Red Kite
Marsh Harrier
Booted Eagle
Stone Curlew
Black-winged Stilt
Spotted Redshank
Collared Pratincole
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Temminck's Stint
Little Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Black-headed Gull
Audouin's Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Collared Dove
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon
Eleanora's Falcon
Scops Owl
Long-eared Owl
Crag Martin
Sand Martin
House Martin
Thekla Lark
Pallid Swift
Tawny Pipit
Water Pipit
Yellow Wagtail (iberiae and a probably cinereocapilla or hybrid)
Song Thrush
Woodchat Shrike
Cetti's Warbler
Fan-tailed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Moustached Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Moltoni's Warbler
Balearic Warbler
Willow Warbler
Wood Warbler
Pied Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher
Great Tit
Blue Tit (balearicus)
Reed Bunting
Corn Bunting
Cirl Bunting.