Thursday, 22 September 2011


Last weekend I was back Ringing at Whitburn. The two days were quite a contrast! On the saturday myself and John could only muster 10 birds, the best being a new male Blackcap. Sunday, however was much much better. As it was the Great North Run, John and Andy volunteered to do car park duties for the Coastal Conservation Group leaving myself and Adrian to concentrate on the Ringing. In total we had 31 birds in the nets, 11 different species, including no fewer than 14 Chaffinches. The highlight for me though was a superb young Pied Flycatcher (above) that Adrian kindly allowed me to Ring. This is one of my favourite birds so I was delighted to get the chance get so close. It capped off a really good day. It was the first time I had properly Ringed with Adrian, and although I was a touch nervous at first I soon relaxed and got into the swing of things. This is where my training really begins, but I'm thoroughly looking forward to the challenge and I've got an exciting couple of years ahead of me!


Well, as is now traditional, whenever I go away on holiday a good bird (or two) tends to turn up in our area. Of course this holiday was no exception. While checking through the ever growing flock of Golden Plovers, Ian Mills stumbled on an American Golden Plover. I've seen these birds quite a few times abroad (America, Tobago, Jamaica etc) but I've never seen one in the UK. All I could do was sit by the pool in the scorching heat and hope the bird was a long stayer. When I got back home there had been no sightings for two days but then somebody had picked it up on the wednesday. So on thursday afternoon I wandered over to Whitburn Steel to see what I could find. Thankfully, I didnt have to try very hard, as when I got there another gentleman already had the bird in his scope. How lucky was I!!!


Thankfully I didnt spend the whole of the week confined to the hotel area. On the wednesday I had a full day out in the mountains and plains of the Alentejo. It turned out to be a terrific day! We got off to an interesting start when we crossed the border into Spain to fill the car up with petrol. Apparently its a lot cheaper than in Portugal! Car filled, we headed straight to the mountains. The first thing I noticed was the amount of Short Toed Eagles there were. They were on nearly every post we passed. Later in the morning as the day warmed up the Vultures came out looking for breakfast. At one point we had 5 Griffon Vultures circling above us, and as we were enjoying the spectacle they were joined by another Vulture, a different Vulture. It turned out to be a Black Vulture, which was a new species for me. Unfortunately it was the only one we seen throughout the day but we did get lots more Griffons. A further five species of Raptor were seen, including a few Lesser Kestrels and a great adult male Montagus Harrier. Ravens were quite plentiful, as were Iberian Grey Shrikes. A stop off at a little bridge got us a big flock of Crag Martins, along with a smaller flock of Pallid Swifts. I was also lucky to get another new bird while in the mountains, a terrific male Blue Rock Thrush. It was a very good morning.
Having had a lovely picnic lunch we headed for the grasslands of the Alentejo. Our target bird was the Great Bustard (top picture), and at first this proved very hard to find. We tried three or four well known sites but had no luck. We did however see a couple of another target species, the Black Bellied Sandgrouse (above). At first we just had flyovers but eventually we seen a flock of five birds feeding in a field not far from the car. After over an hour we eventually spotted a small flock of our main target, but unfortunately these Great Bustards were miles away. We decided to have a slow drive around the surrounding area to see if any more Bustards were around and thankfully we did indeed come across a lot more birds, some of them very close to the car. I was amazed at how big they were 'in the flesh' so to speak. Mission accomplished we decided to see what else was around. While doing so I saw my first ever Thekla Larks and also my first Tawny Pipits. The only other standout bird were a couple of Hoopoe, my first of the trip.
As we had a little bit of spare time we decided to head for the marina in Tavira to see if I could pick up one more new bird, a Slender Billed Gull (above). Thankfully we picked up one fairly quickly but it turned out to be the only one there. As the picture above shows this is an absolutely beautiful Gull, easily one of the prettiest I've seen. Another good looking Gull is the Audouins Gull, and there were a handful of these Gulls around as well. On the way back to the hotel we came across one more species that I really love to see, the Stone Curlew. There were four of these birds in a field not too far from my local lagoons. Unfortunately it was the only time I seen them.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Well I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Portugal. It was extremely quiet and peaceful which was exactly what we were after. Cabanas was a tiny little fishing village, within the boundary of the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve. This proved to be a superb location, as we were right next to some salt pans and lagoons which meant good birding right on our doorstep. The photo below shows our hotel in the background overlooking the lagoons. Great isnt it! The lagoons were absolutely superb for birds. We regularly had a flock of 30+ Greater Flamingo's (above) which were an absolute delight. A smaller flock of Spoonbills were resident as were a pair of Purple Herons. Unsurprisingly, Waders were plentiful. 18 species were seen in total, none of which were out of the ordinary. A couple of days a pair of White Storks dropped in. Surprisingly I only seen one species of Tern the whole time I was there (Little). A single Marsh Harrier that regularly quartered the lagoon area was the only Raptor that I seen locally. Quite a lot of Passerines were in residence as well, including Zitting Cisticola, Yellow Wagtail, Stonechat, Crested Lark, Wheatear and Whinchat.
It wasnt just lagoons that was close by to our hotel, there was also a good area of scrubland and also quite a large orchard. The scrubby area had a resident pair of Woodchat Shrikes and also a regular sighting of Iberian Grey Shrike. Sardinian Warblers were extremely common and there were also a large number of Western Orphean Warblers which were a brand new species for me. The orchard had loads of birds! Alongside lots of common species were Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, and in with the Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were a good number of Western Bonelli's Warblers (below), another new species for me. One night when coming back from a lovely meal I had the pleasure of seeing a pair of Red Necked Nightjars hunting for insects.
Unfortunately other wildlife was very poor. I was very disappointed with the Butterflies with only 6 species seen. Long Tailed Blue was the only new species. Obviously I didnt take the moth trap with me, but I did see a fantastic new day flying species, Crimson Speckled moth (bottom). This is an absolutely beautiful moth. Another new species of insect for me was the Preying Mantis (below). There were 2 of these fabulous creatures on the walls of the hotel itself. So there was plenty of stuff to keep me occupied when Maria let me out to play!

Friday, 2 September 2011


Well boys and girls I'm off on my holidays tomorrow. Behave yourselves while I'm away!