Monday, 25 July 2016

Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany (17th-23rd July 2016)

Back to Germany again with my sister, brother and mother to visit our relatives.  We spent an enjoyable few days together, swimming in the local crater lakes, gardening and going for walks etc.  I managed to fit in a decent amount of birding too but I'm taking it easy in preparation for a full autumn season back on North Ron.

17th July:

The channel crossing is often one of my very favourite experiences when going to Germany although this trip only produced 2 Harbour Porpoise a trickle of Kittiwakes, Common Terns, Mediterranean GullsGannets and a Common Sandpiper between Dover and Dunkirk.

18th July:

Walked to Die Altenberghütte, a local watchpoint that overlooks a large wooded valley stretching N/S.  2-3 Honey Buzzards were circling and performing well.  One even performed the spectacular wing-clapping display!  Other highlights included Sparrowhawk, Buzzards, Red Kites, Hawfinch, a flypast Turtle Dove and a Fox.  I also had a massive shock when a large Grass Snake rose up out of the short grass inches from my feet, hissing before slithering quickly away.  Emperor Dragonfly was also on the wing as were numerous Purple Hairstreaks.

19th July:

A visit to Sangweiher, the local wetland is always high on the agenda.  This time it hosted 2 Black Storks feeding amongst the overgrown margins to the main pond before taking flight, circling and moving westwards.  A Great White Egret, Green Sandpiper and a Common Sandpiper were also present.

20th July:

Stayed local for the morning so went to enjoy three families of Red-backed Shrike just down the road which included 3 males, 2 females and 5 juveniles.  A Map Butterfly, Hobby and a purring Turtle Dove were also of note.  In the afternoon, Ephraim and I visited the vineyards bordering Die Mosel for our third attempt at finding the small and localised population of Rock Buntings.  At long last, we finally connected with 2 Rock Buntings on the sunny slopes of Kobern-Gondorf, a juvenile and a stunning adult calling away atop a bush.  We also heard several others on the steeper sections but these did not show.  Equally surprising was a stunning Apollo (a very scarce localised butterfly for these parts found only in the very area we happened to visit)!  2 Scarce Swallowtails were an additional bonus!

Rock Bunting in flight, just a blur but YES!!!

Apollo

Scarce Swallowtail

21st July:

A whooping 16 Turtle Doves near Die Altenberghütte were today's highlight (including a group of 15 along a single row of electricity lines!  A Continental Swallowtail was a very enjoyable sighting as was watching the usual Purple Hairstreaks performing nicely atop the Oaks.

22nd July:

Our final full day in Germany.  Once again I visited Die Altenberghütte where I yet again enjoyed 2 Honey Buzzards circling and calling above me.  c16 Turtle Doves, Map Butterfly, 2 Queen of Spain Fritillaries, Hawfinches, 1 Fieldfare and a large Slow Worm were also present.

23rd July:

On our return, we crossed the channel from Calais to Dover.  The majority of our time was spent deeply shrouded in thick fog but we still managed to see c24 Common Scoter, a few Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Compass Jellyfish.

Mediterranean Gull

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Skokholm! (4th April-11th July)

Skokholm was brilliant!  For the last three months I was once again on a volunteer placement assisting the Bird Observatory on Skokholm, working in the midst of a large seabird colony and gaining many valuable experiences.  April began with two solid weeks of work party, involving myself with a mass of manual labour jobs.  The birding scene was very new to me but I familiarised myself with the breeding birds by taking on a daily census of the eastern end of the island encompassing The Neck.  Here, I was treated to thousands of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills.

Razorbill


Puffin (a "silver-back" perhaps indicative of an old bird)

Wheatear passage was evident throughout the island (which also led on to a productive breeding season) whilst the last of the winter visitors including Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk and Merlin made a final few appearances.  Wader passage also revealed good numbers of Whimbrel, a few Curlew, Turnstone, Snipe, Dunlin, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Ringed Plover.  The only resident wader, Oystercatcher also became increasingly aggressive as their breeding season began and two pairs each of Raven and Chough nesting on the island provided some drama.

Whimbrel



Raven

Passerine passage included a modest number of Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Sedge Warblers, lesser numbers of Goldfinch, Linnet and Lesser Redpoll whilst residents such as Reed Bunting, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit and Wren became ever more vocal and apparent.  Highlights for the first month included migrant Black Redstarts, Redstart, Stonechat, Water Rail, Marsh Harrier and the first White Wagtails of the year.  Seawatching produced a few Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoise as well as occasional Red-throated Divers, Great Northern Divers, Bonxies, Common Scoter, Sandwich Terns, Arctic Terns and a few "commic" terns.  Hirundine passage was also evident with large numbers of Swallows interspersed with a few House Martins and Sand Martins for much of the spring.

By late April the first of the Lesser Whitethroats, Grasshopper Warblers and Whitethroats appeared along with a few Ring Ouzels a few Rooks (a rare island bird) and a trickle of Swifts.  Unfortunately, I missed the Hoopoe which made a brief appearance at the lighthouse.  Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit and Golden Plover also stopped off in and around North Pond.  The Shoveler, Mallard and Shelduck pairs all attempted to raise a brood of ducklings but failed due to the gulls.

Much time was also spent constructing numerous Strom Petrel nest boxes, consuming a lot of hours and involved an equal amount of hard labour but proved exceedingly rewarding.  An evening visit to the quarry produced dozens/hundreds of Storm Petrels and even a Short-eared Owl hunting them.

Nicci, a fellow spring long-term volunteer found the first rarity highlight of the year, a stunning male EASTERN SUBALPINE WARBLER.  It was trapped shortly after being found and proved an extremely educational bird.  Before the month was even up, a surprise Brent Goose flew past me along the south coast.  Fortunately it came to land in a Lesser Black-backed Gull colony on the other end of the island and despite other birders obtaining decent views of it, racing it proved considerably more difficult (see pic on the Skokholm Blog 26/03/16).  A Dark-bellied Brent Goose also appeared on the island at the end of the month.  Hearing Whimbrel singing was another valuable experience as was picking out the Greenland Wheatears from the nominate individuals.

May provided many enjoyable birding experiences too with regular appearances of Short-eared Owls (crossing Broad Sound from Skomer to hunt the island Storm Petrels at night).  Three Turtle Doves also appeared during the month as did a few Whinchats, Firecrest, a Little Egret, occasional wandering Kestrels, and a modest spring passage of Spotted Flycatchers.  Pied Flycatcher also occurred.  Seabird work soon took the forefront as we began our Manx Shearwater study plot counts and nest recording Great Black-backed Gulls.  Further spring migrants gradually appeared including Garden Warblers, Cuckoo and 2 Arctic Skuas.  The 11th May conjured up two surprises, first up a drake Pochard in Crab Bay (an island rarity), shortly followed by a stunning Golden Oriole which burst from the Well before flying east across The Neck.  A second Subalpine Warbler appeared on the 13th May (this time a female Western/Moltoni's still to be DNA confirmed).  The following day produced yet another male Eastern Subalpine Warbler and an overdue Tree Pipit!  A Red-veined Darter on the 15th May was the only ordonata I saw whilst on the island but at least it was a lifer!

Red-veined Darter

By mid-May the seabird work was well underway with much attention diverted to the Lesser Black-backed Gull colonies, counting incubating Herring Gulls around The Neck and ringing Great Black-backed Gulls.  Fulmar study plots were visited daily and the reading of Puffin colour rings in Crab Bay also kept us all entertained for many hours.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

One of my personal highlights was finding a female Red-backed Shrike in the Well heligoland trap and a flyover Osprey the following day.  The rest of May offered the occasional stunning summer plumage Golden Plover, Ruff, Redshank, two nesting pairs of Peregrine, nesting Buzzard, 2 sub-adult Pomarine Skuas on seawatch and a brilliant opportunity to observe the island nesting seabirds from the sea as we conducted our full island auk count from a RIB.  The first record of nesting Reed Warblers for the island was an exciting discovery in the small reedbed at the Well.  I was also given the opportunity to visit Grassholm, which hosts an impressive colony of c36,000 pairs Gannets, an awesome spectacle!

Gannets






Grey Seal

Grassholm

From mid-June onwards the staff and myself embarked on a full island Storm Petrel census.  This involved playing a recording into every single suitable crevice across the island to elicit the number of responses gained across the entire 1 square km area of the island, including every stone wall, every accessible geo, cave and bolder slope.  This proved a large task but fortunately the vast majority was achieved before I left the island on the 11th July.

By late June-July flocks of Kittiwakes and Gannets could be seen regularly passing the island.  An adult Gannet on the rocky bolder beach at the bottom of Peter's Bay was also a surprise encounter.  The first Pufflings also appeared (often in the mouths of Great Black-backed Gulls) and two visits to The Neck were made to count the number of juvenile Herring Gulls raised during the season.

During my stay I also had the opportunity to ring Manx Shearwaters along the study transect and birds from study burrows above Crab Bay and around the lighthouse, ring a few Razorbill chicks around The Bluffs bolder fields, colour ring Puffins in Crab Bay and help with the ringing activities around the obs.  I also caught up with the rare form of Scarlet Pimpernelle (the Blue Pimpernelle), Three-lobed Crowfoot (another rarity) and two spikes of Southern Marsh Orchid at the bottom of Well Stream.  A few butterflies were also on the wing including a Painted Lady, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Large White, Small Copper, Red Admiral, Peacock and Meadow Brown.

Blue Pimpernelle

Finally, a big thanks must go to the wardens Richard and Giselle and the volunteers, Nicci, Vicky, Phil and Olivia for the great company and an amazing experiences we shared together!

Skokholm



Herts, Cornwall and France (23rd February-27th March)

Another few months have past since my last blog post.  A lot has happened since I got back from Germany and I don't remember many of the details so this post is condensed down considerably.  A short stay at home gave me some recuperation time with patch birding producing sizable flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing numbering into the hundreds on occasion.  Birds of prey included decent numbers of Red Kite, Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk whilst remaining winter migrants and short-distance wanderers included Goldcrests, Robins and several flyover Siskins.

On the 29th Feb I left Herts for Cornwall to help out Dan on his small holding and fit in the occasional birding break.  A few visits to the old patch produced Peregrine, Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Bullfinches, Great Northern Divers and a distant indication of seabird passage with Kittiwakes, auks and Fulmars.  A brief excursion to Boat Cove for the Hudsonian Whimbrel resulted in a dip.  As it happens, its long stay in the cove ended the morning we went to visit, dammit!  2 Whimbrel and a Red-throated Diver were the only consolation.  The regular wintering Slavonian Grebe was back at Stithians Res and it was nice to see the feeders at the southern cutoff hosting Reed Buntings alongside the commoner garden birds as well as the showy Water Rail and a very tame Muscovy Duck.  Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell were also on the wing on nearby farmland.

Dan and I then headed down to Vianne in the south of France 16th-27th March to help out his parents with gardening.  Much of our time was spent working in the back garden but we kept a regular eye on the sky.  Raptor passage was impressive with hundreds of Black Kites moving north, regular Buzzards and Red Kites as well as Marsh Harriers, several Osprey, Goshawk and even a Short-toed Eagle.  A few excursions across the local farmland produced Water Pipit, Green Sandpiper, Snipe, White Wagtails, Grey Wagtail, Stonechat, Black Redstarts and a male White-spotted Bluethroat all feeding together around a small muddy puddle.  We also inadvertently flushed a Stone-curlew from the ploughed fields on our first day.  Common local residents included Cirl Buntings, Black Redstarts, HawfinchesSerin singing from many gardens and a walk to the local town for a food shop led to the surprise find of a male Wallcreeper scaling the gatehouse of Vianne!

male Wallcreeper

Black Woodpecker and several Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were also encountered in the nearby woodland.  Other highlights included regular sightings of Short-toed Treecreepers, Bramblings2 White Storks a trickle of Black Storks, Crested Tits, flyover Woodlark, a calling Scops Owl, the first of the returning Hoopoes, passage Cormorants and an impressive movement of 1000's Chaffinches, Woodpigeons and a few Stock Doves.  Butterfly highlights included a Large Tortoiseshell and a Speckled Wood (ssp. aegeria).

Speckled Wood (ssp. aegeria)

Friday, 26 February 2016

Berlin (31th January-22st February)

For most of February I found myself back in Berlin where I had started my trip to Germany back in mid-December.  This time I was back to help my sister renovate her new flat.  Despite being only a few U-bahn stops away from the city centre the flat balcony overlooks a row of small backgardens with the occasional pine tree and shrubbery.  These alone were enough to host regular yet small parties of Hawfinches which would periodically perch at the top of the bare trees alongside Siskins and Greenfinches.  Numerous Great Spotted Woodpeckers, inner city Tree Sparrows and daily Red Squirrels were a delight.

Continental Great Spotted Woodpecker


Intermediate Long-tailed Tit


Hawfinch with Greenfinch


Goshawk

On the 2rd Feb I visited the Grosser Wannsee on the outskirts of SW Berlin.  15+ Goosander and small flocks of Goldeneye represented the wildfowl highlights.  However, there were also 3 Great White Egrets, regular flyover Siskins, Crested Tits, Short-toed Treecreepers, Hawfinches, calling Black Woodpecker and numerous Northern Long-tailed Tits working their way through the surrounding woodland.

A brief visit to a graveyard with my aunt and sister in central Berlin where I came face to face with an adult Goshawk perched in a tree calling was a stunning experience.  I had a similar experience on the 9th Feb when I saw 2 Goshawks at dusk whilst walk through the Tiergarten in central Berlin.

A surprisingly productive day out on the 10th Feb was spent taking a rest as it was becoming rather claustrophobic working and living continuously inside the flat.  The day started at Rathaus Spandau in the NW outskirts with a Short-toed Treecreepers singing from a few brave trees stranded in the middle of a concrete desert.  Nearby, a small reserve (Tiefwerder Wiesen) produced 3 Great White Egrets, a showy Black Woodpecker and thanks to 11 Grey Herons all with their eyes to the skies in fear, directed me to an adult White-tailed Eagle soaring over the reserve!  I then spent a good part of the day walking across town getting lost on several occasions making my way to Alt Tegel and Tegeler See for the gull roost.  In a five minute period walking across town I encountered 3 Goshawks and a flock of 27 Cranes.  On approaching Tegeler See through the woodland I stumbled across a Wild Boar sow and 4 piglets and the gull roost hosted 20+ Caspian Gulls.

The return journey by car produced a few Cranes seen from back window and the occasional Great White Egret stalking prey in ponds near the roadside.  My parents and I stopped at my aunt's for a day and spent an hour walking around The Rieselfelder where we encountered 2 White Storks.

White Stork

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

An update from Germany! (15th December-27th January)

For the last month I’ve been staying with relatives in Germany, first visiting my sister in Berlin for a few days before moving on to Munster briefly to visit my aunt then on to Pantenburg (Rheinland-Pfalz) for a family reunion over Christmas at my grandma’s.

Whilst visiting my sister I managed to fit in some birding but besides that, the Christmas markets and lazing around in the flat meant there was little time left to explore some of the surrounding lakes as I had hoped.  A walk through the Tiergarten park was fairly productive with some frosty Treecreepers (ssp. macrodactyla were very educational) as were the euopea spp. of Long-tailed Tit. In fact, there were even one or two Northern Long-tailed Tits within the tit flocks.  However, the majority of the group comprised intermediate birds with a variable trace of dark nape stripes leading between the mantle and over the crown towards the eye (mostly falling short of the eye though).

Northern Long-tailed Tit

intermediate Long-tailed Tit

Continental Treecreeper ssp. macrodactyla

A showy Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Hawfinch were an added bonus and the sight of Tree Sparrows in the inner city was also quite amusing.  Further trips included two visits to Adlershof in order to track down some Crested Larks reported in the area.  Although the area included a lot of suitable habitat I only managed to get two brief views of a lark sp. flying away from me, I’ll simply have to keep searching whenever the opportunity arises again.  Other birds of note included a Black Redstart, Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, and a male Yellowhammer.  This bird too was rather educational as it had orange submoustachial stripes connected at the base of the chin.  I remember reading about eastern birds sporting such features so was intrigued to see that it was possible to encounter such birds as far west on the continent as Berlin.

Adlershof, Berlin

My sister and I also went for a walk around Flakensee, a large lake near Erkner.  Although it was dusk by the time we arrived we came across a Mink at the water’s edge, a Goosander, numerous Coot, Mallard and a few Mute Swans. The walk along the lake edge was also punctuated by the occasional felled tree, the work of Beavers! Other noteworthy birds whilst I was in Berlin include a pair of Mandarins in the small park opposite my sisters flat, a flock of 19 Ravens and numerous Treecreepers (including several potential Short-toed Treecreepers which didn’t provide suitable views for confirmation).

My sister and I then took the coach to Munster on the 20th December to visit my aunt Marianne. The low-lying town has a very flat topography which has made it the most popular town in Germany to commute by bike with additional thanks to its numerous cycle paths.  It was therefore easy to head out for a mornings birding to the local nature reserve, Die Riesel Felder just a short 15 minute ride away.  The following morning I was there at dawn but decided to walk instead and was fortunate enough to see Red Squirrels in the woodland, numerous Marsh Tits (they seemed to be the commonest tit species in the area), and shortly before arriving at the reserve I noticed a group of 7 White Storks wandering around a stubble field together with the escape African Sacred Ibis, Egyptian Geese, and some Greylags.  The reserve was even more productive with large areas of reedbed and small water bodies and a large muddy surface.  These hosted 4 Great White Egrets, 100’s Eurasian White-fronted Geese, Lapwing, Shoveler, Teal, Pintail, Mallard, Gadwall and a Red-crested Pochard. A quick look at ornitho.de the previous evening gave me the heads up that there was a MARSH SANDPIPER on the on the reserve.  This proved surprisingly easy to find and became my first German rarity!  A Great Grey Shrike, Yellow-legged Gulls and a few potential distant Caspian Gulls were also present.  Latter visits produced a single flock of 400+ Eurasian White-fronted Geese and 8 White Storks (6 of which were darvic ringed, including one with additional colour rings on the left leg (blue over yellow) all above the tarsus joint).  A distant large mammal on the far side of a pond (presumably a Coypu) at the water’s edge knawing on some vegetation was a surprise too.  Other perambulations about Munster produced Hawfinches, calling Bullfinch (unfortunately didn’t get to see it to check for Northern Bullfinch) and more Long-tailed Tits (all spp. europea with no Northerns or intermediates).

African Sacred Ibis

Great White Egret

Marsh Sandpiper


White Storks





Eurasian White-fronted Geese







The third location of my trip was Pantenburg for a family reunion over Christmas.  Highlights from 23rd-31st December included numerous Crested Tits and Marsh Tits in the local woodland, great views of a Black Woodpecker at the Sportplatz along with a couple other calling birds, up to 200 Yellowhammer along the Feldweg, together with dozens of Tree Sparrows and the odd Hawfinch.  I was lucky enough to flush a Woodcock from the side of the woodland path despite a hunt going on the previous day in the same area.  Most surprising of all was a flock of 113 Cranes flying NE over the village on the 28th December (first heard whilst inside my grandma’s house).  Goshawks, an additional speciality, were seen over the Sportplatz on the 27th Dec and one from the Feldweg on the 31st Dec.  Other species of note included Continental Coal Tits (a target species which I hoped to study a little more closely whilst in Germany), Willow Tit, a ringed Kestrel, Red Squirrels and 3 Hares inside the woodland which bolted away across the leaf litter.  6 Golden Plover and 23 Lapwing were also seen from the Feltweg on the 31st.

Pantenburg woodland near the Sportplatz

Continental Chaffinch


sunset viewed from the Altenberghutte

Cranes over Pantengurg

Brambling on the Feltweg

Cranes over Trier

Bullfinch looking a little bit like a Northern

The New Year started gradually, despite not yearlisting it was nicenote my first bird of the year, a Hawfinch flying over on my way up the road to see my cousins.  Later highlights over the early part of January included 1-2 Goshawks seen from the Altenberghutte chasing Woodpigeons in the far south of the valley, 76 Cranes (including 12 juvs) pitched down in the stubble field by the Feldweg (latter heard calling over the village as they dispersed), Short-toed Treecreepers, Willow Tits and 1-2 Middle Spotted Woodpeckers only meters from my grandmas front door.

As always, a trip to Sangweiher (the nearest nature reserve with a decent water body) was on the cards.  The opportunity arose on the 8th Jan, with a bike sorted I cycled up the Fahrradweg (an old train line converted to a bridle way).  Shortly before arriving at the reserve were 2 Great White Egrets wandering around the damp meadows.  Shortly after turning off the bridle way a small flock of 10-15 Bullfinches flew up from the side of the track. These were carefully scrutinised and revealed that almost all seemed to be Continental birds, however, an obliging female did stand out considerably in displaying some subtle Northern Bullfinch characteristics.  Being noticeably larger than the accompanying Bullfinches the mantle was several shades paler, as was the breast and belly.  The upperparts also lacked the deeper brown tones of the other females and similarly lacked the rich dirty brown underside, replaced with a pale pastel grey with a hint of purple.  The lozenge mark on the undertail was not apparent but the wing bar was cleaner white and seemed to have a trace of a serrated upper edge.  I only managed to grab a distant photo of it but the impression of a noticeably paler washed out bird amongst the classic continental birds was surprisingly striking.

Bullfinch, an individual with a white lozenge mark on the undertail

Other birds of note included 3 Cranes (2 adults, 1 juv) on the far side of the reserve before flying south, 2 Willow Tits and good numbers of Teal and Mallard.

A Brambling along the Feldweg amongst the large flock of Chaffinches and Yellowhammers was a minor target species followed by a second stunning adult male near the end of the month.

Further Cranes were heard in dense fog on the 9th January (Pantenburg), 2 adults flew through on the 10th (also Pantenburg), a flock of 38 went west over Trier on the 11th, 56+ were seen distantly flying south over Manderscheid on the 13th, 3 went east over Pantenburg on the 14th and a flock was heard passing over the east end of Pantenburg on the 19th in the dark.  Numerous Black Woodpeckers were seen in the surrounding woodlands including two active nests found.  Display calls were heard on one occasion on the 20th January.

A second visit to Sangweiher on the 22nd January was rather different to the first.  The water body was totally frozen over so the only wildfowl were 9 Teal and a few flyover Mallards near the sewage works.  There were 30 Bullifnches in the area including a flock of 17 showing many Northern Bullfinch characteristics.  Several females had clear lozenge marks on the undertail (one a bold drop shaped mark overlapping onto two webs).  They were noticeably larger built with pastel toned underparts.  One male nearly had the full set of features, clear white lozenge on the undertail, cold pink chest, pale blue/grey upperparts and white serrated GCs.  Another male even had some traces of pink feathering in the crown.

Other highlights included Willow Tit and 2 Foxes at the neighbouring nature reserve (Mürmes).

On the 25th January I drove on to Aachen to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins the Schmitz-Kerpen family.  A few wanderings to the local parkland produced numerous Hawfinches and on a walk through the woodland near Buir to see the derelict motorway about to be sacrificed to the expansion of a coal mine the only bird encountered in the woodland was a single Middle-spotted Woodpecker.