Monday, 23 April 2012

One owl, get out of here. Two owls, I'm there!

This afternoon between showers Steve and I headed out onto the army ranges to hopefully ring a few owls. Whilst checking nest boxes yesterday I tapped a tawny owl box and a similar sounding reply was heard from within the box. It was of course a tawny owl bill snapping and it sounded like it came from an owlet. However, without a ladder and the right ring size there wasn’t a lot we could do! Access isn’t always easy to the ranges so an opportunity this evening couldn’t be missed! As you can see we came up trumps!

Only one in the box, presumably it’s eaten all its siblings but mummy owl was also in the box so she also had the honour of being ringed as well.

Both settled nicely back in their box to continue their kip. Though mum looked half as well through the whole thing but that’s quite normal for owls in the hand. Believe me, given half a chance she’s sink a talon into your hand! Oh and well done to everyone who noticed the Reeves and Mortimer quote in the title. If you’ve got nothing better to do this evening youtube it!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

What a lovely pair...

The only word to describe this morning’s ringing session is probably dire! Light overnight winds with heavy rain just prior to dawn made me optimistic of a few birds being about but this wasn’t the case. Saw a total of 4 Willow Warbler and 1 Chiffchaff which were the only migrants to be seen at Clouds hill. Only one Willow Warbler made it into the net and another went in one side of the net and quickly came out the other! I’ve seen this neat little trick before and always leaves me wondering how they fit through the mesh!

The morning was rescued by two rather lovely Bullfinch. Clearly a pair as both were side by side in the net. They got ‘blinged up’, measured, weight taken and then released together to get on their merry way and make lots more lovely Bullfinches. The female had the start of a brood patch which is a sure sign that they’ll be breeding soon. Took this picture just before letting them both go together.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Just about ticking over

This morning’s weather didn’t really look like it was going to down lots of migrants and this was proved by about 9am when the sun broke through as there was hardly anything calling or flitting around. I could only have half the nets up due to the strong westerly wind which meant a small catch of just half a dozen Willow Warblers and a Blackcap as well as a few resident species. The size of the catch also reflected the lack of movement. Also caught a Greenfinch which was ringed but not with one of my rings. Need to check with a few other local ringers before getting excited about my first Greenfinch control!

Quality was provided this morning by a Grasshopper Warbler singing for the first hour or so of light and a Pied Flycatcher which showed up just before I left. Both birds failed to find a net but nice to see/hear none the less. A Sedge Warbler was also singing when I arrived but it soon stopped, presumably it was heading for the nearest reed bed. Overhead passage was very slow with just the smallest trickle of Swallows although 5 Whimbrel went through which were my first this spring at the site.  Things will pick up again soon!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The demise of an intrepid Blue Tit

It’s always nice when you get one of your ringed birds recovered. Usually it’s a migrant which has be re-trapped elsewhere on its travels but one recent recovery was quite a surprise. It’s often thought that Blue tits don’t do a lot in terms of moving large distances. Of course they do stuff like feed, breed and bite your fingers whilst you ring them but a Blue Tit I ringed in a garden back in my homeland of Gwent travelled all the way to Greater Manchester! It was total distance of 207 km which is a pretty significant movement. However the Blue Tit sadly met its end by a cat but I suppose I should thank the cat as it wouldn’t have been recovered if it wasn’t for the pesky feline. For some reason I can’t find a picture of a Blue Tit but surely you know what one looks like!

Another recent recovery was a Bullfinch which went from the fleet all the way to Dorchester, which isn’t far but still a nice recovery none the less. This one didn’t end up as cat food, thankfully it was caught by another ringer and was released unharmed. I can’t find a picture of a Bullfinch either so instead of having a picture-less post (something we all hate!) here’s the last (well… maybe) picture from Spain. This time an adult Night Heron which is nothing like a Blue Tit or a Bullfinch but its better than nothing...

Friday, 13 April 2012

Pierre the Willow Warbler

A very short ringing session this evening at clouds hill produced its first foreign control! A French Willow Warbler!

Lots of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs have been moving through over the last few days which resulted in a decent catch of 60 birds yesterday morning. Failed to go out this morning so thought an evening session might produce a few birds. In just 45 minutes fifteen ‘phylloscs’ which included Pierre the Willow Warbler were ringed.  Yesterday’s session also got my first Whitethroat of the year.

Passerines are not the only birds moving through at the moment. This Osprey was fishing along the fleet this evening. Sorry about the rubbish picture!

Whilst the Osprey was flying around this Heron managed to get in the shot. I don’t whether it was the evening light but doesn’t the colouration look at bit odd. Photo’s too terrible to figure out any detail but Purple Heron went through my mind briefly when I saw the photo.

 Clearly Grey Heron is the more likely candidate but there wouldn’t be any confusion if I managed a photo like this one. (nice setup for another holiday pic eh?)

As you might have guessed, it was taken in Spain last week. I’ve pretty much run out of photo’s now so this is probably the last time I’m go on about my trip. Shame I know, but I’ll finish this post by thanking my mate and ringing companion Steve for arranging the trip! Also must thank Steve Norman and Dan (who was there for the first few days of our trip) who were both great company whilst out there.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Costa del Radipole

If you were at the North hide at Radipole Lake today you would have been greeted with a rather extraordinary sight usually only seen in the south of France or Spain. A Black-winged Stilt showed up which was a lovely sight in itself.  To make it even better the now ‘resisdent’ Glossy Ibis was alongside it keeping it company. I managed to see several Black-winged Stilts in Spain last week but no Ibis sadly.

This Stilt has interrupted by Gibraltar blogging so may as well throw in a little more whilst I’m typing. One of the most incredible sights we saw was a large flock of White Storks migrating from Morocco. I picked up a flock of large birds in the distance heading towards us. It was soon obvious that they were Storks and given that Black Storks tend to migrate in smaller flocks they had to be White Storks.

As they got closer the flock started to loose height which obviously isn’t good when you’re flying over the sea. They managed to get to the rock and found a thermal enabling them to gain height. This was all going on right in front of us and at eye level! Soon they were right overhead still trying to gain height which they desperately needed to head off inland.

They soon got going leaving all their admirers virtually speechless having seen one of the most spectacular things in the natural world. However, a few tourists visiting the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ weren’t quite a blown away as the rest of us. Steve shouted down to them whilst all this was going on over their heads but they were far too interested the monument to take any notice! What makes it worse is that the monument is made of bloody plastic! It looks really rustic and obviously fools a lot of people into thinking it’s some sort of ancient monument. It was rather funny watching all the tourists practically running towards the pillars with their cameras primed oblivious of all the raptors flying over their heads. Crazy!

We also managed to see a few Black Storks, most of which gave decent views but they didn’t compare to stunning sight of 180 White Storks coming straight for us. Black Storks are rather nice though.

Away from Gibraltar we stopped by a local rubbish dump where views of storks were much close but I’m sure you’ll agree that the back drop isn’t half as spectacular as the open sea!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Gibraltar - The Ringing

Unfortunately the ringing on Gibraltar wasn’t quite as good as the raptor watching, however we did manage a few good species which I was more than happy with. The week previous saw several hundred birds being ringed but the south westerly winds that we had don’t tend to stop many migrants. Easterly winds cause cloud to gather low over the rock causing migrants to land but clear conditions allowed them straight through. Also rain stopped play on several occasions which didn’t help.

As you would expect, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warbler were passing through as well as good numbers of Blackcap. We also got the first Garden Warbler of the year which was pretty much exactly on time. One of the most interesting species caught was Iberian Chiffchaff which used to be considered a race of Chiffchaff but is now a full species. Identification was tricky but with a bit of experience they were relatively easy to pick out.  This picture doesn’t really show the clinching features but it does show the rather green and yellow plumage which is somewhat reminiscent of a Willow Warbler. Also note that the supercillium goes in front of the eye and over the bill.

Subalpine Warblers occasionally turn up in the UK but was very nice to handle several of them including a few males like this one.

Sardinian Warbler is a common resident in Spain and was numerous around the bird observatory though not many found the nets. Most have figured out where they are!

This rather sweet looking warbler is a Western Bonelli’s Warbler which is a very rare bird in the UK. Nice and easy to Identify in the hand with its rather grey back, eye ring,  and yellow rump along with a few other features. Although to most it could easily just be another Chiffchaff…

This Willow Warbler is of the race ‘acredula’ which is found is Scandinavia. Notice the incredibly white under parts and whitish supercillium.  

This must be the best bird caught during the week. We were very lucky to catch it as it’s not something that usually gets ringed at the Gibraltar. It’s a male Black-eared Wheatear! I am sure you’ll agree that it’s a stunning bird!

Huge thanks to Steve Norman for accommodating us for a whole week, though I've managed to accidently steal some bird bags so will have to come back to Gib at some point in the future to return them...

Monday, 9 April 2012

Gibraltar - The Raptors

The Gibraltar straits are world famous as being a migration hotspot, mainly for its birds of prey. There’s just 12 miles of sea between Gibraltar and Morocco (I think?) and is the shortest crossing point for hundreds of miles. This attracts thousands of raptors as they don’t really like crossing the sea so the short trip across is just about manageable.  This Short-toed Eagle looked off when passing by a ship!

During the week we got very lucky and wind conditions and clear conditions persuaded plenty of raptors to take the plunge (so to speak) and head across the straits. A total of 17 species of birds of prey came through totalling 908 individuals though half of those came through on just one day!  Some were closer than others which meant we got some great views but a lot of the birds were pretty distant which made identification rather challenging at times. Identifying  a Booted Eagle at a miles range is certainly a skill I will include on my CV in the future.

Totals were Booted Eagle 253, Sparrowhawk 244, Black Kite 172, Montague’s Harrier 91, Marsh Harrier 41, Kestrel 38, Short-toed Eagle 16, Osprey 4, Hobby 4, Griffon Vulture 3, Egyptian Vulture 3, Common buzzard 3, Lesser Kestrel 2, Peregrine 1, Hen Harrier 1, Merlin 1 and a single Eleonora’s Falcon.
And now for some pictures…
An Osprey

Booted Eagle

Griffon Vulture

Montague’s Harrier – a massive 65 of these came through in just one day! Most were very high up though which wasn't helping the photography.

Short-toed Eagle

Black Kite

As well as the raptors seen from Gib Rock a few extra species were seen on days trips. 

This Black-winged Kite was a highlight. In fact we saw two individuals at one site though pictures were not the best! As you can see…

This Bonelli’s Eagle was easier than we thought it would be.  Was on show for probably half an hour just soaring up and down a ridge though always distant but the photo shows most of the ID features of this rather rare eagle.

We came close of seeing a Spanish Imperial Eagle though it turned out to almost certainly be a Golden Eagle which was a slight shame but who’s complaining…
 Although we saw a few Lesser Kestrels at the rock, they were not showing as well as these ones!

More to come later…

Back in Blighty and guess what...

Back from my trip to Gibraltar and have been greeted by some lovely British weather. It’s pouring down with rain! Can you call the Gibraltan weather British as well?? Anyway… Gibraltar wasn’t much better at times as the trip seemed to coincide with Spain’s rainy season which only seems to last a few days. Despite of the unpredictable weather (forecasts on the radio seemed to cover all eventualities) we actually managed a superb week of birding.

Instead of spewing out several hundred words at once and throwing tons of pictures at you I thought I would post several times to cover most of my antics abroad. There’ll be lots of stuff about birds of prey and other stuff migrating from Morocco, a bit of ringing, some general birding and some stuff about the tourists which were a constant source of entertainment when the birding was a little quiet. Notice that I’ve used the word ‘stuff’ several times. Reason being I’m rather knackered after a long day yesterday and finally getting to bed at 4:30am. This has led to my brain not being able to think of other more interesting words. I’m  not even going to post a picture at the moment, instead I’ll leave you in suspense until later this evening when you can expect pictures of Eagles, a vulture or two, hundreds of storks and possible some distant dots in the sky if you’re lucky! I bet you can’t wait…

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Rest in Peace Clive...

Not something I would normally do on my blog but this bloke was certainly one of a kind!
 Anyone who visits Radipole regularly will know Clive Dudderidge who was usually outside having a fag and a cup of coffee. He very sadly passed away last week. He came to visitor centre everyday and he was certainly part of the furniture. Over the years, he’s done quite a lot of birding around the local area so some of you might have bumped into him in the past. He was a real character and a pretty funny bloke. He’d regularly take the mick out of you if given the slightest chance. He would also regularly come into the centre stringing some bird or other, but always took it on the chin when I told him not to be so daft. We won’t be getting any more Tree Sparrows on the buddleia loop! Despite his active imagination, he was a decent birder and kept a list of things he saw every day and was year listing right to the end. I had the privilege of putting him onto a few lifers in the last few years I’ve worked at the centre.
Here's Clive enjoying his cuppa whilst being starred at by a Tufty.

It won’t be the same working in the visitor centre and not seeing Clive every day, we’ll miss ya Clive!

Finally! Some cloud.

Yesterday’s weather conditions looked perfect for a fall of migrants, though at first light you’d be fooled into thinking there weren’t any birds about at all! My first three net rounds at Clouds hill produced a measly five birds, none of which were migrants.  Then all of sudden I started to hear the ‘su-ee’ call of a few warblers. The next net round produced 15 Willow Warblers and a few Chiffchaffs which really boosted the mornings total. The next few rounds saw a few more birds in the nets including my first Blackcaps of the spring before everything went quiet again. I ended the morning with about 40 new birds which was a respectable total.

I got home and saw on twitter (yes folks… I do twitter!) that Portland also had a fall of birds but somewhat more impressive than my little flurry at Clouds hill. They ended the day with a huge total of over 600 birds ringed!

I won’t be posting anything over the next week as I’m off to Gibraltar tomorrow morning for a week of ringing and birding so expect plenty of pics when I get back.