Monday, 30 September 2013

A dream come true

20 September 2013

Estaca de Bares

The usual pair of Tawny Owl hooted and tweeted from the roof of the Hotel overnight. Another 08:15 start on a flat calm day. Passage was relatively light this morning but this allowed more time to really soak in each bird as it passed. We still managed all four Skuas - 5 Great, 6 Arctic, 3 Pomarine and a single Long-tailed. In addition 2 Common Scoter, 100 Gannet, 250 Manx Shearwater, 50 Sooty Shearwater, 10 Cory's Shearwater, 39 Sandwich Tern, 5 Commic Tern, and the first Kittiwake of the season, a juvenile. We spent a little time checking the bushes around the headland finding 3 Black Redstart, 5 Dartford Warbler, 10 Stonechat and much to Mark's delight 2 Chough.

A pair of Chough give good views
As the sea was relatively quiet we decided to try to find some of the local land birds, some of which Mark had not seen for many years. He gave me a list of things he hoped for - Cirl Bunting, Crested Tit, Spotless Starling, Fan-tailed Warbler and Serin. We set off to a small hamlet called Loiba. My first site, for Crested Tit, drew a blank. However as I pointed out a field where Cirl Buntings were present last year a juvenile promptly flew out and a Fan-tailed Warbler hopped onto the fence.

Cirl Bunting
Fan-tailed Warbler
A large flock of finches in a field was mainly Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet and Chaffinch, but three Serin were also present.  A couple of Spotless Starling were sitting on the wires along the road and in stopping to view these I found a Pied Flycatcher and 3 Whinchat. While checking another area for Crested Tit, which was proving hard to get, I found 4 more Pied Flycatcher and a Red Squirrel.

Pied Flycatcher
Red Squirrel
Mark had not managed to see the Fan-tailed Warbler on our first attempt so I returned to the field. As I got out of the car a juvenile Red-backed Shrike hopped onto a bramble and gave good views at the back of the field. The Fan-tailed Warbler was relocated and coaxed out to give great views.

Red-backed Shrike
I decided to drive over to Ortiguera as we had heard Crested Tit here yesterday. After three stops still nothing, but as I drove along the road I thought I heard its distinctive trill call out of the window. I stopped and immediately located a pair of these enigmatic little birds. They came in for close views and Mark was delighted.

White Wagtail
We decided to stop in the Port at Ortiguera for lunch so we checked the Estuary beforehand. Out on the mud we found 100 Curlew, 50 Whimbrel, 25 Greenshank, 25 Oystercatcher, 15 Knot, 30 Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 European Black-tailed Godwit (1 ad, 1 juv), 15 Little Egret, 9 Mediterranean Gull, 5 Sandwich Tern and 5 Spoonbill. Lunch was superb sat under the Plain Trees in the square.

We ended the day where it started with a three hour seawatch from 16:30. Terns were moving in good numbers with 231 Sandwich, 239 Commic, 2 Black, 1 Little and 3 Arctic. Skuas were also on the move again with 32 Great, 31 Arctic, 3 Pomarine and 2 juvenile Long-tailed. Shearwaters were in smaller numbers but still Sooty and Manx were a constant sight with a single flock of 40 Sooties recorded, 7 Cory's Shearwater and 1 Balearic Shearwater. A distant flock of 32 Cormorant and 30 Common Scoter also flew by. 

However the evening, and for me the week, was made memorable for two events. At about 18:30 as I was scanning, I picked up a distinctive shape dancing over the calm waves about mid distance. The gently bowed wings, grey upperparts and dark underwings gave it away. I have long dreamed of this moment. Having quickly alerted Mark I was able to realise a long-held ambition when I shouted at the top of my voice 'Pterodroma!'. My Spanish friends all turned in unison to see me pointing in the general direction of the sighting. We were all very quickly on the bird, which due to the calm conditions took nearly ten minutes to make its way past the point. It danced and glided, twisted and turned, barely flapping despite the lack of wind - sheer poetry in flight. At one point a passing Arctic Skua thought it would give chase, only to be made a complete fool of when the Petrel slipped its attack in a stunning turn leaving the skua comedically looking and flying the wrong way. These gadfly petrels are really quite sublime. I've seen Zino's from a boat off Madeira (with some of the Spanish birders present this evening), finally saw my first Fea's from a boat off Cape Hatteras in July, my first land-based Fea's a few days earlier and now found my own. 

It was hard to be certain due to the very different viewing conditions compared to Monday when it was windier, but the bird looked so slight, so dainty, so slim - like the difference in jizz between an Arctic and a Long-tailed Skua - it looked more Zino's than Fea's, but who knows for sure, these are a difficult pair if not seen very well. Either way it was a fantastic moment that I will long remember. It was made all the sweeter after it had rounded the point and I looked up to see Antonio Martinez-Pernas hat in hand, beaming smile mid bow - nice to return his favour from Monday. Very, very special as any seawatcher will understand.

The next event came when I picked up a Peregrine flying in off the sea. The local pair has taken to hunting out over the Ocean often picking off unsuspecting terns or passing waders. However just behind it, on its tail was an Arctic Skua, chasing it back to the cliffs. The skua stayed on it, pressing home its challenge until the Peregrine flew over the clifftop - not often you see a Peregrine got the better of. The evening meal down in Porto Bares was most enjoyable and a large glass of wine to celebrate was definitely in order.

A wet night

19 September 2013

Estaca de Bares

After a wet night we awoke to a spectacular scene with mist rising off the sea in the inlets and creeks below the hotel. We arrived at the headland at 08:15 and stayed for two hours. As expected the rain had held back the Skua passage and produced a good passage this morning. A total of 31 Great Skua, 3 Pomarine Skua, 25 Arctic Skua and 3 juvenile Long-tailed Skua were counted. In addition we saw 30 Common Scoter, 16 Sandwich Tern, 12 Commic Tern, 20 Cory's Shearwater, 500 Manx Shearwater, 80 Sooty Shearwater, 2 Balearic Shearwater, 150 Gannet, and 2 Oystercatcher. A Yellow Wagtail flew in off the sea and the usual Stonechat and Dartford Warbler were encountered along the gorse covered slopes.

The sun eventually came out so Mandy and I went for a lovely walk along the estuary from Ortiguera to the beach. As we set off from the village 2 Cirl Bunting, 2 Pied Flycatcher and a Fan-tailed Warbler were seen. The Eucalyptus along the river yielded few birds though Crested Tit was heard. In the bushes at the beach we found 6 Willow Warbler, 2 Fan-tailed Warbler, a Red-eared Waxbill and 3 Stonechat. Several Willow Emerald were seen in the bushes by the pool and an Emperor flew around the shallow tidal pools in the saltmarsh. A superb Swallowtail butterfly and many Clouded Yellow were also seen.

As the tide rose the many waders feeding on the Estuary flew out to roost. About 300 Curlew in several flocks included 3 Whimbrel, 6 Grey Plover and a Knot. Walking back we saw another pair of Fan-tailed Warbler, a Kingfisher, a Common Sandpiper, 3 Little Egret, 5 Greenshank and a Green Woodpecker, and as we arrived back at the village 2 Spotless Starling were sitting in an Apple Tree.

Some of my Spanish friends watching from the headland

We returned for an evening watch from 17:15 to 20:00. The Skua passage had continued slowly all day, but picked up as it so often does here in the evening. We watched 36 Great Skua, 64 Arctic Skua, 3 small-skua sp, 10 (1 ad) Long-tailed Skua, and 1 ad Pomarine Skua go past. Shearwaters were still moving in reasonable numbers, 250 Sooties, 300 Manx, 13 Cory's, 4 Balearic and just before 20:00 a Great Shearwater passed slowly by.  In addition 47 Commic Tern, 1 Little Tern, 1 Arctic Tern, 33 Common Scoter and 500 Gannet. The family of Black Redstart fed around the Observatory and gave stunning views at times, even hopping right past Mark's feet.

Black Redstart

The passage continues

18 September 2013

Estaca de Bares

Our dawn watch began as usual at 08:15 as the sun rose. It was overcast with light drizzle on and off until we went for breakfast at 10:00. Passage had reduced somewhat but we still recorded 33 Sandwich Tern, 200 Gannet, 600 Sooty Shearwater, 2,000 Manx Shearwater, 29 Cory's Shearwater (always see most first thing), 1 Balearic Shearwater, 14 Arctic Skua, 13 Great Skua, 2 Pomarine Skua (almost all the Poms were fully spooned adults), 3 Turnstone,  3 Common Scoter, and 1 Bar-tailed Godwit.

We returned from 11:15 to 12:45 as the drizzle lifted and record 4 Great Skua, 1 Pomarine Skua (juv), 14 Arctic Skua, 50 Manx Shearwater, 2 Balearic Shearwater, 80 Sooty Shearwater, 14 Cory's Shearwater, 100 Gannet, 22 Sandwich Tern and a Grey Heron flying West some way out.

As the weather improved I went for a coastal walk with Mandy before we returned for the evening watch. Between 16:30 and 19:35 we saw 16 Arctic Skua, 3 Pomarine Skua, 14 Great Skua, 12 Cory's Shearwater, 177 Sooty Shearwater, 1,000+ Manx Shearwater, 200+ Gannet, 9 Whimbrel, 13 Commic Tern an 9 Sandwich Tern. 

The local male Peregrine left the cliffs as it spotted the Whimbrel flying past, stooped and took one from the middle of the group as they scattered. As it carried its prey back towards the shore the Whimbrel wriggled free, but fell into the sea. The female Peregrine joined the male and both stooped repeatedly as the Whimbrel desperately tried to get airborne from the clinging salt water. As it dived back into the water the local Yellow-legged gulls then moved in. It was pecked and ruthlessly chased for about 20 minutes, all the time becoming increasingly waterlogged. However when last seen it was somehow managing to fend off its attackers and was swimming slowly towards the rocks - hopefully it made it.

Heavy rain arrived at about 19:30, minutes after Mark's great experience suggested he should have a sit down in the car! It is only a couple of hundred metres to the car park but that's quite enough to give you a soaking.  A couple of Black Redstart, 2 Dartford Warbler and a pair of Raven were seen before the rain set in.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

A good result

29 September 2013

Challock and Reculver

I was just making breakfast after a slow Sunday morning when I received a message that Neil Burt had found a Two-barred Crossbill in Kings Wood at Challock. I decided this was the incentive to get out and was soon on my way. I parked in the main car park walked downhill and soon found myself on the edge of the large clearing. As I wandered along the main track wondering where I should look, but checking the many coniferous trees for Crossbills I found Neil coming the other way with a large grin on his face. The bird had been seen with 10 Common Crossbill and was presumably dropping down for a drink in a large puddle, but was disturbed by dog walkers and the flock flew away. I walked around for about an hour seeing nothing. I bumped into Dave Walker, Gill Hollamby and Martin Casemore. After a short chat and an introduction to Cricket identification from Dave I headed along the ride. Stopping briefly I heard the distinctive 'chipping' of Crossbills and soon located three female Commons flying across the clearing. They landed close by and I managed to scope them in the tree tops. I walked back down and decided to call it a day. Gill mentioned that a Red-breasted Flycatcher had been seen at Reculver, so I drove north through a very bus Canterbury.

Over the years the Caravan Park at Reculver has produced some stunning birds. Birders have always been able to access the small wood on the eastern side, enabling great views of some great birds (Hume's Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Pallas's Warbler, etc).  However as I arrived I was informed that viewing within the park was not permitted and we had to make do with the fields looking at the hedge. An hour later and I'd seen one brief view and lots of brief flicks through the base of the hedge - very frustrating indeed. A Willow Emerald showed briefly alongside the myriad Migrant Hawkers hunting the ditch.

After an hour and a half I'd had enough. The two Redwing in the hedge were little compensation and even the two Chiffchaff that called constantly failed to show. I drove to Shuart and walked out to the railway embankment. A Common Buzzard was along the entrance road. I trudged along looking at all the everlasting peas hoping for a Long-tailed Blue, but seeing just a Small White and two Red Admiral. However I flushed a brown acrocephalus warbler from the peas. It showed briefly, but not long enough and despite much effort I just could not entice it out for a photo - very frustrating. At this time of year, on easterlies, ignoring the reeds nearby.....

I walked back to the car and was about to set off for home when I decided to try one more time for the Flycatcher. With fewer people around I managed to get some good looks as it fed higher up in the last remnants of sunshine in the Sycamores and Poplars. A good end to a nice weekend.

1st winter Red-breasted Flycatcher

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Late September Easterlies

28 September 2013

East Kent

Anyone who follows the rare bird networks will know that this week has produced some astonishing numbers of the scarce Siberian migrant Yellow-browed Warbler, primarily in Shetland and Orkney, and down the NE coast of Britain. A few had made it to Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex by the end of the week. With increasing Easterly winds predicted over the weekend things looked good for a bash around East Kent this morning.

I was up at dawn and drove to one of my favourite autumn birding sites - Chamber's Wall, just east of Reculver. As soon as I got out of the car a Chiffchaff was calling from the line of Poplars that protects the farm buildings. I walked along the concrete road with Meadow Pipits calling occasionally. A Whinchat sitting proudly on the weeds was teh first migrant, followed by four Chiffchaff in the first Ivy covered hedgerow. I pished and played a recording of Yellow-browed, but no luck. At the old car park I decided to take the rather wet route through the grass, and was instantly rewarded when a warbler flicked up in front of me. It had no tail so immediately looked odd, and dropped into a close Umbelifer. I couldn't see much of it but the lack of tail proved helpful as it upended to drop into cover, showing clear arrowheads on its undertail coverts - a Grasshopper Warbler. I moved closer and it flushed again, pausing briefly in full view on the side of the hedge before vanishing into cover. A good start!

The hedge to the railway was quiet, just another Chiffchaff and three Song Thrush, plus a few Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Reed Bunting. I crossed the railway and walked through the reeds and grass to Coldharbour. Two more Chiffchaff along the broken hedge and another two in the small bushes at Coldharbour with a Whinchat. Two Sedge Warblers were calling from the thick cover and one showed briefly. I checked the lagoon but only found a few Redshank, then walked back to the Green Wall. I turned right and walked along to the White Poplars. Another four Chiffchaff including one in song, a few more Robins and Dunnocks (there were loads of both around today). I took some photos of the Chiffchaff and walked back along the lower path. 

Within 5 metres two birds erupted from the bushes - one a male Blackbird, the second a super Ring Ouzel, clacking and chacking its displeasure and being interrupted from its breakfast. A Blackcap flicked out of the bushes.
Ring Ouzel

I wandered back to the car seeing 40 Meadow Pipit and 25 Skylark, a flock of 30 Golden Plover, a dozen Starling, a Kestrel and many of the birds I encountered on the outward journey. The old car park hosted about 20 Migrant Hawkers, all hanging in the bushes, sometimes in pairs, and a single Willow Emerald - my first here.

Migrant Hawker
Migrant Hawker
Willow Emerald
I decided to check another favoured spot, Shuart Farm. I walked out along the track towards the sea. A Common Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk flushed some Lapwing from the stubble. A couple of Chiffchaff in the farm and a Blackcap along the hedge were the only migrants. I checked the hedges at Plum Pudding, just another Chiffchaff, a Blackcap and a brief Swallow of note. I walked back along what is normally a very quiet path. However a group of about 20 walkers were followed by a huge party of cub scouts with accompanying parents and guardians. I didn't see much, but its always great to see youngsters enjoying the outdoors.

As I reached the farm something moved next to my foot and flicked onto the side of the path. A juvenile Brambling was feeding unconcerned on the path and I'd nearly stepped on it! Fortunately it soon dropped back in, but just as I took the first image two cyclists came down the track. They stopped, but were impatient and tried to get past causing teh finch to fly up into the Sycamore above me. I waited. It didn't reappear, but I heard something drop into the leaves behind me. Initially I didn't see it but as I turned to leave the Brambling flew up from literally under my foot. It then hopped around eating seeds and Crane Fly's often too close to photograph.


I decided to continue my search at King George VI Park in Ramsgate. It is a  lovely bit of parkland, but is utterly over crowded with dogs which can be quite annoying - last year a couple of dogs flushed a Dusky Warbler I had just found on call, never to be seen again. However there are some quiet corners and I doubted anyone else had looked. 

As I walked in there were dogs everywhere, but most of their owners were chatting over a cuppa at the Cafe so hopefully the park would be less disturbed. The first line of trees behind the Cafe produced nothing, and the Easterly wind was bashing the trees. I made for a more protected area. By the Greenhouse I found a couple of Chiffchaff and a few Great and Blue Tit. I continued walking one of the ridges through the bushes. At the end I could hear a few Tits calling and carefully approached. A Chiffchaff called and hopped into view. Almost without thinking I imitated a Yellow-browed call. A warbler appeared instantly. I assumed it was the Chiffchaff, but naked eye I suddenly saw it had two wing bars and a stonking supercilium - a Yellow-browed Warbler! Awesome. It fed briefly in the elder bush, but I couldn't get a decent photo. 

The Yellow-browed Warbler partially obscured in the Elder
I thought it was moving to the right so moved a little way along the path where I had a clear view. Nothing. Then it was calling behind me. I walked around carefully and found the Chiffchaff in a Holm Oak. I waited - another movement and there it was. It flicked into another Elder, I fired three shots, and it was gone across the Park. 
It shows briefly in the open(ish)
I checked the quiet corner finding three Song Thrush. A Redstart flicked across the clearing, showed briefly and vanished into the gardens. I checked the small woods at the bottom of the park, but they were all getting blasted and held nothing other than a few Robin and Blackbird. I decided to do a second circuit and immediately found 3-4 Firecrest feeding together with a few Tits. The light was atrocious but I tried anyway. 

Firecrest - one of at least five present
After enjoying views I returned to the greenhouse where the same two Chiffchaff were present. Another two Firecrest were feeding close by, but despite considerable effort I could not relocate the warbler.

A quick look at Port Regis found 2 Chiffchaff and a couple of Golden Plover feeding close to the road. I walked around Northdown Park hearing four Chiffchaff but the wind was really bashing the trees so I called it a day - a very good one.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Seawatching heaven

17 September 2013

Estaca de Bares

Gannets passing close past the headland
It was no surprise that after yesterdays excitement we were back at the Observatory at 08:00 awaiting sunrise and anticipating another exciting day. What was surprising was having the place to ourselves for over an hour, before the Spanish birders arrived. Having said that they have some stamina as they would stay from 09:30 to dusk. We on the other hand watched for two hours, then went for breakfast, returned from 11:30 until 13:00 and finished with another watch from 16:30 to 19:30, balancing seawatching with some walks with Mandy along the most beautiful stretches of rocky coastline, while Mark relaxed at the Hotel.

Huge numbers of shearwaters continued to move from first light and over the next two hours. Manx's were pouring through at a rate of 3,000 per hour and Sooties at 500 per hour, and all along a very narrow line. In just two hours before breakfast we estimated a total of 8,000 Manx Shearwater, 2,000 Sooty Shearwater, 35 Cory's Shearwater, 12 Balearic Shearwater, 10 Arctic Skua, 14 Great Skua, 5 Common Scoter, 13 Dunlin and 2 Whimbrel. There were no migrants around the point but two Black Redstart, 7 Stonechat and 2 Dartford Warbler were seen between the car and the Observatory.

A Great Skua and a Gannet
As we drove back up the hill to the hotel the small bunting flushed from the roadside, but disappeared over the hill. After breakfast the bunting was back in the concrete drainage channel and flushed up onto the large granite boulders beside the road. This time with bins there was no doubt about the identification - a smart male Lapland Bunting it was. 

The Lapland Bunting flicks up onto the Granite rocks
And feeds along the side of the road
As we arrived back at the Observatory we casually mentioned the sighting using the scientific name to ensure they understood his slightly broken Spanish, not knowing we were about to start a minor twitch. The local guys grabbed their Collin's Guides and demanded to see the photos that I'd taken. They compared the images with the plates in the book and asked for directions. Struggling to make it clear where the bird was and realising it was quite important Mark very kindly offered to accompany them up the hill. Within minutes they were in their cars and racing up towards the Hotel leaving me alone on the seawatch. I continued to watch but tried not to see anything too good - it just didn't feel right to get something good while Mark was away helping the guys. They were gone the best part of an hour, but all returned with huge smiles. 

When they returned Mark explained that the Lapland Bunting was a new bird for almost everyone of them, a Spanish tick for all and clearly quite a rarity. It even made it onto the Reservoir Birds website with a double exclamation mark!! They were incredibly grateful for Mark's efforts in showing it to them and this created a fantastic team sprit around the seawatch thereafter. Mark had also learned that one of the guys, Ferran, spoke fluent French, a common language, which made communication much easier thereafter. Mark enjoys languages and at one time held a rather bizarre conversation in English, Spanish, French and Latin - amazing!

The Bird Observatory
What happened next was even more incredible. As we packed up to leave at 13:00 I started back to the car along the narrow pathway. A bird was feeding on the ground ahead and I raised my bins to check it out, expecting a Dunnock or Stonechat, but finding  a/the Lapland Bunting! The original site was some 1km away up a quite steep hill, though overlooking our position. I called the Spanish birders who enjoyed further views of the bird right next to the Observatory. As we drove back up the hill the original site held no bunting, though it was back later in the day?

Lapland Bunting (this image taken at original roadside site)

Mandy and I went for a walk along the cliffs at Loiba. In a patch of native conifer I found a couple of Crested Tit and 3 Coal Tit, while along the cliffs 7 Stonechat and a Dartford Warbler. 

The view from Loiba back to Bares
We returned to seawatch from 16:30 to 19:30. The passage of shearwaters had slowed but as still exciting enough and Skuas were on the move. Over the three hours we recorded:

Manx Shearwater 400
Balearic Shearwater 5
Sooty Shearwater 250
Cory's Shearwater 5
Arctic Skua 12
Great Skua 15
Pomarine Skua 3
Long-tailed Skua 1 dark phase juv
Whimbrel 5
Redshank 1
Oystercatcher 2
Dunlin 1
Common Scoter 5
Commic Tern 60
Sandwich Tern 65
Arctic Tern 1
Gannet 150

Day totals included over 12,000 Manx Shearwater, 3,000 Sooty Shearwater, 25 Balearic, and 48 Cory's.

Seawatching can make you smile!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Now that's what I call a seawatch!

16 September 2013

Estaca de Bares seawatching

Some of the 15,000 Manx Shearwater that flew west today!
Seawatching is all about timing. Normally being at a good seawatch relies on hours pouring over long range weather forecasts leading up to the day in question, then watching as the day gets nearer to see if the weather will deliver. More often than not your hopes are dashed as the pressure systems change shape or move position. Occasionally everything comes together and if you are able to be in the right place at the right time a great day of seabird migration can be enjoyed. Good days are hard to predict and few and far between. So booking a seawatching holiday six months beforehand is a little hit and miss to say the least!

Last year we enjoyed two glorious sunny September weeks, brought about by easterly winds and a high pressure system. Not ideal (for seawatching) but still enjoyable. As this years trip approached I had been watching the weather forecasts hoping we might be luckier and whetting my appetite reading the new Estaca blog site. For much of the week before the forecast looked ok but not great - the possibility of a north easterly late in the week. What we wanted though was a north westerly wind, which would encourage numbers of birds to leave Biscay and pass close to the Spanish shore. On Friday the forecast changed, and for once for the better - from Monday the wind would go north westerly - and it would stay there for at least three days. 

We were up early, actually a little too early, and set off down the hill towards the Observatory. As we drove along the tarmac road a bird flushed off the road in front of the car - a Nightjar. Twenty metres further along and a second bird appeared in the lights and flew up over the bonnet and across the low trees. A good start to any day!

It was just light enough at 08:00 to start a sea watch and immediately it was apparent that good numbers of shearwaters were moving. The wind was initially WNW, but moved NW later at about force 2. However the wind was stronger further into Biscay, so we had the double good fortune of strong winds blowing the birds our way and calm, mild conditions to watch in. We watched until 10:00 then returned to the hotel for some breakfast. We  returned at 11:00 as the wind turned NW with drizzle and stayed to 14:30. After a short break we were back for the evening 16:30 to 19:30.

Sooty and Manx Shearwater

It was an incredible day. At times it was impossible to count the birds moving past. Scanning was not an option and it proved easier to leave your scope in one position and just watch everything fly through your field of view. Over the course of the day Manx Shearwaters moved west at 1,350 birds per hour, and totaled in excess of 15,000 birds. An incredible 1,221 Sooty Shearwaters, 141 Cory's, 44 Balearics and 2 Great Shearwater were recorded. The cherry on the icing on the rather large creamy cake came in the evening watch, when a superb Fea's Petrel was called by Antonio Martinez Pernas (on his Birthday). After Ferran turned and said 'They think they've got a Pterodroma' I managed to stay calm enough to pick it up quite quickly and was able to watch it for about five minutes as it passed by. I even had time to let Mark watch it through my scope before it eventually rounded the headland - one of the great things about Bares is due to the shape of the headland, angle of approach and position of the Observatory you get very prolonged side-on views. My second ever Fea's after the bird off Hatteras in July and first Pterodroma from land - what a bird, what a day, what a place! But it didn't quite end there.....(see below)

Totals recorded for the day were:
1 Fea's Petrel
606 Gannets
15,000 Manxies (1,350 birds/hour)
1,221 Sooties
141 Cory’s
44 Balearics
2 Great Shearwater
31 Pomarine Skuas
73 Arctic Skuas
5 LT Skuas
48 Bonxies
97 Sandwich Terns
80 “comic” Terns
2 Black terns
13 Black-Tailed Godwit
8 Whimbrel

Cory's Shearwater
In the evening we drove down into the Porto Bares for a lovely meal in one of the small restaurants. Just down the hill from the Hotel a bird flicked up off the road onto the large granite rocks. With no bins in the car we thought it looked like a Lapland Bunting, but couldn't be certain. It flicked off and we drove down for dinner, not realising just how scarce the species is here.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Back to Bares!

15 September 2013

Estaca de Bares, Galicia, NW Spain

Following our visit to Galicia last September I was keen to return for more seawatching at the brilliant Estaca de Bares. We had found the superbly located Hotel Semaforo de Bares, perched at the top of the hill overlooking the headland on a walk and decided it would be a perfect base for this year's trip - it is just a five minute drive or 30 minute walk to the Bird Observatory! I had also invited my great friend and seawatching buddy Mark Hollingworth to join us for the week. 

We flew to Asturias airport with Easyjet and picked up our hire car from Budget - they gave us a brand new BMW 320d! A new experience to have a hire car that is the best car in the hotel car park. The two hour drive went smoothly in the sunshine, taking a sandwich break along the beautiful coast, and we arrived at the hotel by 17:30, dropped the bags and headed straight down the hill. I had arranged to meet  my Spanish seawatching friend and Bares aficionado Antonio Sandoval but we were late and I hoped he would still be around. Fortunately as we parked he was just getting into his car with his wife Anna and son Pedro to leave for their home in A Coruna. After a long chat we bid him farewell and he very kindly lent us a fold-up chair for Mark to use.  Unfortunately he was not going to be around next weekend as he was giving a talk about Bares in Santander.

As we were at the Observatory we decided to seawatch for an hour or so to get our eye in, which proved useful as Mark is more used to sea level watching into the sun at Dungeness and the increased height here and north facing aspect needed a little getting used to. There was no wind at all and the sea was flat calm. However this is Estaca de Bares, so we recorded the following between 18:00 and 19:30:

Gannet 200
Arctic Skua 15
Great Skua 35
Pomarine Skua 2
Long-tailed Skua 2
Cory's Shearwater 10
Sooty Shearwater 150
Manx Shearwater 100
BAlearic SHearwater 75
Common Tern 80
Sandwich Tern 80
Black Tern 1
Little Tern 1


Not bad for a one and a half hour warm up in no wind, flat seas and sunshine! Around the car park we had several Stonechat and Black Redstart.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

What no palmations...

14 September 2013

Dungeness and Oare

On Monday a juvenile Semi-palmated Sandpiper was photographed in front of the Firth Hide at Dungeness RSPB reserve by Martin Casemore, aka Plodding Birder. It was well seen on Tuesday from Makepeace and Firth Hides, but was not present on Wednesday morning. Despite no news all day on Wednesday it was reported as present in the afternoon and evening on the Dungeness Bird Observatory website? Thursday there was no news and it was presumed to have gone. However on Friday it was re-found distantly from the Makepeace Hide and a series of messages reporting its continued presence there, from Firth Hide and latterly from the ARC Screen Hide with two juvenile Little Stint until dusk provided ample incentive for an early start this morning. For Gary this would be a new bird species in Kent, and he'd tried before work on Wednesday without success, so was very keen to see it.

So we arrived in the ARC car park just before 07:30, as the light was improving. A twitter message confirmed its continued presence just 24 minutes earlier. We walked to the Screen Hide and quickly located the two Little Stint, and a Garganey, but there was no sign of the Semi-P.  Assuming it to be obscured behind the islands we continued to scan. After about 15 minutes as James Hunter arrived in the hide the two Stints took flight. As they flew out over the water a third bird flew out from behind an island and joined them. They circled high and landed distantly, but the views were inadequate and they took flight again this time disappearing onto the unseen islands in front of Hanson Hide. We quickly de-camped and within a few minutes arrived on the opposite side of the pit. We quickly located the two Little Stint, but just as the third bird appeared all the waders took flight. Fortunately the threesome returned. Two Little Stint walked out from behind the rocks followed by.....a third juv Little Stint?  Odd. I scanned the rest of the island. Half way across I found another very pale grey Stint - but it was an adult Little Stint, with another juvenile alongside. Further scanning found five Garganey, a sixth (juv) Little Stint, 3 Ruff, a Curlew Sandpiper, 6 Ringed Plover, 50 Golden Plover, 100 Lapwing, 3 Little Egret, 5 Greenshank, a Bar-tailed Godwit, 12 Black-tailed Godwit and a Common Sandpiper. 

As the waders flushed again a female/juv Merlin flew across the pit and joined 3 Sparrowhawk and 2 Kestrel circling over the Water Tower. A mass of Swallows, Sand and House Martin were feeding over the pit and gradually headed north into the wind.

Barry Wright arrived in the hide and we updated him. He informed us that some photos had been posted on the KOS website of the 'Semi-P' seen yesterday and that the observer felt it was a different bird to the one seen on Tuesday. A quick view of the images on our mobiles revealed a very different bird - it was an adult not a juvenile, and it was a different species - a Little Stint, not a Semi-palmated Sandpiper! With a series of phone calls made yesterdays reports started to unfold, one by one, until we were left in no doubt the adult Little Stint had apparently caused some issues....  A Hobby was feeding distantly over the Reserve as we left.

We headed off to the sea. Scanning from the Fishing Boats found 3 Balearic Shearwaters and about 10 Arctic Skua, plus a few Common and Sandwich Tern, Gannets and a small flock of 8 Common Scoter. We moved around to the Patch where about 15 Black Tern, 2 Arctic Tern and an adult Little Gull were found among the larger numbers of Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull, Common and Sandwich Terns feeding and roosting on the beach. Scanning the sea found several flocks of Balearic Shearwater passing at distance - 26 in total with flocks of 6, 7 and 9. We also saw a Great Skua and another (or the same) 10 Arctic Skua.

Gary was keen to see the Spotted Crake so we drove up to Oare Marshes. The Crake eventually showed really well in the small ditch, and the light was better than yesterday. Other birds included 2-3 Little Stint, 12 Curlew Sandpiper, 30 Little Egret, 1 Water Rail, 600 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Bar-tailed Godwit, 100 Avocet, 60 Golden Plover, 10 Ruff, 300 Redshank and 50 Dunlin. A scan of the Swale found only a couple of Sandwich Tern.