Monday, 31 December 2012

Cock-up on the Travelling Front

I must be cracking up.  We left home at 2am to be in time for the 6.0am flight to Beziers in France only to be turned away from the flight because I had entered the wrong details on Beryl's boarding pass and they did not match her passport.  What a disaster.  We have returned home to Wales and have rebooked for Friday with the correct details. I shall now celebrate my 70th birthday in dampest Wales.


On the bird front I was astonished at how many Robins and one Song Thrush were singing between 2am and 4am at motorway service areas and the airport car park.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

New Year in France


With rain still bucketing down we are off to France first thing tomorrow morning to hopefully enjoy some better weather and of course some birds.

Alpine Accentor

This is the season for mountain birds coming down to the gorges and mountain villages so fingers crossed for Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor and maybe even Snow Finch.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Sunshine at Last!

Amazing!  We rose to find a strong wind but bits of sunshine beginning to show.  We set off for Burry Port and when we arrived there was an almost cloudless sky and wonderful sunshine.  It must be at least a week since we saw that golden orb.  We immediately found the Long-tailed Duck feeding in the Inner Harbour.  Whilst there was also noted a Little Egret and a smart adult Mediterranean Gull.  We took a walk to the end of the jetty but the wind was strong northerly and very cold.  No significant birds were seen.

The Burry Port Long-tailed Duck
We then took a look at Kidwelly Airfield and the Quay.  Plenty of Starlings and an approachable Common Buzzard at the former site and on reaching the Quay we immediately found a large flock of Redshanks and 14 Greenshanks roosting with them. 

Common Buzzard at Kidwelly Airfield
We eventually headed home and as I was putting out bird food in the garden a pair of Willow Tits appeared.  It is amazing how a bit of sunshine gets you going again.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

What a Wonderful Year for Owls

Nobody in my family is surprised that I am not a great lover of Christmas. I find the hype too much to bear.  Particularly now in recession people rushing about spending money they have not got and feeling they have to keep up the ridiculous tradition of over indulgence.  I do at least admire those religious souls who celebrate for the right reasons.  Bah Humbug!

Short-eared Owl

As the year comes to an end it is a good time to reflect on the previous year and in my case what have been some of the ornithological highlights.  My immediate thoughts go to Owls.  These are difficult birds to see let alone photograph but this year has been good to me.  It all started in May at Elmley National Nature Reserve in Kent.  Reserve Manager Steve Gordon got me nice and close to a Short-eared Owl sitting on a post in steady rain.  This bird was part of a great influx into the UK during the year.

Great Grey Owl

Later in the summer in July I was staying with my son Jeremy and his family in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  This was my second visit here and I was anxious to catch up with some the owl species of the area which would be new to me.  The local birding blogs are shy to provide details of owl sightings but one posting escaped the censor and I got a clue where to look.  I tried the Grand Valley Road north-west of the city on three occasions without success.  I was on the point of giving up when my Yankee pal Bob Abrams suggested I go at dawn.  I did and enjoyed over an hour at close quarters with a marvellous Great Grey Owl.

Juvenile Scops Owl
Towards the end of July I was at our place in Lanquedoc, France.  Susan Wallis our friend from the neighbouring village of Oupia called me to say she had found a young Scops Owl on the ground close to her house.  I was quick to respond and when I arrived there was this tiny bird still covered in down with piercing yellow eyes.  Susan her husband Tim and neighbour Rod Leslie had taken a shoe box and placed it in a fig tree with the owl in place.  Later that night the adult came to feed the bird and all appeared to be in order.  It was an amazing opportunity to observe and photograph one of the most difficult owls to see.

Great Horned Owl
By the end of August I was off with friends to the Pantanal in Brazil.  A tropical wetland of which covers an enormous area you would not necessarily think of owls.  However we were fortunate to encounter a pair of Great Horned Owls in a grove of trees on the Transpantaneira.  They were calling constantly and provided reasonable views considering it was the middle of the day.  Later on the same day we found another as we watched late afternoon wetland birds.  On the same trip we moved north of the Pantanal to a dry area of forest and grazing land north of Cuiaba.  Here we met up with a wonderful pair of Burrowing Owls.  This species is active in daylight and provided great photo opportunities as they sat on fence posts alongside a rough track.

Burrowing Owl
The more recently in December I had an unplanned opportunity to be in Canada again  To the east of Calgary I came face to face with Snowy Owls.  They come here in winter in good numbers and sometimes can be persuaded to pose for a picture.  What a privilege to be so close to such a confiding bird.

Snowy Owl

If you add to these experiences my best ever view of an European Eagle Owl (sadly the light was too poor for a photograph) in France then my year with owls was almost complete.  Christmas Day is looking up.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Dry but still Grey

Male Siskin photographed in sunnier times

Another uninspiring day.  Birding only from the kitchen window.  Two male Siskins have joined the Goldfinches.  Weather forecast is grim but at least we are not flooded.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Back in Wales

We arrived back at Heathrow yesterday afternoon and arrived back in Wales early evening.  After a long sleep it was up to the usual damp, cloudy day but 8 degrees felt sweltering after Calgary.

Goldfinches on niger feeder in my garden on an earlier occasion

Not much time for birds but the only feeder still with food available was the niger and three glorious Goldfinches brightened up my homecoming.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year

Heading Home

Our domestic duty done we are heading back to the UK this evening.  I took a short walk around this area today particularly visiting the Sports Centre playing field and local gardens.  A population of White-tailed Jack Rabbits lives here and you can find there droppings and tracks everywhere.  The do seem to be largely nocturnal at this time of the year and I found none.  They are of course now in winter white pelage rather than the grey of summer.

White-tailed Jack Rabbit photographed in July
I did find a garden with some feeders and about a dozen House Sparrows my first of the last week.  More predictably there were a few Common Redpolls and a couple of House Finches.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Out Again by the River

In brilliant sunshine we drove down to Fish Creek Provincial Park again.  On the way we noted a pair of adult Bald Eagles perched in a tall tree,  Scanning the river the scene was much the same as the previous day.  Lots of Buffleheads, Goldeneyes and Mallard active on the frozen scene.

There were dozens of Goldeneyes.
Mallard on the ice.
Walking on we were amazed to see hardy fishermen wading into the ice laden river.  We did not see them succeed in catching anything.

Northern Flicker
We did find a pair of Goosanders (Common Mergansers) and a Northern Flicker which brought our week long species total to a nice round 30.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Still Birding in the snow

Bow River at Fish Creek Provincial Park
After a bit of shopping it was time to go birding again.  Phil the chap I met yesterday contacted me and suggested I try the Bow River at Fish Creek Provincial Park moving out near the boat Launch.  I did not score as high as Phil but there were hundreds of Canada Geese flying up and down and resting by the water.  Dozens of Goldeneye and Buffleheads were floating down the river with the flow and then flying upriver again to repeat the process.  I also picked out a Lesser Scaup.

Canada Geese in the snow
Canada Geese flying over.

Male Goldeneye
Female Buffleheads
With all this potential food about it was not surprising that one adult and 2 immature Bald Eagles were in the area.

Juvenile Bald Eagle
I moved on back to Weaselhead and started to walk down to the bridge.  Immediately I heard and saw small groups of Bohemian Waxwings flying over which totalled 115 in about ten minutes.  A Downy Woodpecker was foraging by the feeders which were now empty and a few Common Redpolls and a Red-breasted Nuthatch were also noted. 

Weaselhead in the snow
I walked over the bridge and took the trail into the clearing where I have watched Calliope Hummingbirds in the summer.  Apart from being hassled by Black-capped Chickadees and watching a few croaking Ravens passing overhead everything was quiet.  Walking back I sat on a bench and just soaked up this wonderful place.  Something in my head said look left.  I did and a juvenile Goshawk glided across the frozen stream and into a spruce tree.  Sadly it was not visible enough for a picture. It soon drew the attention of a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos and some Common Redpolls and departed.

A Male Pine Grosbeak photographed in Alaska

Climbing the hill again I looked back down to the frozen Elbow River and picked up a lone Coyote walking out on the ice.  A soft fluty call had me looking up in time to see a splendid male Pine Grosbeak flying above my head.  Another splendid day in this frozen place.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Stroll by the Bow River

The Bow River from Inglewood

Our walk today would be at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary alongside the Bow River.  Historically the river freezes at this time of year but recently more water has been flowing increasing the numbers of wildfowl staying for the winter.  Today was no exception with hundreds of Canada Geese and Mallard plus 3 Goldeneye still all looking very cold. A female Merlin caused us to look up as it crossed the river.

Wildlfowl on the Bow River
Walking in the cold woods we saw few birds.  The usual comically tame Black-capped Chickadees followed us around joined by a Downy Woodpecker and a few Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches.  Later a female Merlin flew over but maybe the best was 2 Golden-crowned Kinglets feeding in spruces by the trail.

Black-capped Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Maybe the best find of the day was Phil Quinn a British birder from Bristol.  It is a small World.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Snowy Owls in the snow

The prairies west of Strathmore

After domestic duties we headed east of Calgary towards Strathmore and soon turned off on minor roads reach RR251 north of Sadler's Slough and driving east.  It was tremendously bright sunshine but the temperature was minus 14.  On our journey we had spotted a Merlin flying across the road carrying prey and later after leaving the city we picked up a Prairie Falcon again flying across the road and identified by its "black armpits".  Driving up the snowy farm roads it was not long before we found our first Snowy.  An immature sitting on an oil tank in a frosty field.

The first Snowy Owl of the day - an immature
The bird was not in a great position to photograph and we left it peering at us from its perch.  Heading on east down the road we drove for some time before finding a second owl perched on a post.  It seemed to be attracted by a flock of about 1,000 Common Redpolls feeding on weed seeds.  This bird was incredibly tame and allowed me to walk up to get photographs.

The second Snowy Owl - also an immature.

Closer view of the second owl
After spending an hour or so with the second bird we headed back to Calgary.  Joining the Deerfoot Trail south suddenly skeins of Canada Geese were flying north totalling 500 in number.  Crossing the Elbow river a Common Goldeneye flew over and a Bald Eagle was sitting in a nearby tree.  We did a bit of shopping and arrived back home to reflect on an amazing morning.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Real Arctic Weather

We awoke this morning at 6.45am to find snow showers and a temperature of minus 10 degrees.  Visibility was down to only a hundred metres or so.  After the school run which was normal for my grandchildren but incredibly stressful for me (Dozens of 4x4s all over the place) I decided it was pointless to try and go out and find birds.

Black-billed Magpie

I had a nap to catch up on long lost sleep and kept an eye out of the window.  Two species seen - Raven and Black-billed Magpie.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A Day of Rough-legs

Grand Valley Road

I set off at 9am for the Grand Valley Road the scene of a wonderful day with a Great Grey Owl back in July.  There had been a recent sighting of a Northern Pygmy Owl in the same area and that species would be a lifer for me.  The weather was glorious with bright sunshine and a pleasant 3 degrees.  Well no sign of any owls but 2 White-tailed Deer and a Mule Deer.

Rough-legged Buzzard

This shot shows the definitive tail pattern of a Rough-legged Buzzard

Heading up to the north I came across 4 Rough-legged Buzzards (Hawks) and was fortunate that one allowed me close enough to get some decent shots.  The only other thing of note was a Coyote crossing the road on my way back for lunch.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Wintry Walk

Having done the school runs I ventured down to the Weaselhead Trail which is one of my favourite birding places in Calgary. As I left the car the temperature was a sweltering 2 degrees and I was feeling pretty warm with all my arctic kit on.  Some kind soul had put bird food along the trail on posts and in small boxes attached to trees.  This was where most of the birds were. 
Common Redpoll

Arctic (Hoary) Redpoll


Most were Common Redpolls with about 200 in all but I did find a very pale bird with a pure white rump which I am convinced was an Arctic (Hoary) Redpoll. Black-capped Chickadees were also obvious along with Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches.  A few House Finches were also present and Downy Woodpeckers were always in the background.  A sparrow on the road turned out to be an American Tree Sparrow.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Coming back to the car park I bumped into a group of thirty spectacular White-winged Crossbills sadly to skittish to get any pictures.  A good start and I hope to get out again.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Arrival in Calgary

We have arrived in Calgary two hours late to a balmy temperature of -2 degrees.  Snow everywhere but none falling and roads nice and clean.

Pine Grosbeak

Birds news locally is lots of Bohemian Waxwings, White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks so cannot wait to have a look round.

Friday, 7 December 2012

A Sudden Visit to Canada

Sadly my daughter-in law has to dash from Calgary to the Netherlands as her mother is terminally ill.  Beryl and I have responded to the request to travel out to Calgary on Sunday to help look after the grandchildren.  It is all a bit sudden and we will arrive to temperatures of minus 13 degrees and a lot of snow. 

Snowy Owl in a Calgary field - Photo Jeremy Moore
There might be time to look for some birds but they will be few in species number.  Owls are good at this time with Snowy Owls turning up in a lot of places.  Hawk and Great Grey Owls might also be found.  White-winged Crossbills and Bohemian Waxwings might also be possible so watch this space.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Soon be Back

I will soon be back as I will be online again from December 11th.

Monday, 12 November 2012

I Am Still Here

Apologies for being absent for some days now but AOL managed to cancel my contract and then not register a new agreement so now tell me I am no longer one of their customers (beware AOL customers) so have disconnected my internet connection.  I have applied to a new supplier but I will not be up and running again until the end of this month.

Otter - photographed in Hungary some years ago

A bit to report.  Driving through Llangadog on October 29th on the A40 a Weasel dashed across the road.  This is the first of this species I have seen in 11 years in Wales.  More recently on November 9th I first checked out Cilsan Bridge but only 46 Mute Swans present.  Dryslwyn was far more productive.  There were 13 Whooper Swans, 168 Canada Geese, 40 Greylag Geese, 40 Wigeon, 8 Curlew and a superb male Otter fishing under the bridge.

Whooper Swans

Last Saturday we enjoyed a splendid Welsh Ornithological Society Conference at Myddfai in Carmarthenshire.  Thanks to my friend Ben for letting me on line so I could update this blog.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Quiet Time


Returning from France it has been a quiet time here.  I have got the garden feeders going again and some birds have taken an immediate interest.  Nothing special but I always enjoy watching the antics and activity of the local Nuthatches.  Not many wintering Chaffinches yet so no chance of a visiting Brambling.  I am off to Bedford to give a talk this week so maybe get out later this week.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Disgrace of Policeman turned Egg Collector

Upson travelled to North Wales to steal Chough eggs.

There can be nothing worse than a "bent copper"and when we hear occasionally of corrupt policemen it always sends a shock through the system.  For the wildlife community the discovery today that  an officer from my native Suffolk has been found guilty of stealing the eggs of protected bird species is very shocking indeed.  Colin Upson 52 of Sotherton, Suffolk had collected 650 wild birds eggs including species such as Golden Eagle, Cettis Warbler, Hawfinch and Chough whilst travelling around the UK.  Perhaps the most shocking news was that most of the eggs were collected in Suffolk whilst he was carrying out his police duties.  These included Woodlark, Marsh Harrier and Kittiwake eggs the latter being taken from Lowestoft Pier. Although he had detailed records of his crimes hidden away he tried to claim that the eggs belonged to a relative and were taken when it was not against the law.

Upson took the eggs of Marsh Harrier in Suffolk

Upson was allowed to retire before this case came to court and it is therefore understood that he is receiving his full pension.  This frankly adds insult to injury and one hopes when he is sentenced that he will get the maximum of six months in jail.  When a serving police officer knowingly breaks the law it weakens the trust that the public have for authority. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Stay of Execution for English Badgers

Today's announcement by the Westminster Government that the planned Badger cull in the West Country is to be delayed until next year is good news particularly for these iconic animals.  What the Government mean exactly is not clear.  They claim the decision was made because it is too late into the season to carry out their plan.  That sounds nonsense to me.

Has the anti-cull campaign meant nothing to them?  Has the fact that the eminent science community has described their plans as unworkable and more likely to spread TB amongst cattle had no effect?  Have the 100,000+ petitions signatures made no impression?  This coalition does really take the public for idiots.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Back in the UK

Awaking this morning in France it was still raining hard for the fourth consecutive day.  Thankfully as we were packing up to leave it topped and sunshine at last.  This brought out the birds with at least 6 Black Redstarts feeding on the grassy areas including a superb male.  A Corn Bunting briefly sang from a nearby bush, 8 Rock Sparrows were wheezing from telephone lines and 2 Blackcaps fed in a small bush.  There were lots of Serins, Chaffinches and Goldfinches around the house and I also had a brief view of a Tree Pipit.

Tree Pipit

Back in UK heavy fog all the way home so on arrival got the wood stove going and prepared for cooler weather.