Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Back in Damp Wales

Part of the group of 25 Whooper Swans

We returned from France on Monday afternoon to horrendous wet and windy weather.  This morning was the first chance to get out.  Still windy but mild and some sunny periods were a huge improvement.  I dropped in at Dryslwyn Car Park and found it easy to see the 25 Whooper Swans which were close over the hedge at the edge of the flood.  There were also  500 Lapwings which is a big number for this site as well as a few Mute Swans, Greylag Geese and Canada Geese.  Two Goosanders also showed in the distance.

Tree Sparrow at Dryslwyn

I sat and waited a while and soon 3 Tree Sparrows appeared with a flock of about 30 Chaffinches.  On the way home 10 Wigeon were at Cilsan Bridge.  The River Tywi is running very high and flooding the meadows in places.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Recce Further South

In really dull, damp weather we began today at Port Leucate where the best find was 15 Sandwich Terns resting on posts in the lagoon.  We went up to Port Leucate where in driving rain we managed an adult Gannet flying north.  Thank goodness the rain had abated when we got to Le Franqui where there were plenty of Greater Flamingos.  We checked out the sewerage works and located 2 Water Rails and a Water Pipit and later a Snipe.

Sandwich Terns
We moved on to La Palme and ate our sandwiches and were both surprised and delighted when 21 Slender-billed Gulls flew in and landed in front of us.  Amazingly this species was a Lifer for Rob Macklin.

Part of the flock of Slender-billed Gulls with a Black-headed Gull for comparison.
The beach south of Port Nouvelle had 250 Dunlin, 2 Ringed Plovers, 8 Curlews and a Little Stint.  In the harbour there were at least 10 Black-necked Grebes and later we found another Water Pipit south of Bages.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Wildlife Holiday Recce

I have agreed to co-lead a Wildlife Holiday in Languedoc in late April for Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays.  Chris Durdin owner of Honeyguide and Rob Macklin co-leader have been here for a day or two and we have been going around on a reccee of sites.


We started today at Bessan in bright sunshine but a freezing wind.  We had no luck with Little Bustards but did find a mixed flock of Corn Buntings, Cirl Buntings and Greenfinches and a dozen Lapwings.  At Etang de Vendres the wind was very strong with ducks sheltering the lea and only a couple of Marsh Harriers really evident.  At Pissevache there were at least 6 Great White Egrets plus c100 Gadwall, c30 Teal , c30 Shoveler a few Shelduck and a dozen Greater Flamingos.

Greater Flamingos in the wind

Moving on to the Gruissan area there a few more Greater Flamingos about and a couple of Water Rails scuttled across the road.  At Mandirac we counted 18 White Storks and  a single male Penduline Tit.  Two Marsh Harriers quartered the marsh with a ring-tail Hen Harrier and 2 more Great White Egrets were sitting in the road.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Norfolk Boys in the Carmargue

The Carmargue complete with bulls.
Despite visiting many of the best birding spots in the World up until yesterday I had never been to the Camargue,  I had been told by many others that it is difficult to to see birds because so much is private land. So early yesterday morning the 8 Norfolk Boys, Paul Williams, Ron Bennett, Alan McBride and myself  set off for this mythical place.  First stop was at the top of the canal by the D779 in the Petite Carmargue.  Walking along a wall of reeds Alan McBride's squeaking produced about a dozen Penduline Tits, 2 Bearded Tits, Cetti's Warbler and plenty of Reed Buntings.

Penduline Tit photographed elsewhere in Languedoc
Moving on down the same road we started to see and hear Common Cranes and soon we could see up to 3,000 feeding in roadside fields.  They were quite nervous and kept their distance.
Common Cranes in roadside fields
Our next plan was to drive down the eastern side of the Etang de Vaccares and stop at the visitor centre at La Capeliere. Enroute we soon realised that most of the open areas of water were totally frozen and therefore duck were scarce.  The Etang Vaccares was unfrozen but we only initially came across rafts of Mallards and Coots.  Eventually we came across significant numbers of Great Crested Grebes with smaller numbers of Black-necked Grebes,

Black-necked Grebe.
There were also a few Shelduck and Shoveler and a single Pochard.  Arriving at La Capeliere we walked the trails but found little except Great White Egrets, Long-tailed Tits , Meadow Pipits and a few Water Rails desperately looking for food along the frozen ditches.

Water Rail on the ice.
Further exploration of this area added Kingfisher and Hen Harrier.  We headed north and then drove the western side of the Etang.  Here birds were difficult to find but we located a few Curlews, Dunlin, Grey Plovers, Avocets, Snipe and one each of Redshank,Spotted Redshank and Green Sandpiper.  We did stop and admire the special Camargue horses and the impressive black fighting bulls.

Carmargue Fighting Bull.
We headed back to have a last look at the Cranes before leaving for home.  We also added another Hen Harrier and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  We looked carefully at dozens of Common Buzzards but failed to find a Spotted Eagle.  I think I need to visit this area again in Spring before I am convinced it is worthwhile making the effort.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Norfolk Boys in the Snow

Blue Rock Thrush
This morning's plan was to go looking for the Snow Finch on Pic de Nore.  Low cloud and persistent sleet meant we could only walk around the historical village of Minerve.  We were immediately lucky to find 2 male Blue Rock Thrushes on the Gorge Brian walls.  Moving down into the gorge there were lots of Blackcaps as usual and a superb view of a Firecrest.  The highlight for me was a Dipper the first I have seen in this area.

White-out in my garden.

We finally gave up as the weather got worse and the Norfolk Boys departed to the coast in the hope of better weather and more birds.  After that the weather got worse and worse with heavy snow laying everywhere.  Quite a rare event around here.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Birding with the Norfolk Boys

My pal Paul Williams also an East Anglian asked Malcolm Raines from West Norfolk and 7 mates over to do some French Birding. We began after they left the Ryanair flight at Beziers Airport and looked for Little Bustards.  We found plenty of Buzzards, a couple of Sparrowhawks and 4 Lapwings but no bustards.  A quick decision was needed.  We hurried to a site near Bessan and after a short wait 5 Little Bustards flew around in a circle giving excellent views and gasps of approval from the Norfolk boys.

Little Bustards in flight
We also noted a ringtail Hen Harrier, Cattle Egret and Zitting Cisticola before we departed.  I went to pick up Ron Bennett and we all headed for the wonderful village of Moreze.  This site is traditional for seeing that most spectacular bird Wallcreeper the birds winter here probably coming from the Alps.

Moreze - good Wallcreeper habitat
When Ron and I arrived our friends were 20 minutes ahead of us and when we met they were all beaming as they had enjoyed superb views of a Wallcreepr just after arriving.  It was a lifer for most of them.  It was another hour before Ron and I caught up and we enjoyed fabulous views as this jewel of a bird busily circumvented a cliff flashing its scarlet wings.

Wallcreeper - photographed on a previous occasion
Heading back to base we stopped off to look for a Southern Grey Shrike.  In a freezing gale we duly found the bird and enjoyed good view and discussion on the taxonomy of the "Great Grey" shrikes.

Southern Grey Shrike
Finally we headed for a site to listen for and perhaps see an Eagle Owl.  Sadly the wind was so strong we gave that up for another day.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Much Colder

A much colder day and I did a quick check of Lac de Jouarres.  Not much change just 50 Mallard, a Grey Heron, 3 Yellow-legged Gulls but 40 Cormorants most of which were fishing feverishly.

Cormorant fishing
Driving through local vineyards there are many sizeable flocks of passerines.  Chaffinches seem to be the commonest species but flocks of mixed species are also common.  Today a mixed flock of c200 birds was equally made up of Goldfinches, Linnets and Serins.


With all this potential prey it is no wonder that these areas are good for raptors in winter.  Today I saw Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks all patiently waiting for their turn.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

South Along The Coast

Looking towards the Pyrenees from Port Leucate

A bright day with no wind so we headed south to the lagoon just alongside Port Leucate.  There were a lot of birds.  At least 30 Great White Egrets and a group of waders containing a Common Sandpiper, 6 Ringed Plovers, 8 Kentish Plovers and 15 Dunlin.  Moving on to Franqui there were more waders.  A single Redshank, 20 Dunlin and 5 Grey Plovers.

Grey Plover
We walked up to the little sewerage ponds where we flushed 5 Snipe and watched a superb Water Pipit.  We ate our lunch on the beach south of Port Nouvelle but added nothing there.  We pushed on to the harbour at Port Nouvelle where there we 4 Black-necked and 12 Great Crested Grebes.  Cormorants were also feeding and Yellow-legged Gulls were providing some great photo opportunities in the splendid light.

Yellow-legged Gull
We found another Black-necked Grebe at Peyriac a second Common Sandpiper and lots of Greater Flamingos some of which were engaging in display. Leaving Peyriac there were 8 White Storks feeding on a shallow lagoon.  Finally we called in at a small marsh on the edge of Narbonne.  A male Marsh Harrier and a Chiffchaff were the only species of note.

Friday, 11 January 2013

A Look Around in the Wind

The Splendid Gate at the old farm at Le Buoys
Bright sunshine today but with a very strong wind which made things feel cold.  At breakfast a beautiful male Hen Harrier hunted small birds over the lucerne fields.  After lunch we drove around the back of Minerve and La Caunette in a search for birds. We stopped at Le Buoys where a Hawfinch had been seen earlier in the week but nothing doing.  Our first bit of luck was we pulled on to the St.Pons road heading south to La Caunette.  A male Goshawk soared overhead being mobbed by 3 Jackdaws.

Mistle Thrush

We moved on and drove down the track by the gorge behind the village of La Caunette.  A group of Mistle Thrushes was very obvious as was another male Hen Harrier.  Further on a flock of 40 Fieldfares moved through a vineyard.  Lastly we stopped looking over Minerve hoping for a glimpse of a Blue Rock Thrush.  No luck with that one but to my surprise a super Hawfinch flew from one group of bushes to another right underneath us.  There are always surprises here.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Working in the Garden

A day at home clearing up garden rubbish and having a bonfire.  This is the only time of the year we can burn rubbish because it is normally too dry.  Not many birds today - a ringtail Hen Harrier chased small birds over the lucerne field and a Buzzard soared overhead.

Ringtail Hen Harrier - photo by Ian Spence

Quite a number of people ask me how and when to visit Languedoc and see its stunning wildlife. My friends Susan & Tim Wallis have some cancellations in May at their gite in nearby Oupia.  This is one of the best times to visit here.  Birds, butterflies and flowers at their best.  Why not visit their website

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Snowbird in the Sunshine

Paul Williams joined me today and we set off for Pic de Nore with a particular bird in mind.  I had not seen this species for well over 20 years.

The amazing view from Pic de Nore
Reaching the summit we were immediately struck by the amazing view.  All around the valleys and lower ground was covered with cloud.  We had anticipated cold weather but it was wonderfully warm.  A pair of Black Redstarts caught our eye near the car park.

Male Black Redstart
We set off walking away from, the car park and immediately a bird got up flying high above us.  At once I could see its white wings with black tips and called "Snow Finch".The bird circled around and finally landed in front of us.  To our utter amazement we were able to watch and photograph this much sought after species.

Snow Finch
Snow Finch again
After over an hour enjoying this bird we wandered around to see what else we could find.  We added 4 Citril Finches flying over calling, 3 Meadow Pipits, 2 Crested Tits and a few Coal Tits.  We started our descent after a picnic lunch and headed  towards Citou.  We heard Marsh Tit singing and saw Buzzards and Jays by the roadside.  We arrived at Citou and climbed to the castle.

Citou Castle
Citou is a know site for Wallcreeper in winter and we looked hard.  None today but a lovely Alpine Accentor.  What a great day and 2 lifers for Paul,

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Wallcreeper Blank

The news that pals Ron Bennett and Paul Williams had seen two Wallcreepers at Moreze (about 2 hours to the east of me) this morning inspired me to get out around Minerve and keep searching.  I did just that this afternoon but failed to find any of these wonderful birds or Alpine Accentors.


I did find a wonderful Firecrest, Black Redstart, c30 Fieldfares and a ringtail Hen Harrier.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Walking my French Patch

Corn Bunting
Still lovely sunny weather but a chilly wind.  I walked around the hill where we have our house to see what birds were present. A single Meadow Pipit got up from the lucerne fields and 27 Corn Buntings were lined up on a telegraph wire.  Edging close to a pine wood I found a pair of Crossbills and the male was singing.  Heading back for home a group of 6 Cirl Buntings flew up from an area of scrub.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Into The Gorge

The River Cesse in full flow through the Gorge

Today we spent and hour or so walking in the Cesse Gorge in the beautiful village of Minerve. As usual there were hordes of Blackcaps feeding in the sunshine.  We found no Alpine Accentors or indeed Wallcreepers but we did get a glimpse of a male Blue Rock Thrush on the village rooftops.

Male Blue Rock Thrush

I also checked out Lac de Jouarres but could only find 60 Mallard and 8 Great Crested Grebes.  On the way home a Green Woodpecker on the side of a telegraph pole was a bit of a surprise.

France at Last

We eventually arrived in France yesterday morning this time with no problems.  The weather here is amazing.  Cool but bright sunshine giving tremendous light.

Black-necked Grebe photographed at Port de Vendres last year
We headed for the coast to see how many new species we could find for my 2013 list.Approaching Port de Vendres a Merlin dashed across the road and in the harbour we found 2 Black-necked Grebes fishing.  A small flock of Greenfinches and a Black Redstart were also noted.  We headed for Pissevache where we found 4 Marsh Harriers and a ring-tail Hen Harrier as well as 3 Great White Egrets.  On the sewerage ponds there were at least 500 Northern Shovelers and c30 Shelducks.  On the large shallow lagoon 15 Greater Flamingos huddled against the wind.

Northern Shovelers on the sewerage ponds
We moved on south to the Gruissan area.  On the salt pans there were more Greater Flamingos and an unseasonal Common Sandpiper.  Little else so we headed for Mandirac.  Windy conditions made birds difficult to find but single Marsh and Hen Harriers caught our attention.  Checking out the small lagoon at Le Grand Castelou I was amazed to find 30 White Storks present.  At this time of year an odd bird is possible but this was an exceptional number.

White Storks at Le Grand Castelou
We were nearly home and approaching our house when a superb male Hen Harrier crossed the road and on arriving home a Sparrowhawk came hurtling out of our hedge.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Birthday Bash

After a heady night before we awoke to cold but sunny weather.  It was time to start the 2013 bird list so I started around the house.  Today was my 70th birthday so I had a bit more energy having reached this milestone.  I quickly notched up 17 species including a super Red Kite right over the house. Time to move on.


We started at Kidwelly Quay and as usual there were lots of Redshanks about 200 in all plus 12 Greenshanks roosting under the railway bridge.  Lapwings were also very obvious and c500 were counted as they took to the sky.  A couple of Little Egrets were added and three Goldeneye in the main channel.  We checked out the sewerage works and added Grey and Pied Wagtails but no sign of any Chiffchaffs.

Male Goldeneye

Next stop was Burry Port Harbour.  The first winter Long-tailed Duck was still there but no sign of Mediterranean Gull.  We headed on to Pembrey Country Park and scanning Cefn Sidan Beach found plenty of Oystercatchers, Sanderlings and Dunlin.  A Jay and Raven over the forest were also noted.  Back north again and a stop at Ferryside.  135 Black-tailed Godwits stood out along with the commoner waders.

The Long-tailed Duck at Burry Port

Finally in afternoon gloom we added 4 Whooper Swans at Cilsan Bridge bringing our total for the day to 54.