Sunday, 31 March 2013

Out in the Cold

Kidwelly Quay

The weather today was bright with no cloud but very cold.  The strong wind made it feel even colder.  We ventured out in the hope of finding a migrant or two but had no success.  We began at Burry port Harbour where the wind had even kept people away.  We found 21 Dunlin, and single Turnstone and Ringed Plover huddled together on a rocky shore.  A big pack of 150 Oystercatchers were close together on the beach and a single Great Crested Grebe flew by.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit
 We moved on to Kidwelly Quay.  Four Pintail and 6 Red-breasted Mergansers were in the channel albeit distant.  Once again my attention was drawn to a close in Black-tailed Godwit.  Not feeding to day but preening which gave me a chance of more photographs.  Soon the cold drove us home again.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Back Home in the Garden

Back home in Wales I cannot believe how freezing cold it is.  we have escaped the snow but it is as cold as in Bulgaria last week.  The birds in the garden are understandably ravenous.

Lesser Redpoll photographed in the garden last year
Siskins and Goldfinch numbers are still good and Greenfinches have increased as well.  The highlight today was 3 Lesser Redpolls feeding on niger seed.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Rest of Bulgaria

Apologies but lack of internet access prevented me from updating the Bulgaria trip until now.  We were moving on Wednesday from Koprivshtitsa to the western Rhodoropes to stay in the remote village of Mostovo.  As we left our base we stopped for a while nearby to look for Shorelarks but of course found none.  We did have very good views of a male Hen Harrier and a Sparrowhawk.  Further on we stopped in a village to watch a Syrian Woodpecker which was conveniently feeding on a road side tree.

Syrian Woodpecker

Pjasacnik Reservoir

We aimed to spend some time at the Pjasacnik Reservoir about halfway to our destination.  Here the weather improved and we spent our time there in warm sunshine.  On arrival we immediately discovered a pair of Little Ringed Plovers and then settled down to scan the large number of wildfowl.  Mallard were the most numerous with good numbers of Shelducks, Wigeon, Teal, Garganey as well as a few Shoveler and Pochard.  Groups of Cormorants flew around with Yellow-legged Gulls.  Suddenly a small group of 7 geese were discovered and as they flew around with Mallard it was obvious that these were Lesser White-fronted Geese.  Once they settled identification was confirmed.

Little Ringed Plover
Raptors too were in evidence and included a superb White-tailed Eagle, 2 Short-toed Eagles and a passing Osprey.  A green Woodpecker called behind us and several Chiffchaffs were singing and two members of the group had views of a Hoopoe.  Three Black Storks were also feeding nearby. Several common species of butterfly were on the wing and the highlight was a superb Large Tortoiseshell.

Western Rhodoropes

The next day we rose to the very cold but impressive scenery of the Western Rhodoropes. First thing a couple of Sand Martins battled their way down the valley as we prepared to move into the forest.  Passing a large open area we picked up a male Ring Ouzel and large numbers of Fieldfares before arriving at the Tchervenata Stena Reserve.  Our task here was to try and see Hazel Grouse a notoriously difficult species to find.  We stomped the forest for hours finding small numbers of birds like Willow Tit, Goldcrest and Treecreeper but none of our quarry.  We also had good views of the local Red Squirrels which have no red at all but are grey and white and even black and white.

Red Squirrel from Bulgaria
In the afternoon and after lots of searching we eventually heard the thin goldcrest-like song of Hazel Grouse.  We also heard its wing beating display and some even had brief flight views but that was all. Not very satisfactory for those among us who had not seen this species before.  We finished off by watching six Crag Martins soaring over a hillside on our return.

Tree Sparrow - a common species throughout Bulgaria

The next morning we had a three hour drive back to Sofia Airport.  We were not expecting many birds but were pleasantly surprised.  Driving along a great flat plain we were heading into a gale force and very cold wind with snow showers too.  We were able to pick out 3 Great White Egrets huddling with a number of Grey Herons, note one or two White Storks and Lapwings but best of all get good views of 4 Pygmy Cormorants flying alongside our minibus.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

No partridge but some good birds

Rock Partridge habitat

The day started bright and sunny and we set off for the hills in the National Park again.  On the way up a very confiding male Rock Bunting allowed me to take pictures from the vehicle.  We all gathered up and started our search for the Rock Partridge.  Despite much effort we failed again despite birds being seen here last Friday. 

A superb male Rock Bunting
We did see much more.  First a male Ring Ouzel perched on a distant tree and a Black Woodpecker called from the forest beneath us.  Soon we were looking up as 2 male Goshawks passed overhead.  We later picked out a female Goshawk harassing Wood Pigeons.  A Raven and Peregrine also appeared overhead before we started to see a migration of Black Storks.  We counted 56 in four groups as they searched for thermals to get them over the mountains.

Some of the Black Storks passing over us on their way north

Eventually cloud moved in and rain threatened and we had to leave the mountain. We drove back through our base village of Koprivshtitsa where we noted a White Stork on a nest and headed for the wonderful beech woods at Bogdan Forest.  This superb woodland sits at 1600 metres towering above the landscape.  We saw flocks of Yellowhammers and Skylarks on the way and eventually climbed up to the woods.

Bogdan Forest
As we left the four wheel drive we immediately discovered a flock of about 50 Bramblings and then an impressive flock of 200 Hawfinches.  This was to be the last of the birds.  Heavy rain set in and apart from Willow Tits, Nuthatches and Long-tailed Tits we found nothing else.  This was a possible site for Ural Owl but the weather soon had us scurrying down for supper.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Some you see and some you do not

An early morning around our local village was very profitable.  Hawfinches were flying around everywhere and in almost every garden.  Crossbills also frequented pines and we found White and Grey Wagtails easily.  A small group of Siskins fed on an area of grassland and 2 Dippers of the Black-bellied race were in the stream.

Hawfinches were the commonest bird on our early morning walk.

After breakfast we moved on down the Valley of Roses and took a walk over a landscape of grassland and forest.  We noted a Great Spotted Woodpecker and Crested Lark before a superb Eastern Imperial Eagle soared overhead.  Heading back a lone Chiffchaff flew by and 66 White Storks passed overhead before we boarded the bus to head off for our main quarry.

The Black-bellied Dipper

Using a four-wheel drive we went up very high to the edge of the snowline.  We began a walk in the dramatic hills but found little.  A group of 12 Wild Boar running beneath us pumped the adrenalin.  We found a splendid male Ring Ouzel after a while and then paused by beech woodland to obtain great views of a Black Woodpecker before finding a couple of Willow Tits.  Try as we could we found no sign of the elusive Rock Partridge.  Then just after lunch a heavy and prolonged snow shower arrived and we gave up for the day.  We will be back tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Greetings from Bulgaria

I am in Bulgaria for a few days with David Tomlinson and his tour company Gourmet birds.  Our main aim is to see an elusive and difficult species Rock Partridge.  We arrived at Sofia this afternoon and drove to some lovely hill, wooded country just to look for a few birds.  Almost the first bird we stopped for was a Sombre Tit very much a species of this area and a new bird for me.

A distant shot of a Sombre Tit

With just and hour or two of daylight we also saw early House Martins,  Great Grey Shrike, Woodlark, Cirl Bunting, Rock Bunting and perhaps most impressive of all 3 Long-legged Buzzards.  I will be reporting each day so watch this space.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Mud, Mud Glorious Mud!

Getting the car out this morning a bird I do not see near the house much nowadays flew over calling.  When we first moved here 12 years ago Curlews still nested withing earshot of the garden and the summer calls were a delight to the ear.  Sadly this species has declined a great deal as a nesting bird.  We had to go to Carmarthen for blood tests and I had to take the car to get two new tyres.  I went to Gravells in Kidwelly so an hour or so at Kidwelly Quay beckoned.

Black-tailed Godwit
Looking around I noted a Spotted Redshank, 2 Greenshanks, 7 Goldeneye and 5 Black-tailed Godwits amongst the more usual birds.  It was the Godwits which grabbed my attention as one was feeding pretty close right under the Quay.  It was an opportunity to get some photographs but also to study their feeding methods.

Black-tailed Godwit tugging hard at a worm
The birds just sauntered along the little muddy creeks searching for worms living in the mud.  When they found one it would take quite a bit of effort to tug away until the hapless creature could be pulled out and swallowed.

In the process the Black-tailed Godwit's legs and bill would get covered in slimy mud. 
The birds would get covered in mud on the legs and bill but would quickly wash it off and return to their pristine best.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Good news for White-fronted Geese

Most of our life we quite rightly hammer politicians for all the things they do not do to stop the terrible decline of our wildlife and destruction of wild places.  Sometimes it is good to praise them when they get something right. the Welsh assembly have been consulting on their decision to consider a ban on shooting White-fronted Geese in Wales.  Obviously the conservation organisations are very supportive of this idea and only this last weekend the Welsh Ornithological Society of which I am Chair endorsed our support as well.

European White-fronted Goose
Once flocks of over 2,000 European White-fronted Geese (Anser anser albifrons) annually wintered in the Tywi Valley but nowadays only the occasional individual turns up.  It is generally thought that these birds stay in places like the Netherlands now that winters are generally milder and do not bother to do the extra journey.  I hope this is correct because if not we have certainly lost this population.  This race of this species is still very numerous and widespread elsewhere in winter.

Greenland White-fronted Geese
The reason this news is so happily received in Wales is that small groups of the Greenland White-fronted Goose (Anser anser flavirostris) still winter in Wales mainly in the Dyfi Valley.  This race is much scarcer breeding in not only Greenland but also Iceland where shooting has already been banned. The Welsh Assembly should be congratulated on raising this issue and assuming they will go ahead it signals better days for this species and a contribution to increasing their numbers in Wales.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Balmy Afternoon

Maybe Spring IS coming.  The temperature reached 15 degrees this afternoon.  We had done some shopping in Llanelli so had a look at Penclacwydd and Sandy water Park first but nothing unusual not even the Scaup that had been at the latter site a day or two ago.  We ended up at Kidwelly Quay where there were plenty of birds to see.  Looking through the telescope there were about 70 Pintail in the distance with lost of Curlew and Dunlin.  Redshanks were also very obvious as well as 10 Black-tailed Godwits.  I could also pick out 2 Goldeneye but the highlight was a beautiful male Red-breasted Merganser which swam past the Quay.

This splendid male Red-breasted Merganser swam past Kidwelly Quay
We too a walk round  and stopped by Kymer's Canal where a very approachable Water Rail allowed me to get very close.

Water Rail skulking in Kymer's Canal
At last the weather was warm but rain is forecast for the next three days.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Still Fascinated by the Garden

In glorious weather over the weekend I am frequently gazing at the hordes of birds coming to the feeders.  The Willow Tits are still there, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker is also becoming more frequent and the numbers of Starlings are increasing.  We do not have many of this species nesting locally so I know these birds may come from Russia or somewhere to the east.  The sunshine has led to some singing and one today was constantly mimicking a Golden Oriole a species which is very rare in Wales.  The Starlings are changing their plumage too but each individual is different at the moment.

Starling - Still very spotted in winter plumage and with the bill turning from brownish/black to yellow

Starling - This individual with almost no spots on a glossy breast and the bill bright yellow
Of course there are still hordes of Goldfinches and Siskins.

Goldfinch and Siskin - A clash of colours

There are so many that birds have to form queues
We still have a male Lesser Redpoll but he has avoided the camera so far.