Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Migrants Still Arriving

I was going out locally to day with pal Alan McBride and we started at the Minerve area where the Peregrine was still on her ledge.  We hunted around to the north of the village and to begin with found little except for Woodlarks and Kestrels.  Coming down from above La Caunette we did find a Blue-headed Wagtail and a Tawny Pipit.  Heading back to Montcelebre for lunch we stopped to admire a couple of Woodchat Shrikes which appeared to be a pair.

One of the Woodchat Shrikes
After lunch we set off to an area where the very scarce Bonelli's Eagle nests.  Without any effort we stopped by the roadside and enjoyed excellent views of a bird soaring overhead.

Bonelli's Eagle
We headed home and transversed the vineyards near Cesseras and Azillanet and immediately caught up with at least 40 Rock Sparrows feeding amongst the vines. We were also pleasantly surprised to find 3 male Ortolan Buntings.

Rock Sparrow
I returned to the area in the evening and managed to get a photo of one of the Ortolans and also heard a Quail calling.

Male Ortolan Bunting
From tomorrow I will be co-leading a tour from Honeyguides from the UK and am really looking forward to sharing the astounding wildlife of this area with 14 people.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Sun Brings Out The Flowers and Insects

It was beautiful and warm today with temperatures over 20 degrees by lunch time.  Coming back from Olonzac market we saw a Black Kite and 3 Woodchat Shrikes. Nearer home we also noted a super male Pied Flycatcher.

Pyrenean Snakeshead

This afternoon I drove around a couple of good sites for wild flowers on the edge of the Cesse Gorge.  My timing was perfect as there were good shows of Bearded Iris and Common Jonquil but the best displays yet of Pyrenean Snakeshead and some excellent stands of Lady Orchids

Lady Orchids
There were plenty of butterflies about today as well.  Large Whites and Swallowtails have been all I have seen until today but there were lots of Cleopatras and Clouded Yellows on the wing.

Sitting on the terrace this evening we saw our first Short-toed Eagle of the spring and there were hordes of Common Swifts overhead as well.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Over the Border in Spain

We decided to get up early and go to the Aiguamolls de l'Emporda Natural Park which is a regular habit of ours.  It only takes about two hours to be birding there.  Leaving Cesseras we noticed 6 Common Swifts flying over which were the vanguard of hundreds seen during the day. On arrival at the Park we hurried to the first hide where several Whiskered Terns were hunting and a Great White Egret stood out among the many Little Egrets,  There seemed to be a lot of infant school groups around so we gave up our seats to them and moved on.  The second hide produced about 40 Greenshanks, 20 Pallid Swifts, many Black-winged Stilts about 30 Greater Flamingos and the biggest shock of the day.  There asleep on a a small island was an Egyptian Goose the first of this species I have seen in Europe outside the UK and the Netherlands.  This feral species is getting everywhere.

The Egyptian Goose asleep
We walked on with a deafening chorus of Nightingales and Cetti's Warblers.  Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins were passing south in large numbers as where Common Swifts but we did also pick out 4 Alpine Swifts overhead as well.  We soon arrived at the area of wet meadows and here picked up a couple of Bee-eaters passing south as well as 2 Black Kites and 4 Marsh Harriers.  The meadows held at least 60 Black-winged Stilts and 12 Wood Sandpipers.  The wetter areas had two fine male Garganey feeding in the shallows.

Male Garganey
Walking back past wetlands we could hear Great Reed and Reed Warbler and single Collared Pratincole and Squacco Heron flew over.  We had a snack in the car park and afterwards I revisited the first hide by the HQ.  It was quiet now.  A Marsh Harrier put up all the birds and I could add Shovelers, 2 male Wigeon, 6 more  Garganey and 20 Black-tailed Godwits to the day list.  Also a large group of Fallow Deer were now grazing by the water's edge.

Part of the group of Fallow Deer
We then moved on to another area of the Park north of the town of the town of Castello d'Empuries.  Stopping by one of the small bridges we noted a Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier, 2 Purple Herons and another group of about 20 Whiskered Terns.  The highlight though was an assembly of around 150 White Storks.  Every now and then a small group would get up find a thermal and head off north to cross the nearby mountains.  It was a spectacular sight.
White Stork in flight

White Stork feeding

A great day!  Back at home writing this blog I heard a familiar noise and opening the front door could hear my first Scop's Owl of the year calling from the garden.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

More Birds turning up

Less wind today and a bit more sunshine.  A Black Kite flew past the window at breakfast and as soon as I went out onto the garden I could hear an Orphean Warbler singing.  Nightingale, Hoopoe and Cuckoo joined in the chorus and a beautiful fresh Swallowtail butterfly flew by. A pair of colourful Cirl Buntings also came to feed on our grassy areas.

Swallowtail butterfly
Later whilst visiting neighbours John and Hanny we noted a female Pied Flycatcher and a Nightinglae in their garden.  We spent the afternoon visiting more friends and on our return stopped at Minerve to watch 4 Red-rumped Swallows, 2 House Martins, 2 Crag Martins and a Swallow.

Red-rumped Swallow
We checked a local Golden Eagle site and noted a bird on the nest.  Scanning with a telescope I was amazed to see a female Peregrine apparently sitting on a clutch of eggs.  Obviously the eagles are not around this year.  On the way home a handsome Woodchat Shrike sat on a roadside bush.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Cold in the South

Male Black Redstart

Wow it was cold here in the South of France today.  The north-westerly wind was strong and brought some showers too.  Early on I heard both Cuckoo and Nightingale but little else.  I cut our grass during the day and as soon as I finished a superb male Black Redstart appeared to feed closely followed by two females.

Woodchat Shrike

On the way back from an early shopping trip to Olonzac I did spot a Woodchat Shrike clinging on to a wind swept bush.  I do hope it is warmer tomorrow.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Going South in France

We have spent the last two days driving down through France.  We spent last night in Rosnay in the Brenne which gives me a chance to meet up with good friend Tony Williams and see some birds.  This morning was gorgeous with warm sunshine beckoning us after breakfast.

Black-necked Grebe

We had checked Gabrieau the previous evening and seen plenty of Black-necked Grebes and a small group of Red-crested Pochards.  This morning we stopped at a small lake and could immediately hear Grasshopper Warbler and Nightingale.  Another Red-crested Pochard was on the water and a Purple Heron and a Black Kite flew over.

Purple Heron
We moved on to the National Park Headquarters and pulling up in the car park 2 Hawfinches flew over and a Cuckoo was calling in the distance.  A Hoopoe dropped onto the road and Swallows and House Martins were everywhere.  Moving on we stopped at another lake near Chiron. Here Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Nightingales were in full song and Turtle Doves purred in the hedgerows.  On a partially drained lake c30 Greenshanks and a dozen Little Egrets were feeding.  We were in Paradise as spring was very much here.

Black Kite
Heading further south the weather became cloudier and a bit rainy but we still saw many more Black Kites from the autoroute.  No time for photography today so all pictures are from my library.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Heading for the Sun

Despite both of us feeling severely under the weather lately we are setting of this afternoon to our place in France.  The sunshine and temperatures in the 20's plus Nightingales singing in the garden is too much to miss.  Spring migration will be well under way and there have been a couple of good birds in the region lately.

Black-shouldered Kite
A Black-shouldered Kite I saw last July is apparently still about and now there is a hope that it finds a mate and starts nesting.  This species has spread rapidly in Southern France and is a welcome addition to the avifauna.

Male White-headed Duck
At Pissevache there has been a male White-headed Duck on the sewerage lagoons.  This is a rare bird away from Spain but this species is also increasing its numbers and range.  I hope I might catch up with both of them.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

An Evening of Hirundines

It has rained most of the day here and been windy and cool.  The rain stopped about 4.30pm and so I decided to go out and see if I could find my first Swallow of the year.  Driving through Pen y Banc I quickly noted a distant Swallow hurrying north.  Was this it?  Would this be the only Swallow of the day?

Barn Swallows in warmer times

Not so because as I reached Cilsan Bridge four more passed upriver and then driving through Ffair Fach another six were feeding by the roadside.  I hurried on to Llangadog Common and there by the river were hordes of hirundines.  I counted about 60 Swallows, 30 Sand Martins and four House Martins.  The weather was still miserable so a feeling of Spring was difficult to imagine.  I know one Swallow does not make a summer but this lot left me hoping for warmer days.

The Mute Swan on her isolated nest

Earlier passing a muddy field with still a small puddle in it near Golden Grove I managed a shot of a Mute Swan building a nest on a tiny area of water.  A week or two ago the field was like a small lake but within a week or so it should be bone dry.  I fear this nest has little future.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Over the Hills and Far Away

RSPB Dinas
With wind having dropped considerably we decided to take a drive into the Cambrian Hills and see if any migrants had made it there yet.  We stopped first at the RSPB Dinas Reserve which will be absolutely humming in a couple of weeks time but not today.  We walked the boardwalk looking everywhere but only found residents such as Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail, Song Thrush and red Kites and Buzzards overhead.  In a nearby field 6 Redwings fed with a couple of Mistle thrushes.

The Boardwalk at RSPB Dinas
We moved up the road and parked by the Llyne Brianne Dam for a picnic.  I had the window open and suddenly heard a Buzzard calling very close but looking everywhere  I could not see it.  Looking further I noticed a Jay sitting on a nearby fence post and realised that it was making the call mimicking a Buzzard perfectly.  I know they do this sort of thing but had never witnessed this before.  Moving on up around the Dam we came across a splendid male Wheatear but that was our only summer migrant of the day.  The reservoir is often birdless but today there were seven Teal and three Mallards in one of the shallower areas.

The smart male Reed Bunting

Having got this far we carried on to Tregaron but apart from Ravens, Red Kites and Buzzards saw nothing else.  Arriving at Cors Caron Reserve centre our attention was drawn to birds on the feeders.  A Willow Tit, 2 Lesser Redpolls, A smart male Reed Bunting and several Siskins were the highlights.  

A superb and very pink male Lesser Redpoll at Cors Caron

We took a quick walk out to the luxurious lounge ( I cannot bring myself to call it a hide)  at the end of the boardwalk but found little else.  Another Willow Tit was singing near the railway track and a pair of Teal, 2 male Mallards, a Grey Heron and 2 singing Meadow Pipits were added to our list before we headed home for a cup of tea.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Long-tailed Tits like Fat Don't They?

Male Chaffinch

I just had time to pop in to Dryslwyn Car Park where some kind person lays out food for the birds. There were lots of Greenfinches and Chaffinches.  The males of the latter species looking very smart indeed.  I also noted 3 Tree Sparrows.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tits eating fat.
 The most interesting thing though was a pair of Long-tailed Tits feeding on fat which had been rubbed into the bark of a tree.  I have seen this species on most garden bird food including fat balls but not doing this before.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Up in the Beacons

The weather is still cold but gorgeous sunny skies with no cloud.  I decided to go up into the Brecon Beacons nearest to our house looking for birds.  I started at Palycwrt with some success.  After stopping to look at a male Stonechat I suddenly saw some Fieldfares ahead.  Moving closer there were three but also a superb female Ring Ouzel feeding on the short turf.  Sadly I could not get a photograph.

Male Stonechat
I moved on through the hills but saw little else so pushed on to the kite feeding station at Llandeussant.  I was a bit late for the feed but in time to see at least 40 Red Kites circling around the area.  I was able to get some photographs here.

Red Kite overhead
Red Kite in glorious light
I finished up on Llangadog common standing on the bridge where a pair of Goosanders were together fishing and a Dipper flew downstream.  Looking carefully around the grassy areas I found a male Wheatear and felt spring was just around the corner.