Monday, 27 May 2013

Sardinia birds

Another random selection of photographs of birds from my holiday in Sardinia (mid to late April 2013).

Above: A Woodchat Shrike (commonly seen in Sardinia)

Above & Below: A Woodlark (we only saw 2 or 3 individuals)

In the top photograph, the diagnostic 'light, dark, light' patch on the edge of the wing is visible as is the eye stripe that joins at the back of the head.

Above: The Woodlark on top of the tree.

Above: A male Chaffinch. Good enough to put a bookmark!

Above: A different male Chaffinch feeding, on what I assume, are seed pods.

If you think that a Chaffinch photograph is a little out of place amongst the other photographs of birds from Sardinia, you'd be right. But I like the way birding is random activity, especially when exploring new places. You never know when you're going to get a good photograph or see a good species. One minute you could be watching a Chaffinch, next a ...

Above: Golden Oriole. This represents my best ever view of one (through the camera lens!).

Arbatax (not a place I would recommend to tourists to visit) is a port (air & sea) with a large, unkempt industrial area, next to a residential area (where we stayed for a night). A walk round the area was largely uninspiring with few highlights until, on the edge of the industrial estate, a flash of yellow flew by. This eucalyptus tree, in a car park, was its destination. This was the only photograph I got but I'm glad I got it! It slinked away very quickly.

I went with the procedure 'get the photograph and then look through the binoculars' (though in this case I was too late with the binoculars). I didn't see any other Golden Oriole's all holiday, so the walk was worth it!

There's more to come at a later date!

An Unseasonal Theme

In keeping with the weather of late, here are some photographs from 22nd January that I've been able to restore. Having booked the day off work to get some ringing in at home, I was outside when I heard some trilling. I looked around for the expected waxwings but didn't see them, that is, until I looked on top of my house! So I ran for the camera...

Above: Waxwings

Above & Below: A Waxwing on my roof!

Okay, so I exaggerated a little when comparing the weather to today's warm and very blustery, unsettled conditions but this weekends ringing activities resulted in 2 poor catches. We're starting to see the effects of last years rain fest on the return (or lack thereof) of migrant birds and how the early spring weather has severely delayed the breeding season.

So I'm allowing myself the pleasure of sharing these photographs with you. 

Above: Waxwings in the bush opposite my house.

Above: Waxwings in a tree opposite my house.

I didn't get to ring any as they disappeared pretty quickly, but I did get to ring a few Fieldfare...

Above & Below: A Fieldfare in my garden in the snow.

It had come for some of the apples I had put out but found a Blackbird successfully defending the apples to allcomers!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Another installment of birds from Sardinia

With quite a range of photographs to choose from, I was left wondering what to post next. I have quite a few photographs of birds from Sardinia I want to share with you, so I thought why not start with one that's named after the island.

Above: A Sardinian Warbler.

In the past, I've found this species very difficult to photograph as it skulks, usually on the other side of the scrub/tree it's in. They're all over the place in Sardinia and if not seen, they can often be heard. They do pop out of bushes onto prominent positions, but normally very briefly before disappearing back inside (especially if they see you!). So briefly in fact, that by the time the camera is up into position and trying to focus, that's it. Gone! And following them is normally a fruitless activity as is predicting where they might come out next!

I struck lucky with this one.

Above: A Spanish Sparrow. Common as muck here. If you're brave enough to sit outside when at a restaurant/bar, watch they don't steal your food!

Above: A Tree Sparrow.

Not very common in Sardinia as far as I can tell but I did see a few individuals around the place (all in urban areas). I wasn't going to post this photograph but the mirror it was perched on made the photograph rather unusual and interesting. Pity I didn't realise at the time otherwise I would have got more of it in the shot (perhaps a reflection of me too!) but then it adds to the mistique - you can imagine for yourself what the rest of the building looked like!

Above: Is it unlucky if a Greenfinch crosses your path? I doubt it, but this one did. we even followed it for a short way. Whilst walking around this area near Villasimius, we were treated to a couple of ravens cronking & displaying in the wind. All the other pictures in this post were taken in/around the same area.

Above: An obliging female Winchat. I had my scope out whilst watching this bird and got a bit of a shock when a Common Redstart popped up behind it and disappeared almost as rapidly! Winchats appeared to be relatively common in Sardinia (at least at the time I was visiting). At the waters edge (behind the Winchat) was a pair of Black Winged Stilts and we'd already been treated to several Kentish Plovers. A pleasant diversity of birds.

I wanted to leave you with something to laugh at... at least I hope you will...

Upon leaving Villasimius we encountered the above traffic jam! The only one of the holiday - other than the ones we caused through slow driving! And yes, the goat on the left is relieving itself!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A few teasers from Sardinia...

It's taken a while, but I've finally got some photographs to show of the birds I saw in Sardinia. Eventually I realised I'd taken the pictures in .RAW format (rather than .JPeg) and they needed converting before I was able to view, edit and present them.

So, without further ado...

Above & Below: A male Subalpine Warbler.

The Subalpine Warblers were very elusive. I only saw 2 and they both showed briefly deep in scrub. I was lucky to get photographs of this one, but what a stunner!

Above: One of my favourite pictures from the holiday shows a female Pied Flycatcher (I only saw 2).

80 + species were seen on this holiday (starting & ending with Flamingo's!). There was only one species I had never seen before (photographs of this bird to follow later), but as I'd been to Sardinia before, this wasn't a great surprise.

Reflecting on the quality of birding in Sardinia, I think it is a country well worth visiting however a hire car is essential and to see a wide variety of species, you'll need to visit a good variety of habitats including costal sites, lakes (however many of the lakes seemed largely devoid of birds), scrubby sites, high mountains and urban areas. There were interesting species everywhere - including in unexpected areas. Our tactic was to go on walks (rural and urban), visit tourist places, visit lakes (mostly costal inlets & small estuaries) and stops at random places.

The south east coast was good, but there are key species that we weren't able to catch up with as the north and north west are better areas according to other information available online (however this may be because it has had better coverage from serious birders). Perhaps we will go back in a future year to try and catch up with some different species (Golden Eagle, Ibis, Little Bustard) but we're thinking it will be the much cheaper option of Majorca next year.

Finally, I have to apologise to my regular readers for a glaring error on my part relating to a previous post of mine (here) where I told you about the 'parental abuse' pace I set whilst walking back from a Gorge in Sardinia. I was reminded and chastised by my father for failing to mention that I also forced him to carry the rucksack all the way back to the car. My shame is now complete.

However, in response, I say boo hoo! You'll have to imagine the appropriate sarcastic gestures! To complete the full picture for my readers, I will have you know that I carried the bag all the way there (uphill) & around the gorge (whilst climbing rocks!), for a much longer time and with full bottles of water + binoculars and camera!

It's back to photograph editing now for me (holiday & ringing) and crunching the numbers from this weekends ringing sessions (highlights being a control Whitethroat, an unseasonal Lesser Redpoll and a couple of longevity records for the site).

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Last weekend.

As a nice change of pace, Sunday and Monday (last weekend) were largely wind free! This allowed me to get out ringing and catch some of those summer migrants that come to breed in the UK and begin another year of Constant Effort ringing at Priory Country Park (PCP).

On Bank Holiday Monday, a visit to Sandy Smith Nature Reserve produced a tally of 40 birds of 12 species as follows (retraps in brackets).

Green Woodpecker 1 (0)
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 (4)
Wren 2 (0)
Dunnock 1 (1)
Sedge Warbler 3 (1)
Whitethroat 2 (5)
Garden Warbler 1 (0)
Long Tailed Tit 0 (1)
Great Tit 1 (3)
Chaffinch 6 (3)
Greenfinch 2 (0)
Goldfinch 2 (0)

Above: A Garden Warbler. This is the 9th ringed here.

Above: A Whitethroat. 2 of the retraps were ringed here in 2011 whilst the other 3 were ringed last year (all as adults). L302789, ringed on 22/04/11 set a new longevity record for the site at 2 years and 14 days.

Whitethroats are the 3rd most ringed species at SSNR behind Blue & Great Tits and as long as this spring/summer proves to be a good breeding year, I expect to ring a lot more of these.

Above: A female Greenfinch. A surprise appearance of a male and female at the feeders represents the 8th and 9th ringed here (none have been retrapped).

Above: A Sedge Warbler. The retrap was ringed here July 2012.

Above: A female Green Woodpecker. Always a good day when I ring one of these! The 4th for the site.

Hardly a ringing session at SSNR goes by without a Great Spotted Woodpecker being retrapped and/or ringed. One male, CW08915, doesn't get retrapped during the winter months (Nov to February) but is regularly caught throughout the rest of year. At 2 years and 46 days since it was first ringed, this bird set a new longevity record for the site. I am still hoping to catch CW08911 (the female who I think breeds with CW08915) as this bird also disappears during the winter months.

Chaffinches were, surprisingly, the most numerous species. I normally catch a couple per session but I think a small change in feeder & net set up may have proved to be useful. A new longevity record for the site was set by L302734 - 2 years and 62 days. Also, a bird ringed in a field at nearby Beadlow earlier this year was retrapped at SSNR.

On Sunday, I ran CES Visit 1 at PCP. Totals, including extra nets, were as follows (retraps in brackets):

Wren 2 (1)
Dunnock 1 (3)
Blackbird 1 (2)
Whitethroat 3 (3)
Garden Warbler 1 (0)
Blackcap 3 (1)
Willow Warbler 2 (0)
Long Tailed Tit 0 (1)
Great Tit 1 (0)
Chaffinch 1 (0)
Bullfinch 1 (1)

That makes a total of 16 new and 12 retraps - 28 overall. Average for CES visit 1 (including extra nets) is 30, of which 21 are normally 'new' and 9 are normally 'retraps'. Whilst the 2013 total is just short of average, the ratio of new to retrap is more in favour of the returning adults rather than recruitment of new adults. This could be a result of a poor breeding season last year. Delayed breeding and migration from the cold weather in early spring may also have a bearing here. But this is just a small sample and I'm far from being an expert!

Whitethroats were the most numerous on this visit and could be seen feeding well around the area. One of the retraps was first ringed on 1st May 2011, whilst the other 2 retraps were both ringed on 13th May last year.

2 of the 3 Dunnock retraps were from 2010 and the other from last year. One of the Blackbirds was ringed in 2010. The Blackcap retrap was ringed as a juvenile in July 2011. All the other retraps were from birds ringed in 2012.

The best birds were 2 new Willow Warblers. The numbers ringed at this site have steadily decreased over the last 20 years to the point where last year was the first year where none were ringed at all.

This weekend may prove to be too windy and/or wet for ringing, so I might post a few bird photographs from Sardninia...

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Stunning Sardinian Scenery

Now that I'm back safely from Sardinia, I've started going through the photographs and thought I'd start with some of the stunning scenery that we saw. We flew into Cagliari in the evening and after staying one night there, we stayed at various locations on the east coast starting in the South East corner.

There was plenty to see and we certainly didn't have time to fit it all in, but the majority of the places we went were worth going back to!

Above: After a walk of just under 1 hour and 30 minutes to walk about 5km (it wasn't the hardest walk that we did) from the nearest car park, we got to the Gorge at Su Gorropu. We must have spent about an hour climbing over, around and under rocks inside the gorge (where Crag Matins, Grey Wagtails, Spotted Flycatchers and Blue & Great Tits were present). Local wildlife (though we didn't see them) included extremely rare flowers (i.e. only 20 - 40 existed in the world in only this location), Peregrines & Golden Eagles and Salamanders.

To completely navigate the gorge (1.5km long) would have been impossible without proper climbing gear and guides but the views we got were more than worth the walk and entrance fee.
I set a fast pace on the way back to the car (mostly down hill - I couldn't have done it uphill) and we made it back in 1 hour & 5 minutes. Some of the younger & fitter people we overtook (especially on the uphill sections), must have been stunned at our pace. My dad remarked that the pace I set was called 'parental abuse' - he managed it though!

Above: This is a spring at Su Gologone. Apparently 25,000 litres of water a second can come out of this spring - even more in times of flood! The water comes from deep under the mountains. After a gruelling trek to Mount Tiscali, this was a very nice bonus.

Above: We did the trek to Mount Tiscali the hard way and this is the view from an early part of the walk.

Without clear directions or map to follow (or clear signs - a real problem in Sardinia when trying to find places of tourist interest), we guessed at the best way to get there. The Sardinians would prefer that we pay proper guides to take us to Mount Tiscali but the reality is that this costs rediculous amounts of money and is largely unnecessary (unless you have money to waste and/or really need somebody else to make sure you get there). You do need to be quite fit though to constantly walk steeply up hill for an hour or more in the heat/sunshine.

Afterwards, we realised the way we chose was the most difficult and steepest!

Above: My dad climbing the route to Mount Tiscali! This was the steepest/worst bit. Had it been any steeper, rock climbing equipment would have been needed!

Although we weren't following a signed route, we were on a route that was clearly used and where landrover access finished, it was marked with piles of stones. However, with a lack of signs, we got a bit lost until we came across some Sardinian walkers who kindly showed us the way. Even then it was a long trek downhill (the opposite side of the mountain from where we started) before going up again!   Thankfully we made it and the trek back was on a recognised route and all downhill.

In the UK, OS maps are far more detailed but we couldn't even rely on the Sardinian maps showing all the roads, let alone the footpaths!

Above: Another tough trek through the hillside, this time to an isolated beach called Cala Goloritze - you can see all but about 5 square metres of the beach in the photo. It is favoured by the yachting fraternity as this is an alternative and easier way to reach it! Apparently, it's a very crowded beach later on in the year, but being tiny - there's little wonder why! On the way back 'uphill' 2 Firecrests made a very welcome appearance! And upon return to the car park, I found a Wood Warbler!

We visited a number of tourist attractions such as Nuragic (bronze age) villages, beaches, gorges and springs and they mostly had this in common:

You either started your walk from high up and went down a long way and then back up afterwards or you started low down and went somewhere high up and then had to come back down again (the latter being easier).

All walks had hard rocks underfoot - except where we made it onto a beach that had sand!

Above: A peaceful & picturesque site.

Whilst making our (meandering) way to a specific Nuragic village, we stopped to eat our lunch at a scenic location (with so many around, stopping somewhere with little to see seemed silly). There were signs to a different Nuragic hillfort/burial place of some sort where we stopped and whilst investigating this, we stumbled across a lovely site with wild flowers, grassy areas and a variety of scrub, trees and rocks. It was like a landscaped garden only better and (presumably) natural - though there was a church and stone picnic benches around. The photograph really doesn't do it as much justice as it should.

In the peaceful surroundings of this site, I managed to see and photograph a Woodlark (the first for the holiday) and a Pied Flycatcher (2nd and last of the holiday).

Above: A beach at dusk near Villasimius in the South East of Sardinia. A very attractive beach and I think the sunset made it even better.

Above: The beach at Villasimius from above. Between the beach and the first strip of green (on the left) is an area of water where we found several Kentish Plovers. I have found that this species likes salt water environs, beaches and dunes.

You may have noticed the clouds in the last photograph - this was a regular feature of the holiday and on a couple of mornings, it rained. It was also very hazy, even when it was wall to wall sunshine. I think this was at least in part, due to the amount of dust/particles in the air as when it rained, it left a lot of dust on the car!

Photographs of some of the birds I saw will follow soon.