Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Two Weeks Away: The First Day in Corsica

A few days after my day in Norfolk, it was time to leave Britain altogether, and to head to Corsica. I would be spending a week in Corsica, just with my Mum, who isn't a birder, so I'd be birding alone. For those of you that don't know, Corsica is an island located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland and to the north of Sardinia. I would be getting to the island via a flight from London Gatwick to Marseille, then from Marseille to the town of Calvi. Calvi is a town in the north-west of Corsica. It is circled in the map below. The report of my birding here doesn't just hope to give you a good idea of the birdlife, but also hopes to show you what the island was like in an interesting and informative way.

Overall, if I hadn't have had to wait for 4 hours at Marseille Airport for the flight to Calvi, the journey would have been just a few hours long. However this wait increased it to 7, and by the time we arrived at Calvi Airport it was dark. Once we had landed we got our hire car, a rather nice Renault Scenic, and set off to our apartment in a hotel called Residence Le Padro. Residence Le Padro was a hotel situated just inland from Calvi (10 minutes from the Airport), and consisted of many, self-catering holiday apartments in the countryside. We chose a yellow apartment at the back of the hotel. Obviously, when we first arrived there we were unable to see the countryside surrounding the hotel, so that night we simply just unpacked. As I lay in bed that night, I became very excited. I was in a foreign country, and tomorrow I would start exploring it and its birdlife! What, in the next week, would Corsica hold? I was well informed on the birds of the island, and the best places to see these birds, so how was I going to do?

The next morning I was woken up at 7:30am, and the first thing I did was open the doors to have a look at my surroundings. The view was just beautiful. The countryside view from this part the hotel consisted of low-lying, Mediterranean bush and fields, and all this was encompassed by rocky, jagged and high mountains. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea of what the view was like:

The bushes were teeming with birds and calls that I didn't recognise, and I was keen to have a look at what was down there. So, after some breakfast, I headed down to the nearby bushes, finding a convienient place to sit and watch for any birds in them. Unfortunately I couldn't deep into the them, as there was a fence, but this wouldn't prove to be much of a hassle. When I got down there, I noticed that the bushes were alive with warblers; they were calling constantly, and I occasionally saw them flitting from one bush to another. At this point in time, I wasn't sure what species a majority of them were, as I was by no means familiar with the birds of the area and thus wasn't able to make ID's of any of the warblers, although I did come to the conclusion that most of them were Sylvias. I did also manage to find a male Blackcap. As I was trying to figure out what species the warblers were, I had a pleasant surprise; a Black Redstart. This bird was first seen and identified in flight, when I saw the flash of its prominent, rusty red tail. It then proceeded to land on a wall, giving me a chance to put a gender to it (it was a female) and to examine its behaviour. Unlike the migrant Black Redstarts I had seen in Norfolk a few days earlier, this Black Redstart seemed full of life, much like I had expected the Black Redstarts in Norfolk to be. This bird perched upright on the wall, constantly vibrating its red tail and flitting up and down off the wall (presumably in anxiety). I had been watching it for some time when I was distracted from a loud, high-pitched, piping call. I took my bins off the Black Redstart, and looked up to find a big,bird of prey flying towards the hotel. It was a Red Kite. Up in Scotland, I have only seen a few Red Kites; so seeing one in Corsica was quite an exciting experience for me. An adult, it flew on very long wings in a buoyant and leisurely fashion, almost like a crow, as it constantly twisted its rufous, forked tail and continued to fly towards me. Eventually, some Hooded Crows, which seemed to be the common corvids, rose from the ground, and started mobbing it. At this point the Kite's flight changed from slow and leisurely to fast and urgent, wanting to get the crows off its back as they as they harrassed it. The Kite and its harrassers eventually flew right over my head (which was a beautiful sight) and then dipped behind the hotel. This was one of another 6 or 7 Red Kites I would see in that hour or so, thus proving themselves to be the common raptor. Common Kestrel and Buzzard were also seen in that period of time, but they hardly seemed as common as the Red Kites. After seeing the first Red Kite I had a look at the wall where the Black Redstart had been, but it had gone. As I was doing this, a sizeable (but not big) flock of Starlings flew past and then landed on the fields. I was happy to find that they were Spotless Starlings. A lot of them were winter plumage birds, and I was able to distinguish them from winter plumage European Starling from the distinct lack of spots and much darker plumage (the winter plumage starling is very spotty and has hints of brown on by the wing). They called constantly in communication with one another, sounding very similar to European Starling but with a sharper tone to it and stronger and more rolling trills. Spotless Starling has a restricted range in Europe; Corsica is one of very few places in Europe you can see them. However, at the turn of new year I had been in the Iberian Peninsula, where they also occured and I first saw them, so this species wasn't new to me. I stayed out there for around an hour and a half, as my Mum got ready us for a trip to Calvi. Once my time was up, I noted down the species I had seen, and we headed off to Calvi. Here is a picture from where the area of bush that I was primarily looking at that morning.

Before having look round Calvi itself, we stopped off at Calvi beach. The beach was like no other that I had been to. It was long and stretching with silver sand, with views of the mountains to the east, and a view of the town and its 13th century citadel to the west. Fringing this beach was a few kilometeres of beautiful pine. From this pine, you could enter the beach. Here are a couple of pictures taken from the beach (notice the Citadel in the first right of the first picture, and the emptiness of the beach due to it being 'out of season'):

Whilst on the beach, a brisk wind was present, and I had a look out at sea for any mediterranean sea-birds. There seemed to be nothing going past, however, apart from one Shag, this bird of the mediterranean subspecies. A few Yellow-legged Gulls were also present, my first for the holiday. The wind on the beach became a tad annoying after a while, and we eventually headed into the pine forests, deciding to have our lunch in it. Here a few Goldcrests were calling, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen, some Collared Doves were present, and I heard the explosive and abrupt call of a Cetti's Warbler in the reedbeds towards the back of the forest. I also managed to have a couple of seconds view of a definite Phylloscopus warbler, but I didn't have time to ID the bird as it very quickly disappeared from view.

So, after this pleasant trip to the beach we headed into Calvi. Calvi is a port which was particularly busy in the Roman era. Its most famous for the Citadel, a thirteenth century fortress situated at the far end of the town. My mum and I were going to visit the Citadel and also have a look at the rest of Calvi. By wintibird (Andre) of Birdforum, I was advised to check out every gull in Calvi for an Audouins Gull, which are a scarce but not rare gull in Corsica. As we were walking through Calvi and up to the Citadel, I did just as wintibird had told me, and checked each gull I saw. However, I was surprised to find that even Yellow-legged Gulls weren't exactly ubiquitous in Calvi, so this made me think it would be pretty tricky trying to find one. However, I wasn't too bothered, as I was enjoying the town, its culture and its architecture. From where we had parked it was about 20 minutes walk to the Citadel. Here is a picture I took of it from Calvi's lovely marina.
Once we were within Citadel walls, we climbed up the cobbled roads, tightly packed with archetypal Mediterranean houses, towards the top. When we got there, there were some brilliant views, with a magnificent backdrop for the red-tiled town below and its palm-tree planted harbour, with the tall, rocky mountains looming above it. Also at the top of Citadel , there was a big cathedral named La Cath├ędrale Saint Jean-Baptiste (the cathedral of St. John the Baptist, see last picture).

Up here bird-wise parties of Town Pigeon/Rock Dove occasionally flew over, quite a good number of Yellow-legged Gulls circled over it, and House Sparrows were common. The House Sparrows in Corsica are interesting as they are said to either be a subspecies of Spanish Sparrow or a hybrid between the two species, the latter of which I suspect is accurate. After a visit to a cathedral and a full wonder round the top of the Citadel, we headed back down to the town, where I fell upon yet another Black Redstart, this time a beautiful male perching on a the edge of one of the many houses and acting very much like the female I had seen earlier that day. This was the last bird I saw in the town.

It was around 5:00pm when we arrived back from Calvi, and there were a couple of hours of daylight remaining. Now, if you go to the otherside of the hotel from where I was looking that morning, you get an entirely different view of things. Of course, you can still see the mountains, but instead of the countryside being fields with occasionally bushes scattered amongst them, here its basically just low-lying bush. This low-lying bush is called maquis, and when I woke up that morning and saw it I was very happy. The maquis in Corsica is a great place to see warblers and migrant passerines, and I thought that my chances of having it right outside the hotel were minimal and that as a result I would have less chance of seeing warblers such as: Sardinian, Dartford, Cetti's and the scarce breeding Marmora's. But the fact that there was maquis meant that I had good chances of seeing all those species! So, after something to eat, I alone headed out into the maquis for my first look for some warblers. I planned to regularly check this maquis on my trip. I entered the maquis via a small track that presumably went down to someone's house. Here are some pictures of the maquis:

I spent a good hour and a half searching through the maquis, walking through it trying to flush up any warblers. There were plenty of them in there, they were calling regularly. However, I didn't recognise these calls at this point so I didn't actually know what wI was hearing, although I knew that Sardinian and Dartford Warbler were probably present. In my look through the maquis though, I wasn't able to identify these species. I was pretty sure that they were the birds I was flushing up, and I wished that they would show themselves. But unfortunately they didn't. However, despite not seeing these two species, I did find loads Stonechats, a Grey Wagtail, another Blackcap (this time a female), and there were tons more Spotless Starlings. I was also very surprised to flush up a Cetti's Warbler, which I was able to identify when it briefly perched itself on the top of some maquis, its tail cocked and its warm-brown plumage its giveaway feature. 10 seconds later it dipped out of sight. Besides passerines, there were several Red Kites quartering the maquis, as well as a Kestrel and two Ravens.
It was getting dark when I finished looking in the maquis, so I gave up birding for the day, the mountains gradually become silhoutted as sunset took place and then disappearing it finally became dark. Overall, I had a really lovely day; not just getting to know the birds of the areas I was checking, but also getting to know the actual areas themselves. I may not have seen a huge deal, but nonetheless, I was happy, and I would have plenty of time to see more birds! Thanks for reading. If you want to find out what happened the next day, tune in again in a day or so's time!

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Two Weeks Away: The Day in Norfolk

2 days after seeing the Glossy Ibis at the Loch of Strathbeg, it was time for me to leave Scotland, and head southwards. I would be spending a couple of weeks away from the country, spending the first week in northern Suffolk, England, and the latter week in Corsica. Following this entry, there will be numerous entries in regards to my time in Corsica birding-wise. However, what I am going to focus on now is my birding experience in Norfolk. As it was convieniently close to where we were staying in northern suffolk, my Dad and I thought it would definitely be a good idea to go birding in Norfolk, and decided we were going to have a day trip on the 15th of October, a perfect date for all sorts of migrating birds. Norfolk, as we all know, is one of the best counties for birding in the UK. Would it prove its fantastic reputation on our day out there? We had the help of Birdforum young Bird sim as well, who was texting me the latest news in the county. So surely there was a good chance of us having a great time?

As it would be dark by 6:00pm and we wanted to make the most of our day out, my Dad and I woke up at 5:45am, far earlier than we usually do. We were out the door by just after 6, after a lightish breakfast. Of course, at this point it was still dark, but it was still quite a drive to the North Norfolk coast, where we aimed to spend the day. Our first location, as a matter of fact, was going to be West Runton, where in the few days leading up to our day out there had been sightings of (Greater) Short toed Lark, Richard's Pipit and Barred Warbler, all three which we were wanting to see. The drive to West Runton from where we were staying was around 1 and a half hours, with surprisingly busy morning traffic being one of the reasons why we took this long. By this time (around 7:45) it was fully light. And so the birding day commenced.

The three rarities had been reported in the fields around a disused farmhouse between the small villages of East and West Runton. Leading down to these fields was a track, which was fairly easy to locate from the road. We parked by a few other cars, obviously other early rising birders that had gone in search of the three birds, and got out to explore our surroundings. The bushes round the farmhouse were teeming with bird calls, the commoner migrants such as, Goldcrest, Robin, Blackbird, and numerous species of tits. In these bushes the Barred Warbler had been seen; but we knew that it was going to be hard to locate it amongst all the other birds, so we decided that we were going to have a look for the Richard's Pipit and Short-toed Lark, both of which had been seen in the fields surrounding the farmhouse, and then look for the Barred later. These fields were mostly grass, but there was one stubble field, the closest one to us, and in this three birders stood on the look out. As we were walking towards the field, one of birders suddenly raised whilst watching the ground intently, signalling to us that they had seen something. As we walked to them, we flushed up many Skylarks, these birds being invisible to us as they were hiding in the stubble. When we reached them, one of the three birders said:

" We've just had a view of the Short-toed Lark. It landed about 20 feet away from us."

With this news, we became ever more excited. I asked if we were going to have to flush the bird.

" Yes, but mind a lot of Skylarks will probably take off at the same time, so it may be difficult to locate it amongst them."

We all crept forward slowly towards where it had landed, me feeling slightly tense as we did this. Then, as we expected, a mass of birds took off right in front of us from the stubble, and we raised our bins to see if we could see the Short-toed amongst the hoards of Skylarks. We were in luck.

" I've found it," said one of the birders, " Its one of the first birds to have taken off, and is flying by a Skylark."

And sure enough, there was the Short-toed Lark. There was no mistaking it from the other larks; it was clearly smaller than the other larks, and wasn't calling in the 'chirrup' alarm of the Skylarks. It was also visibly paler than the Skylarks. We watched it intently as it flew left of the main flock with a few other Skylarks, allowing us to make the aforementioned comparisons clearer. Eventually, the Lark flew out of sight, not landing again as we had hoped it might. Obviously, we didn't get satisfactory views, but enough to ensure identification. At this point, the other birders turned to us and said:

"We're going to see if we can re-locate the lark. Best of luck, guys."
And then they were on their way. Their rather abrupt departure was an annoyance to us, as we wanted to know more about the Richard's Pipit. We couldn't do anything about it though, so we decided just to have a look at the other fields in the area. Unfortunately for us, there was no Richard's Pipit in these other fields, and we weren't able to flush any pipits species up in the stubble field on the way back to the farmhouse. This wasn't too disappointing though, as we had seen a Short-toed Lark and still had a chance of a Barred Warbler. The Barred Warbler, on the other hand, seemed to elude us as well, although we did have a possible sighting when a definite warbler species was very briefly seen flying from a tree into the bushes. Seeing the Barred Warbler was inevitably going to be difficult, what with the many other migrants there were in the bushes. Checking the bushes we had several sightings of Goldcrest, Robin, plus more.

It was probably around 9:00am when we had finished looking around West Runton, and overall we were pleased with the variety of birds it held. From West Runton we headed to Cley Marshes; argued to be the 'home of British Birding.' It was around 20 minutes from West Runton to Cley, and when we arrived there the first impression I got of it was that it was very much like the Loch of Strathbeg, but with a tone of softness that Strathbeg fails to have. There were views of the marshes from the road, and there was a big, nice looking building overlooking it with loads of bird related books in it and a cafe. We simply went into this building to pay for our visit (a sum of £4.00), and then headed out into the marshes themselves. Here is a picture of Cley froAdd Imagem the Visitor Centre.

Just from our walk down to the hides, we could tell Cley was a great spot to be, with a nice Marsh Harrier being spotted on a post and Bearded Tits being both heard and seen, the latter species not being a common sight in these parts, and there were some Long-tailed Tits too. We spent quite a lot of the time just birdwatching from the boardwalk down to the hides because of this. The Bearded Tits in particular were lovely to see; most of the time we would see them flitting from reed to reed, but we also managed to get some in flight, looking rather like oversized dragonflies as they flew with whirring wing beats across the reedbeds. There were a total of three hides that you could at Cley, all situated very close to one another but each with entirely different views of the marsh. In the first hide, there was a wide variety of duck species, ranging from Shoveler to Wigeon), as well as a view of the Marsh Harrier and a few Dunlin and Redshank. I took a picture from this hide:

The second hide had mostly waders on it; with good numbers of Dunlin and Redshank, along with 2 Greenshank, a female Spotted Redshank, a single Grey Plover and up to 8 Ruff seen. However, these weren't as surprising as the main bird we saw here, which a birder in the hide pointed out virtually as soon as we entered, a hint of pride in his voice.

" There's a Black Redstart just here. You can have a look at it through my scope if you like."

I had a look through his scope, and he was right. On a small, white post, sat a lovely, male Black Redstart. The Redstart wasn't standing up, and wasn't being the least bit flitty like one would expect. It was actually just sitting there, looking kind of like it was fluffed up in a ball, but you could clearly see its face and its other defining features (excluding its flash or red). It stayed on the same post for the whole time that we spent in the hide and never even moved position, which allowed us to have great views. He was perfectly visible through the bins too. This Black Redstart was my second for Britain; it was fantastic to see one again after such a long time. The next hide along happened to be comparatively devoid of birds, but allowed you to get a different view of the Black Redstart. Having checked all three hides, we then headed up to the beach part of Cley. Here we had some nice views of Brent Geese, a Wheatear, and yet another Black Redstart, this time a female, presented itself. Here's a picture of the Brent Geese that we saw (there were many more than this there):

We decided not to sea-watch off Cley, as we had noticed that hardly anything was going past out there and the winds were light. Instead, we went straight to the Wells Woods/Holkham Pines area; an area of coastal woodland with a good record of scarce passerines. After quenching our thirst and hunger (we had our 'lunch' at about 11:20am), and driving through many lovely villages; we arrived in Holkham Pines, having been (embaressingly) unable to find the way to Wells Woods. The woodland in Holkham didn't just look promising for birds, it was also very pretty, with a lovely path with delicate foliage that you could walk up if you didn't want to go down to the beach. We took this path, walking up a fair way, but not quite as far as Wells.

You could tell Holkham was a good place for birds. You could hear the calls of small passerines almost constantly; the same variety of passerines you could hear and see in West Runton, but this time in even bigger numbers. There was also a very nice variety of woodland birds at Holkham, such as a few Treecreeper, 2 large parties of Long-tailed Tit, Great-Spotted Woodpecker and lots of Jays. Amongst these passerines and nice woodland species however, there was nothing more unusual, although I did get a very brief view of a Phylloscopus sp flitting from one bush to another, which could have been something scarce. No doubt there were other warblers in there... On the walk back down the path I recieved a text from sim of Birdforum; who updated me on what was about in Norfolk. The Pied Wheatear was still at Horsey, but that was too much of a drive and we wanted to spend the day on the North Norfolk coast rather than the east, there were a few Yellow-browed Warblers dotted around the coast, the Great Grey Shrike remained at Holme, which we would visit later on, and most to our interest, there was a Grey Phalarope at Thornham. Curious of the whereabouts of Thornham, I texted Sim back and asked him where it was, and lucky he said it was not that far, was on the way to Holme (around 30 minutes drive) and that the bird would probably be in the Harbour. This option tempted me in particular, as I had never seen any species of Pharlarope before. So, thanking Sim, I told my Dad to head down to Thornham.

We had some trouble finding the road to the Harbour, but eventually, we found it. The Harbour itself was hardly a major one and was different from most; it contained just a few small boats and overlooked muddy pools and boggy lowlands. You wouldn't think its the sort of place that people will go to, but that day it was! When we arrived, there were loads of birders there, over 50 people I'd say, all watching the Grey Pharlarope. I hadn't expected such attendance! The first thing I noticed when I got out was a few birders taking pictures of the bird, so I made their way to where they were, as they were probably closest to the bird. I turned out to be correct. The views of this Grey Phalarope were just ridiculous; I swear I have never seen a bird that close before! It was probably around 15ft away from where I was standing; a small, grey-white wader (1st winter bird) moving about hither and tither on the muddy pools in search of food. Of course, its understandable that I was seeing the Phalarope that close, as Phalaropes are renowned to be very tame, which is all the better for such beautiful birds! Not only that, but their tameness allows you to get up close to them, and experience what they are really like! Here are a few pictures I got of the bird:

Just before we left the Harbour the Phalarope took off, and went out of sight. Before we left though, we had a look at the other birds at Thornham Harbour. A Spotted Redshank was one of these birds, and a Grey Plover another, both of which were quite interesting. The highlight, however, was a ring-tailed Hen Harrier, seen very briefly by a handful of observers as it attacked a bird (presumably killing it) and then dived into the reeds. The giveaway features of this bird were obviously its white rump and the fact that it attacked a bird. Not long after this brief ring-tail sighting, the Grey Phalarope returned, but we decided to leave so we would have time to have a good look at Holme before sunset. Holme, of course, is only a couple of miles south of Thornham, so we reached the nature reserve there within 10 minutes. However, unlike Thornham, it had far more of a coastal feel to it. The area was covered in dense, multifarious bush, and beyond the bushes rose some small sand dunes. In these bushes, a Great Grey Shrike had made temporary residence.

" It has been here for the last week or so," said the warden at the Visitor Centre, "But it's rather elusive, and tends not to show itself that often. However, at this time of the day you might be lucky, as its been seen during mid to late afternoon on a couple of occasions."
So with this information, we walked all the way to the bushes (which were some way from the visitor centre), where the Shrike was generally seen. We scoured these bushes for a long time, and even sat down at one point for a while and waited to see if it would appear. Unfortunately though, we had no such luck. However, it was by no means dead, there were lots of Starlings in these bushes, almost certainly migrants that had come to winter, as well as a few Stonechats, and a good number of other common migrants. By the time we had had a good look through the bushes, there was maybe just less than an hour's sunlight remaining. There was no point in going somewhere else, so we came to the conclusion that it was best to stay at Holme, and go to the hide there. The view from the hide was general quite similar to Cley, but the reeds here were generally taller.

My first impression of waterfowl life at Holme was that it wasn't as good as the passerine and coastal birdlife. This was because all there was there was a Grey Plover. For about half an hour, it remained this way, until suddenly I spot a big, pale. sandy coloured, ghost-like raptor flying across the reeds...
"Barn Owl!" I exclaimed.
Now, for many the years the Barn Owl was a bogey bird; and a bird that I had always wanted to see. This moment, for me, was a moment of pure joy! The fact I had finally seen a Barn Owl made me ecstatic! Not only that but I was captivated... Watching a Barn Owl for the first time is an amazing experience; the majestic, the elegant, slow, wavering movements it does whilst its in flight, its ghost like, heart-shaped face as it takes in its surroundings.... This Barn Owl was doing all these things... It was just beautiful... It continued to quarter the reeds for some time, before it eventually landed on a post quite a long way away from the hide. I had to use the telescope to re-find him; and when I did he was sitting there, looking out across the reedbeds, ready to capture and eat any rodent that moved. As we watched him sitting on the post, the sun gradually set, its rays becoming a pinky-red colour and changing the colour of the sky. Eventually, it became too dark to bird-watch, and we headed back to the car. And so the day finished....
Firstly, I give countless thanks to sim from Birdforum, who kept me updated with the birdnews in Norfolk on the couple of days leading up to the day out and whilst we were on the day out. Without you, things wouldn't have gone the way they did! Secondly, if I had to reflect on the day, I would say it was a fantastic day, and definitely worth all the driving! I had 3 life ticks that day (Short-toed Lark, Grey Phalarope and Barn Owl), all of which weren't exactly common. There was also some other very nice birds we saw that day like Beared Tit, Black Redstart, Spotted Redshank and Hen Harrier! All these birds you wouldn't expect to see in the space of 10 hours, and we managed to! The places themselves were also really nice; and I am sure I'll remember and return to them in the future. And finally, I'd definitely say Norfolk lived up to its reputation as a fantastic county for birds, and I will certainly be visiting again!
Thanks very much reading, in the next entry I will account the first day or so of birding in Corsica!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The times are changing....

You may have noticed how critical I was being of autumn here in Aberdeenshire, and how I thought chances of improvement were small. Well, it cannot be doubted that this weekend has proved me wrong, and that I now see things in a different light. All over Britain this weekend, there has been a mass migration of birds, from really quite rare ones to the most abundant ones. This movement has been big enough to effect Aberdeenshire.

Early on Friday morning, the first signs of movement were shown when the first Glossy Ibis to be seen in the county since 2000 landed in front of the visitor centre at the Loch of Strathbeg. This Glossy Ibis would stay in front of the Visitor Centre for a short amount of time and would then fly off. By lunchtime, it had been re-located in a wet field a mile or so away from Strathbeg near a small village called St Combs, and was reported on Birdguides for a second time. When I arrived back from school and heard that this bird had been seen I became excited and hoped, despite the bird not having been reported since around lunch time, that it would still be there the next day, so I would be able to go and see it. The bird wasn't reported for the rest of that day, and I became increasingly anxious. Also that day, there were reports of Sooty Shearwater and Pomarine Skua passing, which also suggested that it was going to be good out at sea too. Saturday arrived, and the first thing I did was check for a report on the Glossy Ibis, and to my delight, it had been reported, in the same field just outside the village of St Combs. So, after me getting my hair cut, we set out towards the Loch of Strathbeg to see if we could find the bird. Also reported that morning had been a Quail and a Hen Harrier, so our hopes were fairly high of seeing some other birds. However, the main focus of course was to see this Ibis.

It was nearing 1:00pm when we were driving down the road towards St Combs, where the Ibis had been seen, and I was searching as carefully as I could through every field I could see. Conditions were dreek; there was a light drizzle outside and low-lying fog covered the countryside with its gloominess. Finding the Ibis would be hard in these conditions. And it was; we drove right down to St Combs, checking every field we could see properly, but failed to find any Ibis looking birds. So we turned round and headed back the way we had come to see if we could see the Ibis from the other side of the road. After a couple of minutes driving down, there was still no sign of the bird, and my Dad and I were becoming frustrated. Where was it?

And just as we were asking ourselves this question I shouted:

"Stop! I think I've found it!"

My Dad stopped the car, and there, just 20 feet away from us, stood a wonderful Glossy Ibis, unlike any bird in the field with it, feeding about in the watery mud. There was absolutely no mistaking it! It was around the size of a curlew, maybe even a bit smaller, and was a chocolate brown colour. Its outstanding feature was obviously its bill, which was massively long, thin brown (with paler brown at the bills base) and down-curved. It stood there feeding busily, looking slightly bedraggled and wet due to the weather conditions it was experiencing but nonetheless focused on its task. There was no actual apparent glossiness to the bird, it just seemed very brown really, which definitely suggested that it was a juvenile. As it stood there so obligingly, I managed to get a few pictures of it, although due to the weather conditions and having suitable equipment they weren't great by any means. Nonetheless, I feel that it is a good idea to show you the best of these pictures. They shouldn't be that hard to distinguish; you don't exactly see the birds face, but you can tell it is definitely an Ibis by form. If you want to see better pictures of this particular bird, you can check out the species file on the Glossy Ibis on Birdguides, where there are a couple of pictures of this particular bird. Anyway, here are the pictures that I took:

This Glossy Ibis will have definitely been from the flock that came from Spain a few months ago and have gradually dispersed all over the UK. It was a cracking bird to have seen, a lifer that I won't forget! After seeing the Ibis, we headed down to Starnafin, the Visitor Centre at the Loch of Strathbeg. The Loch of Strathbeg, despite being 40 or 50 miles away is one of my local patches, and is arguably the best place to see birds in the whole of Aberdeenshire, with a fantastic rarity record as well as a fantastic range of species that can be seen there. Its an extensive piece of land, with the actual loch itself being quite a way from the visitor centre. Also, a short walk away from the Visitor Centre there is a hide called Tower Pool in which you can get better views of more distant birds, and there are some hides close to the Loch which you can access by an obsel There are also some hides near the Loch which you can access via on obselete airfield. Here is a picture I took from the Visitor Centre a few weeks ago:

If you study this picture carefully you'll notice the distinct lack of birds. The day I took that picture it was pretty quiet. However, on Saturday it was a different story. The Visitor Centre was full of birds. A fairly large flock of Pinkfeets were present and amongst them various species of duck (including Gadwall and Shoveler along with the commoner Wigeon, Teal and Mallard) and wader (lots of Dunlin, and Golden Plover, Lapwing and 1 Ruff) were seen. Also, up to 10 Whooper Swan were seen amongst the commoner Mute Swans, and lots of other commoner waterfowl werer around. Surprisingly no bird of prey species were seen on our half an hour check of the Visitor Centre, which is unusual for Strathbeg as it has a fantastic reputation for seeing birds of prey (there is even a White-tailed Eagle that can be seen occasionally that is presumably one of the birds that was released in Fife a couple of years ago). But, even though there was a vast variety of the commoner birds, there were no unusual species, and with the report of a Yellow-browed Warbler down in the bushes down at Donmouth (an area on the suburbs of Aberdeen by the sea), we were keen to head southwards.

Before travelling down to Aberdeen again to have a look for the Yellow-browed Warbler, we decided to have a look at Rattray Head, an area of coast a couple of miles south of the Loch of Strathbeg that has a reputation to be a good place to sea-watch and find migrants passerines. We didn't spend that long there, as time was against us if we wanted to check Donmouth for the YBW, but to an extent what we saw there was significant. Checking the bushes round the old Rattray Hotel, there was a clear fall of the commoner birds, with Robins and Goldcrest present in most bushes, calling and occasionally showing themselves. You could tell these birds were foreign, especially the Robins. One Robin we saw was making the most ridiculous sounding call, nothing like any other Robin. What had attracted us to this particular Robin at first was when we heard it call almost but not completely like a Willow Warbler, and once we had heard this call we saw it on top of a bush. Amongst the Goldcrest, we checked for Firecrest, but despite standing there examining the bush where Goldcrest were most abundant, there was no Firecrest amongst them. We then proceeded to have a sea-watch from the head itself, but this proved rather bad, with only some Gannet passing in the 20 minutes we spent there.

The sun was starting to set when we arrived at Donmouth, and we were worried we wouldn't have enough time to give the area a good look. So we simply set out from the car park and towards the gorse areas towards the nearby Golf Club on the dunes. As the whereabouts of this warbler was pretty vague in our heads, we didn't much else but check each area of gorse for migrant activity, using the pishing technique to see if we could flush anything out. But of course, because I am a novice 'pisher' I didn't flush anything out. After a 20 minute walk in search of the bird, we decided that it was all to ambiguous and that we should get back home. The Glossy Ibis was really enough to satisfy us for the day!

I haven't been out today, but migrant activity has continued to take place, with Firecrest, 2 Yellow-browed Warbler, Ring Ouzel and Snow Goose all seen in the county today. I guess the hope is that this migration period continues here, but for my Dad and I it is kind of ironic that some rarer birds have arrived in Aberdeenshire, as tomorrow we are going away for two weeks. On the first week, I will be spending my time in northern Suffolk with my grandfather. On one of the days I spend with him my Dad and I will have a days birding in Norfolk, which, being a fantastic county for birds, will hopefully provide some exciting stuff! Then the week after that I will be in Corsica (without my Dad but with my Mum), an island off France (close to Sardinia), where I will be doing a lot of birding too, although not seriously as my Mum isn't exactly a birder. In Corsica I am hoping to see some of the following: Audouins Gull, Rock Sparrow, Lammegeier, Corsican Citril Finch, Corsican Nuthatch (endemic), plus more. For Lammegeier and Corsican Nuthatch, my Mum and I will have a day out in an area called Asco, an apparently stunning, mountainous area with lots of Corsican Pine Trees, but both these birds will be difficult as they aren't common whatsoever. So basically, in the next two weeks I will try and see as many birds as I can, and once I get back I am pretty sure I will have a lot to report to you! My october holidays have started in style with a Glossy Ibis, lets hope they end in style with some good birds in Norfolk and Corsica!



Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Autumn Birding so far in Aberdeenshire

If I had to be frank with you all, birding hasn't been at its best up here in Aberdeenshire, and anyone that lives in Aberdeenshire will know that from the distinct lack of rarer birds that have turned up in the county in comparison to other counties in the UK. And that's not just because the birders in this county aren't trying. I guess you could leave it down to the fact that there aren't enough of us in the county, but that's not completely justifiable. In my opinion the reason this autumn hasn't been so good bird-wise is because of the wind. This autumn so far the winds have either been very light, or they have been westerly or South-westerly, which is not the best for birds. However, I am fairly positive that could change in the remaining few weeks we have of autumn, and that everything could improve.

Anyway, in the second half of September I found myself very busy with school work, and was thus unavailable to go out on a full days birding for a couple of weeks. However, I have been able to pop down to Girdleness after school a couple of times a week, which is basically the closest place to where I live in Aberdeen. Its a headland, and sticks out a long way. It is known to have held all sorts of rarities in the past, and is a good place to both sea-watch and have a look for passerines. I go and birding with my Dad, and he and I usually sea-watch off by a foghorn just round the corner from the lighthouse you can see in the first of the two pictures of Girdlness below.

I have done 'after school' birding down at Girdlness approximately 4 times. The first time I did this happened to be the best day of the lot, although it wasn't great in terms of others day I have had in the past. The date of this day was the 17th September, and a north-westerly wind was present, and having heard of this wind, my Dad and I were eager to get down to Girdlness to see if there was anything out at sea. Within half an hour of returning from school I was out there with my Dad, sea-watching from what is known as 'The Coo' (but is the foghorn I mentioned earlier). I unfortunately don't have my own scope, but I will be getting one in the next few months with a bit of luck, and because I don't have one, my Dad and I have to share his scope. But it isn't too much of hassle, when he is looking through the scope I just concentrate my bins on an area of the sea, et voila, I'm able to sea-watch!

As we weren't going elsewhere and the chances of 'migs' were fairly low, we spent around an hour and a half to two hours watching from the Coo that day. There was certainly more activity out at sea then there had been for a while before that. There was an almost constant flow of Gannets, with an estimate of up to 400 birds seen within the time estimate I gave. These were the first apparent birds to us as we started sea-watching, and are hopes were fairly high of something slighlty more interesting, as with a big passage of commoner birds such as Gannet, there are slightly less common birds. Around 10 minutes into the sea-watch, with me now on the scope, I spotted two pale-phase Arctic Skua, attacking some gulls furiously together before flying rapidly north again. This brought even more hope into our hearts, and we hoped that more Arctic Skua would pass, along with another couple of species of Skua. Soon after this 15 Pink-footed Geese went north, along with 3 Tufted Duck, and 3 flocks, around 10 birds in each, and within a few minutes of one another, wader sp. went past, although it was very hard to tell what they were as they were a long way out. As I was the only one that could really see them properly, I presumed they were Redshank, as they seemed bigger and not as fat as Knot, which I originally suspected when I see the first flock About 45 minutes through the sea-watch, a group of 4 Manx Shearwater passed, flying closely and quickly together, moving their wings from side to side in unison. From this moment onwards, there was a passage of Manxies. They appeared amongst the Gannets every 5 minutes or so, normally in groups of just two birds. As we watched them pass, we were joined by Mark Lewis (Fat Paul Scholes on Birdforum), who would be pleasant company until we left. With Mark in our company, we continued to find little groups of Manx Shearwater, with one biggish group of up to 12 birds passing towards the end of the sea-watch. Also, Mark managed to spot a fine, very close, pale-bellied Brent Goose going southwards, another pale phase Arctic Skua passed, and a couple of Red-throated Diver went north close in too. By the time we had to leave, we had seen, in all a total passage of: 35 Manx Shearwater within an hour (it was around 45 mins into the sea-watch that we first saw them), 400+ Gannet, 15 Pinkfeets, 3 Arctic Skua, 1 Red-breasted Merganser north, 3 Tufted Duck, 35 wader sp (presumed Redshank), 3 Common Scoter south, 1 Palle-bellied Brent Goose and a 2 Red-throated Diver north.

On the other occasions I went down to Girdlness after school it wasn't as lively as this, sea-watching from that day onwards has been generally poor, although last week 22 Pale-bellied Brent Geese did go north, and in a quick bird-watch last weekend 6 Arctic Skuas passed. Apart from that though, that is your lot in the last few weeks. An improvement is indeed needed!

Thanks for reading my first entry,