Madeira, May-June 2014

Another foreign trip, another set of boring bird photos. The main reason for us birders to visit Madeira is to see the two endemic landbirds and the set of nine breeding seabirds, including a couple that breed only here. The Desertas Petrel is currently thought of as a race of Fea’s Petrel (which also breeds on the Cape Verde islands), but this race breeds only on the island of Bugio in the Desertas chain south-east of Madeira. The main target however, is Zino’s Petrel. This endangered species breeds only on a small number of inaccessible ledges high in the mountains of central Madeira. Thought to number no more than 80 pairs, its not only one of the rarest birds in the Western Palearctic, its one of the rarest birds in the World. Its been possible for many years to take a guided walk up to the breeding ledges and her them arrive in the dead of night. As atmospheric as this is, its not ideal for studying the actual birds! For this, we had to wait until Hadoram Shirihai and Madeira Wind Birds sussed out an area of ocean where Zino’s could be regularly found during the breeding season. And so now many birders have joined organised pelagics into the waters around Madeira in search of this, one of the most enigmatic birds in the Western Palearctic. Here are some images from my trips in late May.

Bulwer's Petrel (61) Bulwer's Petrel (147)Bulwer’s Petrels. At times coming incredibly close, these were true masters of the troughs.

Cory's Shearwater (31) Cory's Shearwater (63)Cory’s Shearwater

European Storm Petrel (47)European Storm Petrel

Madeiran Storm Petrel (127)

Madeiran Storm Petrel (171)

Madeiran Storm Petrel (32) Madeiran Storm Petrel (130)Madeiran Storm Petrel. These are the summer breeders, note how fresh the plumage is, even in these rubbish pictures.  Note also the large extent of white wrapping around the vent area, especially when compared to:

Leach's Storm Petrel (200)this Leach’s Petrel. You can see that the white on this Leach’s doesn’t encircle the legs, unlike on the Madeiran. 

Leach's Storm Petrel (259)Leach's Storm Petrel (178) Leach's Storm Petrel (150)

Leach’s Petrel still. A big surprise to see this species around Madeira in May, but a great opportunity to compare it to Madeiran Petrel. And also…

Wilson's Storm Petrel (74) Wilson's Storm Petrel (55)

this Wilson’s Storm Petrel! Complete with yellow feet.

However, none of these could really compare to the two stars of the show. Firstly, the incomparable White-faced Storm Petrel. Once one of these showed up at the chum slick, it would hang around for a few hours giving incredible views as it pogoed and boinged its way around, and straight into my top five all time best birds.

White-faced Storm Petrel (332)
White-faced Storm Petrel (138) White-faced Storm Petrel (135) screensaver White-faced Storm Petrel (92) White-faced Storm Petrel (76) White-faced Storm Petrel (75) White-faced Storm Petrel (54)

White-faced Storm Petrel

and so finally we arrive at the main event. On the third day of chumming, we were starting to feel that time was running thin. Hugo and Catarina of Madeira Wind Birds didn’t seem worried, and so it proved. After a short time at the slick, a pterodroma hove into view and did a couple of close fly pasts before heading off quickly to the east. A hasty field identification was confirmed when we looked at the photos, it was a Zino’s!

Zino's Petrel 1 (27) Zino's Petrel 1 (37) Zino's Petrel 1 (39)Unfortunately my best shots of it were partly obscured by the back of the boat, but you can still see the rather slight bill (when compared to Desertas anyway) and the decent extent of white in the underwing coverts.

We were all humming with excitement after this, but more as to come. What we assumed was the same bird returning came in low from the south a few minutes later and circled the boat several times, investigating the slick. More photos, and the realisation that this was a second bird! See what you think…

Zino's Petrel 2 (3) Zino's Petrel 2 (17) Zino's Petrel 2 (18) Zino's Petrel 2 (19) Zino's Petrel 2 (20)So there we are. A hugely successful trip.

Oh yeah, we also saw lots of Madeiran Firecrests and several Trocaz Pigeons. Here’s a couple of pigs:

Trocaz Pigeon (21)  

 

Philippines 2012-13, part 1.

11th Dec 2013.

Luzon – Arrival and La Mesa Eco Parc

Hopefully I’m finally getting around to updating the blog with highlights from my winter trip to the Philippines, so I’ll do it in a rough chronological order. But don’t worry, it won’t be a detailed day by day account of my 7 week trip!

Arriving in Manila on Dec 10th, I was whisked through the streets alongside the iconic jeepneys that seemingly make up 90% of Manila’s traffic. Jeepneys are a crazy form of transport, a sort of cut & shut with a jeep and a minibus made over by a drunk Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. The garish paintings adorning the sides are occasionally stunning, but the prevalence of stickers/licenses on the windscreen almost obliterate the drivers view. Not that they spend much time looking out the front window!  Culture shock is too strong a phrase for this, but the cultural differences to other places I’ve been was strong and immediately apparent. A strange mix of Asian and American, the city was crowded, and it was a relief to get to the hotel and crash out after the long direct flight from Heathrow with Philippine Airlines.

The following morning I met with Bram Demeulemeester from www.birdguidingphilippines.com, our guide for the next 5 weeks. We chatted for a few hours as we waited for Mark Van Biers and Chris Steeman to roll up, but then the three of us were ready for our first proper birding while we waited for Tim Sykes to arrive. With Bram occupied with collecting Tim from the airport, we hired a taxi and went to La Mesa Eco Park for the afternoon. A great patch of woodland on the edge of Manila, a quick look at google earth reveals why it’s surprisingly good for Luzon’s birds – it’s the end of an extension of woodland that runs all the way along the Sierra Madres. A few miles to the north are Whiskered Pitta and Luzon Bleeding Heart, but our target was much harder to find elsewhere than these. I don’t know when Ashy Thrush was first discovered here, but it suddenly put one of the hardest Luzon endemics firmly on the map. The few birds that are here have been incredibly well photographed by the Philippines army of bird photographers, but I was happy with my efforts. We found the small trail that Bram had given us directions to, and after a few minutes wait we were treated by a family party of Ashy Thrushes messing around within a few feet of us.

Ashy Thrush (16) Ashy Thrush (18) Ashy Thrush (27)

Ashy Thrushes, adult above, bottom two are 1st yrs

I’d just latched on to my first Arctic Warbler of the trip when a whistle from Mark and a loud burst of chattering from the forest had me running the few yards back down the trail to where he was now watching the stunning Spotted Wood Kingfisher. Two of the major trip targets were in the bag on the first afternoon!

It was perched at eye level about 3 metres of the trail and just sat there, unmoved by the three gawking idiots enthralled by its every blink, head turn and even occasional bob. The photos don’t really do it justice, but it’s one of, if not the best kingfisher I’ve seen so far. Maybe I just like scaly looking birds.

Spotted Wood Kingfisher (127)
Spotted Wood Kingfisher (81) Spotted Wood Kingfisher (41)

Spotted Wood Kingfisher

Chris ... photographing Spotted Wood Kingfisher (3)

Chris ... photographing Spotted Wood Kingfisher (1)

Chris Steeman photographs the kingfisher using traditional methods

Mark Van Biers photographing Spotted Wood Kingfisher (2)

 

Mark Van Biers photographs the kingfisher using his phone!

A group of Plain Bush Hens were protestating loudly from the long grass above the amphitheatre, but we couldn’t coax them out. The walk back to the taxi produced a few more lifers, but all were common Philippine endemics such as Philippine Pied Fantail, White-eared Brown Dove and Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker. It may be apparent that most of the endemics carry the epithet “Philippine” to their name, so hopefully you’ll get used to reading it quicker than I got used to writing it. Back at the hotel, Tim had arrived fresh from a seemingly birdless time in Thailand and Borneo, and the team was complete. We could start the tour for real in the morning.

Part 2 to follow.

Champion’s of the Flyway – the Eilat bird race Apr 1st, 2014

Taking part in this race has been one of the highlights of my year so far, and in a year that saw me whizzing around the Philippines on the back of a motorbike, thats saying something. I was part of the Birding Frontiers team, and a full breakdown of the day can be read here http://birdingfrontiers.com/2014/04/06/race-day-the-birding-frontiers-story/#comments . Basically, we didn’t win. We didn’t even come second. In fact, even third place eluded us, but I’m not bitter. It was a superb day and we did ourselves ok with our total of 151. Next year we’ll have a better plan. Next year, things will be different…

Roger Riddington& Adam Hutt scoping Pallas's Gull

 

Roger Riddington scoping a Pallas’s Gull in the dark, while Adam Hutt cleans the headlights so we can see the gulls!

The Pallas’s Gull in question. Probably only possible with the Swaro 95!

Birding Frontiers team

The Birding Frontiers team (Adam Hutt, Roger Riddington, me)

Dan Alon & Jonathan Meyrev

Dan Alon & Jonathan Meyrav, the co-organisers of the entire event.

The Palestine Sunbirders - overall winners

The Palestine Sunbirders, the overall winners. 

The Batumi Raptor Count crew

The Batumi Raptor Crew receiving the cheque for $30,000 to fund raptor conservation in Georgia.

Israel, March 2014 (photos from Sunbird tour)

There’s no great secret as to why I love going back to Israel. The birding is first rate, so check out the following selection from my recent Sunbird tour to Israel. We started off in the Negev, taking in Nizzana, Ovda, Sde Bokur and Mitzpe Ramon, then moved down to Eilat for five nights followed by a night near the Dead Sea and two nights in the Hula Valley. Epic migration and some great local specialities. The photos are in no particular order.

Yellow-vented Bulbul (8) Yellow-vented Bulbul. Very common all over Israel.

Common Cranes (53) Common Cranes (39)

Common Cranes. Approx 250 fly over us near Nizzana.

Collared Flycatcher (18)

Collared Flycatcher, male. Our first decent migrant.

Arabian Babbler (5)

Arabian Babbler feeding juvenile

Steppe Buzzards (92)

A small number of the thousands of Steppe Buzzards that flew over us in the Eilat mountains one morning.

Steppe Eagle (38)

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Buzzard (40)

Steppe Buzzard 

Spur-winged Plover (10)

Spur-winged Plover

White Stork (16)

White Stork 

Wryneck (22)

Wryneck

Yellow Wagtail (hybrid feldegg x lutea) (14)

Yellow Wagtail. I presume this is a hybrid feldegg x lutea, given the rather “taivana” like appearance.

Tristram's Starling (138) Tristram's Starling (99)

Tristram’s Starlings

Spanish Sparrows (9) Spanish Sparrow (11)

Spanish Sparrows

Slender-billed Gull (36) Slender-billed Gull (26)

Slender-billed Gulls

Semi-collared Flycatcher (1)

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Ruff (7)

Ruff

Pied Bush Chat (94) Pied Bush Chat (81) Pied Bush Chat (74) Pied Bush Chat (61)

Pied Bush Chat. This was approximately the 12th record for the Western Palearctic, and we were lucky enough to get great views of this mega as it hunted from the irrigation pipes at Neot Semadar.

Pallas's Gull (1)

Pallas’s Gull

Palestine Sunbird (42)

Palestine Sunbird

Oriental Skylark (7)

Oriental Skylark in Ovda Valley. A scarce winter visitor to Israel, this is the first I’ve seen but was followed by three more at Yotvata!

Bimaculated Lark (28)

Bimaculated Lark

Ehrenburg's Redstart (8)

“Ehrenburgs” Redstart (Caucasian race of Common Redstart)

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (1)

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Bluethroat (68)

Bluethroat

Red-necked Phalarope (13)

Red-necked Phalarope

Mourning Wheatear (11)

Mourning Wheatear (14)

Mourning Wheatear

Little Egret (20)Little Egret

 

Lesser Spotted Eagle & Steppe Buzzards (5)

Lesser Spotted Eagles (1)

Lesser Spotted Eagles

Hume's Owl (8)

Hume’s Owl. A pair performed admirably for us, with this bird perching close enough for happy snaps in the torchlight. Nit really visible is the large rodent it as carrying in its bill.

Fan-tailed Raven (63)

Fan-tailed Raven

Hooded Wheatear (1)

Hooded Wheatear

Black Stork (12) Black Stork (4) Black Stork & Steppe Buzzards (8)

Black Storks

Black Kites (11) Black Kites (2)

Black Kites

Pied Kingfisher (13)

Pied Kingfisher

White Pelicans (24) White Pelican (3)

White Pelicans

Vinous-breasted Starling (21) Vinous-breasted Starling (16)

Vinous-breasted Starling

Greater Flamingo (17)

Greater Flamingos

Glossy Ibis (17)

Glossy Ibis

Hoopoe Lark (9)

Hoopoe Lark

European Bee-eater (5)

European Bee-eaters

 

Raptor spectacular at Batumi, Georgia. Aug-Sep 2013

Batumi 28 Aug – 12 Sep 2013

Got back from a simply fantastic 2 ½ weeks in Georgia where I was volunteering at the Batumi raptor camp. Loads of information on the BRC can be found at http://www.batumiraptorcount.org/, so I’ll just give a brief account of my time there.

27/28 Aug – I flew out with Pegasus airlines from London Stansted via Istanbul to Batumi. This seemed the preferable option for me rather than getting a slightly cheaper flight to Istanbul then the bus to Batumi (which takes about 24 hrs!) or flying to Tbilisi and then getting the sleeper train to Batumi. The flights cost £214 return, so not bad value really (although my flight from Stansted was at 00:30hrs, so a bit of a red eye!) and I saved on time and hassle when I was in Georgia. I arrived in Batumi around midday on 28th and got a taxi to the village of Sakhalvasho where the BRC is based, and where I was to be living for the next 15 or so days. I dumped my bags, grabbed the scope and camera and made the short walk up to Station 1 for the afternoon. And what an afternoon! Quickly meeting the other volunteer counters, it was immediately apparent that today was a good day, as there were raptors all over the place. Streams of incoming Honey Buzzards passed overhead and to the east and west of us, and when I asked Simon (the co-ordinator) what I could do, he replied just enjoy it! So I did, and I’m grateful for that. I think to be thrown straight in to counting would have been a bit overwhelming, so I just watched the other guys, got a feel for what the counting was all about and simply marvelled at the spectacle unfolding over my head. All of the preliminary counts from Batumi can be found on their website at http://www.batumiraptorcount.org/projects/raptor-count/latest-count or on the excellent Dutch site, Trektellen at  http://www.trektellen.nl/default.asp?land=8&site=0&taal=2&tellingen=1&showfav=&sorteren=&addfav=1048, so please treat the figures given here with caution as they are unchecked and may represent double counting occasionally. However, they do give a fairly good idea of the numbers of raptors I was seeing on a daily basis. This first afternoon was spectacular, but more was to come.

Honey Buzzard – 22,579

Black Kite – 497
Marsh Harrier – 164
Montagu’s Harrier – 306
Mon/Pal – 344
Booted Eagle – 102
Short-toed Eagle – 8, 
Roller – 19
Bee-eater – 1000’s
Kettle of raptors glupsing (2) Kettle of raptors (88) Kettle of raptors (73) Incoming raptors Honey Buzzards (14) Honey Buzzards (20)

Its very difficult to capture the spectacle of thousands of Honey Buzzards streaming past the viewpoint, but hopefully you get the idea!

29 Aug – Went to Station 2 today, and realised just how unfit I am. The drive around to Station 2 takes about 30 mins, followed by a 20 min climb up a fairly steep path. Arriving at the Station, I managed to contain my impending nausea and fainting and settled down to work. Station 2 is situated about 5km due east of Station 1 and provides a beautiful setting from which to observe raptors. On the edge of the national park, you are more isolated here, and there were no other birders which added to the special feeling of remoteness. Green Warblers called regularly, and other migrants were sometimes seen flying south to accompany the multitudes of Bee-eaters that were constantly circling up alongside the Station before migrating south over the hills. I should mention that Honey Buzzards are the focus of attention at the moment, and for these few weeks, only Station 1 counts Honeys as the risk of double counting is so high. So all Station 2 had to do with regards the Honey Buzzard stream was pick out the other species and make sure that Station 1 was aware of all the raptor streams. We also counted those odd birds that Station 1 missed due to distance, cloud or other factors. All this was achieved through radio contact. Whatever station I’m at on a particular day, I’ll put the other stations counts in brackets, just so you can appreciate the number of birds heading through the area.

Honey Buzzard – 1652 (12,866)
Black Kite – 108 (136)
Marsh Harrier – 44 (84)
Montagu’s Harrier – 69 (129)
Pallid Harrier – 1
Mon/Pal – 120 (306)
Booted Eagle – 15
Short-toed Eagle – 2
Lesser Spotted Eagle – 1 (1)

European Bee-eater (25) European Bee-eater (1) European Bee-eater

Bee-eaters

30 Aug – Station 2 again. The surprise highlight being 3 flyby Dalmatian Pelicans that buzzed Station 1, so were a bit distant for us. However, it was a great way to finally get this species on the ol’ life list.

Honey Buzzard – 1181 (20,168)

Black Kite – 99 (66)
Egyptian Vulture – 1
Marsh Harrier – 24 (18)
Montagu’s Harrier – 18 (38)
Pallid Harrier – 4 (4)
Mon/Pal – 35 (59)
Booted Eagle – 6 (119)
Short-toed Eagle – 3 (12)
Lesser Spotted Eagle – 1
Dalmatian Pelican – 3
Black Stork – 2
White Stork – 8
(Roller 27)

Dalmatian Pelicans (5)Three Dalmatian Pelicans buzzing Station 1. Shame I was on Station 2!

Thought I’d show you what the view from Station 2 is like. Pretty special.

View from Station 2 (7) View from Station 2 (3) View from Station 2 (2) View from Station 2 (1)Looking back towards Station 1, which is on the flat topped hill a quarter in from the left.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

This Lesser Spotted Woodpecker showed really well in the small bare tree in front of Station 2.

31 Aug – Had a day off from counting today, so decided to go to the nearby Chorokhi Delta with Mattius, Albert and Simon. It was easy to get the marshrutka (local minibus) to Batumi and then another to the delta as the locals were very friendly and pointed us in the right direction. We actually saw a Dalmatian Pelican flying roughly alongside the bus on the way to the delta, but unfortunately couldn’t relocate it once we got off the bus! The Chorokhi Delta is a fairly large area, certainly big enough for a whole days exploration on foot. A mixture of scrub, large bushes, open short grass, ephemeral marshes, tidal river, gravel shoals and tidal mud, as well as the Black Sea, it proved to be a magnet for migrants. Highlights in no particular order were:

Little Crake – 1 immature

Corncrake
Broad-billed Sandpiper – 5
Marsh Sandpiper
Short-toed Larks – 20+
Ortolan – 5+
Citrine Wagtail – 20
Yelkouan Shearwater – 20
Red-necked Phalarope – 3
Peregrine
Short-toed Eagle
Purple Swamphen (of the grey-headed race)
Temminck’s Stint
Red-backed Shrike – lots
Isabelline Wheatear – 2
Purple Heron – 100+

Temminck's Stint and Citrine Wagtail (13)

Temminck’s Stint and Citrine Wagtail

Red-backed Shrike (81)

Red-backed Shrike

Purple Herons

Purple Herons

Purple and Grey Herons (10)

Mixed flock of Purple and Grey Herons

Choroki Delta (2)

Chorokhi Delta

White-winged Black Tern juv

White-winged Tern, juvenile

Unfortunately we also witnessed a lot of hunting, as we expected, as it was the weekend. We found a freshly dead Marsh Harrier, and it was sobering to realise that we had been watching that very bird flying around earlier in the day. We also saw one hunter taking a shot at a Wood Sandpiper that was walking on the mud! Not sure how that proves the guys manhood, shooting a small wading bird that is basically a sitting target, but then hunting is ingrained in Georgian culture, as in many countries.

01 Sep – Station 1. Day totally written off due to heavy rain. Did actually manage to get up to the station at lunch time where we ate lunch, got piss wet through and came back down again. Result. Last night was the most spectacular electrical storm I’ve ever witnessed. With no curtains at our windows, the whole room was almost constantly lit by lightning for an hour or so. At times there was more light than dark, and sleep was impossible in the bright white light. Spent most of the day reading and sleeping, but did manage to see a couple of nice samamisicus Redstarts in the garden.

Ehrenburg's Redstart

Common Redstart of the Caucasian race, samamisicus, aka “Ehrenburg’s” Redstart

02 Sep – Station 2. The days big highlight was an adult female Crested Honey Buzzard, found by Albert and Romain. It was basically on its own, and circled up in front of the station before heading past us and to the north. I managed some terrible shots of it.

Crested Honey Buzzard ad fem 1 (89) Crested Honey Buzzard ad fem 1 (63)

Crested Honey Buzzard, adult female

Crested Honey Buzzard – 1 ad female
Honey Buzzard – 1492 (67,163)
Black Kite – 255 (179)
Marsh Harrier – 80 (124)
Montagu’s Harrier – 46 (90)
Pallid Harrier – 7 (6)
Mon/Pal – 60 (131)
Booted Eagle – 23 (238)
Short-toed Eagle – 1 (5)
Steppe Eagle – 1 (2)
Steppe Buzzard – 17
Egyptian Vulture – 1 (1)
(Osprey 6)
(Eastern Imperial Eagle 1)
White Stork – 55 (65)
Black Stork – 1 (4)
Yellow Wagtail – 100’s
Golden Oriole – 4
Bee-eater – 1000’s
Roller 2 (250)
Ortolan – 100’s
Tawny Pipit – 2
Alpine Swift – 1
Turtle Dove – 447 (1625)
Crossbill – 1
Hobby (61)

Hobby

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

03 Sep – Station 1

Honey Buzzard – 42,464 (273), Black Kite – 736 (1168), Marsh Harrier – 88 (92), Montagu’s Harrier – 218 (153), Pallid Harrier – 10 (3), Mon/Pal – 216 (214), Booted Eagle – 16 (16), White Stork – 80, Golden Oriole – 4, Ruff – 12, Turtle Dove – 20+, Ortolan – 20

04 Sep – Station 1. A good Honey Buzzard passage today.
Honey Buzzard – 49,412 (3932)
Black Kite – 1351 (1664)
Marsh Harrier – 28 (48)
Montagu’s Harrier – 11 (42)
Pallid Harrier – 2 (4)
Mon/Pal – 63 (56)
Booted Eagle – 64
Lesser Spotted Eagle – 1
White Stork – 17
Black Stork – 3
Honey Buzzard (301) Honey Buzzard (107) Honey Buzzard (74) Honey Buzzard (69) Honey Buzzard (23) Honey Buzzard (4) Honey Buzzard (3) Honey Buzzard (2) Honey Buzzard (1)

The amazingly variable Honey Buzzard

05 Sep – Station 1. A very rainy day, spent all morning in bed and the afternoon was windy, cold and heavy showers. Consequently, very few raptors were moving.

Honey Buzzard – 159 (68)
Black Kite – 7 (19)
Marsh Harrier – 5
Montagu’s Harrier – 3
Mon/Pal – 12

06 Sep – Went to Mtirala National Park for the morning with Jan and a group of eco tourists, where we managed to see a grand total of 9 species in 4 hours including a very brief flyover Krüper’s Nuthatch! Autumn woodland birding is not the greatest idea! Did manage to see the Caucasian Salamander though, which is a good amphibian tick. After this ornithological failure, we decided to try the Batumi harbour area, which proved to be a good move. Highlights for me were Savi’s Warbler, c20 Red-backed Shrikes, c20 Whinchats and Barred, Marsh & “Caspian” Reed Warblers.

Caspian Reed Warbler

“Caspian” Reed Warbler. I think.

Batumi harbour (1)

The Batumi harbour area, great for migrants.

Ortolan

Ortolan

Northern Wheatear (5)

pale Northern Wheatear 

Red-backed Shrike (69) Red-backed Shrike (25) Red-backed Shrike (1) Red-backed Shrike (63)

Red-backed Shrikes. One of the commonest migrants, they were seemingly everywhere.

07 Sep – Station 2. Woke up with a slightly dodgy gut, which was worrying considering that thus far I was one of the few that had avoided getting ill. It wasn’t too bad though, so I went along to Station 2 as planned. By lunchtime my guts were in turmoil and I was fighting back the nausea. I wont go into too much detail, suffice to say that the possibility of cholera crossed my mind. Luckily, it wasn’t, although for a few hours in the late afternoon it was all I could do to act as scribe for the other counters. The task of looking up and counting raptors was beyond me. I did manage to get the energy to look at a female Crested Honey Buzzard that flew over us though!

Crested Honey Buzzard – 1 ad female
Honey Buzzard – 43 (27,149)
Black Kite – 1467 (310)
Marsh Harrier – 101 (54)
Montagu’s Harrier – 65 (39)
Pallid Harrier – 6 (6)
Mon/Pal – 134 (111)
Booted Eagle – ? (77)
Short-toed Eagle – 2
Lesser Spotted Eagle – 1
Crested Honey Buzzard Ad fem 2 (12)
Crested Honey Buzzard, adult female (on right)
Crested Honey Buzzard Ad fem 2 (38) Crested Honey Buzzard ad fem 2 (39)
Crested Honey Buzzard, adult female
Booted Eagle (59)
Booted Eagle
Black Kite showing lineatus features (1) Black Kite (3)
Black Kites
Short-toed Eagle (19)

Short-toed Eagle

08-09 Sep – Went up to Station 1 for the morning of the 8th, but I had the next three days off, so went on a little sojourn into the Georgian Lesser Caucasus. I was basically sight-seeing, but one of those sights happened to be an awesome Caspian Snowcock. Also went up onto the Javakheti plateaux, where there were loads of raptors feeding and moving. A Steppe Eagle was probably the highlight, but close views of hunting Montagu’s Harrier were nice too. The scenery was excellent, as I think you’ll agree.

Lesser Caucasus (8) Lesser Caucasus (10) Lesser Caucasus (12)

The Lesser Caucasus

Black Kites over Lesser Caucasus (15)

Black Kites circling over Lesser Caucasus

Caspian Snowcock (5)

Caspian Snowcock

Long-legged and Steppe Buzzard (6)

Long-legged and Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard (13)

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Eagle (28)

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Buzzard (35)

Steppe Buzzard

10 Sep – Another day off, so went to Batumi harbour with Dieter, via a site near Batumi for Krüper’s Nuthatch. The nuthatches eventually showed well, as did a brief Thrush Nightingale here. It was evident that migrants were on the move, so we went to the harbour area again. We saw nothing new of note (just c30 Whinchat, 15 R-b Shrikes, Barred Wblr etc.), so decided to move on to the Chorokhi Delta. Lots of Yellow-legged Gulls, Little Terns and migrants. The best of which were Little Crake, two Cattle Egret, 2+ Gull-billed Tern, 3 Caspian Tern, 4 Broad-billed Sandpipers and c15 Citrine Wagtails.

Garganey and Broad-billed Sandpipers (9)

Garganey, Broad-billed Sandpipers and Ringed Plovers

Fisherman at Choroki Delta (6)

Fisherman

Citrine Wagtail (30)

Citrine Wagtail

Choroki Delta (3) Choroki Delta (1)

Chorokhi Delta beach

Little Terns with White-winged Black Tern (1)

Little Terns

11 Sep – Station 1.

Honey Buzzard – 2475 (9830)
Black Kite – 4199 (7453)
Marsh Harrier – 260 (345)
Montagu’s Harrier – 68 (79)
Pallid Harrier – 2 (22)
Mon/Pal – 205 (184)
Booted Eagle – ?
Short-toed Eagle – 3 (8)
Egyptian Vulture – 3 (4)
Black Stork – 12 (16)
Tawny Pipit – c20

12 Sep – Station 1

Honey Buzzard – 2562 (4471)
Black Kite – 2047 (2279)
Marsh Harrier – 195 (193)
Montagu’s Harrier – 39 (45)
Pallid Harrier – 9 (13)
Mon/Pal – 81 (87)
Lesser Spotted/Steppe Eagle – 5
Booted Eagle – 120 (???)
Egyptian Vulture – 1
Short-toed Eagle – 2
13 Sep – Spent my last morning at Station 1, when again good numbers of Honey Buzzards and Black Kites were migrating, but then I had to drag myself away to catch my return flight at 1345 from Batumi.  It had been an amazing experience, with a truly awesome birding experience on show most days.  The company had been incredible, and I made some great friends who I’ll hopefully see again at some point.  Here are some parting shots of the social side of the Batumi Raptor Count experience.

Counters at Station 2 (3)

Station 2 crew. 

Station 1 in the rain (3)

Huddled out of the rain on Station 1.

Social nights (9)

Social nights (16) Social nights (6) Social nights (12) Social nights (4) Social nights (3) Romain sleeping Me, with Finnstick Florien asleep Goshawk on hand (1) Clement watching raptors (2)

Aki Aki, Filip and Finnstick (2)

Snettisham RSPB, after the tidal surge.

I’m staying with the family Eele in Norfolk for a few days, which has happened to coincide with the worst tidal surge in recorded history. So this morning I went with RSPB warden Paul Eele down to Snettisham RSPB to view the damage done by the tidal surge. The pictures speak for themselves.

IMG_2298For anyone that knows the site, you’ll see that the pits are full of water, way above their usual levels. The first hide (Rotary Hide) seems to have survived ok, but the second one (Shore Hide) got hit badly.

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The screening to Shore Hide has been lifted out of the ground

IMG_2306The inside of Shore Hide is full of tideline debris

IMG_2305The bottom front panels have been pushed off by the pressure of water inside the hide

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The waterline is halfway up the hide windows!

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The roost bank has gone. Its been replaced by a huge hole and a shingle delta!

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Sanctuary Hide has been picked up, turned 180 degrees and set back down in almost the same spot! We have no idea how that happened, but now the door is facing the pit and the windows are facing the sky!

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RSPB may be branching out into other areas of wildlife, but this new astronomy hide will take some getting used too!

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Paul Eele surveying the site where the Roost Hide used to be. It has completely gone!

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All that was left in situ were these two benches! 

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The Roost Hide (well, part of it at least) was discovered about half way up the pit, almost completely submerged. We assume that the rest of the hide has sunk!

At least the habitat should bounce back fairly quickly at Snettisham, although the Red Hempnettle may have been lost. Whether the hides get replaced is another matter, so a visit to Snettisham will be a different experience from now on. Obviously the damaged hides are closed off to the public.

 

 

Seabird safari, August 2013

A bit late I know, but I did some seabird work in the northern North Sea back in August and have just got around to editing the photos. Huge numbers of Gannets were the main omnipresent feature, but as you’ll see, we had a few nice things. Including what I think is a first for the Northern Hemisphere…

White-beaked Dolphins (26) White-beaked Dolphins (22) White-beaked Dolphins (20)White-beaked Dolphins breaching

Sooty Shearwater (213) Sooty Shearwater (196) Sooty Shearwater (184) Sooty Shearwater (178) Sooty Shearwater (171) Sooty Shearwater (163) Sooty Shearwater (161) Sooty Shearwater (154) Sooty Shearwater (147) Sooty Shearwater (34) Sooty Shearwater (33)Sooty Shearwaters. Note the prominent pale fringes to the last bird, only visible on good views. I could watch Sooties all day.

Killer Whales, NW of Foula (1) Killer Whales, NW of Foula (10) Killer Whales, NW of Foula (18)

Orca. Three animals NW of Foula, possibly the same as seen later off Aberdeen. 

Greater & Lesser Black-backed Gulls (1)

Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Obvious size difference!

Great Black-backed Gull (6)

Four Greater Black-backed Gulls. Obvious size variation!

Gannets Great Skuas and FulmarsGreat Skuas (otherwise known as Bonxie) harassing a swarm of Fulmars and Gannets

Great Skua attacked by Fulmars Great Skua being attacked by Fulmar (2)They don’t have it all their own way. Fulmars hold their own and often chase off Bonxies. Fulmars are probably the only birds that Bonxies respect!

Gannet plunge diving (1) Gannet with fish (6) Gannet melee (11) Gannet melee (8) Gannet (15) Gannet (8)Gannets

Fulmars & Great Skuas (2) Fulmar melee (24) Fulmar melee (23) Fulmar melee (20) Fulmar melee (1) Fulmars  (6)Fulmars

Foula (1) Foula (7) Foula (11)

Foula (14)Foula

Feeding frenzy (22) Feeding frenzy (25) Feeding frenzy (14) Feeding frenzy (10) Feeding frenzy (16) Feeding frenzy (18)Bonxie mugging Gannets for food. Note the Ben Hur style chariot racing in the 2nd pic, with a Bonxie riding two Gannets!

Fair Isle (5)Fair Isle. A Swinhoe’s Petrel was present on here a couple of days earlier (and probably still present at this point), but we failed to find it at sea. 

British Storm-petrel (46) British Storm-petrel (45) British Storm-petrel (29)British Storm Petrel

Arctic Skua (1) Arctic Skua (8)Arctic Skua

Emperor Penguin baloon (3)Wait, what’s that off the port bow…??

Emperor Penguin baloon (2)What the….!?!?  Its a 1st winter Emperor Penguin!!! I assume it’s the first record of the this species for the Northern Hemisphere. Not even Lees & Gilroy predicted this one…