Saturday 27 October 2018

Catalonia, Part 1 - Delta del Llobregat, 1st August 2018

Before the visits to RSPB Pagham and Rainham I'd been on a great family holiday to Catalonia, so I'm just catching up with that.

When we arrived at Barcelona airport on the 31st August, we flew over one of the places on my birding wishlist - called the Llobregat Delta. The delta is in two sections, and is a vast expanse of wetland habitat, right on the coastal area beside Barcelona - an incredible place for nature, extremely close to the city. So the day after we arrived, we decided to take a look at it.

Unfortunately, due to the extreme heat, it closed at 15:30 during the summer so we only had around 1hr 30mins there. We started by walking along the road, stopping numerous times at lookouts onto a long channel of water. Though few birds were seen along here, there were dragonflies resting on the posts and the odd Cattle Egret perched on the cattle. There were hirundines nearly everywhere, with Alpine Swifts circling as well. A few other insects included Striped Shieldbugs, as well as hundreds of blue butterflies, though I didn't spot a Long-tailed blue.
When we eventually reached the visitor hut, and my first Spanish speaking test failed, we headed off to a hide recommended by Ian from Beddington, who'd been earlier on in the year. 

The hide had some brilliant views overlooking wetland and grassland habitat, and immediately we saw that the most numerous wader was Black-winged Stilt. The stilts were largely distant from the hide, but gradually grew bolder and flew much closer to the hide. Eventually, after some patience, the juveniles came within 15m, really showing themselves off. 
There was a single birder at the start, who showed us a bit of a rarity before going - a lifer for me, Marsh Sandpiper. Through a scope and heat-haze, it was merely a blob but a nice surprise. Also present a long way off was an ill looking Ruff, juv and ad LRP, 2 Spoonbill, Great White Egret, plenty of Little Egret, a Common Sandpiper and a few other bits and pieces. Frustratingly, though I saw at least 20 throughout the trip, I failed in getting a good shot of a Zitting Cisticola - Fan-tailed Warbler. Then I spotted something small skittering around at the back end of a scrape, with a rufous cap and long dark legs. Another world lifer in Kentish Plover, but the views were brief and largely disappointing. 
Just as I started to feel at home we had to leave, because 15:30 had passed. On the way back, it was too hot to really think but a group of European Bee Eater hunting overhead was pleasing. By the car park we also had a Purple Heron and Moustached Warbler calling (sadly not seen so a failed tick.) The last bird of the birding day was a Crested Lark that was flushed by the car.

A decent start to the trip was finished by a Sardinian Warbler and my first Audouin's Gulls on the beach, as well as a large, orange billed tern species offshore - possibly either Lesser Crested or Caspian. 3 lifers on day 1 was a nice start to a trip that was really meant to be non-birding...

The stars of the show...

ad f Black-winged Stilt

ad f Black-winged Stilt

ad f Black winged Stilt - debating life!

juv Black-winged Stilt

juv Black-winged Stilt

juv Black-winged Stilt

juv Black-winged Stilt
juv Black-winged Stilt

Although I'm not sure with the dragonflies and their ID, here are a few insects...

Red-veined Darter

Black-tailed Skimmer

Striped Shieldbugs
We had several European Bee Eater encounters...

European Bee Eater
Some of the Little Ringed Plovers.
ad and juv Little Ringed Plovers

Juv Little Ringed Plover
Juv Little Ringed Plover
Anonymous birds, as well as the Sandpiper. 

1cy Yellow-legged Gull (with a long neck)

These caused me some interest - they came in off the sea, circled briefly, then returned to the sea. Gadwall?
Common Sandpiper - possibly 1cy?

Common Sandpiper

Herons and Allies were in large numbers - 6 species throughout the day (no Little Bittern unfortunately!)
Great and Little Egret

4 species of bird - the bird at the back left made me excited to start.

Eurasian Spoonbill

Little Egret
Cattle Egret - feeling the heat!

Cattle Egrets

Thursday 11 October 2018

RSPB Pagham Harbour/Medmerry w Calum, 16th August 2018

After meeting Calum at the end of August, we organised a trip to Selsey Bill to do a seawatch. As I'd never done a seawatch, and summer seabirds were well on the move, we were both excited at the prospect of seeing something exciting. 
So on the 16th he kindly picked me up at Cobham, and his dad drove us down. 
Unfortunately, we had typically chosen a horrendous day to go to Selsey - heavy was  rain forecast from 10am to 3pm, and we had to leave by 1530. We arrived at Pagham Harbour at precisely 10am, and had a quick look at Ferry Pool, which was quiet. Then the rains started to come down, just as we went for a walk around the visitor centre in the hope of grounded migrants. Visibility was poor but among the Linnet we picked up some Sparrows, which reminded me of Tree Sparrow. The group then flew up and there seemed to be about 3 of them, and they then dropped back down into the scrub. Our attempts at record shots/sound  recording was in vain, as it started to dip it down.
We headed back towards the visitor centre, with a few waders and whitethroats stopping us. 
At the visitor centre, Calum asked if there were any Tree Sparrow locally and though it was a no, we were pretty sure of what they were. We were also gutted to be told that a seawatch was probably a bad idea, with the bill being a bit too dangerous to wait along, so we cancelled our seawatch sadly. 
However, with Calum being as crazy as he is, he was determined to find the Hooded Crow - his biggest lifer - at Medmerry nearby. So with the rain smashing down on us we went to Medmerry, and were dropped off in the car park. We spent about 45 minutes walking, 3miles or so into the rain, with only a few Whitethroat, a Wheatear and Skylark for company. Every crow was inspected, and the rain got heavier and heavier and we got more and more soaked.
When we eventually approached the Ham Viewpoint, we walked towards a path and were stopped by several warblers. First an interesting acro Warbler that looked like a Marsh, and then by an unusual 'drrr,' which was raspy coming from a deep bush. This alarm call, quite similar to a Reed, made it easy for me to identify it as Dartford Warbler. It did briefly appear but it was very shy and about as happy as I was with the rain. Either way it was a decent bird to find.
Though impossible to see from the viewpoint, Calum was still determined to find his Hooded Crow (which was not showy in good weather let alone stormy!) Eventually I persuaded him to head back, and we got picked up after not only getting lost but after Calum checked every garden for his corvid!
With time still left, we went back to Pagham Harbour to try and find some refuge and waders. In the hide there were 2 very friendly birders, who looked at us as if we were crazy, when we entered dripping. They kindly showed us a few bits and pieces, with showy Redshank, Wheatear, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Brent Geese and a possible Little Stint (would've been another british lifer) some of the main birds. I also managed a British lifer of Sandwich Tern, which were feeding all over the place.
It was a much more pleasant hour or so, and I was pleased to see something good. 
We returned to Ferry Pool one last time, and around 10 Common Sand had dropped in. 
Redshank and Dunlin
Sarnie Terns - phonescope
Sarnie Tern and oiks
Thanks to Calum and his dad for the day out, despite the weather. I liked Pagham and I'll be back there very soon. And a day birding with me wouldn't be complete without losing something (my lunchbag was probably in Ferry Pool hide...)

Thursday 4 October 2018

London Young Birders Meetup at RSPB Rainham, 13th August 2018

Over the last 6 months or so, I've gotten to know numerous young birders via Twitter, including quite a few in and around London. The eldest young birder, Samuel L, and I had decided to organise a meet-up for the summer, so we could get to know each other better and see some good wildlife. Considering birding in London is normally in parks and small nature reserves, the most obvious place to do this was RSPB Rainham Marshes, which was not only his patch but the best place for us to meet. 

Common Seal
So on the 13th August, I was dropped off by my dad, alongside my mum and sister, at around 9am. We were followed into the car park by Kabir, who I'd met a few weeks earlier, and his family. As the reserve wasn't actually open yet, we decided to start by having a quick look on the river front where a few waders were on the far side, as well as a few juv YLGs. By 09:30am, the visitor centre opened and we spoke to Howard, who I met last time I went to Rainham., as well as the other 4 young birders - Alex Liddle, Calum Mckellar, Ben and Sam. 

Bearded Tit pic Copyright Calum Mckellar

We started our walk along the Thames, as Sam had seen Sandwich Tern and Med Gull there earlier in the morning. Despite our best efforts, I didn't quite get a lifer but there was still plenty to be seen - Whitethroat and Reed Warbler were in the scrub, while a Whimbrel, c.65 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Dunlin, Redshank and a few Common Seal were along the river.
We then walked onto the reserve, first to the Shooting Butts Hide where it was quite quiet - only a few Teal, Kestrel and Reed Bunting were of any note. We began to walk on towards Aveley Pools - the wetland on the Northern part of the reserve - but were stopped numerous times by Marsh Frogs and Bearded Tits. Despite showing very close they were always brief views, and Calum took the only good picture of them. 

Aveley Pools was the place where we spent most of our time, for most of the early afternoon. To start there were nearly 15 Little Egret, Peregrine, 4 Yellow Wagtail and a Snipe. Though looking more carefully through the scope we found LRP, 3 Ruff, Greenshank, 2 Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, Water Rail and a green-tagged Marsh Harrier. A moment of personal frustration was when Sam spotted another Garganey - which flew into Aveley Flash - that I missed. It then refused to show again so I consider that another Garganey dip. 

By just after 2 we started to move on, towards the woodland, with a Wigeon and a few Little Grebe also seen. The Barn Owl showed distantly in its nest box, and another Greenshank went down after calling. We then stopped at a small bridge as Sam found a few Willow Emerald damselfly (lifers for most of us) as well as a tired Ruddy Darter. A few Linnet were lifers for Kabir, as were the Marsh Frogs. 
We spent a short time in the woodland, trying to find any grounded migrants, since rain seemed imminent. The best we managed was Whitethroats, Reed Warblers, Chiffchaff, a Willow Warbler and a possible Lesser Whitethroat. A few more Emeralds were seen along the woodland area. Just as it started to drizzle, I spotted a warbler pop up on a bush and call briefly, with a "piu" like call. With rain bringing down migrants I was thinking Wood Warbler. However, we didn't find it and with rain getting heavier we retreated back to the visitor centre.

Once the rain stopped by around 15:30, I went back to the river with Kabir and Calum, in an attempt to get closer pictures of a pair of Whimbrel and to try and find anything interesting on the river. We hung around for around 40 minutes, and Kabir left at around 4pm. Just before we went back up I found a striking gull on the river, a real beast of a bird with what looked like a plain head and dark eyes. It was really miles away, so was impossible to tell exactly what without an expert on scene. Sam thought it was possibly one, as did Howard when I showed him my record shots later on. Nonetheless, young birder Dante - one of the biggest gull experts in the country probably - said LBBG so that bird will have to wait as a lifer...

It was an enjoyable day, and meant I got to meet more like-minded people that live quite close to me. Hopefully we will have a few more in the near future, with people that couldn't make it like Isaiah Row and Dante. Also many thanks to Howard for the new tripod, a brilliant replacement for my old one, which fell apart before I reached the visitor centre!

3cy GBBG



Redshank recordshot


Herring Gull and juv BHG

f Reed Bunting

f Beardy record shot

f Peregrine


Marsh Harrier


L Egret and Ruff

Aveley Pools

Common Blue

Alien - not too sure what it is but James McCulloch has suggested Sciomyzidae (Marsh Fly) 

Willow Emerald Damselfly

Willow Emerald Damselfy

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter

Marsh Frog




Sam:       @FinchleyBirder
Kabir: @Kaulofthewild
Alex: @Alexbirder1
Calum: @mckellar_calum