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Thursday, 30 April 2009

Lesvos Magic!

Jenny & I are just back from a holiday to the magical Greek island of Lesvos.
Being one of the eastern most islands (just west of Turkey) and the third biggest Greek island, Lesvos is well situated to attract a wide range of migratory birds.
We were not disappointed, as the island was teaming with birdlife. I would say that arguably this has to be one of the best places in Europe to witness bird migration and probably the best for bird photography with many of the birds being very confiding ( I can personally vouch for this having filled up 5 memory cards!!).
With all this avian activity, the island particularly around Skala Kalloni in the south with its saltpans and extensive wetlands in the south attracts many admiring birdwatchers especially tour groups led by companies such as Steve Dudley's Lesbos Birding, Avian Adventures, Heatherlea, Bird Tours and Limosa Tours which lead large birdwatching parties.  Steve is to be congratulated for running an excellent website, which he regularly updates nightly, on news of the most exciting birds and migrants. This spirit of co-operation of spreading the news to a wider audience as possible is to be applauded (thanks also to Avian Adventures and Heatherlea who were generous with sharing information too) and the leaders of the last 2 tour parties on the list please take note!
Personal highlights for me were the close views of a Kruper's Nuthatch, a gorgeous lemon yellow headed male Citrine Wagtail, a soaring Levant Sparrowhawk overhead, singing male Cinerous Buntings, a Little Bittern feeding just a metre away from me! a roosting Scop's Owl,a family party of confiding Golden Orioles, a flock of 80 Ruff feeding just a few metres away from the car, a trio of soaring Black Storks, 400 Greater Flamingo's feeding on the Saltpans and Sombre Tit along the Makara Track and the numerous photographic opportunities that were available.
So prolific that it will be a while before I can load up some of the pictures for you to see.
I was also really pleased to see 8 species of Orchid including a Late Spider Orchid, Provence Orchids, Tongue Orchids, Violet Bird's Nest Orchids, Loose- flowered Orchids, Green- winged Orchids and a group of tiny Dense- flowered Orchids which had finished flowering in the shade of a Pinewood as well as the bell-shaped Green Wild Fritillaries.
Butterflies were very thin on the ground but including 2 sightings (but sadly no photo's) of the beautiful False Apollo butterflies as well as the more familiar Mediterranean Scarce Swallowtails. As the temperature soared during the last couple of days, foot- long Balkan Green Lizards and Persian Squirrels (like a Red X Grey Squirrel hybrid perish the thought!) were seen.
The island is developed enough to have an extensive road system, so access to places is relatively easy, but there are a lot of dirt tracks to navigate in order to reach some of the best wildlife sites.
Lesvos, is in short a magical place, with pristine habitat which attracts an incredible amount of wildlife. I for one will be booking up again for next year! 


Sunday, 19 April 2009

No hide, no seek

A trip to Benacre Broad today and the weather couldn't have been more different from the fog shrouded Broad last week, the area was bathed in bright sunshine but the downside was a very fresh cold northerly wind. A walk across the cliffs revealed several Swallows and a group of 15 Sand Martins flying around the cliffs. A Spoonbill was seen trying to hide behind some reeds. This bird is larger than a Heron, with white plumage and a white head crest (in adults) and a very distinct spatular shaped bill. However, it spent most of its time asleep with the bill safely tucked under its wing! Spoonbills breed mainly in the Mediterranean but the nearest breeding colonies are in Holland and it is hoped that they may breed in Suffolk one day.
Also on the Broad were 2 fine Red-breasted Mergansers, a male and female. These sawbill sea  ducks feed on the sea. They breed along coasts, archipelagos and inland waters in mountain taiga areas in Northern Scandinavia and Northern Europe including Scotland. Both bird also sport particularly shaggy head crests and are very colourful. It won't be long before they head north to breed, but I was particularly grateful they stayed for a further week as I missed them in the fog last week. A pair of marsh harriers also quartered the reeds.
The Hide which overlooks the Broad will need to be moved before extensive sea erosion, which has already washed away large section of the beach and the cliff edge nearby washes it away. 
I have been told the landowner of the area refuses to site it a few hundred yards inland. This is a great shame, as the hide is used daily by birders, nature lovers and the general public, it really will be a return to the bad old days if the hide is taken away from this site. Benacre Broad needs its hide, please e-mail English Nature (who lease the site) if you would like to see the hide retained and hopefully we can persuade the owner to rescind her decision. Removing the hide from the area will, I think be counter productive, for both the owner and leaseholder, irresponsible people will trespass in order to get better views of the Broad and will inevitably lead to further disturbance to the wildlife.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Built-in Air Conditioning!

No wonder Wood Pigeons are increasing rapidly in numbers. Here is a clear example of how this species have successfully changed from nesting exclusively in woods and other arboreal habitats to suitable places in an urban environment.  You can clearly see an opportunist pair of Wood Pigeon that have made their nest near Gorleston Library between an outside air-conditioning unit and outside wall.
I first spotted this nest as I walked past during my lunch break today. I could see the tell-tale signs of a nest secreted behind; because there were twigs sticking out beneath the units. Maybe we'll see Wood Pigeon fledglings in the car park in a few weeks time, a la Collared Dove fledglings? (see 8 April post)

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Fog on the Oval & Fisher Row clarification

A pre- work quick visit (7.30 to 8am) to the Lowestoft Oval revealed a very fog shrouded Oval with the cricket pitch hosting a group of Wood Pigeons and a fine White Wagtail. Both the newly arrived Blackcaps and Willow Warblers were very vociferous this morning, 3 of each were heard and 2 male Blackcaps were also seen.
Having conducted some research on the flood alleviation project at Fisher Row. The work is being done to undertake riverbank strengthening and erosion and protect the area from future flooding and reduce the risk of bank breaches. The Broads Authority awarded the contract to Broadland Environmental Services Ltd and they extensively consulted with wildlife organisations including the RSPB and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. 
Some soke dykes have been created there is one running parallel to the river which will eventually provide additional habitat for species such as Water Voles. I have been assured that uncommon species such as Water Vole will be trapped and sensitively released nearby so they won't be affected by the work. 
The muddy area "desert" that I alluded to earlier is only temporary and will soon revert back to marsh. So I have been reassured on certain points but I am still mystified why the work couldn't be done outside the breeding season and why the remaining trees had to be cut down?

Monday, 13 April 2009

Fogbound Migrants

Whilst, checking the Lowestoft Oval, I was pleased to see the adult female Ring Ouzel was still feeding near the white cricket screen and continued to show well until a "considerate" motorised hang-glider owner decided to start the motor on his glider. Fortunately, I was able to show this bird to my friend Norman who was delighted to see it. Initially the hang-glider pilot didn't flush the Ring Ouzel until he promptly flew his hellish machine directly over the Oval, which flushed everything at 12.30pm including the Ring Ouzel which flew over to the trees by Flycatcher alley.
I received a message stating there was a Spoonbill at Benacre Broad, and within 40 minutes I was sitting in the hide staring out over a very foggy Broad.
We could see very little due to the fog covering most of the Broad, save for a fine displaying pair of Great Crested Grebes. But as the fog "waxed and waned" we were finally able to see the Spoonbill, preening itself with its spatular shaped bill.
Early evening saw me searching the bushes round the River Hundred on the Benacre side and we were eventually rewarded with views, of the object of my quest, a fine migrant Wryneck perched up on a bare twig. It soon dropped down never to be see again! The picture of the Wryneck was taken on Scilly last October. Nearby a 1st year male Ring Ouzel flew left from a field and perched in a bush to the left of the track. A fine bird, with dark- brown plumage a faint gorget on its breast and prominent silvery wings and lemon-yellow bill.
A fitting avian conclusion to the Easter bank Holiday!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Ring Ouzel joy!

Easter Sunday saw me out and about after the morning rain, hoping to see migrants and as usual I started at the Lowestoft Oval cricket ground ever hopeful of finding a Ring Ouzel on there.
The first sweep of the pitch revealed little other than a group of 50 Wood Pigeon and 2 Pied Wagtails. Checking the Denes area already full of dogs and dog walkers I decided to recheck the Oval. Hearing and seeing 2 Willow Warbers singing away in the trees behind the Oval was a good start. I checked the Oval cricket ground again and this time there were 5 Pied Wagtails.
I scanned the Oval once again and was about to leave when I decided on one last look and immediately I spotted a female Ring Ouzel at the far east end of the Oval by the big white Cricket screen. Success at last, and how sweet it was, too!
The bird was female because it had brown and not jet black plumage and the lack of a lemon yellow bill of a male, but it was a smart, fine bird nonetheless.
Enjoying it for a few minutes, I then decided to ring Rob & Andrew who I knew must be around nearby.
Funnily enough, when I spoke to Andrew he said he was just walking along the Eastern or should that be Easton (pun intended!!) edge of the Oval and as he was so close to the bird the ringing tone of his mobile may well have spooked the bird as we couldn't find it when I joined him.
Andrew then spotted it feeding on the grass by the Tennis Courts before it flew over to the Tennis Courts where it had a brief snooze on the rocky ridge dividing the courts. As close as it could get the rocky screes in upland Britain where it breeds.
More people were starting to arrive and we were all eventually treated to very close views of the fantastic bird feeding again close to the white cricket screen. The Ring Ouzel, or Mountain Blackbird as it is known fed really well tugging at several worms before eventually gulping them down.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Corton comes up trumps again but Fisher Row decimated

A Good Friday afternoon visit to Corton New Sewage works produced little in the way of migrants save for a singing Chiff- Chaff. However, up to 15 Peacock, 2 Small Tortoiseshell and 5 Comma butterflies were seen in the area. 
Corton Old Sewage works weaved its magic once again this Spring, when I found a fine male White Wagtail, in the adjacent north field, I enjoyed the bird for about a minute, before it promptly flew south-east. A twittering Swallow flew just a few feet over my head and the 15 or so Sand Martins were buzzing above the cliff edge.
A Pied Wagtail perched on the southern fence of the old Sewage works compound provided a stark contrast to its continental cousin seen earlier.
A trip to Lound revealed 26 Barnacle Geese and a family party of 5 Egyptian Geese (2 adults & 3 very small goslings) and 2 overflying Swallows.
It was heartening to hear the distinctive calls of a pair of Bullfinches, aspecies that undertaken a rapid decline in the last decade both locally and nationally.
A very, very sad sight was of a dying young Grass Snake which had very recently been run over, languishing in the middle of the road, there was nothing I could do but move it to the side of the road. Such a pity.
An evening visit to Fisher Row, revealed more migrants with 5 singing Willow Warblers and 5 Blackcaps with one male showing quite well for a change. 2 Stock Doves were seen in a tree near the horse paddocks, with several Great Spotted (seen) & Green Woodpeckers heard. 
The hoped for Grasshopper Warbler was heard  singing its distinctive reeling song like the freewheeling on a bicycle or the reeling in of a fishing line.
However, the biggest shock was the number of trees and bushes (I would agree that 90% of the bush growth adjacent to the riverbank needed to be taken out) taken out at the river end with a desert of mud extending from the river bank north to about 50 metres towards the marsh. This work is being undertaken to stop flooding by the Broads Authority, but why do it on a nature reserve during the worst possible time; the breeding season? Why disturb the breeding birds and Voles at this time & why oh why cut the few remaining trees down? The prospects for seeing Cuckoos here will be diminished yet further, a bird that was a guarantee when visiting the Reserve in Spring/ Summer during it's heyday in the 1980's (when it had some trees!!!) 

Lesser Golden Plover: Pacific or American?

The Easter holiday got off to a very good start, when I successfully twitched a bird at Breydon Water (I usually dip birds on Breydon, so this was a pleasant surprise!) a Pacific or American Golden Plover. These birds can sometimes be difficult to separate. The bird is moulting into summer plumage and compared to Golden is quite pale with golden speckled back, dark greyish cap (more a feature of American) with the grey extending down the nape narrowing slightly before joining the mantle. It had a pale whitish face with darker area behind its eye slightly kinking downwards. It also had a pale breast with slightly greyish wash on its breast sides. It had a longer legs and in flight this was clearly noted as the feet could be seen projecting just beyond the tail. 
This feature may well favour Pacific Golden Plover. In flight, it of course, showed grey axillaries and not white as in Golden Plover. Assessing tertial length is crucial to ascertaining the ID of the bird, sadly one side were moulted and the other were not. Sometimes, the bird looked at times quite plump and the legs not particularly long. But it was noticably smaller than Golden and appreciably smaller than 2 very close Grey Plovers. The Plover showed well as it fed on a grassy spit, reasonably close to us but not close enough for me to photograph sadly, so no picture this time. The jury is still out on the specific ID of this bird.
The bird attracted an appreciative crowd of about 20 birders who also spotted 1 Sandwich Tern, c300 Black- tailed Godwits, 5 Golden plover, 20 Grey plover, 3 Avocet and a Sanderling and a Large White butterfly.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Coo, aren't they cute!

Following on from yesterday's blog, we had not one, but two fledgling Collared Doves sitting in the Gorleston Library car park. Initially, one was spotted in the passageway and was soon moved to a safer area under some nearby steps where it was soon joined by another!
Originally a bird from Central Asia, the Collared Dove undertook a rapid range expansion west across Europe in the first half of the twentieth century and first bred in the UK at Cromer in North Norfolk in the mid 1950's, they soon colonised the rest of the country and they are now a common sight in urban/ surburban gardens and even Library car parks!
I was little concerned that they might be taken and predated by nearby Herring & Lesser Black- backed Gulls who stood on a nearby roof.
With a second "bite of the cherry", I was finally got my shots. These immature birds, obviously just out of the nest, were being fed regularly by their parents who were flying in and out regularly. Pictured is the youngest bird with its egg tooth still visible. At one stage in the afternoon they had gone and then they were back and finally at the end of the day there was only one!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Red hot Corton!

Corton Old Sewage works came up trumps again today, when Neville S found a fine Great Grey Shrike there. Thanks for the call, Neville. Barely a week since the Hoopoe was found there (and funnily enough, the last Hoopoe I saw in Lowestoft was in Neville's garden!), Corton Old Sewage works is turning into THE Lowestoft hot spot this Spring. I arrived after work and had a 45 minute window in which to see it, due to a talk I was due to give that evening for Sea Palling Women's Institute. Initially it looked as if I might dip, as the bird had dropped down into the compound an hour previously and not been seen since, the inference being it had flown off undetected.  After I had just left Dick refound the bird and a very big thank you to Roger for kindly giving me the all important call; and I was able to dash back and enjoy 5 minutes of this wonderful Great Grey Shrike. A fine Swallow also fleew overhead.
Earlier in the afternoon, I was surprised  to see a very tame fledgling Collared Dove in the Gorleston Library car park, it appeared dazed and sat on the tarmac close to the boundary wall.
I can only assume it had flown into the wall and stunned itself! After putting some crushed Rich Tea biscuit and some water close by, the bird fed and watered itself. It soon started to perk up and after preening it must have flown off as there was no sign of it, when I checked on it 10 minutes later.
I could have kicked myself from here to Corton (probably a good idea, as I might even have found a rarity!) as I hadn't taken my camera with me (due to the aforementioned talk) so sadly no pics of this bird, but instead a pair of adult Collared Doves taken in the garden in May 2008. 

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Missing the 3R's, but Butterflies & Hares to the rescue

Missing the 3 R's, not Reading 'riting & 'rithmetic but a very, very poor weekend for birds personally having missed another local Raven this time at Ashby, a Red Kite and dipped a Ring Ouzel at Easton Bavents sheep paddocks. Overflying Cranes were also dipped and it was particularly galling to think they may have flown over the garden!
3 Buzzards near Herringfleet flying in a spiral at one point and an elusive (so elusive I didn't see it!) male Blackcap singing at Somerleyton were the only avian titbits on offer this Sunday.
Much better were the posey Butterflies in the garden, first a Comma, then a Small Tortoiseshell and then 2 Peacocks fed from the Aubretia flowers which are nicely in bloom at present.
Compensation for missing the Ring Ouzel came in the form of 4 splendid Brown Hares sitting in 2 adjacent fields near the turn off to Sotterley from the A12.
A quintessentially English mammal, the English Brown Hare was even described long ago by the Roman historian Cassius Dio.  In his Roman Histories in describing Boudicca, the Iceni Queen who led the Boudiccan revolts, he states she "employed a species of divination, letting a Hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they (the Iceni- the Celtic tribe that occupied Norfolk & North Suffolk) considered the auspicious side" this was seen as a sign by Andraste (an Iceni Celtic God) for the Iceni tribe and other local tribes to rebel against the tyranny of Roman occupation and head south to overthrow Roman occupied Camulodinum (Colchester in Essex)!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Spring has Sprung!

There was a lot of activity in the garden today with regular visits by a pair of Long-tailed Tits which must be nesting nearby. Great Tits, Blue Tits, a Magpie, Wood Pigeon, 2 Jackdaws, a Robin and an overflying "rattling" Mistle Thrush all put in visits too. A Willow Warbler sang briefly from the grounds of the Parkhill hotel, my first record of this species for the year. However, prize for the best songster heard from the garden must be go to the fine Skylark singing from high up in the sky, no wonder it was inspiration for the "Lark Ascending" music by Vaughan Williams.
Around the ponds, a female Common Frog appeared almost to "sunbathing" in the warm spring sun half in and half out of the goldfish pond, whilst a drab Peacock butterfly newly emerged from it's winter slumbers settled sleepily on the garage wall.
Several Honey Bees and a White- tailed Bumble Bee pollinated some early flowers out in bloom and the first of my wild Primroses were flowering too.