Sunday, 21 November 2010

The downer to normality

For those not wishing to depress themselves any further than the papers, TV, Internet and other media outlets already do so stop reading now, for I am about to begin a tale of distinctly in-Iberian weather, un-Iberian birds and neo-liberal fiscal policy:

HAHA lost the less-dedicated buggers! Other than the fact that yes, I'm unlikely to receive EMA next year; that yes, if I go to University I'll be facing record levels of debt to pay for the enormous cuts the coallition are making to HE funding and that yes, my MP has failed to respond to any correspondence on the issue, other than that, it's been a fairly OK past couple of weeks.

On a Stravaig around Chiswick house today there were a small cluster of Yew Trees that brought in a thrush bonanza, Millions of Song Thrushes (8+), Billions of Redwings (around 10) and a whole Mistle Thrush (1) along with a couple of Blackbirds. All gorging themselves on the delicious berries, which having tasted myself I can confirm do taste like snot of a high liquid content with a hint of raspberry. I papped a couple of the birds:

Straight out of Compton Scandinavia

Woohoo! A migrant bird!

Maybe when I go somewhere where Blackbird is a rarity, I'll really start to appreciate how beautiful they are. It's a bit sad that.

I've also realised that my birding has become almost totally restricted to Chiswick, only when I'm also walking the dog and only when I've got time (see: usually only sunday mornings) I've made a pledge to myself to try and get to some more interesting places and make more time for birding so hopefully in the next couple of weeks this blog should be filled with posts from exciting and exotic places like Barnes, Rainham or maybe somewhere outside the M25. Maybe.

Have a dunnock for farewell

Bloody Artistic.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Extremadura 25th-30th October part 2

Just to get all this Extremadura business over (I've got some great photos of black headed Gulls and Teal to get on here...) I'll finish posting a couple of photos and describing the highlights.

On the road to Campo Lugar driving slowly along on the second morning a Marsh Harrier went low over a field to the right, sending 3 big birds up right at the back of the field, Little Bustard! They flew right over the car and landed in a field to the left a long way off which once I got my bins on showed a big flock of c80 birds. The whole group went up twice and I managed to get a couple of OK shots when they landed a little closer.

Most of the flock (possibly all of it) in flight. MEGA!
 In flight with 2 Raven below.

I'll admit, I'm really milking these bustard now but its not every day you see a flock of 80 Little Bustard!

I am forever indebted to this Red Kite (with Buzzard in the Background) Red Kites were absolutely everywhere.

The rest of that day didn't produce too much exciting bird wise other than lots of commoner birds like Hoopoes, Thekla Larks, Millions of Black Redstarts and all that dross. This trip was also the first time I've ever seen such numbers of Corn Buntings, so difficult to see in much of the UK now but there were big groups of them all over the place.

 For birds which were everywhere and usually showed very well, this was the best photo I got of a Hoopoe.

 Quasi-Artsy shot of the Corn Bunts.

Black Redstart at Merida Roman Ruins.

Over the next few days saw lots more good birds, including good views of a Black Kite at Sierra Brava Reservoir, thousands of Cranes everywhere and a couple of Great Bustard. I had, however, managed to go a full three days looking in the right habitat, looking pretty darn hard and not seeing any Sandgrouse other than a flock of unIDable, very distant birds from a busy road on which stopping would have meant almost certain death! Martin was very helpful in suggesting where to go and on the morning of our last day the absolute legend that is Peter Walton who was also staying at the Casa was able to give us directions to where he'd seen a flock of c100 Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse towards Santa Marta De Magasca. We went up there that morning and sure enough they were all there! If you ever get to read this I owe you one Peter!

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse coming in to Land.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Showing off.

Later that day I also managed to get flight views of Black-Bellied Sandgrouse, I was so pleased to have seen both species of Sandgrouse, they're pretty unique looking birds that I was desperate to see.

We also visited the Paddyfields around Madrigalejo which provided good views of loads of Marsh Harriers, 1000s Common Cranes and some Snipe and also Common Kingfisher.

All in all a very good trip and I'm sure there's loads I've failed to mention but this has taken way too long as it is.

 One of many Chiffies seen on the trip.

One of many very confiding deer.

A slightly jaunty typical Extremaduran view.

 Part of the cave Drawings at Monfrague, well worth a visit.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Extremadura 25th-30th October Part 1

A very successful couple of days spent in Extremadura was one of the best half term holidays I think I've ever had. Saw some amazing birds and had a lovely relaxing time enjoying the warmth, the sunshine and just generally not being in London and not having work to do. Bliss.

We stayed at Casa Rural El Recuerdo which is run by two birders, Claudia and Martin Kelsey and I can highly recommend it, they were very helpful and were happy to give very detailed advice and even print off some maps for where to see some of the species I was really keen to see. The house itself was lovely as well and it was nice to be staying with other birders to get up to date gen!

Managed to semi-avert a major disaster by recovering most of the photos from my corrupted memory card and so thankfully I have some photos to bless my otherwise boring blog. However, a load of them have massive black bars across them or were downsized or otherwise lost so if they all look rubbish that's why:

Griffon Vulture

After a fairly early start we spent our first day at Monfrague National Park, stopping at the castle first to watch the Griffon and Black Vultures take off in the early morning sunlight. Loads were perched on the rocks around the castle and it was a great time to watch them drop off their ledges, flying low overhead so the wind could be heard rustling through their feathers and then fly down the hill top in search of thermals. Also at the castle were a flock of around 30 Red-Billed Chough, bombing about and 'caww caww'-ing across the cliff top, stunning birds that I was so happy watching that once I remembered I had a camera they were mostly specks on the distant hillside. I can see I definitely don't have the makings of a world class photographer!

 Poor shot of one of many Black Vultures

Vultures Soaring beside Pena Falcon Rock.

The walk up to and back down from the castle through a lightly wooded area also gave me my first ever (I'm a birding noob!) views of about 4 Hawfinch, wicked looking birds, like like little fat orangey front heavy men bounding overhead in flight. A couple of Crag Martins, parties of Larks passing and not much else at the top of the castle made us decide to carry on to Pena Falcon and it was on the walk back down to the car that a BOP on the horizon caught my attention, a Bonelli's Eagle well off in the distance! A harrier sp drifted overhead a bit closer but I was too busy watching the eagle to take any notice of it!

A bird that actually is that colour, how cool is that?

A very showy Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting at Pena Falcon were the main other birds of note that day and I had one of the biggest scares of my life when after reports of a wallcreeper a week before I saw a little bird hopping creeper-style on the rock face at Pena Falcon!

A creeper, on a wall. Once I got my bins on it it turned out to be a Short-toed Treecreeper, maybe having an Identity crisis but still not quite a Wallcreeper. A good 2 hours was spent in the afternoon at Portillo Del Tietar didn't yield much apart from some very high flying Black-headed Gulls and good views Azure Winged Magpies which are absolutely everywhere.

Dude, go find a tree.