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Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Spain - Malaga

Yours truly and my good friends Lee Brown and Martin Blow hatched a plan a few months back to visit Spain, namely the Malaga area and try and connect with some Spanish specialities over the course of 3 days.

The idea being to not only see and photograph some good birds but to build a trip list to see what we could achieve over the visit. Lee and Martin both needed lifers so there was plenty of incentive to try and get as much out of the trip as possible, it spurred us on, especially the first day but more on that later.

Sites visited were thus

May 1st - Mouth of the Guadalhorce
May 2nd – Osuna
May 3rd – El Torcel and Hoz De Marin

We had deliberately booked the hotel so that we were in walking distance of the Mouth of the Guadalhorce reserve flanked by urban Malaga, the idea being get there at dawn to maybe pick up Barn Owl or Red Necked Nightjar(I got one of these on my last visit here in September 2015).

The first day was spent at Guadalhorce on foot but the 2nd and 3rd days we had arranged for Luis of to pick us up for 2 days of guided birding. I can highly recommend Luis; he found us the birds and went out of his way taking us to Fuenta De Piedra for an unscheduled visit that was quite stunning.


Flights were very cheap, we got the late afternoon flight with EasyJet for £45.00 return, no hold luggage just cabin it works out cheaper.


For 3 nights it came to £166.00 each, we stayed at the Hotel Campanile, we all found it ok and the food and service was good.

May 1st – Mouth of the Guadalhorce

Setting out in the dark we arrived as dawn showed with plenty of birds heard en route, Nightingale being very vocal as we crossed the bridge.
As we entered and it became light lots of birds gave themselves up, a distant flight of 20 odd Greater Flamingo’s was very nice as they wheeled around the site, we caught up with these later.

Red Rumped Swallows seemed to be everywhere and a flight of Herons coming into the Reserve turned out to be 4 Squacco’s, we tried to find these later but no luck, however we did see 3 Night Herons, one an adult.

As the morning gathered pace and the heat built we saw so many birds, Woodchat Shrike, Black Necked Grebe, White Headed Duck, Bee Eater, Crested Larks, Kentish Plover, Zitting Cisticola’s to name but a few, Black Winged Stilts were seemingly everywhere.

A highlight for all of us was a flock of 50+ Slender Billed Gulls, these stayed all day on the pools, often feeding around the Greater Flamingo’s as they stirred the mud up as they walked.

3 Amigo's

You can never get fed up of photographing these

Greater Flamingo's

Woodchat Shrike

Sardinian Warbler

Kentish Plover

Audouins Gull

Adult Night Heron

2 immature Night Herons

Lots of waders were present on the pools including flocks of Sanderling and Dunlin but also Curlew Sandpiper, Ringed/Little Ringed/Grey Plover and also a single Turnstone + Avocets.

Overhead Pallid Swifts seemed to outnumber Common Swifts and the pools also held Audouin’s and Mediterranean Gulls, Gull Billed and a single Whiskered Tern, there was so much to see you always had the feeling you could easily miss something.

By now it was afternoon, food and a beer was calling so we retired back to the Hotel, the list was growing so we returned mid afternoon to a couple of favoured pools that we had taken to, we got better views of a Ferruginous Duck seen in the morning. The light was also better for photography; the Slender Billed Gulls gave even better views.

Raptor passage had been nonexistent until late afternoon when 3 Booted Eagles came through, all 3 of different morphs with the pale bird looking particularly good.

If I recall we added another 3 birds to the list in the afternoon session, by now it was really hot but on the way in and out we came across a pair of Bee Eater’s, it looked like they were looking for a nest site. Stunning colours, you just don’t get to see them in the UK regularly, great to watch and virtually the last birds we saw as we called it a day on the Reserve.

Pale phase Booted Eagle

Slender Billed Gulls

Slender Billed Gull

We ended the day on 75 species, to be honest far more than I expected, we had walked 33,003 steps which equates to 21.78km, roughly 13 miles, never have these little legs gone so far but was it worth it.

Birds missed that may have been present, we couldn’t find the Bonaparte’s Gull, Little Bittern and Purple Swamphen were not seen but very likely there, Purple Swamphen is very elusive anyway so it was not expected.

Plenty of Little Egrets on the pools but no sign of Great White, presumably at its breeding grounds.

All in all a fantastic start to the 3 days with some great birds that we rarely see, I know that Lee had picked up plenty of ticks – next stop Osuna for Day 2, Farm and Steppe country this was one place I had always wanted to go – Black Winged Kite awaited.........

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Battersea Power Station - April

Where to start, a lot has happened in April to say the least, the triangular relationship between the Falcon, Immature and adult Tiercel has taken a new turn after observing copulation taking place, albeit distantly between both of the adults. 

Further to this, eggs have now been laid, quite a feat in itself given the current scenario, the father to the eggs being the adult Tiercel.

With the first egg being laid on April 9th, copulation has taken place with the Falcon flying off east to buildings/cranes where the adult Tiercel mated with her, the act undertaken she then flies back to the Power Station. Multiple daily copulation is usually needed for fertility, whether she has copulated enough is another matter in regards to eggs hatching, it could be that given the strained and irregular copulating relationship with the adult Tiercel, fertility may be an issue. I have observed copulation between the 2 adults at least 5 times in early January to the east of the site, hopefully it will be enough, there is no doubt that if they were bonded on site, copulation would happen more, we will see.

The reason behind the long distance meetings regarding copulation between the adults is that the adult Tiercel has not been able to remove the immature Tiercel. This is the single 2018 offspring of the Falcon and the previous resident Tiercel who disappeared in November 2018.Consequently the new adult Tiercel has not become territorial on site, he spends most of his time east of the site near Vauxhall, when he tries to enter the Power Station airspace he immediately clashes with the immature. I have seen this a number of times in April, with the immature seeing the adult off, it certainly happens every time I am present so I would imagine it is a daily occurrence.

A complex relationship, I had my money on the adult Tiercel replacing the immature Tiercel, I didn’t think the immature would be strong enough to keep an adult out, however despite the oddness of the relationship it may just work given that the immature has stepped up.

There is no doubt that the immature has designs on his mother, ledge display between the 2 happened quite a lot in early April, in a few months he will become an adult plumage peregrine and would likely form an incestual relationship with his mother for 2020.Obviously things could change, the father of the eggs cannot spend his time on the sidelines forever unable to fulfil his role surely.

When the first egg was laid, my first thoughts were these, how can the adult Tiercel give a nest relief (incubation changeover) or supply prey if he cannot displace the immature once she had laid the full clutch?

Additionally who will supply her with prey once she is incubating fully after 3 eggs, she cannot do both?

The answer to these questions is the immature, not only is he now supplying prey daily, he is also incubating whilst she feeds or preens before returning to the eggs.

As mentioned before, the Falcon does not interfere when the immature/adult Tiercels clash, she sometimes calls but does not intervene from what I have seen, possibly seeing which is the stronger, her offspring or the adult Tiercel?

When the immature brings in prey, as per normal she takes it from him, however she then still insists on feeding him still, a mother is a mother.

I have to say it is the strangest relationship I have come across in 20 years of watching peregrines, there is always something new to learn from them, interesting times ahead.

Friday, 19 April 2019

New Nest Box

I placed another nest box in London on Tuesday, due to circumstances a bit late in the year for breeding but peregrines are anything but predictable so you never know.
A pair has been present previously, but as is the case in a number of sites, lack a position for nesting although the structure/building is perfectly suited for peregrines, hence giving them a helping hand with either a Box or a Tray.
If using a box, where possible unless the available position dictates, I will face it east or north, it gets them out of the prevalent westerly/south westerly winds nowadays, none of us like a draft up your back do we?

The box I fitted on Tuesday I managed to get round to the north and I also gave it a back access hole for adults/juveniles alike.

I try to do this wherever possible where 3 week old juveniles start to explore their habitat, giving them access to a larger area where they can exercise and build wing strength is often the difference between a successful or unsuccessful maiden fledging flight.

Ready to go up - tools,leads and 3 bags potting grit


It fits

In position with a 'scrape' to encourage them

Hole for juveniles - have to make a staggered step for access

100mm of substrate - peregrines often go down to the wood if you don't make it deep enough

I have to go back next week, as you can probably see I need to build a staggered step so juveniles can access the back a bit easier.

Fingers crossed for next year.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Beckton Thrushes

I have been visiting the Sewage Works quite often of late, it’s a good time of year with many migrant birds now starting to arrive from Africa etc so the site will soon be buzzing with more bird song.

This year it seems to have been invaded by Ring Necked Parakeets, on Sunday on a drive round site I recorded 50 of them, all seemingly feeding on fresh tree buds. Not great for our native birds, hopefully they are just visiting and not trying to nest, 1 pair are already breeding on site.

Ring Necked Parakeet feeding - not good for native species

The site has always been good for winter Thrushes and this year is no different, on Sunday there were 40 Fieldfare, around 6 Redwing and a Mistle Thrush, there are 2 of these but I suspect the mate is incubating now. Like Song Thrush, around 8 singing birds on site, Mistle's have gone Red List as well, they are declining so good to see them still on site.

Fieldfare - the site has always been good for them.

Mistle Thrush - declining

It was as I was taking a few photos of the Fieldfare that I struck gold in the shape of a female Ring Ouzel, a rare migrant on her way up North where they breed, it’s the first one I have had on site over the years. It bought the Beckton site list for me up to 139 species which is not too shabby for an urban site on the edge of London as I see it.

Ring Ouzel - a very welcome patch addition

Elsewhere I am only seeing the one Common Buzzard at the moment which is interesting so will keep an eye out, the female Kestrel I would say will lay shortly, the male is bringing in quite a lot of varied prey.

Common  Buzzard 

Green Sandpiper - these winter on site

There is also another female/immature Kestrel on site, I keep seeing it near the set aside, I suspect it could be one of last year’s youngsters possibly, good to see though that the site is again holding good numbers of Raptors.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Green Winged Teal and plastic

Lots happening of late during March, I will start off with the Green Winged Teal.

First of all well done to Paul for finding a site 1st over Ingrebourne Valley in the shape of the American Teal, it brings the Valley site list nicely up to 198.

Sadly, as it stands it is looking like just a one day stayer found on the Friday 29th, many local patchers connected with it but unfortunately it was not there on Saturday, if not still hidden in the depths of marsh and pools in the Valley, Rainham I expect would be a good bet otherwise.

Good comparison, other than the vertical white stripe little difference

Like everyone else, I am dismayed at the levels of plastic around the world; we are slowly and surely polluting the oceans with plastic and the life in it. Lack of action by various Government's has failed to address it, drastic change is needed but I suspect pound notes/profit will always get in the way until some Government has the balls to say enough. I know they are doing some things to make a difference which is good but large scale change with every Government committing has to happen. 

Recently on one of the Peregrine sites that I monitor, the incubating Falcon came in with plastic around her neck, as I was watching on the CCTV in the nest box, she repeatedly lifted off the eggs and tried to get it off continuously during the night.

It was over the weekend (Saturday) and I resolved to contact NaturalEngland on Monday morning for advice, a plan was forming in my head of trying to catch her to remove the plastic. With this around her neck, there was no way she could hunt or even fly effectively and this was the only opportunity as I saw it of removing the plastic. The plan, it was not ideal and not good and I absolutely dreaded having to do it, was to block exits and catch her in the box, the obvious dangers being her smashing the eggs in panic/ or desertion of the eggs if we got her out with the eggs unharmed.

Incubating with it attached around her neck

Constantly lifting at night trying to get it off

I watched the site on Sunday morning and to my immense and immeasurable relief it had gone, I saw her fly after a nest relief and again after, checking the CCTV showed it had gone, presumably she had removed it or it had worked itself off.

It was possible that it could have just been round her wing but it didn’t look like it, the label, 4 for £5.00, I suspect beer, could well have been her end.

Whilst watching her at night trying to remove it, the thought sprang forth, how does a bird like a Peregrine get a piece of plastic stuck round its neck? 

I suspect windblown with the recent strong winds.