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Tuesday 31 May 2011

May 24th - the Outfall and a brief walk round the Valley

Barking Outfall

I started the morning at the Outfall with a mind to have a look at the Gull colony, and it particular try and re locate the Great Black Backed Gull that had shown breeding behavior on a previous visit. The trouble here is that you are always going to be at a distance from the Jetty, even if you could get closer, there are disturbance issues and the Gulls would be all over you. Due to this, there are many areas that remain unseen with perhaps 25% of the jetty structures not recorded.

Herring Gull on nest

Waiting for grub

Tucked into a bush

Larger Lesser Black Backed Gull young

I was unable to locate the possible Great Black Backed nest site, although an adult bird was seen duffing up a Cormorant with a Flattie.

Great Black Backed Gull and Cormorant

I was able to make a count of breeding Gulls, results below

Lesser Black Backed Gull – 71 pairs

Herring Gull – 42 pairs

Many of these already have young at the small stage, also as mentioned above, this is certainly an undercount with many areas unrecorded.

The Valley

We are fast approaching the time of Dragons and Butterflies with migration starting to drop off, consequently I decided on a brief walk around Berwick Glades with the vetch starting to show.

Possible Brown Argus

Burnett Companion

Green Hairstreak

Small Tortoiseshell
Common Blues were seemingly everywhere mostly males and a single Holly Blue was seen. Also Blue Tailed Damsels were abundant along with a few Commons.

Common Blue

Small Heath

Red Eyed Damselfly
I also came across a possible Brown Argus, very hard to be definite with this species but this one looked a good candidate.

Also seen were

Burnett Companions 11

Green Hairstreak 1

Small Heath 9

Small Tortoiseshell 1

Red Eyed Damselfy 10

Four Spot Chaser 4

Hairy Dragonfly 1

Sunday 22 May 2011

Osprey - Ingrebourne Valley May 21st

I decided to visit Berwick Reservoir after having a good morning checking Peregrine sites In London to catch up with progress.

On arrival I walked to the island, a pair of Common Terns were fussing around, Pochard and Tufted Duck were also present and I dare say that some may well nest on the Reservoir as per last year.

Wing Walker from the nearby Airfield

Little Egret
There was little wind and plenty of sunshine, so it was eyes up, had a chat with an angler and he had just had 2 Common Buzzards thermaling overhead. As I left him I looked up, and way up was a large raptor going east on set wings fast, it was going away so I got the camera up, got a lock and fired off 4 or 5 quick shots. As I did this it went into cloud and I got a couple of silhouette shots and then it was gone in the glare.


I didn’t manage to get the bins on it ( stupid I know) and at the time I thought it was a Common Buzzard as they are getting pretty common around here, should have checked the camera there and then, but alas, got distracted by a brood of Yellow Wagtails.

Juvenile Yellow Wagtail
The penny dropped on checking the camera later, not only a year tick but a long awaited site tick.

Yellow Wagtail
Should have learnt my lesson, I did the same thing a few years back at Rainham, Buzzard sp came over, I was talking to some people and fired off a few quick shots, then carried on talking as I did not want to be rude. Reviewing the photos later showed it to be a Honey.

Friday 20 May 2011

Spain, Costa Blanca, Alicante and Murcia areas May 12 to 16th

I am very fortunate to have aunts and uncles living in Spain, namely the southern La Manga area and the others are further up east in the Valencia region. This year I was lucky enough to be able to visit my uncle Bill in Los Balones, his villa is on the fringe of a mountain region, just outside La Manga. The views are spectacular, mountains on one side , the Parque Natural de Calblanque,the opposite side gives you views over the ‘inland sea’ of Mar Menor.

Mountain view ( click on photos too enlarge )
I flew from Stanstead to Murcia with Ryanair at a cost of £78.00, flight time was 2 hours 15 minutes, I have now flown with them a number of times and personally I think you get good value for money, bit of a free for all getting your hand luggage in but at £78.00 I was not complaining.

I would also like to say a big thank you to Richard Howard who took me to some sites on the 14th and 15th, he knows my uncle, without his help and local knowledge, I would not have seen half the ‘speciality’ species.

Bee Eater

Friday May 13th                                                                                                               
Dawn found me walking the lower mountains outside the villa, as the light came up many species started singing. Serin seemed to be everywhere and the calls of Thekla and Crested Lark soon joined the chorus, unusual sight of the morning was a Little Owl hovering over grass, never seen this before.

It soon became apparent that Fan Tailed and Sardinian Warbler were pretty common as I saw them everywhere, also heard Green Woodpecker.

Other species seen were-                                                                                              

Woodchat Shrike                                                                                                                                        Peregrine- Tiercel seen on Mountain

Hoopoe – 2 seen and calling

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotless Starling

Bee Eater – 4 seen hawking

Red Rumped Swallow – pair breeding next door

Swift – numerous

Pallid Swift – 1 definite

From here I headed out to explore the coast of the Mar Menor, 1st stop was an area of flat sand which is popular with the Kite Surfers, I arrived pretty early so not too many about. It is located around 2k further on from the village of Los Nietos as you head up the coast towards San Javier. As I arrived there was a very large flock of Yellow Legged Gulls resting up near a large pool of water, very shallow which obviously suited the birds present.

Kentish Plover

Grey Headed flava type Wagtail

Red Rumped Swallow

Black Winged Stilts, Avocet, Kentish and Ringed Plover were numerous, the shore line held a single Sanderling, a Gull Billed Tern, 20+ Little Tern, a couple of Commons and a single Sandwich.

Slightly inland were 8 Red Rumped Swallows and a couple of Grey Headed flava type Wagtails, cracking looking birds as were the Red Rumped, both gave good photographic opportunities.

Red Rumped Swallow

Time was flying by and could have stayed there for hours photographing but moved on up the coast, next stop was the very large working salt lake next to Torremendo, very hard to cover, many tracks lead to it but hard to get close. I went around this for about 3 hours covering probably 50% of it, best bird by far was a male Montagu’s Harrier, stunning. Other notable species seen or heard were Nightingale, every Orange or Lemon Grove seemed to hold one, Turtle Doves were numerous, always good to see. By now it was late afternoon so headed for home, very hot and heat haze everywhere, a beer was calling.

May 14th                                                                                                                             

The plains of Guadalentin                                                                                                         

I arranged to meet Richard at 7.30 and in little over an hour, we were on the plains in good weather. I have to say that this was one of the best days birding I have ever had, the list of species seen, and numbers, especially of scarce species, was staggering. There simply is no substitute for local knowledge, thanks again to Richard. During the course of the day we covered miles, sometimes on decent roads, but more often than not, on a farm track, it was great birding, you simply did not know what was round the corner. Using the car as a hide also gave us very good views of the specialist Larks, namely Short Toed, Lesser Short Toed and Calandra, additionally we both got some great shots.

Calandra Lark

Short Toed Lark

Southern Grey Shrike

This trip also provided also produced 3 lifers for me, Lesser Short Toed Lark, Rufous Bush Chat and best of all, Roller. Along with the ever present Bee Eaters, Rollers were spectacularly colourful, I have waited a long time to see one of these, well worth the wait.


Male on left

A very colurful cable

Raptor of the day went to a pale phase Booted Eagle that gave good views.

Below is a list of just some of the species that we saw.

Rufous Bush Chat – 1 seen

Roller - a minimum of 8 seen

Quail - at least 8 heard

Little Bustard – 2 seen distantly

Hoopoe – 5

Stone Curlew – 8

Spectacled Warbler – 12 seen, a majority of these were singing males

Southern Grey Shrike – 3 seen

Great Spotted Cuckoo – 2 seen

Gull Billed Tern – 2 heard

Bee Eater – 12+

Booted Eagle – 1

Woodchat Shrike – 1

Red Rumped Swallow - many

Calandra Lark – 15

Short Toed Lark – 18

Lesser Short Toed Lark – 12

Also recorded were 12 Clouded Yellows.

We did not catch up with any Sand Grouse, it just provides a great reason to go back.

Stunning looking birds

From here we headed for a small lake on the edge of a mountain range called La Charca de Las Moreras, this provided great views of a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos along with at least 10 White Headed Duck. The drakes really are cracking looking ducks, also present were numerous Great Reed Warbler, Red Rumped Swallow, Purple Gallinule, 3 Bee Eaters, 2 Cattle Egrets and a Hoopoe.

Spectacled Warbler

Pale phase Booted Eagle

To end the day we visited another site, a pair of Black Wheatears greeted us on arrival, I never realised that they are quite confiding, behaving just like garden Robins, not sure if this is normal behaviour but certainly appreciated to end a great day.

Black Whaetear

Black Wheatear admiring the hire car

May 15th

El Hondo                                                                                                                                                
I picked Richard up from Los Belones at 6.30am and we headed up the motorway towards Alicante passing Torrevieja and then heading for Dolores, El Hondo is sign posted from then on. The sign posts actually read ‘ El Fondo’.

The reserve is very big, made up of 2 reservoirs bordered by extensive reed beds, in total around 1100 hectares. The site in winter holds good numbers of the larger birds of prey, last winter they recorded up to 5 or 6 Greater Spotted Eagles, one of which I understand has a tracker.

White Headed Duck

Whiskered Tern

On arrival at the car park and visitor centre, it is very modern looking, we looked on an adjoining farmers field and had 3 Audouin’s and around 10 Mediterranean Gulls, whilst scanning we heard a very unusual call. First thoughts for me were perhaps a Crake, later seen, it turned out to be a Southern Grey Shrike, I would never have connected the call to a Shrike, having said that, I heard a Woodchat Shrike singing also, some of it sounded Finchy. You never stop learning.

Squacco Heron

As we entered the reserve, it was still quite early, the mossies massed and made a bee line for the fresh meat, got a few bites before we could get the repellent on, they are persistent little buggers.

As we walked towards the hide we picked up our 1st Heron, a Purple, shortly after this they all started to appear, Squacco was next with a bird giving good views on a flyby.

I then got onto 2 ducks flying at distance, initial thought was Gadwall, and I then got the head pattern and wing bar, Marbled Teal, a lifer. We later got good views of these and ended up seeing 2 pair. We reached the hide and the birds on show were spectacular, double figure counts of Black Necked Grebes all in there summer plume finery, Whiskered Terns up and down, Collared Pratincoles hawking and White Headed Ducks right in front of us.

Marbled Teal

Male Little Bittern

I had a brief view of a female Little Bittern behind me before Richard located a male that had climbed up on to a reed stem, between us we probably took over a 100 photo’s of this little cracker.Red Crested Pochard probably numbered over 50 and we also had 2 Purple Gallinules.

Species of note seen were

Whiskered Tern – 8

Great Reed Warbler – numerous

Southern Grey Shrike – 2

Cattle Egret – 4

Marbled Teal – 4

Collared Pratincole – 10

Squacco Heron – 6

Little Bittern – 2

Black Necked Grebe – 10+

Little Tern – 3

White Headed Duck – 4

Stone Curlew – 1

Green Sandpiper – 1

Purple Heron – 4

Alpine Swift – 2

Woodchat Shrike – 1

Peregrine Falcon – 1 female

We spent a good few hours in the hide, it was hard to go and leave such a display but we decided to visit another part of the reserve, this turned out to be the move of the day.

On pulling up we got onto a male Montagu’s Harrier giving good views over a reed bed, a stunning looking bird, as we watched another came up and joined it, then another and so on.....

Male Montagu's Harrier

In the end there were 5 males up and a ringtail, as quickly as they showed they all disappeared again, in the next hour we had some good views of a male hunting and calling, I also managed to get a couple of shots of him.

This area also produced 3 Rollers nearby, one of these mobbed a male Monty, too far away too photograph but a very persistent individual, it was quite a sight.

Moustached Warbler was also heard briefly but simply too much thick cover to view.

Santa Pola Salinas El Pinet

This is not very far from El Hondo, it is a series of man made large pools and hosts large numbers of breeding Avocet, Black Winged Stilt, Common, Sandwich and Little Tern and a very large colony of Slender Billed Gulls. I would say the colony of Slender Bills is probably around the 250 mark, they are simply everywhere.

Slender Billed Gull

Also present were 3 Collared Pratincoles, Whiskered Tern and a Southern Grey Shrike.

Would have like to have stayed longer hear but we were pressed for time and called it a day.

I did not think much could match Guadalentin but the birds seen at El Hondo, especially the male Montagu’s Harriers did so.

May 16th Bills

Last morning before flying home so I did a dawn stint from the rooftop for around 2 hours.

Birds of note seen were

Peregrine –Tiercel climbing for all his worth, obviously on to something higher up

Blue Rock Thrush – 1 flying to mountain side

Wood Lark – 1 overhead

Spannish Sparrow – 1 possible seen briefly

Alpine Swift – 3 in amongst the Swifts and Red Rumps

Stone Curlew – flight calling at dawn, took me a while to suss out what it was before I saw it.

Rufous Bush Chat
Summing up, I saw some great birds all within a 60- 80 minutes drive away, I plan to go again, especially at migration time, I think it could possibly be good for Raptors moving down the coast towards Gibraltar, only one way to find out.....