Birding in Costa Blanca

February saw me and a couple of friends take ourselves of to Spain for some birding. We stayed in a friend’s apartment near Algorfa, Alicante. The first evening was spent listening to a Scops owl calling not far from the apartments as well Stone Curlew.

A Mod, a Punk and a Krankie

A Mod, a Punk and a Krankie

It was an early start on the Saturday as we headed to the El Hondo reserve. We had a drive around the roads surrounding the reserve and saw Marsh Harriers and also Purple Swamphen.

El Hondo reserve

El Hondo reserve

On entering the reserve we knew we had made the right decision booking. The North gate of the reserve is only open from 8.30am and you have to book in advance. At first it seems like only a small reserve but once you are in the viewing platforms you soon realise what a vast area it covers. Luckily we were straight onto White-headed duck, Marsh Harriers, Red Crested Pochard and in the trees at the side of the main track was a Booted Eagle.

Flamingo sketch

Flamingo sketch

We visited the tower hide and were lucky enough to be put onto the Spotted Eagle, and numerous other species. After leaving the reserve we drove the perimeter and then we were lucky enough to have a Little Bittern fly across the road in front of us. Whilst having lunch Southern Grey Shrike landed in the reeds next to the car.

We then moved on to Santa Pola Salina for closer views of Black-winged stilt, Sandwich tern, various gulls and waders a Slender billed gull in full adult plumage.

Next stop was El Pinet dunes where there were Spoonbills, and in the trees in the dunes large numbers of Serin

El Pinet Dunes

El Pinet Dunes

Before leaving for Spain I emailed the Costa Blanca Bird club who gave us some great advice of where we should head out to. On the sunday we went to La Mata where there were lots of smaller birds. In the car park there were Crested larks and numbers of finches to be seen. After a short period of time we had a sighting that wash;t expected when someone in the vines flushed a Stone Curlew. We continued to make our way down the water’s edge. On the way we there were Sardinian warblers calling from the gorse. There were large flocks of waders and gulls and of course there were flamingos. In the pines there were tit flocks and a sighting of a Crested tit.

La Mata

La Mata

Then we head out to San Pedros Salinas and had a wander through the dunes. We also had Spotted redshank, Redshank, Ruff and Little Stint.

In the evening we had a walk round the golf course where we watched the large numbers of Cattle Egrets arrive back into the reeds for the evening roost along with the large numbers of Pochard on the lake.

On the Monday the other had to fly home in the morning so I revisited some the place we had already travelled around .I went back to the golf course and had the Hoopoe and spotted starling. Back at El Pinet was lucky enough to see a Dartford Warbler. I went back to Sand Pedros Salinas where there were new a few more Little Stint.

Slender-billed gull

Slender-billed gull

Ruff

Ruff

Full List of Birds

Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Willow Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Reed Bunting, Chiffchaff, White-headed Duck, House Sparrow, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot
Marsh Harrier, Little Grebe, Booted Eagle, Greater Flamingo, Great White Egret
Osprey, Black-winged Stilt, Kestrel, Blackcap, Mediterranean gull, Starling
Pallid Swift, Cetti’s Warbler, Purple Swamphen, House Martin, Cormorant
Grey Heron, Jackdaw, Pied Wagtail, Stonechat, Collared Dove, Skylark, Corn Bunting
Greenfinch, Lapwing, Little Bittern, Little Egret, Black-necked Grebe, Swallow
Southern Grey Shrike, Black Redstart, Gannet, Robin, Blackbird, Yellow Legged Gull
Slender-billed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Dunlin
Curlew Sandpiper, Spoonbill, Avocet, Serin, Mallard, Cattle Egret, Shelduck
Red-legged Partridge, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Crested Lark, Little Ringed Plover
Stone Curlew, Linnet, Wood Pigeon, Sardinian Warbler, Sanderling, Long-tailed Tit
Crested Tit, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Little Stint, Ruff, Great Tit, Dartford Warbler
Hoopoe, Spotless Starling, Parakeet, Great-crested Grebe

Advertisements

Let the drawing commence

A few months ago I was out with my 5-year-old twins and my daughter announced to someone she met that her daddy was artist. Now this is a nice thought, and would probably be over playing it a bit that I could be considered an artist. Either way it was really rather embarrassing as I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush, pen or pencil in years. So I decided the pens and pencils would see the light of day again to see what I could do. It started off OK, even if I was a little rusty. The drawings are from perfect, but I really enjoyed doing them. What I found was drawing again was really relaxing. I was back producing a piece of artwork because I wanted to and not because I had to. Anyway below are the first drawings on this adventure of rediscovering whether I can draw and paint again.

Redwing - Pen and Pencil

Redwing – Pen and Pencil

Common (fence) lizards

I personally know very little about Lizards but after a tip-off by my colleague and the author of the blog 27Butterflies I was at least able to photograph 7 common Lizards that were sunning themselves on one section of fence at the edge of Millennium green in Halesworth.

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

I’m lead to believe that these lizards are territorial, so for me it was interesting to see at least 7 of these Lizards sharing the same small piece of fence. The other thing that I found surprising was that they chose to use a piece of fence which was next to a high traffic pathway used by lots of people, bikes and dogs. They didn’t seem to remotely care that people and dogs were there, well unless you got far to close for comfort.

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Shrikes, Stints and missed Wrynecks

Whilst on leave I managed to get a full days birding in on the coast. I started the day by heading out to Winterton-on-sea. Primarily in search of the Red-Backed Shrike that I had heard about. It had been there for a few days but there was no mention of it in the morning but I thought it would be worth a try.

Red-Backed Shrike

Red-Backed Shrike

Once I had located the concrete blocks that everyone had been mentioning, I walked along the path and wasn’t disappointed. About 10m away, sat in the top of a bramble was what I had been hoping to see.

I sat and watched for quite some time and was able to view the bird at quite close proximity. It chose a high prominent perch to survey the area and then would drop for regular meals of beetles and bees. I was surprised at how easily it seemed to find its prey and also the size of the beetles etc it was finding.

Red-Backed Shrike

Red-Backed Shrike

Red-Backed Shrike

Red-Backed Shrike

Red-Backed Shrike

Red-Backed Shrike

I did however manage to not see the Wryneck that had been seen in the morning and subsequently has been seen over the last few days. There was also apparently a Greenish Warbler seen in the South Dunes over the weekend as well. I did manage to see Wheatears and a Marsh Harrier whilst in Winteron, along with many dragonflies that were still on the wing despite the wind.

I then took myself of to Minsmere where I managed to miss the 3 Wrynecks that were apparently present of which two had been rung. Did mange to bag quite an extensive list of waders on the from the East Hide, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Ringed Plover, snipe to name a few, along with a new one for my list, Little Stint. Whilst I was at Minsmere I took the opportunity to go round to the Island mere hide where there was a female Ferruginous duck, which was a nice one to add to my year list.

Thompson common

I was trying to think of something exciting to call this post, but to be honest if you have ever been to Thompson Common then you know there is no need to call it anything else, the name should conjure up enough excitement anyway!

Common Darter

Common Darter

I visited Thompson back in June and fell in love with the place then. The combination of the wooded areas which let shards of light through the canopy to highlight many of the Pingos, combined with the open grassy areas which have pools full of reeds make this place feel pretty special.

Green-veind

Green-veind White

What this habitat does is provide home to many bird species, it was lovely to be surrounded by the sound of calling Bullfinches and Green Woodpeckers. On my first visit I came face to face with a few Roe Deer which looked more baffled than in fear of my presence. There are also plenty of Butterflies on this occasion, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Green-veined white, Ringlet and Common Blue.

Common Emerald

Common Emerald Damselfly

I think one of the things its most known for is the sheer number of Dragonflies and Damselflies. I believe there have been 19 species recorded. On my previous visit I managed to see one of its specialities the Scarce Emerald Damselfly. On this trip it was really rather staggering how many odonate there were around. Literally every step seemed to disturb one or more. I managed to record Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker, Common Darter and Common Emerald this time and managed to photograph a few, with the Southern Hawkers being very willing to be photographed.

Birding up north

Whilst on a recent family visit to the North, I ventured out for a day of birding. First port of call was Pennington Flash near Leigh. It boast to be ‘one of the premier bird watching sites in the North West’ so surely it had to be worth a visit.

Pennington flash

Pennington flash

We called in at the first hide and met some friendly locals who told me many a story about the place. How the flash is a 70-hectare lake created by coal mining subsidence. They also proudly mentioned the list of over 240 species of bird that had been seen there.

Whilst there I saw as many as 6 kingfishers, lots of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs along with lots of wild fowl. The highlights of the trip around the flash had to be Willow Tit’s feeding behind the first hide, unfortunately they were being heavily papped by some seriously large lensed photographers. Another highlight was a female Garganey which was a nice one for the year list. There were a couple of Arctic Terns when I was there and the following day there were up to 9, along with three or four Green Sandpipers.

Pennington flash

Pennington flash

After leaving Pennington Flash I moved onto Elton Reservoir as I has seen there were at least 2 Black-necked Grebes.

Elton Reservoir

Elton Reservoir

Now Elton Reservoir is in a place called Bury. You drive through an estate and then out the back you go over a bridge and it looks like to are heading to a prison, which actually turned out to be hospital. I wasn’t sure if the fences were to keep people out or to keep patients in. Either way to get the reservoir you follow a drive way to the sailing club and you come to this beautiful reservoir (well it was on this day I was there as it was beautiful and sunny). There were views over the town and to the hills beyond. There were sailing competitions going on whilst I was there, which made it look very picturesque. Luckily though the boats were only at one end of the reservoir. At the far end I could see large numbers of Coot with several Great Crested Grebe and when I got down there a Family of little Grebe. Then in and amongst this lot were two Juvenile Black-necked Grebe. Looking back through my note pads etc I could find no record of me having ever seen one before so I had bagged myself another lifer.

I suppose its in the name!

Over the last few days it seems like whichever piece of water I look at there has been a Common Darter (Sympetrum striatum) showing. I have seen them at various stages of maturity, showing a varied array of colours, from the vibrant red of the mature male, through to the yellow/gold of the immature male and females.

Common Darter

Common Darter

They’re not the biggest or showy dragonfly that I have seen this summer but they are still exciting to watch and enjoyable to photograph. I love their forward facing wing position that I haven’t noticed on any other species other than the Darters. I also like the way they defend their own little patch of the pond/pool.

As you can see from the pictures they seemed to have a preferred perch within their patch that over hangs the water or protrudes out into the pool so they can catch or literally attack anything that moves through their territory.

Once again it begs the question how do dragonflies and damselflies know its time to emerge. Whats is the defining factor that makes it happen. Well I’m now about to sit down and start reading Dragonflies – Behaviour and ecology of Odonata by Philip s. Corbet. It may take some time but hopefully I will get an insight into the behaviour of these amazing insects.

Common darters and Emeralds a plenty

After the excitement of the Hawker migration and still asking myself lots of questions that I don’t know the answers to, I wondered if the day before was going to be it for the dragonflies on our lunchtime strolls. The Migrant Hawkers seemed to have moved on with only few that were still buzzing around the green.

Common Darter

Common Darter

We headed for our usual spot and came across a Brown Hawker patrolling the margins and also we found what looked like a Willow Emerald Damselfly by the path. Then there were several dragonflies which turned out to be male and female Common Darters. The males being a nice vibrant red and the female that we saw was a stunning golden colour in the sunshine. This was another new one for our year list.

Common Darter

Common Darter

Common Darter

Common Darter

The excitement didn’t stop there and we came across yet another one for the year list on the green and this was the Common Emerald Damselfly and once again the colours were amazing.

Common Emerald Damselfly

Common Emerald Damselfly

Migrant Hawkers take to the air. But why?

Whilst sitting in the office it became very noticeable that there were many Dragonflies around Halesworth. I saw several fly past the office window and then one very kindly perched on the light outside our office enabling me to get some pictures.

I then went off on our daily lunchtime walk to Millennium green. We were actual on the look out for the Kingfishers (of which we did get the traditional fleeting glimpse) or Brown Argus that frequents the folly.

On arrival at the folly we came face to face with the amazing sight of around 50 Migrant Hawkers. Wherever you looked in the sky, there was a dragonfly. It was like nothing I had seen before.

Migrant Hawker - immature male

Migrant Hawker – immature male

Whilst staring in wonderment at what I was watching, I started thinking. What happened to make so many Migrant Hawkers appear at once? Up until this point we had only seen dragonflies in small numbers probably 3 or 4 of the same species at any one time. I have done a little reading and it says the Migrant Hawker can appear in ‘massive migrations’. Well this was a massive migration, but what makes this massive migration happen? They’re not like birds, dragonflies spend the majority of their life in water, so basically in one pool. The questions I started to ask myself were things like:

– Is it when it’s over a certain temperature for a certain number of days? Its been in the 20’s for several days running now.
-I was also reading about Birds migrating at the optimum time after a weather front in the US. They take their opportunity when the time is right after a storm, could this be the same for Dragonflies?
– Was there something that made this the optimum place for this gathering to happen?
– Is it a definitive date in the calendar? Unlikely but is the migration influenced by a full moon (clutching at straws)- Is there something else that influences it like when we saw huge numbers of ladybirds on the North Norfolk coast?

Migrant Hawker - immature male

Migrant Hawker – immature male

I find this occurrence even more fascinating when you look at the life cycle of dragonflies. The larval stage of large dragonflies may last as long as five years, so in real simple terms how did they all know it was the right time to leave the water and take to the wing? Where had they all come from? The questions seemed to go on and on.

What made this occurrence even more fascinating to me was when I returned home, about 30 miles away and took a walk to my local lake there were migrant Hawkers in large numbers there as well. I hadn’t seen one there this year so on the same day 30 miles exactly the same thing was taking place!

Migrant Hawker - immature male

Migrant Hawker – immature male

Millennium Green: Slow start but comes up trumps

Early on in the year I said to myself I would endeavour to take a walk in my lunch hour and ensure that I didn’t sit at my desk every lunchtime. Near to the office in Halesworth is an area called Millennium Green and this was the obvious place to head out to.

I was joined by the New Web developer who had similar interest in wildlife. Early on in the year we started to wonder if this was a place devoid of life. We saw very few birds and next to nothing else. We set ourselves the challenge of seeing 50 species of Bird, 15 species of Butterfly and water ever else we could see would be a bonus.

In spring the green just simple came to life. Birds started to arrive, and as them months have gone on Butterflies, Dragon and Damselflies, mammals and reptiles. One reptile that we have seen many of that I’m not ashamed to say I had never seen until this year was a Slow Worm

Slow worm

Slow worm

By all accounts they are not uncommon around here and every time I mentioned not seeing them I was getting some funny looks.

I started to think why had I never seen a Slow worm before? Was it because I wasn’t looking in the right place? Was I just simply over looking them? Was it because I spent so much time looking at other things i.e. Birds? Or had I never really made the effort? I had seen Grass snakes before and Adders but not Slow worms.

Slow worm

Slow worm

Well on todays visit to the Green we saw 4. The last time we made the effort there were as many as 6. They ranged in colour and size and were in various locations.

On the numerous occasions I have now seen them I still have a feeling of excitement and also appreciation of how lucky I am to live and work in the area of the country I do. I also have come up with the answer to my earlier questions. I think Im ashamed to say I didn’t make enough of an effort.