Friday 30 June 2023

Arctic Birding

 Wednesday 28 June

Arctic Birding

Having passed North Cape, the northern most point of mainland Europe, our cruise ship headed even further north into eh Arctic Circle to reach our destination, the Svalbard archipelago and its largest island, Spitzbergen. Finally docking in the largest town, Longyearbyen, at 8am we were able to experience almost fourteen hours in this far northern land of Norway.  During our final journey north to our destination we were to see scores of Fulmars alongside and above the ship.

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis

Once of the ship around 10am we headed straight to the purpose built bird hide (their “Bird House”) overlooking the river below and the countryside to the north.  The grassy swathes to the right of the road immediately produced the first of a good number of Snow Buntings.  Whilst mainly females feeding nearer to the road, we did catch the occasional glimpse of a distant male.  Later, we were to see a few more to try and get a better photograph.

Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis (male below)

A couple of both Barnacle Geese and Eider Ducks as we made our way to the hide and then, looking at the riverside below, a Ringed Plover.  No sooner seen than another Snow Bunting alighted alongside to forage amongst the rocks. 

Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula

Above the water a couple of Arctic Terns were searching in the waters below for food.  Lovely close views and only interrupted when a pair of Barnacle Geese flew past. The, almost out of nowhere, a single, very large, Glaucous Gull landed on the water before moving across to alight on the far side. 

Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus

Leaving Jenny to rest and read her book in the hide, I the continued my walk out of the town as far as boundary marker indicating no further passage unless accompanied by an armed ranger as the area, mainly in winter months when the ice has reformed, does have a resident number of Polar Bears!  The grassy areas on the inland side of the narrow road held very many breeding Eider Ducks, most still on eggs with their nests within feet of the roadside.  Many accompanying drakes but some eggs had already hatched and the newly-born ducklings were making the most of the available water.

Eider Duck Somateria mollissima (male at front)

In addition, more and more small numbers of Barnacle Geese albeit larger groups were to be found on the water side of the road as I moved away from the town itself.

Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis

Stopping to watch some of the fishing and settled Arctic Terns I found a feeding Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus

Its meal was short-lived as a pair of Glaucous Gulls arrived to drive the skua away so they could enjoy that the meal that the Arctic Skua had, presumably, stolen from the Arctic Terns.

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea

Just beyond this encounter I found my first Purple Sandpiper on the damp weeded grass below.  On the opposite of the road there must have been at least three score Eider Duck nests.  Even three Husky teams were being harnessed for an exercise run and all around the area, wherever you found housing, you found “abandoned” snowmobiles, often resting on palettes, awaiting the next snow season which is expected to arrive between late August and early September.

Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima

Resting on the last signpost to steady the camera, I then tried to get a record shot of the single Snow Goose that was resting amongst a flock of about twenty Barnacle Geese.  Whilst the bird had been standing when first seen, it was now hunkered down and appeared to be fast asleep with no sign of head nor wings, just what looked like a large white “lump.”

Distant record shot of Snow Goose Anser cygnoides

So time to make my way back to the hide, collect Jenny and explore this last outpost of civilisation with the very small filling station advertising itself has being the furthest north filling station in the world!  Again, no shortage of more Barnacle Geese, Eider Ducks, Arctic Terns and Snow Buntings.

However, biggest surprise of all, not the second Purple Sandpiper but the lone male Shoveler resting on the small pool near the beach.  What was a Shoveler doing in this part of the world?  And then, making our way towards the house, a sitting bird in the distant grass looking all the world like a strange Black-headed Gull until the bins noted the beak, shape of the head and markings, not to mention the larger size.  To my mind, although looking very white, a female Arctic Skua on her ground nest.

Plenty of individual birds but not many species but, on the other hand, what species!

Birds seen:

Barnacle Goose, Snow Goose, Shoveler, Eider Duck, Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Arctic Skua, Glaucous Gull, Fulmar, Artic Tern, Snow Bunting.

Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus on nest 

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea

Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis and with goslings

Male Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 

Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus

Shoveler Anas clypeata

Female Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis
Male Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis

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Rambla de Almanzora & Vera Playa

 Wednesday 28 June

So, whilst Dave and his Arboleas Birding Group were exploring the Rambla de Almanzora and the Vera Playa, I was up well into the Arctic Circle in distant Spitzbergen at the farthest north of my Arctic cruise.  Dave and company might have seen more species, and some very special ones at that, but did he get to see all the breeding Barnacle Geese and Eiders, nevermind Arctic Skua and Tern let alone the sleeping Snow Goose?  For more information you'll need to to read my latest blog now that we have arrived back at the northern tip of Norway, and once more have an Internet connection.

Rambla de Almanzora & Vera Playa: Wednesday 28th June

I picked up French Claire from near Coviran in Arboleas and we made our way to the Ballabona service station on the A7/E15 to await Juda to arrive. I got a message from her to say she had a flat, but was on her way. As soon as she got there, we were on her way. We joined the Rambla de Almanzora near the Desert Springs golf complex, but didn't hang around. We slowed as we passed the ford. There we saw a Moorhen! Alan had just arrived, closely followed by Trevor and Peter.  As we chatted we saw Woodpigeon, Magpie, Goldfinch and House Sparrow. A Kestrel flew by with a Common Swift seen in the sky behind it. We walked towards the sewage works, adding Black Headed Gull, Spotless Starling, Jackdaw & Barn Swallow. We heard Reed Warblers. The recent rains and subsequent flood had uprooted many shrubs and created shallow pools. Peter spotted some Black Winged Stilts on one of these. There was nothing on the small sewage works pools as workers were strimming around them. On the main pool we had Mallard & a Little Grebe. A Glossy Ibis flew up and down the rambla. Alan added a pair of Green Sandpipers on one pool. I found a Little Ringed Plover. Also seen were House Martins and a Collared Dove. Alan spotted a Yellow Wagtail. I had a distant Little Egret and some Red Rumped Swallows.

Black-headed Gull and chicks (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

We adjourned for coffee at the "shark" cafe in Villaricos. We then headed to the beach. Holiday makers were swimming near the harbour rocks so there were no birds there. Alan did find 4 Cormorants flying low over the very calm sea. We drove over to the estuary embankment. Peter drove round to the opposite bank. With the sun behind us we had better views from this side. The usual sandbar across the estuary had been breached by the sea.  Alan found a Kentish Plover. On an island I counted 10 Audouin's Gulls. Juda was first to see the Grey Heron flying in. Also seen were Coot & Little Egret. A pair of Sandwich Tern flew past out to sea. Peter, from his side, added a Crested Lark.

The breached sandbar (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

We moved to the dual carriageway opposite the Consum supermarket behind Vera Playa. There were numerous Black Winged Stilts on the first mudflat plus a Kentish Plover. I counted 80 Greater Flamingos present which must be some sort of record. I found a single adult Night Heron perched on a leafless shrub.  A couple of Cattle Egrets and 4 Glossy Ibis flew past. I found a single White Headed Duck. 4 Black Necked Grebes were seen. Alan added a Slender Billed Gull. A Blackbird was flushed. We moved on to the smaller pool opposite the water park. Much of it was covered in duckweed. Alan found a female White Headed Duck and a White Wagtail.

Night Heron (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

A good day's birding. We had a coolish breeze to start with but by the end it was getting hot. 38 species in total.

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Friday 23 June 2023

Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

Now if I'd known that Dave and his Arbloeas Birding Group were visiting Cabo de Gata I could have asked for them to look out for my bird Note book that I left in the public hide back in late May! On t other hand, pleased to see that they saw more than me on my hot, sunny day visit which proved to be almost devoid of bird life.

Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales: Wednesday 21st June

Headed south on the A7/E15 in glorious sunshine. Nearing the exit to Cabo de Gata, traffic started to build as I approached some roadworks. The start of the contraflow on our side was just by a junction entrance so you had three lanes going into one. It was a nightmare. Eventually managed to cross onto the opposite carriageway. Traffic was all stop and start. We passed our exit. Found out as I approached the end that there was an accident on the opposing lane making matters so much worse. Had to go to the next junction and head back along the minor road. I eventually got to the first hide late, but first to arrive. The usual 1.25hr journey took nearly 2 hours!

Trevor arrived next followed by Peter (who'd seen a Kestrel) & Alan.

Sea Daffodil Pancratium maritimum (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

A scan of the waters and scrubland in front of us produced Black-winged Stilt, Greater Flamingos, Mallard and a Coot. Coots are not normally seen here. I found a Yellow Wagtail on top of a shrub. Peter spotted an Iberian Grey Shrike on the power line behind us. We found a single Black-tailed Godwit on the rocky causeway. A House Martin flew by. I found a pair of Shelduck as Alan spotted an Avocet. I found some Gull-billed Terns quartering over the far savannah. Alan added a Kentish Plover.
We adjourned for coffee in the village. We then headed to the 2nd hide. As we parked up a Raven flew along the beach.  Lots Of Sea Daffodils in flower. The hide itself only produced a Yellow-legged Gull to add to the list. A lizard sunbathed below us. Gull-billed Terns were in evidence.

Gull-billed Terns (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

The public hide was equally disappointing but I did find some Black-necked Grebes amongst the Greater Flamingos an Shelducks. Exiting via the church track I found a Kestrel on top of a pylon.
As we headed back towards Cabo village I added a Spotless Starling. Joining the beach track towards Rambla Morales I spotted a Greenfinch. Further along I disturbed a pale coloured finch which could've been a Trumpeter. 

An Audouin's Gull flew along the beach and a Cormorant was swimming nearby. We walked towards the mound, only adding a Thekla Lark. In the water we saw Greater Flamingos, 2 Avocet, 2 Black Winged Stilts and a Coot. We could hear Reed Warblers.  We were about to leave when Alan had a fleeting glimpse of a flying Little Bittern. We walked to where it had landed but never found it. We headed back to the vehicles. Trevor guessed correctly the number of species, 25. Sorry to disappoint you, Trevor, but I saw Barn Swallow, Jackdaw, Magpie, Bee-eater and Woodpigeon on the way back to the motorway!

Ended up with 30 species. Not the best day, but enjoyable in good company!

Sunbathing Lizard (PHOTP: David Elliott-Binns)

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Gieranger, Norway

Friday23 June

Having left Tilbury, London late on Tuesday afternoon we arrived at the top of the long fjord in Geiranger, Norway early this morning.  After all the recent warm sunshine, including our cruising up the North Sea, the day started overcast and cloudy but at least dry.  However, we were off the ship using the tender just before 11 o’clock and started out lengthy walk around the fjord.

Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrelli with young (above)

No sooner did we come across a small inlet with a weedy beach that we found a pair of Oystercatchers with their two recently-fledged youngsters.  Also close at hand a pair of Pied Wagtails with what appeared to be just the single off-spring. Overhead, the regular passing of the local Herring Gulls.

One of the adults plus one of the young Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus

Once on the far side from our mooring we came to a recently-harvested hay field and busy at work looking for worms to feed their youngsters were no less than four adult Fieldfare.  A quit moment as I watched these busy parents and thought of my late birding friend, Chris Bell of Worksop. In a couple of hours time it will be his funeral back in Retford and as I watched it reminded me of the many, indeed regular, reports from Chris earlier in the year informing me of all the Fieldfares he was presently (then) seeing on his daily local walks.  The Fieldfare have now departed north-east to their breeding quarters and here was I watching my first Fieldfare pf the year, not having seen any whilst down in the south of Hampshire.  Could it possibly be that one or more of these actual Fieldfares had been seen back in Nottinghamshire earlier on in the year?  How appropriate that would be to bring back memories of Chis.  Rest in peace dear friend.

Fieldfare Turdus pilaris

Continuing on along the lane on the other side of the fjord we then saw a small number of House Martins and Chaffinch and also recorded Blackcap, Blackbird, Chiffchaff and Great Tit. Now, with a bit of luck and a fair wind, just the off-chance that we might see a White-tailed Eagle as we cruise back down this long fjord and into the Norwegian Sea to continue our cruise northwards.

Birds seen:

Oystercatcher, Herring Gull, House Martin, Pied Wagtail, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Great Tit.

Amazing what you can see from a roof top!

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Sunday 18 June 2023

Warsash Shore

Redshanks Tringa totanus

 Sunday 18 June

Up early an out pf the house by 7 for a couple of hours walking along the Warsash shore and on down to Southampton Water ending up at the "Meandering Pools" before turning back for home.  Lovely sunny weather to start but by the return journey the wind beginning to freshen and bring in some broken cloud, although remaining quite warm.

Woodpigeons as soon as I left the house and once down on the shoreline near the slipway first a pair of Redshanks and a Little Egret as a Black-headed Gull moved off towards the water.  Continuing on up the path towards Strawberry Fields a Magpie and then the first of five Carrion Crows seen during the walk.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta with Redshanks Tringa totanus

Looking down at the shore a number of Herring Gulls and a couple of foraging Starlings. More Woodpigeons and a Collared Dove calling near the School of Navigation. Continuing on towards the Spit I could see a handful of Shelduck and a lone Heron in addition to the first of two Oystercatchers recorded.

I had already noted the many Reed Warblers as I approached the small spinney before continuing on down Southampton Water to the Scrape produced both Robin and Wren.  The first of five Sky Larks was seen before reaching the pool and once there discovered almost forty Mallards along with a pair of Coot, Little Grebe and Teal.  At least thirty Black-headed Gulls were also present plus a further five Shelduck.

A few Linnets and more Sky Larks but nothing else and then the Meandering Pool was completely devoid of water so started on the return journey.  Back in front of the School of Navigation a calling Cetti's Warbler and almost thirty Herring Gulls on the muddy shore. 

Herring Gull Larus argentatus

Finally, three Dunnock as I took the narrow [path back towards Strawberry Fields and to my left at the water's edge a single Curlew and two departing Rock Doves making their way back inland.

Curlew Numenius arquata

Birds seen:

Shelduck, Mallard, Teal, Little Grebe, Little Egret, Heron, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Starling, Linnet.

Very distant Linnet Carduelis cannabina

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Hayling Island

 Saturday 17 June

An overview of the large Black-headed Gull and Common Tern breeding colony

Just like being back to pre-Spain visit days with a morning out birding with my friend Richard Osman.  This first birding trip since returning from Spain was to the former oyster beds on the "Billy Line" at Hayling Island.  With rain promised late in the morning its was straight off from the car park once we had note the Little Egret and both Common and Herring Gull.

Black-headed Gulls Larus ridibundus

Making our was down the path towards the old railway line we recoded a couple of Blackcaps, a Magpie on the path in front of us and then stopped and spent some time listening to the singing Whitethroat with occasional brief sighting in the well-leafed small tree.

Common Terns Sterna hirundo

A Woodpigeon beat a hasty retreat away from us and once on the path alongside the former oysterbeds we noted another Little Egret and both Blackbird and Carrion Crow.  A small flock of Starlings were foraging on the grassy bank and then a Swallow skimmed over the water in front of us. A couple of distant Oystercatchers were seen and with both a Wren and Whitethroat singing away in front of us we made our way to the main lagoon and its large islands to study the vastly populated Black-headed Gull breeding colony.  

Just a handful of the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls Larus ridibundus

Within the breeding colony and water in front were many juvenile birds with a good disparity in ages. In between the many Black-headed Gull nest a small number of Common Tern were found. Then it was on to the far side where we found many Common Tern nests on the floating breeding platforms and, finally, after noting the distant Cormorant, a lone Mediterranean Gull of the thin water-break.

Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus

Making our way back we stopped at the final, almost dry, lagoon on the inland side of the former rail track not just to check out the few Black-headed Gulls but also the newly-arrived Oystercatcher and the sleeping Shelduck.  Only nineteen species but good to be out at a local site and back at the car just as the light rain started.

Sleeping Shelduck Tadorna tadorna

Birds seen:

Shelduck, Cormorant, Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Common Tern, Woodpigeon, Barn Swallow, Wren, Blackbird, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow.

Young Black-headed Gulls Larus ridibundus

Mainly Common Terns Sterna hirundo on the nesting platform

Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

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