Monday, April 24, 2006

King Eider at Irvine, Ayrshire

Having missed the Easter holiday back home in Ayrshire I made a brief visit at the weekend. Luckily the fabulous King Eider (very rare sea duck from the Arctic & Iceland) was still around. Despite having been present for a couple of weeks there were still around 20 birders (mostly from south of the border) on Saturday morning. The bird was showing well but I didn’t want to upset anyone by sneaking out along the rocks with my DLSR kit. High tide on Sunday morning was around 0800h so I arrived at 0700h hoping for the bird all to myself. However, the King must have been having a long lie this morning as he did not show up until after 0900h. It remained distant all morning so a few of us went out along the rocks but some mindless idiots (who incidentally should not have been in the vicinity of the harbour mouth) on jet skis scared the life out of everything in the area and the bird flew out to sea with the small flock of Common Eiders. In the end I only came away with some poor, distant record shots.

Still, spending several hours on the Firth of Clyde was very refreshing with Gannets, Sandwich Terns, Red-throated Divers, Red-breasted Mergansers and a good passage of White Wagtails. Got many nice shots of the Stonechats in the dunes near Troon and I may use one of them for the cover of the Ayrshire Bird Report 2005 which should be available by early June.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Endemic Birds on Tenerife

Just returned from a week birding on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. With a list of 54 species this trip was more about quality than quantity and the targets were those birds endemic to the Islas Canarias or Macaronesia (which also includes the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde Islands). Obviously the Atlantic or Island Canary is the most famous and I found it easy to see over most of the island with the exception of the Euphorbia coastal desert. The Blue Chaffinch is probably the most impressive and is restricted to the Canarian Pine forests of Tenerife and Gran Canaria. The two monteverde pigeons, Bolle’s and Laurel Pigeon, are elusive and mysterious inhabitants of the now rare Laurel forests where the mist rolls in off the Atlantic and makes seeing these birds somewhat difficult. I was exceptionally lucky on my visit to Monte de Agua with over 40 pigeons including a small roost. Others crackers were the Canary Islands Kinglet (is it a Goldcrest or a Firecrest?), Plain Swift, Canary Islands Chiffchaff, Berthelot’s Pipit and the Tenerife Blue Tit.

Even the more recognisable birds here are identifiable to some degree as distinct sub-species or island races. The Common Chaffinch really is quite different to birds on the European continent. The Tenerife Robin is a bit more cryptic morphologically but its vocalisation is fairly distinct. The cabrerae race of Blackbird, however, looks pretty much like the garden bird in the British Isles. Other recognised subspecies found through the week included koenigi Southern Grey Shrike, canariensis Great Spotted Woodpecker, canariensis Grey Wagtail, atlantis Yellow-legged Gull, and the canariensis Kestrel, These islands could be described as the Galapagos of Europe and its not just the birds that are fascinating…from the lizards (just two endemic species) to the plants (hundreds of endemics) there is much to keep up the interest when the birding starts to run thin. However, if I’d known how easy it was to see all the special birds within a few days I would have planned the rest of the week around a trip to Fuerteventura to pick up the Fuerteventura Chat, Houbara Bustard and Cream-coloured Courser. There is always next time...

Bald Ibis on the Costa de la Luz

I’ve spent most of the last three weeks in Spanish territory. Firstly, to Zahara de los Atunes in Southern Spain on an ecological genetics field course with work and secondly to Tenerife in the Canary Islands for an endemic clean-up.

Zahara (of the tuna fish) – once the centre of the Almadraba - is situated on a quiet 15 km beach on the Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light) west of the Straits of Gibraltar. This area is one of the last unspoiled stretches of coastline in Spain and the light here is unbelievably intense, although the wind and the sea also dominate the experience here. But there is much more here, especially for the naturalist from northern Europe who will find that spring is in full swing at this time of year. Just east towards Tarifa, thousands of birds are flying across to the European continent from Africa and many can be observed arriving in off the sea near Zahara, particularly when strong winds are blowing from the east.

The area around Zahara is a superb area for birding with Montagu’s Harrier, Calandra Lark, Purple Swamp-Hen, Pallid Swift, Lesser Kestrel and Little Bustard all available. Perhaps the highlight for me is seeing the recently (re)introduced Bald Ibises in the Sierra del Retín. The flock regularly feeds in coastal meadows between Zahara and Barbate. These birds originate from a captive flock in Jerez Zoo and the reintroduction program, Proyecto Eremita, is led by Jose Manuel Lopez Vasquez and run by several organisations including Junta de Andalucia and Zoobotanico de Jerez.

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