Monday, April 23, 2007

Field Course in South-West Spain

Been away with work on an undergraduate ecological genetics field course based at Zahara de los Atunes on the Costa de la Luz between Tarifa and Cadiz in southwest Spain. Bird highlights were Lesser Crested Tern, Caspian Tern, Black Vulture, Red-nobbed Coot, Azure-winged Magpie, Little Bustard, Bonelli’s Eagle, Purple Swamp-hen, Glossy Ibis, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Short-toed Lark…and I’ll stop there. A full trip report will posted soon on the main website. I intended writing this up at the weekend but spent most of the time catching up on some sleep after arriving home about 0430h on Saturday. It was good this year to have two students (Stefan Harrison & Dan Willcox) on the course who were actually interested in nature, particularly birds. On our day off, we made a 22 hour round trip to the Parque Nacional de Doñana via the suspension bridge over the Río Guadalquiver at Sevilla. We took the tracks to the Jose Antonio Valverde centre to the breathtaking rookery there with breeding Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, Night Heron, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret and Little Egret. Around 92 species were logged on the day without trying too hard.

Staying in the same hotel were Duncan Macdonald and Ian Rowlands with their Speyside Wildlife tour group. It was good to exchange information on the local sites with them. One day I bumped into them at Barbate and I showed them a better location for viewing the estuary here. As soon as we arrived Duncan ‘scoped a Lesser Crested Tern with the Sandwich Terns! I had been viewing the area just previously with my bins. I don’t bring my ‘scope as we have so much equipment and apparatus for the field course. Makes me wonder what else I’ve missed here in previous years! At least five tern species were present that day along with Caspian, Little and Gull-billed.

The non-avian highlight (not seen by me unfortunately) was a group of Killer Whales at the Almadrabas off Zahara seen by a lucky few.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Early Pierids in Ayrshire

Went home to Ayrshire for the Easter weekend, leaving the camera equipment behind. Got my my second earliest county record of Small White (5th) with a male on the Knockentiber-Springside Disused Railway Line - now a cycle path and much degraded and damaged by Sustrans et al. Back in the early nineties this was a quiet, green, wildlife-full path but some misguided organisations thought that a bus-width of tarmac would somehow enhance it's value. Cycling and walking around some other old haunts left me with the feeling that the natural value of much the area around Kilmarnock is slowly being eroded away.

Chiffchaffs appear to be arriving back in good numbers following last year's unusual slump in Ayrshire. My first two Willow Warblers of the year were singing along the railway line on the 8th. I also had my earliest county record of Green-veined White with two in Changue glen on the 7th. Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell were out in good numbers. The pond near Kirstie's Stone had over 100 spawing Common Toads, several Palmate Newts and a Viviparous Lizard nearby. Orange Tip and Green Hairstreak may also be on the wing earlier this season but they managed to elude me despite extensive searching. Maybe on my next trip. For now, I'm off on a field course to Zahara...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Kensington Gardens

Eventually saw the Med Gull on the Round Pond, though it rarely settled on the water. One half of the Tawny Owl family was in a leafing Horse Chestnut, relatively secluded from mobbing hecklers. An unusual looking bird foraging in a familiar fashion turned out to be striking looking Blackbird exhibiting partial albinism. In the afternoon I headed to Barnes. Again very busy, with an apparent birthday party charging around, staff in tow. I thought it was just me but I heard other visitors complaining. Best was an early Reed Warbler, giving some half-hearted song phrases.