Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mola mola

Just back from 10 days on the Costa de la Luz on my sixth field course to Zahara de los Atunes. The first four or five days were cooler than back home but by the end of last week temperatures were peaking at 27°C and there was even a day without any wind! On our day off a few of us set sail into the Straits of Gibraltar with Whale Watch/FIRMM to observe Common, Striped, and Bottlenose Dolphins and good numbers of Pilot Whales. Bird-wise it was very quiet with Arctic Skua and Gannet the only notable species but the real highlight for me was the Sunfish that cruised past the boat all too quickly!

Aside from the usual study organisms (beetles, snails, pond skaters and plants) there was of course time to get away and look for birds and take a few photographs. The fields and scrub around Zahara are populated by many Corn Buntings, Zitting Cisticolas and Nightingales and the town itself has Spotless Starling, Crested Lark, Sardinian Warbler and passing Audouin’s Gulls and Kentish Plover on the beach. Many species can also be observed on migration overhead.

Highlights this year included a male Blue Rock Thrush which sang from the Castello de la Almadrabas in Zahara every morning. This ruined castle in the former stronghold of tuna fishing lies just beyond the sandy beach in a flat coastal strip some distance from the nearby Sierra del Retín and this the first time I have observed this species in atypical habitat. Woodland on the sierra provided Orphean Warbler and Hawfinch among the many Woodchat Shrikes, Hoopoes, Serins and Blackcaps and in the Valle do Ojén birdsong from abundant Nightingales mixed with Iberian Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Subalpine Warbler, Bonelli’s Warbler and Short-toed Treecreeper. La Janda was poor this time but Purple Swamphen and Great Reed Warbler kept up the interest on two drives through this former wetland. Another wetland also worth a regular check is the Marismas de Barbate and Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Slender-billed Gull, Tawny Pipit and Short-toed Lark were some of the highlights there.

Colonial Lesser Kestrel and Red-rumped Swallow were observed at Vejer de la Frontera and Tarifa. One evening after sunset, a stream of Painted Lady butterflies was still arriving over the Strait from North Africa. Other migrants were common on the coast on some days with Redstart, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear. Griffon Vultures were a daily feature but other raptors included Egyptian Vulture on the Sierra de la Plata, Montagu’s Harrier near Zahara. Black Kites at La Janda, Short-toed Eagle in several areas and a few migrant Booted Eagles and Honey Buzzards on the coast. Other birds of note included Collared Pratincoles near Conil, a Purple Heron in the estuary at Zahara, Wood Sandpiper at La Janda and Bee-eaters at several sites.

On the final day as I was driving out of Zahara a flock of 83 Spoonbills migrating northeast against a deep blue sky backdrop was a fantastic sight!

All of the images below are available as prints.
Larger web versions with labels/names available here:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

View from a Crane Hide

Here is a snippet of film showing the view from the photo hides at Hornborgasjön (taken with my wee Canon A640).

While I'm still on the subject of Cranes here is the birthday cake Lisa made me last month. I didn't eat it all myself!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Larger crane photos

The first of last week's Crane photographs at larger size are now on my main website - click the link below . Hopefully have two more pages on before the end of the week.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Messengers of Spring (in the snow)

Here are the first few images from a successful trip to Horborgasjön. I had two very different days in the photo hides; the first being extremely cold but with lots of good light and second being mainly cloudy but with a morning of snow!There was lots of crane dancing but this is actually quite difficult to capture effectively with so many birds present. By the time I left on Monday, 18500 Eurasian Cranes had arrived! This is the largest number counted so far, surpassing even last year's peak of 15300. I have to say that for me this spectacle is even greater than the massive flocks of Scotland's winter geese. Within three weeks they will all have departed for a more solitary few months as pairs disperse to breed alone over Scandinavia. Check out the excellent website for Lake Hornborga:
More photos (with larger versions) and a trip report to follow on the main websites.