Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fuerteventura Chats - Fuerteventura #6

One of the main targets of the trip - especially since, while there are various endemic races, near-endemics and other assorted specialities, they're the only actual Fuerteventuran endemic species (so far, with more splits no doubt likely in the future) - Fuerteventura Chats were thinly scattered but widespread on the island, favouring sparsely vegetated barrancos (dry stream beds) in rocky terrain.

Smart little birds they are too, particularly the males; as well as the obvious plumage differences, they're noticeably longer and thinner billed than our Stonechats, are slightly longer-tailed, and as Amity pointed out, their dashing eye-brow lends them a certain drag queen-like sensibility (and you won't find that kind of insight in Collins).

Perhaps the easiest place to catch up with them was along the banks of Los Molinos reservoir, from the parking spot near the dam and then along towards the goat farm.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Trumpeters and (endemic) Linnets - Fuerteventura #5

Another relatively common passerine on the sandy and stony plains of the island, Trumpeter Finches were often frustratingly hard to pin down, until we found a wonderfully accommodating flock at the goat farm by Los Molinos; an entertaining little troupe that allowed very close approach, and were a pleasure to watch closely for a while.

Linnets of the endemic Eastern Canary Islands race (C.c.Harteti) were relatively well scattered in small numbers, although again were usually difficult to get close to; we found the best numbers, and the best opportunities to observe them, came at Costa Calma Park, where we'd up to 30 on our visits, (slightly bizarrely, alongside Yellow-browed Warblers and Monarchs).

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lesser Short-toed Larks - Fuerteventura #4

A pleasingly regular occurrence throughout the island, Lesser Short-toed Larks were well represented in a variety of arid habitats, and (along with Bertholot's Pipits) were often the only passerine species in the more unforgiving environments.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Black-bellied Sandgrouse - Fuerteventura #3

Another species we were keen to pin down on the island, Black-bellied Sandgrouse were thankfully quite easy to come by in the right habitat (although true to form were generally pretty shy and hard to get close to).

We found them in several areas from the far north to the far south, usually on sandy plains with varying rocky and low scrub components; the highest densities were in the environs of Los Molinos reservoir (in the mid-west of the island) and its neighbouring goat farms, which provided a suitably Fuerteventuran backdrop to photo opportunities of mobile flocks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Yellow-browed Warblers - Fuerteventura #2

Although we were aware Yellow-browed Warblers are known to occur - in very small numbers - on the Canaries in late autumn and winter, we didn't expect to come across them quite so easily, or indeed quite so many at once. We found them in two spots without much effort - in the Barranco de Las Penitas (see last post), and closer to base, in Costa Calma.

A small tourist town a short drive from our hotel on the south coast of the island, Costa Calma has a small public park by a busy roundabout and the main road, with - unusually - relative mature trees set on ornamental grounds. We were there for just a few minutes before hearing that always welcome tsooeest, and within half an hour we'd at least four birds - feeding avidly, and somewhat bizarrely, in palm trees and tamarisks.

We visited the park several times over the week, and became accustomed to their company on each occasion. As Rich pointed out, we've been lucky enough to see them on three continents - personally, bucketloads in Asia, many on the East coast here in Blighty (including 40-odd since moving to Filey in 2012), and now a handful of legitimate wintering birds on an African island. Every one a pleasure.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fuerteventura Blue Tits - Fuerteventura #1

After a relatively quiet period here on these pages, a burst of activity begins as of now, all on account of a hugely enjoyable and productive week on Fuerteventura with comrades Rich, Dan and Dylan. It being a perfect place for photography as well as relaxed nature-bothering in general, it'll take a good while to sort through and edit the photos, write up accounts and divide it all into bite-size portions, which was precisely the intention - tasty distractions and (hopefully) quality content to provide fuel during the leanest period of the annual cycle.

A short and sweet one to begin with, then - meet the Fuerteventura Blue Tit, endemic to Fuerteventura and neighbouring Lanzarote. Formally treated as a subspecies of African Blue Tit but now considered a full species by some authorities, either way it's a supremely smart little bird, and indeed truly rare; on Fuerteventura it occurs at only a handful of locations, and is greatly limited (and hindered) by habitat restrictions. We were lucky enough to enjoy them at close quarters (after a little pishing encouragement) at a few sites, including an area just south of Betancuria, which combine the picturesque village of Vega de Rio Palmas and the adjoining lush barranco of Las Penitas (pictured in the valley below).

Even taking into account the fact that everything looks brighter in the sunshine and habitats of such places, they really were exceptionally flashy, and certainly renewed my appreciation of our lowly equivalent here in the dark north.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A White-billed Diver (and the rest)

It was one of those days when I nearly didn't bother. Unpromising conditions, nothing on the move, lots to take care of domestically and a trip to plan and pack for (leaving the next the day); but with circumstances keeping me away from the patch much more than I'm used to lately, and with the majority of the month ahead out of the country, I set the alarm for an hour before dawn and hoped I'd have the will to react to it.

Thankfully I did, and by dawn I was on the end of Carr Naze, about to descend the slope to the sea-watch hide. In addition to a handful of Snow Buntings, a couple of Blackbirds and (unusually) a Mistle Thrush on the very end indicated some incoming movement, and then, from the gloom, a deep honk from just behind me - fantastically, a Bean Goose heading low and north-west. Perfect timing, and a species I've been singularly hoping to catch during the small east coast influx of late.

If I'd have turned around there and then it would of been a very worthwhile morning, and after a while in the hut, I was thinking that maybe that would'nt have been a bad idea; 'local' auks, Red-throats and Fulmars notwithstanding, there was effectively nothing on the move. But then, there was just enough to keep me entertained - a Long-tailed Duck close in and south at 0850, a couple of Mergansers and a Goosander, then a Great Northern Diver through at 0945. Red-throats kept trickling through, which (crucially) made for something to count, and then at 1020, a Black-throat cruised south with two of them - three Diver species within 35 minutes.

Again entertaining thoughts of quitting while I was ahead, a monster of a diver appeared in the 'scope, well to the north, and heading south: banana-shaped front end, big heavy bill, seemingly angled upwards... and pale; not just reflected, momentarily pale, but clearly white(ish) in the flat, gloomy light. After following it in the scope for a fair while, I switched to the camera, promptly lost it, panicked, and luckily picked it up again as it broke the horizon and gained height.

Flustered calls and texts to (potential) observers to the south followed, and then the good news came through that Brett had watched it passing Flamborough, 13 minutes later (according to his calculations, at a speed of 32mph). Another hour and a half added Little Auk, Pom Skua, a few ducks and more Red-throats, but it was, of course, all about the divers. All four species in forty minutes, plus various other highlights on an otherwise quiet sea - not exactly the worst place to live and bird.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Flamborough, late November 2014

Male Stonechat, Thornwick
Despite best intentions, visiting my folks there and the description on the right of this page, I can count the times I've actively birded at Flamborough in recent months on one hand. But, over the last week or so (and the coming few days) I've cause to be there for a longer period, which happily includes local wanderings when possible.

Large flocks of Woodpigeons on the move
A couple of such wanderings this week have made for pleasant birding, with a distant Rough-leg - the long-staying Grindale bird getting itchy feet (as you would expect from a species with such a name, heh heh) - the most notable, but lots of other bits and pieces to enjoy, as there always is in these parts.

Goosanders overhead
Spot the well-camouflaged Turnstones

lovely evening light on South Landing beach....

... and many tame Rock Pipits for company

Sundown (taken with phone)