Champions of the Flyway!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Good Year for the Rosies

Year-listing in Filey for Coquet island's Roseate Terns

After enjoying a fantastic range of birdlife since arriving in Filey a couple of years ago, I've decided to go for a 'big year' in 2015 – that is, actively seeking as many different species in the area as I can in a twelve month period - to raise money for a special conservation cause.

Roseate Terns migrate back from the African coast every spring to breed on the tiny Coquet Island off the Northumbrian coast – the only UK breeding colony, with just 60-80 pairs – making Rosies our rarest and most threatened breeding seabird. The RSPB provide specially designed nest-boxes and 24-hour protection for this fragile colony, as well as managing the habitat and investing in research to help these amazing birds.

On behalf of Filey Bird Observatory, I'd like to help their cause by raising enough money to sponsor a pair (for five years), and maybe even sponsor two pairs if I can get enough support...

I'm hoping that as many generous folk as possible will sponsor me in 2015 as I attempt to clock up as many bird species in our recording area as I can between January and December. It'll be a challenge (especially as I'll also be attempting a degree during the year!), but I'm aiming for between 160 and 180 species. If you'd like to sponsor me, you can do so either per species (10p per species about £18, 20p per species about £36 and so on) or with a flat donation of your choice.

During the year I'll be posting updates on my progress both here and via the Observatory website ( 100% of all sponsorship money will go directly to sponsoring Coquet's Roseate Terns, and next year I'll be posting regular updates on the birds we've successfully sponsored on the island. Thanks in advance, and wish me luck!

You can make your pledge by contacting me at mpearson(at)

A Roseate Tern in Filey bay - likely a Coquet bird on the way back to Africa....

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sylvias & Sparrows - Fuerte #15

.... i.e., Spectacled Warblers, Sardinian Warblers and Spanish Sparrows, all three of which were easy to connect with in the right habitats on the island.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Houbara Bustards - Fuerte #14

One of the star attractions of the island, Fuerte's Houbara Bustards were close to (if not at) the top of our hit-list in the run-up to our visit, and we were hopeful of connecting at their favoured locations. From research and valuable feedback, we knew where to look and where we were most likely to get the kind of views (and photos) we were hoping for; we also knew, however, that they were by no means as plentiful, or as easy to pin down, as might be expected.

It took some effort (and they were all the better for it), but we found them in two areas - on the semi-desert plains near Costa Calma (in the far south) and in the same habitat just west of Cotillo, in the north. At the former location we had great views of what was presumably the same bird on several occasions, and while we happy with our lot, we were all still hoping for the kind of grand-standing display we'd cooed over on a minority of trip reports before arriving.

So we set off well before dawn to make it up to the Cotillo Plain hopefully before disturbance, and the heat and over-saturated light of the day, perhaps became issues. After wonderful experiences with several small groups of Cream-coloured Coursers and various other decent birds, it wasn't too long before I picked up a bustard, motionless, within metres of the car.... a gentle halt, a flurry of camera shutters and hushed expletives later, and we'd had the kind of views we'd been praying for. But it soon got even better.

Throwing his head back and turning his front-end into something like a black and white pom-pom, this amazingly accommodating male then proceeded to run alongside the track in random directions, apparently displaying at and/or threatening our (white) car in undeniably comedy fashion. After he'd stopped - complete with head and plumes erect - we inched closer along the track, and it wasn't long before the ritual began again, much to amusement of all of us. It was hard to leave him, but we eventually did, after thanking him for what was unarguably the birding experience of the trip.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Barbary Ground Squirrels - Fuerte #13

Opportunistic, photogenic and characterful, Barbary Ground Squirrels were hardly difficult to find, with the rustle of a food wrapper often enough to demand their close attentions in certain places.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Audouin's & other gulls - Fuerteventura #12

We managed to connect with four species of gull on the trip (which was about twice as many as we expected), with the star of the show - and the rarest find of the week - being this Audouin's Gull, which breezed by at Salinas Del Carmen barely an hour after we'd landed.

Quite how rare they are on the Canaries is hard to clarify, with very few references online, although a bird on Lanzarote recently caused quite a stir and they're apparently just about annual on the islands.

The default Larids, commonly encountered at various locations, were Yellow-legged Gulls of the subspecies atlantis; smart birds they are too, with a few differently aged birds pictured here.

We also had a single Lesser Black-backed Gull with AYLGs at the very SW tip of the island....

... as well as a single Black-headed Gull there.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Colour-ringed Vulture & Spoonbill - Fuerte #11

Finding colour-ringed birds is always fascinating, especially when you're a long way from home and least expecting it - just the case when we came across not one but two fine beasts bearing plastic bling on Fuerteventura.

I photographed the first - this handsome adult Egyptian Vulture - over a ridge in the lava fields in the central east of the island, and after receiving details from the Spanish programme responsible, discovered that it was ringed within a few miles of there on 24th June 2008, and had apparently been awol since then. The birds here are of the distinct subspecies Neophron percnopterus majorensis (which requires elevation to species level according to some authorities), a small and declining population confined to the Eastern Canaries.

We found the second, this immature Spoonbill, at Salinas Del Carmen, a picturesque spot on the coast just south of the airport, on the last day of the trip - the only one we saw, and a nice surprise. Even more of a surprise was its back story: ringed in the nest at Vår Holm, Nibe, NordJylland, in the far north of Denmark on 15th May, it was 3677km SW of its Northern European birthplace.

(As always, click on images to enlarge).

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Plain Swifts - Fuerteventura #10

With not a sniff of a swift or hirundine at any point on the trip (and knowing that they were generally hard to come by in these circumstances), we'd pretty much forgotten about them by the last day, which we used by dropping in on a few east coast sites at a relaxed pace en route to the airport.

Cue suddely animated scenes when Rich picked up what looked like a couple of Swallows feeding over a thickly vegetated compound within the airport grounds from his side of the car; a rapid halt at the roadside and a now stationary viewing opportunity did indeed reveal a couple of Swallows, but also - much better still - a group pf Swifts, which looked instantly interesting....

Aware that Plain Swifts - restricted to the Canaries and Madeira as a breeding bird - were a possibility, but also that Pallid were the most likely (and with Common also in the frame), and that Plains were erratic and hard to come by on the island - we took our time, but after plenty of good views and a few half-decent shots, happily concluded they were indeed this elusive endemic. A great way to sign off on a hugely enjoyable trip.