Sunday, 26 March 2017

A day in Suffolk

Last Thursday I got a call to say that some friends were heading off birding to Suffolk for the day, calling in 'en route' at Viking Optics in Halesworth hopefully for some repairs to a 'scope, and did I want to come. Well apart from the birding, I think I've dropped my 'scope just once too often, as there is a metal rectangle with a large hole in it, moving around just below the eyepiece but actually in the 'scope itself. Not impossible to see through the 'scope, but very irritating and wearing on the eye. So my answer was a resounding YES!

So 6 o'clock saw us setting off. Our first stop was to have been at Iken to search for a Cattle Egret that's been there for some time now, but as we approached the village of Melton, I mentioned to the other lads in the car to keep an eye out for Waxwings as some had been seen there the previous day. And a couple of minutes later, what should we see - but a flock of 16 Waxwings in the top of a tree at the side of the road. A rapid stop was in order while we took in what is quite likely to be our last sighting of this exquisite bird for this winter at least. Shame the weather wasn't better as it was cloudy with a chill NE breeze blowing.
 

Waxwings at Melton (nr. Martlesham), Suffolk

We were soon back on the road, and about 15 minutes later at the aforementioned Iken village. One of our carload had seen the Cattle Egret here before, and knew exactly where to look, and there it was - viewed from the car about 15 metres away! And with a Little Egret in the same field, should any comparison be required. (I feel I should explain here, for any of my Spanish readers, that Cattle Egret here in the UK is still a rarity, although with a total of about 200 in the country in a census about 2 weeks ago, surely won't remain as such for long - I still remember my first one in the UK, twitching all the way to Anglesey to see one back in the 70's or 80's).
 

Cattle Egret at Iken, Suffolk

Anyhow, that was the second of our targeted species done - and now onto the third. This one a little more tricky, but would be my third species of Grey Shrike in a month - a Great Grey Shrike! We got to the general area and set about looking for it, and after about 15 minutes it was found, although I must admit not by us but by a local birder onsite - hunting from fence posts in a clear area surrounded by pine forest. And whilst there we had Woodlark, Yellowhammer, Coal Tit and Songthrush singing (all of which appear to be declining species), and a brief sighting of Dartford Warbler, plus Peregrine and Common Buzzard overhead.
What an excellent start to the day, and it was still only 9:45!
 

 Great Grey Shrike at Upper Hollesley Common, Suffolk

Our next stop was the business in Halesworth at Viking Optics. Here I must explain that normally I wouldn't include any business interests/details in a blog, but the help we got in there was so good that I feel it is the least I can do. In the end, I couldn't get my scope repaired, and the trip worked out quite expensive as I ended up buying a 'new' (second hand) 'scope, but that was perfect as it was a lot cheaper than a 'new new' one would cost, and an option I had been considering anyway (keeping one in Spain - that way I wouldn't need to keep losing half my luggage allowance to a scope when I go back and forth).

Optical business over, and having seen all our target birds, we decided that on our way back south we would call in at RSPB Minsmere just for a general look around. We took a slow amble around the reserve (something I've not done for many a year as normally when I go, it's to twitch something and so the place is full). This time there was plenty of room in all the hides for us to look at our leisure. We did the circuit from the North hide, south down the beach to the Sluice and back, and then on to the Island Mere hide.
 
 Wandering around the reserve, we had the typical birds....

.... and mammals

And if we thought we'd done well before, it was here that our day was totally blown away. When we arrived at Island Mere hide, we were told that one of the Bitterns had been poking its head out of the reeds on the right side of the hide. And so we waited....and waited.... and eventually we could make out the Bittern just inside the edge of the reeds.
 



Bittern slowly emerging from the reedbed
 
And as we waited, it eventually showed itself fully - not for long, but long enough, only about 10 metres from the hide. And then having done so once, it did a repeat performance, but this time showing itself for a good 5 minutes out in the open, as it hunted for food. Meanwhile, another bird showed itself about 30 metres away from the front of the hide. What a luxury - having a choice of Bitterns to watch! I think everyone in the hide was of the same opinion - best ever views of Bittern!
 











 Best sightings ever of Bitterns, from Island hide


And some of the other class birds seen from the hide, in this case redhead Goosanders

So, all in all, an excellent day out - even the sky cleared, although the NE breeze was certainly chill. Some excellent birds seen, but without the hassle of any 'must see' birds. Most enjoyable!!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

A week in Andalucia in search of Lynx

Sorry if this post appears fraudulent, but it is neither about birding, nor Murcia!

For various reasons I have had to spend the best part of the last year back in the U.K., so when a trip to return to Andújar, Jaen in Andalucia, Spain was suggested, I jumped at the opportunity.  The reason for the visit was to be to look for mammals in general, and Lynx in particular.  In the end, it was just myself and John Wright (also from Southend) who went.  John was one of the original crew that I went with on my last trip for 3 days back in January 2012 (was it really 5 years ago!).

We flew direct from 'London' Southend airport in the early hours of Friday 13th January 2017 to Malaga where we picked up a hire car, and eventually got out of Malaga and headed for the town of Andujar in the 'Sierra Morena' mountains, calling in en route at the 'Laguna del Fuente Piedra'.

We got to what was to be our 'digs' (Villa Matilde) in the late afternoon - and had just enough time to drop off our luggage and then go off and reconnoitre the area (not that much had changed in the previous 5 years, except the potholes in the tracks had got bigger).

Then it was back to the 'digs' for a freshen-up and supper, and listen to the tales of the other people staying at our bed & breakfast, who'd been there for a while, and an early night so as to be fresh for the next morning.

We were told that the Lynx were being seen at all times of the day, but we were keen and it was our first day, so we wanted to be up at the main track viewpoint at first light.

There are two main viewing tracks for the Lynx; one is the track along the JF-5004 that leads to the dam across the Émbalse del Jándula (which I have called the 'main track'), and the other which runs alongside the 'Rio Jándula' from where the A-6177 crosses the river (which I have called the 'river track' and which leads to the 'Embalse del Encinarejo').

So Saturday 14th January, our first full day saw us setting out at about 7-20 (although it took about 10 mins. to defrost the car as it was -5º outside).  The slow drive up to the viewing area took us about half an hour, stopping on the way to look at the multiple Red and Fallow Deer on both sides of the track. By the time we go to the viewing area, the sun was just about creeping over the horizon, and we got our scopes out and got stuck in.  For a while the most entertaining event was watching a multicoloured male Mufflon on the side of a hill until that disappeared.  It was pretty cold to start with, but once the sun came up on a cloudless day, the temperature soon crept up to about 10ºC, and fingers and toes finally thawed out.

Several hours later (when we reckoned there were about 80 people looking), the call went out - a cat had been seen. Everyone moved round to the same area, where the cat could be seen not too far away, hunting through some rocks on the hillside.  It caught a rabbit and was then seen to finish it off very rapidly, and then surprisingly instead of sitting and cleaning itself, it wandered off and was eventually lost to view.  Brilliant! Our first sighting, on the first day, of a probable immature female, and seen well over a total period of about 50 minutes.  There were no further sightings of Lynx, so at dusk we left the lookout area, dropping down to the 'Los Piños' bar on the main Andujar road to celebrate what we'd seen during the day, and then back to our b&b for supper at 8 and write up notes & process photos.

Sunday 15th January was very similar except there were no sightings of Lynx, but for a bit of variety, we went to the dam at the end of the main track (from where we had 3 male Spanish Ibex), and had a look in the holes in the roof of the tunnel there, famous for bats.  We saw at least 8 bats, of we think at least 2 different species and possibly 3 (I am still waiting on John for confirmation as this is his speciality).

Monday 16th January, just for a change, we decided to look for Otters on the Rio Jandula.  We'd found out that these had been seen over the past few days between 8 and 8-30, so another early start as it took us about 30 mins. to get to the famous 'bridge' by the dam where they'd been being seen from, along the river track.  And it was another bitterly cold morning,  -5ºC again to start!  But the Otter didn't disappoint, and at about 8-20 on a very still morning we noted the ripples and lines of bubbles that pronounced its presence. And then the Otter actually climbed out of the water and over some rocks directly below us on the bridge, presumably searching for prey before once again returning to the water and swimming downstream.  And every so often it would pop up and we'd see the characteristic ripples and bubbles.  An excellent start to the day.  Shame the sun wasn't up enough to get anything more than just record photos.
We spent the rest of the day along the river hoping to see a Lynx or more of the Otter, and in actual fact at about 3 in the afternoon the Otter did show again for about 10 minutes, and while I was watching it a group came across a Lynx on the other riverbank.  They got me on to it, and I followed it along the riverbank for some way until it got lost in the undergrowth.  As I watched it, I could hear it making a high soft growling sound.  Unfortunately, John was looking out for Lynx some distance away on a hillside, and didn't get to see it.

On Tuesday 17th January, we decided to try for the Otters again on the Rio Jándula, but this time we were out of luck, and our sighting of the day there was an Iberian Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanica), one of the newly split species of Wall Lizards.  We decided to go back to the main track for the last few hours of the afternoon, and here we struck lucky, John sighting a Lynx on a distant track which we followed for a couple of minutes with the scopes before it disappeared over a hill.

Wednesday 18th January saw us again on the main track, and again we struck lucky early on with a Lynx as soon as we got there - people had been watching it for about 10 mins. before we arrived, probably the same young female of our first day, and we watched it for a further 10 minutes before it wandered off.  And then a couple of hours later from the same watchpoint we had a second Lynx, possibly the same one that John had found the previous day, as well as another Mufflon.  In the afternoon we thought we'd try one last time for the Otters on the Rio Jándula river track, but our luck wouldn't quite run that far, so we had an early finish as the sky clouded over and a little bit of snow started to fall, and we just stopped off at the bar on the way back to celebrate our '2 Lynx' day.

Thursday 19th January was our last full day (and our first cloudy one), and we took a very easy run up to the main track watchpoint area checking out all the fields on the way, but without success (apart from the now normal Red and Fallow Deer).  However after about an hour or so, a Lynx was spotted and everyone there (about 30 people) got to see it - quite distant to start with, it came forever closer to us until it disappeared into the undergrowth at the bottom of the track that we were watching from.  We stayed a while longer (seeing a group of 7 male Mufflons lounging around in the process), and then decided to head off to the dam at the end of the track to look for more Ibex and bats.  These we did find (a single female Ibex and 7 bats, species still to be determined).  In the afternoon we decided to have a bit of an explore on some other trails that we'd not tried yet and we did actually go quite a long way, but then the snow started to come down quite heavily, so we cut short our explorations and headed back to the bar.

Friday 20th January, and we had to hand the car back at Malaga airport at 9-30, so we had a very early start at 4am, did some torch spotting for an hour without much success (just Red and Fallow Deer and something small with a long tail scuttle across the road), and then headed off back to Malaga, and finally got back to Southend at about 1pm local time.

Birds seen:  Although our visit was principally to see mammals, we obviously made note of any birds seen.  Here the list of the 80 species we identified during the whole of the week.

Shelduck; Gadwall; Teal; Mallard; Pochard; White-headed Duck; Grey Heron; Cattle Egret; House Sparrow; Linnet; Goldfinch; Chaffinch; Greenfinch; Short-toed Eagle; Common Buzzard; Kestrel; White Stork; Greater Flamingo; Common Crane; Meadow Pipit; Songthrush; Stonechat; Monk Parakeet; Red Kite; Spotless Starling; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Black-headed Gull; Hoopoe; Magpie; Iberian Magpie; Jackdaw; Robin; Blackbird; Songthrush; Black Redstart; Green Sandpiper, Coot; Moorhen; Little Grebe; Crag Martin; Raven; Collared Dove; Rock Dove (Domestic pigeon); Red-legged Partridge; Sardinian Warbler; Mistle Thrush; Little Owl; Blue Rock Thrush; Southern Grey Shrike; Spanish Imperial Eagle; Griffon Vulture; Sparrowhawk; Dartford Warbler; Green Woodpecker; White Wagtail; Firecrest; Long-tailed Tit; Great Tit; Blue Tit; Cormorant; Chough (heard only); Grey Wagtail; Black Vulture; Golden Eagle; Serin; Woodlark; Nuthatch; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Hawfinch; Tawny Owl (heard only); Rock Sparrow; Blackcap; Cettis Warbler; Wren; Crested Tit; Corn Bunting; Crested Lark; Jay; Yellow-legged Gull; Booted Eagle.

Mammals seen:  The main purpose of our visit, the commonest mammal was Red Deer, followed by Fallow Deer.  Mufflon were surprisingly scarce with two singletons and a group of 7 males, and the Spanish Ibex around the dam at the 'embalse del Jándula' even more so, with only 2 sightings of a group of 3 males and a single female.  Lynx we saw on 5 out of the 6 days, with two sightings of different animals on two days.  Other mammals were presumed Wood Mice, and the bats, whose identity still have to be confirmed.

Trip photos:




 Lynx seen on the first day

Blue Rock Thrush in typical habitat
 
 Red Deer being severely harrassed by a Magpie

 Typically skulking Dartford Warbler

 More Red Deer

 Lynx terrain

 Bat sp. ?

 Bats sp. ?

Embase del Jándula dam
 


 Otter

 Hoopoe

 Grey Wagtail

 Immature Spanish Imperial Eagle

 Hawfinch

 Wall Lizard

 Azure Winged (Iberian) Magpie



Embalse del Encinarejo dam


Rio Jándula

 Fallow Deer

 Black Vulture

 Griffon Vulture


 Spanish Imperial Eagle
 Adult Griffon Vulture

 Adult Golden Eagle

 Immature Golden Eagle

 Fallow Deer




 Red Deer



Icebow (or White Rainbow)
 Lynx



Corn Bunting at takeoff





 Last day Lynx

 Some very distant Mufflon

 Bat sp. ?

 Bat sp. ?

 Bat sp. ?


Bat sp. ?

Trip Costing (per person):

Accommodation & meals (7 nights, 2 people sharing a room; picnic lunches & evening meals) - 353€
Petrol - 50€
Car Hire - 42€
Flights - £98.96
50% annual car excess insurance - £20
Total (using £1 = 1.15€) - £505-92p  (€582) + drinks!