Sunday, 29 September 2013

Jack Snipe lifts the gloom

I’ve been back from holiday for a couple of weeks now and after knocking Rhodes as a holiday/birding destination I’m now beginning to think it was a glorious place. The reason for this change of view is that the birding down here on the on the East Kent coast has been dire. It’s true that a few days ago enormous numbers of hirundines and chiffs moved through but other than that it has been grim.
Now the birding in East Kent being rubbish is not an unusual phenomenon but what has made it worse is that from Suffolk northwards yellow browed warblers plus all sorts of other goodies have been piling in on the easterly winds.  Down here..............nothing. Just why East Kent gets nothing on so little on an easterly wind no one has been able to explain but it always seems to happen. Earlier this year the NE of England had more red backed shrikes and wrynecks than they knew what to do with but down here........nout. I know a few of both species eventually turned up but that’s not the point. The point is why does the closest place to mainland Europe do so badly on easterly winds when all sorts of goodies get blown across the north sea at its widest place?
My theory, which is mine, (anyone out there remember Anne Elk ) is that it’s all the fault of French. They built Calais and Dungeness. The resulting industrialisation and pollution (which you can see at times from this side) means there are no birds over there to get blown over here. Now I know that there are a few very minor flaws in this theory, not least of which are sightings they enjoy at Cap Griz Nez but there must be a reason none come over here. If anyone out there has a theory as to why we get so little on an easterly could they share it?
Since I started penning this thesis things have picked up in that several YB warblers, firecrests and a even RB flycatcher have appeared on the scene (not that I have seen any) and today a jack snipe appeared on Restharrow scrape.
I would like to say I was the finder but I wasn’t, I was in the Elms failing to find YB warblers and firecrests when Steve Raynaert sent me a text saying he had a jack snipe in front of the hide. Doing my best “rat up a drain pipe” impersonation I was there in a couple of minutes and onto it.

 At this point it was 95% obscured by reeds/cut reeds but that didn’t stop us firing away with the camera in the hope that just a bit of the bird would in focus. Eventually it crossed some of the more open patches of reed and allowed some reasonable shots and very graciously it stopped for 5 minutes right out in the open. Needless to say after all the snapping I’d done over the previous 30 minutes now was the time that the card was full but luckily the bird waited for me to change the card and get some shots before it resumed its 1 foot an hour sprint along the bank. 

500 shots in the bag I returned to the Elms and back to reality.........not finding anything ........though I heard a crest.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A stroll along the Beach at Sandwich

Other than the crake at Oare and a spot fly at Sandwich the week has been pretty dull  (I know there was a RB shrike at Sandwich but I saw this for about 10 seconds and at 100+ yards) so with little to point the camera at in my normal haunts I decided to park up at Newdowns poly tunnels and walk the beach.
The track from the poly tunnels to Prince’s Golf club reservoir had a good head of chiffs (21) plus the normal tits and robins etc but new for today was a family of 4 mistle thrush. There was absolutely nothing in the Plantation (the stand of Pines) and the only thing on the golf course were the golfers. 
Once on the beach I immediately found 2 wheatears and a whinchat but as normal the whinchat would not let me get close.

If you talk to birders who don’t take photographs they will tell you how close they get to everything whereas most of the time I find it really difficult  – especially with whinchats and have to rely on finding the dope of the flock that stays put when you approach. I suspect that the non-photographers just don’t appreciate how close you need to get even with a 400mm lens to get a decent shot and they also forget they are looking at the bird though 8x or 10x bins.
So all I got of the whinchats (2 in the end) was the normal blog shot and the same applied to the stonechats (3) that I found opposite Prince’s club house.

 These are the first I’ve seen in the SBBO recording area since the spring so good to see even though they took a leaf out of the whinchat book of non-cooperation with photographers.

The area just north of Prince’s club house was quite birdy in that as well as the chats, a wheatear and a few mippits I found 2 groups of reed buntings one of 5  and another group of 8. One of these ticked all the boxes to qualify for the dope of the flock title hence the picture.

Reed bunting
There were a few warblers moving in the sea buckthorn which is quite an unusual occurrence but after 10 minutes of trying to get a view they turned out to be chiffs.
The last few hundred yards up to the Shellness Nature reserve (or 100 acre field) was dead though there were a few waders on show in some of the pools left by the retreating tide – ringed plover (9), dunlin (2) and sanderling(6).  Further out, (and the sea was about a mile away) you could see oycs and curlews but I didn’t do any counts.
There's quite a lot of grass now growing between the dunes and the shoreline so the open area where we normally find the shore larks and snow bunting is changing in character. 
The route back was a repeat of the journey out but with less birds though back on Prince’s practice ground there were another 2 wheatears. These looked quite dark and orange on the breast though it may have been the light.


So a pleasant walk but nothing exciting to report.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Autumn Birding on Rhodes Greece. Lindos 4th -11th September

It’s been several years since we have gone on holiday with our now grown up kids but this year we did. We rented a villa situated between Lindos and Pefkos on Rhodes, Greece. This was not a birding holiday but as always I would have between dawn (around 6.45) and 10.00 to satisfy my urge to get out with the camera, however due to the short time available I suppose I never went further than about 10k from the villa.
As normal I had searched the internet for reports on what to expect and had found very little. There were a few reports from spring but nothing much at all from Autumn. The spring reports suggested that bird numbers weren’t high but there was a good variety with a few lifers possible .......if I could find them.
I also checked out some reports from Lesvos to see how autumn there compared to spring. The results were not encouraging –  Lesvos in autumn is a shadow of spring. I now know the same is true of Rhodes.
So for autumn on Rhodes if you assume that any area you search will be birdless then you will not be far off the mark. This must be due to most areas being completely scorched and water-less. Crested larks were widespread though often very thin on the ground. House sparrows were around in small flocks and jays were seen just about everywhere – not in high numbers just a few pairs here and there though they were exceeding shy and I never once managed a decent view of one let alone get a picture. In towns collared doves were pretty common and Sardinian warblers were everywhere – again not in high numbers but you would hear or see one almost anywhere you stopped; again they were shy.
In this report I’m only going to discuss the areas where I did find some birds and the birds listed will normally be the outcome of several visits.
One place I tried to bird but failed was the (dry) river bed of the Gadouras – a reported Rhodes hot spot. The “Fat Birder” website suggests you park near the south side of the bridge, descend to the river bed and walk to the sea. Well there is Armco barrier along the road now and since it’s the main road from Lindos to Rhodes town parking half in the road with traffic going past at 60+ mph did not appeal – nor did walking along the road for half a mile from somewhere where you could park so this area remained un-searched.
Areas birded.
1. Immediate area around the villa.
2. Lindos sewage outlet (nice in the heat of the day!)
3. Area between Atrium Palace Hotel and mouth of the Gadouras
4. Raptor road to the bridge
5. Road leading to the Gadouras dam.

Area around the villa

Lindos/Pefkos area with villa, football pitch and sewage farm
I didn’t really bird this area it was more a matter of lazing around in the garden/pool and noting what turned up or checking out the other gardens when I walked to and from the car. The lawns of houses (and hotels) are the only areas of grass (and water) hence the attraction. A Sardinian warbler lived in our garden and provided some good photo opportunities....

Sardinian warbler
 and in the surrounding gardens I found northern wheatear, black eared wheatear, a spotted flycatcher ( seen on 2 occasions), yellow and white wagtail, red backed shrike, raven over, blackbird, house sparrow and collared dove.
I did check out the barren slope leading to the nearby cliff tops (south of villa) and found my first black eared wheatear. 

Black-eared wheatear (male)

Black-eared wheatear (juv or female)
Whilst up there house martin, swallow and crag martin also flew past. I had two goes at the black eared wheatear but failed to get a decent image – they are exceedingly shy.

Lindos Sewage farm.
On the south side of Lindos there is a football pitch and close by is a sewage works. The rocky area below the football pitch is scabby and covered in litter but good for blue rock thrush,northern wheatear, a stunning looking pale throated black-eared wheatear and hooded crows.
Blue rock thrush

Pale throated Black-eared Wheatear 

Pale Throated black-eared wheatear

Hooded crow
 Further down the hill there seemed to be some sort of leak/outlet from the sewage works (at least I assumed it was from the sewage works) that resulted in a puddle that was liked by yellow and white wagtail, common sandpiper and  northern wheatears.
Northern Wheatear
White wagtail
 Just above the leak there was a small stand of bushes where on both visits I found red backed shrike; on one occasion there were 3 present.
Red-backed shrike
A little egret and grey heron also seemed to be calling the beach home.
I visited the area twice, once in the afternoon as the rest of the family sunned themselves in the bay on the opposite side of the headland (St Pauls Bay I think) and the following morning in the hope the black-eared wheatear was still wasn't. 

Area between Atrium Palace Hotel (Kalathos) and mouth of the Gadouras River.

The merit of this area was discussed in a previous report on Lindos and undoubtedly it was one of if not the birdiest areas in the region Like everywhere else the rough grass and weeds were dead with the only green being from the olive trees and drought hardy shrubs but it does have 2 lawns; the Atrium Palace Hotel lawn and the Oasis beach cafe lawn – the latter in particular being popular both during and post sprinkling.
Yellow wagtails were numerous on the cafe lawn and a small flock of red rumped swallows lived in the area.
Yellow wagtail (flava)

Add caption

Yellow wagtail (feldegg)
Red-rumped swallow
Red-rumped swallow
Crested larks were everywhere and on 2 occasions I spotted a hoopoe but always in flight.

Crested lark
My first visit yielded a red backed shrike but that was the only one I saw here. Some kestrels also frequented the area but I couldn’t decide whether they were lessers or commons.
As one moved north towards the Gadouras river mouth the trees and shrubs gave way to dead grass and dirt plus very old and decaying tarmac – it was once an airfield.  As well as crested larks a pair of northern wheatears were there every visit. I looked long and hard for short toed larks but failed to find one.
On one occasion I did drive most of the way to the river mouth (the road can be seen on the attached map ps sorry about the spelling of beach on the map) then walked the rest where I found a small amount of standing water and a large reed bed. More yellow wags, a few green finch, plus lone sedge and reed warblers. As I was sitting hoping something would come to the water a marsh harrier drifted past and a male pallid harrier came out of a channel through the reed bed, saw me, then immediately disappeared; I’m sure it was a pallid because there was no under-wing barring and I think it’s too early for a hen harrier to be around. Also seen were swift, swallow, red-rumped swallow, house and sand martin but my stay was cut short when someone started shooting in the reed bed and the spent shot landed in the reeds about 10 yards away.

Raptor Road to another bridge over the Gadouras.
Raptor Road - just north of Kalathos
As one is going along the main road out of Lindos/Kalathos towards the Gadouras river bridge there is a ceramic workshop on the left (Savvas Ceramics). The next left leads you through olive groves, past a stand of pines, past a steep slope on the left finally reaching another bridge over the Gadouras. The road then bears right eventually bringing you back to the main road. I drove this route several times and on just about every occasion I saw raptors. In fact it was the only place I saw raptors the whole trip. They were mostly seen along the stretch between the stand of pines and the road bridge and I suspect that some of the birds had been roosting in the pines because I normally spotted them just above tree top height then they would rapidly ascend and drift away. Seen along this short stretch of road were common(several) , honey (1) and long legged (1) buzzard, short toed eagle(2) and a juvenile Montague’s harrier (at least I believe it was a Monties and not a pallid though happy to discuss- see below for my thoughts). I never spent a lot of time along this stretch since I was normally back at the villa by 10.00 so I have no idea whether there is a constant movement of birds through the area – it’s possible they follow the course of the river from the Gadouras dam.
Honey buzzard

Short-toed Eagle

Long legged buzzard - note the un-barred tail.

Also seen along this stretch were red backed shrike and chukkar (4) the latter being very close to the bridge (and a tick!).

Discussion on the Montagues/Pallid harrier:

When I first spotted this bird (under an olive tree and strongly back-lit I thought pallid but now I have some doubts:
In favour of Monties:
Neck collar although distinct is not light, I think the sun is catching it in the first image.
On close examination the collar is streaked (not so in pallid)
The breast is lightly streaked (a feature of Monties)
Tips of primaries are clear black.
Monties breed in the area.

In favour of Pallid.
The collar does look distinct
The underwing secondaries are dark and without barring (though not exclusively to pallid).

It makes you wonder how anyone separates these in the field.

Road to the Gadouras Dam
In an attempt to find some new terrain (and some shrikes) I drove from Lardos towards Alaerma/Laerma and then turned right in the direction of the Gadouras Dam (sign posted). Just outside Lardos I pulled off the road on the left by apart built villa and scanned the valley.......... and found a small flock of bee-eaters (the only ones of the trip). I couldn't get close.

Just after turning off for the dam I had red backed shrike and stonechat and further along  I spotted a flock of 6 chukkars running across the road but they disappeared up the rocky slope.
Very distant chuukar
Unfortunately once at the dam the road stops...well the road carries on but there is a barrier across it so the lake remains a distant view. It might have been interesting to sit and watch here for a while just to if any raptors moved through but I never had the time.

I did visit a few other places, normally a quick stop-off whilst on the way or returning from a day trip outing, but none of these areas justify a write up (or a revisit).
As I said at the beginning, it was hard work. I knew I wouldn’t rack up a large tally but I had hopes of finding 4 shrike species; I only found one - red backed:

Red-backed shrike
I’d hoped for black eared wheatear which I found but could not get near and I’d expected some raptors. Only with the raptors did I get close to what I expected but the numbers were very low so I could very easily dipped.
Temperatures were not as excessive as they could have been with it being 23-25C at 6.45 and maxed out at 31-33C hot enough but not a killer. Would I go back? No. The birding was too much like hard work, the birds very shy and Rhodes is expensive – a meal for 4 (2 courses plus a round of drinks) normally set us back 90-110 Euros with a beer being 3 -3.5 Euro. More to the point I only found one restaurant  (at Charaki/Haraki) where they served up’s what you go to Greece for isn’t it?.

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Good Day at Backsand

Today was arguably the best day I’ve had with the camera down at Backsand this year. The birds were very much as they’ve been for the last week or so but today they were more active – feeding for 2 hrs after high tide (when I left) and more to the point they came close.
The first couple of hours were very much as normal – I could see a little stint, a wood sand came in then promptly disappeared, 4 curlew, 2 green and a common sandpiper and (eventually) 13 dunlin were on view most of the time– but everything stayed distant.
Everything got spooked a couple of times and the lapwings responded by spreading out over the scrape with one settling down right in front of the hide. Whilst the shanks returned to their normal roost the sandpipers and stints joined the feeding dunlin. I think the presence of the lapwing in front of the hide put the small stuff at ease because several times some of the curlew sands and the dunlin came in front of the hide – the highest count being 3 curlew sands and 2 dunlin in front of me at the same time.
Green sandpiper

Curlew Sandpipers


The only disappointment was the little stint, this stayed distant.
Over the last few days a/some migrant hawker(s) have been hovering near the hide, normally they are too close for the 400 f5.6 to focus on but today one lingered just far enough away to get a few shots – if only the reed hadn’t been there.
Migrant Hawker

Finally, I spoke to Ian about the status of Backsand. The lease comes up for renewal in June next year and whilst no decision has been made it’s likely the lease will not be renewed.