Thursday, February 26, 2009

Birding - 26/02/09

The weather was bloody terrible today, rain and wind from the south-west. Did get out for an hour and a half though with Mrs B and Number 3 - we got soaked and gave up when we ran out of things to dry the optics with. We headed for Torekov and birded the rev (small peninsula), one of my favourite hangouts. Despite the awful weather, there was still a spring feel birdwise. Shelduck numbers had built to a respectable 13. Nine oystercatchers were the first on the patch this year. The wintering flock of purple sandpipers numbered 14 today and were accompanied by four dunlin. Eleven tough little redwings fed out on the rotting seaweed along the beach. Finding anything else was beyond us though and we headed home.

Beast of the Decade Nomination No. 4

Western tarsier - what a stunner! Seen during a recent trip to Sabah on a night drive at Danum Valley. Our spotter that night was Isnadil and he pulled out all the stops to find us this. No eyeshine with tarsiers, so you just have to be good. It is a Chris Gardener shot this one, I was holding the torch to keep the blighter pinned down!

Patch listing - Båstad kommun

If you have read the first few birding posts you have probably realised that what I call my patch, is rather large. I live and bird in Båstad kommun (appropriate I hear some of you mutter, but you do not pronounce it that way), a small municipality of seven parishes that encompasses the Bjärehalvon peninsula. Båstad kommun (BK) consists of over 50 km of coastline (sandy beaches, rocky shores, one stretch of low cliffs and a few harbours), the west coast of the peninsula is largely designated as a coastal nature reserve. Inland is mostly farmland but to the east on the high ground we have bog, forestry plantations and some decent juniper moorland. The patch is bisected east-west by the Hallandåsen ridge, this used to be the logical boundary between the two provinces of Halland and Skåne. I live at the top of a valley that cuts into this ridge and get a lot of raptor and crane migration overhead as a result. One of the bizarre things about BK is that whilst most of it is in Skåne part of it falls in the neighbouring province of Halland - an artefact (I guess) of the turbulent history of Skåne, which has passed between the Swedes and the Danish several times in relatively recent times.

All this variety has allowed me to build a reasonable patch list with plenty of scope for additions. There is always the chance of the odd stray rarity, and luckily BK is the place to seawatch in Sweden when condition are right and also there are still a few niggling species that elude me (ring ouzel, black grouse and short-eared owl spring to mind).

The best bit though, is that for a lot of the year I have the place pretty much to myself, which for a former Norfolk birder is rather pleasant.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Birding - 25/02/09

Whilst filling the feeders for the greedy tree sparrows in my garden, I heard the unmistakeable call of waxwing and looked up in time to see 9 flying off into the village. Later took Mrs B and Number 3 for a long walk through Petersberg and Eskilstorp during the morning. The weather has gone rather grey but the spring feel persists, we found nest-building buzzard and calling green woodpeckers at the start of our walk at Petersberg. The small gravel pit here is one of the few coastal freshwater bodies on the patch and is a regular haunt of mine. It will turn up something good one day - I am determined. It does seem to pick stuff up that is travelling south and suddenly reaches the barrier of the ridge that runs east-west right through the patch. Today it was till frozen, so no wildfowl. Flyovers though included a mean looking red kite.

Walking through Eskilstorpstrand to the beach was fairly quiet, although the regular flock of 100+ scaup was welcome and three male pintail looked great as they streaked south just offshore. I had hoped for bullfinch during the walk (I still need it for the year somehow!).

Beast of the Decade Nomination No. 3

Tiger - yeah I know it is a cliche and hackneyed and on everyone's to do list before they die, but that is coz they are awesome. I never get tired of looking for them. Here is a video of a female I saw at Kanha this month from an elephant (hence the Blair Witch style cinematography). It had killed a wild boar for it's two cubs, when along comes Benstead and the world noisiest mahout (why do they have to shout, surely elephants have excellent hearing, their ears are big enough). The tigress was not best pleased needless to say and I have to say that I found this kind of tiger watching slightly intrusive. Mind you we failed to find one in a whole week using our jeep and skilled trackers so it is just as well we had the elephant option!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Birding - 24/02/09

Woke up at 4 am this morning, so went owling again. This time hit the high ground and did a circular tour in the car, stopping at regular intervals. Clocked up four different tawny owls and heard my first patch pygmy owl. Will go back again for the latter to try and get views. As first light hit, I walked out onto a large bog hoping for black grouse. There are sporadic reports from this area but I have a feeling that they no longer breed. I may have to ask someone, because I am struggling to find a lek on the patch on my own. Birds were few and far between but tracks in the snow revealed that a large moose was present in the area.

As the sun started to deliver some real warmth I headed for the coast at Vasaltheden. Definately a spring feel in the air. A light passage of skylark was obvious and a few lapwing were about. Walking the beach I found the tracks of a ringed plover - a potential year-tick and one of the first spring migrants hereabouts. I did not have to wait long before I heard one and eventually I found it. The 22nd saw the floodgates open for the early migrants here and many are arriving just as the snow clears the low-lying areas - it is uncanny. Other birds seen along the coast included starling, pintail and an odd hybrid duck that looked like mallard x wigeon. Walked back to the car through the Glimminge woodland and heard a black woodpecker giving its ringing flight call.

Nice Jag mate!

Thought you might like to see this, it is not nominated for 'Beast of the Decade' because I have not chuffing seen one (despite spending the best part of 8 weeks rafting down rivers in Northern Argentina - it's a sore point). It is part of James Lowen's excellent South American portfolio of photographs (the birds are especially stunning, mmmm! many-coloured rush-tyrant...). James is currently working on a Bradt travel guide and saw this jaguar as part of his research. It's a tough life.

The photo above is not bad I suppose, but you cannot help thinking that if James was a real professional he would have licked the corner of a hankie and just cleaned off that small bit of capybara that is stuck to the animal's left cheek.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Birding Benstead?

Some of you might be wondering about the slightly egocentric title of the blog (Birding Benstead - Birding in Bjäre and Beyond). There is a simple explanation, beyond a childish love of alliteration. If you google 'Phil Benstead' (something I suspect only I have done), you get me but you also get another cyber Phil Benstead who is into cycling in a big way. As far as I know only one person has ever met both Birding Benstead and Cycling Benstead. Presumably if I met him there would be some sort of matter/anti-matter deal and an implosion of some sort - either that or we would turn into Chris Mills.

Birding - 23/02/09

The weekly trip 12 miles down the road to the supermarket always offers a chance for some off-patch birding. This week we kept it short and had a quick look around a small wetland/farmland area right by the supermarket (Brandsvig). Here in ten minutes I had my first skylark of the year (spring is coming) and another hunting rough-legged buzzard.

Back in town we headed for the big playground by the river. Whilst the two eldest played, Number 3 and I nipped off down river. Not much doing, but heard a kingfisher (another year-tick, scarce this year) and a few goosander floated about.

23 years ago this week

This was one of the first long-weekend twitches I ever undertook. It was so long ago the photo of the least sandpiper above is in black-and-white!

1/3/1986 Cornwall trip no rain, calm
Set off by train at 2000 on the last day of February to make the most of the British Rail offer. Only cost £12 return to Cornwall – not bad. Slept a little after Paddington and arrived at Bodmin Parkway at 0700. Pete’s mate Pat picked us up at about 0715. Then straight to Porthscaso via a petrol station where the car refused to start. The petrol-geezer told us it was the starting rod and that all we had to do was push the car backwards in gear. Sure enough she started. On arrival at Porthscaso, a rather pleasant little seaside village, Pat immediately located the king eider (female) along with a great northern diver (a tick for Will). We gave it a quick look before heading for the least sandpiper which was all of 500 yards away. Found this one straight away too. A gorgeous little bird completely dwarfed by the nearby golden plovers. Reminiscent of Temminck’s stint; yellow legs, collar band of speckles (faint in middle), dark streaked crown, faint pale supercilium, bill thinner than little stint and down-drooped at tip. Watched for 20 minutes, also 2 shag on the sea nearby. Then went back to look at the king eider again (nice pale eyering, softer rounder bill and whiter chin than eider). By this time the great northern diver had been joined by five black-throated divers a fantastic sight.

Then onto Port Leven for Iceland gull, via a place called Tresillian where we stopped to look at waders. A tidal river with mudflats which produced redshank (2), little grebe (2), curlew (3) and masses of dunlin and bar-tailed godwit. From here we birded around Falmouth picking up very little but great crested grebe (a good Cornish bird I am told). Had three buzzards en route. Finally arrived at Port Leven to be greeted by a very obliging black-throated diver in the small harbour, scoped it down to 10 yards. Also rock pipits and a mass of gulls, from which Pete finally extracted a first winter Iceland gull. Not typical of the species, the bill inclined towards the bulky side (as was the bird) but unanimously decided to be an Iceland.

Dropped in on Marazion for a quick look; some good birds including Will’s first ruddy duck (female – another good Cornish tick) along with ruff (1), shoveler (15), teal (5), gadwall (10+), pintail (3), little grebe (2) and about 20 wigeon. Whacked up to Penzance Harbour, so Pete and Will could buy a smock each [the Bryan Bland look was big in the 80s!], whilst they did that Pat and I scoped the harbour turning up great northern diver (1) and razorbill (1). A mile up the road was Newlyn Beach, one of the haunts of the Bonaparte’s gull. Arrived there to be greeted by a mass of gulls. Started leap-frogging, checking all of them, when a shout came from behind us. A Cornish birder was beckoning wildly across the road. We ran to him and he led us to Newlyn boating lake and there in the corner with about 20 black-headed gulls was the Bonaparte’s and what a bird! A real stunner and only 30 yds away. Sitting as tight as could be whatever went past. Seen swimming, standing and flying – a mind-fucker. Pale pink legs, slender black bill and black eye. Black crescent behind eye, dark scapular/shoulder patch, dark primaries, 4-5 brownish secondaries, fantastic smoky cap, nape and incomplete breast band. Two thirds size of black-headed gull. In flight white tail with black sub-terminal band and disjointed black W, wings have black trailing edge, two white patches on leading edge of wing either side of elbow [underwing not noted!]. A really superb bird and it was difficult to wrench ourselves away after 20 minutes. But now time was beginning to press, so we headed for Drift. This was what I had secretly been waiting for – black-necked grebe. Drift really did turn up trumps, crossed over the dam and walked up the right arm. Picked up yet another great crested grebe immediately, further along two curlews flew up out of the fields and then it started to happen. Picked up a female scaup (one of nine) and Pete found me the black-necked grebe – a really good bird but a bit distant. Also around at this point little grebe (1), black-throated diver (1) and goldeneye (female). Moving around the corner we scoped through all the ducks; wigeon (40+), pochard (25+), tufted duck (20+) before I spotted the ring-necked duck amongst the pochard – a cracking male. It was all going so well, we could not believe our luck, we had not dipped a thing.

Pat took us back to Bodmin to stay the night at his place, after a quick trip to the pub we had little trouble getting to sleep (even though my sleeping bag had gone mouldy).

2/3/1986 Devon Coast sunny
Got up at about 0800 and headed for Rame Head in the vain hope of a Dartford warbler. No joy – but nice place with buzzard (3), kestrel (1) and sparrowhawk (1). After about an hour we gave up and Pat took us to the ferry where he intended to leave us. On the way we had greenshank (3) at Millbrook Lake. Missed the ferry by ten minutes, so went for a pasty and a pint in the nearby pub. Here we met two local birders one of whom Pete knew from Poly. They told us of a red-necked grebe (a potential tick for Pat and Will) and a black guillemot (a tick for Will) at Jenny Cliff on the other side of the Plym estuary. Pat was raring to go, so off we went taking the ferry across the estuary, getting spotted redshank at St John on the way.

Jenny Cliff was crowded with Sunday walkers but no black guillemot but we did get red-necked grebe (2), great crested grebe (2) and red-throated diver (1) though. As Wembury was so close we had to go for it, one road was blocked by snow so we had to go round it. This was the only trouble we had with snow the whole trip. Not bad because the weather the weekend before had been foul. Wembury did not produce the goods either but after the day before we did not care much. Did see another red-necked grebe, purple sandpipers on the rocks and a nice female grey wagtail down on the beach. And so the day was over a lot quicker than on Saturday. Pat dropped us off at the station, amidst profuse thanks and invitations. Caught a 1750 train. Slept pretty well this time. Had to bus from Newton Abbot to Exeter as we did on Saturday morning because the line was down at Dawlish. Arrived at Paddington at 1015. Dashed to Liverpool Street but the only train was the 2300 to Ipswich. Slept all the way on this one. When we got to Ipswich, Pete tried to get us on the mail train to Norwich. No joy – wrong type of carriage. So we had to wait/sleep until 0730 for the next train. Frosty night, all clothes and barbour on in the sleeping bag. Very amusing! Pete found a shop open at 0600 and brought breakfast. Straight to work, what a day. Took ages to recover but well worth it (Pete got three ticks, I got six and Will nine).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beast of the decade Nomination No.2

The Bornean horned frog (Megophrys nasuta) is one of the many reasons to save some energy for night-walking when you are in Borneo. I got switched on to tropical frogging fairly recently by my good friend and colleague Chris Gardener. This cryptic little beauty is neither a true frog (Ranidae) or a toad (Bufonidae), instead it falls in the family Megophryidae, along with the litter frogs (Leptobrachium and Leptolalax). Luckily for anyone trying to find one, these amphibians have really strong eye-shine and are therefore easy to spot at night.

To see Chris's stunning photographs go to the Glass Frog website link on the right.

Taking the rough with the smooth

After this morning's twitch it was time to get out and do some real birding in the afternoon. I decided to try one of my favourite local spots (Ripagården). A short walk here produced a stunning encounter with a 2K rough-legged buzzard, which hunted happily nearby and even caught and ate something at one point. A classic winter bird, scarce on the patch in winter but we get more through on passage in April.

Ample evidence that spring is round the corner too with seven lapwing flying by on the way home and other observers reporting an influx of skylarks. Can't wait.

Swedish tick - shore lark!

I was stacking wood all afternoon yesterday, so did not hear the news that one of the local birders in the area had found two shorelark on an inland field near the house. This is exciting stuff hereabouts, shorelark being at best scarce passage birds. After a night of snow, the weather here had got a lot warmer and windier.

So after a leisurely start to the day Team Benstead all headed out. The birds were on a bare, wind-swept fallow field and looked very much at home. I have spent a lot of time looking for shorelark along the coast and now I have to start thinking about them being inland too. New for Sweden and the patch, just how I like them. Good one Jonas!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Owling at the moon

One of the advantages of frequent jet-lag, as well as advancing years, is that I often wake up at 5 o'clock in the morning feeling wide awake. It happened this morning, so I tip-toed about and got suited up for the snow. Spent an enjoyable hour in the dark at nearby Glimminge listening for owls. First up was a single call from a tawny owl - year-tick! I then spent a great 15 minutes with a pair of long-eared owls - the male calling and wing-clapping right above my head. Magic.

At first light (at least an hour before dawn) I moved down the road and checked out another site. The skerries were still white with snow but instead of the expected roosting white-tailed eagle, the islands were covered in roosting corvids. The eagle flew in later and displaced the last of the crows. The rocks here also produced an unseasonal turnstone - year-tick! Working the coast I found a flock of birds feeding on a bank of exposed seaweed. The regular wintering woodlark was present in amongst the meadow pipits and rock pipits. The comical calls of eider and the mechanical buzzy double note of displaying goldeneyes filled the air.

At the end of the walk I got really excited. An aquatic mammal showed briefly before diving into some jumbled rocks. Could it be an otter? Sadly examination of the tracks and photographs (see above) suggests that it was an American mink (my first in Sweden). Otter is monumentally rare in Sweden, mostly due to continuing high levels of PCBs in the aquatic ecosystem. It is only the second time I have seen American mink in saltwater. On the way home a buzzard feeding on a dead badger (my first for the patch too) demonstrated just how little I know about the wildlife near my house even after nearly two years.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Varied response

Well the blog is up and running and I recently told a few friends about it. The response has been positive if a little gripping. Check out Pete Boon's response to my garden list! He trumps my hawfinch with a stunning varied thrush. Pete was the RSPB contract at Strumpshaw Fen when I worked there but has since moved to Vancouver Island. He reports up to ten varied thrushes this year, feeding at his bird table, higher numbers than usual due to harsh weather apparently. Still need it myself! Anyone else got any garden grippers?

Beast of the decade Nomination No. 1

It will not just be birds here on the blog. I am very interested in other Orders too, especially herps and dragonflies. I recently visited Namibia and dragged everyone out in the middle of the night to search the large sand dunes near Walvis Bay for this little stunner. It was cold and windy but worth the effort when we found our target. The web-footed gecko Palmatogecko rangei is designed to move around on shifting sand and lacks adhesive scansors on the toes. It is a good contender for beast of the decade and easily wins Beast of 2008.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Winter wonderland

Just back from an hour in the field at nearby Ranarpstrand. The skerries were dusted with snow and sitting on top was a massive adult white-tailed eagle. Other highlights included a single water pipit on a field drain outlet along the beach, and a flock of 55 twite feeding in nearby fields. Two red kite completed the scene.

30 years ago this week

Here is the first of an occasional thread on the blog, where we travel back in time to see what the Benstead was up to in the past. This one's topical (if a little dull), it snowed a bit back then....

16/2/1979 Aylsham – back garden, Norfolk day after heavy snowfall
The freezer broke down so we were able to feed the birds during this harsh weather. Birds coming to a mixture of bread, cheese and black currants included; bullfinch (feeding on cultivated blackberry), black-headed gull, starlings, blackbird, pied wagtail, robin, chaffinch, rook and song thrush. The following day saw fieldfare in the garden too.

Seeing Sykes's nightjar in Gujarat

The best place to see Sykes's nightjar in India, is at the Little Rann of Kutch in winter. If you are planning a trip that passes close to Gujarat then get in touch with my friend Raj (details on card attached). He runs Desert Coursers - the place to stay. He will guide you to the nightjar and showed us two superb MacQueen's bustards as well recently. There was also an unexpected pallid scops-owl roosting in the grounds. The accommodation is basic but the food is the best we had on a recent trip to India.

The garden list or Reason No. 1 Why I do not miss Norfolk

Updated on 26/01/18 - total 112 species.

The garden list can only get better, I just do not spend enough time there at the moment! Luckily, birds migrating north or south follow the coast and sometimes short-cut the peninsula through a gap in the Hallandåsen (a prominent ridge) and pass right over my house. We knew the house was well-situated when we bought it but the passage overhead has exceeded expectations.

Whooper swan, tundra swan, greylag goose, white-fronted goose, Canada goose, barnacle goose, shelduck, mallard, teal, goosander, eider, cormorant, grey heron, osprey, sparrowhawk, goshawk, kestrel, hobby, peregrine, buzzard, rough-legged buzzard, honey buzzard, black kite, red kite, marsh harrier, white-tailed eagle, pheasant, crane, lapwing, greenshank, green sandpiper, wood sandpiper, oystercatcher, curlew, whimbrel, woodcock, herring gull, common gull, black-headed gull, great black-backed gull, swift, black woodpecker, green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, lesser spotted woodpecker, nightjar, tawny owl, long-eared owl, cuckoo, feral pigeon, woodpigeon, stock dove, collared dove, skylark, swallow, house martin, white wagtail, grey wagtail, meadow pipit, tree pipit, redstart, thrush nightingale, robin, blackbird, song thrush, mistle thrush, redwing, fieldfare, blackcap, garden warbler, lesser whitethroat, whitethroat, willow warbler, chiffchaff, icterine warbler, reed warbler, goldcrest, pied flycatcher, spotted flycatcher, long-tailed tit, marsh tit, willow tit, coal tit, great tit, blue tit, nuthatch, treecreeper, dunnock, wren, waxwing, nutcracker, jay, magpie, jackdaw, raven, hooded crow, rook, starling, tree sparrow, house sparrow, chaffinch, brambling, greenfinch, siskin, linnet, redpoll, bullfinch, hawfinch, parrot crossbill, common crossbill, two-barred crossbill and yellowhammer.

Thank you Colonel!

This winter I have been fortunate enough to see Sykes's nightjar for the first time. The first was a real surprise as it was found in dry agricultural land outside the park gate at Ranthambhore NP (Rajastan), at a site where I have spent many hours spot-lighting in the past. This photo was taken at a more reliable site in the Little Rann of Kutch in February.

BTW Sykes's was a Colonel in the Bombay Army in the 19th Century. You could tell he was a birder because his first job was to lay siege to Bharatpur in 1805! He described over 50 species from India but the best bird to carry his name is without a doubt the nightjar. Birders who have found rama booted warblers in the UK may beg to differ.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hawk owl madness

I have been pondering how to kick this blog off when I found this superb hawk owl at dusk on my way home from birding around Torekov. We do not get many hawk owls this far south in Sweden, although this year has been good for this occasional wanderer. I am guessing the north-west Skåne birding crew will be looking for it tomorrow. Might go myself.

To see the location of the Bjäre peninsula where I live and bird, check out this link.